The Great Gatsby of WBL

First, KG: When I came into the office this morning, my editor told me that Glen Taylor was on ‘CCO this morning talking about how the trade was a complete fantasy. “The invention of some sportswriters.” I love the crazy rich. A tycoon’s self-assurance. Reality pending royal decree.

But I like the trade. I mean of course we must dutifully mourn the end of an era. The kurse of KG: McHale was never able to acquire the perfect compliment to The Big Ticket’s unique skill set, but $127 million contracts can make kismet hard to come by. Remember, we couldn’t even afford to keep Googs after paying KG’s tab. And then when some lawyer read the collective bargaining agreement’s fine print aloud to Stephon, Marbury’s ego started clawing itself out from the inside–it realized that its host would never make The Most. And while we salvaged the loss of Starbury with Terrell Brandon for a couple of years, we never had enough money to attract the top free agents, and our bitter winters scared away most midlevel exception possibilities–the 6’9″, yeomen veterans that are the difference between 50-win teams and 60-win teams. So we panicked and signed Joe Smith to a dirty deal and David Stern punished us. The death sentence. No payroll wiggle room. No draft picks. No chance in a conference with Shaq and Duncan. KG gave you 48 minutes of sweat and heart and pain every night. The richman’s Ben Wallace; a passionate grinder making more money than anybody in NBA history. He filled stat sheets with points, assists, rebounds, blocks, steals. Grind. Grind. Grind. A millstone of consistency. KG, the blackbeardedMoses, able to see the promised land but never gain entry. The Sissyphus of ‘Sota. Cut to today’s trade: now we have a 22-year-old stud on the low post in Big Al, some athleticism on the wings with Brewer and Foye, some room under the salary cap for the first time since the late 90s, and another lottery pick coming up next summer. Yes, we’re in the conference of Amare, Oden, and Durant, but who knows if any of those guys blossom into a ShaqDuncan. There is hope.

Oh, and speaking of hope: when I was a kid, growing up in WBL, I used to walk out to the island on Bald Eagle in the wintertime with my friend Matt Whitehill. Based on the Whitehills, people living on Bald Eagle were weird. Their entire house was a child’s fort. Matt had a rope hanging over his stairs on which his big brother Darby would Tarzan down to his room. They had expensive Haro BMX bikes in grade school and radio controlled boats and cars. There was adventuring. But then in 1986, when I was 10-years-old, the island was bought by some eccentric rich people. Not rope over the staircase and harobikerich, but there were rumors of a hovercraft, a hovercraft right out of G.I. Joe. But real. The islandhouse started going up. Black behind the trees. Forbidden now. Private. Later, I heard rumors of West Egg theme parties. This morning, I read about it in the Strib. All real. A boy’s imagination, for $3.5 million.

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Congratulations to Me

Just found out about this today. Shame on Vita.mn for trying to undermine my credibility. “Best Male Socialite”? I know, I know, I should be delighted. Finally, I’m officially in the popular group, well, if you count the Robot Love dork, Matt “size zero” Schmidt, and the PiPress’s intrepid Fargo Transplant Ross Raihala as the popular group. Love those guys, and I know I should feel empowered by the fact that a guy like me, a shlub from White Bear Lake that wears old jeans and drives a vintage Schwinn can become a socialite. You think I’m pretty! You really think I’m pretty! Only in America! But there’s something more insidious going on here. Raise your hand if you’ve read Faludi’s Stiffed. It’s about how men are responding to the advertising/media messaging tractor beam that first subdued the weaker sex. Everybody aboard?

