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NFL Predictions

July 29, 2010 Leave a comment

With training camp getting underway, now is the perfect time to unveil my 2010 NFL predictions. I will give you plenty of more detailed NFL analysis quite frequently, but for now I’m just going to spew the raw prognostications on this page. Feel free to comment and criticize.

AFC East: Patriots

AFC North: Ravens

AFC South: Colts

AFC West: Chargers

AFC Wild Cards: Texans and Jets

AFC Champions: Patriots

NFC East: Cowboys

NFC North: Packers

NFC South: Saints

NFC West: 49ers

NFC Wild Cards: Vikings and Bears

NFC Champions: Packers

Super Bowl: Patriots 27 Packers 24

Individual Awards

MVP: Aaron Rodgers

Offensive Player of the Year: Andre Johnson

Defensive Player of the Year: Patrick Willis

Head Coach of the Year: Mike Singletary

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Dez Bryant

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Eric Berry

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Funniest Person of the Year

July 23, 2010 1 comment

This is an excert from Bill Simmons’ mailbag (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/100722/mailbag2) that peaked my interest. It’s based on the fact that in sports, there is a definitive MVP each season, but in entertainment this is much harder to quantify. Simmons does a great job breaking it down, and I’ve added my own thoughts at the end.

1975: Richard Pryor
Best stand-up comedian alive (and the most respected). Also crushed his only SNL hosting gig ever with its first legitimately great show and water cooler sketch.

1976: Chevy Chase
SNL’s first breakout star as it became a national phenomenon. He also made the worst move in Funniest Guy history by leaving the show as he was wrapping up his Funniest Guy season. Even “The Decision” was a better idea.

1977-78: John Belushi
Replaced Chase as SNL’s meal ticket in ’77, then had the single best year in Funny Guy History a year later: starred on SNL (during its biggest year ever, when audiences climbed to over 30 million per episode); starred in “Animal House” (the No. 1 comedy of 1978 and a first-ballot Hall of Famer); had the No. 1 album (the Blues Brothers’ first album). No. 1 in TV, movies and music at the same time? I’m almost positive this will never happen again. And also, if you put all the funniest people ever at the funniest points of their lives in one room, I think he’d be the alpha dog thanks to force of personality. So there’s that.

1979: Robin Williams, Steve Martin (tie)
“Mork and Mindy” plus a big stand-up career for Williams; “The Jerk” plus a best-selling comedy album plus “official best SNL host ever” status for Martin.

1980: Rodney Dangerfield
His breakout year with “Caddyshack,” killer stand-up, killer Carson appearances, a Grammy-winning comedy album, and even a Rolling Stone cover. Our oldest winner.

1981: Bill Murray
Carried “Stripes” one year after “Caddyshack.” Tough year for comedy since cocaine was ruining nearly everybody at this point.

1982-84: Eddie Murphy
The best three-year run anyone’s had. Like Bird’s three straight MVPs. And by the way, “Beverly Hills Cop” is still the No. 1 comedy of all time if you use adjusted gross numbers.

(Random note: Sam Kinison’s 1984 spot on Dangerfield’s “Young Comedians” special has to be commemorated in some way. At the time, it was the funniest six minutes that had ever happened and could have singlehandedly won him the title in almost any other year. It’s also the hardest I have ever laughed without drugs being involved. Sadly, I can’t link to it because of the language and because it crosses about 35 lines of decency. But it’s easily found, if you catch my drift.)

1985-86: David Letterman
Went from “cult hero” to “established mainstream star,” ushered in the Ironic Comedy Era, pushed the comedy envelope as far as it could go, and if you want to dig deeper, supplanted Carson as the den father for that generation of up-and-comers and new superstars (Murphy, Leno, Seinfeld, Michael Keaton, Tom Hanks, Howard Stern, etc.) … and on a personal note, had a bigger influence on me than anyone other than my parents. One of two people that I could never meet because I would crumble like a crumb cake. (You can guess the other.)

