First Celebrity Crush

Are you ready for some more "Copy NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour"? Well, I'm not. I don't think I could be less ready, and it's all because of today's topic: my first celebrity crush.

Here's the thing: I don't know if I've ever actually had a celebrity crush. I've always loved movies, TV, music, and books, but I've never been all that interested in the people that make them.

Take my favorite TV show from when I was a kid, Star Trek: The Next Generation. I loved that show for its entire run, and watched almost every episode many times. (The one exception was the second-season premiere, "The Child," which my grandmother forgot to tape for us. When I finally did see it, I was glad to see I hadn't missed much.) But as much as I immersed myself in the lore of the show--I even won a few local Trek trivia contests--I don't think I was ever interested in going to a convention or meeting any of the actors. It wasn't the actors I cared about, it was the characters and the stories.

As I got older, I did eventually gain some interest in actors, musicians, and writers, but only insofar as reading or seeing interviews with them gave me insight into their craft. I still don't particularly care about their personal lives.

So I never really found myself with any celebrity obsessions as a kid. Oh, sure, there were actresses that I thought were pretty. In middle school, for example, I remember thinking that Tiffani-Amber Thiessen and Jennie Garth were pretty hot. But while I was attracted to them, in some ways it was almost an academic thing, kind of like the way I appreciate, say, Christina Hendricks these days. I liked to see them when they were on shows I was already watching, but I didn't go out of my way to see them in other things. I certainly never had any posters of them on my walls. (The only posters I had were a Trek poster and a couple of comic book posters.)

The closest thing I can think of to a celebrity crush I had was actually not all that similar, and, actually, it's considerably more embarassing. I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer when I was in first or second grade, and for a little while afterwards I had a fascination with Becky Thatcher, Tom's love interest. I had a pretty active imagination as a child, so I tended to tell a lot of stories and play make-believe often. I had a number of imaginary friends that went along with my games, after reading Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher got added to that group as my imaginary girlfriend. I have no idea how long that lasted--probably no more than a few weeks or a couple of months, tops.

I don't know if I find the idea of a six-year-old with an imaginary girlfriend to be cute or sad, but there it is. My first celebrity crush was a fictional character from a book written over a hundred years before my birth.

Your turn!

First Favorite Movie

The "Copying NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour" series rolls on here at Sakeriver with our next entry: my first favorite movie.

I have no idea what the first movie I ever saw was. I mean, I can barely remember which movie was Jason's first and he's only seen about ten of them, so the odds of me remembering which of the hundreds (or possibly thousands) of movies I've seen over the past thirty-one years was my first are slimmer than a runway couture model. Most likely it was one of the Disney animated features; who knows?

Most of my earliest movie memories are tied to a place. I remember lying on my stomach on the living room floor at my dad's condo watching Ghostbusters for the first time. (I also remember him having to stop the movie after the scene where the terror dog breaks out of the statue, because I was so scared.) Or watching The Neverending Story with my brother and cousins on the little TV in my grandparents' bedroom. And while I don't remember actually watching it, I remember talking to my dad about Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory by the dining table of his first house, before he moved into the condo.

None of those could really be called my favorite, though. Well, possibly The Neverending Story, but that movie didn't hit theaters until 1984 and I probably didn't see it until a year or two after that, after it had come out on video. And by that time I'd definitely already seen what is probably my first favorite: Star Wars.

The funny thing about Star Wars, though, is that I'm way too young to have gotten caught up in the buzz on my own. I was born two years after the original release, and I was 1 and 4 when Empire and Jedi came out, respectively. Yet despite the fact that there's no way I saw any of them in the theater, I was obsessed with them from a very young age. I had Star Wars sheets on my bed, I had all manner of action figures and toys (though I recall losing the wings to my T.I.E. fighter pretty quickly), and I'm pretty sure I dressed up as Han Solo for Halloween when I was in kindergarten. Even when I was playing with non-Star Wars toys, I still found a way to turn them into stuff from the movies--the most common thing I built out of Legos were lightsabers and X-wings. I even remember desperately wanting the C-3PO breakfast cereal, which didn't turn out to be nearly as exciting as I thought it would. How could I have even known about these movies, being that young? I guess I can thank my sci-fi-fan mom for that.

