DoktaKra.com

All of My Obsessions in One Place

My Life

I never cared about what's standard, accepted or normal to anyone else.  This is the place where I talk about my obsessions and infatuations: the Sacramento Kings, Miami Dolphins, my favorite TV shows and hip-hop albums, and pretty much anything that pops into my head. My life is about finding forever and believing in the impossible dream. I have this site because it reminds me I've got to fight every day.

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Can't Forget About You

Posted by doktakra on September 11, 2011 at 10:50 AM Comments comments (0)

It goes without saying that everyone remembers exactly where he or she was when the tragic events of 9/11 unfolded.  10 years later, I'm instanty drawn back to walking on Washington Place, on my way to Spanish class as a freshman at NYU.  A crowd of students and faculty stood in the middle of the street, nervously watching a thick cloud of black smoke in the distance.  None of us knew what had just happened, or how our lives would never be the same.

I also never forget the most emotional moment I've ever experienced at a sporting event -- the Mets' incredible comeback victory over the Atlanta Braves in the first baseball game in New York after 9/11 -- which I recounted on Deadspin, of all places, in 2008:

This One Was For All Of Them. I'm not a good enough writer to describe how Mike Piazza's go-ahead home run in the bottom of the eighth inning on September 21, 2001 lifted an entire city. I remember standing up and cheering with my friends, at a time when none of us could imagine ever smiling again. I was a freshman at NYU, and just 10 days prior, the tragic events of 9/11 brought about unspeakable pain and suffering. To many, going to a game during a time of mourning was appalling and heartless, but we needed baseball to remind us that we could get past the tragedy and move forward. After Armando Benitez (who else?) gave up a run in the top of the eighth, putting the Braves ahead 2-1, Shea was eerily quiet and dejected. The good vibes from the touching pre-game tribute were all but gone; I don't think we had the heart to go home with another loss. And that's when it happened. Edgardo Alfonzo reached on a walk and set the stage for Piazza to rescue the Mets, and in many ways, us all from being down. I'm not ashamed to admit that it was the only time I ever cried during a sporting event. We left the stadium in a state that was somewhere between hysteria and disbelief. Whatever that feeling was, I'll never forget it.

My heart goes out to all of the victims of 9/11.

 

In the Ring with Sylvester Stallone

Posted by doktakra on June 15, 2011 at 11:24 AM Comments comments (0)

I tried to not get too excited when Michelle, my wonderful wife (still feels weird to not say, "fiancée"), told me that she was able to get two VIP tickets from Showtime Sports to the Boxing Hall of Fame weekend, where Sylvester Stallone would be one of the inductees. Never mind the merits of a Hollywood actor who played a boxer over the span of four decades getting recognized among the sport’s all-time greats – someone joked that by the same token, Whoopi Goldberg should be in the Basketball Hall of Fame for her role in Eddie – we’re talking about Sly freakin’ Stallone here.


Now, I’m sure most guys own the first Rocky, many have the entire box set, and every single one stops whatever they’re doing if they catch the last few minutes of any movie from the series on cable. About three years ago, I took it a step further and and started a Stallone DVD collection (if you’re wondering, I have a couple of Frank Stallone movies, too, such as the brilliant Terror in Beverly Hills). The only Sly movie I still don’t own is Rhinestone, partly because its IMDB description is, “A country music star must turn an obnoxious New York cabbie into a singer in order to win a bet” (must see!), but more so because it’s out of print and sells for $71 on Amazon. So, yes, I guess you could say that I’m insane a Stallone fan.


Last year, I came across a Rocky mini-poster at a New York street fair, and it’s been displayed on our credenza ever since, patienly waiting for an autograph. If I lived in a dorm room, I would absolutely hang my old Rambo poster on the wall, too, but apparently adults in their mid-twenties are expected to act like grown-ups. I almost forgot to even bring the Rocky poster with me, but luckily, Michelle remembered and went back to get it.


Anticipating that Stallone would make an appearance at the Saturday morning golf event or the afternoon celebrity workout session at the Hall of Fame grounds, Michelle and I made the four-hour drive to Canastota, NY on Friday night. When we arrived at the course the next morning, it turned out that no one, including the chairman of the Hall, had any idea when (or if) Stallone, who was shooting a movie in Texas, would arrive. A security guard at the museum then told us that Sly wouldn’t come until Sunday’s ceremony and would leave immediately afterwards. There goes my plan.


With little else to do, we stuck around on the golf course and met a few boxing legends, including “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, Ken Norton, Leon Spinx, and Kostya Tszyu. I’m sure these names mean something to avid boxing enthusiasts, perhaps as much as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, and Moses Malone would mean to me as a basketball fan, but their autographs seemed like mere consolation prizes at the time.