1987: Jay Leno, Howard Stern (tie)
Seems like a million years ago, but Leno’s frequent appearances on Letterman’s show and enjoyable “Tonight Show” guest host spots stole the ’87 title from Letterman just because he seemed newer and fresher. (Note: The Leno-Letterman spot always delivered the goods. They were unbelievable together. That’s what made it so unbelievable when Leno backstabbed him for the “Tonight Show” job.) Meanwhile, Stern’s morning show had become a tri-state phenomenon and reached the point that people were trading cassette tapes; he even landed a Fox pilot that year.

1988: Eddie Murphy
Reclaimed the throne with “Coming to America” one year after “Raw.” Also, Arsenio Hall’s show had taken off and Eddie was a frequent guest. The last great Eddie year. Alas.

1989: Dana Carvey
SNL’s first breakout star in five years thanks to the Church Lady, his Bush Senior impersonation and a bunch of other things that didn’t really hold up. What’s weird is that Phil Hartman’s SNL stuff held up much better, only it took Carvey leaving for people to realize how great Hartman was.

1990: Billy Crystal
Never had a career year but accumulated enough momentum from his stupendous SNL stint (1984-85), “City Slickers,” his HBO comedy special and his late-night guest spots that his 1990 Oscars host job (the best ever to that point) wins him the award in a weak year. FYI: You could make a decent Bill Hicks case here, but he just wasn’t well-known enough.

1991: Jerry Seinfeld
The year his show started taking off, much to the delight of everyone who loved him from his Letterman/Carson spots and the four episodes from the previous summer. I will never forget me and my buddy Kurt Sanger trying to convince everyone else we knew in college to watch the first episode of Season 2 with us (January 1991) and only a couple biting.

1992: Jerry Seinfeld, Mike Myers (tie)
Seinfeld’s show became a smash hit; Myers was SNL’s biggest star during a resurgent era and also made a hit movie (“Wayne’s World,” now the most dated comedy of all time and totally weird to watch, although the “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene remains funny).

1993: Mike Myers
Weak year. Myers had SNL, “Wayne’s World 2” and “So I Married An Axe Murderer.” You could talk me into giving the entire “Simpsons” writing staff this spot just to get them on the list.

1994: Jim Carrey
“Ace Ventura,” “The Mask” and “Dumb & Dumber.” Has anyone ever gone three-for-three with smash hits in one year? Now he’s just a crazy person on Twitter.

1995: Chris Farley
His long-awaited “I always loved Chris Farley and now I feel totally vindicated because I knew he was going to be famous” year with “Tommy Boy.” Which still holds up, by the way. Silver medal to Norm MacDonald for crushing it on “Weekend Update” during and after the O.J. trial.

1996: Chris Rock
He underachieved on SNL to the point that, when he switched to “In Living Color” for one year, nobody gave a crap. By 1995, he had fallen into the “doing guest spots on ‘Martin’ and ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air'” stage of his career. And then, out of nowhere … “Bring The Pain” happened. The best stand-up special since Eddie in his prime. Who knew?

1997: Garry Shandling
The best season ever (Season 5) of one of the greatest comedies ever (“The Larry Sanders Show”) peaks with “The Roast” (the single funniest episode in the history of the show). Good enough to win a weak year.

1998: Adam Sandler
Became an A-List comedy franchise with “The Wedding Singer” and “The Waterboy.” Weak year otherwise.

1999: Mike Myers, Chris Rock (tie)
“Austin Powers 2” (and A-List celeb status) for Myers; “Bigger and Blacker” special and an inventive weekly HBO show for Rock.

2000: Will Ferrell
At the height of his SNL powers at this point thanks to his Dubya impersonation. You could make a very strong “Will Ferrell was the greatest cast member in the history of SNL” case.

2001: Matt Stone, Trey Parker (tie)
A seminal season for “South Park” (Season 5) peaks with the ballsy Osama episode just eight weeks after 9/11. Weird year for comedy in general. You could make a strong case for Ricky Gervais here; I would give it to him except for the fact that I hate British people.

