Obscurity Knocks

Earnest, empathetic, industrious, unpretentious, gay Virgo in Milwaukee with a great life, amazing friends, and a wonderful family.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea

I'm gay, which means I'm supposed to love and worship Chelsea Handler. But I'm more of a Kathy Griffin gay. I've never gotten into Chelsea. My sister-in-law lent me Chelsea's book, "Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea." I found parts of the book entertaining and funny, but others were either boring or even cringe-inducing. I enjoyed the chapter about her dating a redheaded guy, even though her attitude about redheaded men is deplorable yet emblematic of how it's acceptable to make fun of redheads in our society. The story about Chelsea and her dad on a trip to Costa Rica was funny. Some of the others, such as her clearly exaggerated story about spending a night in a Los Angeles jail and another about a dinner in the dark in London, were self-indulgent. Then again, I suppose that's the whole point about Chelsea - it's all about her. Maybe I need to watch her TV show sometime to understand Chelsea better. Score: 4 of 10.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Fountainhead

I had never read anything by Ayn Rand. My dad gave me a copy of "The Fountainhead" for Christmas, and he subsequently told me that it's the book that helped make him a lifelong reader when he was in his early 20s. He's not a Rand disciple, but he likes the book.

As a bleeding heart liberal and as a progressive Christian, I obviously have problems with Rand's Objectivist philosophy. Yet I found the book fascinating and a real page turner.
Howard Roark is definitely a fascinating character. I’ve been so struck at how Rand classifies people into four primary archetypes:

1. Roark – a person as a person should be;
2. Peter Keating – a man who couldn’t be but doesn’t know it;
3. Ellsworth Toohey – a man who couldn’t be and knows it; and
4. Gail Wynand – the man who could have been.

I'm definitely not an Objectivist or devotee of Rand. I do believe in personal responsibility and accountability which is rooted in the values I acquired from my parents and my own experience. Rand does an excellent job of showing the problems that can come from groups, committees, and the drawbacks of consensus and compromise. Trying to find a balance between individual goals and the greater good is a continuing challenge. It seems to me that a healthy tension between individualism and overall societal goals can help out society. The pendulum has swung both ways throughout American history. For me, I'll go with Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, the Great Society programs of Lyndon Johnson, and Obama over the trickle down, fend for yourself philosophy of Reagan and the two Bushes.

I have come across my share of Peter Keatings and Ellsworth Tooheys. Very few Wynands and, unfortunately, even fewer Roarks.

The book was overly melodramatic, so I give it an 8 out of 10. I do want to read "Atlas Shrugged" later this year.

Open: An Autobiography

I recently read Andre Agassi's "Open: An Autobiography." Agassi is 3.5 years older than me, and I remember when he first entered the scene as an up-and-coming teenage phenom. I followed his tennis career through the years, and was a spectator in Arthur Ashe Tennis Stadium at the 2006 US Open when Agassi had his epic five set victory over Marcos Baghdatis.

As a side note, there are only two times when I cried at a sporting event. The first was when I watched on television the Marquette men's basketball team beat Kentucky to advance to the Final Four in 2003. The second was when Agassi defeated Baghdatis at the US Open in in 2006, and I was fortunate to be at that one in person.

As a tennis fan and an Agassi fan, I found the book fascinating. Agassi isn't afraid to put everything out there, even difficult and painful emotional revelations. I got the sense that writing the book was a catharsis for Agassi. He writes in detail about how his dad's incessant pushing made him not only an amazing player, but also made him hate tennis. His issues with authority figures extended to Nick Bollettieri, the well-known tennis academy director and coach. Agassi isn't afraid to acknowledge the shortcomings of his education and how Bollettieri was motivated more by money and ego than by a desire for his students to succeed. You get all the details about his relationship, marriage, and divorce from Brooke Shields. Then you learn how Brad Gilbert helped him resurrect his tennis game, his comeback after falling below number 100, and how he met Steffi Graf.

The most interesting aspect of the book for me was reading the story of how Agassi came to grips with himself and with tennis. He uses his own experiences in a positive way to try to help others with his charter school in Las Vegas. While most sports autobiographies are focused on the rah-rah aspect of the writer's sport, this book is filled with brutal honesty. I found that refreshing. As someone who has also lost his hair, it was fascinating to read about how Agassi wore a hair piece, and how he lost a Roland Garros final at least partially due to fear that his hair piece would fall off. He also discussed his abuse of crystal meth to dull the pain he felt in his life and how he came back from that.

Overall, a great book, particularly for any tennis fan. 9 of 10.