When we arrived at the Awards Banquet dinner later than night, I told Michelle that I was bringing the Rocky poster anyway. “I know he won’t be there, but just humor me,” I told her.


Inside, we realized that Michelle got the serious hook-up (holla if you hear me!) with the VIP seats. We were sitting at table four of over 150, alongside a New York senator (not Anthony Weiner, unfortunately), and directly in front of Don King, who was among the boxers, trainers, and celebrities seated at long tables behind the podium. We spotted a placecard for Stallone, and I took a picture in front of it, figuring it would be the closest I’d ever get to seeing him in person.


Not surprisingly, when the celebrities were introduced and walked onto the stage, Stallone’s name was skipped from the order. But after the last boxer sat down, the announcer gave one last unexpected intro.


“And now, ladies and gentlemen, you know him as Rocky Balboa, 2011 Hall of Fame inductee, Sylvester Stallone!”


No way. I watched with my mouth agape as Stallone walked out from behind a curtain to a rousing ovation and shook hands with every person on the stage. “Holy crap. Stallone is here. I might faint,” I Tweeted (half-jokingly) after getting close enough to get a picture.

 



I started daydreaming about how I’d tell Sly I own all but one of his movies, how he’d laugh after hearing which one I don’t have, and how I’d show him pictures of me and Michelle dressed up as Rocky and Adrian on Halloween. Yes, I live in a fantasy world.


Shockingly, it turned out that I wasn’t the only person who was interested in seeing a famous movie star. Hundreds of people crowded near his table, watching his every move and snapping photos like paparazzi. I asked a couple at our table, who’d attended the last 10 inductions, whether I had any chance of getting Stallone’s autograph, and was told that the odds were “slim to none.” Damn it.


After three hours of speeches, video clips and auctions (I unsuccessfully bid on signed photos of Burt Young and Mr. T), the dinner unceremoniously ended and the crowd rushed the stage. By the time I ran across the room to Stallone’s table, nearly a thousand people were already holding up boxing gloves, photos and ticket stubs for him to sign.


Instead of organizing the fans into one line in front of him, the security guards yelled for everyone to move back and threatened to end the autograph session. Of course, no one listened, and it turned into a mob scene – people pushed, elbowed and stepped on others’ feet, with no regard for women or children. I fully expected to wake up with bruised ribs the following morning after enduring a worse beating than Ivan Drago (sorry, I had to go there).


 
I made it to the front of the crowd – at this point, shoving just like everyone else – three times in different locations, just barely missing Stallone, but I kept picturing Adrian telling me to win. I could barely even see Sly over the outstretched arms and memorabilia in front of my face (you can see my attempts in photos above), but on my fourth try to get his attention, he finally took the poster out of my hand, put it down on the table (getting a little cheesecake on it in the process) and signed it. I felt like I just took down Clubber Lang after 15 grueling rounds.


When I was able to escape the vicious crowd, I searched for Michelle, who as I soon found out, went through a similar experience while trying to get Sly’s autograph for me on the other side of the stage (if you haven’t realized it by now, she’s awesome). After nearly getting trampled over, she just barely missed Stallone as he ducked behind the curtain right in front of her. She might’ve been even more excited than me when I showed her my signed poster.



The next day, Stallone was officially inducted and received his Hall of Fame ring. True to form, his entire speech was a nod to Rocky, with several quotes from and an emphatic, “Yo, Adrian, I did it!” finale. It almost felt like being in a movie, with the crowd giving him a long standing ovation and chanting “Rocky!”  Is it really that far-fetched to think he'll go up against Mike Tyson (which Stallone said almost happened once before) in Rocky VII?

 



Sly left shortly afterward, and although he didn't pose for pictures or do much signing, he acknowledged the fans and shook my hand as he was escorted to his car.  It should also be noted that moments before he walked by, I stood right next to Frank, who said something like, “the real star is up ahead.”


As Michelle and I drove back to the city, I looked at the poster again in disbelief. I read the tagline underneath Stallone's signature – “Their lives were a million to one shot” – and I couldn't help but smile.  I couldn't have said it better myself.

Walk This Way

Posted by doktakra on March 31, 2011 at 1:21 PM Comments comments (0)

Living in New York over the last decade, I can't explain why I haven't run into celebrities more frequently.  Sure, I've seen plenty of movies and TV shows filmed on the streets and caught glimpses of Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie, and Will Smith filming a few scenes.  During my freshman year of college, I saw Robert DeNiro trip over and then stare down an orange cone on the set of Analyze That.  Signs for Law & Order: SVU and Nurse Jackie filming hours are regularly hanging on street poles in my neighborhood.

