life as understood

by jeff carr, master of the arts, -------------------------------------------------------------------------- presumably from a couch


accessibility, or a lack thereof

courtesy of Jeff |

I guess I haven't had much to talk about in the last little while. Wimbledon is wonderful, but you don't want to hear about that. Besides, due to that, I haven't been outside for days. Hence, no stories. Anyway, work has been rather dull, because I've been on hold for an even longer period of time by a barrage of people who just plain won't e-mail me back. My job consists of two things: e-mailing (input) and writing (output). That is, I'm a writer, but I can't write until people E-MAIL ME BACK. It seems like 50% of the faculty and staff of the university are vacationing/researching in foreign countries right now, not to return for weeks. I hope they're having fun. Excuses from present members of the staff aren't as airtight.

Meanwhile, I've been trying to pass the time researching about certain aspects of the university, so I know my subjects inside and out. Today I took a nice business jaunt to the library, where I stumbled upon this little gem next to the main handicapped restroom on the first floor. Maybe as a PR writer, I should be spending this time staving off a lawsuit.

So if anyone asks, this is for the benefit of our many wheelchair students that routinely enter the library from the sky. Our world-renowned "Jet Packs for Paraplegics" program is second to none.

PR is easy.


The Championships

courtesy of Jeff |

It's the most wonderful time of the year. What? Christmas already? Better. It's Wimbledon.

Nothing can get me up way early in the morning like the sweet smell of strawberries and cream, fresh grass, and tennis balls straight from the can, which is what I imagine it's like while I watch the year's greatest sporting event on TV. A solid fortnight of white-clad action from Centre Court with such history, such tradition and emotion. It can't be beat.

But there are those that are trying. Yes, a dark shadow has indeed threatened to cast itself over the grounds at the A.E.L.T.C, and it's not raincloud. It's a shadow which has worked long and hard in an attempt to squelch the Wimbledon magic we witnessed in 2001 with Goran Ivanisevic's dream run to become the only Wild Card ever to win a major.

The shadow is called Roger Federer.

This isn't a syndicated article, and I'll admit my bias flat out. He's a great, great player, but he's ruining professional tennis for the rest of us. He doesn't mean to, of course. He's just extremely good at what he does. But the sad result is that tennis has become completely predictable. Sure, Nadal might beat him once in a while, but there's no one else. It's like U.S. soccer player Landon Donovan said today after his national team upset #1-ranked Spain in a huge match: "This is the reason we play the game. You never know what can happen." This is also the reason we watch the game. Because we don't know. Why watch something when you know how it's going to end? The best movies are unpredictable, and so are the best sports. Sports are even better, in a way, because it's reality. Real, unstaged reality. Yes, it's a game, but it's also the end result of years of blistering work, cunning, and sheer will. It's the realization of hard-earned lifelong goals and dreams. And we get to see it unfolding as each point takes shape.

Now don't get me wrong. I don't fault Federer or any others for being incredibly talented, and there's nothing I can, or would, do about it. May the best man win. But it would help if the best man was likeable. I'm just saying. Those that call Roger a humble victor should watch an interview with him. Any interview will do, but I especially suggest ESPN's Sunday Conversation from June 7th of this year. When Dick Enberg asked Federer what aspects of Rafael Nadal's and others' games elevate him as a player, he responded rather smugly (in his RF hat and jacket): "I have actually helped more the other players than they have helped me to improve, because I put tennis in a different league."

Honestly, in the long run, he's probably right. But is that the sort of self-absorption we want from our champions? This is not an isolated incident. Watch any post-match interview with Federer this week, and you'll see him respond to questions about his hard-fought opponent with answers about his own superiority. He does it every time. We can't be so fortunate as to have Goran Ivanisevic win Wimbledon every year, and we shouldn't. So much of the glory of that 2001 fortnight was in its rarity.

