Monday, July 27, 2015

An open letter to Key & Peele

Hello Keegan-Michael and Jordan,

My name is Ian and I am a huge fan of Key & Peele. I was bummed to learn that you guys have decided to end your instant-classic show after an all-too-brief run on Comedy Central. I thought I’d let you guys know what your show has meant to me. Here to help me out is my anger translator, Spike.

HI, KEY AND PEELE. OR IS IT KEY AND/OR PEELE NOW?

I have loved your show since it stormed onto the air in 2012. It expertly blends satire and smarts with laugh-out-loud humor in a way few shows ever manage.

AND JUST LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE I LIKE, IT HAS A SHORT SHELF LIFE! FLAMIN’ HOT POTATO CHIPS? AS INTERMITTENT AS THE MCRIB! SOUR CREAM AND ONION?!! ALWAYS ON THE SHELVES LIKE CRINKLY BAGS OF LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR!!

You say you’re leaving the show to pursue other endeavors, by which I assume you mean Hollywood. Many a talented actor has found great fame and fortune on that path.

YOU BETTER NOT BE LEAVING TO DO SHARKNADO 16 FOR THE PAYCHECK!

I’m sure that, given your comic sensibilities, you both will find considerable mainstream success.

THEY DISCONTINUED MY CAR AFTER THREE YEARS TOO! TURNED IT FROM A QUIRKY, CLASSIC ECONOTOASTER INTO A BLOATED SUV SO THEY COULD MAKE MORE MONEY! BECAUSE MURIKA!

I look forward to seeing what you guys have in store in your future projects.

FIRST STEPHEN COLBERT, THEN JON STEWART, AND NOW YOU TOO? WHAT IS IT ABOUT 2014-15 THAT’S JUST A RAPID SUCCESSION OF BRILLIANT, IRREPLACEABLE COMEDY GOING AWAY? I HOPE AT LEAST AMY SCHUMER WAITS UNTIL THE REVOLVING DOOR AT COMEDY CENTRAL STOPS SHOOTING OFF SPARKS TO PASS THROUGH!

I guess I can understand how putting on such a sketch show can become tiresome after a while, and perhaps prove stifling of other avenues of creativity. In any case, best of luck in your upcoming projects. Thanks for the laughs. I eagerly await seeing you guys again and I’ll miss your show.

I’LL MISS IT TOO.

Your friend,
I-A-un McCringleberry (AND SPIKE)

When "your time" is not your time

Whenever I hear about someone beloved dying too soon, my reflexive thought often is, “And yet, [redacted] is still alive.” How unfair, right?

It’s not my finest thought, to be sure. It doesn’t match my beliefs about vengeance or about humanity in general. But it is something I think about on occasion. I suppose such a thought is part of what makes spirituality so attractive — the idea that there’s a plane where these karmic injustices get ironed out. “Your friend is reigning in heaven forever, exactly as you remember her, whereas Johnny Jerk had to live as Johnny Jerk until he was 95, and now in the afterlife, he’s paying interest.” It’s a nice thought.

But on Earth, at least, there’s always the chance that someone will die too soon for no good reason, and there’s no guarantee that this isn’t all there is. On one level, it makes perfect sense — of course a deranged person with an instrument of death can kill someone who is not expecting it. And health problems can befall anyone, because we are frail, living creatures. In other ways, it never will make sense. Why is death so arbitrary? Why do mentally ill and hateful cranks get to take away decent people? Why?

I didn’t know Jillian Johnson, but I knew of her, because she was often in local media and in mutual friends’ Facebook conversations. I remembered her name in particular because I knew a Jill Johnson in high school, and I would always check to see if they were the same person (they weren't). Many, if not most, of my friends knew her. Her husband and I once ran in the same journalism circles. By all accounts, she was a force in the Lafayette business and cultural scenes, and was also a fun person to be around. The more I read about her and her impact on my friends’ lives — and, for that matter, just glance at pictures of her in her element — the more it feels like I lost someone I know.

