Unlike previous pieces, this week’s column isn’t really about the physical place of Ann Arbor. After all, I’ve only just returned from a few weeks absence. So, sorry, no profile of the river, or Pita Kabob, or WCBN or any of my other favorite places that I believe everyone should run to this instant. This week’s column is about the more abstract Ann Arbor we take with us, for better or for worse.
My charge is that a city lives inside of its people too. That its bounds are extended by the travails of its goers in a structure not all that different from the way the 25 books you have checked out from the school’s library extend the branch to your basement desk, right next to the beer pong table that hasn’t been cleaned in a few weeks. Ann Arbor was with me this weekend because it is a state of mind now intertwined with my own; Maize and Blue walk with me.
While many of you were watching women’s soccer for the first time, I was glued to Wimbledon. The tournament is magical to me. Growing up, Roger Federer on a Sunday morning in July was just as good as Old Saint Nick crawling down my chimney in December.
With that said, this past weekend was only the first week of play which means, interestingly enough, that Wimbledon isn’t scoring all that much Big Network time. If you wanted to watch many of the matches, you had to go to the Tennis Network via your cable or satellite.
Due to the lack of Big Corporate Sponsors lined up at its door for advertisement time, Tennis Network’s commercial selections are absolutely appalling, or at least I think so. Much akin to 4 a.m. infomercials, they’re headlined by combo packs consisting of 10 disks featuring 200 songs from the Golden Age of country music and blenders that have the power to blend up a whole box of hammers if need be. They usually contain one to two washed up celebrities, either retired or unemployed. Most have the same overexcited narrative male voice over that so obviously doesn’t believe that this is the greatest deal since The Chop House accidentally printed a poster for all-you-can-eat filet mignon.
One in particular was the worst. Brett Favre was modeling a back brace called Copper Fit, which is marketed toward those afflicted by aching vertebrae. The commercial starts with a shot of Favre, the retired Packers and too many other teams quarterback, loading hay into a white four by four, you know, because he does that.
Why is this all important again?
Because I wouldn’t shut up after I saw it. I needed to analyze it. I spoke at least three essays out loud to the chagrin of my sisters and cousins and girlfriend during a holiday vacation. “Sick consumerist ploy,” “Harsh capitalist undertones achieved via manipulative commercial rhetoric.” I used the words “juxtaposition” and “narrative framework” in an academic sense at least five and a half times, which is five and a half times more than I would ever like to.
I’m trying to say that I read that commercial in my parent’s living room on a lake under the lapis lazuli dome of the crystal sky like Ulysses in Hatcher’s Reference room, pencil in hand, annotations bookmarked, and it kind of scared me, because I’m realizing I’m changing. I’m no longer new to school; so much of it has sunk in and it’s starting to show.
Sometimes it feels like the shrub of your brain is being tenuously carved out by a Maize and Blue figure holding electric trimmers. Then there’s you, mouth agape, watching from your front window in horror of your own lack of control.
On the drive home Monday morning, I listened to the new Courtney Barnett record (which everybody should go buy from Wazoo tomorrow) and thought a lot about the fabulous lyric on her song “Pedestrian at Best” which goes: “Give me all your money and I’ll make some origami, honey.”
My episode of intense critique happened all over again. I had to “unpack” (ugh, that word) the song and discuss its cultural and political context. What is she really saying about monetary value? What does her saying what she said really say about the tensions between value systems in society? What am I even talking about?
Listen to the music. Just lean back, watch the film. Here, have a Cheeto.
Indeed, the whole venture of leaving school and being around things that aren’t your school or your city can be tiring and confusing. This is the reason why I value one family member of mine in a very particular way: my youngest sister Sophia, age nine. She is a very, very funny, intelligent, loveable baby. I highly recommend everyone engage the opinion of a child at least once a week; they are more creative than you.
I spent most of the holiday weekend doing what my Grandpa Sparkman would dub ‘recreating’ with my little sisters, their friends and my family. This included things like shooting pool, gambling and playing euchre, ping pong, football and a simple game called Tiki Toss that my mother became acquainted with on the beaches of Vero.
The girls’ favorite thing to do is a drawing game called Telestrations. (Everyone should go buy this from somewhere that’s not the Walgreen’s on State Street). The quick logistics: up to eight people can play at once; each player gets their own dry-erase packet filled with eight blank sheets; the game starts when each player picks a card from the middle deck with the name of an object on it; each player must then write the name of the object on page one and then attempt to draw the object on page two; each player then passes the booklet to the person on the left who must guess what the object is; the cycle is repeated until the booklet is full.
You can see how the game can be entertaining and silly, objects usually end up something far different than their original identity.
The card I drew was ‘Monastery.’ I tried my very best to draw Dostoyevsky’s Alyosha Karamazov and then passed the book, hilariously enough, to my little sister who, after I peeked to see, wrote down, ‘A very Scary Jesus.’ After six little girls’ drawings it made its way to my girlfriend on the right of me. She guessed, ‘A Gingerbread Man in a puddle,’ which I then had to draw.
And I’m sure there is much to think about here, from plenty of vantage points, but it was one of the rare moments this weekend when I didn’t. I just laughed with all of my company and drew a curvy ginger man with a big old bite mark taken out of his side, all the while stooped upon a watery spot.
Elijah Sparkman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.