Latest 3 Things

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

3 Resolutions

I’m not going to say that it’s been a great year for New Years resolutions. Because while the fact that Three Things has survived this far into the year with more readers than we started with is a testament to a successful resolution, there were far more that didn’t quite survive to see the end of 2010. Because in addition to continuing to write, I also resolved to read more, eat better and curse less, and failed miserably on all three counts, dammit. I even seem to fail in threes these days. But, as happens every year, hope springs eternal, and the new year occasions the opportunity to look forward in the midst of looking back. Though they sometimes seem trite, I’ve always enjoyed the process of making resolutions for the coming year, and I try to make them realistic because I new a few extra failures in my life like I need a little extra car repair or a couple more dentist visits. So, to ring in the new year, and to celebrate the completion of at least one from last year, here are THREE THINGS‘ 3 Resolutions:

1. Something To Believe In. If you’ve read me for any length of time, you know I have more belief in Fairy Tales, comic books and cartoons than I do in the ability of the youngest generation to make anything of themselves aside from exceptionally capable consumers. Of all the apocalyptic events that appear to be happening around me with ever-greater frequency, perhaps none is more emotionally daunting than to see false confidence, entitlement and ignorance of today’s youth. As the cycle of each generation looking upon the next with terrible and silent wonder, fearing their ultimate incapability of ever actually maturing despite having to grow old nonetheless, reaches its penultimate stage, we are left with a choice - either stand by and play our intellectual fiddles as they burn it to the ground, or to jump in and do our part. So as I sit and laugh at they way they dress, dance, and what they call “music”, I will resolve also to teach and to find opportunities to do the same. Because while the time has not yet come for me to directly combat the downward-spiraling trend of ever-less enlightened parenting, that doesn’t mean I can’t make a difference in lives of young people. I once said that knowledge not shared is not knowledge not had - and it’s time I started taking my own advice. Mentorship (and some fully unsuspecting mentees) here I come.

2. The Holiday Road. Thirty six years and counting. Still no vacation, no time off without purpose, no non-business trips and my passport is as chaste and untouched as an ugly Amish teenager. Though I’m not a fan of recycling resolutions - because failing to accomplish them once usually means you’re not going to get them done during any other year - but this one has been on my list for so long, that I almost keep it there out of a sense of nostalgia (and that fact that giving up on it means that I’ll have resigned myself to a lifetime of all work and no play). I’ve even taken to keeping my passport in my briefcase - so that I can be reminded that I’ve never actually used it. Of the many things of which I am ashamed (including memorization of the Voltron opening, an addiction to vintage video games and a strong affinity for banjo music) the fact that I have never been on a vacation is at the top of the list. At least the other embarrassments are consistent with my personality - because those who know me know that I’m no workaholic. I mean, I love my job and I enjoy being productive, but if given the choice between work and play, I don’t choose work. There just always seems to be a great reason not to go - and yes, it usually has to do with work. It’s really more work-phobic (i.e. afraid of what will happen if I’m not there). But it’s time to face my fear, book a damned trip with no other purpose but to relax, and get over myself already. Besides, if any workplace relies on my constant presence for survival, it probably deserves to be put out of its misery anyway.

3. Needing Contacts. Every place I’ve lived since I left home at 18 has felt tremendously temporary. I’ve rented on short-term leases, lived on cheap used furniture and kept myself mostly detached from each city or town in which I’ve resided. I never even invested in a decent set of cookware. Though I’ve always said that if you’re not remembered at a place, you were never there - I’ve only really applied that standard to institutions (schools, the military, etc.) and never my own neighborhood or community. But against all odds, and as strange as it sounds, Las Vegas feels the most like home since, well, home. I’ve bought my first house, some furniture that I didn’t have to assemble myself, and I’ve got pots and pans that aren’t widely considered disposable. But the real measure of putting down a few roots is investing in some people here. Sure there’s a little bit of L.A. here in Vegas (including the famewhores, money-grubs and impossibly bad drivers) - and you’d have a better chance harvesting crops on the moon that putting down roots in that cesspool - but just beneath the surface beats the heart of a good ol’ western town, and the folks you put in the time to get know will likely return the favor. And so, with a healthy dose of caution, trepidation and downright skepticism, I’ve resolved this year to brave the sea of crazies in search of a few great friends here in the Vegas Valley - my new hometown.

* * *

In end, 2010 was a very good year - three things at a time. A new house, a new city and a new job. Three new tires for my car (dammit) and, as you know, my third (and most successful) blog project. And the best thing about good years is the promise of an even better year to follow. After all, if you don’t think things will look up in the year to come - what’s the point of going on? And to that end, I can’t wait to get started on 2011. Though I’m glad that put the holidays this close to the new year, because it is only that excitement of turning the calendar that sometimes gets me through this time of year (the cold, the drama, and the cost). So as the ball drops on the end of one year and the beginning of the other, I’ll finish this project the same way I started, by asking that you remember three things: (1) kissing strangers is never as good of an idea as it seems, (no matter what the occasion), if you want a New Year’s kiss, plan in advance; (2) unless you’re ringing it in in Hawaii, the Caribbean, or Australia, celebrate inside - a runny nose isn’t sexy on anyone, and (3) it is not what will come to you that makes the days and times of your new year, but rather what you go out there and get.

Thanks for a great year - and go get yourself a great 2011!

Monday, December 20, 2010

3 Wishes

I can hardly believe that I made it through a whole year of THREE THINGS without a mention of that most storied and proverbial of threes: the three wishes. Who amongst us hasn’t planned out what three things we might wish for if given this mythical opportunity? Long before Aladdin was the animated classic that it is, I dreamed plenty of afternoons away thinking on just that very subject. As a kid I was wishing for riches, fame and a ton of new toys, as an adolescent I was trying to figure out ways to game the system (wishing for more wishes, etc.), as a teenager I was wishing for love and as a young adult, I was right back to wishing for riches, fame and a ton of new toys. As time goes by it’s not that my “old” wishes don’t apply anymore, it’s just that there are other, more important, wishes in front of it. After all, coming up with three wishes isn’t about making an exhaustive list, it’s about priorities - because, you only get three, and you’d better make them count. And so, as a tribute to the wishers we once were, the ones we are, and the ones we will be, here are my 3 wishes:

1. Smart Money. I wish intelligence traded as well as beauty, fame, and musical talent. I wish there was a way to convince kids, hell - to convince everyone, that intelligence is not an immutable trait; that education is the great equalizer - not social networking, the internet or anything having to do with government. Of all the opportunities given to us, the opportunity to make ourselves smarter is the most liberating, the most empowering and the most unequivocated. You may have to resign yourself to being short, ugly or even not very funny - but you’re only as dumb as you want to be. Ignorance is a choice - which is why I get to make fun of you for it without even the slightest bit of guilt. What is truly disheartening is that ignorance has now gotten its own cache - and we celebrate it with pop culture icons (the Jersey Shore cast, Paris Hilton & Ms. Teen South Carolina), a growing political party (thank you, Sarah Palin) and the notion that it is somehow socially equivalent to an actual education by calling it common sense. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not wishing for the world to be brilliant - there wouldn’t be anything awesome in world where “small talk” was about particle physics, computer programming and organic chemistry; but a world gone dumb is even more insufferable, and a whole lot more frightening.

2. Other People’s Kids. I wish bad parenting was as open to public commentary as bad pet ownership, bad driving and bad manners. I mean, no one is going to let someone’s dog run around without a leash, bark at strangers, or jump up on things without at least saying something - but we’ll sit back and watch someone’s child behave exactly the same way with not so much as a peep. I know I personally don’t let bad drivers off without finding some way to make sure they understand just what I think of their driving ability - sometimes with something as simple as sign language. And though it’s not as commonly corrected as it once was, I’ve at least never seen anyone try and defend the demonstration of poor manners as some sort of universal right. And yet, parenting remains inviolate - and we have decided, as a group, that the right to raise your children poorly, inattentively, or with utter disregard for its consequences has been secretly added to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” I wish that being childless didn’t eviscerate the value of my opinion on parenting - as though there were some sort of special knowledge or judgment imparted by achieving that most basic of biological processes. I wish we didn’t treat every child, no matter their age, or the utter hopelessness of their success, as though they may be a genius, world leader, professional artist or other extraordinary person on the making. I may not be able to walk into a room full of teenagers and tell you which of them will be successful, but I can surely point out the ones that won’t. Like it or not, there are bad parents and bad kids, and more of them than the good kind - I just wish we could admit that so we might actually start to do something about it.

