Latest 3 Things

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

3 Holiday Humbugs

On its face, I suspect this topic will be about as popular as a second William Hung album, but I have strong suspicion that I’m not as alone as you might think.  And in interests of just putting it out there without further delay: I hate the holidays.  It feels like every year we’re expected to amp up the good tidings and holiday cheer to even more asinine and inhuman levels as some sort of panacea to an ever-more-depressing “real world” (otherwise known as the other eleven months) which appears to be on the brink of crashing down around us at any moment.  Doomsday clocks are counting down, international economies are failing more rapidly than kids being videotaped skateboarding and there are so many currently-occurring global pandemics (medical and social) that you have to Google them to keep track.  Makes you long for the good old days when there was only one plague at a time.  And because we seem to have universally decided that we’ll use December to forget all this horribleness, the holidays have grown much larger than their humble religious roots - they are a pandemic all their own.  So, for my fellow Scrooges out there, those out in the open, and even more so for those who suffer in silence, here are 3 things I hate about the holidays:

1. The Loneliest Number.  For single people, the entire month of December is a crescendo of loneliness, worthlessness and self-loathing that culminates in a globally-celebrated reminder that you’re going to die alone.  If it didn’t know any better, I would swear that they actually truck happy-looking couples into the cities, just to walk around the shopping haunts I normally frequent looking like an endless collection of Eharmony testimonials.  Seriously.  Because under normal circumstances, Wal-Mart is the most reliable sign of the coming social and intellectual Apocalypse since the Jersey Shore made it to a second season, but during December, there’s more hand-holding and smiling than the couples‘ skate song down at the local Roll-o-Rama.  I swear I actually saw a couple holding hands at a gas station this week. C’mon, man!  Even the commercial time during my normal televisions programs, usually devoted to beer, erectile dysfunction and hand tools has suddenly got more diamonds than a Joan Rivers jewelry box, and enough sappy love scenes to officially qualify as a Lifetime Original Movie.  For eleven months out of the year, I’ve got daily reminders of the terrifically bad idea that it must be to get married or have children (e.g. the skyrocketing divorce rate, the “Real Housewives of Wherever-the-hell“ and the feral children at the aforementioned Wal-Mart), and then, all of a sudden, the calendar turns its final page, and everything looks like a Normal Rockwell Christmas card.  I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be happy during the holidays on account of me.  I’d just rather we all decide whether we’re happy or not, and do it that way all year ‘round.

2.   Not In The Cards.  To honest, if it wasn’t for, I don’t think I would have sent a greeting card to anyone in the last ten years.  And even then, it’s really only been for kids and close friends on their birthdays.  But Christmas cards are a beast all their own - a universal mass-mailing which we have apparently all unwittingly subscribed to as a kind of penance for not keeping in better touch with friends and family during the rest of the year.  What’s worse, the entire process has become so corporate that even corporations are expected to send out cards to customers, clients, and other businesses.  And so, as I dismiss this practice every year, with the promise that if I ever get married it will have to be to someone who will gladly assume this responsibility on our behalf, I collect these cards in my mailbox like Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons and Val-Paks.  Once I do finally get around to opening them, no matter who they are from or the utter absence of any personalized sentiment within them, I post them in my office like some kind of obligatory guilt totem, reminding me every day of what a selfish bastard I am for not wishing people I hardly know a happy holidays with a similarly trite token.  Look, it’s never been easier to keep in touch with people, and we’ve never been any worse at it than we are currently.  Time is a precious commodity, and I’m often told that it’s the time it takes to send these cards that makes them mean something.  For me, I’d rather take that same time and send someone a quick personal note, or (as antiquated as it may seem) actually call them to catch up.  Sure, you can’t hang those on your wall, but they also won’t be worthless on December 26.

3. Grown Up Gifting.  If there is any demographic that gets a raw deal during the holidays, it’s grown men.  Because as a grown man, the only way you’re getting what you really want for Christmas is to buy it yourself - and let’s be honest, that kinda sucks.  And please spare me the it’s better to give-than-receive nonsense.  First off, getting something you don’t want for Christmas is infinitely more awkward and painful than getting nothing at all; especially if you have to unwrap that something in front of the person who gave it to you.  Second, if there’s any group of people who shoulder the “giving” burden, it’s that same group of grown men who definitely aren’t getting that one thing they secretly covet - dads, big brothers, uncles, etc.  And while the joy on the faces of those to whom you are fortunate enough to give to is irreplaceable, just try to understand that Christmas is still only half a holiday for us.  The problem with grown men and their gifts is that we don’t ever outgrow our toys, our love for toys just outgrows our budget.  Trust me, the folks that sell expensive toys know exactly where to find us, and they know full well that we’re not making that purchase until after the new year - but we’ll damn sure be in to get it as soon as the holiday dust settles.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten some great gifts over the years - from people who knew me so well that I didn’t even know I wanted what they gave me until I unwrapped it.  But take it from one very serious grown-up toy lover, unless you’ve got that kind of gift in mind - stick to cash and gift cards.  You’ll save us both an awkward moment, and ensure that you keep your spot on the “giving” list.

* * *

At 37, I’m keenly aware that I may have fewer holidays in my past than in my future.  After all, if the beating I’ve given to my mind and body don’t shut it down before 70, I may be part cockroach.  And with that in mind, I’m remiss to want to time to pass as quickly as I did when I was sixteen and in a big hurry to grow up.  But all it takes is the horror of the holidays to have me wishing for the weeks to pass by like so much summer vacation.  Every year, as soon as the calendar flips over to December (or Brooklyn Decker, if you mark the months like I do) I’m instantly ready January 2nd, and the sweet sting of starting the year with a wicked hangover and a head start on a year’s worth of regret.  But if this merriless season of false mirth is good for nothing else, even with the cold, the darkness and the pending return to work, it makes the start of a new year look a whole lot better.  Here’s to January! 

Monday, October 24, 2011

3 Guy Secrets

As a general rule, men are extraordinarily simple creatures.  We wear our appetites, attitudes and aptitudes on our sleeves so plainly, it’s a wonder we ever fool anyone about anything.  There hasn’t been this much depth attributed to something so plainly shallow since The Dark Side of The Moon (or for the younger generation, since the Jonas Brother’s lyrics).  If you don’t believe me, just sit down and read Maxim and then Cosmopolitan.  One is a glossy appeal to the basest of instincts - an ode to beer, breasts and booze (and how to get more of each), and the other is an intricate web of subtle psychological marketing, advice and abject domestic fantasy which is as confounding as it is charming.  As I have frequently argued before, there are two kinds of women in this world: those who have figured men out, and those who refuse to admit it because they’re disappointed with what they found.  But despite this nearly universal disclosure of what’s going on inside our heads, we have managed to keep a few secrets; a precious few nuggets that we can hold on to in the face of our overwhelmingly enigmatic sisters.  And in the interests of disclosing these last few, for no better reason than to get you to read on, here are 3 of the last great guy secrets:

1. Groomsmen.  The hardest look for any man to pull off is the one that looks like we just don’t care.  Now don’t misunderstand me, I’m not talking about the “I haven’t showered” look, or the “I haven’t purchased new clothes since college look” either.  No, I mean grooming so subtle that you really don’t notice.  And the secret behind that look is that it takes a ton of work.  We are forced to do the vast majority of this grooming privately so as to maintain the illusion that we can still get ready to go out in ten minutes, and all of our down time is spent watching sports, playing video games or surfing the web for bad videos and worse jokes.  Amongst these secret elements are the following:  A haircut that costs more than thirty bucks.  No one notices a great haircut, but nothing stands out more than a bad one.  No matter how “simple” you think your guy’s hair is, trust me, if it looks good, he didn’t get it at SuperCuts, Fantastic Sam’s or anyplace that advertises with a sandwich board.  A hair removal regimen that involves at least two or three different tools, and more than one dedicated shower.  You have no idea all the horrible places that hair grows on a man’s body, and you shouldn’t have to.  We’ve got trimmers for our ears, nose, eyebrows and armpits, not to mention the delicate work that takes place in the “crotchal region.”  A pedicure.  Look, I know the idea of us sitting in one of those chairs and being chatted up by a Vietnamese girl isn’t the kind of thing that gets you all hot, but having dirty, calloused and otherwise busted feet is definitely the kind of thing that can prevent it.  If your guy has feet that look like they’ve been professionally taken care of - no matter what he says - they have.  An outfit which he spent a couple hundred bucks on.  It’s not how it looks but how it fits that makes it pricey.  That t-shirt that looks like he’s had it for years, and fits in all the right spots?  It’s not old, and it wasn’t cheap.  Those “casual” jeans - yeah, they weren’t so “casually” priced.  And the hip, but not too hip, shoes, belt, jewelry, etc.?  You don’t even want to know.  

