Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Another Article at the Hilltop!

Don't know if I mentioned it before, but I wrote an article about the Jeremy Shockey trade for my school's newspaper, the Hilltop.

Here's the link: http://media.www.thehilltoponline.com/media/storage/paper590/news/2008/07/28/Perspectives/Loyal.N.y.Giants.Fan.Vents.Frustrations.To.General.Manager.CoOwner-3394913.shtml

So, check it out, and lemme know what you think.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hey, What's the Deal With The "New" Facebook?

Last weekend (September 12-14, 2008), while most some of Howard University drove down to Virginia to see the battle of the Real HU (Howard!), I got a chance to travel to North Carolina for a college Christian retreat with a great group of students from both Howard and Georgetown University. Unfortunately for me, it was the weekend right after the Georgetown/HU football battle at Greene Stadium for the DC Cup, and I prepared myself for a ride that was sure to include a myriad of jokes, Dikembe Mutombo-esque finger waving, and a generous demonstration of Hoya school spirit (they won the game, 12-7). I had gotten to know or meet most of the Georgetown folks prior to the trip because we all attend Grace Covenant Church over at the Chinatown Theater, and I knew that I had to either freshen up my joke game or reload my I-Pod with some new song material. Fortunately for me, the Hoya students stayed on their leashes, only unleashing jokes equipped with the necessary Zing! when the moment was perfect. (Honestly, that’s probably another reason why the average SAT score over there is like a 1200.) All in all, I got a chance to hang with new folks from other campus ministries, play in a basketball tourney (and not get dunked on), and destroy so many S’mores that I was comatose from sugar overload the next morning. Yup, it was a great weekend that helped me to cap off my summer blessed and refreshed.

However, while I searched the smog-free skies for the eclectic assortment of stars that make up the “Big Dipper”,
other minds were feverishly at work during that weekend. A certain pimple-faced Harvard gentleman teetered across the cold hallways of his building in Palo Alto, wondering if the world would be ready to experience the dramatic change he was ready to unfold. As the lights dimmed (literally) in Hampton, VA on another Howard Bison football experience, piston engines and internet service providers listened intently for the furious clicks stemming from the individual’s corner office keyboard. Minutes before USC began to throttle the Buckeyes in dramatic fashion on primetime television, the change had already taken effect.

I was oblivious, however. I had checked my Facebook hours before my departure that Friday on my laptop, making sure that any last minute “notifications” had been viewed. My status has been altered, my Inbox depleted, and my weekend cleared. Unfortunately, as I closed and locked my suite for the weekend, I had no idea that I was seeing the last of the old Facebook. As Louis XV said before the French Revolution, “after this, the deluge.”

When I dragged my bags into my room at 5:30PM that fateful Sunday afternoon, I was floored. What’s up with this new setup? Who broke into my room to modify my Facebook profile? For the love of God, WHO’S BIRTHDAY IS IT TODAY?

In an instant, Facebook had changed.

Of course, I immediately checked to see if the Facebook "legions" had finally allowed me to tag more than 25 people to a Facebook “note” so I can finally end my insane tagging method. And, obviously, I was still limited. Despondent, I turned to football hoping that the Jets would be beating the snot out of the Patriots so that I could find joy in the midst of my disgust. Alas, it was not to be…as the score read “PATRIOTS 6, JETS 3” at the half.

Yup, I was as shocked as ever. How dare “they” (Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, Inc.) show us their best corporate smile and convince me that Facebook is “connecting me with the world around me.” To that I ask, what world? The new design has made it even more challenging to connect with old friends and find new ones. Just as MySpace slowly became TheirSpace (corporate America’s, that is), Facebook has become little more than a yearbook in which the pages of advertisements and self-aggrandizement far outweigh the emotional and memorable experiences from that school year. Mark Zuckerberg has sold out in order to gain access to more of those men – Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Benjamin. The tragedy of Dr. Faustus has befallen yet another corporate entity that too eagerly pursues a more beneficial profit margin over the cheers of an abused populace. Yup, it looks like yet another company has completely sold out for the wads of cash nestled in the wallets of corporate America, wallets that are currently filled with borrowed Chinese currency.

