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Andy Lester

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"How am I supposed to explain to my child...." [Apr. 8th, 2012|05:15 pm]
Andy Lester
My daughter is ten. She's very inquisitive about the world. We have lots of long talks in the car about all kinds of different things.

We talked about slavery last year, and that blew her 9-year-old mind. "Well, honey, it's like this: White guys from Europe would sail to Africa, kidnap Africans, and sell them to other white guys in the new United States." The idea of buying and selling human beings just made no sense to her.

Last night, we got into discussions of gay marriage and discrimination based on who you prefer. I think it was even harder for her to grasp than slavery. I told her about how people get beaten up or killed just because they happen to be gay. "Why do they do that? Why do they beat people up because they are gay?" I gave her an abbreviated, non-sexual explanation of being fearful of something that they feel is gross. That's the best I can do.

I explained how some parents will even abandon their children because the kid is gay. "Imagine that in five years, you told me and Mom, 'Hey, I think I like girls, not boys', and we said 'That's not OK, get out of my house forever.' Can you even imagine that?"

Gay-hating makes even less sense than slavery. At least slavery has a certain amount of fiscal benefit. "Hey, look, free labor!" That at least makes sense why plantation owners would want to do that, right? But hating gays?

It's so bizarre to be in the situation of having to explain to someone "Here is something about the world that is so completely fucked up."

....

The mighty Louis CK has a fantastic (NSFW) bit on this.



You see someone stand up on a talk show and say "How am I supposed to explain to my child that two men are getting married?" I dunno, it's your shitty kid, you fuckin' tell 'im. Why is that anybody else's problem? Two guys are in love but they can't get married because you don't want to talk to your ugly child for fuckin' five minutes?


I'll extend that. Never mind you explaining two men getting married to your kid. How do I explain to my kid that you give a shit?
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Quinn the writer [Jun. 18th, 2011|11:23 am]
Andy Lester
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Q: "I'm writing a story called 'Joanna and the Hunt of the Zombie.' It's about a girl named Joanna and she goes camping in the cemetery and she finds her grandma is a zombie and her grandpa is a ghost."

Me: "Wow, that sounds scary!"

Q: "The genre is called 'mystery and scary', what did you expect?"
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Quinn and world events [May. 12th, 2011|08:12 pm]
Andy Lester
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The morning of May 3rd, I told Quinn, who is nine, about Osama bin Laden's death, because I knew she'd hear about it at school.

Me: "Remember I told you a while ago about how a few weeks before you were born, those guys crashed planes into the buildings?"

Her: "And the buildings fell down and all the people died?"

Me: "Right. The guy who was the boss of them was named Osama bin Laden, and we've been looking for him ever since then. Last night, the Army guys found him, and tried to arrest him, and he was killed." (Yes, I know they were Navy SEALs, and yes, I know we didn't actually try to arrest him.)

She seemed OK with that. I continued "It's funny how Osama's name is kind of like Obama, too. When Obama was running for president, a lot of people were saying not to vote for Obama because his name sounds like Osama and that must mean he's a bad guy, too."

She said "That's silly, to not vote for someone because his name sounds like someone else's."

Me: "I know, it doesn't make much sense. You know what I think they were really worried about?"

Her: "That he's black?"

Me: "I think that's probably it."

She knows what's what.
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Thank you, Roger Ebert, for being Roger Ebert [Nov. 20th, 2010|04:11 pm]
Andy Lester
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In 1981, in a small apartment in Skokie, Illinois, I sat enthralled, watching Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert on "Sneak Previews" discuss the new movie "American Pop", Ralph Bakshi's story of four generations of a family in the music business. At 13, I was starting to become more and more of a fan of rock, and I knew I had to go see it. Gene didn't like the movie at all, but Roger give it a middling thumbs up.

Even though it was rated R, I managed to get my mom to take me to see it. I loved it. From that point on, Roger was my man.

This was also around the time that "Friday the 13th" had hit big, and knock-offs like "My Bloody Valentine" were all over the theaters. Gene and Roger talked about how horrible these movies were, the blatant misogyny, and how that all the women were good for was to get naked and then chopped to pieces. It impressed me that these guys were using their TV time discuss not only the movies themselves, but movies as a whole, and their effect on society. Here's a clip of Gene and Roger discussing "Silent Night, Deadly Night" that gives a feel for their zeal.