2. The Only Thing We Have to Fear.    Guys get a lot of mileage out of being the more fearless sex.  Sure, it’s long ago been established that we don’t have the higher pain threshold (i.e. childbirth, menstruation, having to put up with us), but when it comes to bravery (i.e. killing bugs, heading downstairs with a bat if there’s a noise, a hand to hold during scary movies), that’s one of the last bastions of male usefulness (here’s hoping they never start making pickle jars easy to open).  But there are some things, no matter how big and bad we might be, that men are afraid of.  Now before you ladies go shouting out the answer like that one annoyingly smart kid in math class, turn down the volume on The View and let me let you in on a big secret that you’ve got all wrong: we’re not afraid of commitment.  We’re afraid of what comes after commitment.  Guys love commitment.  We’ve probably been committed to the same sports teams since we were kids, we’re committed to the movies we grew up with (you can tell by how many lines we’ve memorized) and we’re committed to the same music we loved in high school (really, does AC/DC ever get old?).  But these things largely remain constant as time goes on, and there’s a realistic chance that you won’t.  And I’m not talking about aging.  I’m talking about losing-half-it’s-value-as-soon-as-you-drive-it-off-the-lot-like-a-new-car kind of not constant.  For every happy marriage that you’re hearing about from your friends, we’re listening to some guy tell us about how his wife’s sex drive dropped like 2008 housing prices before the ink had even dried on the marriage certificate.  For every cute baby picture you show us, we have a buddy complaining about how his wife is carrying her “baby weight” when she’s sending that same "baby" off to school for the first time.  Trust me, the reason we want to meet your mom is not so that she can cast disapproving glances at us, or demonstrate our excitement at joining your family.  We’re trying to get a preview, mentally and physically, of what your future looks like - and whether we want to sign up for it.  Look, take Kirstie Alley, who’s 60 and bears a striking resemblance, even facially, to Jabba the Hut - and used to be smokin‘ hot - then take someone like Stockard Channing, who is 62 and could steal your boyfriend from you just by walking into a bar, and who also used to be smokin‘ hot.  Back in the 80’s we would have counted ourselves lucky to tie the knot with either of them - and if we were still married to them today, only one of them would not want to make us kill ourselves rather than seem them naked.  Now that’s something to be afraid of.    

3. Not So Secret.  This might be the biggest secret of all, so brace yourselves, ladies.  We know a lot of your secrets.  I know, I know.  It doesn’t often seem like we have any idea.  But amongst the many other things we learned from you, we also figured out the power of “playing dumb” sometimes.  I mean, let’s be honest, you’re not really that good at keeping secrets.  Gossip is like your fifth food group - without it, you’d probably die.  And we can’t help but overhear, right?  We know about the amazing ability of black stretch pants to hide otherwise less-than-spectacular booties.  We know what you’re really talking about in the bathroom with your friends.  We know how to tell when you’re faking.  We know you don’t like hearing about our ex, but talking nicely about her is one of the few ways we can get back at you without you being able to get mad at us.  We know you poop.  We know you don’t really want a salad for dinner.  We know you told your friends everything - no matter what you said you did.  We know ours isn’t the biggest you’ve ever seen - but it’s still nice to hear.  We know how you look in the morning, so relax and soak in some bed-head every once in a while.  We know how much time you put into hair removal, and we’re still not willing to oblige in-kind (but we’re still very grateful).  We know those shoes aren’t comfortable, but we’re still glad you wear them and we know that sometimes it’s just the bra.  We know that half the time it takes you to “get ready” is devoted to outfit selection, and believe me, it totally pays off.  But we also know that you probably know that we know all of this.  Try figuring that one out.

* * *

In the end, a little mystery is good for the soul.  After all, it is that glorious and frustrating mystery of the opposite sex which makes relationships so damned fun anyways.  If I ever really figure out what’s going on in the mind of women, I’ll probably just spend my days sleeping out of sheer boredom.  Perhaps the greatest mystery of all, is why women have such a hard time figuring us out, anyways.  Diagramming the male mind seems like the kind of exercise that would only be mildly challenging for the average junior high school student, and even then wouldn’t produce anything overly surprising or impressive (and likely best rendered in crayon).  But perhaps it takes that kind of deep-seated confusion to really love us.  After all, once you know all of our secrets, we’re really not that lovable after all.  And maybe that’s a secret worth keeping.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

3 Political Problems

I have been a registered Republican for nearly twenty years, and in that time, I like to think that I have always maintained at least some kind of interest in the political process.  After all, one cannot readily pursue a career in the military, higher education, even higher education and a legal practice without caring about the way the country is run.  But the past three years of politics have been like nothing else I witnessed in the decade and a half that preceded them.  To put it in the simplest terms, everyone seems to have lost their damned mind, and the rhetoric on even the most banal matters approaches a level of acrimony usually reserved for global, armed conflicts.  I have spent a lifetime enjoying vigorous, political debates and now frequently avoid substantive discussions of matters of national importance because the diatribe becomes so instantly caustic and personal so as to obviate any real exchange of ideas and certainly any enjoyment from it.  Of course, as many of you know, I can only hold it in for so long.  And so, in the interests of damning the consequences and going ahead anyways, here are 3 problems I have with the state of American politics:

1. Simple Is As Smart Doesn’t.  Civic administration on any level is a complex and challenging matter.  Even the politics of the smallest Texas hick-town are comprised of intricate webs of economic interdependencies, the interests of constituencies and balancing of equities between deserving matters and limited resources.  At higher levels, these concerns are rendered impossibly more intricate and difficult to understand, let alone influence.  And at the federal level, they require the efforts of thousands of talented, intelligent individuals just to make it run, not to mention improve it.  The bottom line is that we need really smart people to make government run  and we need brilliant people to fix it.  The notion that there are simple solutions to these infinitely complex problems that somehow everyone in Washington D.C. has missed is as dangerous as it is stupid.  Mr. Smith has long since gone to Washington, and he’s learned a thing or two.  Sure there are things that simple “country” logic can solve, like relationships, misbehavin’ kids and even a cheatin’ spouse.  But the things that aren’t on that list include a multi-trillion dollar economy, a massive employment downturn, and an unsustainable interventionist foreign policy.  Turning over the government to someone “simple” and stupid to fix it because the current smart guy is mucking it all up is like taking your car to your buddy who took auto shop in high school to fix, because the certified mechanic can’t seem to get it running.  No, stupid - you take it to a BETTER MECHANIC!

2. Double Coverage.  I remember when CNN was brand new.  The evening and morning news, delivered by hyper-groomed and minimally tolerable anchormen and women was no longer adequate to satiate our news appetite and we were given 24/7 access to the news of the world.  Whether illusory or not, this news always seemed to be reported with no angle, spin, or slant.  It was no-nonsense, just-the-facts-ma’am news - and I liked it.  No waiting, no delay.  The news when I wanted it.  But in the intervening decade cable news has become a cesspool of transparently partisan journalism so bent on delivering a political message as to nearly disregard any commitment to factual reporting.  On the rare occasion where new facts are actually reported, they are followed so immediately by the requisite spin that it is difficult to know where the news stops and the opinion begins.  And that’s exactly how they want it.  The same American appetite for news when we want it has devolved into an appetite for news that says what we want it to say.  A national paradigm of ever-greater consumer convenience has given us some extraordinary advances, but has also given us Crocs, KFC’s Famous Bowls, and children’s backpacks with wheels on them.  So it should come as no surprise that when the news networks start offering up content that doesn’t require any thinking (where they provide an opinion for you), that we slurp it up like so much dinner smoothie.  As for me, I’m reduced to the AP feed online to get some actual news, and some noise-canceling headphones to keep from hearing the shouting on Fox attendant to the volume-makes-right school of thought.

