“Rick & Morty” & When to Give a Shit

I drove up to Seattle to hang out with my friend Elliott who is also a huge “Rick & Morty” fan. We’re having a little viewing party at his apartment, at which we will watch the already-released Season 3 Episode 1 “Rickshank Redemption” along with the newly released SE3EP2 “Rickmancing The Stone.”

I’ve hit the point where my fandom of “Rick & Morty” has hit peak obsessional levels. This isn’t strange for me, because I have a historically obsessive personality type. In the past couple years, I have gone off the deep end in my obsession with animated TV in general (“Adventure Time” and “Steven Universe” rank in the same tier as “Rick & Morty” for me of exceptional animated content). I also am a lifelong Asher Roth fanboy (no one else shares this obsession) and an insufferable coffee nerd. I usually fall into hobbies that eventually become all-consuming, and this is exactly how I like existing. Everything becomes dizzyingly interesting the more you stare at it.

The #1 draw of “Rick & Morty” is Rick Sanchez, the titular main character of the show. He is a burping, alcoholic genius with absolutely no tact and only some fleeting moments of empathy. I love Rick because he doesn’t give a shit and he doesn’t really have to because of how intelligent he is. “Listen, I’m not the nicest guy in the universe, because I’m the smartest. And being nice is something stupid people would do to hedge their bets,” he says in SE3EP1. This is the appeal of Rick and characters like him (e.g. Tony Stark), who have the power to say whatever they want simply because they know best.

rickwedding

SE3EP1 The Rickshank Redemption

I don’t believe that being intelligent means that you have to be cynical and mean. Becoming truly smart means being able to inspire your friends to live instead of pounding them into the ground and best-ing them with your own knowledge. However, in my life, there is always someone who is smarter than me within rock-throwing distance, so I know that I am definitely nice to “hedge my bets.” Watching Rick heavy-handedly shut people down is thrilling because he wields an ultimate intelligence that I definitely crave.

I work a retail job where I have to embrace a “customer is always right” mindset. There is a way to artfully and tastefully embrace this kind of thinking, but recently I find it difficult to indulge customers who are rude, pretentious, or wrong.  I need money, though, so I indulge them. I am told that this is to be expected across the board as far as jobs go. It’s all ass-kissing, whether you’re a professor, a barista, or a web developer. We all need something, so we’re going to kiss some ass to get what we need. Rick breaks free from this human-centipede of ass-kissing, and it makes watching him and his antics extremely addicting.

There are people that I meet in my life that I just happen to like without having to try too hard (like, for instance, Elliott). I would say that I like 20% of the amount of people I interact with daily, including friends, strangers, and family,  Sure, I have a general love and appreciation for humanity blah blah blah, but only 20% of my social sphere include people I would happily do favors for simply because I like that they exist.

“Rick & Morty” makes me contemplate the things like this, the things I should actually give a shit about. It allows me to zoom out and think about my relative insignificance, and in turn the relative insignificance of my problems. Rick acknowledges the triviality of our mundane, human, and planetary woes. In the end it allows me to enjoy the people and things I like much more fully, because how rare is that? To find something worth loving in this shit-storm of matter and energy?

I am super stoked about the premiere of SE3EP2 tonight. It’s 22 minutes of animated television, but it satisfies an almost spiritual need to see someone bring some much-needed perspective to the human race, myself included.

Kid Cudi Was 2009’s Elliott Smith

If you were a boy in high school around the time Kid Cudi’s “Man On The Moon: The End of Day” studio album was released, odds are you had at least heard of it. Through conversations with my friends and strangers, “Man On The Moon” can be considered one of the best and most revered albums of my generation, for the same reason so many people liked Elliott Smith.

For those of you who don’t know, Kid Cudi is a rapper from Cleveland, Ohio who specialized in the budding genre of alt-hip-hop and trip-hop, music characterized by minor-key melodies with a psychedelic lilt. In 2008 Kanye West signed Cudi onto the GOOD Music record label, through which Kid Cudi created the album “Man On The Moon.”

man-on-the-moon

Man On The Moon: The End of Day album cover.