2002: Larry David
His best “Curb Your Enthusiasm” season (Season 3) and it featured my single favorite episode (the one with Krazee-Eyez Killa).

2003: Dave Chappelle
Season 1. Enough said. The last unequivocal, there-is-no-doubt-whatsoever-that-he-has-the-title comedy season.

2004: Dave Chappelle, Jon Stewart (tie)
Season 2 for Chappelle and a breakout year for Stewart (the 2004 election, his “Crossfire” appearance, the release of his book and his Peabody Award).

2005: Steve Carell
“The Office” takes off and “The 40 Year Old Virgin” hits theaters. Good enough to take a splintered year. Thanks to the Internet boom and cable boom, comedy now became so specialized that it became infinitely more difficult to say one person was “The Funniest Man Alive.” My personal choice: Ferrell again, just because of “Anchorman.”

2006: Sacha Baron Cohen
Borat. More than enough.

2007: Larry David
Comeback year for “Curb” as the Blacks move into Larry’s house. Runner-up: Judd Apatow.

2008: Tina Fey
“30 Rock” takes off and Palin falls into her lap. Our first and only woman!

2009: Zach Galifianiakis
His “Hangover” role was funnier than anything anyone else did … right?

What Simmons does not answer is the original question: who is the funniest person alive? As well as who is, or will be, the funniest person of the year 2010. Here’s my selections.

2010

Daniel Tosh – His Comedy Central show Tosh.0 has been a surprise hit and is continuously increasing in popularity, beating out both the Daily Show and Colbert Report in this year’s ratings. This fall he will be performing a sixty city tour. Nothing about what he does is overly extravagant, he is just genuinely funny. His on point, often over the top, style of making fun of the people in the videos on his show is hilarious and seemingly effortless. As his success continues and his popularity rises, Tosh is turning a small, niche form of comedy into mainstream.

Funniest Person Alive

Will Ferrell – Simmons appointed him comedy MVP of 2000, but you could really make the case for him in almost any year. His presence onscreen is undeniable, rarely missing a beat. He also shows that he can be extremely funny in less traditional forms. He’s had numerous internet sensations on the website funny or die. He recently had great appearances at the MTV Movie Awards, hilariously ruining Draco Malfoy’s award acceptance speech, and even joining the commentators in the Home Run Derby (http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=9909547), at one point shouting, “It’s home run o’ clock,” and breaking into his classic Harry Carey. Judging from the trailer for “The Other Guys,” it has all the makings of another Ferrell classic. His use of the “bad cop, bad cop” rutine produced some of the loudest laughs I’ve heard in a movie theater in a long time, and that was just a preview. All in all, Will Ferrell has held the title of Funniest Person Alive since Anchorman, and he doesn’t look like he’s about to give it up any time soon.

Honorable Mention

Norm MacDonald – For someone who has never really been in a good movie or TV show since SNL, which seems like ages ago, I would still have to put Norm up there with the funniest, though not accomplished, people in the world. Any talk show appearance of his is solid gold; as Simmons would say, “the highest of high comedy.” Case in point

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jLkdSDAw1gU

Are You Missing an Instant Classic?

July 21, 2010 1 comment

 We Watch Sports.  Every channel.  Every game.  And alert you when to tune in.

I just discovered this site called Are You Watching This (http://areyouwatchingthis.com/) that keeps track of every game that is in progress in a wide variety of sports, and let’s you know whether you should be watching them or not. All games are judged on the following scale:

OK – All games start off as OK. Snoozers and blowouts are OK. Not even their momma would vote for a game that’s OK.

GOOD – A GOOD game is starting to get good. It’s a tied game in the top of the 9th, or maybe a ranked team down at halftime. If you already have the TV on, you might as well click over and check it out.

HOT – Any game that is in overtime or extra innings, and sometimes just a close finish or upset possibility will reach HOT. This game is definitely worth turning on the TV for.