3. The Politics of Hate.  Opposition in politics has always been integral to the American governmental process.  We have been a two-party system for as long as any of us can recall, and we polarize ourselves along broad idealogical lines by way of identity.  The broad platforms of each party seem impossible for any real person to agree with fully, which used to give rise to a majority group we used to call “moderates” who liked a little of each, and usually declared by tallying which side they agreed with most.  But yesterday's “moderate” is today’s “flip-flopper”, “hypocrite” or worse yet, “traitor.”  Belonging to one party is less about loving that party and more about hating the other one.  It is no longer enough to simply think that the other side has got it all wrong, has bad ideas, and doesn’t seem to really understand things.  Now, true party members are required to believe that the other side is literally out to kill them, take everything they’ve got and drive the nation into anarchy, chaos and despair.  The other party isn’t just wrong, they’re un-American - and if you don’t think so, you might be one of them.  The kooks we used to marginalize and simply tolerate as a function of otherwise enjoying our First Amendment freedoms have become mainstream - and woe be unto the person who can look across the aisle and think the other side may actually have some good ideas.  The rhetoric used these day so plainly outpaces the intellectual capacity of those using it, it makes me think the only way to really get a handle on this runaway extremism is to require everyone to spell and/or define all the words they’re using (or else, keep quiet). 

* * *

The likely misattributed Edmund Burke declaration: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” remains true regardless of its origin.  It is the idea that keeps me thinking in an era where ignorance has become a cult and keeps me talking when you’re less likely to find civility in a political discussion than a cute girl at a Star Trek convention.  Because there can be little doubt that if the smartest and most intellectually capable amongst us sit back and do nothing, ignorance will ultimately triumph and then we really will be in trouble.  It is, after all, that still, small voice in our mind that often quiets the roar of nonsense, temptation and intellectual malaise which might otherwise consume us.  Who are we to expect anything differently in the world around us?  So here’s to the still, small and smart voices - and those with the courage to keep using them - in the hopes that in our best times, we will all start to listen. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

3 Slow Goers

I don’t know who first said “slow and steady wins the race,” but I’m fairly certain that whatever they were watching was not really a race.  These days, everything is timed, scored or rated, and it would be a much simpler exercise to find something that isn’t a race rather than something that is.  Whether its how fast you can get to work, how quickly your food is served to you, or how long you have to wait in line - we’re all trying to save a little time, either for ourselves or for others.  Time has become the world’s most valuable commodity, and it is in short supply.  And while I see this new paradigm reflected almost universally, there are those precious few souls who seem wholly and maddeningly unaffected by it.  You know who I’m talking about, those folks who don’t seem to be in any particular hurry, and don’t seem to care too much that everyone else is?  I am hard pressed to come up with a class of individuals who more quickly or completely make me want to reach for my rake, and so, in the interests of fair warning, here are 3 slow folks who need to speed the hell up:

1.  Luke Slow-walker.  It’s not that I can’t appreciate the visceral quality of a nice quiet stroll - I can.  But there is a time and a place for those types of walks, and that does not include any shopping locations, transportation hubs or city sidewalks.  Basically, anywhere you might have to be around a fair amount of people that you wouldn’t normally choose to be hanging out with.  You see, pedestrian traffic, like regular traffic, is a linear system - meaning that I’m not able to go over or under you, I’m (technically) not allowed to go through you, and so if there’s no way around you, I’m stuck behind you.  Now I realize that you don’t know I’m back here.  I know that because you haven’t turned around to see the look on my face - which is something of a combination of just having consumed some week-old milk and the utter disbelief I’m experiencing from wondering how someone with your complete lack of spacial awareness has survived any number of busy intersections, crosswalks or other high-traffic situations to this point in their lives.  Don’t misunderstand, I’m not talking about the infirm here (assuming that we can agree that obesity is not a handicap), I’m talking about otherwise mobile individuals who just seem incapable of the multitasking required to both breathe and walk at the same time.  If this is you, maybe just hold off on the breathing for a while and get moving - at least that way there’s a 100% chance you won’t be keeping the rest of us from getting where we’re going.         

2.  Tipping Point.  Vegas is a car town.  I used to think that Los Angeles was a car town, but for average quality - you can’t beat this desert oasis.  I would say the luxury car per capita around here is somewhere around .5 - or one really nice car for every two people.  It’s not uncommon to see a Bentley, Maserati, or Lamborghini just while running  errands and nowhere near the Strip.  There are also an astounding number of large and fancy SUVs - especially given the extraordinarily flat nature of the city’s landscape.  And the one thing these expensive cars all have in common is their exceptional handling.  Responsive steering systems, anti-slip and anti-lock braking, and high performance automatic transmissions mean that you can navigate the urban landscape with little difficulty or worry.  Which makes it all the more baffling why the drivers here feel the need to turn their expensive cars as though they are 1975 Oldsmobile station wagons.  Seeing a car built to take corners at sixty miles an hour take them at three is a head scratcher, and watching a truck capable of literally fording a river go over a lowered curb   as though it may collapse its suspension is the kind of thing that makes me wonder if maybe there ought to be a minimum IQ to get a drivers license.  Look people, there hasn’t been a car with a reliable tipping risk since the Suzuki Samurai (meep, meep... HI!) so give it a little gas and get around the damned corner already.

3.   Checking Yourself Out.  The self-checkout lanes appearing at grocery stores and discount chains of late are a wonder of modern technology that would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. Obviating the need for checkout assistance, you can be prompted through the entire experience - and avoid having to wait in line.  What’s more, what the company saves in not having to hire someone to do that job, they can use to pass on savings to you - or even buy more self-checkouts.  But what I once thought to be an opportunity to avoid that perilously bad luck I always seem to have in these queues (e.g. getting behind someone who was shopping annually, or paying with coins/personal check), has turned into one of the most reliable indicators of the intellectual apocalypse since the Palin candidacy.  Honestly, watching people become confused by the built-for-five-year-olds screen prompts and ultimately paralyzed into some kind of machine paranoia whereby they’re convinced that this technology is some how completely ineffective just because they’re too dumb to use it, is the kind of thing that makes me want to build a bomb shelter and gather enough emergency rations for a few years and just go away - hoping to come back to a world where we’ve just eaten all the dumb people.  I feel like Wal-Mart took up my challenge when I wrote “there’s no way that people could move any slower” in one of their stores - and set up these intelligence tests disguised as checkout stands.  And as with all failures, the only thing more painful than watching someone fail, is watching them fail slowly.  

* * *

Sure, not everything needs to be fast-paced.  I like a slow dance, a slowly poured beer and even a slow ride just as much as the next guy.  But I also know that the only thing slow and steady has ever resulted in is a very consistent last-place finish.  What’s more, if you are one of those folks who either has the means, or simply the lack of interest in life, to keep moving at the same speed of the rest of us - the least you can do is stay out of our way!  We’ve got somewhere to be - that isn’t waiting for you.  Besides, it’s not like I can’t appreciate the value of stopping to smell the roses every once in a while.  Just make sure that when you do - there’s no one behind you (especially if they’ve got a rake).  