But I've hardly ever actually bumped into someone famous outside of a nightclub or at a nice restaurant.  Now, this could, of course, be due to the fact that I rarely go to fancy places (or just out, in general), but just by sheer luck and coincidence, you'd think some celebrity and I would be walking down the same street at the same time.  Until last week, this happened exactly once.


After I graduated college but before I could afford to move into my own apartment in the city, I lived in NYU housing for one summer semester.  As I made the turn on Broadway and Chambers Street on my way home from work, Sam Waterston, better known as District Attorney Jack McCoy on Law & Order, came out of his trailer parked on the side of the road.


I immediately recognized him and told him that I watched the show every week.  He was surprisingly interested in talking to me, and asked if I was still going to school and if I lived in the area.  I told him that I'd recently graduated and worked at an investment bank, but was temporarily staying at a college dorm a few blocks away.  His reply was nothing short of epic.   Now, I don't know if he was still in character or if he just naturally talks like Jack McCoy at all times, but he sharply turned his head towards me as if he was interrogating a hostile witness on the stand and yelled, "a DORM?!" in apparent disbelief.  I started telling him that I had to save money, but by that point, he seemed to have lost interest and went back inside his trailer with a quick good-bye.


This was six years ago, and professional athletes at sporting events aside, I hadn't seen a single celebrity in person since.  Well, some Real Housewives reality TV star once had dinner in the same restaurant as me and my friends, but since I had no idea who he or she even was, I don't really count that.

But after a long drought. it finally happened -- and it wasn't even in New York.  I flew down to Miami for a college buddy's wedding, and we had dinner afterwards at Emeril's Restaurant in South Beach. I went to the bathroom towards the end of the night, and just as I was washing my hands and getting ready to leave, I noticed a familiar face.  It was Zach Gilford, who happened to play one of my favorite TV characters of all-time, Matt Saracen on (the sadly defunct) Friday Night Lights.


I felt a little awkward approaching him in the bathroom -- I'm sure there's some kind of guy code against doing this sort of thing -- but I told him that I was a big fan of FNL.  He thanked me and we talked about the show for a few minutes, at which point I asked if he'd mind taking a picture with me.  He hesitated for a second, and then said, "How about we do that outside?"  Good call, Zach.


We walked out into the hallway, where Michelle had been waiting for me, and Zach asked her if she'd take the photo.  I told him that she was my fiancée, and he asked if we were from Miami and congratulated us on the upcoming wedding.  Afterward, Michelle told me she thought I ran into an old friend by the way Zach and I were chatting on our way out of the bathroom.


Nope, I was only talking to the greatest quarterback in the history of the Dillon Panthers.  Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can't Lose!  And no, I didn't actually say that to him. Regrettably.

Sing for the Moment

Posted by doktakra on January 18, 2011 at 11:14 AM Comments comments (0)

There are certain songs we'll never forget that play a special part in our lives.  “Our songs," whether they remind us of a school dance, a first kiss, or some crazy party, come on the radio and instantly put us in a good mood as we sing along, pretending as if we know all of the lyrics. For me, aside from all R. Kelly tracks, of course – which are either unintentionally comedic beyond words or brilliant, with no in-between – there are a few songs, for better or worse, that always take me back.  Well, at least, these are the ones I can talk about on this (somewhat) family-friendly site.


Carl Carlton, “Everlasting Love – I was a horrible basketball player during my first year of summer camp. I pretty much nailed all of the stereotypes of the nerdy, unathletic white kid, and I'm pretty sure there was a time when other campers decided five-on-four would be more competitive than picking me for a team. So, when I came back home, I convinced my parents to put a basketball hoop in the driveway and spent hours pretending I was Mitch Richmond. During the bus ride back to camp the next year, "Everlasting Love" came on the radio, and for some reason, I took it as a sign. I stepped out on the court at camp, and the same kids who used to ridicule me, couldn't believe how good I'd become. Feeling cool and confident, I played a guy one-on-one for his girlfriend in front of everyone and emerged victorious, all while humming "Everlasting Love" the entire time. This will always be the highlight of my basketball career. Yes, I was 14.