And so much of the majesty of every Wimbledon is in that gentlemanly (and ladylike) atmosphere which many, but not all, rise to meet. It's a special tournament with a sporting tradition that attracts the eyes of fans and non-fans the world over. I wouldn't miss it for anything. I'll watch every minute when I'm home, and track it online while I'm at work. And if Federer wins again this year, I'll be a little disheartened, but he can't ruin everything. It will still have been a wonderful two weeks of small victories. And hey. Maybe something weird and wonderful will happen and he won't win. Either way, I'll be watching. For as great as Roger Federer is, Wimbledon is better.


our couch: magic?

courtesy of Jeff |

I sit down and write now, as I usually do nowadays, from our real-life living room couch. It's a soft couch with an ugly white and beige get-up, and some faint light blue and pink vertical stripeage, reminiscent of a design one might find in an Arizona retirement community in the early '90s. Nothing like the gorgeous entity at the top of the page. Over that, however, is draped a much more pleasant pastel-green knit cover, which we bought. There's also a tear on the left arm, under the cover, just behind the front support, which I caused with my foot at the beginning of the couch's ownership. I like this couch a great deal, despite its brevity, though I realize I likely haven't openly acknowledged or appreciated its long months of service to my family. Now, before you immediately write this off as just another run-of-the-mill drunken furniture-appreciation rant, allow me to note that I'm quite sober and of sound mind, or so I've come to believe.

My sudden need to appease the couch comes as a desperate attempt to cover all my bases as I find myself knee-deep in a shenanigan the likes of which I've never seen. I suspect magic. But let me back up a bit.

This afternoon, I've been doing laundry, which involves countless trips back and forth across the parking lot between our apartment and the house where the coin-op machines sit in the musky basement. On my third trip down there, after depositing the darks into the great spinning beast, I saw something in the room that caused me to stagger back and lose my breath. It was our couch, the very couch I had just left quietly in the living room. It was on its back on the concrete floor, the green knit cover falling seductively off the top to reveal its true upholstery: beige and white with Arizona stripes. I sat back on a nearby table to consider what I was seeing. Could it be that someone had moved it here from my apartment when I wasn't looking? Impossible. I had just come from there, and there was no one else in sight. Still, I couldn't fight the feeling that somehow, I had been punk'd.

My buddy Matt who lives in my building has a long history of such tomfoolery, but he never turns it on his friends, save the one time when he rang the doorbell at 3:00am and blasted Brandon in the face with the airhorn. (Yes, we knew that was you.) Even if it was Matt, though, he couldn't carry the couch alone, and not without my noticing. I reached under the green knit cover and felt the left arm of the impostor couch, just behind the support. There was the rip. This was too much. I sat back down on the table, aghast.

After staring for a moment, I ambled back to the apartment, cursing myself for leaving the door unlocked. Even though I was just leaving home for a minute to go deposit the darks, I honestly thought "I hope no one takes my stuff." Boom. But alas, I walked in the door, and there was my couch sitting right where it should, right where it is now, as though it hadn't moved an inch. It was now that I began to consider the supernatural.

As any self-respecting college student would do, I ran back to the laundry room to document my first magical encounter on my cameraphone. The camera, however--of course--didn't work. Like a vampire, the mystical object wouldn't be captured.

Sarah wasn't impressed by my recounting of this story. Perhaps it's because, as part of our mutual agreement, she's currently reading such classic realist fiction as The Great Gatsby while I finish up the Harry Potter series. As a result, she's far more rational lately, whereas my first inclination is to blame some sort of transfiguration.

No, magic doesn't seem likely, and the more plausible explanation of divine intervention doesn't exactly sit right with me either, at least not in this instance. For what purpose God (or Voldemort) would clone my couch, I know not. I may, in fact, have to resign myself to the probable truth that there just so happens to be a new couch in the laundry room, exactly like ours, with the same cover from Walmart, and with the same rip in the same place. I could believe that, but that's no fun.


on old flames and OB/GYNs

courtesy of Jeff |

I have a good friend named Emily. We've been close for a number of years now. For a little while, we kind of dated. Kind of. It's a long story. We were definitely mutually smitten for a good while, though, and then I went to Russia. So, bad timing. Anyway, I got back, and she married my good buddy Zach, which was wonderful. Then I married Sarah, which was even better. Everybody wins. The point is, you can see how it might have been awkward when I (me) accompanied Emily into the hospital today for her final OB/GYN exam before she gives birth.

