About John Ochwat

John Ochwat is a recovering journalist, the co-author of one of the most obscure academic books of all time, and was a columnist for the publication the Columbia Journalism Review called "The Worst Newspaper in America" (regrettably, he was not singled out for mention). His work has appeared in McSweeney's, Soma, and Forbes ASAP, among other places. He's also a dabbling musician, an intermittent blogger at First Person Irregular, and a procrastinator on Twitter.

Misadventures in Alt-Mobility

For complicated but unimportant reasons, I’m in Los Angeles this week, and today instead of renting a car, I tried an appallingly large number number of ways to get around that did not involve renting a car. 

It started with a yellow cab. Grant, our driver, was friendly and chatty. He took us where we needed to go, we paid cash including a tip. Easy peasy. 

Because the place we’re staying is near the beach, and the parking is a nightmare, we stashed our luggage at my friend’s house and took a Lyft from his house down to a breakfast joint. Also easy-peasy. 

I should mention that I’m late to the game for a few reasons, including all the ways that Uber showed it was a totally skeezy company, and how companies like Uber (and Lyft, and Google, with Maps) operated on the model of trampling the local laws or busting taxi unions, and then arguing that the laws should change anyway, because people like their service.

At this point we were in the heart of Venice, where it’s impossible not to notice a profusion of white, green and orange rental bikes, and rental scooters scattered around. And sure enough, after breakfast and a short stroll on Venice Beach to see the teeming throngs, the teenagers wanted to hit the Santa Monica Boardwalk and the rides. 

According to the whiz-bangy maps app, it’s a 10-minute drive in stop-and-go traffic, or a 42-minute walk .. but only a 12-minute bike ride! Along the beach! Palm trees! California sunshine! You get the picture. 

Imagine, at this point, a fast-forward montage of four people fiddling with four phones and then various combinations of rent-scooters and rent-bikes. The teenagers did their digital thing super-quick, and zipped away in a couple of Lime scooters. My wife and I fuddled longer, and one of us ended up with a Lyft scooter, and one of us with an Uber.

Next shot: the boys receding into the distance (speed! joy! sunshine!) while for reasons we can’t explain, our scooters were slower. After about five minutes, the boys were long gone, and my wife had been passed by a … jogger.

One of our little scooters (let’s call him “Lyft”) was lagging so badly, the slower generation stopped, to try and swap for one that wasn’t useless.

Nope. Not happening.

To switch to the new ride you have to end your current one, and the little Lyft that couldn’t couldn’t be persuaded that it was in a safe and happy place to be dropped off. To its credit, the app had the big red-ish No Fly Zone Where You Can’t Drop Off the Scooter. OK, well, if you walk a block away, into the rest of the world where you can drop it …

Nope. Not happening.

Farther and farther we walked/scooted, in the wrong direction, while the minutes ticked away and the cost ticked up, and the Lyft app stubbornly insisted that most of the known world was a No Fly Zone Where You Can’t Drop Off the Scooter. Meanwhile, my internal monologue was a homily about the good old days, when your analog friend loaned you his analog bike.

After various expletives, we caved, and headed toward the destination, in the hopes that something better would happen, or at least we wouldn’t lose our kids. When we crossed into Santa Monica official, the beach path was off-limits, and we had to head for the street.

At which point, two more random events: First, my little scooter (let’s call him “Uber”) finally discovered it could go as fast as the Limes. And as we crossed the parking lot, my wife tried to end the Lyft scooter ride again. And this time, she could.

As badly as we wanted to leave the little piece of shit on its side in the parking lot, we dragged it to the side and leaned it against a post. And as we left the parking lot, we had to step over another Lyft scooter, on its side, no doubt abandoned by a pissed-off customer.

After tooling around the boardwalk, we wanted to head home, with a brief stop at the pharmacy. This time, on Limes. But we were in a California bike lane this time, otherwise known as contested space. One of us almost got doored. Another driver started a three-point turn by cutting in front of my son. Two other cars were parked in the lane, forcing us to swerve into a lane of traffic.

Then, to make matters even more interesting, my wife’s phone was a two percent, so as we were leaving the pharmacy, she wasn’t sure she could re-up the ride without her phone dying. And I wasn’t sure if I could rent two scooters, one for each of us.

So we tried Lyft again. Our first driver (let’s call him Edgar) couldn’t find us. So we waited, on the corner, which was littered with scooters and bikes. So this is our world, first the streets cluttered with pirate taxis, and now the sidewalks cluttered with people’s cast-off scooters in bikes.