Eminem, "The Way I Am" - Just as I dreamed of becoming the first ‘cool’ white rapper (Vanilla Ice and Snow obviously failed in that regard), Eminem busted on the scene with “My Name Is” and crushed my hopes. So, I did what any normal person in my position would do – I wrote Jewish parodies of Eminem’s singles, and eventually other hip-hop artists’. “I Am,” “Stan,” Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E.” were a few of my bigger hits, which I’d post on Napster and rename as popular Limp Bizkit, Christina Aguilera, and 'N Sync songs to get more downloads and get my name out there. The strategy sort of worked, but I was banned from performing them at my school’s talent show for risk of offending someone (I think I had a Yiddish swear word in one). I probably still have the MP3s (or WAV files) on my parents’ old computer, but I don't plan on re-releasing them anytime soon.


Donell Jones, "Where I Wanna Be" – Jones’ hit is still one of my favorite songs, even though it was playing on the radio when I was involved in a minor fender-bender in high school – with an off-duty cop. It was definitely not where I wanted to be at the time. Making matters worse, I was wearing my school's windbreaker track pants, which I conveniently "forgot" to give back at the end of the season because they were incredibly comfortable. So, of course, my track coach happened to be passing on the street during the time of the accident, and called me into his office the next day to get the damn pants back. The good news is, after years of paperwork, I somehow convinced the insurance company that it wasn't my fault. No such luck with the pants.


The Offspring, “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy) – You may not believe this, but there was a time when I acted, um, ‘hood’ in my tiny, suburban New Jersey high school. Naturally, everyone decided that “Pretty Fly” was written about me and sang it whenever I was in the hallway. If that wasn’t enough, some of the girls also started calling me “Kenny,” in honor of Seth Green’s character in Can’t Hardly Wait, which came out around the same time.  Shockingly, I was single the entire time. Ninety-two percent, yo!

The Beard Don't Stop

Posted by doktakra on October 14, 2010 at 1:13 PM Comments comments (1)

For some unknown reason, I've been fascinated by beards ever since I was a little kid.  It drove me nuts that my dad refused to grow out a goatee and that no one in my immediate family had ever sported any kind of facial hair.  One day, I found an old stack of my dad's photos, and drew a beard on his face in every single one.  Shockingly, he didn't care how awesome it made him look, and grounded me for a week.

 

When I could finally grow something other than a wispy, Adam Morrison-esque mustache in high school, I put my razor to work.  Or rather, I didn't.  I decided to first experiment with an Abe Lincoln beard, and went an entire summer without shaving or trimming it.  Needless to say, there were no girls in my life during this time.  I'm pretty sure Kyle Orton in his heyday still has me beat in the ugliest beard of all-time category, though I wouldn't do any NFL Betting on it.

 

As time went on, I tried out a different look every week, and well, let's just say some worked better than others.  Actually, none of them really worked.  Let's take a look back at the best of these bad boys.

  

   

 

Sadly, I didn't rock this look in school, since I'm almost certain it would've gotten me all the ladies.  Because, honestly, who wouldn't want to date a guy with such smooth handlebar mustache?  I'll bet ex-Kings center Scot Pollard did pretty well for himself.  It just screams, "How you doin'?"

  


 

Ah, yes, my all-time favorite: the R 'n Beard. I could never get mine to look as perfectly thin and neat as Craig David's, but that didn't stop me from desperately trying to look like a reject from a '90's boy-band.  I apologize if you have Color Me Badd's "I Wanna Sex You Up" stuck in your head now...

  

  

 

I don't think I need to go into much detail here. These exquisitely fancy whiskers were favored by '70's porn stars (or so I hear) and former NFL quarterback Jake Plummer.

 


 

You may remember this beard from the time I attempted (and failed) to get out of jury duty in April.  I cleaned it up a little, and it still makes me look like a shady homeless guy you wouldn't want to come across in a dark alley (or Jack Shephard during his dark period).  The original inspiration, of course, came from Sly Stallone during the epic training montage in Rocky IV.

 

   

According to Michelle, I look like a sleazy car salesman with the goatee.  I can't really argue with that, though I think the Elvis sideburns make me look a little more gangsta.  I only wish I'd taken a page out of Pollard's book and braided the chin.

 

   

Wolverine of the X-Men was my favorite comic book character as a kid, so naturally, I'd grow out mutton chops as an adult.  Admit it -- you're jealous.

Judging Stallone's Dredd-ful Commercials

Posted by doktakra on August 6, 2010 at 3:01 PM Comments comments (2)

As I've mentioned before, I'm a huge Sylvester Stallone fan.  I own all but one of his movies on DVD, which even Sly himself thinks is awesome.  If you're wondering, the lone exception is Rhinestone, in which he stars as a cab driver-turned-country singer alongside Dolly Parton.  Don't get me wrong, I'd happily buy it -- I mean, have the unwatchable Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot and Oscar in my collection -- but I refuse to pay $78.99 (!) for a movie that won Stallone a Razzie Award for Worst Actor.