Sure, I’ve been to the parties at our fancy theaters and libraries in the last year. And yes, I’m guilty: I buy shit—-comic books and Nikes and even HBO. But I’m not just a consumer. I’m a journalist (and just because I make it look easy don’t mean it ain’t hard work). I’m not a socialite. Maybe it’s a epithet, maybe not. Probably, here in passive-aggressive, ashamed of overt class distinctions, so-I’ll-just-drive-a-Chevy-SUV-exactly-like-my-employees Minnesota. Usually, that kind of “sensitivity” is irritating, but—-and maybe it’s just because I’m just home from LA—-I’m thinking some of the shame that fuels our reluctance to participate in conspicuous consumption here might be a good thing. So just to be according to Hoyle (if not vita.mn), I have never organized a fund-raiser for my husband. I have never taken my miniature dog to lunch in Wayzata. If you do those things, fine, you’re a socialite. Own it. But I’m not. So who nominated me for this shit? And which 11 people voted for me? And were they all on The Post-Feminist Dumbing Down America Sub-Committee for Commodotizing the Male? Look, ladies, bringing us down to your level isn’t necessarily “equality.” Dudes with eating disorders. Dudes with 100 pairs of shoes and 100 pairs of jeans. Dudes who are considered to be socialites. Of all the things we can learn from women, I don’t know if “grab a Certs after going to the bathroom” should be high on the list.

Redondoculous

Just got back from L.A. It wasn’t my usual rotate-between-three-bars-within-one-mile-radius-in-Hollywood trip. This time, I went with my girlfriend, and we stayed at our friends Ben and Anne’s place in Redondo Beach. Still got my three-bars-in-Hollywood thing in on a couple nights, but this time there was miles and miles of freeway between me and said bars. The South Bay vibe is completely different; you spend a lot more time on the beach, ogling MILFS, reading, getting sunburned, burning your feet on the sand, throwing your raw, bloody body into the icy Pacific breakers. Seriously, the South Bay is great. Not really a shopping, restaurant and bar Mecca, but you can definitely find okay Cal-Mex and decent sushi. And everybody is laid back or retired or high on sativa and the cars and condos and flowers are beautiful. More appropriate for a decent 31-year-old man like myself. It’s like a skinnier Maple Grove on the Pacific. So in order to incorporate the beach and the driving without cutting into my drinking in Hollywood time, I pretty much had to sacrifice shopping. So no new cool Nikes. And yes, we had to spend a ton of time at the beach because my girlfriend is from Brazil and she seems to physically need contact with the ocean. You should see how happy it makes her. It’s really unbelievable. Almost scary. She’s like a silkie or something, you know, the half-seal/half-woman from The Secret of Roan Inish. Her pale Irish husband finds her and they fall in love, and he keeps her by hiding her sealskin underneath the thatch roof of their hut in dreary as fuck Donegal. But one day she finds her skin and returns to the sea, leaving him and their children behind. My situation is not dissimilar.

The Americanest Movie of the Summer

Yeah, I know. City Pages puts their Transformers review on The Fucking Cover three days before Stephen Hero even touches it. Unbelievable. This is my shit–I’m the one that was mainlining Hasbro in the 80s, certainly not Rob Nelson. Jesus. Really, it’s not my fault–I’m at the age, 31, where my immature-enough-to-tolerate-robot/car-movie buddies are either married, or living in another market, so I had to wait until my girlfriend was working in order to see it.

And now I have. And it’s the Americanest movie I’ve ever seen. And it ruled. It gives the cynical mainstream American summer blockbuster-going public the formula it wants–reassurance that the smartass heroic individual, pitted against the Powers That Be, be they bureaucrats, cops, secret agents, or Decepticons, has a small chance at getting the girl as long as he has his own set of wheels. Sure, yeah, maybe Michael Bay can be a little formulaic: maybe he is just giving us wicked special effects, and non-stop, quick cut action, but he’s giving us wicked special effects and non-stop, quick cut action with heart. Sorry. I can’t keep a straight face. He doesn’t really do all that. Just had to write that at some point in my life. Anyway, it’s a movie whose opening credits begins with “In Association With Hasbro,” so I don’t have to tell you to skip the mainstream reviews. But because CP put a big Optimus Prime caricature on the cover this week, you might actually read their reviews, like I did. And you might wonder, like I did, why CP would devote The Fucking Cover to this movie. I mean, their reviews are as formulaic as Michael Bay’s film: Nathan Lee writes the usual freshman American Studies-major thesis on product placement (although he tries like hell to write the anti-freshman American Studies-major thesis on product placement), while Rob Nelson delivers a bitchy dispatch from the LA junket/premiere. (Can I just say, Poor Rob.)

