Alex Mathews

Alex Mathews – writer, bared naked dude blah blah blah

Sunday Learnin’

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When I first began looking at schools for my son, I used a selection criteria that was pretty much pieced together in an insular vacuum. I had no particular agenda or philosophy other than wanting the best for my child. And when we think of this, I suppose even that criteria is subjective and it could be completely misguided. I had been somewhat aware of the ideas espoused in the ‘Race to Nowhere,’ or other dissertations about modern education and its failings. There is a part of me that simply used my experience as a baseline. I went to good private schools on the East Coast, where the race to nowhere was in full flight, but to proclaim that in the go-go eighties would have been treasonous. This is likely a hard argument to follow even today, because I am not so sure we all agree that nowhere isn’t somewhere. The old somewhere is the new nowhere, apparently. Now’s nowhere is where apparently everyone dreams of going, and in this bubble of expensive private education, the norm is established that these children will go to the old somewhere, and they will more or less kick the shit out of the rest of the people that didn’t do well in school, leading to the conquest of the game of life based on the criteria of acquiring success, money, and power. Yes, sign my son up for that. We certainly don’t want our own children getting squashed on the playing field of life, do we?

One trouble is that we don’t unanimously agree that the aspirations comprising the conventional target are even worthy of ideological challenge. We are still using the paradigm of work hard, do well in school, get a good job (which is fiscally bound, like it or not), work hard, work harder, pay for shit and die. And there is also still a stratification in society based on the individual’s ability to excel in the current system. The more academically successful students go to better places, while those that don’t rise to the top are relegated to other career trajectories. The stratification of society has a long history, no? What is the world we are priming our children for? Will there always be those that employ, and those that are employed? Do you want your kid to win or lose the game of life?

I suppose I could be schooled by many that my perspective on life is extremely skewed, for how very provincial and pathetic is this outlook, and yet I don’t believe I am the only human with these very stringent and deeply rooted notions about society, economy and life. One thing I have found is that these beliefs are deeply ingrained in our minds, to the extent that we don’t even feel they require analysis or review, nor are they spoken of explicitly. And most definitely not in the brochures for kindergarten. They are the quietest assumptions. They are woven into the fabric of routines of parents, in the smiles and the the greetings at drop-off time, in the conversations on the playing fields, in the sports we make our kids play, in the way we parent. There is so much talk of bullying, but are we not simply a bullying culture at the very root? Do we really teach turning the other cheek? Not if you don’t want your kids to end up carrying luggage for the winners in the world. They call Alabama the Crimson Tide.

I Don’t Like Mondays

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Prison rape. Gang rape. Forcible drowning in piss. How ’bout a school shooting, too? No, this isn’t an attempt to draw certain kinds of traffic to the blog. It was the happenings in the Sept. 10, 2103 premier of Sons of Anarchy. I was told by so many people to avoid watching television, and to stay away from pop culture as a subject matter, but both are really hard to avoid. I don’t even try to resist television. I try really hard to avoid pop culture, though. But man is it hard to do.

In 1979, Bob Geldof penned, “I Don’t Like Mondays” with the Boomtown Rats, a song about a 16-year old girl named Brenda Ann Spencer, who went to school and killed two adults and injured eight children in San Diego. The song title was taken straight from Spencer’s explanation of why she did it. Back then, this was the sort of incident that was a fringe oddity, perhaps worthy of an Irish new wave band’s song. It helps to contextualize and file away such a disturbing event, perhaps. My response was to approach the faculty at my son’s school. I asked my son’s teacher if she watched television.

“In the classroom?” she asked with appropriate alarm. I could see she assumed I was the head of the local Kill Your Television chapter.

“No, at home.” She looked at me as though I was hitting on her, or I had asked about some intimate detail about her sex life. “Did you see Sons of Anarchy last night?” I continued.

“No, I didn’t. Is that a good show?” She stepped back a foot, waving her wedding ring.

“There was a school shooting in it. It was really disturbing. Please tell me why you think that won’t happen here.” I knew I had crossed over at this point.

“Oh, well we have drills we do for things like that, and the gate’s are locked most of the time.”

“But this was a student. Would you be able to see if a student here was exceptionally disturbed?” This is why television is bad for you. It depicts reality but people sometimes think it is reality.

“Well, we have great counselors here,” she said.

I think I was particularly disturbed by the show because the school uniforms were too similar to the ones my son sports. And plus, these shootings are happening all the time. I actually asked the head of the school to review with me the security measures in place to keep a crazed gunman off the campus. I did it apologetically, adding that it’s so strange that we have to worry about this nowadays. So, the lunches… are they any good? Does every classroom have a smartboard? And by the way, how many snipers are positioned on the campanile?

The subject of violence has basically become webbed into the fabric of political and social discussion, and truly, that makes it a subject I try to stay so far away from, mostly because once a topic becomes socialized and politicized, that’s when all the idiots come out of the woodwork. And yet, here I am. And it goes to the top ten lines of discussion on American society today, where elections are decided on a candidate’s ability to pander to his constituents the best. Gun control, violence, taxes, sexual morals, health care, corporate greed and foreign policy (read: violence on a larger but more acceptable scale). Pick a side.