The album is thick with synth, guitar, and electronic sounds underneath Cudi’s deep and resonant singing voice. Unlike other rappers, Cudi opts to sing-rap many of his verses, similar to the style that artists like Future and Young Thug have adapted. One of the most prominent singles from the album, “Day & Night”, is sung and rapped over sci-fi-like beeps and boops, immediately announcing Cudi’s style and normalizing the genre.

“Day & Night” is a song about being a “lonely stoner”. The speaker is a loser. He stresses out about nothing, he isn’t very popular, and he opts to be “Mr. Solo Dolo,” a character who wanders through life a little bit stoned, in both daytime and nighttime. This somber tone permeates a lot of Cudi’s music. Some speculate that the sadness comes from the death of his father when Cudi was eleven years old, but it’s hard to say for sure. Through the rest of the album, we hear slow, introspective songs that explore the speaker’s pain and loneliness through the powerful and adrenaline-inducing lens of hip-hop.

The album received three Grammy-Award nominations, and was considered by critics to be the best and most innovative album of the year. When I bring up the album in conversation today, people (many of them men) around my age will have their eyes glaze over as they remember how great it was to listen to that album in their adolescence. There are many reasons why I love the album, but I think a huge part of why the album succeeded and still is remembered with almost religious reverence is because it made sadness an acceptable and low-key “cool” emotion for young men to feel.

While Elliott Smith had previously been the favorite “sad-boy” pied-piper*, Kid Cudi filled the spot for a new generation of kids raised on hip hop and rock. Not only did Kid Cudi merge the two genres, but he also catered to both audiences of boys and their cusping manhood who suddenly saw for the first time that rappers can wear sadness in an acceptable way. I clutched to Kid Cudi for this. “Man On The Moon” was the soundtrack to my own high-school loneliness. It made me feel like I was in cool company even if I felt like shit.

 

Unlike like “Creep” by Radiohead, which feels masturbatory in its self-pity, Kid Cudi made it feel possible to still have a good time while being a misfit. Songs like “Make Her Say” and “Pursuit Of Happiness” are cool to listen to. The music creates power in sadness rather than digging deeper into the hole of misery.

It is my opinion that “Man On The Moon” was the peak of Kid Cudi’s career. His albums afterward failed to produce anything innovative or listenable, and so I fell out of touch with the artist. But last night I was chatting with friends and I decided that if I could go back in time and see any musician perform any tour, I would see Kid Cudi’s “Man On The Moon” Tour, because of how much that album opened up my emotional life, and for how it influenced my hip hop taste from then onward.


* I only learned about Elliott Smith after encountering a reference in “Rick & Morty” SE2 EP7 “Big Trouble In Little Sanchez”, in which Tiny Rick is brought to his senses by an Elliott Smith song. My girlfriend laughed and told me “Yeah, I remember every high-school sad-boy loved Elliott Smith”, a statement which got me thinking about sad-boys in general.

Starbucks vs. Third Wave Coffee

This is how it was explained to me at my first higher-end coffee job: First-wave coffee was Maxwell House and Folgers. Second-wave coffee includes Starbucks and Peet’s. Third-wave ushers in craft roasters who focus on farm-to-mug fair-trade practices.

As I get more involved in the coffee scene, the information gets a little dizzying. There is so much to pay attention to when drinking a cup of coffee that people have started likening the experience to drinking wine. And it’s not too different, considering the time, care, and thought that goes into making both of these beverages. As a coffee-hobbyist, I often encounter the problem of redefining coffee in terms that do not align with Starbucks’ mission. Executive Chairman of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, made clear that his goal was to bring the Italian coffee experience to the United States. This also meant tweaking coffee recipes to match the American palate, which (in general) leans towards extremes in all directions.