As the years went by, I followed Gene and Roger whenever I could, even though I no longer lived in the Chicago area. If they were on the Tonight Show, my dad would holler to alert me and it would be a good night. Here's a typical appearance with Carson, poking fun at each other, discussing payola in movie criticism, and decrying the slasher movies. In it, Roger makes the most level-headed declaration against censorship of garbage: "The movie should be made, it should be shown, and it should not be attended by anybody."

Roger taught me to deconstruct the movies I saw. Here's an entry from my (now signed) copy of "Ebert's Bigger Little Movie Glossary":

"Fruit cart!": An expletive used by knowledgeable film buffs during any chase scene involving a foreign or ethnic locale, reflecting their certainty that a fruit cart will be overturned during the chase, and an angry peddler will run into the middle of the street to shake his fist at the hero's departing vehicle.
It's my favorite entry in a book devoted to poking holes in shoddy film making. As always, he strikes a balance between enthusiasm and cynicism. His skewering of the cliche is a plea for creativity and abandoning lazy filmmaking.

Roger has always fought for improving the movies. He's long railed against the dimming of film projectors in the name of the theaters saving a few bucks. He's encouraged us to not stand for crying babies, talking filmgoers and substandard popcorn. He wants us to love the movies as much as he does.

Roger reminds us often of Siskel's rule: "Is this movie more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch?" I've appropriated his rule about how long a movie can be, "No good movie is too long, and no bad movie is short enough", into my advice I give job-seekers about how long their resumes should be.

Back in 1984, when the violence of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" caused an outcry over its PG rating, prompting the MPAA to add PG-13, Roger and Gene also reminded of us of the need for an adults-only rating, above R, that wasn't the X applied to hardcore porn. That we have the rating NC-17 today is due in no small part to them.


Now it's the 21st century. The Internet means that we have dozens of choices of critics to help us. Sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes summarize and aggregate dozens of reviews for each film released. The strong voices of authority like Roger and Gene have been dispersed. Newspaper circulation has dropped drastically.

So Roger turned to blogging.

Without the constraints of having to fit 600-words in two columns of the printed page, Roger wrote about whatever struck his fancy, and he did it well. He's always been a newspaper man at heart, and his love of writing means he writes a lot. His recent appreciation of the legacy of Hugh Hefner runs almost 1900 words, and includes relevant photos and YouTube clips. He comments on the comments left on the blog entries. He understands the medium and he uses it well.

What does he write about? He writes about what he loves! He loves the movies. He loves food. He loves women and sex and eroticism, without apology. He loves life, and he loves thinking about life. It's a joy to read about what brings Roger joy.

You'll note I keep calling him "Roger", like he's a friend of mine, someone I've known for years, and in a way he is, even though I'd never met him in person until a few days ago. The Internet and email and his blog have allowed him to keep in touch with all of us. Roger's just a guy like the rest of us. Sure, he hangs out with A-list movie stars and he's buds with Martin Scorcese, but he knows he's just a guy from Urbana, Illinois.

When I told my aunt Gayle McKay that I was going to Roger's signing the other night, she wrote me:

I wish he would write a book about life. Would you tell him that? He is so profound, so clear and true. That is what I love most about him. I love his blog. I don't care a whole lot about movies one way or another. But his wisdom should be shared with the world.
I, too, wish he'd write that book, but I also know he's doing what he can to share that wisdom every day with us through his writing.

The 21st century also brought Roger his cancer, and the ravages it's had on his body. He had his lower jaw and tongue removed a few years ago. I can't imagine what that would be like, to live a life without food, without talking, without kissing my loved ones. He's written about it, of course, but nowhere is there a shred of anger, one iota of self-pity. This is what his life is, and he keeps moving forward.

I noticed something funny as I wrote this. It wasn't until the past few days that I realized the impact Roger has had in my life. I didn't go to bed at night listening to his reviews, like I listened to George Carlin's comedy albums on the record player in my room, drifting off to sleep laughing I don't sing his reviews, and teach them to my daughter, like I do with Johnny Cash's songs. And yet as I've been writing this article, I keep remembering ways in which Roger's influenced my life. All three of these men lived their lives out loud, living their principles, never failing to stand for what they believed in. We should all aspire to be as strong as any of them.

