Friday, March 27, 2015

Literally. Right?

There are California connections going back two generations on the Matson side of the fam. I feel comfortable here in San Diego.

I can do laid back.

Dude. 

Did it in ’06 on a road trip with the then 21-year old undergrad.

I’m at a mega-conference with 2,500 of my closest friends. It’s designed to empower me with social media marketing ideas. There are pros and experts here from all over the planet – on the cutting edge of social media.

It’s seriously legit, though I skipped karaoke night. Sorry.

When I told a millennial colleague whom I trust, of my destination, her advice was, “Wear your retro glasses.” I have a pair that are the 21st century equivalent of the ones I sport in the 5th grade school pic above. 

Good advice.

In the sessions and networking (I have two entrĂ©es, the Eric “Otter” Stratton: “Mike Matson, damn glad to meet you!” and “Hi, My name’s Mike, where’s home?”) I detected three distinct vibes as it relates to Life on the Internet. 

First, the “celebrity” factor. It’s all about me. More likes. “He was literally unknown and then...” More retweets. Look at me. (Yawn).
 
Second, what I like to call technology for technology’s sake. Tweeting live video? Too many people have failed to ask the fundamental, natural follow-up question to “WOW!” 

Why?

Before I die (unless the plane goes down tomorrow), my washing machine will talk to my refrigerator through the Internet. Imagine that ACTUAL CONVERSATION:
 
Washing machine: “Uh... think that egg salad’s gone south, my friend.”
Refrigerator: “You oughta know, you and your grungy jockstraps.”

We human beings have simply not evolved enough yet to keep up with our technology. If you doubt it, click on over to your fav newspaper site and read the comments attached to any article. Or if you don’t read the paper, check out the comments on pretty much any YouTube video.

Which leads to my third point. The “social” factor. It is real and can “literally” change lives. Social media can bring us together as a community, add legitimacy to ideas, give a voice to those who should be heard. This week I met real influencers. We should all be influencers.

BTW, every single speaker I heard (couple dozen) would infuse their comments with... “Right?” I do the same thing and am working consciously to knock it off. At least I’m in good company.

I guess it’s our subconscious way of saying, just like me, please.

At the end of the day (and it is “literally” the end of the day here in Cali) social media is the most powerful communications vehicle to come along in my precipice-approaching lifetime.

It’s an amazing, astounding tool, filled with vast potential for connection and engagement.

It is not life.

I can do laid back. Dude.
Today I heard a guy say, “If I’m breathing, I’m on social media.” That was my cue to bust a move. 

So I walked along the boardwalk (it’s actually concrete) to the Embarcadero Marina Park, perched myself beneath a palm tree and thought about being in this exact same space nine years ago with my son, who took me to a Radiohead concert.

Half a continent away from my home in the Flint Hills of Kansas, I watched the sailboats.

Everything in its right place.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Generations

Inherent within this business of approaching the precipice of middle age is the unrelenting march of time. The more time one collects, the greater the opportunity for comparison, contrast and inevitable (if you’re me) conclusion drawing.

Or at least assumption making.

Think of a slide rule. If the ruler part is a horizontal family tree, the slider allows focus on a specific, particular chronological sliver.
 
My mother’s brother, the Reverend Dr. Robert Keith Ordway, died this week in southern Texas at 82. Mom lost her sister, my Aunt Linda, a couple years back. Move the slider to the left a notch to find their parents, Victor and Elizabeth (Bemis) Ordway.

Over the river and through the High Plains to grandmother’s house we would go. Vic and Libby lived in a sprawling farm house in Rooks County, Kansas. Our family gatherings were happy and joyous. We kids would assemble in our grandparents’ pine-paneled basement, pump up the volume on the record player and air guitar/lip sync our way right on to Ed Sullivan’s stage.
 
We called our band The Cousins. What we lacked in creativity, we made up for in enthusiasm.

After Uncle Bob and Aunt Eva divorced it was never really the same. All clouded up in ‘70s-era stigma over divorce, our generation never really mastered the protocol that spells out what a family’s supposed to be like, post-divorce.

Then my parents got divorced and the cloud got darker.

Then I got divorced and it really hit home. The truth is not always kind. Engage clumsily or don’t engage.

Time plows forward, society evolves, mores nuance and each succeeding generation gets smarter. My son, niece and nephew’s generation appear unshackled by the fears and false pride of their forebears and engage with ease and aplomb.

As the slider moves to the right, there’s more enlightenment.

What I’ll carry from my Uncle Bob’s life, stems from the brief period when we all lived in the same city, Wichita, ca. 1970. Our pre-divorced families would engage on weekends. Eastsiders them (Vickridge), westsiders us (Pleasant Valley).