 

With that in mind, I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I had no idea my favorite actor has filmed several amazing international commercials.  He's pulled out all the stops while pushing Japanese ham, sausage, and beer in the early '90's, as well as Italian ham and Russian vodka earlier this decade.  Let's take a look at some of these instant classics.

 

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In case you weren't aware, war hero John Rambo loves Japanese pork products, so naturally, Sly would use Rambo III footage to promote "Ito" ham in 1992.  As he dodges explosions and runs on the beach, all he can think about are those delicious slices of cured meat.  But wait, that's not all Stallone has in store in this double-feature.  He reminisces about his boxing days (I'm guessing the trainer is supposed to resemble an overweight Mickey) before biting into more of that succulent ham at the dinner table. Works for me.

 

 

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This two-minute-long opus looks like a bad parody of several of Stallone's movies, but it's actually a series of five commercials he filmed for "Kirin" and "Knorr."  We begin with a long-haired Stallone sprinting a la Rocky during a training sequence, and discover that he enjoys drinking Japanese beer after his workout.  Of course he does.  "We can make dreams come true...together," he says.  What dreams exactly?  I have no idea. The creepy "Together" song continues as Sly then informs us that his life is about love, courage, and ... "Kirin" beer. Whose isn't?  It gets only slightly weirder when Stallone rides a horse through a desert before once again consuming his favorite alcoholic beverage.  Together.

 

But what's the point of having Stallone at his peak if he isn't showing off his ripped, shirtless body?  Rocky-era Sly, wearing only a pair of short-shorts that leave little to the imagination, jump-ropes and tussles his hair in slow motion as a half-dozen little kids stare at him through the window.  If that doesn't make you want to buy soup, I don't know what will.

 

And finally, Sly shells more of that delicious "Ito" ham during the holiday season -- just what every child wishes Santa will bring on Christmas morning.

 

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I'm not a golfer, so maybe I'm wrong about this,.but most people don't daydream about sausages on the course.  Sly, however, fantasizes about pricking "Bayern" wieners after taking couple of swings.  He also feels the same way following a strenuous biking session, and even when he's bringing a bouquet of flowers to a woman's door.  The man simply craves Japanese sausage at all times.

 

 

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Did you know that Stallone plays the cello?  Well, he does, and you should eat (what else?) "Ito" ham to celebrate this fact.

 

 

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In an equally confusing ad, Sly walks through a flower garden, donning an all-white suit and matching hat, and delivers a package of that wonderful ham to an extremely excited and hungry family.

 

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Lest you think Sly only enjoys Japanese pork products, he's also quite fond of Italian prosciutto.  In a 2002 spot for "Citterio," he plays a James Bond-like action hero who kills a few jewel thieves and saves a damsel in distress -- a real stretch for Stallone.  When she asks for his name, he tells her it's "Bubi" and gets mercilessly ridiculed.  I might be missing something here, but there's nothing funny about Stallone getting humiliated -- I saw more than enough of that during the first 90 minutes of Rocky II. Let's move on.

 

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In 2008, Stallone signed on to pitch "Russian Ice" vodka under the slogan, "There is a bit of Russian in all of us."  You might be saying, "wait -- didn't Rocky once destroy Soviet boxer Ivan Drago and didn't Rambo kill hundreds Russian troops?"  Well, that's all forgiven because Stallone's great-grandmother was born in the Ukrainian town of Odessa, so he's kinda Russian.

 

I love that this dubbed commercial begins with a close-up of Stallone's shirt -- which of course says, "Sly." -- just in case the Russian viewer has no idea who he is. He goes on to tells us that he get his coffee only from Brazil, his suits from Italy, and his computers from Japan (as well as, presumably, his pork).  Stallone then encounters a group of thugs who are "probably from another planet," takes off his fancy watch, and tells them, "this will hurt" in broken Russian.  I was waiting for him to look into the camera and end it with, "best served on the Rocky's!" but thankfully, he just chuckles uncomfortably  Just like I did while watching all of these unintentionally hilarious commercials.

Euro Tripping

Posted by doktakra on July 7, 2010 at 11:43 AM Comments comments (2)

If you're wondering why I haven't posted anything here in two months, it's not just because I've been lazy (though that's certainly a part of it). In between covering the NBA Draft and several other Sacramento Kings-related events -- I've actually written 13 NBA articles in the last two months -- Michelle and I were also out of the country for two weeks in early June.  We traveled through Germany and England, and I've finally found the time and motivation to bring you some stories, random observations, and anecdotes from our trip.  Though if you want to skip straight to the photo album, I won't blame you one bit. 

