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Someone posted a link to this in my Facebook newsfeed this morning, and I watched it and was very moved.  It’s a video of a homeless man being given a makeover.

When I watched it I realized how emotionally moving it is. But gosh, it’s depressing that it’s moving. I didn’t want to be the one curmudgeon on Facebook to point this out, but the whole point of the video is that we feel differently about the post-makeover man than the pre-makeover man (Buzzfeed says “They wanted to show Jim that a respectable guy was still underneath all that scruff.”). But that’s one of the biggest problems of homelessness to begin with, isn’t it? That our feelings of value toward the homeless (and actually, their feelings of value toward themselves) hinge so much on their appearance.

But let’s face it, in this world, appearances do matter. How we dress does matter, both to the way people look at us and the way we look at ourselves. So let’s recognize that, use it to the best of our abilities (to help ourselves get the “boost” that we need to fix things), but look forward to a day when we’re just as moved by the pre-makeover homeless as the clean-cut homeless who wear suits.

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Lorne_Michaels_David_Shankbone_2010When I was a young kid in the late 1900s, I used to think that Saturday Night Live was the most grown-up thing imaginable. It was cool. It was on the cutting-edge of show business. It was risqué. It was late at night. I thought I was the coolest kid around when my parents would let me stay up and watch. Ever since then, SNL has been one of my favorite shows, and I have always admired its smart comedy and featured talent, from Wayne’s World to Norm MacDonald to Tina Fey.

Then, when I got a little older and started writing and performing music, in my wildest dreams I would envision myself one day getting famous enough to play as the musical guest on SNL.

However, life caught up with me and I found my calling not as a songwriter, but as a father and a student of psychology. So I abandoned my dream of ever being on that stage, and now I’m just raising my family and working hard at my master’s thesis.

Then again, I have been reading some of the history of Saturday Night Live, and once again came across the fact that way back in Season 3, a few years before I was born, you had a contest called “Anyone Can Host,” in which Miskel Spillman, aged 80 years old, won and was given the opportunity of a lifetime. Based on what was likely the rousing success of that show, you never had a contest like that again.

I’m writing this blog post to help you revisit that idea. Let me host your show.

I know what you’re thinking, and I understand. Maybe I don’t have any “qualifications” or “acting talent.” Maybe I actually know very little about how shows are “filmed” and “produced.” It’s possible that I would be a kind of ratings “wild card,” and maybe it’s likely that I would just “embarrass myself.” And who knows, maybe I haven’t really been “watching” the show since I got Netflix and can’t afford cable. Perhaps I’m actually not willing to put any “work” into this or “follow this through.”

And you know, it’s possible that I “freeze up” around anyone remotely famous, and feel like I want to “vomit.” Maybe I turned into a “babbling idiot” the day I met Michael Wilton‘s wife (yes, the Michael Wilton’s wife) at their kid’s soccer game in Seattle. Maybe the one time I met Alan Sparhawk, the lead singer and guitarist of the underground indie band Low, I “made my wife talk for me.” Maybe when I saw King’s X play at a festival in Cincinnati a few years ago, and got the band to sign my guitar, I saw them play again a few months later and Doug Pinnick pointed out that he “didn’t remember me” (yes, the Doug Pinnick didn’t remember me).

Maybe my religious upbringing would cause me to feel “uncomfortable” saying bad words, discussing adult topics, or drinking or smoking on the air, causing me to be somewhat “limited” in what skits I would feel comfortable being in. Maybe the only two “outcomes” out of this would be 1) I completely fail and do so in front of millions of people, or 2) do moderately well and become “Joe the Plumber” famous, causing me to forfeit my hard work in graduate school only to sink into obscurity empty-handed a year later with only a short Wikipedia stub to comfort me.

And so what if my only “acting experience” was a play in high school, where I “forgot my lines” and quit theater because I kept “forgetting my lines.” Maybe I have very little “comedic timing” or the ability to “empathize” with characters.  Maybe I have no “room” in my “schedule” for the time off to be on SNL. Maybe I haven’t really “thought this out entirely,” or I’m just writing this open letter because I’m “avoiding” doing work on my master’s thesis, which is only halfway done.

