Do you keep in touch with the folks from “Karate Kid”?
Yeah, we’re kind of a fraternity. Ralph and I have become better friends in recent years, first from me calling him out of the blue to work on the “Sweep the Leg” video with me. We also reconnected in 2008 at Pat Morita’s (Mr. Miyagi’s) memorial. The Cobra Kai guys I’ve stayed in touch the whole time. And Pat we were all very close to. We called him Uncle Pat. He called me BZ.
“The Karate Kid” is a family. Like family, you don’t talk every day. But when you do, you pick right back up. And I can’t really imagine my life without it.
None of us buying our first Radiohead T-shirts could have known that, three decades later, we would be living in the world Casey Kasem helped create. It is the music fan's time, powered by self-curation and the urge to share. Our playlists, queues, devices and social media profiles may be as unique to each of us as our genetic code. But sharing and effusing are the highways this data travels. Since those highways are choked with music already, we search in the noise not just for experts but also for common ground, not just for someone who knows music better than us but someone who feels as enthusiastic about sharing the joy of it as we do.
In an earlier time, we would find our musical brothers and sisters by picking a side — alternative over mainstream, rap instead of rock — seeing who agreed, then defending our choice to the death. In the 21st century, that feels like hating on hugs and world peace. We like the music we like. Instead of xenophobes, we are now all world travelers, on the same journey to find more.
"Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes,
Into your brother's face, your country
And say simply
I was on the Washington Mall that clear January in 1992, 19 years old, having voted in my first election the November before, when Dr. Maya Angelou read her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" for the inauguration of President Clinton. I will never forget that day, standing there in the freezing cold, with my mother and youngest brother, seeing a speck of a tall African-American woman in the distance speak of the new president and the America we all came from and was dawning that morning.
I thought of how my mother had marched for civil rights and the rights of women, how my father had welcomed the black friends of my brothers and I to our Passover Seder table then insisted on hearing about their families, their traditions and how my late grandfather, at risk of reprisal, loss of business and professional standing, had given good paying jobs and no interest loans to the African-American men who worked on his construction crews, simply because it was the right thing to do.
And I looked at that tall woman in the distance, whose voice and words rolls from the steps of our capitol, like thunder rolling down the mountains. I knew that woman's personal history meant she had every reason and cause to be bitter and disgusted with the country of her birth, the country that broke its promise to her and generations like her.
And I heard her say it was our country, all of us, and at its root was not the promise to get it right the first time, to try and do it better next time, with year, each election, each generation. That to be an American was to believe, fundamentally, that from night always came morning.
I will miss you, Maya Angelou. You were the guiding spirit of one of my proudest days as an American.
Ask someone to quote a line from the ’80s teen classic Sixteen Candles and there’s a good chance it was uttered by Gedde Watanabe. Thanks to “What’s happenin’, hot stuff?” “Ohhh, sexy girlfriend!” and other quotes, his character, Long Duk Dong, lives on in ringtones, comedic folklore, and a debate about whether he’s an offensive stereotype or just a caricature like nearly every other supporting role in the movie. In the years since the portrayal — Long Duk Dong and Sixteen Candles was released 30 years ago this month — Gedde Watanabe has appeared more than two dozen films, played Nurse Yosh on ER, and done voice work on the The Simpsons. To celebrate three decades of the movie, Vulture spoke with the actor about exercise bikes, growing up in Utah, and having his feet tickled by John Hughes.
I was fortunate to be one of the speakers at 20x2 this year at SXSW Interactive. The question each of us had to answer in 2 minutes was "What Was The Last Thing You Remember?"
What was the last thing you remember?
The Act of Remembering is a half-filled promise, an open loop, the brass ring falling to the ground as the carosuel whirls by. You may remember every detail, but you cannot retrieve it or live it again. Memory gifts you every sense, except touch.
Collective Rememering, we remembering is memory you can touch visit, live with, and wrestle to understand. Momuments, cemeteries, labrynths and sidewalk graffiti all say “We were once here and through, stone, paint and time we have reconciled the past and the future in the silent present.