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

3 Bully Benefits

It’s the latest epidemic of choice; championed by celebrities, government programs and televised public service announcements.  But it’s not breast cancer, smoking or AIDS.  In fact, it’s not a disease at all.  It’s bullying.  You can hardly watch television, surf the web or even listen to the radio without being reminded about the damage done by bullying and what you can do to stop it.  For the profoundly uninspired, they even offer government-approved scripts for determining what to say in bullying situations - distilled down to a political-correctness so pure than you can almost clean tile with it.  But as a former victim of bullying, I’m here to say that the government’s got it all wrong.  Because unlike the other diseases-de-jour that pop-culture has taken on, bullying isn’t all bad.  Sure, back in 1989 as a 4’11” high school sophomore, I didn’t see any good in the inevitable daily beatings I endured - but looking back, I don’t think I’d trade them.  Sure, no evil should be allowed to exist unchecked, but as Newton discovered lifetimes ago, each force begets its opposite, and the universe is nothing else if not balanced.  In order for there to be champions there must be their foils, and what good are white hats if no one wears black ones?  So, in the interests of defending the indefensible, here are 3 reasons we shouldn’t get rid of bullies:

1. Someone to Hate.  There are no great parables about the power of hate, the endurance of a vengeful heart, or the strength that can be gleaned from a need for redemption.  Even those stories that do highlight the “dark” side of motivation tend to be cautionary tales that teach that nothing good come from these negative emotions, and that true happiness and success can only be found through love, forgiveness and peace.  But what about Darth Vader?  No, not the wussy Vader that George Lucas foisted on us via Hayden Christensen in the most celebrated neutering this side of Lorena Bobbitt.  No, I mean the Empire Strikes Back Vader, the seven feet of badassery and heavy breathing, running-a-spaceship-the-size-of-a-planet while wearing a cape Vader.  Pure evil and hate - and totally kicking ass as a result.  So what if he gets his comeuppance later on in the story?  Don’t we all?  What about that whole “it’s better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all” crowd?  Why doesn’t that same logic hold true for hate?  Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not a proponent of hate for no reason, disproportionate revenge or love being of no use.  But hate with a good reason is a powerful motivator.  If someone does you wrong, the desire to strike back is not only natural, it can drive you to extraordinary feats (Daniel Laruso’s gonna fight?).  Bullies give us focus, a driving force in a world which not only accepts but nearly encourages our mediocrity.  Because between a person that thinks the world has screwed him over and a person that thinks someone else has screwed him over, which one do you really think has it all wrong?  And which one are you betting on to do something about it?

2. Survival of the Fittest.  Physical strength plays an increasingly small part in our day-to-day lives, as our gentrification has slowly creeped into feminization.  The current youngest generation has become so far removed from a good ass-kicking that when you talk about beating someone up, you actually have to clarify that you don’t mean doing it online.  If you think I don’t know what I’m talking about, try listening to a teenager talk to an adult sometime.  If I would have called a grown-up “dude” or “bro” when I was a kid,I knew my dad would have hit me hard enough to knock a molar out of my head - which is why he never had to.  We live in an almost completely consequence free environment, where anyone can mouth off however they’d like, with no fear of reprisal.  Bullies are a reminder that no matter how far we may live from the Galapagos Islands, we are still a Darwinian species, and there is a biological imperative that the strongest amongst us do the most reproducing.  I would submit that if you haven’t met a kid lately who needed a good beating, you haven’t met a kid lately.  Violence doesn’t solve anything?  Ha!  That’s the way we’ve solved things for thousands of years.  The Romans weren’t keen on “talking things out,” and where would we be if the American colonists had simply tried “communicating their feelings” to the British?  Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from reprisal if you say something stupid, it just means freedom from reprisal from the government.  Bullies are a reminder of the age old saw “no matter how big you are, there’s someone bigger” and its implicit corollary “and if you say something to piss them off, they’ll kick your ass.”  Bullies are the natural predator of weakness, and it should come as no surprise that as we begin to kill them off, the weakness will reproduce unchecked. 

3. Something For Everyone.  The latest childhood obesity statistics are staggering and tragic. Approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese and since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled.  If you don’t believe these numbers, go to your local Wal-Mart during non-school hours.  Trust me, after that you’ll wonder why they’re so low.  But that notwithstanding, we’ve got a lot more fat kids than we used to - and they’re going to need something to do; something to be.  We already know they can’t play kickball worth a damn, and we only need five or so for the offensive line.  So what does that leave?  Bullying.  Bullying is not only the fat kids’ way to exorcise demons, it’s a way for them to exercise, period.  What could possibly burn more calories than chasing around the smaller, nimbler kids in a attempt to assert some kind of dominance based on an overactive pituitary gland and poor dietary habits?  If you take away bullying, what are these kids going to do - talk out their problems?  Look, if talking burned enough calories to keep you thin, I’d never have to exercise (trust me).  Besides, in this era of trophy parenting and loving yourself exactly the way you are, bullying finally gives these roly-poly youngsters something to be ashamed of - Lord knows that looking in the mirror isn’t doing it for them.  It’s the natural order of things: bigger kids beat up smaller kids, smaller kids grow up to run companies and keep those bigger kids employed in the worst possible jobs.  Do you really want someone who can’t reliable control what they toss down their throat controlling an entire company anyways?  

* * *

The problem with bullying is not that it exists or that it serves no purpose; it’s that we’ve let stronger instrumentalities into the hands of children - and therefore into the hands of these bullies.  When you go past fists and words, you can do some real damage, and no one wants to see that.  If we want a crusade - that’s where we should start: no weapons, no unlawful harassment.  But learning that bullying is wrong, or on the other side, how to deal with, utilize or rise up against bullying, are important life lessons that children should not be deprived of, just because we think they can’t handle it.  Kids are tougher than we give them credit for.  Just because they are emotional doesn’t mean they’re emotionally scarred for life.  Bumps and bruises heal on the young body just as quickly as they do on the young mind.  And these trials and tribulations are just as, if not more, important than the trophies, atta-boys and positive reinforcement that has become unimodal modern parenting.  After all, if it wasn’t for bullies, I’d never be the man I am today - which means if I ever see him again I’ll probably want to shake James Richmond’s hand... right after I punch him in the mouth. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

3 Twilight Troubles

Well, I’ve flirted with it plenty of times, but I’ve never really gone ahead and gotten down to it.  To be honest, I didn’t really think I had to explain why I don’t like Stephanie Meyer’s idiot-opus - it seemed like the most obvious thing since Clay Aiken’s sexuality.  But, it has come to my attention recently that there really are otherwise perfectly normal people who count themselves as fans of this literary abortion - and it’s time to finally lay it down once and for all.  After all, can I really include this interminable saga of the ambiguously sexual paranormal into my lexicon of high-level hates (e.g. Miley Cyrus, Notre Dame, Sarah Palin) without its own dedicated column (as all the aforementioned have enjoyed) ?  The answer is no, I can’t.  And so, in the interest of including the most tragically overrated storytelling since summer camp on my list of things to loathe, here are 3 things wrong with Twilight:

1. Young Is As Young Does.  There is a time in our lives where we are ready to cast aside the simple turns of phrase and illustrations of children’s books, but not yet ready to pick up Ayn Rand or Charles Dickens.  In these formative years between childhood and adulthood, there was often a dearth of sufficiently challenging yet suitably simple writing.  But the birth of the “Young Adult” genre amicably filled this void, giving comfort, solace and the slightest bit of literary enrichment to a sea of pubescence, adolescence and emotional innocence.  Judy Blume gave us “Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing”, Edward Packard and R.A. Montgomery taught us to “Choose Our Own Adventures” and J.K. Rowling enchanted a generation with the tale of “Harry Potter.”  But while these timeless classics gave us light and flowing prose to probe heady coming-of-age themes, Stephanie Meyer’s stumbling narratives are as clumsy as they are petulant and needlessly brooding and cover the most absurd subject matter this side of Scientology.  Ironically, the tone that she is able to capture - not unlike what one might expect in the rambling journal of some teenage goth-emo-punk with enough black in his or her wardrobe to clothe the entire City of Oakland - seems almost impossibly appropriate for her characters.  Where Rowling exercised the genre to tell, simply, a brilliantly robust story with themes for young and old alike, Meyer uses it as a crutch - propping up an ill-conceived and impossible story with adolescent themes and a disjointed style that likely reads better as text messages than on an actual page.  The bottom line is that most young adult literature is written exclusively for the same generation that can currently make sense out of MTV’s programming and cars shaped like boxes, which ought to tells us how little it should appeal to grown ups.  Meyer’s cross-generational appeal is not a cause for celebration, it’s a cause for concern.