 

Wedding in Bavaria

 

 


Instead of a "Just Married" sign, the bride and groom had a Star Trek starship and a Spock figurine on the hood of their card.  Considering that Michelle and I met at a sports bloggers' happy-hour, I'm really in no position to pass any judgement here.


During the wedding, several guests competed to see who could crow the loudest, which is apparently some kind of German tradition.  The winner then had to stand up and crow at the top of his lungs once an hour, and buy dinner for the bride and groom each time he'd forget.  I don't get it either, but you'd better believe Michelle and I will be holding some kind of equally-awesome contest to get people to do funny things at our wedding.


Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

  


The castle itself is amazingly beautiful, though, as we were constantly reminded, incomplete because King Ludwig II and his psychiatrist mysteriously drowned in a nearby lake during construction (there should really be a movie about this).  If I didn't have an irrational fear of stairs, especially narrow ones atop gigantic rocks, I probably would've enjoyed the hike down the scenic path above a waterfall a little more (many more pictures in the album).


Tour of Munich


Since we were there a month ago, neither of us remembers exactly what we saw from the bus.  I've captioned most of the photos as, "something on our tour of Munich" -- very helpful and informative, I know.

  


From what I do remember, on the left is The Glockenspiel (I love the sound of German), which has chimes, bells, and moving figures that re-enact some kind of very long story, in the Marienplatz city center; in the middle is the fantastic view (and I don't mean just us) from the top of the Olympic Tower; and on the right, you'll find Michelle posing like Athena the Goddess in Nymphenburg Palace.


The Beer and Food

 

 


Yep, nothing like getting beer served by the liter.  Did I finish it?  Not even close.  Did it get me a just tad tipsy?  Perhaps...and mine was actually half-lemonade.

 

Of course, Germany is extremely pro-vegetarian -- just look at all of those ripe tomatoes next to the globs of cured meat!  My typical dinner consisted of four pretzels and this zucchini schnitzel that tastes as good as it looks (which is surprisingly awesome).

 

Kings of Germany

 

 


Perhaps the highlight of the trip (at least for me) came during our walk through in the English Gardens, which, confusingly enough, is in Munich and contains the Chinese Garden (above). We stopped to watch a drum circle in the park, and noticed a familiar sight.  Yep, one of the drummers was wearing a vintage Sacramento Kings jacket.  I mean, honestly, of all teams and in all places, what are the odds of this happening?


Petting Zoo in Bavaria

   


My other favorite part was the petting zoo, where sheep, goats, llamas, and pigs walk around freely and eat out of your hand.  We tried to get the baby goat's attention, but he clearly wasn't interested in what I had to offer him (that's him dissing me by walking away in the background).


And amongst the crowd of pigs on the right, of course, is the infamous, overanxious one that bit Michelle, who then tried to convince me to eat bacon to defend her honor...

Quick Views of London

   

 

We spent a few days doing some of the touristy things in London, all of which were fun but none of which are all that exciting to discuss in much detail.  Let's just go through these from left to right: standing in front of Buckingham Palace after the changing of the guard; the view from the London Eye (basically an enormous Ferris wheel); and outside of the Tower of London. 

 

 

  

 

Michelle and her friend Phil rocked American flag capes during the United States vs. England World Cup game. I figured no one would pick a fight with Phil because he's 12 feet tall or Michelle because she's so cute, but I stayed out of the patriotic displays for my own safety. U-S-A!

 

Also, I Tweeted this at the time, but it's worth mentioning again -- this was in the men's room at one of the London pubs, and doesn't cease to make me laugh.

 

And finally, we have Michelle looking beautiful at Kensington Gardens, and me, doing what I do best after an exhausting two weeks.

Common's Wright To Be

Posted by doktakra on May 5, 2010 at 2:03 PM Comments comments (0)

When I heard that Common would be appearing at the NBA Store today to promote his new movie, Just Wright, I called him a sell-out on Twitter.  I immediately received replies from people who disagreed -- including someone who worked on the movie set -- and claimed that he had the right to pursue an acting career.

 

In retrospect, maybe "sell-out" wasn't the right word. It was just easier than saying, "I can't believe my one-time favorite, underground rapper has become an aspiring Hollywood actor who's now irrelevant in hip-hop and no longer cares about putting out quality music."  That, and "sell out" fit within the 140-character Twitter limit.

 

I've been with Common (Sense) since the very beginning, and I didn't suddenly turn on him for no reason.  I still remember hearing "I Used to Love H.E.R." and being blown away by the beautifully crafted concept of "Hip Hop in its Essence and Real."  The cool kids in my (mostly white, suburban) middle school who were into rap had no idea who Common even was -- for a while, his lyricism and intellectual wordplay on Resurrection, my all-time favorite album, was almost like my little secret.