After our second driver got us home and I had a snack, it was time for me to get the luggage at my friend’s house. This time I thought I would try the LA Metro bike share, which is cheap, so long as you drop the bikes at little station.

No problem!

Correction: A problem. I couldn’t make heads or tails out of renting a bike at the first kiosk, until I saw that the back side door was open. So I hiked to another kiosk and got a card-swipe error. Three times.

So, the heck with it. It was getting late and kind of cold, I didn’t know where to find a cab, it was too damn far to scoot, and I didn’t have any luck with the other rental bikes. So, back to Lyft. I had a good driver, and we had a good chat about Venice, and the locals’ dislike of the Shapchat tech-bros, and the gentrification that entails. (He did not, however, mention that he was working a job that used to be regulated, and might have been held by someone in a union.)

But he did mention that the locals hate the scooters … And, just as we were slowing for a stop light, he gestured to the right.

Two scooters were abandoned in the middle of a parking lot.

Surprising High Jump Lessons at the Track Meet

I high jumped for about nine years, from age 10 to age 19. I was never all that great at it, but I loved the sport and I learned a lot. Now that I’m older, I’ve been having a great time coaching middle school jumpers. (Above is one of the jumpers at a practice.)

What I am not having is a great time dealing with the people running the meets.

At the first meet I attended, the woman running the event had never been taught how to run an event. I explained to her what the starting height was, that the bar only goes up (and not back down), and that jumpers could opt to pass at any height they chose.

To her credit, the woman took my advice, especially after I explained that when kids are competing in multiple events, they need to come and go from time to time — just as one of our jumpers was trotting away to compete in the 100m.

That’s the kind of discussion I was happy to have. It was the woman’s first time running that event, I got her up to speed, the event went smoothly. Besides, it’s middle school, and many of these kids are trying these sports for the first time, and the meets are run with the kind help of volunteers.

The next meet was an invitational, an all-day affair with schools from as far away as Seattle (we’re in Portland). It was a much bigger affair: There were people running the competition, and so many competitors that they had to jump in two flights: if you were in the first flight it was like a time trial, where you had to post your best mark and hope no one beat it.

The guy running the event worked for the school, and he was not lacking in confidence. He brought all the jumpers in the first flight into a circle and in clear, unambiguous terms, he explained the rules. One of which was, “If you exit the pit by climbing back under the bar, you are disqualified.”

Wait, what? In all my time jumping, from pokey all-comers meets to the city finals in high school, no one had ever mentioned that one.

Well, whatever. The first flight went smoothly, although I did have to explain to the guy marking attempts on a clipboard that jumpers could pass at heights. And sometimes they might pass multiple heights, so you don’t have to keep calling their name.

This came up in the second flight, when I told them we had a jumper who was competing in another event, and wouldn’t start until 4’6″ (the starting height was 4′). Nonetheless, they kept calling his name, and I kept going over and saying he was going to pass.

One of our jumpers is really good, and set the school record this spring. There was a good chance he’d be one of the top competitors, which is why I wanted him to pass heights, because one of the tiebreakers for first place is the fewest total number of missed jumps.

The second flight was more competitive. Our team’s jumper was vying with another jumper for first place. When the bar reached 5′, our jumper approached on a jump, and at the last second, bailed out. He stopped, and as he did, his shoulder went under the bar.

The meet director called him over, and said it was a missed jump because he “broke the plane.”

Hold on. That’s a rule in football, to determine a touchdown. That’s not a rule in high jumping. I thought the rule in high jumping was —

Before I could get over to where they were talking, our jumper was back in position, looking a little rattled. But he cleared the height.

I was a little rattled too. What did he mean, “broke the plane”? Had that become a rule since I stopped jumping?

No, it turns out: It’s only if the jumper “Touches the ground or landing area beyond the plane of the crossbar, or the crossbar extended, without clearing the bar.”

As it turned out, our jumper came in second on height, so the number of misses didn’t matter.

What does matter is that the meet director got one rule wrong — and worse, he simply made up another one. The US Track and Field rules for high jump make no mention of where you climb out of the pit, and as I quoted above, you have to touch something past the plane of the bar for it to count as a miss. If the jumper’s feet broke the plane, it would be a miss because they touched the ground. But it wasn’t his feet, it was his shoulder, which touched nothing. That sounds like a minor point, until one miss separates first from second place, and then it isn’t.

So if everyone’s learning, what are the lessons?