Three kids in our family. Six in theirs. Talking individually with his boys, Uncle Bob would call them, “Son.” It seemed to mean something to my cousins. When Scott came along, I made a conscious choice to call him, “Son.” Still do.

Thanks, Uncle Bob.

Mom’s now all alone in her generation, the sole survivor of her nuclear birth family. Sadness, also, when I think of my fatherless cousins. Makes me want to cherish and honor my parents more. While they’re still here. Let’s keep the slide rule static for a while, thank you very much.

Headed to Nashville next month where my siblings and our kids will gather with Mom. 

Pop’s in Wichita and I see him at least once a month. Lately I’ve been interviewing him about his troubled childhood. Formal, audio recorded interviews. Pop sees the end and we both know exactly what we’re doing (more this summer, in this space).

One day very soon, in the blink of an eye, really, we’ll all be just a fading memory in the hearts and minds of those whose DNA we share and whose blood courses through our veins.

The bonds formed by air guitars in pine-paneled basements... the love and respect inherent in a father addressing his male offspring as “Son.”

These are the important things. This is why God put us on the planet. Everything else is just window dressing.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Fragile Male Psyche

It was a like steering an aircraft carrier. Especially when compared to its immediate predecessor.

The 1973 Pontiac LeMans was literally twice as big as the ’71 MGB. When I drove it home from the car lot, it felt like I was taking up two pews on the street. From 1977 to 1981 that LeMans got me from Point A to Point B.

Parting with the MG was sweet sorrow. Not to get all Jungian on you but a young man’s ego and pride (much of it false, it turns out) is wrapped up in his wheels.
 
I loved that car, but it was falling apart. My chums and I had further deluded ourselves into thinking we had the chops to repair it. Which speaks, no doubt, to the bulletproof nature of 20-year old me.
 

The only surviving photo of the LeMans. Halloween 1977 at the
supermarket. The 155-pound gorilla and his wide body Pontiac.
There was one place in Wichita that worked on British imports. Not cheap. By now I’m a supermarket sacker. Full time work, paycheck to paycheck. I sold the MG for parts and commenced car shopping.
 
I wanted a Pontiac Firebird or at least a GTO. 20-year old me managing perception. Muscle cars come with muscular price tags, so my Pontiac sights were lowered by practical pocketbook economics.

It was the General Motors wide body/safety bumper era, which made the LeMans look kinda like a sleek tank. Two-door, fastback, louvered rear windows. If it was cloudy and you tilted your head and squinted at it from just the right angle, the uninitiated mighta mistaken it for a GTO.

And it was dependable. At least for a while.
 
Then came the used car fuel line issues. Fuel filters. Fuel pumps. Went through a stage when the damn thing would not start unless I primed the carburetor.
 
So I’d get outa the car, pop the hood, mutter a few choice words, remove the air filter housing, a wheel-shaped monstrosity that sat atop the carb, force the choke plate open with a rolled-up piece of paper (or whatever was handy) splash a few ounces of gasoline directly on the carburetor, climb back in, whisper a prayer to ward off immolation, start the car, get back out, remove the paper, replace the air filter housing, dream about the day I could afford a new car, slam the hood, back in and on about my appointed rounds.

(Whew, there's a sentence.)
 
The reaction was the same from anyone sliding in on the vinyl upholstery, be they chums, girlfriends or moochers of rides. 
 
Sniff.
  
“Yo Matson, why’s your car smell like gasoline..?”
 
“Well, it’s like this...”
 
One Point B was Minneapolis, Minnesota. Filled the car to the gills with my worldly possessions and struck out for the northland (in wintertime.) The locals asked if I had a dipstick heater. OK, I was born at night, but not last night. Like the time we sent the new supermarket sacker to the backroom for a “sack stretcher...”
 
The sack stretcher was bogus. The dipstick heater was not. Some lessons are only learned the hard way.  

Another Point B led to the High Plains of western Kansas. My first real fulltime career job in Hays. By now I’d finally had it with used cars. Once again, I had Firebirds in my eyes. Settled for an ’81 Toyota Corolla.

At least it was brand new. 

Until I met Jackie, ego drove my car selection choices. Ask her sometime about my 1989 Camaro. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

19 and 20-Year Old Dudes

Encountered Bruce Weber in the supermarket yesterday. Poor guy looked like he was about ready to cry. There we stood, refrigerated tubes of biscuits to the left of us, pork chops to the right of us. Pondering shredded cheese, me and Bruce. 

Mine for some still-being-formulated recipe that exists somewhere deep within the recesses of my wife’s culinary creativity. (When she says, “Get some shredded cheese,” I’ve learned to shut up and trust her mad cooking skillz.)