EPIC – Drop everything you’re doing. This is Boise State vs. Oklahoma, Lebron vs. Pistons, and no-hitter in the bottom of 9th territory. Find the nearest TV post-haste.

I love this idea. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve watched a game and thought to myself, this is an instant classic. My only concern is whether the site will be too lenient as to which games reach the level of epic. The Boise State vs. Oklahoma and Lebron vs. Pistons games definitely warrant it, but recently the World Cup Final between Spain and Netherlands was called also “epic”. You could argue that any World Cup Final is automatically epic, but in my mind, the title of Instant Classic must only be given out in extraordinary circumstances, and there were many better matches in this year’s World Cup than the final itself. I’d say USA vs Slovenia, Netherlands vs Brazil, and possibly Uruguay vs Netherlands were all more “epic” than the final.

During the baseball season I doubt I’ll use this site much, as there are probably only a rare few “epic” games during the regular season. I would say with the NFL it is easy enough to keep track of all the games going on without needing this site. Where areyouwatchingthis will truly shine and be very useful is for NCAA Football, NCAA Basketball, and the NBA. Here there are so many games going on that it is difficult to keep track of them all and easy to miss something epic. So bookmark http://areyouwatchingthis.com/ and don’t miss out on the next Instant Classic.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Matthew Berry’s Love/Hate Column

July 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Every year Matthew Berry releases his annual Love/Hate column for the upcoming fantasy football season. http://sports.espn.go.com/fantasy/football/ffl/story?page=nfldk2k10tmrlovehate

Here is my take on his predictions

Guys I Agree With

Love

Jamaal Charles – He made a big impression going into this season with his 259 yard 2 touchdown game against the Broncos in Week 17 to end last season. He is not a big or powerful runner, which could mean he’ll lose precious goal line carries to newcomer Thomas Jones. However, Charles’ combination of speed and quickness, and his ability to use his blockers well makes him a legitimate starting back. In 2001, another relatively unknown and undersized back got his chance to start with the Chiefs. His name was Priest Holmes and he went on to score a record-breaking 27 touchdowns in his third season in Kansas City. I honestly think that Jamaal Charles has just as much potential, but unfortunately not as good an O-line.

Greg Jennings – Jennings’ numbers were down a bit last year, but he is still one of the most reliable receivers in the NFL. He’s had well over 1000 yards receiving in each of the past two seasons, and I expect his TDs to be up a lot from only 4 last year. Aaron Rodgers has emerged as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and as his top receiver, Jennings will be a top 5 receiver this year and for years to come.

Joe Flacco – Flacco is only entering into his third year in the NFL, and he already seems like a wily veteran. With a solid O-line and rushing attack, he often has little pressure on him and is able to make the plays that are asked of him. Last year he was an always reliable but rarely outstanding fantasy quarterback. This could change this year due to his added experience and the addition of Anquan Boldin. Boldin is one of the best at getting yards after the catch and turning a 7 yard come back into a 40 yard TD. He is a huge boost to any QB, provided he stays healthy.

Tony Romo – Romo has proven that he has what it takes to put up big numbers year after year. While I don’t think he’ll be able to count on the same type of huge numbers from Miles Austin, Dez Bryant is a rookie with definite big play potential.

Felix Jones – Whenever he’s been healthy and on the field, Felix has found ways to makes plays and get into the end zone. I’m banking on the hope that God doesn’t really hate Felix Jones that much, and he’ll have his first completely injury free year.

Shonn Greene – Many picked him as a sleeper last year, and it never really panned out. Much of the reason for this was another stellar year for Thomas Jones. With Jones gone, Greene is in the driver’s seat. He definitely showed flashes of greatness in the playoffs against Cincinnati and San Diego, and Rex Ryan loves to have a tough, physical running game.