I’ve seen a shift in public perception of coffee, where more people express that they believe third-wave coffee is “better than Starbucks”. In my previous cafe jobs, customers often will utter the name Starbucks in hushed voices, as to not offend the baristas. Honestly, no one really cares whether you talk about Starbucks in a third-wave cafe, and it’s hard not to anyway. Starbucks revolutionized the cafe experience and laid the groundwork for third-wave coffee to exist. It also created some odd trends in how Americans expect coffee to be served.

I don’t care too much about how you like your coffee. People have different palates, and I respect that some people can find as much joy in a frappe as I find in an Americano. While doing a coffee tour in Seattle, my travel partner remarked that coffee-drinkers are “willingly consuming a product that tastes like ass”. I’m fine with that. The problem is when people enter a third wave cafe expecting a Starbucks experience. Many third-wave cafes do not serve any kind of blended drink at all. They do not measure sweetness with “pumps” and drinks do not come in “venti” sizes.

jesse-orrico-74651

Baristas still face these misconceptions, just because Starbucks is considered the United States coffee standard. It’s the middle ground between garbage coffee and great coffee, and it’s a metric that everyone can use to gauge their coffee experience. I believe that this needs to change. I think there is a huge audience of people who want to learn more about coffee (myself included), which would ease the third-wave cafe experience and, in my opinion, heighten our capacity to enjoy coffee.

Stumptown Coffee and Blue Bottle Roasters offer public coffee cuppings, or tastings, to explain their product, process, and practices. In Portland, you can take walking tours of different cafes in order to get a feel for what coffee culture is like in the city. Roasters and baristas want to share information about why coffee is so interesting and how it is changing, and these resources are a great start. But it shouldn’t stop here. More tools and resources, whether it be classes, websites, or books, are needed to bridge the gap to bring the third-wave coffee movement to a wider audience.

The Secret To Making Friends

Z asked me recently how I make friends when I move to a new city. “Explain this to me. You are good at making friends. It’s not obvious to me how I can make quality friendships. I want a squad.” A couple of my friends from college moved to new cities upon graduation and their social circles have not changed too dramatically. That’s fine for most people, and I understand that it’s hard to make friends outside of a school environment. When I first moved to Portland, I stressed out about it. I was worried that being an adult meant pretending to be professional all the time and never making worthwhile friendships.

A lot of times, we conclude that we can just make friends through our workplace, but this doesn’t work for everyone. Z tells me that, sure, his co-workers are probably fine to hang out with, but they don’t share the same interests. “Like, my vibe is entrepreneurs, young guys who like to dress well,  build projects, and test assumptions. And my co-workers aren’t really into that.” I think that this is a totally reasonable and achievable goal. And I believe I have the secret sauce (or at least the first step) for how to forge meaningful relationships with like-minded people.

I met Z in college because we rowed crew together. We ate breakfast at the same time each morning, liked hip-hop and business. A great deal of things strengthened our friendship, but I think that our regular morning meet-ups were the foundation for our budding partnership. I knew where to find Z every morning, and without fail we showed up for breakfast, same place, same time.

josh-calabrese-236920

Social circles center around the idea that people orbit through the same places to eat and drink. If you adjust your own orbit to overlap with the orbits of people who share your interests, you are much more likely to be exposed to people who could potentially be your friends. I apply this logic to my cafe preferences. I’ve visited a ton of cafes in Portland, and I revisit the ones that are 1) convenient and 2) align with my vibe. This way, the cafe becomes part of my orbit, and so do the regulars of that particular spot.

This isn’t about striking up conversations with random people. it’s about being part of a community, even if you are just a passive participant. Three-Michelin-Star-Chef Marco Pierre White noted in his menu that he waited four months at the same bar, establishing his presence, before he actually started meeting people. Musician and poet Patti Smith first met people in New York City simply by changing her wardrobe and dressing up how she thought artists dressed. Entering your community of choice isn’t hard, but showing up until you are familiar is the key for laying the groundwork for lasting friendships.

