Wednesday, May 28, 2008

With Apologies to Dennis Miller... Or A Vocabulary Rant as a Break from the 800-lb Gorilla

Greetings to all my fellow readers and bloggers around the world. It's summer time, which in the Prarie State means one day of splendorous weather sandwiched between a thunderstorm and a 100-degree heat wave for a 3-month period.

Before getting into the meat of it, the acknowledgments: First, to my friends who recently graduated in '08: CONGRATULATIONS, and I promise I'll be joining the ranks of the cap-and-gown wearing, diploma-bearing, hood-sporting crowds pretty soon. Second, to everybody who wished me a Happy (34th) Birthday: THANKS! Also, thanks to everybody who keeps supporting me in my ongoing recovery. Finally, props to my girlfriend (that story will be the subject of another blog coming very soon)... it feels good to have you around!

There will be no updates about my nieces. I'm saving all of those for a longer blog coming in July. So, as Mills Lane would say, "Let's get it on!"

I Don't Mean to Go off on a Rant Here... But...

Those were the famous words of comedian Dennis Miller every time he would go off on a rant about something in today's society that bothered him. We all have pet peeves. That's part of human nature. I got a few here and there, like people who can't get their grammar straight and keep claiming that IM, Facebook status messages, and e-mail are some sort of grammar-free zone where "you're" is the same as "your" and "they're," "there," and "their" are actually interchangeable; where "then" is the form of choice for the comparative; and apostrophes can be placed willy-nilly. Of course, there is also the case of people who decide against my will that I have to eavesdrop their conversations while I'm trying to read the stuff for Chapter Two of my dissertation. And, how can we forget the occasional "movie color commentator," the person right behind you at the theatre who decides that they need to not only explain the plot, characters, settings, etc. of the movie to their date/partner/friend sitting next to them, but also feel the urge to warn the hero of every peril ahead of him/her.

However, this rant is not about them. They too will get their day in court. This is about the misuse of certain words that are becoming trivialized and losing their actual value. Again, with apologies to Dennis Miller (and no one else... in case you failed to read the title of my blog, the last word is "provocateur..." and I intend to live up to its bill this time around), I don't mean to go off on a rant here but...

Why do millionaire athletes claim they're "Hungry?"

Before the Bard starts rolling over on his grave, spare me the Shakespearian/"poetic license"/metaphor theory here. Some words should never be taken lightly, hungry being one of them. Yes, yes, I know that one of the definitions of "hungry," according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary ( is, "Strongly motivated (as by ambition)." But, there is a sense of irony here. Where there are people dying of actual hunger, I find it ironic that some people who've never really experienced hunger first-hand (and no, I haven't... my dad has though and he banned us from saying that we were starving or "dying of hunger" at home since we didn't really know what it was like to be in a jungle for one week feeding on leaves or the soles of your shoes... dad taught me and my sister well about not blowing things out of proportion) talk about how "hungry" they are. That just cheapens suffering when you use the same descriptor to explain your desire for a championship ring in the NBA and your desire for at least an onion ring somewhere in an impoverished village in Central Africa.

I mean, if there was a public outrage over an athlete saying that playing a rivalry game was like going to war for him, we should also put athletes on notice that they have no right to claim to be hungry, unless they themselves have dealt with it as they were growing up. Oh yes, I have read stories about athletes coming from Africa, Brazil, Colombia, and other developing countries, as well as minority athletes coming from impoverished areas in the U.S. who talk about their families' struggles to make ends meet. I just can assure you that none of them would be so trigger-happy to say they're "hungry" for a championship. You can hear that, however, from the mouths of the children of a former Roland Garros champion and two former NBA stars... if you're sports savvy, yes, I'm talking about three former Florida Gators, who could afford not to test the NBA waters and stick around for school one more year because they were "hungry" for another title. Enough said! So, seriously, let's watch out what we're really hungry for... some people can't even tell you they are because they're too weak to utter that sentence...

When Did "Survivor" Start Handing Diplomas?

