Friday, August 7, 2015

Bye, Jon

Last night was the final episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The show will continue on with a new host, but Stewart's moved on after almost seventeen years. I didn't watch it last night--I'm old, we have kids, and I cherish my sleep too much now for those reasons and several others--but I did DVR it and I'll watch it later. I used to watch the show every day, but, as with Letterman earlier this year, by the time Stewart's run was coming to an end I'd long since stopped watching faithfully. And, also like with Letterman, it had nothing to do with the host or the show, per se, it was mostly all about how life changes and I found myself less likely to stay up to watch something that I could sample bits of online the next day. The must-see aspect of these daily late night shows started to diminish for me--and a lot of people my age and younger, I'd wager--in the last decade when it all started becoming available for viewing and dissecting in easily digestible clips the morning after the episodes aired. So, times change, and we change with them.

That said, I've been a fan of Jon Stewart as a comedian and a host and an interviewer and a pop culture personality for a very long time. It predates the Daily Show gig. He hosted a show on MTV during my college years, back when the Alternative Nation ruled the world, remember? He was part of that slacker era, even though people rarely remember that now. He used to have all of my favorite bands on his show, and it was clear that Stewart was a big fan of those bands too. I felt a connection to him back then that's mostly lasted. Plus, like Michael Keaton or John Cusack or countless other early icons of mine, he seemed to share my sensibilities and, whether consciously or not, I was heavily influenced by these guys. I always ask myself, am I similar in personality and humor and outlook to these guys because they influenced who I became? Or was I attracted to their styles because I was already like them anyway? I think it's a bit of both, but I know for certain that I wouldn't be the way I am (equal parts acerbic, genuine, sarcastic, honest, skeptical, passionate, cutting, heartfelt, etc.) without having grown up on a steady diet of watching guys like Stewart, Cusack, Keaton, Letterman, etc.

It was that genuine, heartfelt approach to the world on The Daily Show that always moved me the most. He used sarcasm and cynicism to cut through the bullshit because we're living in a world that's nothing but bullshit so much of the time, and sometimes the most effective way to make a point through all of the noise is to simply expose how absurd all of this is. He did it masterfully. On a consistent basis for a very long time. That's an accomplishment in itself. But my favorite thing about him will always be that we could see how much he felt things, how upset he got over social or political injustices, or how excited his inner fanboy became when talking about things that meant the world to him. That's why I always related to him. He was looking at the world from a skewed angle, like all the best comedians and cultural commentators do. And from that angle, he saw how things could be, and he spoke to that for each and every one of us that felt that way but didn't have a voice on a larger stage like he did. The show wasn't perfect, by any means. I always found him to be the best part of the show--the bits with correspondents grated on me over the years, but the impassioned monologues he delivered and the in-studio interviews he conducted were always the most memorable moments to me. That's why I think the pop culture world will be a little less insightful with him moving on.

I spoke to Stewart once a few years ago, briefly, at Schnipper's, I think it was the one on 8th Avenue. Now, I'm fond of saying that we all need to engage in knocking down our idols from time to time. It's important; we don't want them to get too big for their own good and lose what made them special to us in the first place. But talking to Jon Stewart was one of those moments where the rational me just flew out the window and fanboy irrational me took over. I was overwhelmed to be standing next to, and talking to, a man I'd revered for twenty years at that point. We didn't talk long, and we didn't talk about much, but it was a great moment for me nonetheless. And it involved a bathroom. Here's what happened. Schnipper's, the burger joint, required you to input a code from your receipt into the keypad outside the locked men's room door in order for you to gain access. I was siting near the bathrooms and I saw Stewart walk past me with his young son to use the men's room. Then I heard him tell his son he'd tossed his receipt so he didn't have the code to get in. Here was my chance! As he walked by again I said "Hey, I heard you just now--do you want my receipt for the code?" He smiled broadly and say "Aw, man! Thanks! Yeah, that would be great." He took it from me and headed back to the men's room. A few minutes later I had to, um, go, myself. I was pretty sure he was still in there too and I figured once he came out I could get in (since I didn't have my code anymore). I was waiting outside the door when it opened and out walked Stewart and his son. He saw me and flashed that big smile again and said "Hey, it's the guy with the code! Thanks, man! Here," and he held the door for me, "Just paying it forward!" We both laughed, I said thanks and actually patted him on the back as I walked past him. You know, like you would with your buddy. It was a genuinely nice moment. Throughout most of it, in my head I was telling myself "You're talking to Jon Stewart" over and over again because I couldn't believe it. But I didn't act like a fan even though I wanted to tell him how much his work had meant to me for so long. But I think just sharing a lighthearted moment was better, in the long run. And I got to interact with him while he was just out around town, being a dad (and his son was adorably cute), which has always made for a good story.