“Rick & Morty” And The Relative Importance Of Family

“Rick & Morty” is a show about an alcoholic genius (Rick) who drags around his well-meaning idiot grandson (Morty) around the multiverse on various quests. We learn that Rick is reportedly the smartest man in existence, and that he is wanted for various crimes committed against the galactic government. “They think they run the galaxy, I disagree,” grunts Rick in Season 2 Episode 10. When he is finally arrested and placed in space-prison, a fellow inmate asks “What are you in for?” to which Rick replies “Everything.”

What makes Rick so appealing is how his intelligence gives him a golden ticket to do whatever the fuck he wants. He manages to get drunk, party, and go on seemingly self-serving adventures just because he understands that life is meaningless and short. We get the sense that Rick is very unhappy (he says he doesn’t believe in love, he attempts to kill himself at the end of Season 2 Episode 3), but he uses sensual pleasures (alcohol, sex, and ice cream) to distract himself from the heavy truths that weigh over him. We have to assume that this is the best possible scenario for Rick to exist because, well, he’s a genius.

rick-suicide

Season 2 Episode 3 “Auto Erotic Assimilation”

The show suggests that if we truly become smart and all-knowing, it will create tremendous unhappiness within us. Ultimate knowledge, rather than solving problems, creates more of them. This happens to a degree at which Rick realizes that the fight is pointless and that the only thing he can really control is how good of a time he can have in his short window of life.

Rick’s extremely cynical standpoint is seductive. When I read the news and educate myself in politics, there are times where I believe that I am merely a cog in the unstoppable forces of history. Once we zoom out and examine our planet, our solar system, and our universe, our immediate choices matter less and less and less. This perspective (which Rick has experienced first-hand) frees us in a sense. These infinite possibilities tell us that, in the end, we don’t have a reason to be afraid of very much, because of how insignificant our problems are.

Then, we have Morty, the idiot whose scope of understanding is completely narrow.  As the show progresses, we see him become less naive (often his efforts to do good end with him committing more evil than he intended), which gives us insight as to why Rick is such an asshole. The world is so complex that is is nearly impossible to do the right thing on a grand scale. Our immediate needs and surroundings end up being the most important anyway, because our friends, our hungers, and our wants end up being the universe that matters most.

This is why Rick often will sacrifice himself for his family (he saves Morty in Season 2 Episode 1, he turns himself in to the Galactic Federation in order to protect his loved ones from torture). Morty repeatedly claims that Rick cares about no one. However, Rick’s actions tell us that he does care about his family. This isn’t a huge shock, but we see that infinite intelligence (at least in this show) may take away our ability to care,  but it will not take it away completely. Rick still holds the capacity to love his family, even if he will never admit it.

The takeaway is that even as we gain intelligence and cynicism, it may appear to take away from our immediate fears, but it in a sense doesn’t change them very much. Perhaps this grand perceptive across timelines gives Rick clarity as to what really matters. True, Rick doesn’t give a fuck about most things, but we see that he is willing to sacrifice his own well-being for his loved ones on more than one occasion. He finds this balance in his cognitive gifts, and acts accordingly.

Spoilers Are Fine If Three Months Have Passed

“I don’t want to spoil it for you,” someone told me, regarding the movie Alien. This happens often to me, where someone will mention a classic film, then withhold the major plot points from me in order to preserve the magic of consuming the story for the first time. I’ve stopped caring about spoilers for most things, especially if they are older than three months.

I know how Breaking Bad ends, even though I have never seen it. I haven’t watched Westworld, and honestly I probably won’t because the window of relevance is closed. If I want to see something and be legitimately un-spoiled, I will usually see the movie/show within the first month is comes out.

At the rate that new movies and TV shows come out (and considering the volume of how much media exists), I struggle to care that The Wire is reportedly the best show ever to air on television, especially when there are so many other new shows to watch. I am not going to put myself through a TV show or movie that I reportedly should watch just because it’s great, instead of having a personal interest in seeing the film.