Anyway, the only reason that this is remotely interesting is because the CP feature this week was actually good. In “Sucked Dry,” Conrad Wilson wrote a smart, tight 1,500 word piece on why ethanol as an “alternative fuel” is a joke, because corn is so damaging to our state’s water table. Now, regular Stephen Hero readers should be well aware of the Corn-spiracy, but you’re certainly not going to read about this on the front page of the Strib. A story like this is what the so-called alternative media is all about, so why didn’t it get the cover? Look, the graphic is plenty good enough for the cover:

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And I’m pretty sure Steve Perry would’ve put the story on the cover (and ran it at 12,000 words, but that’s beside the point). All I’m asking is, isn’t the GM-hating City Pages reader already well-aware that The Transformers is just toy-pushing, gas-guzzling capitalist propaganda?

Don’t be an asshole…

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…buy this.

And once you fully comprehend how great the world’s worst superhero is, then get your grassroots on.

Boy Friday

Because Stephen Hero isn’t affiliated with my primary employer, Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, you might make the mistake of assuming that on this “blog,” I have abandoned the assets that have made me such an editorial success: a subtle, variegated knowledge of the suburban mind, and the ability to tell my reader exactly where to get the good shit. Stephen Hero is not just some extremely well-written, hyper-literary diary. It could even be argued that I am doing my daytime employer a service by heeding the call for more transparency in the media; that in today’s “Fair and Balanced” climate, a window into the sources of the various isms and phobias that coalesce into what a charitable reader may perceive as my “bias,” and a less charitable one as my “prejudice,” is a good thing. A fringe benefit maybe, but that is not the point. Here, I can tell you exactly where to get the good shit too.

This last weekend, I was in charge of getting two things for my mother’s surprise party for her 60th birthday: The Keg and The Cake. I needed cake for 65, and I’ve heard that sheet cake is expensive, so I was prepared to spend some money, especially considering that I didn’t really start investigating this cake situation until two days before the big party. At first, I wanted to give the job to my girlfriend’s friend Kalinka, a Brazilian pastry chef that works in a St. Paul restaurant. Kalinka is a dessert sorceress. She bakes this incredible coconut fudge cake–it’s the only cake I’ve ever liked (I’m a pie man). There is something spiritual and authentic to her creations that belies the category of “confection.” (A benign eating disorder?) But Kalinka was already baking a cake for a wedding for one of her countrymen, and she didn’t have time for her friend’s big, white American boyfriend. (Racism!) I don’t have any other pastry chef connections, so I called the bakery by my house, the Uptown Wuollet’s, and for $75, I told them the flavor of cake I wanted and what to write on top of it: “Happy 60th Birthday, Mom/Jean Ann.” When the cake was unveiled, I think some people were a little confused by the Mom-slash-Jean Ann thing, but everybody loved how it tasted and one of my mom’s little old lady friends said, “When I heard Stephen was getting the cake, I just knew he would get a Wuollet’s.” (See, how killer that Mpls.St.Paul affiliation can be?)

Buying The Keg turned out to be much more controversial. Again, I had left planning to the last minute, so on my way back from the Picasso and American Art exhibit at the Walker on Friday night (heavyweight art show, and the Walker was delightfully empty, even after 5 on a Friday), I stopped in at Lowry Hill Liquor to reserve a keg. They were out of everything, and they immediately referred me to Zipp’s. They said it was the spot for kegs in the Twin Cities. I called Zipp’s and asked them if they had Summit Grand Pilsner. They did, but only in 8 gallon kegs, and my father’s family was coming, and I was sure they would be able to burn through a 16 gallon. I asked if they had PBR. They said that PBR was their most popular keg, and their cheapest, at $49.99. I like a top shelf pilsner or a lager, and Zipp’s has everything, but something nice, like Stella Artois, would have cost me $125.