Calvin Johnson – Calvin Johnson has always had the speed and athletic ability to be one of the league’s best receivers. The difference this year is that he might actually have a quarterback who can get him the ball. Matthew Stafford did not have the greatest of rookie seasons, but he definitely showed progression. His gutsy comeback against the Browns showed me that he has the desire to be a leader and winner for the Lions. Johnson and Stafford will continue to reap the benefits of each other’s development for many years, as will the city of Detroit.

Ryan Matthews – I’ll admit that I’ve never seen Ryan Matthews play. However, with LT gone and the Chargers spending a first round pick on Matthews, I would wager that they’ll find ample use for him. Darren Sproles is still there and will undoubtedly make his fair share of big plays, but he will never be a 20 carry a game back. The Chargers have a great offense, and if Matthews is on the field, he would be hard-pressed not to put up some pretty solid numbers.

Santana Moss – Moss is a speed guy. He is great at getting down the field. For most of his career his quarterbacks have been Chad Pennington, Mark Brunell, and Jason Campbell. Not exactly the league’s top gun-slingers. Enter Donovan McNabb. McNabb loves to let the ball fly, and I think he and Moss will play well together. Moss reminds me a bit of Desean Jackson, and while he may no longer have that type of speed, if he could perform to even half the level that Jackson did last year, that would be a big improvement.

Hate

Carson Palmer/ Chad Ochocinco – To me the success of the Bengals was somewhat of a fluke last year. Everything came together very well for them in the regular season, only to fall apart in the playoffs. Ochocinco is following in Terrell Owens footsteps in that they both had their own reality show and they are both well past their prime. Palmer is still an above average passer, but I don’t think he has very many weapons at his disposal.

Kevin Smith – After a solid rookie season, Smith definitely took a step backwards last season. With Jahvid Best entering the picture in the Detroit backfield, Smith could soon be struggling to get on the field.

Guys I Disagree With

Love

Matt Forte – Similar to Kevin Smith, Forte had an excellent rookie season and a horrendous sophomore season. While I wouldn’t doubt an improvement over last year’s dismal 4 touchdown performance, I think that the Bears want to be a pass first offense. Jay Cutler may have struggled last season, but I think they are willing to let him take the reins and try to get his groove back.

Fred Jackson – I like Fred Jackson. Whenever I see him play I am always impressed by his tough running and deceptive speed. If he gets the majority of carries in Buffalo I think he will put up solid fantasy numbers. However, I think his job could be in jeopardy to one C.J. Spiller. While many think that Spiller will be used sparingly and mainly as a third down back, I think otherwise. I’ve watched him at Clemson absolutely shred the usually tough defense of my Boston College Eagles. We’ve seen rookie running backs such as Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson take the league by storm in their rookie seasons, and I think Spiller can be almost as good, thus relegating Jackson to the role of a Chester Taylor or LenDale White.

Dwayne Bowe – Bowe is a good receiver. There is no denying that, but he has no help around him. There is no Tony Gonzalez to distract the defense and no reliable quartback to get him the ball. Bowe will be the main focus of defenses, and he will have a frustrating season.

Jerricho Cotchery – Cotchery as some talent, but he is a perennial under-achiever. In the middle of last season, the Jets traded for Braylon Edwards and this offseason they signed Santonio Holmes. What do you think that says about how high they are on the receivers they had? Cotchery may find some open space when defenses are distracted by these other targets, but I think Edwards, Holmes, and Dustin Keller will all put up better fantasy numbers than Cotchery.

Hate

CJ Spiller – See Fred Jackson

Greg Olsen – Matthew Berry says that Mike Martz offenses don’t use the tight end much, but I don’t buy it. Cutler will me passing a lot, and Olsen is a fast, athletic target. He could be a go-to-guy in the end zone.

Brandon Marshall – Yes he’s recovering from an injury, and yes his quarterback is Chad Henne. In order took make up for those things, you would have to be one of the best receivers in the league, and that’s just what Marshall is. Kyle Orton is a pretty mediocre quarterback, and Marshall was still able to put up his best season yet last year. He has the speed and size to get open, the hands to catch any ball, and once he gets it he has the strength and quickness to get some serious YAC. I’d say behind Andre Johnson, Marshall is arguably the best receiver in the NFL.