3. Blast to the Past. I wish I could go back and talk to myself at 16 for just five minutes. After all, what’s a list of wishes without one that’s completely preposterous, requires a little bit of magic, and is just a bit selfish? I don’t need long, but there are so many tragedies, missteps and mistakes that I might save myself with just a few bits of advice. I’d tell myself first that it’s all going to work out just fine - no matter how bleak it looks in high school. I’d let him know it’s ok to dance, in fact, that’s going to be the one thing that really saves us. I’d tell him to avoid that backflip, drink a little less in Hawaii and that the sinus surgery really wasn’t that good of an idea after all. I’d tell him to love a little more and work a little less; that his world is going to get a lot bigger than little Lafayette, Colorado, and not to worry, he’ll make good on every bit of talent he was given and every promise he’s made to himself. I’d tell him that, as impossible as it may seem, he’ll end up loving his little sister more than he could possibly imagine. I’d let him know that he will touch and change lives, everywhere he goes. I’d tell him to go ahead and get in that fight - bruises heal. I’d let him take a look at me so he knows that he won’t be 4’11” forever, he’ll get his teeth straightened, finally figure what to do with that hair, and get big and strong enough to hold a girl over his head on one hand. But most of all, I’d let him know that even with all the amazing, challenging and impossible things that will happen, the next twenty years will fly right by - so be sure not to miss too much of it worrying if things are going to turn out alright. Because they do.

* * *

I was once told that, if wishes were like fishes, we’d all have a fry. At the time it didn’t make a whole lot of sense, seemed like the kind of mindless tautological advice offered up by people when they don’t really have anything to say, and gave me a strong craving for fish and chips. But after sitting down to come up with three wishes of my own - it was a reminder that wishes are something that we all have in common. Each of us has seemingly impossible things that we want, for ourselves, for our loved ones and for the world around us. And despite our differences, many of us wish for the very same things. But for some, they are things we work on every day, while for others, they remain secret desires that seldom, if ever, see the light of day. So while we all have wishes, it is perhaps, not what our wishes are that make us different, but rather what our wishes are to us.

May all your wishes come true. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Monday, December 13, 2010

3 Bad Names

We live in a time when parenting as a skill has never been in greater peril or further beyond reproach. The current generation of parents is the least prepared and least cognitively capable in history, and yet their destruction of the social viability of the newest generation is protected as though “parenting” has suddenly appeared in the Bill of Rights. Perhaps one of the most egregious examples of the rearing of the “Can’t Lose” generation is the first real act of parenting foisted upon them: their naming. There was a time when naming children was a tribute to the past or dedication to the people and places which brought them about. That time has passed, and now naming has become about creating an identity for a child long before they even have one, and identifying the parents as creatively inspired people rather than simply loving parents. Far from its intended results, this practice has resulted in a generation of kids named more like a box of crayons than actual people. So while the day of Jimmies, Joes and Jennifers, goes here are 3 names you really shouldn’t give your kids.

1. Old Names. Names grow popular during certain times, and end up being almost assigned to a generation. So while “Ward” & “June” seem like perfectly reasonable names for the parents of the “Beav”, and “Steven” and “Elyse” sound exactly right for the parents of 80’s character icon Alex P. Keaton, hearing those names assigned to modern day kids seems to fit as poorly as their currently fashionable clothing. Honestly, if there’s a colorable reason in 2010 to name a little girl “Beverly” or a little boy “Ronald” then I’d like to hear it. There is a place for naming children after their grandparents or important people from their family history, and it’s called the middle name. While it’s true that many things go in cycles (e.g. music, fashion, economies, etc.) names are not always amongst them. Lately classroom roll calls sound more like nursing home rosters, and its hard to imagine going to a birthday party a Chuck E. Cheese for a kid named “Cyrus”. It’s no surprise to hear that a generation that gets the vast majority of its “inspiration” by plagiarizing past artists looking to the past for creative flair, but its especially disheartening to note their utter lack of taste, perspective or concern when they name their children like the character list from a Golden Girls episode.

2. Flower Sour. Most things that came out of the sixties are forgiven their expressive transgressions, as almost everyone (including new parents) had spent or were spending the majority of their time higher than a hot-air balloon ride. And while this era of substance-inspired hallucination produced some of the most amazing artistic revelations (in music, fine art and performance) we’ve ever known, it also licensed some of the most absurd and irresponsible naming this side of American Indians. The sixties licensed parents to name their children more like pets and fictional characters than actual human beings. Seriously, naming kids after natural objects is only excusable if you’re wasted. Otherwise, Rainbow, Flower and Rock are more like cruel jokes than inspired tributes. Can you imagine what it must be like, in a room full of Jakes and Jennifers what it must be like to be the only “Sunshine” or “Breeze”? If you want to give a child an appreciation for nature, you take them camping or send them to summer camp in the woods, you don’t name them after it. In fact, I can’t think of a better reason for a kid to rebel against the natural movement than being named “Birdsong” or “Moonbeam.” If my parents named me “Lake” or “Sky” I’d be burning up natural resources like a fat kid goes through birthday cake, just to spite them.

3. Miss Spelled. Making spelling mistakes in e-mails is embarrassing. Making spelling mistakes in text messages is forgivable. Making spelling mistakes in naming a child is a more reliable indicator of indignant stupidity than forcing people to wear their SAT scores on their shirts. A quick search for “alternate” spellings of “Kaitlyn” yields fifty six different versions (including the mnemonic gems: Kaitlynne, Catelyn, and Caytlinne; yes, seriously). Creating an uncommon spelling of a common name is about as creative as changing the brand of gas you use and thinking you’re driving a different car. And inserting silent letters into names is the sort of faux originality that makes me want to start slapping people with garden implements. Seriously, Joe with an “X”? It erases any kind of utility you might hope to obtain by giving a kid a decently common name, by forcing them to spell it every time they meet someone. What’s more, how much respect can you possibly have for someone who has a silent “Q” in their name? In any event, they’re fighting an uphill battle when meeting new people. If you want folks to know that your kids are exceptional and unique people, try raising them a generous personality, a strong education and strong sense of self - and give them a name that doesn’t require a disclaimer.

* * *

When it comes to names, I see them a lot like athletic equipment: on their own, they aren’t going to make you great, and if they work properly, they simply help you be as good as you can be; but if they’re bad, really bad, they can make things a whole lot harder for you than they should be, and even put you at a disadvantage. In the end, parents don’t have a responsibility to make you great, but rather to give you the best possible opportunity to do so. Great people don’t come from great, creative or interesting names any more reliably than then they do from “Mike”, “Sarah” or “Scott” - in fact with the five richest people in America being named Bill, Warren, Larry, Christy and Charles, maybe that unique name doesn’t seem like such a can’t miss step to success after all.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

3 Xmas Party Xploits

There is perhaps no single event more threatening to one’s continued employment than the office Christmas party. This seemingly benign or even joyful event, which ostensibly brings co-workers together to celebrate the holiday season, absent from the pressures of the workplace, couldn’t be further from its intended device. Whereas the idea is to remove the hierarchies, formalities and otherwise awkward deference of working relationships in furtherance of a fraternal atmosphere, it ends up being an exercise in pretending to do the same, while being exceptionally careful to not to violate any of those hierarchies, formalities or required deferences. It’s like trying to play Operation during a seizure... while dressed in your Sunday best, and smiling until your face hurts. In short, it’s about as much fun as a cactus hug and a rubbing alcohol bath, and there’s more Christmas spirit in the Black Friday shopping queues than at one of these “parties.” But for the uninitiated, new to the corporate work force, or simply the blissfully unaware, here are 3 things not to do at your company Christmas party:

1. Tipsy Unwelcome. There aren’t many places where it’s a worse idea to get drunk than an office party. In fact, outside of court, church, and children’s birthday parties, I really couldn’t come up with one. Sure there will be alcohol there, but that entire open bar is there solely for use by the boss, the boss’ family and the warehouse/janitorial staff. The remaining liquor, beer, wine, etc. is like those towels in the guest bathroom that your wife/girlfriend will smack you if you actually use them to dry your hands. Of course, you can and should probably have some kind of drink in your hand (because the primary sin at one of these festivals of faux mirth is to appear as though you’re not having a good time), but it should slowly and tastefully disappear (no faster than one drink per hour) without any of it going down your throat. The problem with being even the slightest bit inebriated is that there are dozens of things you want to say to the folks at work, and none of which you should - and the quickest way to get those two things confused comes on the rocks with a cocktail napkin. What’s more, it’s almost certain that someone will wear or do something that will make the urge to say something that much more irresistible. The bad news about this fully stocked and fully un-usable open bar is that it is one of the few things that might make these forced get-together actually bearable, and it’d be a better idea to touch an electric fence than anything that comes over that bar. The good news, however, is that someone won’t heed this advice, and will, from then on, be “the drunk guy/girl” at the office. Here’s hoping that won’t be you.