2. Not Your Parents’ Vampires.  I have never really been a fan of the macabre, so you have to imagine the kind of blasphemous and enragingly absurd depiction of vampires that might actually make me miss how vampires used to be.  I mean, if there were ever a moment where Bram Stoker wished he was an actual vampire, it would have to be upon looking down on Stephanie Meyer’s baffling best-seller and wanting to swoop down and suck all the idiot blood out of that barely functioning brain - even if it meant everlasting damnation.  There hasn’t been a legend this badly bastardized since Sarah Palin tried to turn Paul Revere into a historical Tea Party crusader.  Vampires were creatures of terror and pain; parasites whose dark deal required the regular slaughter of others, and who lurked in the darkest corners of the darkest places.  Even in modern times, where they have been reduced to worship by chubby or unpopular teenagers whose need for attention drives them to delusions so great as believe that being abnormal qualifies them to be paranormal, the vampire legend garnered some measure of respect.  But no longer.  The painfully adolescent Meyer has painted the modern day vampire as a brooding and ambiguously sexual nymph, who looks about as believable in a fight as a baby harp seal.  Honestly, if you’re going to paint a character who is immortal and has superhuman strength, why would he have the musculature of a twelve year old Cambodian boy, and the skin tone of Snow freaking White!?   I don’t care if he has a mouth full of shark teeth, is dripping blood and is literally flying towards me, I’ve seen Pokemon characters who scare me more than Robert Pattinson.  I’m not saying there isn’t a place for things like this - I’m just saying that it’s in their parents basement listening to indie emo albums and putting on each other’s eye makeup. 

3. Some Real In My Unreal.  I know that books and movies are offered to provide some measure of escape from reality, but they also usually deal with quintessentially human themes - and unless they are pure fantasy, offer some kind of moral/message.  And while the Twilight series fails profoundly as artfully-crafted escapism (mostly in the “artfully” part), it fails ever-so-much more where it tries to offer a message.  The young girls’ fantasy of non-sexual male love is as timeless as the vampire myth itself, but just as surreal.  In these hyper-sexualized times, where teenage girls pattern themselves after reality show vixens, and scantily-clad music video dancers, can it be true that everyone is looking for a little less sex in their love?  The Sexual Revolution is older than most of the parents of the teenage generation, and so the notion that only barbaric and ill-mannered men want sex, and that women are creatures of pure virtue and light, who need only love and provide sex only to satiate men is as tired as the skin under Linsday Lohan’s eyes.   Feeding this affected morality play to the masses as a “love story” is even more tragic than the story itself.  There is nothing heroic about the gay men in a teenage girl’s life, and nothing evil about the straight ones.  The notion that love stories that exclude sex are somehow better than those that fail to is as absurd as the women who swoon over “Teen Paranormal Romance” and weep uncontrollably during The Notebook and P.S. I Love You (each with plenty of sex to go around).  The desire for sex is not the absence of virtue, and the absence of sex does not purify a relationship, or make it more meaningful.  This closing-your-eyes-and-pretend-it’s-not-there method for coping with issues doesn’t work for ostriches any more than it works for the rest of us - and while I can forgive teenage girls for failing to understand this, watching grown women do it makes me wonder if feminism is completely dead.

* * *

Twilight fails on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to begin.  Paring this list down to three was not an easy task, as I didn’t even begin to address the feminization of the modern-day leading man, or the wussification of the modern male protagonist in love stories.  For all my railing against them, most recent “chick flicks” haven’t really been so bad.  I’ve seen The Notebook twice, recommended Atonement to friends, and even got a little weepy during P.S. I Love You.  After all, a little romance never hurt anyone, and we all like to see the guy get the girl in the end.  But that’s where Stephanie Meyer loses the Y-chromosome crowd - because we simply cannot relate.  There is no “Edward” in any of us.  He is a wholly feminine character, and even my gayest of friends has never expressed a desire to look pale, thin and constantly inconsolable.  And please don’t get me started on the attempt to insert a hyper-masculine antagonist (the less-gay werewolf) who looks like he wears more makeup than my last two girlfriends combined.  Twilight as “literature” is as telling of a modern social trend as any, and in historical context will mark an era of intellectual recession even more depressing and irrecoverable than the economic one it parallels.  Only this one has a much simpler “bail out” plan.  Book burning, anyone?  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

3 Poor Placements

If you’re a regular reader you know - it’s hard enough to figure out what to wear, let alone how to wear it. With clothiers peddling even less reliably valuable wares than Hollywood and the recording industry, we can hardly rely on magazines and model to tell us how to get it right. But it turns out that where you put something on your person is just as, if not more, important than what you’re putting on. In fact, you can easily turn something you should be wearing into something you shouldn’t just by putting it in the wrong spot. Of course, we’re not talking about wrong-footing your shoes or sticking your arm out the head-hole. Those obvious mistakes and mis-fits are rarely seen for more than a fleeting absent-minded moment while dressing. No, we’re talking about ways you can put things on, but never, ever should. In these trying times, we must usually rely on our friends to let us know when we’ve dressed ourselves like a punchline. But from the looks of things there are a lot of folks who haven’t got good friends, or any friends at all. And so, in the interests of identifying those folks who could use a hand, here are 3 places to not wear things:

1. Not So Bright. Sunglasses have become as essential a part of the modern wardrobe as shoes and pants. But with this addition to the standard clothing vocabulary comes a timeless paradox: where to put those vital shades when they’re not over your eyes. First: you must take them off your eyes when there’s no direct sunlight. (There is only one exception to this rule - but since you’re not famous, wanted by the government, or working as a covert operative - it doesn’t apply to you.) Now that we’ve cleared that up - where are you going to put your glasses? Given the almost limitless options you’ve got, it might be easier just to go over where you’re not going to put them (well, that is if you’re hoping to retain any sense of self-worth in the eyes of others). They don’t go in the case you’re keeping with you. Who keeps the case anyway? If your sunglasses are that precious to you, you should just leave them in the case all the time and only wear that cheap pair you got from the drug store. They surely don’t go on your face just above your eyes. Whoever started this absurdity is definitely in line for a rake-slapping; as this is only marginally less ass-hattish than wearing them under your chin. They also don’t go on top of your head. Please read that again. Please. I recently saw a television ad for a Las Vegas real estate agent who did the commercial with his sunglasses on his head. I wish I was joking. I wouldn’t let that guy help me buy gum from a machine, let alone real estate. So, what options have you got left? You can’t go wrong with the collar, and there’s always your pockets. You ladies have your ever-present handbag. But if I see them anywhere else, I can’t be blamed for assuming that you’ve got a double digit IQ, a job that requires a name tag and a deep-seated belief that professional wrestling is completely real.

2. Bling-In. There are precious few reasons for a man to wear anything around his neck that aren’t dog tags, an Olympic medal or an award given to you by Princess Leia for saving the Rebel Alliance, and there are none to wear it outside your shirt. I’m half Italian and grew up in an Italian coal-mining town and I still don’t get how anyone could think this is ok. Male jewelry is only thing you can put around your neck that’s even lamer than an ascot. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that neck “mewelry” is gay - because after ten years of cheerleading and ten years in the Navy, I don’t know a single gay man that thinks wearing a chain outside your shirt is ok. In fact, they’re usually more appalled by it than I am. I would truly be more accepting of a man walking around with his zipper undone to display his manhood rather than some cheap gold herringbone chain outside his mock turtleneck. And don’t even get me started on the hip-hop community... because there’s only been one time that a bevy of gold chains has been a reliable indicator of bad-assery, and since Mr T. has long since passed into pop-culture irrelevance, you’re better off showing off your financial prowess with what you’re driving instead of what you’re blinging. Look, maybe there’s something on that chain that’s special to you, maybe you just want to keep it close to your heart. Do us all a favor and keep on the heart side of your shirt - on the opposite side from my gag reflex.

3. Heard, Not Seen. There was a time when a cellular phone was a symbol of status and importance. You either had the means to make calls from wherever it suited you, or were vital enough that you had to be reached at any time. As time passed, and more and more of us obtained cell phones, the smartphone replaced the cell phone as this talisman of wealth and influence. After all, not just anyone could or should have 24/7 access to their e-mail and the information superhighway. But we have finally reached critical mass - and now you can buy a smartphone in a 7-11. What does this mean as far as phone placement goes? It means that I don’t need to see your phone anymore. The belt clip phone case is the new fanny pack. Sure it’s convenient and leaves your pockets free for other sundry items - but who needs all that space when you’ll have the hole left from losing your dignity to store things in? Your phone goes in your pocket or your purse. If it doesn’t fit, your pants are too tight or your bag is too small. If you’ve got the equipment to warrant it, it might even go in your brassiere. But if I can see it while you’re not using it - there’s a solid chance I’ll never need to call it. Additionally, bluetooth headsets are not fashion accessories. At best, they’re legal requirements for using a phone in your car in a couple of states. But if you’re walking around and talking on one, or even worse, walking around with one on that you’re not using - you’re sporting the consumer electronic equivalent of Crocs. And I think we all know how that translates into “value to society”...

