07.26.06 More media
The media juggernaut is slowing slightly these days, though still moving in fits and starts (with the occasional backfire). Thought I’d pass on a few recent and upcoming stories and such:
• I’m appearing on the teevee program “Life & Times” tonight on KCET in Southern California at 6:30 pm (repeats at 1 am). Correspondent Saul Gonzalez and I wandered around L.A.’s Griffith Park for one their signature uncut, verite-style interviews.
• I had a funny conversation on Friday with Kai Ryssdal of NPR’s “Marketplace” about rejuveniles, play in the workplace and the color of my sneakers. Archived here.
• The wacky K.C. ad gang at the Brandshow devoted an hour to the topic for their weekly podcast. Streaming version online here.
• Jill Sarjent at Reuters wrote a nice feature on the book that went out on the wires Tuesday. Fingers crossed it gets the word out ‘round the world…
• The book was cited on Monday in a funny, unusually thoughtful Minneapolis Star-Tribune story on weird games.
07.25.06 Don’t Blink Now!
While working on a chapter in Rejuvenile about the resurgent popularity of kid games among adults, I was happily surprised, again and again, to discover that if I could imagine something, it existed. Adult four square? Check. Grown-up Rock Paper Scissors? But of course. Adult tag? Why yes.
But somehow it never occurred to me to search out another favorite kid game: the staredown. Remember the staring contest? That was the game where you and a pal looked each other in the eye and kept looking and looking until someone blinked, cracked up or broke eye contact.
Wouldn’t you know it, there’s now a professional league, official merchandise, an underground band of devoted players and even an earnest feature-length documentary. (it’s available free online). The game itself is now strictly regulated, with a long list of specific rules and sanctions (players must stand a foot apart on “toe lines” painted on wood playing surfaces and are immediately disqualified for smiling, sneezing, burping or laughing). The site for the National Association of Staredown Professionals (NASP) is arch, super-serious and reminiscent of the original, Canadian Rock Paper Scissors league – both groups appear to be chuckling behind the grave expressions and pseudo-scholarly rule books.
Thanks to the intrepidly playful Bernie DeKoven for the link.
07.25.06 Kickball casualties
Yes, kickball’s a kiddie game. Yes, it’s simple and silly and summons misty childhood memories of recess rivalries and schoolyard crushes. Yes, adult players often don poofy florescent wigs and Mexican wrestler masks, boogying on the pitcher’s mound and drinking more than is strictly necessary.
But let me tell you, it ‘aint all wacky good times. Kickball is often just as competitive, treacherous and overserious as any approved “adult” game.
This was the take-home message from an epic weekend in Miami, where I attended the World Adult Kickball Association’s 2006 Founder’s Cup Championship. The tournament attracted eleven badass kickball teams from across the East (a few Western teams qualified, but couldn’t get together the scratch for the trip). And while there were a few goofballs on hand – one girl wore a nun’s habit, another dropped trou when she got up to kick – the championship was mostly an epic test of discipline and endurance.
The weather was partly to blame. A nasty tropical monsoon rolled in mid-morning, bringing gale force winds, torrents of rain and leaving muddy pools on the grass. WAKA officials called an hour break in the action, allowing players to skip and slide through puddles, then redundantly soak each other in a dunk tank. But as play picked up again, the mood turned sour. Players hopped up and down on the sidelines to keep warm, joking nervously about hypothermia, watching as teammates stumbled on the slick grass and balls bobbled through dripping turf. One player was taken to the hospital with a broken leg. On the Norfolk Virginia Tiki Titans, my adoptive kickball squad, two players broke their fingers. During a semi-final round, another player suffered a bloody head wound during a collision, got eleven staples at the hospital, and returned to the field when his team made the championship game (which they went on to… lose).
My homies the Titans suffered their first loss of the season to an efficient and joyless squad called Gonzo (the Titans finished 2-2 and will likely move up a few notches in the national ranking – which I am now following religiously thanks to Kickball 365, a message board and seeding system for kickballers from all leagues and regions). Another crack team from D.C., the Gonzos cracked nary a grin during the game, as they put runner after runner on base with slow grounders to left, then delivered them home with robotic line drives. During the rain delay, which many players used as a chance to hit the keg or revel in dunk tank hilarity, the Gonzo coach was heard to bark out, “I don’t want to see any Gonzos pulling that crap!”
Sheesh. The Gonzos went on to get knocked out in the semis, to another mostly joyless and intense outfit (the winners were four-time champs KickAsphalt, whose winning streak is now approaching a dynasty). Meanwhile the players who appeared to be having the most fun (or at least making the biggest fools of themselves) were dispatched and sent back to the hotel fo much needed hot showers. The WAKA officials were terrific and the event was a big success, but it did leave me marveling at how a ridiculous kids game is only as nice as the people playing it.