And hey – it’s possible that the reason I quit performing music and never landed anything remotely like a record deal, is that I was only “local musician” good and not “actually” good. Maybe my voice is, as my close friends say, “pitchy.” Maybe during the few moments in my career when I actually got somewhat close to what I thought could be a break, I “lost my grip on reality” so to speak. And perhaps being on television would send me “plummeting over the edge” and “wishing I could have my innocence back.” And maybe I’m stretching the already-thin premise of this blog post tissue-paper thin because, as I said before, I really need to be working on my master’s thesis and this is helping to distract me from writing my master’s thesis.

But let’s face it – this is the new face of celebrity, right here. We both know that this is how it works these days: someone without qualifications or talent does something derivative but mildly funny (not LMAO funny, but sort of heh funny)  on the Internet, on a blog nobody reads (check), and then suddenly a bunch of people share it on social networks and Twitter and what not, and it goes viral and then Reddit does something and then the networks take notice, and finally I do whatever I want. That’s how it works. I don’t need talent, I just need a bunch of robotic minions to take five seconds out of their busy schedules full of internet pornography and petitions for their state to secede from the US, and arbitrarily click share. I don’t even have to be funny or talented – I just have to be so deluded that I really think I deserve this.

Because I do. I do deserve this.

Tina_Fey_by_David_Shankbone

An open-copyright picture of Tina Fey.

Dear Tina Fey,

Now I am not naive enough to think that a big superstar like you subscribes to the blog of a boring married musician like me, but if you’re anything like me, you have a Google Alert set up with your name and an elementary school named after you in British Columbia.  If the former is the case then who knows?  Maybe you’ll read this!  If the latter is the case, then whoa.

I’ve always enjoyed your work, from your stuff on Weekend Update to the awesome 30 Rock.  Then I got married and knew for sure that my wife would love 30 Rock, too.  And she did!  Now we love watching the new episodes and the older seasons on Netflix.  It’s one of our absolute favorite shows, and if it weren’t for Futurama, maybe it would be our number one favorite show.

The crazy thing about people on TV is that, while you don’t know us at all, it is almost as if you are our friend.  As you know from being a mother, having a kid means staying indoors and feeling kind of like a prisoner for a few months while you’re learning how to raise the kid.  During that time, you were welcome in our home, making us laugh and letting us in on your quirky, hilarious personality.  I don’t know what it’s like to be a celebrity with a bajillion people out there who think they’re your friends and you don’t know who they are, but I am sure it’s a strange feeling.

And so, in conclusion, let me just say that I’d like to extend to you the same offer that I extend to all our friends:  if you are ever in or near south Georgia and need a guest room to stay in, you are absolutely welcome at our apartment.  It’s humble and modest, and certainly you can afford at least a Holiday Inn, but we think our place has a special charm that may endear itself to you.

Also, my wife loves to bake cookies, and I have to say she makes the best chocolate chip cookies you’ll ever have.  I’m serious about that.

We love visitors out in this rural town (I am here for a Master’s degree, but I’ll probably be moving soon) so we would love for THE Tina Fey to come visit and have dinner, and then spend the evening talking to us about her movies and 30 Rock while we sit trying to awkwardly make ourselves look cool in a way that is charming and organic, so that you’ll remember us and maybe even be our friends on Facebook so you can “like” our baby pictures and we can tell everyone Tina Fey likes our baby pictures.

Some Notes About Staying At Our Apartment

This section of the letter will kind of go over some important things you need to know when staying at our apartment.

First, we do have a guest bedroom but right now it is converted into an office/recording studio.  The point being that you will need to give us one or two days notice before you show up so we can move the office chair and keyboards to my oldest son’s bedroom.  If you don’t give us any notice but just drop in at the last minute, that’s fine, you can sleep on the couch (but it is somewhat uncomfortable and has some stains on it that I assume are from some kind of food – you know kids!), or you can sleep in our oldest son’s bedroom on the floor.  Our son goes to sleep around 8:00 pm – 8:30 pm, and he’s kind of woken up easily, so you will need to go to sleep around the same time as him.  If you wake him up in the middle of the night, it is your responsibility to soothe him back to sleep.

If you choose the office, just know that you’ll be sleeping on a borrowed air mattress with a slow leak.  It’s really quite comfortable for the first half of the night but will probably be somewhat uncomfortable for the rest of the night.  Unfortunately the air pump is quite loud, and it’s right next to the baby’s room, so we ask that you just refrain from trying to pump it back up until morning.  Also, we’ve found that as the air leaks out, the mattress sort of envelops people and makes it very difficult to get out of.  But you might find this quite funny, and we can’t afford to fix it, so it’s not something we’re going to do anything about.