* * *

Accessorizing isn’t an easy thing. There are people in Hollywood who get paid to do it full time for celebrities, just to make sure they don’t do it wrong. Unfortunately, not all of them get this crucial help and we’re left without a reliable guide on how or where to wear those things we deem vital to keep on our person. As a general rule of thumb, if something seems ridiculous or awkward it probably is. And just because your friends aren’t saying anything, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t. If you can’t find at least two of your friends (i.e. people who don’t see you naked regularly) who affirmatively tell you it’s ok - don’t wear it. If you can find two friends who approve of something on this list: find new friends. Quickly.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

3 Music Missings

There is perhaps no greater indication of the rapidly diminishing social relevance that comes with age than pop music. I am old enough to recall how little sense it made that my parents literally hated the sound of the music I liked, and often compared it to “just noise.” My late mother was so convinced of its utter lack of artistic value that she cited my continuing consumption of this music as the primary reason for believing I was a drug addict (I wasn’t). And yet, a scant twenty years later, I can look upon the landscape of modern pop music with similar disbelief. Don’t get me wrong, I catch a little Top 40 from time to time and actually enjoy it. But on balance, I find listening to most of the forgettable pop churned out by the modern music machine about as enjoyable as being in a Costco on a Sunday (if you’ve been there, you know what I mean). But it’s not just the songs I miss from those halcyon days gone by, but actual elements of the music which were as dependable and familiar as old friends. And so, in the interests of remembering those good friends I’ve lost, here are 3 things that have gone missing in music:

1. “Hoo” Are You. I’m certainly not the first person to note that there may be no genre that has suffered as greatly as R&B from this past decade of musical decline. Once a stalwart of innovation and quality in the industry, recent R&B has been reduced to the mindless crooning of forgettable voices and similar faces, often so formulaic as to make you wonder if they haven’t just given up completely, and are just computer-generating the stuff. In the 80’s, back when you wouldn’t even think of having a slow-dance set without the latest R&B hit, there was one thing which was as reliable an indicator of sincerity as it was of song quality: the “Hoo!” The “hoo” was as essential to R&B as the “Hi-ya” is to karate or the laugh track is to “Two and a Half Men.” It was the punctuation to the perfect lyrical sentence, an impossibly simple declaration of one’s utter coolness - delivered in near falsetto. I can still recall the first time I heard this iconic exclamation (Al B. Sure’s “Night and Day” 1988) and the great difficulty I had (and still have) in trying to reproduce it. These days, when I hear an R&B beat, I can’t help but offer up my own whimpering version, which falls woefully short, and makes me do something I had previously thought impossible: miss R. Kelly. In a genre where made-up words have been substituted for lyrics since its genesis, the “hoo” reigns supreme - and its absence is the most notable since Michael left the Jackson 5.

2. If You Mess With The Bull. With the ever-increasing presence of electronics in music, the vast majority of musical instruments in modern music have been all but eliminated. If it’s not a guitar, keyboard or drums, chances are it’s either not in the song or it’s been synthesized. Of course, I’m not saying I don’t appreciate a good guitar. In fact, a guitar player that can shred is the closest thing I’ve found to clergy, and I would consider listening to Dragonforce my own form of prayer. But that notwithstanding, whatever happened to the horn section? Big songs had big bands and big sounds, and nothing laid in heavier than a horn section. There was just something undeniable and profound about the particular sound of such a group. It almost defied recognition - it was just the music itself. You know what the guitar and the drums sounds like - you can even recognize the piano. But the horns, their brassy glare and subtle entrances and retreats, were the soul of the sound itself. Herb Alpert was more wizard than musician and Wynton Marsalis could play his horn more artfully than any piano has ever been struck. Chicago was not about Peter Cetera - it was about the horns. The horned chorus of Michael Jackson’s Ease on Down the Road has pulled me out of my deepest funks. It is the horn that naturally wakes what is within us, which is why it is so obviously absent from music. After all, they don’t play reveille on an electric guitar.

3. The Band Member Call Out. Much like football has become a sport about quarterbacks, music has become a game of lead singers. Notwithstanding the iconic bands of the past (AC/DC, Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones, Def Leppard, etc.), band members have become utterly replaceable and the lead singer has become indispensable (just ask Van Halen if that works the other way around). Sure you can survive one lead singer change (provided it’s early/tragic enough), but the guys who play the instruments are as interchangeable as the batteries in the wireless mic. This hyper-focus on the front man may explain why, outside of live performances, you never hear a shout out to a band member in a recorded song. There was a time when this was as regular as the bridge itself - a lead singer compelling the solo about to be performed - and it drew you, if just for a moment, into the band itself. When I first heard Brett Michaels call out C.C. DeVille in a song, my rock and roll fantasy was simply to have that kind of raw guitar power at my vocal disposal. As if all I would have to say would be “Mmmmm, guitar!” and a crazy little blonde guy wearing more makeup than my girlfriend would come strutting onto the stage blasting power chords loud enough to melt the faces of the front row. I knew the name of Huey Lewis’ sax player long before I knew anyone else in the band, and Dollar Ben was, by far, the most important member of Morris Day and the Time. Point being, there was a time when a band was a band and not simply an accessory for a singer - and I miss it

* * *

There is a reason that the Rolling Stones can still sell out a stadium and you can’t find two dozen people who want to hear the Jonas Brothers. Because good music is forever and modern music has a shorter half-life than the flavor of Big League Chew. Even the pop music from my younger days, which was designed not to last long, has endured far longer than even today’s most “serious” acts can hope for. Music has never been so much about creation than it is about re-imagining. After all, it’s not like anyone is coming up with new notes or chords. Our artists are left to re-arrange what they’ve been given and to make it their own. But anymore, music studios have become like fast-food kitchens; simply assembling component parts, otherwise already prepared, and turning them out as though they’re “freshly cooked.” As much as anything, what’s missing from modern music are not the sights, sounds and characters of days gone by so much as the little bits of heart and soul that changed it from just music to the soundtrack of our lives.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

3 Terrible Two-Guy Times

With all due respect to James Brown, the last time it was truly a “Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” may have actually been the 1960’s. For the world to get any more emasculating, everything would have to be painted a fine shade of pink. Honestly, there are more women than men in college, business and law schools - and political correctness has become so ubiquitous that it hardly even requires specific training anymore. We have compartmentalized and contained masculinity to places where it can be regulated, controlled, and guaranteed not to hurt anyone - and even there it’s hardly left to run free. And while most modern men have found a way to brave this new world of hearts and flowers (with much of our dignity still intact) the one thing we haven’t yet mastered is doing it in front of one another. Because, deep down, our masculinity is tied to a competitive order of sorts that really only matters with respect to other men, and in a world where the struggle to maintain any semblance of manhood is a daily one - the last thing we like to do is let a brother-in-arms see us so challenged. And so, in the interests of helping one another avoid these challenging situations, here are 3 awkward situations for men to see one another:

1. The Other Urinal Rule. It’s hardly a secret that the washroom for men is a profoundly less social experience than it is for women. In fact, there are a few unspoken rules regarding bathroom conduct that are almost universal. First, the urinal spacing rule - which is so well-covered as to actually inspire its own web-based quiz game ( Second, and far less well-known is the invisible boundary between the “business” area and “washing” area, across the threshold of which, a no-talking-to-one-another rule is strictly enforced. You are almost obligated to engage in some faux misogyny while washing your hands and fixing your hair, if for no other reason than to distract from the primping that you’re doing in the mirror. But once the threshold to the actual “facilities” is crossed, talking must cease. What’s more, all eye contact must also cease because there is no place where the awkwardness between men is more profound than the function area of the mens room. No matter what horrible and unspeakable things happen there (and trust me, horrors abound therein), one does not speak of them until across the barrier - if at all. It’s the closest thing to a P.O.W. camp that one can come across in everyday life, and, as you might expect, there is a similarly strong urge to get the hell out the moment you get in.