Donovan McNabb – McNabb’s greatest years are well behind him, but he can still play. Even when he’s not at his best, McNabb still manages to put up solid numbers year after year. A change of scenery could throw him off his rhythm, but I happen to think it will motivate him, and he will play this season with a fire that we have not seen from him in some time.

Here’s a Few Guys of My Own that Berry Didn’t Mention

Love

Visanthe Shiancoe – Last year he emerged as one of the league’s most dangerous tight ends, and it was no fluke. Shiancoe will continue to get open and make plays. I think it’s likely we’ll see a better year from Adrian Peterson and not quite as good a season from Sidney Rice, and both of these things would benefit Shiancoe.

Steve Smith (NYG) – He his coming off a break out year as well. I think he will continue to develop in his role as a number one wideout and continue the impressive trend he started last season.

Lawrence Maroney – I have been wrong about him so many times before. He has always shown that glimmer of potential that keeps us all going along for the ride and putting up with numerous fumbles and tackles for loss. Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris were starting to look their age last season, so Maroney should get a chance, but it will be his last one. This is truly a make or break year for him, and I say (hopefully) he finally gets it done and develops some constancy.

Hate

Maurice Jones Drew – He is coming off a season that lived up to the early first round selection that he was in almost every league. But I don’t think he can do it by himself again. David Garrard is getting old quickly and the offensive line is among the NFL’s weakest. Week 16 last year, the Jaguars game to New England in a must win game, and were absolutely shut down by a very mediocre Patriots defense. I think teams are finally learning how to contain and even shut down MJD.

Steven Jackson – He’ll get more than his fair share of opportunities, but the problem is his team is so bad that it won’t make much of a difference. The Rams will struggle to put up 17 points a game this year, and while Jackson could get 25 carries a game, he will only put up a handful of 100 yard games and very few TDs.

Brett Favre – Assuming his does indeed return to the Vikings, I think his time has finally run out. Not to say last year was a fluke, but there is no chance he puts up those kind of numbers again. I think this interception total will be way up from last year, and I think that Minnesota will make the switch at around Week 6 when the team is struggling at 3-3.

Inception Ending

July 19, 2010 1 comment

Spoiler Alert…Obviously

In the last scene of Inception, Cobb makes it back home and is finally reunited with his children. The last shot shows the metal top (his totem) spinning on the table. It starts to shake and swivel a bit, and then the movie cuts to black and the credits.

What is the significance of this final image? Earlier in the film, Cobb had said that this totem, which had previously belonged to his wife Mal, would continue spinning forever in the dream world. Also, in the previous seen with Cobb and Mal together, she is trying to convince him to stay with her in the dream world.

The question, therefore, is did Cobb actually return to the real world, or did he decide to remain with Mal in this subconscious alternate reality? Christopher Nolan does not show us whether the top falls or keeps on spinning, so it is up to the audience to decide.

This is a Matrix-esque idea that is definitely an interesting one: how do we define reality? What makes the world we live in any more “real” than the dream world? Mal says to Cobb at the end that he has been going back and forth between the two realms for so long that they are both equally real to him, and in which case, why not remain in the dream world with her? If you feel you are stuck in a dream, do you accept it or jump out of a window to escape from it? This idea is well reflected by the old men who come to Yusef, not to be put to sleep, but to be woken up. They are more at home in the dream world than in “reality”.

Just like the Matrix, Inception has some great action and special effects, but it is the central ideas that define the film. This subject matter is great for philosophical questions and debate. Try this one on for size: what if we are all “dreaming” now and when we die we are awoken into an entirely different universe.

Sweet Dreams

Categories: Movies Tags: , , , ,

MLB Predictions

July 16, 2010 Leave a comment

The season is over half way through, so I should have no excuse for missing any of these. Here are my predictions.