My second rant of the blog has to do with the trivialization of the term "Alum," the reduced form of the term "Alumnus" or "Alumna" (by the way, "Alumni" is the PLURAL form of "Alumnus," so please refrain from say you are "An Alumni" from a school!). Let me provide this definition from Wikipedia,
"As indicated in the American Heritage Dictionary, an alumnus or alumna is either someone who has attended the school (or a "former student of a school") or someone who has graduated from the school." Yes, by definition, An alum(nus/a) is someone who either went to school or preferably graduated. So, when exchange students write that they are "UIllinois Alum" in their profiles, that is very accurate. When I write that I am a "Fulbright Alumnus," it is accurate since I was given a scholarship to pursue my master's. Anybody who has attended an educational institution by extension can call him/herself an alum.

What really irks me is when you start referring to anyone who has been on a TV show (a la Saturday Night Live) or a reality TV show as "Alums" of that show. Really, I wonder what curriculum they had to pursue to earn the right to be alums of "Survivor College," "Flavor of Love Polytechnic," or "The Real World/Road Rules State University?" I mean, it is hard work to get a Bachelor's, for instance. I know that my friends who just graduated had to spend lots of hours at the library to get theirs. I know that my education students have to bust their chops every semester and keep a high GPA just to get, in some cases, their education MINORS (at this point, anyone who claims you don't have to study hard if you're in education doesn't want to know how far up your humanity you'll have to go to give me my walking cane back!). In order for me to be an "Alumnus" of The University of Illinois, I first had to write a thesis and now I have to write this 2000-lb gorilla otherwise known as my dissertation. So excuse me if I hurt a few sensitivities by being irked by a few reality-TV castaways who are so devoid of parental love and need to be called "Alums," sometimes to justify the fact that getting drunk on national TV and making "Girls Gone Wild" videos beats getting a decent education! At least there are bona-fide actors and directors who are Alumni/ae of schools around the U.S. (or at worst they attended the school long enough to be recognized as former students). I'm sorry, but I know how hard it is to get your education for someone to try to go the easy way out and simply diminish my (and my friends') accomplishments by using the same title that I have earned.

Does this make me an elitist? So what if it does? Getting your education is a big deal and it shouldn't be diminished. Just because I was an Army brat, it doesn't mean I am a "soldier," and being a fan of a team doesn't make me a member of a "Nation." We need to call a spade a spade, and be respectful of what it takes to earn a name. Although it is true, as the Bard once said, that if a rose were called something different it would smell the same, none of you would describe a pile of scum as a "rose."

And, in the words of that great cynic, Mr. Miller, "This is my opinion, but I could be wrong!"

That's it for now. Till my next blog, I bid farewell!

The Blogger, the Thinker, the Provocateur...
Raúl A. (El Patrón)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Search for the "James Bond Moment"

Greetings bloggers and fans around the net. First, thanks to my friends for the words of encouragement about my last blog about my leg. The road to healing is still on and I'll get back to 100% soon enough. I can't thank you all enough for your support.

Second, props to what in my mind will be one of the most legendary intramural sports teams of all time: The St. Funs Broomball Club. We had good times and heartbreak, but somewhere along the way, we actually got to really become good friends, brothers if you will. Whether I'll retire from broomball is yet to be decided, but it'll be hard to replicate the experience and I'd rather live with the memories I've already collected.

I don't have much of an update on my twin nieces. I promise one very soon and a very special two-year anniversary bl
og about what the arrival of Isabella and Manuela has represented for my life. It'll be a good one, I promise.

Now, on to my blog...