So, bye, Jon. It's been real. I hope you're enjoying a Schnipper's burger with your son a little more often now that you have some more time on your hands.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

She's just not that into you

A friend of mine recently blogged about things people say to you when you're a parent of twins. Things that, on the surface, seem innocuous enough. But when you the parent have to hear them repeated to you ad infinitum, well, then you have to control yourself from doing a little thinning of the herd if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

So to extrapolate on that thought (thanks for the inspiration, Jaime!), I just wanted to write a quick word or three hundred about one my wife and I hear with alarming frequency lately. The old "Oh, she's unsure about me! She's not too happy with me, is she? What did I do?" We've heard this one a lot recently when one of our seven-month twins makes one of the following faces: neutral face that doesn't display any signs of positive or negative emotions, or just a slight frown, or the full-on-pouty-lipped-about-to-burst-into-tears-any-minute face. More often than not lately it's been our daughter who elicits this response from strangers* (and let it be known here, I'm really talking about strangers, not friends or family; that's part of what makes this whole thing worth exploring, to me). So far, she seems a little bit more leery of strangers than our son, who is usually happy to flash a smile at just about anyone. But he has his moments too, trust me. Still, I've been feeling for my daughter when people say things like this. Maybe it's because  when she's with us, especially at home, she's a ball of energy and fun, laughing and playing and beaming with a wide grin every time we pick her up or talk to her or just look at her, even. It just seems like she's a little shy in public at times. Sometimes.  Not always.

So what?? I think part of why I internalize this for her is that I was a shy kid. I only learned what it was like to live as an introvert--how looked down on it is to even be an introvert in this society--as I got older. But I distinctly remember being made to feel bad about being shy as a kid. I remember adults saying things to my parents like "Oh, he's shy, isn't he?" in hushed tones as if it was a bad thing. It's not, I'm here to tell you that it's really not. As an adult I really transitioned into being more an ambivert: someone with qualities of both extroversion and introversion. But even now I have to occasionally face people's lack of knowledge about what it's like to be an introvert--that it doesn't mean I don't like you because I'd rather be drawing right now, or it doesn't mean I'm not interested in your story because I'd rather be taking in some much-needed quiet time at this moment. But when I was ten years old, I didn't have any confidence to express things like this to people; I just knew I preferred being quiet and was often too scared to speak up to adults or even certain kids my own age. It didn't hinder me much, though. I made good friends and I grew out of my shell with time, as I found other like-minded people who helped pull out the best in me.

Clearly, our daughter is too young for us to know if she'll be an introvert or an extrovert yet. But sometimes when strangers put their own feelings onto her by saying things like "She's not sure of me!" I want to speak up and say "Um, no, it's not really about you. It's about her and maybe she's trying to pass some gas right now or is contemplating chewing on mommy's dangling necklace or really maybe she's just concentrating extra hard on reading people's thoughts because she's hoping to be a world-class telepath like Jean Grey or Professor X, so, you know, thanks but move along now, please." It's really interesting to see how people--total strangers--put so much onto a baby! It goes to show you how involved we all are in our own heads and how we tend to see things through our own lens and can't break away from that to realize that a baby is almost certainly not creating any deep feelings about a stranger she's seeing for the first and last time for a total of maybe two minutes of her life. And then I'm struck by how similar that is to how people have reacted to my shyness or introversion over different stages of my life--when I was ten, or maybe thirteen, and then again in my twenties or thirties. So watching strangers' reactions to our kids has shown me just how early in life you have to face a lot of people's bullshit and dammit I'm proud of my daughter when she just stares at them and doesn't offer any quarter--it's like she's saying "Just for that comment, lady, you aren't getting a smile out of me now, no way." That's my girl.

*I don't even have the time right now to write about how a lot of this response being directed at my daughter is similar to how people often feel that women need to "smile for them" or "look happy" and how there are some major league messed up gender perceptions going on here. Eye opening stuff to see that starting so early in life too.