I don’t know if you’d be bringing your kids and/or significant other, but that’s totally up to you.  We love kids, and the air mattress is surprisingly big (again, for the first half of the night or so).

We live in income-based housing so you probably shouldn’t get too friendly with the neighbors.  You can talk to them now and then, that’s fine, but what I’m saying is don’t leave your car unlocked or give them any indication of when we’ll all be away from the apartment.  Loose lips sink ships as they say!  If our apartment is broken into after you visit we will hold you responsible.

Also, our upstairs neighbors can be quite loud and yell at their kids.  We’re not used to Georgia culture (we’re from Kentucky originally) so we just assume there is some kind of culture difference in Georgia regarding the levels of acceptable yelling at kids.  I don’t know how they do things in New York City but you might find the yelling quite jarring.  I know we did.  Also, these neighbors seem to stomp a lot.  It sounds like a freakin drunk Clydesdale up there, especially at night, but on good nights it doesn’t wake the kids up.

The other thing is my school schedule.  I go to school during the day this semester, so during that time if you want to just hang out, feel free to help yourself to anything in the fridge and my wife will give you the password to our Netflix account.  Now if you’re anything like me, you like seeing videos of yourself so watch all the 30 Rock you want.  I think there is also old SNL stuff on Netflix too.  I mean, really, it’s up to you what you watch obviously, just please don’t watch anything inappropriate while our children are watching.

Or if you want, you and my wife can go visit our small little town during the day.  There are a few thrift stores and like three good restaurants here.  Actually if you come to visit my work I could show all my friends at school that I have such a famous friend.  You could even come to my labs and teach a few of them for me.  Do you know anything about research methods in psychology?  Never mind, I’m sure you could just improvise it – that’s what you do, after all!

Don’t worry about overstaying your welcome, just know that my kids would probably get pretty used to you after a few days and my oldest son (he’ll be 2 this week!) really hates it when people leave.  The point being that if you plan on staying longer than a week or so, please make a plan to gradually wean the kids off you by punctuated visits over the next month or so, gradually decreasing in duration and frequency – there are psychological principles behind this, but I won’t bore you with the details of course!  But please stay long enough till you can see how cool we are.  What I mean is, I get pretty tongue-tied around celebrities that I like and would probably spend 1-2 days saying very dumb things that might even border on offensive, and after that I might actually acclimate to your presence and return to my witty, charming self who says funny things and you want to be around me and like the things I say on Facebook so my friends can see you liking the things I say on Facebook.

Lastly, our oldest son doesn’t really bite anymore but I really can’t make any guarantees about that.  He’s kind of unpredictable around strangers.

Now obviously when you’re here we won’t charge you rent or anything – we’ll just have to work out exactly how much of the water/utilities you will use when you are here.  I am not sure how this is customarily done – there’s probably a YouTube video on timing how long people are in the shower and using that to calculate how much water is used.  Then we just multiply that by how much water costs.  I don’t know, I’m not good at math – we can work that out later if you decide to come.  Certainly there’s a formula or something.

Once again, Tina, we would be so pleased to have you as our house-guest.  Thanks for reading and getting back to me ASAP so we can make sure the dog is with my mother-in-law.  Trust me about the dog, that dog is horrible.

Sincerely,

Arthur Hatton

My brother Thomas and me, standing by a frozen Lake Erie. Taken by my friend Manda.

I’ve lived in a lot of places in the United States.  Nine states and probably two dozen cities actually.  This has led me, among other things, to make some general observations about different places in the country.