I failed to let Carlin and Cash know what they meant to me, to tell them how they've inspired me, and to thank them for the legacy they've left behind, both in me and the world itself. I won't make that mistake here.

Thank you, Roger.

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Quinn and Rock Band 3 [Nov. 5th, 2010|11:34 pm]
Andy Lester
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Got Rock Band 3 the other day, as well as the keyboard/keytar. It's not really a keytar with just a handle on it, but kinda.

There are cutscenes everywhere. When you go to the music store to download songs, it shows your guy pulling down a crate of records off a shelf, and starting to flip through them. It shows the cover to Duran Duran's Rio briefly before flipping to Foo Fighters' The Colour and the Shape and then ends the scene. It was just a fraction of a second, but Quinn exclaimed, "Hey, that was the Hungry Like The Wolf record!"

I'm so proud of my girl starting to grow the crucial skill of IDing covers while flipping through record bins!
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Quinn and license plates [Nov. 5th, 2010|11:24 pm]
Andy Lester
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Yesterday Quinn asked me why we have license plates.

"Two reasons. First, the people that drive have to give the government money to pay for the roads, and to keep them fixed. The more cars there are, the more the roads need help. Make sense?"

"OK. What's the other reason?"

"The second is so the police can tell who has a given car. What if you saw a black pickup truck hit another car and drive away, and all you could tell the police was that it was--"

"There could be a BILLION black pickup trucks!"

"That's right, but with a license plate then you know exactly which truck it is."

"But what if you have the same license plate as someone else?"

"You can't, because the government makes sure people don't get the same plates as someone else."

This satisfied her.

I love love LOVE Quinn's inquisitive mind, and how she made the leap to a billion black pickup trucks. Being a dad is awesome.
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Quinn's mix CD [Sep. 11th, 2010|08:55 pm]
Andy Lester
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Tonight I burned a mix CD for Quinn. We bought the five Big Time Rush songs available, and since there was room for other stuff, she chose a bunch of other songs from various CDs of her. iTunes kindly shuffled for us, too. I am Mixmaster Dad.
  • "You Belong With Me", Taylor Swift from Fearless
  • "Alejandro", Kidz Bop Kids from Kidz Bop 18
  • "Single Ladies", Kidz Bop Kids from Kidz Bop 18
  • "If I Were A Boy", Kidz Bop Kids from Kidz Bop 16
  • "Change", Taylor Swift from Fearless
  • "The Climb", Kidz Bop Kids from Kidz Bop 16
  • "Suddenly I See", KT Tunstall from Eye To The Telescope
  • "Tell Me Why", Taylor Swift from Fearless
  • "Halfway There", Big Time Rush
  • "Hey, Soul Sister", Kidz Bop Kids from Kidz Bop 18
  • "Break Your Heart", Kidz Bop Kids from Kidz Bop 18
  • "Fearless", Taylor Swift from Fearless
  • "Any Kind Of Guy", Big Time Rush
  • "Big Time Rush", Big Time Rush
  • "Telephone", Kidz Bop Kids from Kidz Bop 18
  • "California Gurls", Kidz Bop Kids from Kidz Bop 18
  • "Black Horse And The Cherry Tree", KT Tunstall from Eye To The Telescope
  • "Fire Burning", Kidz Bop Kids from Kidz Bop 16
  • "Famous", Big Time Rush
  • "Naturally", Kidz Bop Kids from Kidz Bop 18
  • "Forever & Always", Taylor Swift from Fearless
  • "Circus", Kidz Bop Kids from Kidz Bop 16
  • "City Is Ours", Big Time Rush
At least she got some KT Tunstall in there!
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Trucks and trains and Quinn [Aug. 19th, 2010|10:36 am]
Andy Lester
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On Saturday, coming back from Cinda's house, Quinn and I had another one of those awesome talks in the car that happen every so often.