Blade Runner 2049 is coming out this year, and so my friends urge me to watch the original Blade Runner. I’ll probably do it just to pacify them, but before my friends started hounding on me to watch the original Blade Runner, I had no reason to see it at all. I pick the shows and movies I want to see based on trivial whims and feelings. I am not going to be more likely to see a film if you tell me that I have to watch it. Since Everyone at one point or another is telling me that I have to watch something, the recommendation loses its weight. I don’t have to watch anything.

In his new book, Chuck Klosterman X, Chuck shares that he has never read the Harry Potter books, nor has he seen the films. He realizes that there will be a huge part of popular culture that he will be ostracized from because of this, but he finds this to be acceptable. It’s not a strong enough reason for him to read the books, which would feel more like a cultural homework assignment than a legitimate entertaining experience.

chuck_x

Published May 16, 2017

If you recommend a book, a movie, or a TV show that has existed for more than three months, I will ask you to just tell me how it ends, because this saves me a lot of time. Sometimes, oddly enough, hearing how the film ends is enough to compel me to watch something. My girlfriend had no interest in seeing Ex Machina until she heard that the male protagonists get murdered at the end. (Is this actually how it ends? I’m too lazy to check). My point is that there are some films, regardless of their cultural impact, that I will miss, and you are actually doing me more of a favor than a disservice by telling me how it ends.

Donut.js in Downtown PDX

I’ve been trying to learn how to program for almost a year now. I use Treehouse, a collection of online web-classes on programming and code (link). It’s $25 a month and well worth it. The videos are neatly organized and the projects are well-designed and easy to use. So far I’ve learned some Ruby, HTML, CSS, and Javascript. There seems to be a very enthusiastic community surrounding Javascript, so I’ve been focusing a lot of my efforts towards that particular language.

A friend pointed me to a monthly meet-up called “Donut.js” that takes place in downtown Portland (link). People interested in Javascript show up to share what they’re working on, while snacking on donuts and La Croix. I went to two of these events so far, and I really enjoy them. You never know exactly what people are going to be presenting about, so the talks themselves vary in quality and subject matter. Some of the talks have either gone completely over my head, or were so boring that it pained me to point my eyes on the podium. However, every so often one of the talks clicked with me, usually when the speaker managed to link their genuine personal interests with their technical skills in programming and Javascript.

17492625_1381101315281682_1204323943241839996_o

Me and my name tag at Donut.js.

One speaker, interested in music, developed new musical notation in order to help him create the most dissonant music possible. Another speaker demonstrated some basic concepts of WebGL, an online animation software.  In the most recent talk I attended, the speaker showed us the many uses of introducing random elements to software and web design. A web-security professional by day, he walked us through programs he had written that generated Pacific-Northwest landscapes.

As with any kind of art form, it is always more interesting when the presenter is able to channel their passions with hard, technical reasoning. It’s beautiful to see well-executed passion, and it’s usually unmistakable when we see it. As a programmer-in-training, it is also motivating to see people using complicated tools like Javascript in order to make things that are just fun to look at. It reminds me why I am banging my head on a keyboard trying to learn something that, at first, feels unnatural.

I’ve been channeling my efforts into making web apps that generate poetry. This isn’t really a new or groundbreaking concept, but after nights of pulling out hair and scrolling through about a page of code, I finally was able to make a program that generates random plot summaries. I posted a couple through my experimental Twitter-bot account, which you can check out here (@PercyWishkiller).

Screenshot 2017-04-02 at 11.46.37 AM

I don’t know exactly where I will be applying my newfound skills, but I know that the road to web-developing is long and unpredictable. At the very least, I like having general knowledge of what people are doing with code, which makes me appreciate their projects so much more. Next, I’ll be going to an “Internet of Things” meet-up where programmers will be loading Javascript code onto devices and other pieces of hardware. I’m excited to see what these people are making, and I’m excited to broaden my understanding of what is possible with technology.