2. Manly Pedi. The modern man is the groomed man. Hey, I didn’t say everything about the feminization of society was so bad. And I have to admit, the fact that everyone is a little cleaner is a good thing. Of course, one of the lesser-known grooming standards that has resulted from this trend is that of the male pedicure. Personally, it took me years to be ok with this. I just didn’t see what big deal was about having pristine feet, and I certainly didn’t like the idea of sitting in a nail salon. But, as I got a little older I realized that whatever you could do to make yourself look better naked was a good thing (especially if you were expecting to see anyone else naked) and women pay attention to stuff like how your toes look when deciding whether they’ll ever sleep with you (a decision most of them make in the first 30 seconds - according to studies, and no matter what they tell you). I walked by my first nail salon dozens of times before actually walking in, including having to be coached by phone on my first ingress. I’m not sure what I was afraid of. I suppose it was a mix of (a) being whisked in for a simple toe cleaning and ending up, unwittingly, walking out in full drag, and (b) having all the men I have ever respected in the world walk by the window of the place while I was getting serviced and abandon any shred of hope they ever had for me. As it turns out, neither happened, but the only saving grace was that I was only guy in there (not counting employees). Because as soon as another guy shows up, you are obligated to act as though the entire sublime process is in no way enjoyable and you’re only in there because your girlfriend/wife made you. You will also need to immediately drop the People Magazine you definitely picked up accidentally thinking it was Maxim.

3. Stop, Shop and Roll. Okay, so retail therapy isn’t just for women anymore. Of course, for most men, our particular form of retail therapy is usually satiated by much larger ticket items and gadgetry, and so our therapy sessions are often much fewer and farther between. But on the rare occasion where you do need to shop for anything decidedly less manly, that’s the last place you’ll want to see any other guys. If you keep a close watch on men in a shopping mall, they are either (a) decidedly trailing in the wake of female companion who is leading the expedition (usually with a defeated malaise or minimum-wage stare), or (b) moving with a raptured purpose normally reserved for assassin humanoid robots from the future. In either case, they don’t stop to socialize - and on the rare occasion where their female companion stops to socialize with another accompanied female, they’ll avoid eye contact like junior high-school slow dancing partners. And heaven help you be caught with shopping bags by another man you already know - which is akin to having him catch you in women’s underwear while singing showtunes (which may otherwise explain our purposeful gait if unaccompanied). Honestly, unless it’s the week before Xmas, you’d have an easier time explaining a Miley Cyrus discography and My Pretty Pony collection than a handful of clothing bags on a solo trip to the mall. Trust us, our aversion to going shopping with you has nothing to do with you - we just want to make sure the only guy we recognize there is the one in the dressing room mirror.

* * *Align Center

In general, the interactions between men are far less nuanced and dramatic than those between women. We require no intricate recollections, no noticing of new haircuts or weight loss, and no obligatory questioning about our spouses, children, extended family or mutual friends. No, we normally just strike each other a couple of times, say something horribly insulting and try to find a TV showing the game and a cold drink. And so, on the precious few occasions where we lose this simple privilege, its worth taking notice. Ladies, if you're spending time with a man and you notice he’s keeping to himself, take note. Despite what you may think, we are social creatures, who enjoy running with a pack far more than your kind ever will. And in the instance where you see men not talking to each other and looking aimlessly into the distance, you’re probably better off getting him out of there as soon as you can, or at the very least helping him find the game on TV and something cold to drink.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

3 Rapid De-Celebrations

For a nation that seems as perilously perched on the brink of disaster as we’ve ever been, we sure seem to be doing an awful lot of celebrating these days. The celebrations from my younger days averaged about one per month, and only two of those qualified for the receipt of presents. There were holiday meals, but rarely holiday “parties” and more often than not, the occasions were marked exclusively by a card from my grandmother and check for five dollars. But the latest generation of “trophy kids” or Generation W (for Winning), seems to find opportunities to celebrate even the most mundane of events - to the point where even Hallmark has given up on trying to come up with sets of cards to commemorate these otherwise unremarkable milestones and simply lets you make your own. Look, I’m all for celebrating - when you’ve got something to celebrate. But in interests of not commoditizing celebratory events to the point where they’re not all that special anymore, here are 3 things we need to stop celebrating:

1. Grow Up. There comes a time in your life when you should stop expecting people to make a big deal out of the cosmically insignificant day of the year that you were born, and that time is the day after you turn 21. I know you think it’s your special day and that everyone should shower you with gifts, praise and other festive libations, but in reality, it’s just not that remarkable. You’re just getting older like the rest of us, and like the day of your conception, there were no angels singing or signs from the heavens. Nope, your parents were just in the proverbial “mood.” Do you know how many people you have to get in a room before it’s more likely than not that two of you will have the same exact birthday? Twenty three. Yup, that’s it. You can look it up. You had more kids in your home room class. So if you’ve got more than 23 Facebook friends, the fact that two of you share a birthday is not a crazy coincidence, it’s a statistical likelihood. The coming of age is a time-honored tradition that does, in fact, deserve celebration at almost every milestone (except maybe 20 - I mean, honestly, who cares when anyone turns twenty?). After all, there’s not much better than a little kid‘s birthday party. But seeing grown men and women (okay, mostly women) orchestrate extravagant to-dos out of these events is just pathetic. I mean for a gender who seems to fear aging like it’s the Apocalypse, you sure do go out of your way to make careening towards wrinkles and mom-jeans look like fun. And any man that needs this as an excuse to drink should have his man-card pulled. The rest of us just use “Saturday”. So, happy birthday and all, but if you’re expecting more than a card or Facebook acknowledgment, I’m afraid you’re not getting that pony after all.

2. Graduations. There are two real graduations in your life: high school and college. After one, you’re finally heading out on your own, and after the other, you are going to get your first real job. Those are a big deal and there should be a ceremony, a speech, a ridiculous outfit, family members with video cameras, some kind of party and maybe even a nice gift. But you don’t graduate from kindergarten, nor do you graduate from elementary school, middle school or junior high. Honestly, the next day you’ll still be living at home, the next year you’ll still see the same kids, your mom is still doing your laundry and you need your dad’s permission to go out. You don’t graduate from those grades, you just pass them (or for some of you paste-eaters, you barely survive them). If the skill set required to “graduate” from the sixth grade was worthy of ceremony, then we also ought to have still-have-a-pulse parties, didn’t-accidentally-maim-yourself dances, and maybe even the occasional no-felony-convictions-this-year barbecues. Who are we kidding? School hasn’t gotten harder, it’s gotten easier. I haven’t heard of a kid failing a class in a decade and a full sixty percent of children believe they’re in the top ten percent of their class. If school was any easier to pass, they’d have beds instead of chairs in the classroom. Since when is a summer off not enough reward for finishing any grade lower than 12? I love my niece and nephews and I may someday love kids of my own, but there’s a better chance of me reading the Twilight books while listening to Miley Cyrus on my iPod and wearing a TapOut shirt with my Crocs than attending a “graduation” that they can’t drive themselves home from.

3. Non-Firsts. The word “trophy” comes from the from Latin word “trophaeum” meaning "a sign of victory, monument," which derived from the Greek word “tropaion” meaning a "monument of an enemy's defeat.” And what is exceedingly clear from this etymology is, no matter what else you know about trophies, they were never intended to given out for second place. A trophy that isn’t for winning is a monument to your own defeat, and the only place where they should legitimately give out anything for second place (or lower) is the Olympics. Our national obsession with rewarding even the most disappointing and underwhelming performances with their own trophies not only devalues the real winners, but robs those who didn’t win of that harsh sting of defeat which might be just the thing to drive them to a subsequent victory. After all, our love of winners came from the idea that there weren’t very many of them - so when everyone walks away with trophy, what’s the point in working for the “big one”? This is especially troubling with children, who are rewarded for even the most banal efforts with wild praise and physical reward. There should, indeed, be comfort and praise in not necessarily winning everything you try, but giving your best - that is what your parents are for. In the absence of parents, you also have your friends and family - why exactly does there need to also be a trophy? Because the world at large does little, if anything, by way of consolation prizes. At best, you can hope for an opportunity to try again - and even that isn’t guaranteed. The only thing you need to take away from not winning is the perspective it gives you and the lessons it teaches. I’ll take a heart full of that over a shelf full of second place trophies.