And there we are. My first favorite, one of my all-time most-watched, and still an integral part of my movie library today: Star Wars. Your turn!

First Book

Next up in my "Copying NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour" series: my first "adult" book. And by that I don't mean a book featuring throbbing loins, but rather a book that was written for adults rather than children. The folks over at PCHH further constrained it by limiting it to books you chose to read on your own, rather than one that was assigned to you by a teacher or parent.

This is a particularly difficult one for me, because I started reading so early. My mom tells me that I had figured out the early literacy books by age 2, and I remember reading Mr. Men books to my grandmother when I was 3. The earliest "chapter books" I can recall reading are probably The Hobbit and The Neverending Story, each of which I read around age 7. Those are the first two that spring to mind when I think of my earliest books, especially since I've continued to re-read and enjoy them into the present day. Still, most book lists put those two squarely in the "juvenile fantasy" category, so I suppose they don't count.

I know I was reading some highly age-inappropriate stuff while I was still in elementary school. I read Stephen Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever and Mordant's Need series in third or fourth grade, and I'm pretty sure that I had gone through the first three of Jean Auel's Earth's Children books before I finished fifth grade. I know I didn't understand everything the first time I read any of those books--most of the heavy stuff in Thomas Covenant was beyond me, for example, and I read it as a more-or-less straightforward adventure--but I did get some of it. I even remember getting in a little bit of trouble at my afterschool day care once for showing one of the other kids a passage from a sex scene from The Mirror of Her Dreams. Though, looking back on it, not nearly as much trouble as I'd expect a kid to get in these days, not to mention the parent for letting the kid bring a book like that to school.

Lest you think I was only reading dark and smutty stuff as a child, I should point out that I also read a lot of children's and young adult stuff as well. I already mentioned The Hobbit and The Neverending Story; the Hardy Boys, Choose Your Own Adventure, and Encyclopedia Brown were also staples of my pre-middle-school reading, as were the works of Lynn Reid Banks, Susan Cooper, L. Frank Baum, E. B. White, and Beverly Cleary. So I did read a lot of stuff aimed at the age I actually was, just interspersed with more mature novels.

But what was my first real grown-up novel? The honest answer is that I don't really know for sure. I've just read too many books in my life to know. I've been reading upwards of twenty books a year for my entire adult life, which seems a lot compared to most people I know but is still less than half what I read when I was in school.

If I had to take a guess, though, I'd probably go with The Lord of the Rings. I know I was pretty young when I first pulled my mom's old paperback editions off the shelf--definitely under ten. Young enough that the way they looked and felt made an impression. I can still recall quite clearly the slightly yellowing pages and the age-softened edges of the covers. I particularly liked the bold lines of the maps at the front of the books.

The odd thing is that due to the Ralph Bakshi and Rankin-Bass films, I already knew the story pretty well before I ever opened those paperbacks. In fact, several parts that didn't appear in those movies--Tom Bombadil, the Paths of the Dead, and the scouring of the Shire, for example--got almost entirely skipped in my first few read-throughs; I don't think I really read, paid attention to, and retained the whole story until I was in high school.

So, there's my answer. It may not be my actual first, but J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings was definitely an early pick of mine, and an early favorite. And it remains the series I've read the most times, in no small part due to the fact that I was young the first time I read it.

OK, your turn: what was your first grown-up book? Fiction or non-fiction, anything counts as long as you picked it yourself.


This morning on my way to work, I listened to Friday's episode of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, in which the hosts talked about some of their personal pop-culture firsts. I recommend this podcast, by the way, for anyone who likes light-hearted discussion of pop culture and entertainment, especially if you're looking for a podcast with clean language.

In any case, the episode was a lot of fun, and I was inspired to do a short series of posts sharing my own firsts, using the same list they used on the show. Over the next few days I'll cover my first grown-up book, my first favorite movie, my first collection, and my first celebrity crush, but today I'll be kicking things off with my first album.