Remembering can be glue, a golden rope, a circle of held hands. The sharing of memory pull us tighter together than the sharing of money, place, even blood. “We have been here” is the hydrogen of history. We have been here is the same as we have shared this, how we begin any understanding of who we are.
Remembering can be curse. Hyperthemesia is a neurological disorder of not being able to forget anything. Sufferers describe it as being a loud party where every past version of yourself. And you can never go home.
Remembering can also be a mistake. Some things are best left as memories. We keep them slung lighty over our backs so we may live looking ahead.
What if the last thing you remember is that there is no last thing? If our memories stand not in a line but at an intersection, arriving, departing, lingering, then circling back again? If our pasts were a library not a well? If to forget and to remember both meant to live, richly?
I'm jumping off walls with excitement to announce that I'll be writing another book. "Brat Pack America" a look at the locations you know and love from 80s teen movies, will be published by the incredible people at Rare Bird Books in Los Angeles. I start working this month with a publication date in Fall 2015.
Here's the official announcement...
Kevin Smokler's BRAT PACK AMERICA, a backwards and forwards trip to the places made iconic by 80s teen movies; arcades, malls, neighborhoods and entire towns, these are the places we remember from the last great era of movies about teenagers and where they met up, worked, fell in love and broke each other's hearts, to Tyson Cornell at Rare Bird Books, for publication in February 2015, by Amy Rennert at The Amy Rennert Agency (World).
I'll expand this post with questions as they come in.
See you online and with any luck on the roads of Back Pack America then and now.
My next piece for BuzzFeed Books is a look at (mostly terrible) video games adapted from classic works for literatre. The image comes from the Great Gatsby Video Game which you can play onlne for free.
The year is 1998. Filmmaker Spike Lee is ten movies into his career but things have hit a snag. The writer/director’s last three movies have all been adapted from other people’s material and have done so-so with both audiences and critics. The harsher among them say that Lee–successful, admired, and a long way from earlier films (like Do The Right Thing) which have his stamp on every frame–is now phoning it in. For his next project, Lee thinks, he’s got to bring the “Spike Lee” back to “A Spike Lee Joint.” He’s got to write and direct. This story has to be both untold and recognizably his.
He calls the movie He Got Game. The premise: a father-and-son story about basketball. Untold? Not really. But then Lee jukes: basketball is not just any sport, he’s argues, but more than football or baseball, America’s Game. To prove it, Lee opens with slow motion footage of hoops being shot in urban playgrounds and suburban driveways, by high school girls’ teams, across amber waves of grain. The music underneath, in case we didn’t get the message, is “John Henry” by Aaron Copland, a less-recognized piece by the most recognizably “American” composer of them all. Copland, eight years dead at the time, even gets an onscreen credit.
Music by Aaron Copland
I'm going to be doing some writing for BuzzFeed Books. First up: "11 Great Bookstore Names and How They Got Them." The above photo is from Entry #10: "Murder By the Book" in Houston whose tagline is "Where a Good Crime is Had By All!"
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky, The flying cloud, the frosty light: The year is dying in the night; Ring out, wild bells, and let him die. Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow: The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true. Ring out the grief that saps the mind For those that here we see no more; Ring out the feud of rich and poor, Ring in redress to all mankind. Ring out a slowly dying cause, And ancient forms of party strife; Ring in the nobler modes of life, With sweeter manners, purer laws. Ring out the want, the care, the sin, The faithless coldness of the times; Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes But ring the fuller minstrel in. Ring out false pride in place and blood, The civic slander and the spite; Ring in the love of truth and right, Ring in the common love of good. Ring out old shapes of foul disease; Ring out the narrowing lust of gold; Ring out the thousand wars of old, Ring in the thousand years of peace.
--Alfred Tennyson (via The Writer's Almanac)
After 10 months, 16 cities and many thousands of miles, my touring for my book Practical Classics has come to an end. It has been a grueling but immensely rewarding year one I would never trade. But as Andy Richter told Conan O'Brien at the end of the Can't Stop tour.