If you take any relevant social issue, and attempt to solve it, you will have to travel the vine to the causes. Infant mortality, for example. Without any stats or research, I would guess that our infant mortality rate would be improved by ensuring that pregnant people take care of themselves while pregnant, along with improving certain environmental factors, and then by possibly making sure that pregnant people have a nice place in which to give birth. The vine is going to take us to the main points that drive any election: poverty, education, health care. Recently, a guy named Michael Brandon Hill went to shoot up a school in Atlanta. He was, of course, a quiet and friendly guy until the silicone chip inside his head got switched to overload. I was astounded by the fact that people held to the idea that this guy was fine until they started messing with his meds. He was fine when he tried to set fire to his family. He just needed more aderall. For a country that complains about its health care system, we sure love to give drugs to people.

And the video games. The week following the SAMCRO debut, Rockstar Games released Grand Theft Auto V, which grossed $800 Million on the first day. They will likely sell 25 Million units of a game that will, presumably, encourage 25 million people (mostly males in school-shooting age demographic) to kill hookers and policemen with video game impunity.

Following the vine may get difficult, like uncoiling all the wire behind the tv console, but parenting seems like a good place to start. I can do that. But I can only do it for my children. I have to hope that the other parents do it, too.

Fuck, I don’t like Mondays.

10 Last Laughs: Weird Wills and Strange Legacies

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For some reason, the other night I was thinking about death. Of course I always do that. Sometimes it’s just because I’m afraid of dying, sometimes it’s because I’m fantasizing about someone close to me dying. I think maybe this time it’s because my Rich Uncle keeps reminding me that I will need to care for his cats in the event of his demise. And also, the internet likes lists, and I am always looking for ideas that can be synthesized into a handy list. I don’t have much regard for lists in this particular iteration, and I really hate being a slave to the mechanisms of SEO, but I have to improve my rankings for the whole making money, platform-building thing.

“Stop being so self-conscious about the modality and write about your subject matter. Get to the point. The internet people can’t parse all those trains of thought.”

“Yes, you are right, but that hurts my feelings.”

“Your sensitivity is what attracts readers to you.”

“Fuck you.”

Death is always looming. When people die, especially when they have a lot of shit to give away, they can call from the grave to their loved ones because they know their loved ones want their stuff. Almost like they still have a hand in the world of the living. I will certainly want to control these people after I go, so I totally get why writing a will is critical. I’ve decided to compile a list of some of the weird and funny things people have done from the grave. Unfortunately, the title of this post has to have the appeal for the internet people, so all the good titles can’t really be used. Anyway, here’s the list:

  1. I have great admiration for people who have a great sense of humor, but when you’re breathing and getting boozed up it’s fairly easy to do. When you’re dead it’s much more admirable. Charles Vance Millar, a wealthy Canadian lawyer, gave a Jamaican vacation home to three people he knew hated each other. He was better known for offering half a million dollars to the woman who could birth the most children. The frenzy to breed for money was known as the “Great Stork Derby,” and four women split the money, each with nine children to feed.

  2. Dead people are not immune from being sad and pathetic, either. A woman named Audrey Knauer left her $300,000 estate to actor Charles Bronson, leaving her family nothing. Perhaps even more astounding is the fact that Bronson accepted half of the bequest despite the stipulation in her will that what he did not take would go to charity. He must have felt like it was his due, because of all that testosterone and celebrity and whatnot.

  3. Death can also offer an opportunity to stand for principles you hold dear, even if they are morally unconscionable. T.M. Zink left his daughter the sum of $5, zero to his wife, and established a trust to build The Womanless Library, where no books by women could be shelved, no references to women were permitted, and no artwork or furniture designed by women could reside. Clearly he had a bad time of things with the ladies in his life.

  4. Solomon Sandborn demanded that the skin from his body be stripped from his corpse to fashion two drums, and these were to be given to his friend Warren Simpson, who would somehow play “Yankee Doodle” on his flesh drums at Bunker Hill every 17th of June to commemorate the Revolutionary war battle fought there. I can only imagine the sort of friendship these two guys had.

  5. Samuel Bratt left this world with a grievance with his wife, who clearly nagged him about his smoking, for he left her £333,000 under the condition that she smoked five cigars a day. I hope he got his point across.

  6. Jeremy Bentham left his entire estate to the London Hospital under the condition that his corpse be preserved and allowed to attend the hospital’s board meetings. His body sits in a glass-enclosed cabinet in the Committee Room, where the minutes always reflect that he is ‘present but not voting.’

  7. Most people are aware of the estate valued at 139 million Deutschmarks that Countess Karlotta Liebenstein left to her German Shepherds, who would enjoy a higher standard of living than basically anyone in East Germany. There are many well known wills and testaments that leave assets to animals, which leads me to believe the deceased in these cases had very little grasp on life while they were here.

  8. Leona Helmsley seemed to recover from her failed fortune and imprisonment for tax evasion, because she was able to leave $12 million dollars to her Maltese. Incidentally, she left nothing to two of her grandchildren, and two others were given a few million dollars only if they visited their father’s grave once a year. This opens up the idea of morbid reflection in so many ways. Her estate was valued in the billions of dollars, and after the dog and grandchildren were taken care of, the rest was to go to the cause of canine welfare. I would like to know why, after that infusion of cash, there are any dogs on the entire planet who suffer at all. I am fairly confident that problem should be taken care of by now.

  9. German poet Heinrich Heine left his estate to his wife, but the condition was that she remarry to ensure that “there would be at least one man to regret my death.”

  10. An Irishman, in his will, stated “To my wife, I leave her lover, and the knowledge that I was not the fool she thought me; to my son I leave the pleasure of earning a living. For 20 years he thought the pleasure was mine; he was mistaken.”

It may be true you can’t take it with you, but you can certainly try to screw with people when you go. If I were practicing family law, my call to action would be right here.

 

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