All of which was driven home when I got news that one of my Tiki teammates, while stumbling back to the hotel after the championship, was hit by a monorail. That’s right—hit by a train. Details were sketchy, but he got a bruise on his leg and was otherwise tho miraculously unhurt. Mostly, he was indignant that “stupid train didn’t have a horn.”
How’re those for famous last words?
07.20.06 Kick it!
Still awaiting an invitation to read at the New York Public Library, but in the meantime, I’m in rejuvenile heaven. Tomorrow morning I’m headed down to Miami for the World Adult Kickball Association Founders Cup Championship Tournament. I’ll be on hand to bask in the kickball nirvana, meet the thousand-plus kickballers and cheer on the Tiki Titans, the purple-mohawked Virginians who were kind enough to give me a temporary spot in their lineup one memorable game this season.
I’ll also be donning an eye patch for a pirate cruise on Friday night and signing books in a special Rejuvenile tent during the tournament on Saturday. If you’re anywhere near Bicentenial Park, swing by and say hello.
And remember, people: slow grounders to third base!
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07.15.06 The Rejuvenile Quiz
A sidebar to the recent Detroit Free Press story on rejuveniles featured a quiz meant to calculate just how much of a rejuvenile you are. It’s silly stuff, but good fun anyway.
By the way, I scored a 7, with no’s to the questions on cars (proud minivan owner), family (left home at 17 and never looked back) and teddy bears (do they even sell teddy bears at Starbucks?). Which means I need more C-Span? Please.
07.14.06 Big Pajamas and a Bigger Tent
The anti-rejuvenile rant of back-to-basics Christian Ingrid Schlueter has yielded some terrific feedback on HuffingtonPost. Two of those comments particularly got me thinking about the complex blend of ideals and neuroses at play in the rejuvenile impulse.
A reader who goes by the handle Seasalt raises a crucial point: that childlike adults are often far more productive and creative than more traditional, serious-minded grown-ups:
To which I naturally respond, Hallelujah! We rejuveniles are right to defend ourselves against the harrumphing codgers of the world, even if our protestations aren’t likely to change the minds of absolutists who believe at a basic, pre-rational level that kids should be kids and adults should be adults (or to quote the bumper sticker: “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”) In the end, our happiness is our best revenge.
Another message came from a remarkable reader named Lil’ Vickie whose tastes for childlike things extends far beyond the occasional stress-relieving game of Lego or paint ball. Here’s what she had to say:
A transgender adult baby back-to-basics Christian? The mind reels. Still, the rejuvenile tent is a big one indeed. And Lil’ Vicky is right to point out the crucial distinction between childlike wonder and openness and childish impatience and intolerance – I deal with that difference at length in the last chapter of Rejuvenile. While I’m not a Christian and have a bit of evolving to do before I appreciate the appeal of adult babyhood, I’m pretty sure Lil’ Vicky has a better grasp on the essence of Jesus’ teachings than the aggrieved Christians so worked up over the book…
07.11.06 Interview on the Colbert Report
For those of you who didn’t catch The Colbert Report interview, here it is. Looking back on it, I’m even more impressed by his unbelievable quickness (And as if wit wasn’t enough, we now know from last week’s segment with Amy Sedaris, he’s not a shabby tumbler).
I’ve also just added a new “interview” section on left hand navigation bar with links to radio and print interviews. Enjoy the multimedia!
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07.07.06 Someone Needs a Nap
I suppose it was inevitable that Rejuvenile would stir up some righteous indignation in the crankier corners of our wide and fractious land.
Well the pot’s been stirred, friends.
Meet Ingrid Schlueter, back-to-basics Christian and capital-A angry adult.
A blog entry I posted last summer on the glories of adult kickball elicited the following response from Ms. Schlueter, producer and co-host of a radio program out of Milwaukee, WI called “Crosstalk”:
Ms. Schlueter went on to comment further on her blog, taking a break from her usual survey of how the modern world is infecting the modern church (among her concerns: church-based Starbucks, “laughing” ministries and yoga) to take further aim at Rejuvenile, saying I am “promoting the newly defined adulthood that means you really never ever have to grow up.”
Well golly. I suspected the book might elicit some anger from traditional family advocates, but back-to-basics Christians? How is it that I keep getting mixed up with this crowd? (See this story for a primer on my last adventure among aggrieved Christians)… It’s just so bizarre. How so? Let me count the ways.