Only one problem: My sister. My sister is a horrible person, basically. This isn’t her fault, of course; it’s her mother’s. With all due respect (she did just turn 60), my mom was given two boys right off the bat, she was probably envisioning–accurately, it turned out–a future filled with broken furniture, small-time delinquency, cursing and the NFL. The good woman was desperate for a little girl. And when she finally got one, she spoiled her rotten. And now the rotten little girl has grown into a monster, a grown-up monster that loves Michelob Golden Draft Light. When I told Megan about the PBR reservation, she screamed into the phone, “STEPHEN, this isn’t about YOU!” This was a shock. I mean, I knew that my sister isn’t emotionally stable, and I knew that she liked Michelob Golden Draft Light, but the day before, when I told her that I was going to buy a Summit Grand Pilsner keg, she just sighed, albeit in an unnecessarily dramatic way, and said, “I knew you would get something weird.” Now she was furious about the PBR. But my dad’s family, a big, garrulous, blue collar family with rural Minnesota roots (Staples-Motley area) loves PBR. At least the men in the family love it. The women prefer Michelob Golden Draft Light, like my sister, and most females that live outside of the 612, but they had grown to tolerate the PBR fixation of the men. And my mom’s family, a smaller family–one younger brother, one younger sister–that grew up in Brooklyn Center in the 1960s, more securely middle-class, is basically a light beer/rose crowd. Still, they didn’t seem like they would be disgusted by PBR on a sunny summer afternoon. I mean, I myself have been a recreational pot smoker since the late 90s, never really a beer drinker, so I admit, I don’t have a deep understanding of beer culture, but nobody had ever betrayed any overt animosity towards the PBR tradition. Lately, PBR has even found some traction with some of my younger, more tattooed male cousins–adding another layer to what is now a full-blown inside family joke. The most reasonable explanation for my sister’s hysteria was that the party planning pressure was getting to her. After all, because it was a surprise party, this would be the first time she’d planned anything without my mother…

Here’s the deal: I’m not a cheapskate, but I already spent $75 on the cake. And at that point, I didn’t know that that was going to pay off in terms of prestige, so I thought the better chance of embossing my image/avoiding confrontation was through a premium beer. So when my brother gave me a ride to Zipp’s on the day of the party, I asked the keg attendent how much it would cost to switch to Michelob Golden Draft Light. “Why would you do that?” the guy demanded. “Why not keep the Pibber? It’s the best beer, and look, it’s only 49.99. There’s a reason we list it in bold! The Michelob is $80 and it doesn’t taste as good. Why would you change it? Why?” I thought he was going to start scourging his breast and tearing his hair out. At this point, the keg attendant, a wiry dude with bleached hair and combat boots that looked like Spike from Angel chimed in, “Why would you do that? Why would you get rid of the Pibber?” I said, okay, okay, give me the Pibber.

In the parking lot, when Spike was wheeling the thing out, I slipped him a five and divulged all of my pent up shame about cheaping out on my sister and asked him if there was anything, anything he could do about this situation, anyway he could help me avoid the inevitable scene at my mother’s 60th surprise birthday party, now only a half hour and a drive to Elk River away. “Oh,” he said, “so you want to make it look like your family is getting the frat boy beer, but you want to keep the Pibber?” I nodded. I was encouraged–Spike looked like he had a plan. “Okay, this is gonna be gross, so don’t look.” He went back to the cooler and returned with a plastic Michelob cap to sub for the Pabst cap. Then he pulled out a white piece of cardboard. He hocked a loogy, spit on the cardboard, and rubbed it in the gravel of the parking lot. Armed with the makeshift sandpaper, he began vigorously scrubbing away the PBR-PBR-PBR ink printed all over it. He looked up, pleased. “I do this all the time,” he said. Continue reading