  1. “You know you’re from ____ if … ” jokes are interesting because creating one requires two kinds of knowledge.  One, knowledge of the way things are where you’re from, and two, knowledge of the way things are (or aren’t) elsewhere that provides a humorous contrast.  A lot of people make these kinds of jokes with plenty of knowledge of the first sort, but less knowledge of the second sort.  Thus half of these jokes I’ve seen are similar to, “You know you’re from Georgia if you measure distance in minutes!”  Every American English speaker does that.  I don’t know how many miles/kilometers it is to anywhere unless I have gone there using a bicycle or Google maps (or both), and I’m pretty sure if I tried to give directions in terms of miles, my directions would be totally useless.  Granted, my directions are pretty much useless anyway, but my point still stands.  It’s easier and better to measure distance in terms of driving time, because people are much more aware of what time it is and what time they need to be somewhere rather than how many miles they are going, and mileage doesn’t factor in traffic or other factors that would otherwise make a person late.
  2. I haven’t been to a state/climate zone where they didn’t say, “Well you know what they say, if you don’t like the weather in [this state], just wait 20 minutes – it’ll change!” even when it was completely inappropriate to the climate zone in question, like the Pacific Northwest (granted, they said it in the summertime – the wintertime version in the Pacific Northwest would be, “If you don’t like the weather, welcome to Hell**”).
  3. When people drive to other states, it seems like they always complain about the drivers there.  “Those people from Tennessee don’t know how to drive!” etc.  I’m pretty sure this is due to two factors.  First, people in different places drive differently.  There are different unwritten (and written) rules about proper following distance, what you’re allowed to do on the road, how fast over/under the speed limit is appropriate, etc., and there are differences in lane width, parking rules, how much information road signs tell you, and traffic light timing.  These are all pretty arbitrary differences that aren’t wrong or right; as long as everyone in an area plays by the same rules, there’s no problem.  Second, when you drive to a new place, you have no idea where you’re going – which means you’re probably driving too slowly, slightly anxious, and constantly vigilant of everything around you.  Combine these two factors and it’s pretty obvious that if you’re visiting Tennessee (or wherever), and you think all the drivers are nuts, then the problem is almost certainly you.
  4. “You have an accent!” is a ridiculous thing to point out to people, for the same reason that it’s silly to call certain hair types, music, or foods “ethnic.”  They both imply that there’s some kind of non-arbitrary, neutral default (“Standard American English,” white, American, etc.) and everything that isn’t that is an accent, or an ethnicity.  But Standard American English is an accent, and white is an ethnicity.  Everyone has an accent.  The subjective nature of accents becomes apparent when I travel to other places in the country and reveal that I’m from Kentucky.  Suddenly everyone thinks I have a Southern accent.  But I don’t – I use a pretty generic Standard American dialect and always have (my parents never had Southern accents either).  They’re just hearing what they want to hear – something “ethnic” apparently.
  5. No matter how ugly, small, flat, treeless, lacking in culture, or otherwise unlivable I find a place to be, pointing out these things to locals always offends them (even if I try to put it diplomatically).  It’s their sacred land – the place where they were raised.  There is beauty there even if I don’t see it.  Even if it is objectively horrible, it’s pretty arrogant to go there as an outsider and point this out to them.  It’s just way more accurate and nicer to say “This is not what I’m used to.”
  6. There are rednecks everywhere.  Everywhere.  There is no state in this country where there are no rednecks.

**this is an actual quote from someone I talked to in the Pacific Northwest.

Back around 1998 or so, I remember going to a small-town coffee house and listening to small-town teenagers play popular alternative songs on acoustic guitars.  It was my favorite thing to do, actually, because I’d get a chance to perform my own music, but that meant sitting through lots of other musicians (and let me just say, “Wonderwall” was played on more than one occasion).  I remember one dude that invariably played a decent acoustic cover of “Lightning Crashes” every week.  One week as he got up to play the song, my buddy Neil whispered to me, “Here comes Lockjaw” – a pretty apt description of the teeth-clenched, gritty vocal style that characterized so much ’90s alternative music, and that nickname has stuck with me ever since.

If you don’t remember or can’t envision what vocal style I’m talking about, maybe this video will remind you.

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I am not sure that my generation has earned the right to be nostalgic about our childhoods.

I had a coworker a few years back who discovered YouTube, and watched a ton of commercials from the ’60s and ’70s, when he was a kid.  Forty year old commercials for a bunch of dangerous toys with toxic paint and everything.  The dude was in heaven.  That guy earned his nostalgia.

Why?  Because he hasn’t seen any of those commercials for like thirty or forty years.  He was reacquainting this distant, neglected part of his brain with jingles for Ovaltine that he hadn’t heard since the Nixon administration.

I worry about my generation, though.  I don’t think I’ve gone a day online without seeing some meme about Star Wars, Batman, or Super Nintendo from people in my age group.  But the thing is, guys, we never lost Star Wars or SNES.  A ton of you still have the same SNES systems that you played when you were a kid.  15 years ago the last holdouts traded their VHS versions of the Star Wars trilogy for DVD versions, and then 5 years ago you all changed them to Blu-Rays.  We’re only like 30. Read More