  • For me, it was, put a copy of the rules in my backpack, so I can pull them in case someone gets it wrong.
  • For that meet director, it’s read the damn rules, and follow them.
  • And for the kids, the lesson might be that everyone makes mistakes, even adults who sound like they know what they’re talking about. Sometimes all you can do is shake it off and just keep jumping.

John vs. Capitalism, the Soccer Shoe Edition

This is what happens if you oppose our marketing juggernaut

This is what happens if you oppose our marketing juggernaut

The Cast:

The Great Multinational Shoemongers hire platoons of designers, analysts and marketers to fine-tune their zeitgeist-piercing value propositions and beam them into the cerebral cortices of impressionable young shoe-shoppers, such as my son.

My son sees the images; he watches the videos; he reads the SEO-optimized web copy; he’s even downloaded the app, so he’s among the first to know of upcoming ripples in the Product Force. He is The Ideal Consumer.

Then there’s me, Just a Bloke Trying to Do Right by His Son and Keep His Wallet from Hemorrhaging

The Backstory

The Great Multinational Shoemonger’s latest creation is lurid, sparkly and complicated, the the novelty make my son’s eyes swim like this: @ @

Later, as if recounting a dream, he spouts its marketing specifics: “The Mephisto Dynaforce Attack 3000 has a bionomic cleat distribution pattern and a mechan-o-ptimized friction coefficient for precise shooting and passing. Oh, and they’re only $284.99!”

The Epic Battle of Epicness

This week I took the Ideal Consumer to the soccer store for a new pair of soccer cleats. On the Shrine of Consumerism (i.e., the back wall), an array of dazzling Lethal Viper Hyper Force Ultra Magic Attack gleamed, their allures singing like sirens trying to dash my wallet on the rocks of fiscal ruin.

My son’s eyes did that googly thing as his favorite pair of shoes dazzled his eyes. Reflected in his irises I saw the orange gleam of the shoes, which resembled a kind of deadly Amazon toad that emitted its own LSD.

“Dad, those are the Mephisto Dyna–”

“Can we see a pair of these black ones in a size 8?” I said to the clerk.

The black ones were sensible. They were made of leather, instead of Next-Gen ProVita Polymers, and had well-sewn seams so they looked like they might last a winter in Oregon. They had some heel cushioning too, unlike the Mephisto Dynaforce ballet slippers. I pictured those black shoes offering support and protection. My son might have to suffer a season without a Lethal Impact Friction Zone, and cleat distribution that hadn’t been optimized by a NASA supercomputer, but he wouldn’t have to suffer persistent heel pain, or a visit to the doctor.

Needless to say, my son the Ideal Consumer was aghast I would even consider ancient, graceless clunkers like those. (Ignoring the fact that his older brother had a pair, and liked them.)

The virtue of going to an Actual Soccer Store is they expect you to use the shoes to play Actual Soccer. As a result, the clerk is not one of those you find at the mall, whose enthusiasm disguises the fact that he’s been completely lobotomized by his own shoe inventory. This clerk was sad to inform me they didn’t have the black ones in my son’s size.

Sensing opportunity, my son again pointed at the beacon on the wall. The shoes looked like a pair of booties Daredevil or Spider-Man would wear, if a designer made a special edition of his costume for Pride Week.

I shook my head and recited the dull reasons for my decision: Durability. Protection. Cost (one-third of the Mephisto Dynaforces in Orgasm Orange). I wondered, briefly, how I’d become so dull and pragmatic, and then remembered all the money I would save if we bought shoes that weren’t coated in a sheen of lethal Amazon tree frog poison.

Father and Son Go Mano a Mano, in List Format:

  • There was sadness and pouting.
  • There was back talk.
  • There was an exasperated, desperate, helpless glance from father, and sympathetic clucking from the shoe clerk.
  • There was a cruel ultimatum, issued by this correspondent, to leave the Holy Shrine of Consumerism empty-handed.
  • There was a cooling off period, and some wandering around to look at soccer jerseys on the sale rack.
  • There was a cautious second approach, reciting the fact that while the Mephisto Dynaforce 3000 shoes did contain super-awesome rare earth metals, they were for indoor soccer, not turf. (E.g., footage of Ronaldo/Neymar/Messi slipping and falling on his ass didn’t make it into the YouTube Awesome Skills videos.)

The Denouement

Finally the effects of the Shoemonger Marketing Charm ebbed slightly, and the Ideal Consumer realized he could get a pair of shoes that would work on turf, and were still pretty eye-stunning — but in a more muted way, like psychedelic lake trout.