2. Dressed Down. There is a time to be daring with your formal wear; a time to shake off the strict social morays surrounding what and what not to wear, and to take the occasion to express yourself in that most basic of ways. That time is not in front of your co-workers, your boss, and their families on a Friday night in mid-December where the goal of the event is to not be noticed, mentioned or otherwise memorable in any way. For the ladies, this means that no matter how hard you’ve been hitting the gym, or how long you’ve been dying to break out that little holiday-themed cocktail dress, this is the time to pretend you’re headed to a Little House on the Prairie costume party and to sex it up somewhere just south of Hillary Clinton in the winter. Seriously, for each inch higher than your dress is than the one the boss‘ wife is wearing, you’re about 10% more likely to be remembered as the office slut. This is to show skin like you’re jumping into a shark tank with a bucket of chum. For the gentlemen, the dressing part is easy: suit. And by suit, I mean suit with boring tie. This is not the occasion for the horrible holiday-themed neckwear. You’re still never going to wear that. But the important thing for gents to remember is keeping dressed. Your jacket must stay on, and unless you’re sitting down, it should stay buttoned. If your tie ends up anywhere but securely tied around your neck, you might as well fashion it into a noose. I don’t care if they’ve used a 500 Watt space heater as a centerpiece and you’ve got Niagara Falls running down your back - if you don’t keep dressed like you’re at a funeral, you might very well be at one.

3. Parking On The Dance Floor. If you take nothing else away from this lesson, take this: do not dance; under any circumstances, do not dance. It doesn’t matter if they’re playing your song. It doesn’t matter if your date really wants to. It doesn’t matter if they’ve hired KC and the Sunshine Band, they hit you with a spotlight and the band is threatening to stop playing if you don’t get up. You stay glued to that seat like you’re stapled to it, and keep that look on your face like you’ve just eaten a piece of bad meat. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of dancing. It’s fair to say that I love dancing, and that it might be the one activity that I just can’t do without. But you’d be better off showing up at the party naked, flipping everyone off and toasting the boss with a hearty “screw you” than to be anywhere near the dance floor. There is simply no way to dance at these events without looking like an ass. Even if you’re a good dancer, do not dance. But let’s be honest, you’re not a good dancer. You wouldn’t be a good dancer with Fred Astaire strapped to your back. You look like you’re having a seizure in the middle of an earthquake while being attacked by bees every time you even think about dancing - and doing it in front of your co-workers will be the kind of permanently memorable horror which will stay attached to you no matter what else you do, how well you do it, or how much money you make/save the company. It would be a better idea for you to spontaneously break into dance while you’re actually at work, because at least that way (1) it’s possible no one will notice by the time you regain your sanity and (2) you might actually have a good reason (e.g. big new account, lawsuit settling, etc.). It’s a sure bet that neither one of those is true if you make the mistake of braving the dance floor at your company’s Xmas event.

* * *

No matter what the flyer says, no matter what the boss might tell you, and no matter what you think a holiday party should be about, there are only two things you should be trying to accomplish at this work function: (1) making certain there is some type of evidence (preferably photo-style) that you attended and (2) making certain that’s the only way anyone remembers that you did. A corporate Christmas party is a whole lot more about “corporate” than it is about “Christmas” - in fact, that’s really all it’s about. In a time where employment has never been a more tenuous proposition, and the new year invites companies to take a fresh look at cutting costs (like labor), ‘tis the season for keeping the spotlight (and the target) off of you.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

3 Gifts I Don't Want

I’m impossible to shop for. No, seriously, I am. As the season of giving also marks the season, whether intended or not, of receiving I am reminded of just how truly challenging it has become in the intervening years for friends, family and loved ones to come up with gift ideas for me at this time of year. I’m by no measure a simple man, and the simple pleasures which I do actually have are intangible to the point of not really being helpful in determining possible presents (neither country bars nor evenings in them are readily wrap-able). My taste in tangible objects runs on the pricey side, though not particularly fancy. I see no more value in a pair of shoes, wallet or tie just because it was designed by someone in Italy or France - but, if you can turn my cell phone from a simple voice communications device to a miniature computer with nearly limitless functionality, you can probably name your price (you got that, Steve Jobs?). Nonetheless, the special people in my life are undaunted by my finicky nature and the retail marketplace, eager to mark the economic upswing with the holiday season, is coming on strong with a veritable buffet of gift options. And with that in mind, and in the interests of avoiding that awkward post gift-opening moment, here are 3 Things I Don’t Want For Christmas (nor any occasion for that matter):

1. Clothes Hoarse. There is a time in most men's lives when you really should avoid buying us anything to wear, and that time is from age 30 to age 50. Here’s why: most of us, after three decades of living and at least a decade and a half of dressing ourselves, have figured out (a) what we should be wearing, (b) what we like to wear and (c) what we look good in. Unfortunately, most of us have also been similarly unsuccessfully in impressing any of this knowledge upon the folks that know us best. I love my family to death, but they haven’t successfully picked out an item of clothing for me in ten years, and when they do attempt to break that streak without including a receipt, well they might as well be burning the money they spent. Unlike women, a man cannot reliably out-cute his clothes, no matter how attractive he otherwise might be. An attractive woman can wear a dirty blanket with a rope belt and still be cute - but even Brad Pitt in a cheap suit, ill-fitting pants or a novelty oversized t-shirt looks like a complete asshole. And I couldn’t be further from Brad Pitt if he were permanently stationed on the dark side of the moon (don’t worry ladies, he’s not going anywhere - just a little hyperbole). On the off chance you’ve gotten to know the man in your life well enough to at least know where he shops for clothing, the best garment gift you can give is an associated gift card. Because unless you know a grown man who’s still wearing skateboarding shoes as evening-wear, the only thing you give when you’re giving clothes is Goodwill donation.

2. Inspired. As a writer and at least well-intentioned reader, I certainly do appreciate the gift of a good book. What’s more, based on principle alone, a book is the one gift I am guaranteed not to throw away - no matter how horrible, poorly selected or otherwise ill-considered the title is. However, giving a religious, inspirational or spiritual self-help book is either (a) a thinly veiled attempt at proselytizing based on your belief that I’m a heathen and destined for eternal damnation of some variety, or (b) the result of your determination that I am in significant mental, emotional or spiritual distress. Both are about as welcome as a kick to the groin, and will inspire me to want to smack you with something pointy. Honestly, this is like giving someone a gym membership and trying to explain it’s not because you think they’re fat. Listen, I recognize that it’s part of the religious process to go out and recruit, er, “share” your faith - but you have no doubt learned by now that you can’t convert us all, and you can just go ahead and safely account for me amongst the “already damned/doomed” crowd. As a corollary to this, I wouldn’t be in on the Tea Party if we were in Wonderland and I was personally invited by Alice. So, please also spare me anything written by anyone who regularly appears on Fox News - I get all I can handle from The Daily Show. The only thing you can make me do to lose all respect for you as an intellectual any more quickly than giving me a Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin book would be to show up to my house dressed as a Nazi. If you’re looking for book ideas, steer clear of all of the above and anything recommended by Oprah, and look up the Pulitzer people - they have a solid idea of what we all should be reading.