Now, the first thing that occurred to me when I decided to do this series was that I'm going to have a really hard time remembering the actual firsts for any of them. Music, for example, has always been a big part of my life, but it's difficult for me to find the exact point when my collection branched off from my mom's. I have vivid memories of my brother and I singing along in the back of my mom's car to Jackson Browne, Lionel Richie, Jimmy Cliff, and Eddy Grant when we were very young. Later, the B-52's and Paula Abdul made an appearance, but all of those tapes were my mom's, not mine.

Of course, my current music tastes and album collection largely started in the early 90's and then, as now it was a real hodgepodge. I think my initial set of CDs consisted of They Might Be Giants' Flood, and Metallica's Ride the Lightning, and two greatest hits collections: Glen Miller and Henry Mancini. But even at that point I already had a bunch of tapes lying around--I know I had two other Metallica tapes (Master of Puppets and Kill 'Em All) and Green Day's Dookie.

My first LP I remember pretty clearly: a copy of M.C. Hammer's 2 Legit 2 Quit that I picked up from a secondhand store when my stepdad took me on a trip up to San Francisco. But that would have been middle school, and I'm nearly positive I had a few tapes of my own in elementary school.

I'd like to be able to say that my first album was Weird Al's Even Worse. Certainly that tape was in heavy rotation when I got my first Walkman. Unfortunately, if I'm being honest with myself, I have to admit that that tape almost certainly belonged to my brother. No, my real first album is way, way more embarrassing.

I've been contorting my brain to try to recollect any other tape that might have come first, to no avail. I have to admit it: my first album, the one I picked to be the very first I owned myself, was almost certainly Michael Bolton's Time, Love & Tenderness. I remember listening to it on my headphones in the back seat of my grandpa's truck as we headed out on family vacations, and being mystified at my mom's insistence that Bolton's version of "When a Man Loves a Woman" wasn't as soulful as Percy Sledge's rendition.

I'm pretty sure that in the building of my first music library, Time, Love & Tenderness was followed relatively quickly by M.C. Hammer's Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em. I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse.

OK, now here's my challenge to you: I've opened up and shown you the embarrassing depths of my ten-year-old music tastes. I bet none of you can do worse, and I dare you to prove me wrong.

Two Guitars

For a long time when I was young, my dad had this old Takamine six-string that occupied various corners of his house. The funny thing is, I don't remember ever seeing him play it. In fact, apart from a few old photos that were, I think, taken before I was born, I can't recall even seeing him hold it. No, it just sat around, sometimes in a closet, other times leaning against the wardrobe in his bedroom. Eventually, it went with my older brother when he went back to his mom's house at the end of the summer.

Oddly, it never really struck me that my dad didn't play it. That guitar was just part of the furniture at his house. It wasn't until my brother took it that I even thought about it, and then only because my brother talked about it so much. To be honest, the idea of my dad playing an instrument has always seemed kind of unbelievable to me, despite the photos and even despite the fact that one of my grandmother's favorite stories about him when I was a child was how he played the French horn in high school.

For some reason, memories of that old Takamine came bubbling up this morning as I was listening to Morning Edition on NPR--one of the music breaks was a singer-songwriter-ish piece that featured some acoustic strumming, though why that would make me think of that old guitar is a mystery. It also made me think of my own guitars. Yes, guitars. Plural.

I have three guitars. One is a crappy classical that I picked up at a dorm auction during my freshman year of college--it cost me all of $21. Another is my Danelectro 56-U2. And, finally, there's the Washburn steel-string that my dad gave me for my 30th birthday. I love every one of them but I rarely ever play. In fact, I'd barely even say I know how. At my best--maybe ten or twelve years ago--I could manage some decent rhythm guitar, but even then my best instrument was harmonica. These days I've gotten terribly rusty. I can still remember a few chords on the guitar and a few riffs on the harmonica, but it's been so long since I stretched myself that I'm essentially a beginner again with both.