AL East: Yankees

AL Central: Tigers

AL West: Rangers

Wild Card: Rays

Yankees over Tigers

Rays over Rangers

Yankees over Rays

NL East: Braves

NL Central: Cardinals

NL West: Dodgers

Wild Card: Mets

Dodgers over Braves

Mets over Cardinals

Dodgers over Mets

World Series: Yankees over Dodgers in 6

Awards

AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera

AL Cy Young: CC Sabathia

NL MVP: David Wright

NL Cy Young: Ubaldo Jimenez

The Adventures of Matt and the Magic Nature Sparkle Dust

July 16, 2010 Leave a comment

This was a paper I wrote in college about my trip to Costa Rica, undoubtedly the most entertaining school-related thing I have written.

The Adventures of Matt and the Magic Nature Sparkle Dust

“Man Down!” yelled James, laughing as Sam tripped over a duffle bag and fell to the ground. We all pointed and laughed as well. You might say that we were being mean, but it’s not the kind of thing you think about; if someone falls, you laugh. When we realized that Sam was not the clumsy oaf we had made her out to be, but rather, was having a seizure, we began to regret our initial reaction.

This was the first memorable incident of many in my trip to Costa Rica, two summers ago. I admittedly am not one of those people who is easily impressed by nature. I feel that animals that are sleeping at the zoo are cheating me out of my time and money, and I would prefer a mediocre movie to an outstanding sunset. However, I decided that this trip would give nature a chance to prove me wrong, plus it would keep me from having to get a summer job. I went with a group called Wilderness Ventures, and arrived in Miami International Airport to meet eleven other kids and three group leaders with whom I would be living for the next three weeks. I definitely had some apprehensions about going. I had done some research and found out that Costa Rica had the leading number of deaths by crocodile attack in the world, and that one of the major causes of death in the country was from falling coconuts. I also worried that I would not get along with my group-mates or that someone would smell. My fears turned out to be unnecessary. My group-mates were very nice and relatively hygienic people; the only crocodile I saw was hit on the head by a coconut and died. I had my first surprise when I met my aforementioned leader James, who was in fact a girl. Apparently her parents were hippies. James liked her name most of the time, except when talking on the phone to her bank, which was dubious of her identity.

The second leader was Eric (not a girl) who was a Buddhist. Everyday he would meditate in his tent for an hour or so. What annoyed me was the fact that he refused to kill bugs. If you’ve never been to Costa Rica, there are many bugs, and they all deserve to die. The mosquitoes there require the kind of bug spray that you get recommended by an international disease and medicine doctor.

The third leader was Duncan, who had a large beard. The rest of the group was Charlie, Tom, Bette, Charlotte, Laura, Jasmine, Brianna, Brittney F, Brittney S, Brittney Z, and of course Sam, may she rest in peace. Just kidding, she was fine (yay, I’m not going to hell for laughing at her). Luckily I’m good at remembering names, especially when I only need to know nine names for eleven people.

It is not easy to describe the environment of Costa Rica because it seemed like everywhere we went had its own unique climate. Most of the places we went were hot and humid. The sun would blaze down and burn whatever unprotected skin it could find. At night, the air was usually warm and sticky. When we went up into the more mountainous part of the country, however, it was very cold at night. My tent was insufficient in keeping out the cold night air, so I had to huddle up in a ball inside my sleeping bag. There was one constant in the weather: everyday it rained. Usually I am not someone who minds rain, but like any liquid, it is better in moderation. Often there was no warning of its inevitable downfall, such as dark clouds. The sky seemed to send down a shower whenever the ground felt thirsty, which was probably often. Luckily I had packed plenty of raingear and work boots that became so encrusted with mud that the laces no longer functioned.

The general plan for the trip was to go all around the country in a big bus, over the bumpiest roads in the world, with a driver who was very good at night soccer. These bus rides, some of which were over five hours long, were spent listening to music, playing cards, sleeping, and finding out about one another. Apparently Sam frequently stole ice cream from her job at Dairy Queen, Brittney F becomes overly excited when her forearms are tickled, and Brianna once got in a car accident and then fled the scene on foot. Well, their secrets are out now. The card game that we usually played was called “asshole” and was not nearly as much fun as it sounds. After these action-packed expeditions, we would stop at various places to undergo service projects and other, more fun activities.