3. Seriously. I’m not quite sure when giving games and toys to people over the age of twelve went out of style, but there are 364 days each year when I wake up worrying about very serious things, like work, my professional obligations, the health and welfare of my family, etc. But one day a year, I want to wake up to nothing but fun and joy. And though any delusions I held about a fat, old man shooting down my chimney with a bag full of toys are long since gone - the thought that there will be toys under the tree with my name on them (even if I had to buy them myself) gets me bouncing out of bed like I did when I was seven years old. So, here’s a heads up for all the serious people you know, who have serious jobs, lives and lots of serious things to think about (present company included). The very last thing we want to think about on Christmas is any of that. I don’t want a business card holder, a law degree frame or a really nice pen to sign stuff with. I don’t want anything that has to do with the law, pharmacies and especially not Stanford. I don’t want a reminder that I’ve kicked through thirty five Christmases already, and that I might not have as many left. If the first thought in your mind when you look at it isn’t “that will be fun!”, put it back on the shelf and move on.

* * *

Christmas gifts are about both showing and telling; showing someone that you care, and telling them what, how and that you think about them. It’s important to remember both when you’re out there picking presents. Too often I hear the words: “I have no idea what to get for him/her” when that seems like as good of a reason not to get someone anything at all as any. Shopping for Christmas gifts isn’t an occasion to realize that you don’t know a loved one well enough - it’s an opportunity to actually get to know them well enough to buy them something that isn’t generic, affected or horrible. And if that sounds like way too much trouble, you’re probably better off just giving money. In the end and contrary to what you may have been told, what you give is as important as that you give - because no one’s wishing for “good intentions” on Christmas morning, and the best thing you can give anyone is really knowing who they are.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

3 Thanks

In this season of thankfulness, most of us are mindful to remember the people and things that are closest to us. We take time to appreciate our family, our friends and our loved ones and usually do it with a hearty meal, a heaping helping of embarrassing stories from our past, and a healthy dose of football. And so it’s gone for me for as long as I can remember. But this year, I want to give thanks where I’ve long forgotten to do so. This year, I want to be thankful for things that I might otherwise take for granted, whose simple and almost unassuming presence in my life makes it infinitely better, easier or more fun. This year, it’s going to be about gratitude in non-obvious places for non-obvious reasons; an exercise in thanking the hard way. And so with all due deference to my family, my girlfriend, David and the Hawk, here are 3 other thank you’s:

1. You-Google-Eee. I remember logging onto Google for the first time. Back then I had no idea how much that simple little query box would change my life. In the intervening decade, however, it has become as indispensable as my computer itself. It is my white and yellow pages, my primary legal research tool, and the greatest stalking tool since binoculars and the windowless cargo van. But what it is has become most useful for is the instantaneous exposure of stupid people. I remember as a young man, when I would hear the inane ramblings of some uninformed mouth-breathing moron, and think to myself, I wish I had the time to go to the library, look up what he's talking about, and shove that proof directly down his ignorant throat. Or in my wildest imagination, I could have a magical information oracle that I could carry around in my pocket, and when one of these proselytizing fools spoke up, I could type in what they’re attempting to talk about, and in a fraction of a second have the real facts available to expose them as the idiots they are. Google is the Kryptonite I use to slay the red-state, tea party, Fox News retards who think that being told something “by a buddy of theirs”, “by the guy on TV”, or in an e-mail forwarded from a friend of a friend is actual information. A huge Thanksgiving thanks goes out to Larry Page and Sergey Brin for creating the greatest weapon against stupidity since the printing press - at least until we can start euthanizing people with fully functional brains but just too lazy to use them.

2. Everyone Loves Recess... but no one seems to love Recession. I have to say, however, that while I take no joy in the unemployment, financial ruin or familial hardship endured by so many Americans during the recent Recession, I am grateful for it nonetheless. There are certain things that ought to be nearly ubiquitous amongst us if our society is to be considered the overwhelming success that most of us believe it to be: being able to keep properly clothed, well-fed and at least marginally educated, to name a few. However, a 7 MPG, Cadillac SUV with chrome spinner rims, a 5,000 square foot house and more consumer electronics than your local Best Buy are not amongst them. Especially if you’re making $50,000 a year (or less) and supporting a family of four. How we went through the decade of excess, the “me” decade and still didn’t have enough stuff is beyond me, but way-too-easy credit made some of those least able to do so, into our most egregious consumers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about having nice/cool things (those who know me can tell you), but getting them takes work, saving and sacrifice - three concepts about as foreign to modern middle America as respect for the service academies in South Bend. And though it’s awful that it took a near economic collapse for us to realize that luxury isn’t in the Bill of Rights, I’m thankful to see a few less trailer park Ferraris these days.

3. Gone Country. Though I suspect that every generation goes through this, modern day night life is about as appealing to me as going back through puberty. I don’t get the scene, the music, and especially not the prices. I mean, why I would spend a thousand dollars on a bottle of vodka just so I can sit with strangers on a couch (that is washed less often than a taxicab back seat )and watch half-dressed skanks (who I don’t even know) drink it for me just escapes me. Dance clubs where no one dances, “ultra” lounges where everyone is ultra-uptight and guys showing more chest than girls make about as much sense to me as a quantum physics lecture in Farsi. It’s enough to make me give up on going out altogether, but for the one safe haven where the vast majority of this nonsense seems to have failed to penetrate: the country bar. Despite the seismic shifts of popular nighttime entertainment, the modern day “honky tonk” remains much the same as it’s always been: wooden dance floors, mechanical bulls and cheap longneck bottles of beer. I am eternally thankful for this haven from a douchebaggery epidemic so pervasive that it seems almost inescapable at times - and especially at night, when it seems to get ever so much worse. Though it may not be the “coolest” of places, it is consistent and in a world where everything that occurs after sunset seems to be changing for the worst, I’ll thankfully take all the un-changing un-cool I can get.

* * *

Every day, I see "thank you"s becoming more and more scarce. This simple token kindness (which was furiously beaten into me during the whole of my adolescence) seems to have been replaced with indignance and indifference, or the forced manners of an insincere service provider. Thanksgiving has become the sole repository for gratitude rather than a celebration of the thanks we should have been giving all year long. It’s a shame we have to be reminded of anything so basic as gratitude, when it’s likely that hundreds of things are done for each of us each day, without which those days would be impossible if not only impassible. So this year, have a great Thanksgiving, and take the occasion to let the folks closest to you know how much you appreciate them and all the other great things in your life - but don’t forget, a genuine thank you goes just as well with any old meal as it does with turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

3 Superheroes We Were

As it has often been said, youth is indeed wasted on the young. Despite my protestations to the contrary, I know that I’m still a relatively young man - but just when I’m starting to feel particularly youthful I see a few college kids and realize: man, that was a long time ago. There’s no doubt that I believe that the youngest generation may show less promise and hope for the future than any that has preceded it (including the ones that endured plagues) - but that doesn’t mean they are powerless. In fact, as I look back on my own youth, I had no idea what powers or even superpowers I had ... until I lost them. Now, as a regular human going through life with the pedestrian limitations of the rest of the folks populating the 35-54 demographic (boy, does it suck to write that), I find myself not missing the social awkwardness, the hormone-fueled single-mindedness, or the utter lack of impulse control, but missing desperately my relative indestructibility, youthful exuberance, and other powers. So, as we prepare for yet another season of superhero movies and fantasies about flying wizards, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on 3 superpowers we all had - back when were young:

1. Walk It Off. I remember a time when injuries were a nuisance - an unwanted break in the action - which might force me to miss a few minutes of a hotly contested pick-up game, a recess chase or a practice. I remember the boundless optimism I took for granted with which I knew that I’d heal and I’d be back. I remember when after taking a nasty spill, I’d get up and walk it off. And all of those memories seem like a long, long time ago - like in-“Sepia”-tones long time ago. These days, if I stub a toe I’m feeling it a week later, and a real injury is likely going to last through the better part of the year. Now the first thing I think of when someone says “rehab” isn’t the Betty Ford Clinic or the pool party at the Hard Rock Casino, it’s spending humble mornings with a physical therapist lifting colored weights and rolling myself around on hard foam logs. My collection of athletic equipment, which used to consist of gloves, pads, straps and cleats, now has more braces and wraps than anything else. It’s a like a little neoprene shrine to my mid-30’s. Looking back, I’m pretty sure if I had been patient enough, I could have actually watched my body heal (Wolverine-style) in a matter of minutes right before my eyes. Nowadays, the only thing “super” about my healing ability is how fast it appears to have abandoned me.