Mayci Breaux was also tragically taken down well before her time. She was slated to begin radiology school, was engaged and seemed excited about the future. Nothing feels quite like knowing something big is ahead for you. It gives you an energy and purpose that I’ve never quite felt at any other time in my life. She’ll never see it come to fruition now. That isn’t right.

They’re dead, why? We may never know for sure, but we do know that the guy who did it felt very insecure about his standing in the world — and that he had a history of mental-health issues. And, on that night, he had both a gun and (apparently) a feeling of nothing left to lose. The deadliest combination.

What can you do?

That question isn’t rhetorical. It has answers. We just have to have the courage to face our shortcomings when it comes to mental health, poverty, firearms and prejudice. Maybe you can never stop all such tragedies, but we can cut into them, at least. And to the degree that we can, we should.

It’s not fair. Life isn’t fair.

Death, even less so.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A shooting that especially hits home

Tonight, there was a shooting at the Grand 16 movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, and as you can probably imagine, I’m feeling all the feelings about it.

It’s not enough of a zoom to say that this happened in my hometown. The theater is a short bicycle ride from my parents’ home. My elementary school is within walking distance. A restaurant where my sister worked for years is within striking distance. I applied for my current job in Reno while sitting at Johnston Street Java, the coffeehouse next door to the theater. That day, my car was probably parked right where news cameras were planted to document the tragic scene, because it so often was.

Every day from kindergarten through third grade (when I lived farther away), my school bus passed by that site, which was at that time the Real Superstore. When the Superstore closed down in 1996, the site — despite its prominent location in the middle of the city — remained vacant and blighted for the next eight years. When the Grand opened in 2004, it excited the community and raised the bar for all other movie theaters. Stadium seating! Huge screens! Top-shelf concessions! Daiquiris! I’ve seen dozens of movies there, sometimes with dates, sometimes with friends, sometimes with young children. I took my mom there to see Flight.

I saw something else there in 2005. While standing in the concession line with several friends before a movie, I heard a commotion. We turned around to see two guys chasing each other in circles in the crowded lobby. I think one had a knife. They were quickly subdued and apprehended by police officers. Bystanders freaked out for a moment, but the ruckus ended quickly, and we said to each other variations of, “Did you see that? Wow,” before proceeding into the sanctuary of the darkened theater, where we’d be safe. And we kept on coming back.

How close this shooting hit home freaked me out once more, all the more so in the social-media age because I saw the conversations happen in real time. Everyone was checking in. Several friends and acquaintances of mine were near the scene, perhaps either at Java, Mellow Mushroom or at Corner Bar. At least one person I know was planning to be at the Grand at that time and had decided against it. At least one other was actually there. Chances are, I know of, or am acquainted with, some of the victims. I even may know of the killer. We’ll see when their names emerge.

On top of all that, it was jarring to look up while at work in a newsroom 2,100 miles and two time zones away and see what has always been a familiar, reassuring sight staring back at me — one most commonly associated with happy bus and car trips — cordoned off with police tape and sirens and a CNN banner of the breaking, and heartbreaking, kind.

But it also hit home in a metaphorical sense, the same way all such incidents do with me. I can’t think of a word, or even a term, that can adequately describe how awful it is that innocent people ever get murdered. This is especially true in a nation that prides itself on its freedom of association and movement — a country that, in theory, doesn’t live in fear of violent death at every corner. And yet, is increasingly prone (and, even worse, increasingly blasé) to such incidents. Preventable incidents that all too often highlight a perfect storm of our worst problems — personal divestment from society, untreated mental illness and access to instant instruments of death that, thanks to a turn of history, we treat inappropriately leniently. Not to mention whatever other issues help abet spikes in shootings where bullets have no business being.

In that sense, I’m not shocked that it happened in Lafayette so much as I’m saddened that it can happen anywhere. That’s the biggest tragedy of all.