I’ve looked past those “I’m so over him/her” annoying status updates. I’ve created Facebook “groups” and added Facebook “photo albums”. I’ve argued for the benefit of the Facebook “notes.” I’ve turned my head and coughed while invaders impersonated my friends to raid my profile wall with “Find Your Crush Now!” ads. But can I, the self-proclaimed Facebook writer, find solace in a terrifying new Facebook world?

Well, I’ve personally never attempting to find solace in Facebook. To me, the “New” Facebook has only reiterated the importance of not putting my faith in the constantly changing things of this world, like the stock market or political scene. I’m so glad I put my faith in a cool guy that will never pull the wool over my eyes and only looks out for my best interests and the interests of his Father. I’m so glad that I’m not attached to the fleeting gimmacks that occupy this world. I’m so glad Jesus gave me a new heart so that I can win at the game of life. And I so glad that Facebook doesn’t run my world.

I bid adieu to this final weekend of summer.
However, now is the winter of our discontent with Facebook.

I’m so glad I’m living the good life.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Back to Life, Back to Reality...But First, Beijing 2008!

Mike, I can’t believe you were in China?

So, Mike, how was Beijing?

You’ve got to tell me all about it!

Coming back to Howard University after a tremendous summer that took me to Cancun, Philadelphia, Delaware and of course, Beijing, I realized that I’d have to answer that question. With everyone awaiting my return with baited breath, I knew that I’d have to come prepared with exceptional stories, tons of free Olympic swag, and possibly, a Chinese girlfriend.

But honestly, how can any person briefly regale stories that characterize the full impact of any life-changing trip? I mean, this is China. This is the 2008 Summer Olympics. As my friend Phil casually referenced during the trip, this is the place that our parents jokingly told us we’d end up living if we sat in our bathtubs while the water drained or if we kept digging downward in our sandlots and McDonald’s play areas. Day after day, history was literally being recorded, and I, a writer from Queens, NY, became its paupous witness. How could I give my roommate, family member, or college friend a 30 second synopsis of a trip that was mind-blowing every minute of the day? With every casual trip answer I tossed to my listeners, I felt like the Al Capone during his historic run, or an unrelenting professor that hands out a B when your class average is an 89, or even Jimmy Conway from GoodFellas.

I was robbing my friends of the experience.

But, as any terrified witness of history is prone to do, I continued stating the obvious. China? Yea, it was cool. The Olympics? Truly amazing. Did I get to see any events? You betcha. How was the Great Wall? Well, it was…great.

As your sugarcoated NBC memories of the Beijing 2008 Olympics start to erode due to schoolwork, fantasy football, and life, I realized that I had to do the right thing. Besides delivering that pizza for Mookie and completely killing the joke from the previous sentence (see what I did there?), I had to tell my stories. Yes, I know that my first Facebook “note” after a long layoff looks like the written form of Elephantitis than real writing. Yes, I know that writing about the Olympics after the first week of NFL football is the author’s equivalent to getting kissed by Rogue from X-Men (or having to listen to Jadakiss’s “Kiss of Death” from cover to cover). Yes, I know that any modicum of humor I write into this text is destined to be more lame than a D.L. Hughley standup in which he, uhh, actually tells jokes.

But, I need to write. Even though I’ve got a worse case of writer’s block than J.R. Writer, I can’t call myself a writer unless I’m actually writing. Well, unless my name is Stephen A. Smith. (Zing!)

So, while you’ve enjoyed outstanding articles from guys like Adrian Mood, Johnathan Tillman, and others, it’s time for me to re-enter my “notes” into the Facebook world. I won’t come off sounding like Toni Morrison, Tony Medina, or Michael Wilbon in this “note”, but at least I’ll do a better job of telling you about my experiences in Beijing. If you want to hear more about Beijing, let’s schedule a one-on-one conversation.

