Category: Vilhauer

October 23rd, 2010

All candy is not created equal. The Halloween Advisory Board would probably dispute this, insisting that candy is candy and it’s all fantastic and you should appreciate each kernel of candy corn just as you’d appreciate a full bag of Milky Way.

But come on. It’s a lie. I know it. You know it.

It’s obvious. On one hand, you’ve got candy. On the other: CANDY. All caps, serious candy.

Sorting candy on Halloween isn’t an act of taste as much as an it’s act of classification and comparison. When we were kids, we’d all dress in different costumes and we’d all stalk different neighborhoods and we’d all return to different homes but, in the end, we all shared one common experience.

In the end, we all dumped out our pillow cases and orange pumpkin buckets and began mentally ranking the haul.

To a kid, choosing candy is an exercise in competition. We visualize the Baby Ruth lining up alongside the Starburst to be mercilessly examined, our decision releasing them from their cardboard cell and into the freedom of our stomachs. Like the BCS, we weigh wins and losses and, ultimately, place one candy brand atop the others.

It’s a candy power poll, and in developing this ranking we each focused on different attributes. A friend of mine, for instance, chose candy based on its sophistication, as if eating a Snickers would somehow help him develop chest hair and a deeper voice. Another friend was less specific, seemingly relying on wind change and moon phases.

My comparisons ran along two lines: fruit flavor and longevity.

The first cut dropped most traditional candy bars out of the running. No chocolate, no nougat, no cay-ra-mell. The next cut separated the suckers from the rest of the fruit-flavored candy because, let’s face it, I was eight and suckers were for BABIES.

Ultimately, it came down to which candy came with the most pieces. I chose Starburst. I chose Skittles. When I was feeling daring, I’d buy Now & Later. Most of all, I chose Mamba, an exotic seeming alternative to the traditional Starburst flavors.

Since that day, the fruit factor has been devalued, as has longevity. Now, Butterfinger tops the list. The candy bars I once saw as sophisticated now crowd the top of the standings. What’s more, I haven’t eaten a Mamba in more than a decade.

The champion is dead. Long live the champ.

Inspired by Jason Santa Maria‘s fantastic Candygram guest posts.

Category: On..., Vilhauer

August 8th, 2010

Thunderstorms. They’re loud and wet and can cause unruly weather-related harm on whatever they pass over. They are a precursor to floods and tornados and hail. They ruin picnics and kayak trips and weddings.

Who cares. It doesn’t matter. I haven’t been afraid of thunderstorms since I was three.

That is, until this past week.

Now, every rumble scares me. A severe weather forecast makes me nauseous. The mere mention of rain causes my bowels to churn, my forehead to sweat, my entire disposition to revert into panic.

We’ve spent the last ten days dealing with a too-high water table and a constant threat of leaking water. A once-in-a-lifetime weather event, one we’re fortunate enough to receive only a portion of, has left us scared. We’ve finally torn out floorboards and sheet rock. We’ve fretted over the future. We even cancelled Sierra’s 3rd birthday party.

Don’t even ask me about that one. It’s enough to bring me to tears.

But it’s not the rain we’re worried about. We’ve got that covered through a system of wet-vac hoses and split second deployment processes that would qualify us for medals and special compensation from most major U.S. military branches. And it’s not the flooding, either – we’ve got everything torn out, so we certainly won’t be ruining anything new. It’s not the repairs. It’s not the money. It’s nothing material.

It’s that we don’t know when this will end.

We go through life with a series of end dates, our plans developing natural conclusions, our dreams the only items worth putting off indefinitely. We know when things will end and we feel safe in saying, “Well, this won’t last much longer,” even though sometimes it does last a lot longer and even though sometimes things never really end. We have that date. We live by that date. We understand the date, what it is that we’re working toward, what it is that will save us from the unspeakable fate of falling into confusion and uncertainty and utter shame.

Right now, we don’t have that. We don’t know what the weather will do. We understand that a sudden inch of rain will throw us back into the frantic wet-vac switching monsters we have become over the past week.

We as humans use knowledge as a crutch, assuming we’re in full control of our situation as long as we’re totally comfortable with the facts. If we know the outcome, we can plan for the outcome, and we can learn to live with the outcome, and we can move forward, the outcome a major part of our life but still there’s an outcome to understand so we’re richer and more lively human beings because of it.

Without that knowledge, however, we melt. We become useless. We snap at our kids and break down into tears and feel so utterly helpless that nothing else matters.

I know. I’ve been working through it, living with this stupid fear of rain, of waking up knee deep in the water that’s been haunting me even in my dreams, forcing me to misinterpret our dog’s curled up torso as a water leak in the middle of the night, causing me to reach for the floor to feel if it’s dry.

I know that someday I won’t be afraid of thunderstorms. Instead, I might be afraid of the future of my industry. Or of what my kids are doing when I’m not around. Or of the march of time and its effects on my personality and health. Or of dying. Certainly, I’ll be afraid of dying.

Ultimately, it’s just the fear of the unknown. And as much as we all may try to deny it, we all suffer from it.

If anyone has any cure, let me know.

Category: On..., Vilhauer

July 31st, 2010

A list:
Albums listened to between 9 pm and 3 am while surrounded by the hum of four wet-vacs as I desperately fought to stay ahead of the seeping water slowly trying to fill our basement, thanks to a recent ridiculous bout of wetness.