But before I could declare victory about saving enough money to buy 10 weeks of beer, the Ideal Consumer hit me with a counter-proposal, in the form of a matching pair of techno-hosiery (cost: 2 weeks of beer), which I felt I had to include to close the deal.

Post-Match Analysis

Hard to say who won this round. Did I get what I wanted? No, the Psychedelic Lake Trout 9000s look pretty flimsy, and the battle cost me 3.5 weeks more of beer than I’d budgeted.

Was the Ideal Consumer satisfied? No, his consumer lust for the Mephisto Dynaforce 3000s remains unfulfilled (though he did manage upsell me on the mint-infused soccer socks).

But fear not: the new, flimsy shoes should self-obsolete before long, and soon we’ll be back in the store to do it all again. In the meantime, if the Shoemonger ever made Mephisto Dynaforce 3000 beer cozies in that shade brilliant orange, I just might be persuaded …

Little Victories

My friend has multiple sclerosis. MS is a nasty disease, which has robbed my friend of the ability to walk. She gets by with an electric scooter and a wheelchair, but for someone who has traveled around the world, it’s been a tough adjustment.

When our family was going to a water park for a birthday party recently, our friend told us she wanted to meet us there with her nephew, who was visiting her. The idea was that her nephew would play with the boys at the birthday party at the water park.

At the park, our friend had fewer options. There were two lifts: One assisted her from her wheelchair into a pool, and another did the same for the hot tub. But my friend has traveled around the world; she wasn’t content to sit and soak like a dish sponge.

She wanted to ride the slides. Specifically, the biggest, hairiest slide in the park.

So she and her husband asked whether they could do that.

The first lifeguard was nice, but said the rule was that if she could get up the stairs (about four flights of them) by herself, she could ride the slide. That seemed arbitrary. What did the ability to walk up the stairs have to do with hanging on to the inflatable raft on the way down? You couldn’t use your legs on the raft anyway. On the slide my friend wanted to ride, your butt sat in a hole, and your lower body was immobilized, or was supposed to be.

What comes down must first go up.

What comes down must first go up.

That was discouraging. I once wrote a story about an engineer who spent a half day in a wheelchair to get a sense of what it was like. He was astonished at all he ways that streets and sidewalks and ramps that were built to code — the way his manuals told him — were nevertheless unusable for people in wheelchairs. I’d learned the same thing with my friend. Every doorway, every step, every time she got in a car, or got on a streetcar or bus, or went in to a restaurant — everything we take for granted is a possible barrier for her.

A little while later, my friend asked another employee, and got another no.

There were people who were grossly overweight, and really out of shape, whose upper body were far weaker than my friend’s, who has an impressive set of triceps as a result of propelling a wheelchair. But I understood the rules … which are often set up by lawyers as a result of someone somewhere suing someone else.

But my friend wasn’t giving up so easily. She went to the central first aid desk and asked a third time. This time her husband, my wife and I came too, to emphasize the point that we were willing and able to get her up the stairs.

The woman she spoke to was more senior, and was very apologetic. But she still said no.

I walked away from that feeling pretty defeated. I could go back and ride the slides, but it didn’t feel exactly right. I had free roam of the place, but my friend was hampered by a lack of machinery, and a set of invisible rules.

But then, about 15 minutes later, my friend came over, grinning. They’d changed their minds!

Up the stairs we went. The line was long, and we took turns piggybacking my friend up the stairs, while taking a lot of breaks while the line wasn’t moving. When we got to the top of the slide, we had to convince the girl working at the top that we’d gotten permission (since she was the first one we asked).

She relented. We got my friend into her seat, and off we went. With four adults, we had a lot of weight on the raft, so it was a pretty wild ride. But we made it to the bottom intact.

My friend was happy. We were happy for her.

Funny how that ride ended up being the highlight of the day.

My Canada Day Memory

Happy Canada Day!

When I was 16, I worked for a company that did special events. On July 1 of that summer, my one-day gig was at a mall where I took turns with another guy, wearing a 7-foot Mountie uniform and walking around the mall greeting kids. The Mountie’s breeches came up to my ribs, and the Mountie’s head sat on top of mine (I looked out a V-shaped piece of mesh at the the base of the neck). Since I was mostly blind, my partner led me around and made sure kids didn’t kick me.

Since the name of the holiday had just changed. So I spent half the day explaining that “It’s no longer called Dominion Day, it’s called Canada Day.” And then I handed out little Canadian flags.

mountieSince I was actually born in the US, I got a laugh out of lecturing Canadian kids on an approved-by-government-committee holiday name change.

