Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Things That Make Life Worth Living, Part III

Back again, and better than ever....

You may have seen this coming. Although some outstanding aspects of football ("The Grove" on Monday, Michael f*ing Vick on Tuesday) get special treatment, there simply isn't enough space to ennumerate every reason why football remains the best of sports and entertainment. I could tell you about the fever-pitch atmosphere of gamedays at every SEC venue (Vandy excluded), about waking up at 9:30 to watch Lee Corso publicly embarrass himself every week, about how every game matters in every measurable and intangible way, about the boost a fan gets on Signing Day when that last blue-chip holdout commits, or that complete satisfaction when your team is good, healthy, winning, and everything is right in the cosmos. I could tell you about NFL Sundays, watching 8 games on 25 televisions with six friends at the Fox and Hound, knowing what happened in each game by cheers coming from each fans' group in the room, realizing that you probably lost in your roto league because some kicker just hit a 50-yarder, taking the subsequent abuse from your friends because even that is fun. I could even tell you about the pee-wee fields on a Saturday morning in the fall, parents yelling, little siblings hounding the hotdog vendor, or about high school games on Friday nights, where your friends are the players, your girlfriends are the cheerleaders, the crosstown rivals are the opposition, and the little brothers throw the ball in a nearby field, a few years before it's their turn and their team. I could tell you all of it, and could keep going. In the end, football is the reason February feels empty, summer lasts forever, and fall goes so damn fast.

Vanderbilt University's campus:
All colleges brag about their "beautiful campus," but I'd rather not hear it. This is a beautiful campus upon first view, and even better upon latest view. And while there's plenty of conventional beauty--Peabody in the fall, old campus after the first snow, Library Lawn and the Divinity School in the spring--it's the place's sheer quirkiness that makes it great. There's the secret basement entrance to Benson, where I always snuck in to turn in a late paper. There's the view from the top of Sarratt Student Center (not the top floor, but the highest roof of Sarratt) or the weird, faux-modern interior of that building, purple and chrome and hilarious. There are the crab apples that bloom across from the Law School that are always fun throw at the Business School on the walk back to the dorms. There's the absolute carpet of discarded flyers that covers the mail room every day, the way Furman (the only building made of gray stone) looms like a castle among the greenery and red brick. And it's so accessible: any student can get into any nook and cranny at practically any time. Late-night movie-viewings using a new lecture hall's projector and sound system are a swipe of the card away. Or maybe you'd like to sneak into a performance hall in the early morning to test its acoustics, or experiment in some well-hidden Stevenson lab. It's all there, ready for use, exploration, and enjoyment and, sometimes from the view of the Real World, it's easy to miss.

Hot tubs:
Is there a better way to spend a cold night in the mountains? Nevermind the "Blind Date" connotations (actually, don't totally disregard them), there's more here than that. Take a few close friends after a long day, add some cigars, sprinkle in some music (Otis Redding?), cool air, plenty of steam, and add water.

The Rendezvous, Memphis, Tennessee:
As a boy, I could never figure the way to the Rendezvous. It seemed to just magically appear after winding aimlessly through the streets and alleys of downtown Memphis. You don't find it; it finds you. Of course there are the dry ribs, which are the best barbeque in Memphis, and by default, in the universe. The ribs are enough to merit their own post. But so are the barbeque nachos, the sausage and cheese plates, and the yeast rolls. They even get cole slaw right here, basing it in mustard rather than mayo and adding some of their famous seasoning, to make sure you're not eating anything healthy. And while I've heard tourists complain about the "rude waiters," they don't understand that there's a joke going on, and they're the butt of it. I'm talking about you, Doug Pagac of Dayton, Ohio, who just asked "what's good here," followed by, "I'll have the chicken." The Rendezvous is a place where you go if you know better, and where you go to eat much, much better.

Phil Levine's "You Can Have It":
Possibly the best poem about the loss of a loved one I've ever read, and is nearly impossible to read without being affected. Gorgeous, honest, and truly inspired writing.

Best in November, when the season is fall but the weather feels like winter, and it's not so cold that a fire can't warm you up. Bonfires are only great with the right weather and the right company, the right food and the right drink; for example, I prefer the ones where the guy with the acoustic singing James Taylor is mocked rather than revered. Marshmellows never tasted so good coming off the fire, and girls never looked better glowing from across it.

The Velvet Cream, Hernando, Mississippi:
"The Dip" to locals, and a tiny shack of burger-and-shake-serving heaven to me. This is the type of place where a small shake costs $2 and a large shake (twice the size) costs $2.25, or where there's a drive-thru window that nobody has ever made it to. You walk up, order at the window (your burger, gargantuan cup of fries, pizza sticks, blackberry milkshake), and waddle back home. Even the menu (seemingly comprehensive) is a work in progress, as makeshift signs featuring about twenty-five additional items crowd the window, leaving a peephole for the "girl with the country accent" to take your order. If you ate here twice a day for thirty years, you would die young, bloated, and extremely happy.

My Morning Jacket, "I Will Sing You Songs," (5:28-7:20):
These closing minutes are only enjoyed in the context of those proceeding them, so please listen to the full, glorious thing. Though Jim James announces in the first line, "I will sing to you of greater things," and tries hard for a few verses, minute 5:28 marks the point where he stops singing, stops talking, stops trying so hard, and let's the musical landscape say the rest. Then, a single, looping riff starts quietly, isolated. Then comes the rhythm section (5:55), then the brass-sounding lead guitar harmonizing the same riff (6:02), then sheer power and volume of full arrangement (6:10), then a winding, spiraling counter melody (6:18). At that moment, when one little part has turned into an overwhelming whole, James returns (6:28) to sing some more, only this time he can only add to the sonic beauty with an awestruck, sustained, "ahhhhhh," as though there's nothing more to say. Finally, band hammers emphatically at the end of every phrase (6:35, 6:41), finally winding down and pulling back until the beginning riff is alone again, wandering, and isolated, only to finally lose steam on a final, unresolved note. And whether you think this song is about reconnection, alienation, or anything else, there's something about that cyclical riff that emotes the hope, disppointment, frustration, and redemption the rest of the song sets up, as though this coda reaches everything James couldn't quite grasp, and communicates everything he couldn't quite sing.

You know I'll be back again,

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