1) Ms. Schlueter wants to vomit? Like actually upchuck? As icky as this sounds, the same sort of reflexive physical revulsion is common among many social critics featured in the book – from Robert Bly on the left to Marcel Dansei on the right. It’s a largely emotional, reactionary response – something about adults wearing fuzzy pajamas or eating red velvet cupcakes simply offends them to the core. And while I’m as creeped out as the next guy by grown men in superhero Underoos, I do think it’s worth asking: why exactly do we find this stuff so objectionable? Some of this stuff is dumb, beneath our capacities, infantilizing, all that. But some of it is just silly. Could it be that they get us riled up not because of their inherent vileness but because they’re simply out of step with mostly arbitrary cultural age norms we’ve never really taken a hard look at? As ridiculous as this stuff may often appear, might there be some value in hanging on to some things that has always given us pleasure?
2) Do our children really need to go hungry and sell pencils on the street for Ms. Schlueter to be happy? As loony as this sounds, her call for economic collapse as a mass exercise in maturity reveals a crucial difference between traditional adults and rejuveniles. In the traditional view, adulthood is a deadly serious, pull-up-your-bootstraps trial endured by the strong and avoided by the feeble. Rejuveniles act out an opposite view, behaving as if adulthood is not only about meeting obligations and doing your duty but also about learning new things and having more fun. To them, suffering is vastly overrated.
3) No, there’s not a lot of pacifier-sucking going on in Iraq these days. (There is, however, a kickball team - go figure.) There’s also a whole lot of childishness, from the magical thinking of our swashbuckling leaders to the pathological rigidity of our enemies. It’s a horror show on all counts, and one that I have no illusions will be solved by anything to do with SpongeBob.
I suppose I should be glad that Ms. Schlueter saw fit to call Rejuvenile “horrifyingly accurate” and “a book that defines the modern church.” And while I’m clearly sympathetic to many of the people I write about, it deserves repeating that Rejuvenile isn’t meant to be entirely celebratory. We’re talking about a broad range of people. Some are lost souls burying themselves in childish stuff to escape complicated adult realities. But many more are adults who juggle adult responsibilities, ponder tough questions and still maintain a core essence of childlike play.
I wouldn’t dare enter a Biblical debate with the likes of Ms. Schlueter, but I seem to recall something from my parochial school days about “unless we become as a little child we could not see nor enter the kingdom of God”? On this point, Jesus and rejuveniles agree wholeheartedly.
07.07.06 Another Busy Few Days
The promo blitz ‘aint over quite yet. A few upcoming appearances to share:
I’ll be reading from the book and signing copies at my neighborhood bookstore in Los Feliz, CA this Sunday, July 9, at 5 pm. This is the only reading I have scheduled; if you’re in the area, come on down. Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont (next door to the movie theater).
I just taped an interview with the CNN show “In the Money” in which I was quizzed about the book, the big question (“is a good or bad thing? Can it be both?”) and how businesses are reaching the rejuvenile consumer. The interview airs this Saturday, July 8, at 1 pm Eastern, 10 am Pacific (show repeats on Sunday 3 pm Eastern, 12 Pacific).
I’m set for an hour-long conversation this Monday, July 10, on the Philadelphia NPR affiliate WHYY’s program “Radio Times” (which is also broadcast via satellite on Sirius).
The CBS Early Show did a nice story Tuesday on the surging popularity of adult kickball, which included great footage of players mixing it up beneath the Washington Monument, a mention of the unfortunate lawsuit between WAKA and DCKickball, and a few pundit-y remarks from yours truly. Seeing such a fantastic display of kickball’s maturation into a grown-up sport has got me thinking again about how the sport triggered my own rejuvenile awakening.
I was a floundering single guy working at a weekly newspaper and living with five roommates and two pet chickens (don’t ask) when a friend led me to a scrubby little league field in Silver Lake (called, appropriately enough, the Field of Dreams) for a Sunday afternoon kickball game. This was in the pre-WAKA days – the group I hooked up with started as a fluke surprise birthday party hosted by a twentysomething girl who had heard her boyfriend chatter on about how much he loved the game as a kid. The party was such a success that it became a regular Sunday pickup game. People brought pets, coolers of beer and boom boxes. A lot of those players are still my closest friends and loved ones – including my wife, who I proposed to by planting a ring in a ball, reinflating it with a patch kit and dropping to one knee at home plate. We played a full 10 innings and the games could get surprisingly rough – my friend Bob had to be taken to the emergency room one memorable game after splitting his chin open diving into home. He still wears his kickball scar proudly (he scored).