It was like a sudden glimpse into a future that never was, like the mediocre Nicolas Cage film, "The Family Man." Emily and I sat down in the waiting room and she handed me a magazine called Baby Talk or something like that, then laughed before de-gifting it and handing me a dated Sports Illustrated instead. It was hard to concentrate on that or anything else, though. The whole thing was too surreal. I surveyed the other occupants of the vast waiting room that was ours, intent on taking full advantage of my glimpse. Other young women at various stages of pregnancy adorned most of the seats, and a few young kids swung on chair legs and fiddled with the toys. I was the only man. For a few moments, I reveled in the envy that my presence was causing among the other women in the waiting room. "There's a husband who cares." I just knew they were saying it. "He'll be a good father." At least, that's how I imagined it, and it was nice. Yes, I will be a good father.

Emily got called into her appointment, and a few minutes later, I had to step briefly out to pick up Sarah, my wife, and drop her off somewhere else for work. The errand took longer than it should have, though, and as I screeched into the hospital parking lot and sprinted in to collect my stranded, bulbous friend, I could almost see the faces of the other women in the waiting room. My time in the sun was over, and the women scowled and remembered why they came to the hospital alone. "What kind of guy leaves his 9-month pregnant wife alone while he gallivants around town, anyway?" But I never had to face them, those women. Emily met me at the door, and the glimpse ended.

Just as it was for Nicolas Cage, my unexpected jaunt into a parallel reality was rather instructive. I learned that fatherhood is comprised of both ups and downs. And it may be that I'm not quite ready for such a volatile milestone. To be honest, I'm not sure I'm ready for two of my closest friends to reach it either, but by next Thursday at the latest, Zach and Emily will. And then, we'll see what happens.

Sarah and I, meanwhile, spent the next little while at McDonald's, where we ordered off the dollar menu, like the carefree kids that we are.



courtesy of Jeff |

Yesterday, I spoke with my buddy Trent, who has returned to the Washington, DC area to work sales again this summer. I must say, the decision for Sarah and me not to venture out to DC again in 2009 wasn't a terribly difficult one. We both knew we wanted to be near family and relax a bit before embarking on our new and distant adventures. But I must admit there's something very special about being in DC in the summertime, and until Trent brought it up, I hadn't considered what exactly we'd be missing by electing to stay in the West. I'm sure those of you that have experienced it know by now that I'm speaking, of course, about Hoagiefest.

For those who don't know, and can't gather by clicking on the above link, Hoagiefest is an annual promotion put on by Wawa, a convenience store chain based in the mid-Atlantic. All summer long, four different delicious hoagies for only $2.99. And it's just as fantastic as it sounds. What a reprieve from the sales grind it was last summer, sauntering sweat-borne into the Wawa after a long day, greeted by song and sandwich.

Trent asked if we'd be flying out for the Fest this year, and I was sorry to admit that it wouldn't work out. We'll have to shoot for taking the kids when they're old enough to appreciate it (and when they're conceived and born). Yeah. Forget the Cherry Blossom Festival, the Kennedy Center shows, the Fourth of July on the Mall, Nats games, and the countless museums and architecture. Hoagies are only $2.99.

I don't miss the summer job there, however, which was selling home alarm systems door to door. I'd like to think I learned something, though. I went out and did sales--something that I never in my life wanted to do--and I was blessed for it. I'm a changed man. Now, this summer, once rent and cost of living are factored in, I'll be netting just about as much writing for 25 hours per week as I did offering myself as a barely-human sacrifice 60 hours per week in the hot sun. And I wasn't the worst salesman in the world. Not the best, obviously, but I could have been worse. I just couldn't bear to deceive.

Things like Trent and Hoagiefest got me through last summer when the world of sales threatened to excise the final portions of my soul. Earning potential in that job was astronomical, but my particular company cared nothing for employee morale. I'm glad I learned how much more important happiness is than money. I had always heard that, and assumed so, but never expected that it would be true to the degree that it is. Of course, that's easy for me to say now that I have a job I like, writing for something I believe in. Besides, at only $2.99, I can afford to keep my money AND my happiness. Never again will I have to rely on a brilliant and delectable promotion (now through July 26) to get me through a hot summer day. Now if only I had a delicious Hoagiefest hoagie right now, my new life would be truly complete. And so would yours.

This has been a paid advertisement of Wawa Food Markets, all rights reserved (by someone, probably).


the graduate with a job (an upset victory)

courtesy of Jeff |

Watching professional tennis is difficult for me, but not for the same reason as most. I love every minute of the sport itself. It's difficult for me to watch simply because, in a freak statistical anomaly, whatever player I'm cheering for in any given match ends up winning only about 15% of the time.