 

I picked up his witty debut, Can I Borrow A Dollar?, found some of his early '90's demo tapes, and bought One Day It'll All Make Sense (1996)a deep and nostalgic trip through his past, on the day it was released.  When Common became more widely known and recognized after Like Water For Chocolate (2000) -- I was shocked that my girlfriend at the time thought he was hot -- I performed his commercial hit, "The Light," at my high school talent show.

 

As a sophomore in college, I stared at the cover of the poorly-reviewed, electronica and rock-inspired Electric Circus, briefly considering leaving it sealed in the shrink-wrap to preserve the good memories of his past works, before finding the courage to to open it.  My friends and I went to a few of his shows when he toured in New York, and when I talked to Common after a performance, he sounded genuinely proud and excited to take hip-hop into another direction -- one that I, and many others, didn't appreciate.  I thought I'd never hear the same poetic prophet and self-righteous rhyme artist I grew to love.

 

A few years later, seeing Common and Kanye West perform "The Food" on Chappelle's Show was like hearing from an old friend I thought was long gone.  But while Be, and the subsequent Finding Forever were some of his best and most vibrant albums, Common expressed a growing desire to get into acting.  The writing had been on the wall for a few years, after he'd written jingles and appeared in commercials for conglomerates Coca-Cola and The Gap.

 

Many of his rap peers had already established themselves in Hollywood: former N.W.A.'er Ice Cube was putting out family comedies; Original Gangster Ice-T went from causing controversy with "Cop Killer" to playing a cop on Law & Order: SVU less than a decade later; LL Cool J had a couple of notable movie roles and would soon do his best David Caruso impression on NCIS: Los Angeles; and Snoop Dogg endorsed every imaginable product by adding "izzle" at the end of its name.

 

I never thought I'd see the day when Common would be following in their footsteps, but I didnt fault him for earning more money, as long as his music didn't suffer as a result.  Instead, when his long-awaited Invincible Summer came out in December 2008 under the title of Universal Mind Control, my biggest fears were realized.

 

I would've been okay had Common decided to become a full-time actor and left the rap game entirely, if it spared me from listening to a rushed, 10-track, 39-minute album filed with unclever sexual references and clichéd dance tracks like the gag-worthy "Sex 4 Suga."  Whether it was a conscious decision to appeal to a broader audience by sounding like Ludacris or T.I., or lack of time from filming his parts in American Gangster and Smokin' Aces, Common dumbed down his conscience-provoking style for unimaginative narratives -- “Check my dictionary / That ass is so defined” -- and ditched the smooth, jazzy production of Kanye West, the late J. Dilla, and No ID for the Neptunes’ pop beats.

 

The man who chastised hip-hop for getting "caught in the Hype Williams" and losing H.E.R. direction on The Roots' -- who casual fans now know as the house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon  -- "Act Too (Love of My Life)," shot a video for Universal's lead single with (who else?) Hype Williams.

 

On "Announcement," possibly his raunchiest song to date, Common alluded to his past glory in unexpected and heart-breaking fashion -- "I still love H.E.R., she be needing the d*** / When it comes to hip hop it's just me and my b****."  Whoa.  I had to rewind and listen to that part four or five times to make sure I heard him correctly.

 

Since the album's release, Common's landed a supporting role in Date Night and the lead in Just Wright, a romantic basketball movie with another rapper-turned-actor, Queen Latifah.  Meanwhile, he's promised "raw hip-hop" on his upcoming album, The Believer, which is slated to come out sometime this year.  Until, of course, another script comes his way.  


I really did used to love H.I.M.

Please Let Me Testify

Posted by doktakra on April 21, 2010 at 10:04 AM Comments comments (0)

I was excited when I received a jury duty summons in the mail.  Sure, I'd probably sit around doing nothing, but I'd also get a couple of paid days off, get up later than usual, and come home earlier.  And if I didn't have a job, I would've pocketed a cool $40 a day.  What could be so bad about this?


My first order of business was ensuring that I wouldn't get selected as a juror.  I didn't cut my hair and grew out a fantastic beard to look a little more intimidating...or at least more of a mess than I usually am.  


Now, does that look like the face of a man who should be deciding another person's future?


But my plan began to unravel when my name was on one of 120 pieces of paper drawn from a ballot box (it's almost endearing that they haven't embraced the whole automated craze yet).  I was directed into a court room, where the judge asked if anyone couldn't be impartial, and -- well, that was just about the only question I heard, because I noticed the district attorney had something stuck in his bushy mustache and spent the next 15 minutes trying to figure out if it was oatmeal or a piece of hot dog,


After a two-hour lunch -- a staple in the court house, as I learned -- 24 people were randomly chosen from the ballot box to be jury finalists.  I was the second one called.  Of course I was.