It makes me wonder whether Jason will come to see those guitars in the same way that I saw my dad's Takamine. And maybe he always felt the same way I do now--meaning to play, wanting to play, but never getting around to it. Who knows? Maybe Jason will some day put these strings to better use than I have.

The Heart of Rock and Roll Is Still Beating

I'm just going to come right out and say it: I freakin' love the album Sports. That's right, I'm talking about Huey Lewis and the News. I love it. I always have.

I can't honestly remember when I first heard it. The album came out in 1983, at which point I was four years old. My dad had it on vinyl, though at that point tapes still hadn't surpassed LPs as the dominant portion of the music market so having an album on vinyl wasn't unusual. I don't remember when he bought it, but my memories of that record are intimately tied to the house he lived in until I was in college, and I think he moved into that house when I was six or eight.

My dad had a rack stereo in his front living room, right in front of the big window that looked out onto the street (which nearly always had the shade down) and next to the pool table that took up nearly the entire room. My brother and I would put the record onto the turntable and then proceed to rock out for the entire 40 or so minutes of the album. The pool cues became our guitars and we would jump around the room, filled with the bar-room rhythms of the songs. My personal favorite part was the harmonica solo during "The Heart of Rock & Roll," during which I would cup my hands in front of my face and pretend to play along. Later, when I taught myself to play harmonica for real in high school, I told people that it was because of the influence of my American history teacher and my blossoming love of the blues, but truthfully the seeds were laid much earlier by Mr. Lewis and his compatriots.

I imagine that people who know me may be surprised by my affection for this album, since many of them have accused me of being a music snob. Funny enough, though, I'm pretty sure that both my dad's record and his stereo are now in the hands of my younger brother, who's an even bigger snob than I am when it comes to music. (I might even go so far as to say that he's the reason I became a music snob; much of what I now know and appreciate about contemporary music I learned from him.) And neither of us is even remotely apologetic about how much pleasure we get from the sound of that heartbeat drumline that kicks off this album.

And our love for cheesy 70s and 80s pop doesn't stop there. Some day, if you're lucky and happen to catch us together and in the right state of mind, you might be treated to a rousing rendition of The Doobie Brothers' "What a Fool Believes." But that's a whole 'nother story.

For Me, the Eighties Means Joel Crager and Michael Landon

It's funny how much of my memory of television in my youth has to do with shows I never actually saw. You see, for a lot of my childhood we didn't get TV service. We didn't have cable and lived in areas where the broadcast reception was terrible at best, so our only link to the wider entertainment world was the VHS tapes my grandmother sent us every six weeks or so. Mostly these were collections of Star Trek: The Next Generation or various offerings from the Disney Sunday Movie. One particularly memorable tape included a recording of The Ewok Adventure, and to this day, the opening title sequence of the ABC Sunday Night Movie throws me into a fit of nostalgia.

Since all of these tapes were recorded from broadcasts, they of course included all the commercials. Our first couple of VCRs didn't have remote controls, which, combined with my brother's and my natural laziness, meant that we ended up watching a whole lot of those commercials. As a result, some of my strongest memories of the mid-80s are of a gritty baritone voice telling me all about what was coming up this week on Hardcastle & McCormick, Jack & the Fat Man, Highway to Heaven, The Fall Guy, and Falcon Crest, none of which I've seen even a single episode of.

These days I rarely watch commercials, since the DVR makes it so easy to skip past them. Occasionally I leave the TV on while I'm working on something else--dishes or folding laundry--and then I'll let the ads play just because I'm too lazy to drop what I'm doing every ten minutes to pick up the remote. But for the most part, I only intentionally watch commercials during the Superbowl.

It makes me wonder what sort of incidental pop cultural impressions will be left in Jason's memory when he gets older. I wonder what we'll watch together, and what he'll only know by name. Who knows? By the time he's old enough for us to want to consume the same entertainment, TV as we know it may not even be a thing anymore.