2. Time Travel. Just like Deana Carter, I still remember when 30 was old. When life seemed long. No matter how hard I wished for it, time seemed to trickle along with all the velocity of a Palm Springs track meet. If memory serves, I’m pretty sure I was sixteen for about four years. School years (which were, in reality, only from late September to early June) seemed to last forever, and summers seem to stretch far beyond their allotted three months. Despite spending much of my youth despising my ability to stretch these days and months into years - there always seemed like plenty of time to do anything; to do everything. No venture or adventure was ever abandoned because of a lack of time to do it. Being “tired” was something I could always just will myself out of, or completely obliterate with a short nap. In short, time was both my friend and my enemy. I’m certain that my fevered desire to grow up as quickly as possible (due to an extraordinarily awkward youth) prevented me from truly enjoying the power to slow time to a crawl. But as my days, weeks, months and years (!!) begin to fly by like so much highway landscaping, I find myself wishing for even a vastly diminished version of it - if only to make the football, barbecue and weather of the fall last just a little bit longer. And though a younger me would kill me for saying it, I’d even be happy to let the intolerably hot, kids-out-of-school, and only-baseball-to-watch summer keep flying right by.

3. Guts of Steel. I’m fairly certain that, should circumstances have every really required it, that my teenage digestive system could have successfully processed a standard-sized bicycle (or similar mechanical device). When I think back on what I considered to be a “meal” back then, it’s a wonder that I wasn’t simply absorbed back into the earth on any number of times where I laid down in some open field. I dumped all manner of junk down my throat, with little if any regard for nutritional value of any sort. And I found it nearly impossible to gain weight. Yes, seriously. I tested the extremes of my ability to tolerate both heat and cold, and distinctly recall letting my ego decide how spicy I ordered my food. This power allowed me an almost carefree experience at any meal or eating establishment, and is all but gone today. Lately I make most of my food choices based on the amount of time in the gym I’ll need to spend working off whatever delicious morsel I’m considering. And when it comes to spicy foods, my GI tract demands that I take into careful account the risk-reward of telling the chinese food cook that where I’d like my Kung Pao chicken the 1-10 hot-scale (i.e. 10 will incite a full-on GI rebellion, and even a 7 will likely result in tears sooner or later). It’s not that I’m not grateful to finally be considering just exactly what I’m eating these days - I just miss the time when antacid was just something in funny commercials.

* * *

Of course as the universe takes away, it also gives, and with the loss of many of the superpowers of our youth comes a wisdom, confidence and presence that I wouldn’t trade to have all those powers back. With the diminishment of our physical abilities comes the savvy to use the ones we retain to even greater resource. There is greater joy in becoming a “wily, old veteran” than my old “rookie” self could have ever imagined. Looking back on these powerful days is, however, a reminder that as we sit and watch our youngest generation slip into an ever more comprehensive and unbelievable self-delusion, apathy, and ignorance, we are not simply dimming our previously bright future, but we may be wasting our most powerful resource - and eliminating all hope of finding the heroes we’ll need, super or otherwise.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

3 Military Myths Busted

Veterans Day is a second-tier holiday for most folks. Outside of a few parades, some military tributes on TV and an outside chance at a day off, it ranks alongside Columbus Day, Arbor Day and MLK Day as either an “Oh, is that today?” holiday or a “Federal employees are off for what?” holiday. But it is a reminder, eight years after I walked off a base for the last time, that I gave ten years to the Navy, and got more back in return than I ever could have hoped for. If it weren’t for the Navy, the Naval Academy, the submarine service and the tireless efforts of countless mentors along the way, I would never be where I am today, never have gotten as far as I have gone. Along that leadership gauntlet, and in that professional crucible, I became the man I am today. But after a decade, I took a look around and realized that things had changed. The way the rest of society looks at its warrior class has shifted, and is rife with misconception, misunderstanding and simple misinformation. So, as my own tribute to my veteran brethren, here are 3 things you need to know about the modern military:

1. Perks Up. There was a time when joining the military meant inuring to the benefit of countless government perqs; including top-notch comprehensive health care, high-quality housing, and financial support of post-secondary education. That time was the 1960’s - and just like everything else from that era, it’s mostly gone. Military health care is performed with no malpractice recourse for its recipients - and like any other consequence-free environment, the product suffers as a result. Imagine what kind of car repair you’d get if you didn’t have to pay for it (nor did anyone else), and the only thing you could do if they irreparably damaged your car was to ask the same people to try and fix it again (or just get really mad). The housing, which was new in the 60’s (and hasn’t been updated since), is now just north of the “Projects”, with that similar warm, institutional feel. And the educational benefits which were more than adequate to cover even pricey institutions back in the day, are now barely enough to cover the price of community college. I’m not sure where or when people got the idea that the “G. I. Bill” is some magical plan that covers all a veteran’s or service member’s educational expenses no matter where you want to go - but that’s more of a fantasy than the Notre Dame leprechaun riding a unicorn down a yellow brick road after winning a decent bowl game. The good news is that the next time you tell one of us how good we have/had it with all of our government “benefits”, you won’t have to wonder why we’re looking at you like you crapped on our front lawn.

2. Army of Four. Okay, listen, this isn’t rocket science, and it is something every citizen ought to have at least a rudimentary understanding of. There are four major military services and they are not all parts of the “Army”. It’s the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. With the exception of the Navy and Marines, we don’t share bases (i.e. not every military installation is a place you can find all of the above), and outside of the horrible pay scale the services have very little in common. There are different ranks, different jobs, and completely different languages to refer to many of the same things. It’s your freedom we’re out there defending, after all - the least you could do is know the basics of how we’re doing it. While we’re talking about it, there are also three major service academies: The U.S. Military Academy at West Point (Army), The U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis (Navy/Marines) and The U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs (Air Force). We are not affiliated, and there is only one of each (I was once asked if I knew about the Naval Academy in Oklahoma - yes, seriously). We are rival schools, so we’re not keen on being confused with one another. And finally, the services are huge. As of June, there were over 1.4 million active duty service members. What does this number mean to you? It means that the likelihood that we’ll know personally, the one person that you know who served in the same service as we did, is about the same as you hitting the lottery on your next trip to the Gas N‘ Sip - so maybe you can wipe that disappointed look off your face, and just be thankful that both of us were willing to go out and do what we did.

3. Stupid Is As Stupid Doesn’t. No matter what you’ve seen in the movies, read on the internet or heard from your friends, the military is not a repository for the leftovers after universities, community colleges and trade schools have taken their pick. I know what you’re thinking - no one out there really thinks that do they? Yes, they do. John Kerry thinks it - and more importantly, the extensive staff of articulate, educated and intelligent speechwriters and strategists thought it, too. Take it from someone who went to military school - even when it comes to the folks on those storied campuses, most people think we’re there because we couldn’t get into the Harvards, Yales and Princetons. And while it may be true that there isn’t a whole lot of “old money” (or new money for that matter) in the service - I can assure that there is no shortage of intelligence. There are just as many reasons for joining as there are people that join, but precious few include being a “last resort” or “an alternative to jail.” Those days are long gone. The military is not a federal reform school for miscreants or group therapy for people with anger management issues. I personally know dozens of men and women who worked hard, did their homework, made an effort to be smart and still ended up in the desert in Iraq - fighting for their country, and the freedom for someone to be stupid enough to say that kind of nonsense out loud.