It's ridiculous. Some sort of weird combination of Murphy's law and my propensity to cheer for underdogs. Either way, I was beginning to draft this in my head while watching the fifth set of Robin Soderling vs. Fernando Gonzalez in the French Open semifinal just now. I was cheering for the Swede, largely due to his Cinderella dethroning of Nadal in the fourth round. (Anytime Federer or Nadal lose, the world grows a little bit lighter.) Anyway, Soderling won the first two sets, lost the third and fourth, and of course called the trainer over because he was developing blisters. Quite often when a player I support is winning, sudden injuries are the "diabolus ex machina" that hose me (and them) in the end.

But today, my guy won. He came back from being down 4-1 in the fifth and took five straight games to advance to the final. I don't even care about Soderling himself that much, and he'll face Federer in the final, which means the fun will likely be short-lived, but today, he won, and he'll be better for it.

Once in a while, I win too.

Frequent readers of this blog will note the recent trend, beginning a month ago, of posts related to my English degree and subsequent lack of employment. Well, my friends, I'm elated to report that I now have a job. The Office of Public Relations here at the university is paying me to write. And what's more, they're paying me more than double what I was paid at my previous job in the English Department. In fact, they're paying me more than I've ever dreamed of being paid while living in the state of Utah, and to do something I love.

I haven't even really started yet, and I'm teeming with excitement. Who knew you could actually make money through writing? Most of the English faculty sure told me I wouldn't be able to, at least not self-respectingly. I've always believed as they've lectured, that creative writing and a steady income are, and probably should be, mutually exclusive. But it seems that is not always the case. This particular job of mine is temporary, far from a career or a hindrance on grad school, but it's certainly opening doors to future jobs and possible careers in similar fields.

So, this isn't the most well-crafted or thoughtful or tightly-written prose of mine, but it is born out of sheer happiness, and that seems like a good enough reason to write. I don't think I've ever really been proud of a job before--at least not like this--and I thought I should share it. This is, after all, essentially a personal blog, and I can write about what I want. And I write: Study what you love. My degree of glory is now paying off in more ways than one.


striving to improve Idaho/Utah relations

courtesy of Jeff |

This past weekend, I went golfing with two of my best friends, Steve and Blaine, and Steve's random cousin Bobby, at Homestead Resort at Midway, just outside Park City, Utah. It was a beautiful day. The golf was good, the company great, and the scenery fantastic. For a time, I was able to completely forsake the troubles of the modern life. Unfortunately, though, it doesn't take much to snap one back to reality. Yesterday, on the way back to Logan, I told a girl about the trip, when she burst out saying "Of course you went golfing. You're from Idaho!"

In these troubled times of ever-straining relations, I wasn't sure how to react. I didn't believe my ears, or didn't want to. As an Idahoan living in Utah, I'm quite accustomed to this sort of profiling, but there never seems to be a fitting response. I think I mumbled something like "what?", and so the girl elaborated, telling me that absolutely everyone in Idaho golfs. She expressed surprise that I, having lived there for eighteen years, was completely unaware of such a defining characteristic of my own state.

It became apparent that she was basing this claim entirely off of the experience of her dad, who lives in Utah and does not golf, and her dad's three brothers, who live in Idaho and do. I wasn't offended by the unorthodox generalization itself, as I do indeed enjoy a good round of 9 or 18 now and then, but I got to wondering--is this how hurtful interstate stereotypes begin?

Having lived my entire pre-college life in Idaho before choosing to study abroad in Utah, I've seen both sides pretty thoroughly. I love both states and would be proud to make either my permanent home (except in either Pocatello or Provo, but that's a post for another day). I've traveled extensively in both states, and have friends in all different corners. I even married a naturalized Utahn and couldn't be prouder. And I'm well aware that many well-intentioned hands cross the border in each direction, and yet, I can't ignore the immature, inaccurate profiling that abounds, replacing mutual camaraderie with misunderstanding, hatred, and wanton acts of terror that threaten to tear our great states apart.

What I propose is to alleviate the hurt feelings, to sop up the bitter tears by exposing some of the interstate stereotypes and addressing each one openly and honestly. Hopefully by doing so, we'll come closer to a truth that both parties can agree on.