"Touring is summer camp. And you can't be at summer camp forever. Life calls."
It's unlikely I'm ever going to be in a band. Nor ejected rudely from the host chair at The Tonight Show. So this is the closest I'll come to going "on tour." And since book tours for authors are now a rare thing unless your last name is Tan, Chabon or New York Times Bestseller, I count myself very lucky.
This doesn't mean I'm going to looking the other way if a great speaking opportunity comes up (I've got a few on deck for next year already). I'll just be turning my focus to the next thing.
There will be next book. I'll tell you more about that early next year when the announcement rolls off the line. But I'm very excited to share it with you. I think you'll get a different kick of kick out of this one but a big kick all the same.
Until then I'll be taking a few weeks off to rest and spend time with friends and family.
Thank you to everyone who read Practical Classics, invited me to come talk about it, argued and wrestled with it, encouraged me to keep going. It meant everything to have you along on this adventure with me.
See you on the next one.
- What censorship means when, putatively at least, everyone has an internet connection?
- How Ray Bradbury both imagined the future and feared it.
- Is facism different when largely practiced by ordinary people rather than mandated from authority?
- Censorship as a class issue.
This is me in 2006.
I turn 40 years old today. This is what I look like now.
The difference here is around 50 pounds, or about 8 large college textbooks. I used to weigh 20 pounds more than that but I don't have any pictures from that time. When someone holding a camera would yell "Everybody look over here!" I'd leave the room. Photos from that time that did catch me were immediately rounded up and destroyed.
As of today I weigh 185 pounds, 70 lbs less than I did in my late 20s. I've long passed out of the range of my size being a health hazard, a dark promise to future me that I'd be living a shorter, more painful life as I aged. 185 had been a goal my trainer and I set at the beginning of the summer, to be reached by Aug. 1st. When I reported my victory, he geared our entire Aug. 1 workout around a 70 lbs. kettle bell. We finished with me carrying it, like a pail of sand, around the building.
A pail of sand weighs less than 70 lbs. This was more like 7 medium-sized bowling balls out for a walk. Those bowling balls used to be part of me, rolling under my the skin of chest, resting below my chin and under my eyes, assuring me, according to one doctor that the weekly occasions when I'd wake up unable to breathe would get worse and one day, could be fatal.
I did not do this for the noblest of reasons. Of course I wanted to be healthier, to not pant climbing a staircase, fall ill twice a month or sweat while standing still. Just as much I wanted to buy clothes without having to place special orders, have an easier time attracting women, and watch a movie without thinking everyone who looks like me ended up falling into a swimming pool or slow-clapping while the thinner hero made out with the pretty heroine.
And I didn't want to be scared of food. I love to eat, everything about it, around it, in anticipation of it. That will not change nor did I think it should. If food were only supposed to be glorified energy suplements, then clothing should only be glorified blankets and homes only glorified rainflys to keep out stormy weather. Food is a basic joy of life. Which means eating should be a both a joy in the present but not one that robs joy from the future.
There's no magic for what I did. I ate slow enough to know when I was full, then stopped and learned to see leftovers as the chance to eat a great meal twice. I stayed away from bread, grains and any other food than made me feel physically worse after eating it. Eating something tasty knowing you'd feel sick later is like buying a new car then throwing yourself out of it on the freeway. Every other food I said yes to but learned say "It'll be here tomorrow" and stop after two bites. I'd try not to eat out too many nights in a row. I considered exercise anything that kept me moving between 40 minutes and an hour. I drank water, didn't do drugs nor consume alcohol. Which came easier for me than most people. I haven't been interested in drinking for a long time now. When I had a special occasion coming up I ate as one does during a special occasion then booked time at the gym the following morning.
None of this should surprise you. Nor will it when I say that losing weight is not the answer to life's problems nor any promise of happiness. Look out any window and you will see average weight miserable people, fulfilled large people, the anxious skinny, the inspiring fat and every possible combination in between. Life's great challenge is to have the body you have be the truest representation of your mind and heart acting in union. The shape of that is your business.
