Monday, February 23, 2009

What's the game?

The origins of this blog’s name comes from the song “Unfriendly Game” by the Broklyn rapper Masta Ace. It’s a clever song that compares the life of drug dealers to that of a professional football team. This blog doesn’t have anything to do with either (although I may write about my obsession with football in the future), I think “the game” is an accurate way to describe most aspects of life.

In The Wire, which is my favorite TV and supposedly President Obama’s as well, our favorite character always talks about the game. Omar Little is the badass Robin Hood of the hood. He "rips and runs" drug dealers of their cash and stash, but he never puts a gun on an innocent. He likes to carry a big shotgun while whistling Farmer in the Dell, and his scenes are typically the "action" in the show. He also happens to be gay. To him, the whole drug trade is “the game.”

“The game is out there, and it’s play or get played,” he tells some officers in the first season.

In one of the best scenes during the five season run, Omar testifies against some scumbag named Bird, who is accused of killing a witness. The slimy lawyer Maury Levy defends Bird. Levy has been well-established before this scene as a straight up slime ball. Considering this is a show that has murderers and corrupt politicians, it’s saying a lot that he’s the most unlikable character on the show. I don't have the skills to embed videos and it's a bit long, but it's worth checking out.

Omar on Trial

“You are feeding of the violence and despair of the drug trade,” said an impassioned Levy. “You’re stealing from those who themselves are stealing from the life blood of our city. You are a parasite that leeches off the culture of drugs.”

“Just like you,” replied Omar. “I got the shotgun. You got the brief case. It’s all in the game though, right?”

Case closed.

Now I could go on and about how brilliant this show is. The finale left me depressed for a couple days because while some of the characters find redemption, others become new victims of the game, and the cycle of awfulness just continues. Usually I watch other shows and wish it was as good as The Wire. Then again, I’m addicted to crap like Heroes, so it’s easy to wish for better programming.

Anyways, the game doesn’t just apply to the courts or the streets: it’s everything. Any job you’re working can be the game, because if you don’t play it right then you’ll get played. Relationships are also a game that comes with a winner and a loser. Hell, even trying to survive on the road in Connecticut is a game due to the awful drivers.

By calling all these things a game, their seriousness may seem diminished. I just think it’s a great way of showing that anything in life can be passed or failed.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Science of Heartbreak

I was flipping through a Men’s Health magazine and came across this interesting article that looks at heartbreak from a scientific standpoint. It’s long, but you can trim it in half by skipping the awkward first-person segments where the guy bitches about his ex-girlfriend Julia and then tries to brush off that he stalked her. These bits are pretty awful, and this is coming from a guy that writes blog posts riddled with typos and can’t even get the font to consistently stay the same in each post.

According to the story, being madly in love boosts brain activity by creating something called dopamine. This dopamine makes things feel great. The problem is that it’s addictive – just ask crack users. The same thing goes off in their mind when they take some of the rock. Dopamine apparently makes us think we need the relationship because of the good waves it gives off in our brains.

The obvious truth is that most people don’t need, despite the contrary feelings in their body. I found myself nodding my head in agreement with a lot of things in this article (I was literally nodding my head as I read this in the library. I must have looked sketchy).

Some of the stereotypical remedies to a bad breakup are brought up, such as gambling, drinking and finding some new quickly. The best thing to do, according to some researches, is just to forget about them.

Don’t try being friends if you want to be something more at the moment.
Don’t look at photos of them.
Don’t track them on Facebook.
Don’t cry on anyone’s shoulder (at least regularly)
Of course, try not to see them in person.

It’s stupidly simple, and from my experience it works. Just don’t be a creep like the author … or me by nodding your head while reading in public.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

No beat of a different drum

Somebody I was interviewing asked me what my beat was at the paper.

“Everything,” I said.

Ten years ago, there were three or four reporters at my paper. As of last week, I’m the only one. There were two of us when I started working, but she took another job. Reinforcements won’t be arriving because there’s a hiring freeze from our kind rulers at Hearst. That means even if people leave, their position can’t be replaced. Maybe they would make exceptions if I were to die or something. After all, somebody needs to get some news for a newspaper.

Anyways, it seems that if you’re working in other fields, specialization is a great thing to have. If you can do one thing better than anyone else, then you’re set. For reporters, a degree of specialization is a great asset. If one reporter knows health better than anyone else, then they can provide the best, most nuanced stories available. Same with all the other beats.

I work in a relatively small town, so I don’t need too much specialization. However, I can’t do everything. There are many branches of local government, not even counting state legislators, and so many other aspects of towns that are important. Business. Crime (not that there’s much of it here). Education. Fluffy and sweet events that make good features.

When it was two reporters, we split some things and it was for the best. Now, things are going to be difficult and I’m worried that the readers will end up paying. There’s so much going on that it will be difficult to go truly in-depth on complex issues. Quicker stories made take precedence over long, convoluted ones that require lots of time. Of course, I’m going to have to kick my game up a notch, but something has to give. Hopefully it won’t be my sanity.

Somebody told me how newspapers are one of the only products that’s losing customers and offers a less stellar product in response. I’m on the bottom of the totem pole and don’t know what’s goes on with these massive conglomerations, but it boggles my mind that money can’t be made on newspapers. Do you know how much reporters are paid? It’s insane. Editors make comparatively decent money, which would be nice if they actually had time to spend it. These salary slaves seem to work at least 60 hours a week, and that’s what I’ve seen at tiny papers.