Couldn’t help but wonder as he stood there contemplating between the Sargento Shredded Artisan Authentic Mexican or the Kraft Shredded Sharp Cheddar if the head coach of the Kansas State University men’s basketball team was reading between the lines or maybe carrying an analogy beyond the dairy case.

The hopes and expectations of the 2014-15 season. Shredded beyond recognition.

Our Wildcats are 13 up and 15 down heading into tonight’s Big Monday (ESPN’s caps) tilt against KU. Barring something unforeseen, we’ll finish below .500 for the first time in a dozen years. 

We might get an NIT game. Prolly on the road. 

Lotta pressure on D-1 college basketball coaches to succeed these days. We’re one of ten schools in one of five “power conferences.” Even li’l ol’ Manhattan, Kansas is a big deal.

Strip away the state-of-the art practice facilities, the national TV exposure, the contract incentives, bells and whistles and you find a system where success depends, almost exclusively, on the moods, motivations, choices and decisions any given day of a handful of 19 and 20-year old dudes.

Talented coaches and other adult mentors with real young people-connecting ability can and do give of themselves to these dudes, but one gets the distinct impression that maybe the giving is only as good as the quality of the receiving.

I remember what motivated me at 19. It was rarely about the best interests of the system. In fact, it was nearly always about...   

...me.
 
This morning, my wife had to remind me there’s a game tonight. We’ve had season tickets since the 20th century but this season has been that forgettable.

So we’ll show up and cheer for Thomas Gipson and Wesley Iwundu and Nigel Johnson and Brian Rohleder (the pride of Doodah's Bishop Carroll) and all the 19 and 20-year old dudes on the team whose moods, motivations, choices and decisions this season have been worthy.

It is the least we can do.

Plus, it’s K-State versus KU. Who cares if the Jayhawks are ranked 8th in the nation? Every Kansan should experience this rivalry in person at least once in their lives.

Manhattan and Lawrence, if you can swing it. 

At the shredded cheese, I considered giving Bruce an attaboy or a ‘hang in there, coach.’ It woulda been the decent thing to do. But by the time I thought about it, he had moved on.
 
To the hot dogs.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Travolta Was Robbed

Click here.

Each generation has a few iconic film stars to call their very own. Someone our age, with whom we identify. 

That’s the inherent value of art. An emotional connection. Sometimes a deep one. Sometimes based on one performance. Connected to a specific point in time.

The Oscars are this Sunday. They always take me back.

When I was 20, John Travolta was nominated for Best Actor for his compelling, era-defining portrayal of Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever. Arguably the best dancer on the big screen since Fred Astaire.

The ’78 Oscars marked the beginning of his career. The competition was stiff that night: Richard Burton, Marcello Mastroianni, Richard Drefyuss and Woody Allen.

Travolta was robbed by Dreyfuss in The Goodbye Girl. Meh. Oscar-worthy Dreyfuss came two years earlier in Jaws, a couple of cocktails deep, pointing to a scar on his chest:

“Mary Ellen Moffat. [Dramatic pause.] She broke my heart.”

Travolta was just a few months past Vinnie Barbarino and a good 16 years before Vincent Vega, when, nominated again for Best Actor, he would be robbed once more. This time by Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump.

“It happens.”

When Travolta’s dance moves hit the suburban cineplex, it justified the lives of a generation. The movie took place in Brooklyn, but we were also stayin' alive in Wichita, Kansas, Fort Wayne, Indiana and West Overshoe, Wisconsin. It wasn’t about place. It was about time. It was about that very special time.

What James Dean and Rebel Without a Cause was to my parents’ generation, Travolta and Saturday Night Fever was to mine. A pop culture snapshot of the late 1970s. It would happen for today’s 40-somethings a decade later with John Hughes movies.

I remember asking my high school journalism teacher if he’d seen American Graffiti, the 1973 coming-of-age classic set in the early ‘60s.

“Seen it? I lived it.”

Same with many middle age precipice approachers and Saturday Night Fever. Our lives right up there on the big screen. A movie with a soundtrack as important as the script. Travolta’s dancing as important as his acting.

Saturday Night Fever was just good enough to make you wish it was better.

Because of Tony Manero and “Well, you know I could dance wit you but you’re not my dream girl or nuttin like dat” and You Should Be Dancing and Stephanie Mangano and “I work on my hair a long time and you hit it.

He hits my hair.” 

...because of girls in waist-length rabbit fur jackets and the Bus Stop and Pogo’s in Wichita and The Hustle and feathered hair and polyester and disco music reverberating to your marrow at 127 beats per minute...

...because of my life then and my memories today, John Travolta is my guy.

John Travolta may never win an Oscar, but I will pay good money to watch any movie in which he appears.