* * *

More so that most other things you can choose to do when you’re 18, the military is less something you’ve done and more something that you are. And while every society since the dawn of man has had its warrior-class, the similarity between them mostly ends there. In some nations, the fighting force is revered and held up as kings, in others, they are servants and peasantry. The one thing they do have in common, however, is that you can’t really know what it’s like unless you’ve done it yourself. One of the greatest things about the American military is that we live among you - both during and after our service. Take this opportunity, not to say thank you, not to tie a ribbon around anything, and not to simply attend a parade. No, take this opportunity to get to know the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that you already see everyday - you might be surprised what you find, you might be even more surprised at what you don’t.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

3 Please Stop Sayings

One of the most glorious things about modern pop culture is the speed with which it generates new ideas and abandons old ones. Pop doesn’t last long because it’s not supposed to, and as a result, it is a genre of content populated by things that burn quickly and bright, suffusing our everyday life - welcome or not - and then running off as briskly as they arrive. This pleasing cycle of brain candy is just the sort of thing that keeps the brains of the ADD generations satiated and fuels the information appetite of a society spoiled by the endless flow of the information superhighway. There are, from time to time, stubborn bits of cultural flotsam that cling to the shore despite the raging river - things that have long overstayed their welcome, for which discernible value can be derived and whose very survival defies any notion of cultural gentility that one might even begin to have. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the cliches, quips and sayings which make up our linguistic lexicon. Sayings bolt in and out of popular use and often signpost our cultural eras (e.g. “groovy”, “bitchin’”, “the bomb”, etc.) but those that don’t bolt out remind us of all the bad parts of what we were five minutes ago and are about as welcome as a turd in the swimming pool. So in the interests of getting back to the future, here are 3 sayings that people need to stop... well, you know:

1. What it Isn’t. There has always been something to say when there’s nothing to say. But never has that something been as inane and mind-numbing as “it is what it is.” Even worse than the valueless assertion of this tautology is the smug look on its usual offeror’s face as though they offered some timeless bit of wisdom which will unlock the mystery of your current consternation. This is less of a conclusion than the finale of the Sopranos. Oh, is it what it is? Wow, thanks Steven Hawking - now that you’ve cleared that up, I won’t have to worry about singularities, quarks and white matter, because it’s all clear to me now. I’m also now able to finally connect the dots and understand that it isn’t what it isn’t, it was what it was, and it will be what it will be. Honestly, I’d rather you just shrug your shoulders and do your best Chewbacca impression than offer up this kind of intellectual masturbation. I don’t know how this phrase came into common use, and I don’t know who started it - but if I ever find out, I’ll take them out into the street and slap them with a garden rake. Repeatedly. If this phrase ever pops into your head, and you’re thinking about uttering it, do us all a favor and go with what you’re really supposed to say when you have no idea: “I don’t know.”

2. A Hard Day’s Trite. I recognize that there’s no spectacularly cool way to preface a conclusion in a conversation. Unless you’re giving a speech (i.e. at a lectern) you can’t say “in conclusion” without sounding like a dick, and unless you’re a lawyer, if you even write “in light of the foregoing” people will immediately want to kick you in the face. But if I hear one more person tell me what’s going to happen “at the end of the day”, I just might end theirs early. What’s worse, I hear this particular mindless preface offered up when someone is about to disregard everything someone else has just said, in lieu of their own vastly oversimplified conclusion. E.g. (following a detailed statistical explanation of a sports matchup) - “Well sure, but at the end of the day, the team that scores more points is going to win.” I’ve gotten less infuriating responses when trying to make a point to a group of tweens. I’d rather be told to shut up in the middle of what I’m saying than have someone wipe away the whole of it by offering up this drivel. The only thing that’s certain to happen “at the end of the day” is the peace I’ll get from not having to hear anyone utter this crap. If you’re thinking of punctuating a conversation with a personal deduction that you’ve derived from things you’ve learned from television, forwarded e-mails or your bong-fueled amateur philosophy discussions - do us all a favor and keep it to yourself, at least until the end of the day.

3. Apocalypse How. I know it’s difficult to come up with something to say when someone is having a bad day, has had an untimely tragedy, or is just in the midst of an unlucky stretch, but offering up an unlikely worse-case scenarios with the preface of “it could be worse” is about as palliative as just smacking them and telling them to “snap out of it.” I’m not quite sure how this particularly ineffective method of giving someone perspective came to be widely used - but using extra negativity to combat negative feelings seems like the psychological equivalent of fighting fire with a flamethrower, yelling at someone with anger management issues, or taking an alcoholic to a bar to talk things over. Even more baffling are the improbable examples offered up by these amateur psychoanalysts when trying to offer a comforting outlook. I’ve actually heard someone try to comfort a friend over the sickness of a loved one, by opining that “could be worse, they could have died”; someone try to make a friend feel better about a pay-cut/demotion by offering “could be worse, you could be unemployed”; and someone try to help a friend cope with an abusive living situation by by offering “could be worse, you could be homeless.” Really, wow, thanks Nostradamus, I was trying to think of how things could be better, and why they’re not - but I appreciate you directing me right back to the worst possible thing. If this is your idea of help, you’re better off keeping quiet and sending a card instead.

* * *

With the amount of dialogue required of most of us in a day, it’s no surprise that we find ourselves leaning on the intellectual ease that cliches offer us. After all, coming up with something to say to people whom we don’t take that much interest in can sometimes seem like a mammoth imposition. Unfortunately, this malaise often sneaks its way into our other interactions - you know, the ones we really do care about? Cliches and sayings come into existence for a reason, because they express something ubiquitous - but in their commonality they also become affected, impersonal and sterile. Our heads are filled with literally thousands of them - because they are all around us, and we can’t help that they pop up. But before you use one, especially one of the above, remember, at the end of the day, it is what it is, and it could be worse, you could not be able to talk at all. Come to think of it, that might not be so bad after all.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

3 Cable Catches

There have been very few technological constants for my generation. We were the generation that started with Atari and now has the Playstation 3; the generation that started with mobile phones in shoulder bags and now has the iPhone; the generation that started with dial in BBS’ and now was the world-wide-web. But for all that change there has been once constant, one wondrous bit of technology that still gets in and out of our houses and lives the same way it did when we were kids, one word as essential to our lives as water, power, and lights: cable. We were the first generation who didn’t know about “rabbit ears” and rooftop antennas. Cable was and is the media engine driving the freight train of middle-class suburbia. In a wireless world, cable is a hard line connection to the information and entertainment superhighway of the world - from the time when it was a few dozen channels, to the time when it will be a few thousand. But for all its wonder, cable’s constancy can produce just as much frustration as it does comfort. That magic black wire coming out of wall connecting you to limitless worlds of wonder also connects to a massive media conglomerate which is less functional that the Palin family in November, and often times makes less sense. So, here are 3 things to hate about the cable we love:

1. Addicted to A Lot Of. It’s not as though there aren’t alternatives to cable. As impossible as it may seem, television is still broadcast over the air, and you can still get the internet through your phone line. But the idea of watching only eight network channels feels like living in a communist country with state-run TV stations and dial-up internet feels about as functional as having the internet completely in Chinese. Like it or not, we’ve become accustomed and addicted to the information superhighway, and the information dirt road offered by these antiquated systems almost seems worse than not having any access at all. Not only do I expect a couple hundred channels, I also expect to have the programming guide built into my television and I’d be more likely to pick up an Us Magazine than a TV Guide. If I saw an antenna on a house, I’d also immediately begin looking for pet chickens, a car on cinder blocks and at least one piece of household furniture being used outside. And if I heard anyone using their telephone line to log into AOL, I would also expect them to, at some point, ask me if I could loan them some money to help them with a scheme to wire a lost fortune to a member of the Nigerian royal family who e-mailed them right after they express their concern that eBay might be a scam. Cable has given me a jones for data and data rates as bad as any substance addiction - and even worse, has made me (as the addict) look at everyone who isn’t addicted like there’s something wrong with them. Thanks, cable... now get me my fix.

2. Holding to No One. It’s not often that I have to actually call the cable company. Aside from starting and stopping service, or inquiring about why the latest weather condition has rendered a system that uses underground cabling useless, it’s mostly a hands-free relationship. But on those rare occasions I’m reminded that the cable obviously doesn’t expect many calls either - because they apparently only have one customer service representative for every three states, and my “approximate hold time”, even if I call at 3 in the afternoon on a Tuesday, is going to be about 45 minutes. All of this can be explained by corporate (if not good customer service) policy. But what I cannot get my head around is why the company which provides me access to nearly limitless entertainment options has the same mind-numbing smooth jazz on-hold music that they had in the 1970’s. Seriously, my own cable service has fifty channels of just music in almost every conceivable genre, and yet when I’m stuck on hold for the better part of an hour, I’m forced to listen to music that sounds like it was compiled from the trash bin behind an “easy listening” AM radio station. This is like going to Sony corporate headquarters and being forced to watch TV in their lobby on a black and white tube set that takes ten minutes to warm up after you turn it on. C’mon cable, if you’re selling entertainment choices, how about providing me some when I’m forced to spend an hour on hold just to tell you I’m moving.