1. Pink Floyd – Animals
2. Tool – Aenima
3. Modest Mouse – The Moon and Antarctica
4. The Mountain Goats – Sunset Tree
5. Jets to Brazil – Perfecting Loneliness
6. The Hold Steady – Heaven is Wherever

So. Tired.

July 25th, 2010

  • My father is not the retired director of the Princeton University Press.
  • I am not a 30-year-old senior vice president of investment solicitation for C. P. Eaton Partners.
  • We were not a well-positioned homosexual couple, the likes of which would make for a perfect misrepresentation of the frequency of homosexual marriages in New York State.
  • Kerrie is not an architect, ballet dancer nor a bond analyst from India.
  • Our family did not grow up in an affluent town filled with old money, like Old Greenwich, Conn., or Gig Harbor, Washington.
  • No one in our family has worked for Sports Illustrated.
  • We are not rich.

Go ahead. We dare you to find an ordinary wedding in the NYT Weddings section. Every single one of them has something extraordinary about it.

I guess that’s the idea. But it sure serves up an unrealistic view of the populace as a whole.

Category: Journalism, Vilhauer

June 28th, 2010

A quick story on persistence.

I was in a band. It was called Phake. The name was a play on the idea that, though we had attempted to infiltrate the local punk rock scene, we weren’t punk rock at all. We were fake punkers, fighting for a niche in the local hardcore punk scene, and in the early days of ironic t-shirts I threw together a self-made number that proclaimed our not-punk-though-really-we-wished-we-were status.

It was our fifth name in a year of practicing. It stuck.

With it came a distressing label: “Not Very Good.” But, let’s be honest. That label might have been deserved.

We weren’t very good.

At that time, we didn’t care. Or we didn’t know it. A little of both, really.

But we tried, and here’s the thing: we eventually worked our way into the public conscience, like worm wriggling into rotten wood. We got better – still not good, but BETTER – and, as things often work, we stumbled into some kind of routine. Our practices sounded something like this [WARNING - shitty garage band alert.]

Then, one guy got kicked out and another guy decided he was done and soon the band was over, just as we had supposedly found our niche and identity.

I don’t bring this up because I’m nostalgic, or because I needed an excuse to play this video that our friend Jim inexplicably kept long past its freshness date, but because I realize how badly we all needed to flail and stumble and fail before we could really belong.

Except for me (the non-musician in the group) all four members ended up becoming fantastic musicians and songwriters and people in general. Some still play today. Bring the five of us back together, and there might be something special.

And while I didn’t gain anything musically, I did gain confidence, which I suppose is the ultimate instrument of a lead vocalist.

I failed. We all failed. We had a whole lot of fun and made a bunch of friends that we still hang out with today and, hey, we can all say “Yeah, we were in a band once,” and that kind of cool points doesn’t come around that often.

Given the chance – and given the friends and experiences and confidence I gained – I’d fail all over again.

Category: Friends, Music, Vilhauer

June 25th, 2010

You can go ahead and talk about how you’ve moved to Jackson, how you’ve done well in life and can now afford a stately 500k home in the ghetto part of town, how you brave the traffic and float your kayak down the Snake and how, sometimes, you run into Teton Village for dinner at some restaurant that just opened.

Something Thai, I’m sure. Something expensive and trendy.

Go ahead. I know I’ve never formally lived in the Jackson Hole area. I’ve never called it home, and that nowadays I only visit every four years and barely have any family connection in the town. Even my grandma had to ditch the place. Probably the fault of people like you. I’ll pin that you y’all, if you don’t mind.

Here’s the thing. I might not be from Jackson, but I’m fiercely protective of it. That Thai restaurant wasn’t here when I wandered its streets every summer for years. Teton Village was just a tiny little ski resort. Jackson was still overrun by cowboys, not Subarus; ranchers, not transplants.

Maybe you’ve got your own personal Jackson – some place you’ve never lived but still stick to, allowed to become a part of your soul, of which you shun visitors and push away the people who just don’t get it. That’s it, right?

They just don’t get it, do they?

Jackson isn’t my home. It never has been. Still, I consider myself a local – thanks to generations of family and history and a bunch of my own experiences – and I’ll be damned if I’m going to feel guilty about it.

Sorry, man. I know you just moved here.

But unless you’re new place has some way to replicate three decades of tradition and sheer force of connection, you’ll never be a local.

At least not in my eyes. Not in my experience.

Not to THIS local-who-never-was.

June 8th, 2010

Though I’ve only been away for four days, I still miss the West. So much it hurts.

Something about the simplicity, about brush filling in the prairie gaps between mountains, about rivers that go on forever, about altitude changes that form sawtoothed horizons. Where every fence is wooden. Every bagel shop generous. Every tourist in awe, and every resident following suit.

For me, it’s the Jackson Hole area. For others, it might be the northwest. New York City. The lake district in England, or the hills of Tuscany. An area that invites painful longing; that we experience but never own, our vacations and trips merely a rental of the area, backed by deposits, contracted to be returned unscathed.

We need these areas. Not because we enjoy being someplace we’re not, but because it puts our homes in perspective.

I love northwest Wyoming – it’s the area my family settled, and the area where I spent my summers. Take away all of my ties, and I might be there in a second. Take away my family, my job, my friends, my opportunities, and I’d move to the valley in a second.

But those things are what make Sioux Falls so good.

Those things make this home.

Jackson Hole is no home. And while I still long to be back there, helping my grandmother with the lawn and staring down the Snake River, I know that it offers nothing of what good ol’ Sioux Falls does.

The valley holds my desires. The prairie holds my life.