Kevin at 255 lbs was an angry, self-righteous wounded person, a young man who used his large size to explain away why he couldn't achieve what we wanted and why that was everyone else's fault. My weight was not a simply matter of the parts I came with. It was a living, growing, aching manifestion of how certain I was everyone else got to be happy but me.
I needed to get far happier before I could do any of this, just to get out of my own way. I didn't have the fufilling career, the wonderful marriage, the unyielding support of friends and family back then the way I have it now. But I had enough to know that living that way wasn't what I was meant for, that by being this defensive, embittered person, I was not only consigning myself to sadness but laying waste to my own life in front of everyone who cared about me. I did it just as much as a thank you to them for caring when I clearly did not.
There's another way to go now. I'd like my body to reach newer athletic heights I never thought it would in middle age. I don't have any secret desire about competiting in a triathalon or something like that but living at my physical potential is a gift I didn't know I'd have and don't intend to let pass. I'd like to dance more, which I've loved doing since I was a child but always embarassed me. If you don't get that, try not giggling the next time you see a fat white guy bust a move.
Most importanly, I'm planning on living a good long time, thanks very much. And to do so, in pride and not shame, in gratitude instead of indignation, as this me, instead of some disfigured imposter ashamed of me.
If I can do this, it is all the birthday present I need. It is the gift that will keep on giving for the rest of my life.
This is me at 40. The real me. Forever. And now.
This is what a sheep looks like if it doesn't get shorn for 6 years. Enough wool to have made 20 men's suits. (via Fark).
Lots of weird things are names after U.S. Presidents including extinct lizards. Below is an artists rendering of an Obamadon, recently discovered, long gone and named after President Obama. (via NPR)
It's Joseph Mitchell's birthday today. Mitchell wrote for the New Yorker for nearly 60 years between 1938 and his death in 1996, chronicling the weird, forgotten corners of New York City as no one has before or since. His collection Up in the Old Hotel should be required reading for every aspiring nonfiction writer (via The Book Maven).
I have defended the tech industry (which has employed me, well, at times) and my chosen home to many a non-believer but this article, combined with several others lately, I fear is turning me cynical.
I hate being cynical. Cynicism means I'm lazily naysaying because to actually think the argument through makes me uncomfortable. Cynicism, to my mind, is for chumps.
That said, I can't ignore that bad feeling in my stomach, that the unparalleled success and cultural dominance of technology is coming at the expense of something. And I'm not talking about video stores, or the Yellow Pages or answering machines. I have no nostalgia for a less efficient way of delivering information/art/culture. Instead I wonder if the values it extols are blinding us to others, others that run counter to ideas like efficiency, speed and "disruption."
Put in a really, really dumb way: "What will your average successful software engineer/entrepreneur do when his best friend's mother dies of cancer?" I promise you the answer has nothing to do with speed, efficiency or disruption. It has to do with patience, uninterrupted time and giving someone you love hours upon days of your full attention as the world rolls on by without your participation for the time being. There's already been an app designed for this. It's called "Being Human."
I only learned this with age and maturity so maybe it comes to all of us eventually. Nor do I think the values we practice at work must mirror those we practice at home (Andrew Carnegie sure treated his kids different than he treated his competitors). But I also doubt we can be totally compartmentalized forever. Much of life is simply not elegant, efficient, frictionless or well-designed. A lot of it could be better. But those probably aren't the standards by which we should be judging our human relationships, our psychological and spiritual development, our place in the continuum of the human story. All of that stuff is messy on purpose. The messy part is called "being human."
Same dumb example: When the time comes, as it will for him, and for everyone, will Mark Zuckerberg and all who look up to him, know how to grieve, how to be present, how to sit with a sick person for hours at a time? Will they know how to comfort a scared kid during a thunderstorm? How to hold someone they love as they weep? Will they know how to be real instead of being better than?
Full attention is what makes us human. In this brave new world, Must we give ourselves time to learn that? Or do we no longer feel like we have to?