3. Window Stopping. I’m still not quite certain why initiating cable service requires an on-site visit, because they can damned sure turn it off remotely (try not paying your bill if you don't believe me). Personally, I suspect that the cable-installers union has some sort of dirt on the cable company executives (e.g. the sweetheart deal they have with the “hold muzak” folks) which is keeping them involved in the installation process - because from what I can tell, all they do is connect the wall to your TV, call into the office (which is who really turns it on) and then asks you if you need any help setting your TV up. And for all of this “work” you get to pay 60 bucks. To make any more doing any less, I’m pretty sure you’d have to start taking some clothing off. But what is truly annoying about this “service call” is the scheduling of it. For every other conceivable home service, you can schedule an hour during which you can expect the service provider to arrive. But for cable, you get to select a four hour window, which you can expect the cable provider to arrive approximately 30 minutes after it concludes. If the rest of us were that incapable of planning our time, we’d be fired, alone and/or hungry. Don’t believe me? Try giving your boss, your significant other or your favorite restaurant a four hour window for when you plan on showing up. There’s no better indication that cable is giving us a product we can’t live without than the fact that we actually put up with this as “customer service”.

* * *

No matter how we may rage against it, we are a culture of consumption, excess and addiction. And as our addictions have shifted, changed and matured, the truly successful have been those in the best position to peddle it to us when our social curiosities blossom into full-on cultural shifts: big tobacco, big pharma and now, big data. The newest generations consume data at an exponentially higher rate than any before them, multitasking has become the status quo, and the inability to receive input from more than one source is antiquated to the point of being a cognitive handicap. As our data appetites have grown in both volume and variety, cable has been there, always willing to provide us a new or additional serving, albeit at a price. For all the unsavory, inexplicable and horrible things about it, cable offers our drug of choice in its purest and most potent form - and like any other drug dealer, they do it with all the corporate style of a velour track suit, ostentatious jewelry and an over-tinted windows. But as we gather reasons to hate them, perhaps we should wonder which we hate more: the billion dollar fat-cat company that irresponsibly feeds our info-jones, or just how much we need them?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

3 Irish Flubs

In four short days, the Notre Dame football season will, for all practical purposes, come to an abrubt and thankful ending. Because after this Saturday, there will be nothing left for the Fighting Irish to play for. Four years after the world’s most presumptuous, pretentious and unknowledgable sports fans finally watched the most lopsided rivalry in the history of college football come to an end, they’ll get to watch it happen again (for the third time in four years) - on the world’s biggest stage. Because on October 23, 2010 the brand new sparkling $1.5B Meadowlands Stadium (new home to the New York Giants and New York Jets, and football’s biggest church) will host its very first college football game, and a once proud dynasty will meet a still proud dynasty, as Navy and Notre Dame clash for the 84th consecutive time. There is no more idyllic clash in sports; and nowhere where good versus evil has clearer sides. But on the off chance you’re new to this annual battle, here are 3 reasons to want Navy to beat Notre Dame:

1. Blue-ish Bloods. There is only one thing that I hate more than blue-blooded, entitled, high-society, family-moneyed douchebags, and that’s wanna be blue-blooded, entitled, high-society, family-moneyed douchebags. I mean, the U.S. version of the gold-domed Notre Dame couldn’t be any farther from its Roman counterpart if it was on the moon. Be honest, if you didn’t already know the school was there, what exactly would you expect to find in a town called South Bend, Indiana? One stoplight? Bunch of old guys sitting in a barber shop talking about high school football? A crooked sheriff that everyone knows and a couple of crazy kids in a tricked out Dodge Charger? (Wait, maybe that's Hazzard County.) Seriously though, the closest three towns to South Bend are: Mishawaka, Granger and Elkhart. No, I'm not kidding. Now tell me you’d even guess “Indiana” if I asked you which state those towns were in, let alone whether or not you’d expect that they ring some gilded palace of learning and athletic excellence. Don’t worry, though, they don’t. Of course they think they’re better than the hard-working blue collar state that hosts it, which makes it all the more satisfying to watch the bluest of blue collared schools show them that they bleed red, just like the rest of us.

2. Glory Daze. It’s one of the most American of phenomena, and also one the most universally insufferable. In a culture where the highest values are placed on youth and success while young, it comes as little surprise when many of us hold on to the past a little longer than we should. For most, it’s retelling stories of our scholastic triumphs just a little too often to be interesting, with just a little too much embellishment to be believable, or just a little too proudly to be laughed off as casual reminiscence. But for the Notre Dame fan, it’s something else altogether. For them, it is reliving a past they know little (if anything) about. And for any of them under the age of thirty, it’s a past they can’t recall - because they weren’t born yet. The last great quarterback to come from this purported "Quarterback U" was Joe Montana - Class of ’79. Which is just 15 years later than the last great quarterback from Navy (Roger Staubach). And if 15 years sounds like a long time, it’s more than twice that long since Montana’s rookie NFL season. Despite the fact that the last time they were nationally relevant I was still an undergrad (trust me, that’s a long time ago), Irish fans talk about national championships and undefeated seasons every year. If there was ever a team made to relieve Notre Dame fans of these delusions, it’s one that uses its past successes as a source of humility and perspective rather than as a set of blinders and an excuse to treat a ten-year pattern of mediocrity as an aberration.

3. Dis-mission. At its very heart, the University of Notre Dame, its fans, its students and its football team believe that the military is something that you do if you’re not smart enough to go to college - a sort of national trade school that affords the proletariat the opportunity to, at the very least, risk their lives so that the privileged few who are fortunate enough to matriculate upon their hallowed grounds can be kept safe and free from worry from a world filled with violent and uneducated hegemony. As John Kerry famously opined, they believe that the military is a punitive occupation that you are resigned to if you don’t work hard enough in school. They pay patronizing tribute to the service academies when they come to play football - treating the games like charity exhibitions where they aren’t really going to have to play; after all, they have gifted blue-chip recruited athletes, and as far as they're concerned, we’re playing the game with a few reformed criminals, ruffians and mouth-breathers that we cobbled together just before the season. There is no greater standard-bearer for this Age of Entitlement than the Univerisity of Notre Dame, which feels to its core, that it ought to win just for showing up. If you can’t root against a team like this, and for the team they most routinely dismissed - you’re hardly a football fan, in fact, you’re hardly an American.

* * *
For 43 straight years, from 1964 to 2006, Navy walked off the field of play with the Fighting Irish in defeat. For 43 straight years, a nation of mindless Notre Dame fans, minds filled with the fictions of “Rudy” and the lisped warblings of Lou Holtz, watched their prejudices validated every November - and slept peacefully in the knowledge that no matter their own personal inadequacies, their boys in blue and gold (colors which we had first anyways) would triumph over those haggard souls relegated to paid service of their nation on the front lines of war. But then it all ended. And the opponent they least suspected rose up and delivered a long overdue comeuppance - on the their own home turf, no less. Two years later, we did it again. And on Saturday, with the arrival of a new coach and a few cupcake victories having stoked the fires of South Bend entitlement once more, good will again triumph over evil, hard work and heart will again triumph over birthright and apathy, this year’s Matt Coutures will watch their ill-fated season ended at the hands of real warriors, and maybe, just maybe they’ll realize that’s the way it should have been all along.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

3 Dance Dance De-Evolutions

There's no doubt that dancing changed my life. It was the singular vehicle responsible for transforming me from a shy wallflower to the gregarious extrovert that most of you know today. I’ve written many times about the joy and wonder of dance, suggested it as therapy for just about any manner of blues and waxed poetic on the dance club where I really learned what dancing was all about. But in keeping with their tradition of bastardizing, perverting and utterly destroying any institution they get a hold of, the latest generations are having a similar effect on my most beloved of pastimes. There are of course, notable exceptions. At its highest levels, dancing has actually become more athletic, more artful, and more amazing. Unfortunately, everyone else couldn’t be further from these talented artists. Today’s dancing is yesterday’s seizure, lewd gesture or assault. After nearly twenty years spent on dance floors of nearly every shape, size and style, I may not know what good dancing is, but I surely know what it’s not. Here are 3 of the very worst examples of bad dancing for the casual observer:

1. Drop it like it’s not. Ladies, when someone asks you (1) if you like to dance or (2) if you know how to dance, please understand - they are asking two very different questions. The biggest difference being, the correct answer (for the vast majority of you) to the first question is “yes” and to the second question, a resounding “no.” You being good at shaking your ass is not you being good at dancing, it’s just you being good at shaking your ass (and most likely deluded even about that). Dancing like a stripper - sans pole, Motley Crue music, acrylic heels, or getting paid for it - makes you look, at best, desperate, and at worst, like a whore. Trying to look sexy looks just like trying to do anything does (or in other words, not sexy). The key element is not looking like someone with a muscle condition while dancing is to be genuine, because there is no other activity where being affected is more obvious (or more difficult to watch). Trying to emulate moves you saw on a Britney Spears or Pussycat Dolls video is a solid guarantee you won’t look anything like either.