I told her about Grandpa Ted and how he was a truck driver for Sambo's, and how when I was a kid her age, he'd call us up and say "Hey, I'm going to be at the Sambo's in Lincoln at 11:00pm, come on over" and we'd throw our clothes on and drive to Lincoln, half an hour from Milford, and we'd hang out with him while his semi trailer got unloaded. I told her about how truckers use CB radio, and how they had their own set of slang to talk about the things they saw, like how police were smokeys or bears, and and how the truckers would talk on the CB to tell each other where the speed traps were, and watch for bad traffic or weather. I told her about how if Grandpa Ted was driving back to the Sambo's HQ in Carpenteria, CA, he'd say he was "carrying sailboat fuel," which took her a minute to figure out, but then she thought that was pretty cool.

And then I told her the story about the Christmas when I took Amtrak from Albuquerque to Joliet, to surprise the Chicago Lesters on Christmas, but there was a big blizzard and Cinda and Mom got snowed in down in Champaign and had to eat tuna fish and crackers for dinner. I told how I was a little concerned when I got off the train and didn't see Mom, and of course I didn't know she was snowed in because we didn't have cell phones then, and how after a while Uncle Irv picked me up, and we went back to Aunt Diana's house in his big green van, with Uncle Phil passed out from adult beverages in the back, and the wind was blowing snow sideways. And then how on Christmas morning, all the cousins were at Aunt Diana's house and they all had presents, but I didn't because nobody knew I was coming and so Aunt Diana ran to the 7-11 and got me a key ring and wrapped $3 around it and wrapped it so I'd have some kind of present on Christmas morning.

This morning, I took Quinn to school and as we sat at the school crosswalk at Crystal Lake Road, I pointed out the police car, with a police officer watching to make sure nobody was going too fast through a school zone. Quinn said "It's a bear takin' pictures!"

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A rainy night with Quinn and Dad [Jun. 18th, 2010|10:32 pm]
Andy Lester
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It's been thunderstormy off and on today. We lost power twice before 8:00. As bedtime rolled around, Quinn asked if she could sleep in my bed, and I said OK. Of course, it wasn't enough for her to stay there. She wanted me to stay in the bed and talk to her. So we talked for a bit.

She talked about how her ear is hurting because she didn't put sunscreen on it and she's been outside all day at day camp. I said maybe she could get a hat, and she wasn't interested in that because she would look silly (or different, I suspect) but I said "You could get a cowboy hat, because they have big hats to keep the sun off of them from being in the sun all day."

And then we got into a discussion of why they were called cowboys even though they're on horses, and so I explained how cattle drives would happen, and how cowboys would drive the cattle from western states to points east where they would be slaughtered and shipped.

And then that led into a discussion of how Chicago was a shipping hub because it was the farthest inland you could sail from the east (ignoring Lake Superior and Duluth), since boats were the fastest way to travel before cross-country rail and certainly the highway system. Fortunately, I just happened to have a road atlas in my bedroom so I flipped on the light and we examined the map of the United States and how the St. Lawrence Seaway feeds into the Great Lakes. And of course, that led to discussion of New Orleans being both a path to Europe and the mouth of the Mississippi.

And then THAT got into a discussion of state borders, and how lots of state borders are crazy crooked because they follow the rivers, but sometimes they just have to draw a line, so when we drive up to Grandma's in Wisconsin, there's a sign that tells where the border is, but when you cross the Mississippi into Missouri, you know you're crossing the border because you're crossing the river. She didn't realize the Mississippi ran all the way from the bottom of the US to up into Minnesota.

And then we had to look at all the straight states and I pointed out how even the straight-border states like Colorado and Wyoming have little jogs in their borders, and then we looked at where Grandpa lives in St. George, Utah, and how he drives up and down I-15 to Beaver, UT for the census, and then we talked about how census takers have to go to houses where they know there's a house but haven't mailed their forms in so they know how many people live there.

And by then it was about 10:00 although I had to guess because the alarm clock was still blinking from the last power outage and it was well past time for her to go to bed. She said "I never knew I liked transportation so much!" She gave me a kiss and went to sleep.

Who needs Father's Day? I live it every day.
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20-22 [Jun. 13th, 2010|09:51 pm]
Andy Lester
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[music |Stone Temple Pilots, "Vasoline" from a live show on VH-1]

Quinn is at my place tonight because Amy hurt her foot. Quinn likes to have the TV on out here in the living when she goes to sleep. She just hollered from her bedroom.

"Dad, I don't hear the 20-22!"
"What's that?"
"Well, T is the 20th letter--"
"Aha, I got it."

She is SO LIKE ME sometimes.
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