Kid: “Why isn’t it Dominion Day anymore?”

Me: “Not sure. I guess they want to recognize it as a country, instead of a dominion.”

Kid (with blank look on face): “Oh.”

But that’s no less baffling to a kid than the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner, including “O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?” (huh?)

Adding to the je ne sais quoi of the day was the fact that I ran into my high school law class teacher, who was quite proud to discover I was spending my summer teaching Canadian civics.

Anyhow, happy birthday, Canada. You were a fine country to grow up in, and I was happy to do a tiny bit to help educate your youngsters. Especially because none of them kicked me in the ass.

Traveler vs. Hotel Room

I’ve been traveling a lot for work, which often means a bad night’s sleep.

For complicated reasons involving hotel no-vacancies, my only room option last week was on the other side of the machinery at the top of the elevator shaft. If you can imagine the sound of enormous carts rolling across bumpy pavement every ten to twenty seconds, you’ll have an idea of what it sounded like.

But it was either than or hump over to another hotel at at 11 p.m., so I took the room. I even fell asleep at a decent hour.

Then I woke up. It was about 3:30 a.m. The elevators were pretty quiet, but a green light was flashing from overhead every five seconds or so.

And I was hot. I tried to adjust the thermostat, but every single knob was missing. Luckily, I guess, it was preset for a decent temperature. I flipped back the fancy down comforter, which would have kept Nanook warm in the north, and went with a complicated thermal solution that involved wearing a long sleeve t-shirt under the sheet.

And then the elevators started to rumble again. I lay in bed for a while, then remembered I had a solution for the sound:


Those things that look like bullets are actually foam ear plugs. I’d forgotten I had them, but necessity is apparently a great spur for your memory. I put the ear plugs in, and there was much rejoicing. You can buy them at any drugstore. They pencil out to about 10 cents apiece. Trust me: a pair of those in your suitcase is money well spent.

But there was still a flashing green light above my head, and I needed a fix for it. A piece of tape would have been perfect, but I didn’t have tape (I am not, you know MacGuyver). I took a look at the light sources, which was a smoke alarm of some sort. 

After some casting about for suitable material, I realized the cardboard key sleeve that the hotel provides could be shimmed into the alarm on either side of the light, creating a barrier. Even better, the sleeve was printed in a dark color on one side, letting less light through.


I was proud of that hack … and it was probably for the best I didn’t see the mold around the smoke alarm (yeesh!) until I downloaded my photo a few days later.

So I managed to outwit the elevator, the balky air conditioner, and the green light — yet I still lost out on sleep, because I had to do major surgery on the hotel room in the middle of the night.

If you can help it, don’t travel for business.

Book Review: The House of Silk, by Anthony Horowitz

The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes NovelThe House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Novel by Anthony Horowitz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two points about THE HOUSE OF SILK (and the notion of writing a Sherlock Holmes story in general):

  1. Sherlock has been done so many times, especially recently, that the character is basically a cut-out. You prop it up, and substitute whoever you like, be it Robert Downey Jr. or Benedict Cumberbatch.
  2. That said, the author (in this case, Anthony Horowitz) is in a slightly odd position. Because everyone is so familiar with Holmes, all his characterization feels like a retread. I almost skimmed over those parts … keen intellect, yeah yeah … stunning deductions … yeah, been there.

That said, Horowitz tells a good tale, weaving orphaned children, immigrants, a man apparently threatened by an Irish gangster, and the nefarious doings of well-to-do into a story with a bunch of twists and turns that he ties together in a way that is both surprising and satisfying.

He also writes well. It isn’t just good prose, but he adds period detail with his use of language, especially anachronistic terms.

It’s not the kind of book that I’d expect to see shortlisted for the Booker, but it’s a good story, a fun read, and moves along at a lively pace.

View all my reviews

Bernard Purdie at the Cadence Jazz Festival

David Haney, Andre St. James, Bernard PurdieI went to the last night of Cadence Fest on Tuesday. Cadence, a well-respected jazz magazine, has been reborn thanks to the efforts of jazz pianist David Haney (left), who put on the festival as an extension of his magazine work. (Willamette Week did a nice write-up about him before the festival.)

I managed to catch a set by the Rich Halley Group, which was neat. Halley, a saxophonist, played with a trombonist, bassist, and drummer. I’m not usually a big fan of really free jazz, but I found it was a lot more approachable when I could see the musicians cue off of each other.