2. Doin’ the Hump. Gentlemen, sneaking up behind a girl and driving your pelvis into her backside is not an invitation to dance, it’s sexual battery. While this type of behavior may be o.k. in rap videos, Spring Break in Mexico, and the Real World - everywhere else it’s actionably criminal. And though this will likely come as a shock to anyone who regularly engages in the this type of behavior, you’re not a star musician, a party host in Cabo or on reality TV. I honestly can’t recall when this became a widely accepted method of asking a woman to dance, but I suspect it was right about the same time that young men starting trying to attract women by making their crappy cars louder (rather than making them less crappy). What’s more, on the off chance you have successfully achieved an invitation to dance with a woman, a clumsy imitation of your sexual technique is about as enjoyable to watch as two dogs going at it in an alley. Trust me, you have a better chance of getting lucky with a proposition on a hand-painted sign around your neck than you do with your epileptic air-humping.

3. Strictly Ridiculous. Listen, I think it’s great that you’ve got the time and dedication to have taken ballroom dance lessons, and even better if you’ve done it with your significant other and the two of you are able to waltz the night away. But please be clear that (1) not every dance floor is a ballroom and (2) ballroom dancing to music other than ballroom music is like wearing black tie attire everywhere you go; or in other words: it makes you look like an asshole. Bringing special dance shoes to a nightclub is the only thing lamer than bringing your pool cue in its own little suitcase. Dancing with the Stars is a hit because it’s ridiculous, not because it's awesome. Besides, watching you prance around like you accidentally sat on your plunger isn’t even fun to laugh at, because you’re not famous. There’s a reason that ballroom dancing competitions (that don’t involve celebrities) are hard to find on television: because no one wants to see them. Besides, the last time being good at that kind of dancing made you look better than everyone else, folks were wearing powdered wigs and tights. If you find, while looking around to see how impressed everyone is with your hand-placement or soft-shoes, people looking at you like you’re covered in a thin layer of feces, take a hint and save that crap for rest of the douche-bags in your dance class.

* * *

To be certain, this list could have been a whole lot longer. I just didn’t have space to mention flailers, bumpers, and mimes (just to name a few dance floor tragedies that I’m sure you’ll recognize). But for all the horrors I’ve seen on countless dance floors, both public and private, I’ve seen just as many amazing, hilarious and heartwarming things. And for all the times I’ve wanted to run from them screaming (or at least scratching my head), there’s still no place I’d rather be. And with all that time on the dance floor, I’ve learned a few inalienable truths: First, good dancing has a lot more to do with being yourself than it does with technique, skill, or fancy moves. Second, it’s almost impossible to overcome a lack of rhythm, but a good sense of humor is your best hope. And third, unless you’re dancing for money, relax - it’s supposed to fun, and no one worth worrying about really cares anyway.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

3 Bad Threes

So far it’s been a pretty good year of threes. There have been good threes and bad threes, threes to laugh about and threes to cry about, but there’s no doubt that no matter what the threes have been, it’s been good to have threes. It’s been said that good things come in threes, and that three is a magic number. And while I am certainly and obviously a fan of threes, there are certain threes that should be avoided. You know that tricky third step down to the basement, that third period geometry class and Door Number 3 during Let’s Make a Deal? Of course, those are the evil third, threes and triples that you already know. So as your resident master of threes, here are 3 threes to steer clear of:

1. The third drink. There come a point in every evening which involves adult beverages when the decision is made to either keep it slow and steady, let the buzz wear off and get yourself home in decent shape or to pound them like you’re at a frat party, lose almost complete control of yourself (including your major bodily functions) and rely on your friends (or the kindness of strangers) to get you home. And this point is directly following your second drink. You see, the first drink is a nice reminder that you’re a grown up, usually something tasty (top shelf stuff), and is just enough to take a little edge off your day. The second drink is a confident nod to the cocktail waitress or bartender, a confirmation that the work day is officially over and a little well-deserved comfortably numb. At this point, you can still have an intelligent conversation (provided you are capable of one sober), walk around without stumbling, and reliably tell the difference between what’s funny and what’s not. You can even look cool turning down that all-important third drink - decrying the need to drive yourself home, work tomorrow, or just not hate yourself in the morning. But one drink later, you’re that guy/girl, forgetting yourself and your better judgment, apt to do at least one thing you’ll regret or have to be reminded about, and irrevocably altering peoples’ opinions of you. Tying one on regularly is a solid plan, tying three on regularly makes you a drunk.

2. The third course at a meal. It’s no secret, the United States is a fat-ass nation. Or perhaps more accurately, the U.S. is a nation of fat-asses. We do portion control like the Middle East does human rights. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a good meal, and like nothing more than the amazing variety of food that is at my fingertips as a result of living in America. But no matter how fancy, incredible or enjoyable the meal, having a third course is the difference between a having great eat and needing a second seat. In practice, what this means is having the appetizer or the dessert - but not both. Sure, they’re going to try to sell you both, but that’s because they make more money when you do - and they don’t have to pay for the gym membership, the bigger pants or the diabetes medication that you’re going to need when you start free-basing chocolate cake to punctuate your nights spent dining out. It’s always shocking to me after eating at a place like the Cheesecake Factory which brings out livestock-sized portions for entrees that you couldn’t finish with three goes at it, and then has the audacity to come offer you an 8-inch high slice of cheesecake that you can gain weight from just smelling. Of course, a quick look around, however, debunks the mystery of who exactly they’re catering to when you spot a couple of super-sized patrons plowing through their dessert course like it’s trying to scamper off their plate. Trust me, unless you want to look like a walking “Before” picture, keep the number of courses at two.

3. The third unbuttoned button. The buttons on a man’s shirt seem innocuous enough. I mean, at first glance, they’re just there to connect one side of the shirt to the other - but in practice, they mean/say so much more. The top button is simple: the only good reason to fasten it is to button a collar in preparation for a tie, because without a tie, a buttoned top button is the most reliable indication of religious zealotry outside of carrying a bible. So, unless you’re strapping up for business, you get one non-button for free. One. The second button is the difference between business casual and actual casual. It’s a necessary accompaniment to wearing that same shirt untucked. It’s the last button you should have to undo on your own during a sufficiently romantic evening. The third button, by comparison, should only be undone when removing the shirt. An unbuttoned third button is the dress shirt equivalent of having “Affliction” written on your t-shirt, and male equivalent of the bare midriff. If you think you need to have three buttons undone to comfortably wear your shirt, there’s a strong possibility you need a bigger shirt and an even stronger possibility that you’re vastly overestimating your size, the aesthetic appeal of your chest, or the likelihood that everyone around you wants to see it. Trust me, the only thing that you can have hanging around your neck that I’m going to need to see is a winning lottery ticket with my name on it. Everything else makes you look like an even bigger douche than your vastly over-bared chest is already doing. If someone really wants to see your torso, they’ll let you know; for the rest of us, two buttons worth is all we can handle.

* * *

In this year of threes, it’s turned out that there are just as many bad threes as good threes, and perhaps even more. And while three is certainly a special number, sometimes it’s just as good of indicator of what not to do. As you might expect, I’m usually a big fan of folks getting to three, because for me, it usually means that I’ve gotten someone to read past 1000 words, and in this age of twitter feeds, micro-blogs and instant updates, that’s a miracle all its own. But, I’d gladly sacrifice a few readers if it meant dealing with a few less drunks, fatties or chest cleavage-baring ass-hats. The fact is that there are no magic numbers, three or otherwise, that excuse you from using your three most important weapons against dumbassery: your brain, your judgement and if all else fails, a mirror.