Shaken, not Stirred: The Search for the "James Bond" Moment

I won't lie: I am a James Bond fan, the kind of fan that knows that there was such a thing as an actual dude named James Bond, who happened to me an ornitologist and whose name drew inspiration for Ian Fleming to name his 007 MI5 Agent, on Her Majesty's Secret Service. The kind of purist that denounces "Never Say Never Again" as part of the saga. Geekiness aside, there's one reason why James Bond has never lost his allure as a cultural icon: It's the fact that some parts of his persona are enticing (and no, it's not the neverending list of STD that Mr. Bond probably has after so many random encounters with random women!), like the casinos, cars, and of course, the gadgets. As comic Craig Ferguson once said, most of us always anticipated the Bond-Q encounter where Q would go over the gadgets du jour with 007. It is no surprise that "Bond, James Bond" was picked at the end of the 21st century as the most popular movie phrase of all time. Multiple variations of that have made it to different movies alike. Also, the emergence of so many Bond parodies (Get Smart, Johnny English, Austin Powers, to name a few) and the eternal search for the U.S. version of James Bond (Jason Bourne, anyone?) are more than enough evidence that Commander Bond will always be a point of reference for movie buffs.

There is one thing, though, that a lot of people would like to experience first-hand. It's what I like to call "Your own James Bond moment." You may want to feel it while driving, a la the guy from the Ruben Blades song "Decisiones" (Decisions), or while drinking a martini, etc. You don't really need to be able to afford an Aston Martin (although it's gotta be pretty freaking cool to own one, eh?) or sport a Tuxedo (which is still in my list of things to wear while I'm still single) to have one of those. The bottom line is, once you get your James Bond moment, that represents eternal bragging rights and a fun story to share with generations to come!

And... oh yes, I DO have my own James Bond moment and I've cherished it ever since it happened. That (and of course being flat broke by virtue of grad school) is the main reason I don't feel like I ever need to hit a casino ever again. I'm in anecdotal mood, so let me share the story...

The year: 1998. The place: Cartagena, Colombia (oh yes, a tourist location with beaches and beautiful women galore; it may not be Monte Carlo, but it was really fun. I recommend visiting Cartagena sometime). The setting: A night in January at a casino right across the street from the place we were staying. This was a moment that was pivotal not only for our vacation but for the moment when the whole "Patron" thing really got going. Here's the situation: A group of close friends (whom we'll call Andres A., Carlos R.D., Javier M., and Javier R. because those are their actual names!) and I came back from a night out and in order to give two friends some space, we went to the aforementioned casino. With a few bucks and our crazy spirits, we took over the locale. We started at the roulette first; after a while, we actually hit the blackjack table. I sat down, Bond style, and started playing. I won some, I lost some. And then...

The Pivotal Moment that changed the course of my history...

One of the rounds of blackjack, I got five cards: 2, 5, 4, 2, for 13. Decisions, decisions... I couldn't stand pat because the house would win. I could only go for another card and take my chances to go over 21... or maybe get that much-needed 8 and beat the house on that round. After consulting with my entourage (by that point, they actually were in character!), they encouraged me to take my chances. I did and I told the dealer (and I will include the original quote in Spanish):

"Tireme ese OCHO que tiene ahi!" (Translation: "Hit me with that EIGHT you've got right there!")

I was a rather brash statement, outlandish even. I knew I could make a fool of myself. But, I also knew that the stuff of legends happens in moments like these. The dealer pulled the card.. and... wait for it...

Oh my! AN EIGHT OF CLUBS was the card that got me to 21 and won that round. My friends couldn't believe it. I, of course, knew what I was doing (James Bond would too!) and acted nonchalant. Yes, I lost almost all of my money in the next few rounds and left the table with just a buck. Right now, it doesn't matter! That buck could've been spent in a cheap pair of sunglasses or getting ripped off by the oyster guys (another story for another time). But, I wouldn't have my eternal bragging rights, the feeling of knowing EXACTLY what James Bond feels when he beats the bad guys at the table and the fact that for one brief moment... I could go and say...

"Yeah, I am Bond... PATRON Bond!"

I was in the mood for a light-hearted blog... and this just did it! I hope you enjoyed reading it.

I'll be back with more soon. Till my next blog, I bid farewell!

The Blogger, the Thinker, the Provocateur...
Raúl A. (El Patrón)