Stereotype: All Utahns are Mormons-- This is simply not true. It's actually just barely over 50%, and Salt Lake City itself considerably less. Not that the prevalence is a bad thing, anyway. Besides, SLC is a great city with a thriving, secular nightlife and considerable diversity. You're thinking of Utah County, for which the stereotype is completely accurate.

Stereotype: Idaho is just a northward extension of Utah-- This is one of the most offensive attacks of Utahns, aimed at diminishing Idaho's unique identity and replacing it with their own. In reality, Idaho is very different. Our stores are open on Sundays, and our schools and cities actually pay attention to the arts.

Stereotype: All Idahoans golf-- This is ridiculous.

Stereotype: All Idahoans eat a lot of potatoes-- This is pretty much true, actually. But hey, wouldn't you? They're delicious.

Stereotype: Utahns are bad drivers-- This is mostly true, but folks from Jefferson County, Idaho take the cake. If you see a 1J license plate coming your way, duck. No one is safe. This may be a stereotype as well, but in the interest of safety, it's a good one to hold on to, just in case. And no, not all Utahns are bad drivers. Many just don't understand 4-way stops. Mostly, the stereotype comes from the Utah Highway Patrol's extremely lenient policies on I-15. One can exceed the speed limit by 15mph and cross over as many double lines as one wants. As of yet, no one has ever been pulled over.

Stereotype: Idaho is flat-- This is a common misconception of Utahns who have never left I-15 or I-84 when traveling in Idaho. Yes, those interstates pass through mostly flat land. It's easier to drive that way. This is the Snake River Plain, and it's the only plain in the entire state. Utah is no more mountainous, but has simply done an impossibly better job than Idaho at actually situating major cities right close to the mountains. In Idaho, they're a little farther away, and it takes an effort to get there. Also, speaking of traveling on I-84 in Idaho, sorry about the smell between Boise and the Magic Valley. We're not sure what that is either.

Stereotype: Utahns love Jell-O, especially of the green variety-- In four years here, I've seen it only a couple of times, and never green. The most recent issue of Salt Lake Magazine recently named it the #1 "Locavore" food of Utah, though, whatever that means. But I have to assume based on my own experience that this is a myth that no longer has support.

Stereotype: All Idahoans are hicks-- This is by far the most heinous and underlying stereotype of Idaho by Utahns. I currently live in Logan, Utah, and whenever people ask me where I'm from, and I answer "Idaho Falls, Idaho," what usually follows is some sort of jejune reference to a life in the boonies. This is especially odd, seeing as how Idaho Falls is considerably larger and more cosmopolitan than Logan. The metro area is at least double the size. And yet, the generalization persists.

I've thought long and hard on where exactly this comes from, and I've reached a couple of conclusions. First of all, the bulk of Utah's sprawling urban area is far closer to the disputed border than are Idaho's. Also, whenever Utahns have relatives in Idaho, they're often in tiny little towns in the middle of nowhere. The populace in Idaho's larger cities often share more in common with Washington and Oregon than Utah.

The final reason, though, is that I believe that hicks in Utah, of which there are many, take on a very different appearance than do hicks in any other state. Small-towners and farmers in Utah usually are well-educated, don't drink or smoke, and often keep a more cosmopolitan appearance than hicks in other states. This of course, is largely due to the prevalence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, previously noted as the Mormon church. Due to the influence of the church, discerning between urban and rural folk in Utah is much harder than in other states. Utah, therefore, simply has fewer traditional hicks than anywhere else around. I argue that Idaho has no higher of a hick ratio than any other state, but since it's the closest representation of "the outside world" to Utah, it receives the brunt of the criticism.

In conclusion, I hope this has been an enlightening conversation for the good people on both sides of the border, and a step toward brotherhood. I am proud of my state. Utahns may label me with "Pridaho," but I'll never claim that my state is superior to Utah or any other. That's what Texans are for. I apologize for any fellow Idahoans of mine who may have insensitively fought back against Utah oppression with even more criticism of their own. And I do recognize and appreciate Utahns for not making fun of the name of our state in other ways, which is, admittedly, too easy. We only seek, as surely you do, to be understood and regarded as equals. And when the time comes, we'll work together to divide up Wyoming equally between us. Because come on, how much longer can they last?

Thank you for your time.