Life, Or Some S— Like It

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Few podcasts have been able to make the leap from indie obsession to achieve mainstream mass success. But 2013’s Serial by This American Life was able to do just that. The concept was simple: investigate a murder that just didn’t add up. A high school teenager was murdered in Baltimore, her jealous ex-boyfriend the only logical suspect. Yet carefully gleaned evidence obtained by a curious outsider (enter Koenig) and great investigative storytelling was enough to get millions of listeners to doubt the seemingly obvious guilty verdict.

And hence, a cultural phenomenon was born. It was the series that made Podcasts accessible and approachable to the masses, no longer just a media outlet reserved for the niche “alternative”.

What came next was an entire movement to free Adnon Sayed from prison, and an audience eager and waiting for round two from the show’s creators. But the second series from the producers of Serial, following an AWOL soldier in the Middle East, fell flat, and left many fans to brush Serial off as a one-hit wonder.

That was 2015. Fast forward now to April 2017, as the team from Serial and This American Life release another story-driven investigative show called S-Town. Less a criminal investigation and more a character study on a curious clock repairman from Alabama, S-Town has a more empathetic energy to it. It tugs at your heartstrings, as its narrator, Brain Reed, attempts to understand the ever complex John B. McLemore from the perspective of a journalist and a friend. It captures the world and workings of one lower-class Alabama community as a microcosm for thousands of similar fringe cities and towns nationwide. It evokes a an addictive curiosity just like it’s hit successor before it, but this time due to its empathetic undercurrent. It’s sad, it’s beautiful, and it’s the best yet from the team behind Serial and This American Life.

Check it out here or stream it for free on iTunes.

Peer Pressure

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Summer. As much as I scoff at the city’s most beloved season – what with its stifling heat (and no A/C), excessive tourists, and the resultant inability to drive just about anywhere – there’s a small part of me that, all pretension aside, secretly loves summer. Maybe its the residual feelings of being a student set free for three months. Or maybe because there’s so much more Vitamin D coursing through my veins. Or maybe still its just because everyone just seems happier, livelier, more adventurous. There’s so much more activity and spirit here in the summer and its highly contagious.

One of my favorite things about an LA summer is the Twilight Concert Series at the Santa Monica Pier. The entire city seems to migrate to the coast come sundown Thursday night. Sweaty, happy citygoers take in the salty air of the Pacific alongside the company of incredible performers and there is a collective sigh of relief as the  crazy/busy/bustling day melts away into the warm evening. It’s really quite amazing.

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This year’s line-up was just announced, and it’s perfect. There’s Khalid, a nineteen-year-old singer/songwriter proving to be a master of mixing genres. There’s the indie favorite Warpaint playing with a mysterious TBA surprise guest. And then folksy Valerie June who was just recently called out for her musicianship by none other than the great Bob Dylan. It’s an eclectic mix, as always. And that’s what makes it great.

Check out the full line-up here.

Cursive Comeback

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There’s nothing quite like the unique nature of the handwritten note. Sure, texts are quick and emails more convenient, but the extra few minutes and thought that go into an act of actual ink on paper make a world of difference to the reader and receiver. Yet in this day and age, it’s rare anyone can spare the extra time. And so, writing as an actual act, irrelevant of content, is on the decline.
I was serving a family of five at my restaurant with, as usual, the kids clicking away at their iPhones in the time it took to get their entrees. When time came for the bill, the father wrote a few notes and his son questioned curiously the loopy lines that made up his handwriting. “That’s cursive,” he replied. I was dumbfounded. “Do they not teach you that in school?” I blurted out to which I reviewed a negatory shake of the head.  Seriously? Have schools really done away with those dotted and dashed line exercises that have you practicing sailboat-shaped s’s and upper-case t’s that always looked like J’s to me? Is it really considered archaic to use pens and pencils in lieu of keyboards and touch screens?
I may be old school (no pun intended), but there’s no way I could or would accept cursive’s cruel fate. Which is why when The Washington Post recently published an article on its comeback, I quickly took note (again, these puns are unintentional, I assure you). Schools in Louisiana and Arkansas are reinstating mandatory instruction of the once-lost art in elementary schools and 10 other states – California included – have maintained the writing as a state standard. Others leave it up to the discretion of each school district. Washington and Indiana, however, are pushing through bills to make it a non-negotiable in curriculums again.
So, what’s the word? Is it dead? I sure hope not. Handwriting is an art, print or cursive, sloppy or sophisticated, chiseled calligraphy or choppy chicken scratch. Each person’s scrawl is special, one-of-a-kind. So to abandon altogether an individual’s personal penmanship is to erase the very fingerprint  from which he writes.