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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.