So, here we go…my first Beijing story is out of the can. Enjoy.

Hanging Near the Today Show(written on August 8, 2008)

Hi All,

After three days of jetlag, an cold that has my voice sounding worse than Macy Gray, and a serious case of the runs, I am now ready to start my job as a logger for NBC. Tonight, we'll be starting our coverage of the Games with the beginning of the Opening Ceremony happening tonight here in Beijing.

Okay, so what does a logger do? Well, we watch sports and write about what's happening. Wait, wha? Yes, we loggers are called upon by NBC to give a detailed play-by-play analysis of the match or event that we are scheduled to watch. I'll give you a better idea of what it is as I go along working these 12 hour shifts here at NBC.

Last night (morning in the United States), I was on the Today Show. And by "on the Today Show", I mean that I was flailing my arms in the background of Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer while wearing a bright orange Texas Longhorns cap (to stand out on camera). Plus, being one of the three black folks in the crowd left me looking like a vanilla bean speck in a half-gallon container of Breyers. Awesome times, that's for sure.

About halfway into the show, Ann Curry joined Matt and Meredith on stage. I've always enjoyed Ann Curry's presence on NBC. From her cameos on "To Catch A Predator" to her mistakes on camera being recorded as fodder for Joel McHale's "The Soup" on VH1, my experiences with Ann Curry are nothing short of priceless. Today was no different. Unfortunately for her, someone forgot to tell her that she had smeared bright red lipstick all over the top row of her teeth.

During the commercial break, she decided to saunter over to greet the crowd. Bad idea. Of course, I happened to be licking my lips like a madman to make sure that I didn't leave any goodies in the roof rack. Plus, I thought that I would be throwing her a hint. Heck, maybe she'd lick her top row and taste some acrylic paint.

Obviously, being an complete retard and an inept lip licker (unlike this guy), I accidentally made the teeth sucking noise right before Ann and the crew were ready to go back on-air. Yes, it was REALLY LOUD. Let's just say that if I were in church, I'd probably get the stink eye from an old church mother sitting in an adjacent pew and a fierce poke in the ribs from my mom.

While everyone in my area turned around to scold me, Ann was incredibly oblivious to the noise. Perhaps she wasn't concerned with an intern wearing a hat that barely matched the rest of his clothes. Maybe because she was too rich and famous to be bothered. (Perhaps she was still trying to find the state of Illinois on a map.) Heck, I didn't know.

I ignored the scorn of the crowd and decided to slide away from the fracas. Just then, my colleague pointed out some of the members of the USA Diving Team (Jevon Tarantino and Chris Colwill, to be exact) were also present in the crowd (a clear indication of their importance to NBC). Since my Dad was a former trainer of Olympic level swimmers, divers, and triathlon athletes, I coolly strolled over to make some small talk.

Me:"Hey guys!"
USA Divers: "Hey.
"Me:"Congratulations on making it to the Olympics! How's the experience been?"
Divers:"Pretty good. Went over to the Great Wall today."
Me: "Really? (Mental yawn...) Cool! I was over there yesterday."
Divers:"Yeah, we rode on the toboggan ride down the side of the mountain."
Me: (Now feigning interest) "Oh really, that's what's up! awesome!"

We posed for some pictures, and I kept walking around the perimeter. This time, Rowdy Gaines (former Olympic swimmer and color commentator for NBC's Michael Phelps swimming coverage) spotted my Longhorns' hat from the back of the growing crowd and yelled.

"Horns!" he shouted, right before he was preparing to speak with Matt Lauer.

"Yeah!" I yelled back, praying that no one from Howard saw me cheering a random Division I school on national TV.

Yup, Beijing is awesome.

Michael Benjamin II is an English major from Queens Village, NY.