I had to answer a few basic questions from the judge and both attorneys -- and by the way, it's always fun to talk about where you live and what you do for a living in front of an alleged criminal -- to show that I wasn't prejudiced.  I told them my dad was recently held up at gun point (true story) and that my cousin works for a law firm, figuring at least one of those facts, combined with the disheveled appearance, would be enough for disqualification.  Not a chance -- I was the first juror put on trial.


The case was stretched out over five excruciatingly long days, during which I learned an exorbiant amount of information about the drug market, such as, a gram of cocaine goes for $28 on the street and an eightball, which is 3.5 grams, sells for $100 (no idea who decided to make the math so damn hard).  The defendant talked to a drug dealer who sold cocaine to an undercover police officer and stood on the corner where it happened, looking up and down the streets.  The dealer then came over and gave him the full $100 from the drug sale a minute later.  Now, does that sound like the defendant had at least something to do with it?


As the first juror, I was assigned as the foreperson, meaning I had the life-altering job of announcing the verdict to the court room.  I started practicing saying, "on the charge of drug trafficing in the third degree, we, the jury, find the defendant ... (extended dramatic pause) .. guilty" in my head.


Of course, one of the 12 jurors had to mess everything up and insist he didn't think the defendant was guilty, because despite receiving the money from the dealer, he may not have known it was from selling drugs.  Seriously.  Instead of deliberating for all of 20 minutes, we spent the next nine hours locked in a windowless room, trying to convince the outcast juror that his line of reasoning defied all logic and common sense.  In the end, I had to announce that we were deadlocked and the disappointed judge announced a hung jury. 


But wait, there's the twist -- just like in a real Law & Order episode!  The defendant wasn't in court for the last four days of the trial, but we were instructed to disregard his absence because it was his right  In fairness, he was out on bail, and could've been in the hospital or taking care of his kids, for all we knew.   


Except he wasn't -- he skipped town and the police are still out looking for him.  The judge ruled that the jury couldn't be made aware of this fact during our deliberations.  I love our judicial system.  Because, you know, an innocent person would take off in the middle of trial and all...


On the bright side, we received a free lunch courtesy of the taxpayers on the last day.  So there's that.  And I don't have to deal with this nonsense for at least the next six years.


Now, if you'll excuse me, I really need to shave.

Winning Time

Posted by doktakra on April 2, 2010 at 2:12 PM Comments comments (2)

I'm on a Twitter trivia roll.  After winning a Tyreke Evans bobblehead from the Sacramento Kings earlier in the week, I won yesterday's contest to assist New York Knicks legend John Starks during his appearance at the NBA Store.  As I've stated many times, I am an encyclopedia of useless sports knowledge.


When I arrived at the store, the attendants quickly suited me up in Zipway gear from head to toe.  What is Zipway, you ask?  Well, Starks wasn't there to just chat with the fans, but to promote his own athletic apparel company, which claims that you can rip off your pants in 0.3 seconds.  I, for one, am in full support of anything that speeds up the removal of my clothing.  I competed against Starks and another contestant in a "zip-off," and although, I shockingly wasn't quite as fast or coordinated as a former professional athlete, I received a pity prize won a $25 gift card (too bad Zipway doesn't make any Kings apparel, John).

 

I took a picture with Starks -- unfortunately, I only had my my crappy cell phone camera -- and also received a personalized signed picture of "The Dunk" (it's in my hand, if you look closely).  I briefly talked with him about the epic battles with his arch-nemesis Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers in the mid-'90's, which he called "fun" and "good times."  I asked him about being a one-time teammate of Mitch Richmond, my favorite player, way back in the day on the Golden State Warriors.


"We came up together (in 1988),"  Starks told me. " Mitch is a great guy -- one of the best you'll meet."


I then shot around on the center basketball hoop -- if you've never been to the store, there's a regulation half-court shooting area in the middle of the lower level -- where Starks signed autographs and greeted the fans, as hundreds of other people looked on from the upper floor.  A few contestants then entered a free throw shooting contest, and I rebounded their misses and passed the ball back to Starks.  During intermissions, he and I alternated taking shots.


It's probably the closest I'll ever come to feeling like an NBA player, and I didn't even embarrass myself too badly despite not touching a basketball since last summer -- no turnovers, three straight mid-range jumpers at one point, and only one ugly airball.


Hey, it's better than going 2-for-18, right?


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