As much as I enjoy the game itself, I was reminded during my recent play with Norfolk Virginia’s Tiki Titans (recounted in last week’s Salon story) that kickball is about far more than the game per se. After a brisk double header, the 300-some players in the Norfolk league fled to a downtown bar. “Now you’ll see what kickball is really about,” a tie-died referee informed me. As a freak thunderstorm pounded down outside, the kickballers got down to a night of serious drinking, macking and the playing of a boozy team sport called flip cup. At one point I was chatted up by a hot blonde Navy lady named Nicole, who confided that even though she was now a flight test engineer who worked on F15s, she never quite got over always picked second-to-last in kickball. I might have been imagining things, but I’m pretty sure she had more in mind than a friendly interview in mind, which let me tell you was way more thrilling than anything I experienced on the kickball field.
Special thanks to Jeff Cartwright, ace coach of the Tikis for allowing me a spot on their lineup, which went undefeated in its final tournament and is is heading to the national championships on July 22 in Miami (expect purple Mohawks and war chants). And a shoutout to the Oregon-based Recess Time, which operates a one-stop-shop for all your fondly-recalled-kidgame needs (kickball, dodgeball, ping pong and bowling).
07.06.06 Eat a Crunch Bar, Be a Rejuvenile
Another entry in the bulging it-just-doesn’t-get-more-rejuvenile-than-this file:
On the morning commute yesterday, I found myself idling in front of a billboard picturing two guys in business suits, legs dangling from opposite ends of a teeter totter, happily munching on Nestle Crunch bars. The slogan: “For the kid in you.”
The companion website includes a nifty splash page showing a businessman who takes a bite of a Crunch Bar and is immediately catapulted up on a pogo stick, along with flash animation of much happy hula-hooping and trampoline-bouncing. The TV spot (archived on site under “Crunch News") is a crafty split screen montage that shows an adult on his morning commute (while pedaling a big wheel), a woman on an escalator (while riding down a slide) and a fellow going up a staircase (while climbing a treehouse ladder).
This is all on-the-nose in terms of reaching the rejuvenile market… perhaps too much so. Like last year’s Toyota “Put it in Play” campaign, which associated the latest line of Corollas and Celicas with favorite kidgames like tag and dodgeball, this one is so obvious that I think it may cause the more cynically minded quasi-adults to squirm (or at least roll our eyes). We rejuveniles are all for recapturing the joys of kid-dom, but I’m not sure we’re quite so gullible to think that a bar of milk chocolate laced with bits of dehydrated rice is the magic ticket back into a lost childlike wonderland. And it offers yet another reminder that as much as the rejuvenile phenomenon springs from a genuine and healthy impulse to reconnect with a childlike part of ourselves, it’s also being nurtured and encouraged by marketers attempting to reach beyond our critical adult defenses and get us to… buy stuff.
Then again, maybe adults could use the occasional reminder that sometimes contentment isn’t found in responsibility and efficiency but in the warm embrace of a tasty bar of chocolate. Me, I’m a Junior Mint guy.
Back home now after the exhausting, exhilarating NY media blitzkrieg, which included more than a dozen radio interviews, a smattering of TV chats and a big finish Thursday with an appearance on one of my favorite shows, The Colbert Report. Of all the media I’ve done so far, I was sweating this most of all – I count Colbert as one of the smartest, most fearless guys on TV today and I had no idea what he’d made of me or this book. I’m still not sure where the rejuvenile phenomenon falls in the political-cultural continuum, and was even less sure how it might translate for such a deeply ironic, blazingly smart performer.
Anyhow, I needn’t have worried. It was the polar opposite of the Maher experience a few weeks back – Colbert hung out in the green room beforehand (his advice: “I’m willfully ignorant; it’s your job to disabuse me of that”), was funny without being cynical, and in the end took aim at neither me or the book but the grumpiness of TV pundits around anything in the least nuanced (“Is it a bad thing or not? We like to tie up my stories in a nice little bow around here”). Especially after the Today Show’s wholeheartedly perky treatment the day before, it was nice to get message out that the phenomenon cuts both ways, from the wondrous upside of childlikeness to the ugly escapism of childishness.
And unlike the truly depressing backstage spread at the Today Show (veggie platter, Skippy peanut butter), the Colbert dressing room was stocked with booze, cookies and a genuinely awesome gift bag (coupons for free shoes, vodka and a bag stocked with Altoids of every conceivable flavor)…
The interview is posted on the Comedy Central site (Windows Media Player required), on a page with a bunch of other recent segments. Look for my smirking mug.
There’s also two good radio interviews available online. The first is a 20-minute chat with a sympathetic radio guy in St. Louis on all aspects of the phenomenon. The second, for the syndicated Money Matters Financial Network, is all about corporate attention to the rejuvenile market.
I promise to get back soon to posting actual ideas rather than self-referential media updates. It’s just been that sort of week…