But the real reason I was there had to do with the headliner: David Haney was playing with bassist Andre St. James, and a drummer named Bernard “Pretty” Purdie. As a drummer, I’ve been a fan for a long time — I’ve been listening to tracks he’s recorded for most of my life (I’ll bet you have, too. Check out a list of his top 100 tracks.) But I’ve never seen him live.

The trio was great. Haney actually took the stage wearing a winter coat, a sport coat, and a scarf, like a commuter on the bus. But Haney plays piano unlike almost anyone I’ve ever seen — his right foot taps, his legs kick out, and he lurches around on the bench. If there’s such a thing as a physical piano player, he is one. All that motion warmed him up, and he took off the jacket, then peeled off the sport coat during a song. One song later, the scarf joined the jacket and the coat on the floor next to the piano. It was like the dance of the seven veils.

As good as Haney and St. James are, I was mostly focused on Purdie. For the most part he was just comping, and didn’t even solo. But even compared to the drummer that preceded him, Purdie was smoother, his time was perfect, and his dynamics (variation in volume) were just effortless. He was so technically adept that when he was playing a fill, his hands would just bring his idea to life.

Purdie is now 73, so I’m feeling lucky that he came out one night to help out his friend’s jazz festival. I can only hope he decides to do it more often.

Son vs. The Grizz

I know it’s a bit of a social media no-no to post photos of your food, but this was a wager. It happened like this: My sons and I have been going to a local diner for months, and on one visit, my cousin was with us. My cousin mentioned that his nephew keeps ordering “The Grizz,” but that he can never finish it.

“The Grizz” is a cluster-bomb of breakfasts: Two strips of bacon, two sausage links, a ham steak, three eggs, hash brown potatoes, and two pancakes. According to the calculus of my stomach, that’s three breakfasts, not one.

the grizz

Needless to say, news of the distant cousin’s failure to summit Mt. Grizz naturally became a bit of family lore. The Grizz was no longer just an expensive breakfast menu item — it had acquired a bit of myth.

So this morning, my older son said he wanted to order it. My son is thirteen, and struggles to fill out slim-fit jeans.

I said no. It was too much food, it was expensive, and I hated to see food and money go to waste. My son kept after it: “I’m hungry.” “I can finish it.” Etc. Then my younger son waded into the fray, offering to help. I countered with, “Why don’t you two share it?”

They had the uni-mind on this one, so they vetoed that motion. Son 1 wanted The Grizz. Son 2 wanted to see Son 1 eat it.

I agreed, on the condition that he had to finish it. I also decided to document things, thinking that if things went sideways (or came back up),  I’d have digital proof of his folly.

When our food arrived, we tucked in. Son 1 knocked off the three eggs, over-easy. And the bacon. And the sausage. And the ham. And then the pancakes. Then, slowing down noticeably and drinking plenty of water, he went after the hash browns. A few bites from the end, I was ready to give it to him, on rounding error.

He shook me off. He was hell-bent to conquer.

The Reimains of The GrizzWhich he did. Remarkably, we did not have to go directly to the drug store for Pepto-Bismol, or Alka-Seltzer. He didn’t want to go jump on a trampoline, but he was otherwise fine.

I’m just hoping this doesn’t become a habit.

“Moneyball” and the Case of the Copycat Song

I saw “Moneyball” this weekend. It’s an excellent movie, but I still think Michael Lewis’ book is even better. My suggestion: Go read the book. Then go see the movie.

But one thing the movie has, which the book doesn’t, is a subplot involving Beane’s 12-year-old daughter. In the movie the daughter sings and plays guitar, and the song she writes becomes kind of an anthem for her father.

The song, called “The Show,”  was actually written by a singer-songwriter named Lenka and released in 2008. Here’s Kerris Dorsey’s cover (she’s the actress who plays the daughter), in a video that looks like a trailer for the movie:

Lovely song, eh? But since I’m a hobbyist musician, I spend a lot of time listening to music, and I thought it sounded familiar. Like, really familiar. Like, substitute-other-lyrics-on-top-of-existing-song familiar.

Which existing song? “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz (first released in 2005):

I took a look at the chords, and they’re not the same (though I think they’re both using variations on the I-IV-V chord progressions). Then I compared the first two lines:

“The Show”:

I’m just a little bit caught in the middle
Life is a maze and love is a riddle

“I’m Yours””

Well uh you dawned on me and you bet I felt it,
I tried to be chill but you’re so hot that I melted,

Similar number of syllables, similar meter. You could easily sing those four lines as a single verse.