Getting to Know Me

I started this blog over eight years ago, but until Jason was born my writing was sporadic at best. There are a lot of reasons that I got serious about writing regularly at that point. I wanted to have a record of this time in my son's life, of course, so that I'd be able to look back later and more easily remember what life was like. It was also right around then that I started thinking about actively pursuing writing as a second career. I've talked about both of those before, I think. What I may not have mentioned, though, is that I also wanted Jason to have a way to know me, know who I am and how I think.

You see, I realized a while back that although I spent my entire young life around my parents, and although I have come to know them as an adult, there's a lot about their lives that I don't know. I know some facts--dates and places of birth, for example, and the names of their high schools. I've even heard a few stories from their youths and young adulthood. But I have only the barest impressions of what their lives were like before I was born. In fact, I can't even really say that I know much about what was going on with them before I graduated from college nine years ago. When I was a child, I wasn't aware enough to see or understand what was going on around me, and when I was a teenager I was, like most teenagers, too self-absorbed to care.

As I finally took steps into real adulthood, I came to know my parents for who they are now. I think I can say that I know who they are and what's going on with them as well as I do anyone who doesn't live in my house. But there are still big gaps from before that I wonder about, and even though I've mentioned this to my mom, I haven't ever really sat down with them and asked them my questions. Somehow, the idea of interviewing my parents, as though I were going to write their biographies, just seems too awkward.

I don't know if Jason will feel the same way. Maybe he'll know me well enough, or maybe he'll never think about it. But I know that I want him to know me, and if he feels the same way, I don't want awkwardness to be an obstacle for him. I missed my chance with my grandfathers, and I find myself wondering about their lives all the time.

I haven't previously done much writing here about my past, so I hope that those of you who read this blog now will bear with me from time to time as I share a few anecdotes. Hopefully the stories will be interesting enough to be worth your while, but if not, please just keep in mind that I'm really writing those for a very small audience, one that won't even be able to read these words for some time to come.

My Latest at Life As A Human: Pen Pals

"Pen Pals":

My first (and only) pen pal was a girl named Madeleine. Madeleine lived in England, and was about ten years old; the same as me. She had a tendency to dot her i's with hearts and closed every letter with lots of x's and o's. Girls were still something of a mystery at the time — as they remain, I suppose — so I was never quite sure how to interpret those symbolic hugs and kisses, nor the "Sorry So Sloppy" she appended after her signature. Her handwriting was perfectly legible, after all.

Notes From a Sophomore Engineering Major

I mentioned that a couple of weekends ago, Juliette and I spent some time cleaning out our office closet. Archaeologists will tell you that one of the best ways to learn about a culture is to look through their garbage, and so it is with the pile of junk I unearthed from that closet.

One of the items I discovered was a partitioned notebook from my sophomore year of college, containing notes from several classes I took that year. I think it's pretty illustrative.

From my Electricity and Magnetism class:

ρ creates divergence in an E field.

spherical conductor w/ cavity outside sphere: looks like point chage.

charge in cavity induces a – charge along cavity walls which induces a + charge uniformly around outside of sphere.

From my Intro to Biology class:

Population Regulation

Density-Dependent Factors:

  • overcrowding
  • lack of resources
  • increased predation
  • disease
  • # offspring/female decreases since less females survive to breed.

From my Intro to Systems Engineering class:

II-order Systems:

I-order systems ( x′ + 1/τ x = f(t) ) have 1 descriptor (τ) & exponential behavior, step-response

II-order systems look like x′′ + a0x′ + a1x = f(t) but we can write them as x′′ + 2ζωx′ + ωnx = f(t)

2 descriptors: ζ and ωn

And, finally, from my 18th-Century Western Philosophy class:

My comment is not terribly pertinent to the discussion, but...


HA HA HA! Not THIS swan!

Are you saying it's a waste of horse not to eat old horses?

It's called schizophrenia.

You better not piss off the sun god.

Get your fuckin' hand off my mother-fuckin' taco!

That last sentence was on a page with what appears to be a shopping list for the communal bar my roommates and I kept stocked.

I guess the takeaway here is that it's a good thing I wasn't a philosophy major.