Where is this money going? It hurts when people say print is dying because I love it so much. It’s nice reading articles that have had time to develop rather than minute-by-minute updates. I like carrying around a paper and reading it over lunch, at my desk or in the bathroom. Who doesn’t? If the internet needs to be invested in to survive, so be it. No concerted efforts seem to be made anywhere about this. Time mag had some interesting ideas about this.

I guess I’m just bitter that I wasn’t around for the more lucrative era of newspapers, where people had strict beats and nothing slipped past a reporter. I’ll make due and keep on doing my best. The readers, at least most of them, will still stick with the paper. Gradually, I think this will lead to a slow and steady decline. I’ll just keep on doing what I’m doing, but I hope that some higher ups and taking serious measures to see what’s going on. It all starts in the newsroom. There will always be an audience for solid reporting as long as there are people to report it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Reporters are poor.

I heard all the warnings.

The biggest one everyone told me was how humiliating the wages for reporters were. Professors casually reminded me almost as often as they stressed the five Ws and the importance of punchy leads. It was almost an inside joke among journalism students and our professors. Everyone knew there wasn’t much money to be made, but nobody really took it too seriously. After all, we were young and beer on Wednesday nights was only 50 cents.

After graduating, I was at church with my family to pay respects to my grandma, who recently died thousands of miles away in her home country of Poland. It was in the middle of summer and my job hunt was at a standstill. I couldn’t even get an interview. After the service, one my mom’s Polish friends made some small talk with me. I mentioned how I wanted to be a reporter, even though I was pissed at my lack of success and jealous of my colleagues that were getting hired.

“A reporter?” he said. The guy had an incredulous look on his face, as if someone had told a barely coherent Polish joke. “How are you going to support a wife and kids?”

I grinned and told him I’d find a way. All I could think of was that I was hoping I didn’t have a wife, and especially a kid, any time soon.

Months later, I landed a job at a small community newspaper in the wealthiest in one of the wealthiest towns in the U.S. The truth is that it if I had a kid, I wouldn’t be able to provide him any of the basics without drastic help from my parents. I nearly qualify foodstamps, but I have too much money saved up and I make a couple hundred dollars over the aid limit. The ridiculously high rent in this part of Connecticut eats up more than half of my wages.

The best way to determine the living costs of a place is to check the beer prices. In a bar in Poland, a king sized beer was usually less than 2 bucks. Best of all, tipping was mostly unheard of. In Thailand, the manliest of manly beers was a buck in a 7/11. This thing was epic in size and delicious in taste (I set myself up for a prime "that's what she said" joke). In upstate New York, there are some bars that serve two dollar drinks all night long. Here, I’ve had the displeasure of $5 Bud Lights. I even had some more expensive drinks and nearly wept as the money left my wallet.

I still buy superfluous things now and then (usually used, like my $60 skis), so things probably aren’t as bad as I make them out to be. With that said, I love my job even when I hate it. More on that another time.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Where do you see yourself years from now?

I like, and occasionally love, my job even though it's hard to work in a fantasy land. By that, I mean I want to work in a real place. Right now I report in a town where people tell me things are so difficult in this recession that they haven’t bought a new car in three years. Their driveways are full of SUVs and European cars.

The biggest issue in schools was the possibility of class starting half an hour earlier. One lady said she moved out from the vicinity of another school that changed the start time. What she means is that she spent at least $1 million dollars on a new house so her kid could sleep in half an hour more. Maybe I’m being unfair in judging the price of her new home, but the average cost of a home here is approximately $1 million.

I make less than $25,000 a year. I’d never be able to own anything here.

From the crowded streets, McMansions sprout like ugly mushrooms. The developers try to make them to look like some of the remaining old-fashioned homes in town and they do a poor job of doing so. They’re just too big and too gaudy to be passed off as quaint.

It’s not that I wouldn’t like living here. Hell, if I was rich I’d probably be more than happy to buy up an obnoxious home and waste the days away. I’d also love to raise my kids in a safe town where the schools are topnotch and education is highly valued. I don’t plan on having kids anytime soon, so this doesn’t apply.

I just don't want to be that comfortable - at least for now.

My ideal place to work would be a shitty city where punks sling drugs on the corners, the system is failing and people have a right to be fired up and pissed off. Real, serious problems need to be prevalent. The thing with nice places is that people seem to invent problems just because it’s the natural thing not to be totally satisfied.

I want murders and corruption, but it isn’t because they make “easy” news stories. I’m always reminded that elsewhere in this country and the world, things are severely fucked up. Here I am on my laptop with my only real problem is that my girlfriend left me and I’m going to have to save a couple more weeks to buy upgrade my ancient laptop.

Changes need to be made in this country and the rest of the world. I could do the Peace Corps, which sounds like an amazing program, but I’d can't spend that much time off in a small village. I need more stimulation. Reporting on wide-spread issues and enacting change is any reporter’s dream, though I’m not in it for the bylines or the fame. I just don’t want to waste life away in a comfortably numb stupor while other people are profoundly suffering. I don’t know exactly what I want, but I want it in a couple years.