For our longest service project, we helped a small town construct a path to a waterfall. Twice each day we had to hike there and back through mud, treacherous rocks, and something worse than mud which caused me to surmise that we were following in the trail of a horse. The work we did involved digging holes, picking up rocks, making cement, and carrying heavy things from one place to another. We took frequent breaks, often spent practicing our Spanish by talking to the one worker from the town who was there to help us. The girls liked to flirt with him, and asked if he had a “novia.” Brianna may have seemed a bit too hospitable when she mixed up a popular Spanish phrase, saying, “mi cama es su cama.” Perhaps it was a Freudian slip.

Although there was much fun had by all, I would be willing to wager that everyone was frightened at one point or another over our trip. Some people were scared when we went spelunking into a small cave inhabited by numerous bats with walls covered in what was left behind by the numerous bats. Others were afraid to climb a tree that had so many odd roots and nooks that it was like a jungle gym. I, however, was only mildly annoyed in the cave from the unfortunate olfactory repercussions of having to breathe and from bumping my head one too many times. The tree was not scary at all, and I climbed in a minute, which was one second off the Wilderness Ventures record. The most terrifying part of the trip for me was having to cook meals. Everyday, there were different groups that had to prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the others. I’m the kind of person who considers himself a master chef when he has successfully prepared a bowl of cereal, so this was definitely a big challenge for me. I won’t say that my culinary skills rose above the level of, perhaps, an independent eight-year-old, but I was proud of my unevenly minced garlic and my lukewarm pasta.

My favorite part of the trip was when we went sea kayaking. Our guide, Josh, was one of the few Americans I saw living in Costa Rica. He knew everything from plants, to turtles, to the lyrics to every Jack Johnson song. He showed us one plant that if you ripped its leaves, a goo similar to battery acid would come out. I made sure to make a mental note of that. As for the sea kayaking itself, we would travel to different islands and beaches. Now, I had been to a lot of nice beaches before, but there was something different about these beaches: they were deserted. There were vast sandy, sunny beaches with warm water and a great view, but there were no loud, obnoxious people, crying babies, or sands lined with artificial, brightly-colored towels. Being sore and tired from paddling so far through the hot air and discovering this untouched piece of paradise, I felt like an explorer. That night we ate Josh’s homemade French fries and homemade sauce, of which all I remember is that it was delicious and may have involved carrots in some capacity. I thought it would be nice to buy a private island such as this, maybe with Josh as my personal chef/ battery acid plant pointer-outer.

Up to this point, I would say that nature had impressed me, but only in a way that a parent is when his child brings home a finger painting. Sure it’s nice, and the parent will praise the child for his masterpiece, but let’s just say it’s not going up in the Louvre any time soon. But my opinion was about to change. We started the last leg of our strenuous kayak journey at about 4:00am, while it was still dark outside. This seemed like a stupid idea to me because I tend to get cranky without my twelve hours of sleep. But when we started paddling out into the water, I noticed a strange sparkling coming from underneath the surface of the water. It was bioluminescence or, as I liked to call it, magic nature sparkle dust. Every stroke produced a shimmering that seemed to trace the motion of the oar. Eventually, all of the magic nature sparkle dust faded away before the sunrise, and I was left hoping I could reproduce the same effect in my bathtub at home.

Going back home was strange after three weeks in Costa Rica. My bed seemed very comfortable and untentlike, showering was no longer a test of endurance against unimaginable cold, and I could eat food that wasn’t made by me or other people practically as inept. I definitely missed the environment that I had left, though, both the people and the natural world. I hope to return to Costa Rica one day, and bring back the recipe for that delicious carrot sauce (which didn’t taste like carrots by the way) and my own jar of magic nature sparkle dust.