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There seem to be so many great instruments of celebration: great meals, great games, great drinks, great gifts. We are nothing else if not the world’s finest purveyors of indulgence. But with that said, it is the restraint to only indulge infrequently that has made us who we are - and the fact we seem to be losing that restraint with each succeeding generation that threatens to kill us. We are the world’s fattest, laziest and most entitled nation - and it’s eating away at our previously insurmountable lead on the rest of the world faster than an Alabama redneck in a Cheesecake Factory. Perhaps if we took a break from celebrating the mundane, handing out trophies for mediocrity and patting each other on the back, we just might get back to the ass-kicking and name-taking that got us this far, or at least keep us from eating so much damned cake.

3 Malodorous Maladies

After being raised in a conservative household that could only generously be described as tolerant, and a decade-long stint in the military, it’s taken me the better part of my adult life to become a little more accommodating to the views of others. Ok, I know what you’re saying, and you’re right. I’m still a judgmental asshole, but now I’m mostly doing it for laughs, and deep down I think that the differences between us is what makes the world such a beautiful and fascinating place. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I suddenly think that it’s ok to be ignorant, entitled or otherwise ridiculous, it just means that I don’t think you should be euthanized as a result. But for all the moderation I’ve experienced as I’ve grown older, there is still one area where my prejudices are not only as strong as they were when I was a child, they’re actually stronger - and that’s how you smell. It has been proven that our sense of smell is the mostly closely linked to the emotional centers of our brains. After all, what stirs more emotions than the smell of your mother’s cooking, your girlfriend’s perfume, or an autumn breeze in your home town? But just as stirring as those “good” smells are, I find “bad” smells just as infuriating. And so, in the interests of only growing up as much as I have to, here are 3 inexcusably bad smells:

1. Too Much Of A Good Thing. Look, I like perfume. I do. One of those blissfully charming things about the fairer sex is how damned good they always seem to smell. Additionally, I learned the subtle power of a great cologne - to turn an otherwise platonic moment into a fabric clutching, hair-pulling, heavy breathing encounter. But with that said, there a few things that are overdone with more tragic results than perfuming. And the place where I experience it most often is not the nightclub, the restaurant or even the workplace - it’s the gym. First off, why on earth are you wearing perfume someplace where you’re going to be sweating on purpose? Second, old ladies, what the hell? Your perfume should not be able to double as a chemical warfare agent - and I’ve all but been paralyzed after you walk by. You should also not trail a cloud of it like some kind of musky comet. And I don’t want to hear about a diminished sense of smell, because there are just as many old men in the gym, and they’re not slathering on Brut like it’s bathwater. No, this is just old ladies, and while I can appreciate the desire to want to keep healthy as you age (I really can), I’m going to start carrying a Febreze grenade to throw at you if you don’t cut it out. Young girls and guys, you don’t get a pass. Just because I’m still able to continue breathing after your scent onslaught, doesn’t mean I want to. Seriously, if someone can smell you from further away than it takes to be involved in rather intimate congress, you’ve overdone it. Go wash off and start over.

2. Don’t Say No. My father once told me, “Never turn down a breath mint.” Which I used to think was pretty handy advice since I spent most of my youth believing they were candy - but as I grew older I began to realize that the real purpose behind these mints and masks and understood that there was really no nicer way to let someone know their breath smelled like burnt hair and feces than to offer them some kind of temporary cure. Of the many horrible things that have come of a generation of hyper-focused narcissism, one good thing is a nearly universal dedication to oral health. Dental tools, once limited to toothbrush and toothpaste, have blossomed into a cottage industry of hundreds of tools to keep your mouth clean and fresh no matter where you are or what you’re doing. Which makes the odd poorly-breathed stranger that much more inexplicable. Outside of the time it takes you to get from your bed to your bathroom in the morning, there is no appreciably good reason that your breath should smell like your garbage disposal after you’ve cooked Thai food. Outside of admitting that you’ve read any of the Twilight books, nothing will stop me from listening to you faster than being punched in the face by your stank breath. And this is not just a first date thing, either. Just because you’re not going to be making out with someone doesn’t mean they should have to endure you exhaling toxic waste. In the end, it just comes down to one question: would you like a breath mint?

3. Get Funky With It. There is nothing, not mini-van drivers, not inattentive parents, not loud teenagers, not even Notre Dame fans that makes me more instantly and violently agitated than someone with body odor. I cannot conceive of a more inconsiderate thing than failing to effectively wash one’s ass. With the availability of bathing facilities in even the most squalid of living conditions, and the commoditized nature of deodorant products, there is just no excuse. None. I’ve heard this explained as a cultural dilemma, and that I should be accommodating of cultures where regular bathing and/or anti-odor products are frowned upon. And all I can say to that is, bullshit. I don’t care who you pray to. I don’t care how or where you were raised. No matter what you read, even by my own hand, I don’t really care so much what the hell you’re wearing. I don’t care what you believe in and I don’t care whether you want to or not. But if you can’t keep from stinking, you need to be dragged off by men in HazMat suits and given a Silkwood shower in front of your family and friends. It’s subhuman. I don’t care if you’ve cured cancer, built an orphanage in Somalia and given your life’s savings to the humane society, if you stink, you suck. The only acceptable funk in my life comes from George Clinton and the like - your funk is a rake-slappable offense; let’s just hope you’re nowhere near my garage when I smell you.

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We live in a world of olfactory wonder. A nearly infinite array of smells bombard us every day (ever more if you live in New York City), and yet only a few of them are truly awful (again, more if you live in New York City). But bad smells serve their purpose, because without them, how would we know how good our good smells are? To take away these profoundly horrible odors would force us to replace them with some not-so-bad smell just for perspective. Much in the same way the kids at Stanford had to search for a set of “cool kids” in a campus full of valedictorians, orchestra member and band jerks. In fact, bad smells are like Mother Nature’s early warning system, alerting us to stay way, something bad is happening in here. So here’s to you, you smelly bastards, out of scent, out of mind.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

3 Fashion Laws

One of the great surprises of this writing project has been just how many times I have written about clothing. On balance, I’m no more qualified to opine on style than anyone else you might find on the street. I am, however, uniquely qualified in voicing my opinion in the most honest of ways, and since the fashion industry seems founded mostly on delusion, I find my point of view needed sometimes in the most dire way. But like any good logician, I am not content with simply anecdotal remarking, and empirical evaluation. I need rules, axioms and laws that I can apply without passion or prejudice to the fashion choices of others that always produce consistent results - or in this case, things that don’t make me want to claw my eyes out of my head. And so, after careful consideration of these many months of summertime clothing which I have been forced to observe, here are 3 laws of fashion:

1. Why Not Take All Of Feet. I have been wrestling with my own personal revulsion over being bombarded with the sight of nearly bare feet for some time. Because it’s hot outside (and by “hot”, I mean three months of three digit temperatures), there are a lot of feet around. Now granted, I don’t personally understand why this obviates the use of regular shoes. After all, keeping my feet uncovered while the rest of me is bundled up does little to keep me cool, and a pair of shorts and a t-shirt keep me from overheating despite wearing socks and sneakers. But that notwithstanding, I’ve come to this: the only people whose feet I want to see naked are those whom I want to see the rest of them naked. Or to put in plainer terms: gentlemen, shoes on; old people, shoes on; anyone overweight, shoes on. Any questions? Listen, their is no part of the human body which more unapologetically conveys one’s overall health, fitness and grooming standards like their feet - and unless you’re the kind of person turning heads at the swimming pool, do us all a favor and turn your bare feet into some shoes already.

2. Gang Colors. Over the years, nightclubs and other entertainment establishments have utilized dress codes to restrict access to gang members who use clothing to identify themselves and rival gang members. Prohibited items have included certain colors (blue and red), certain items (ball caps and plain white t-shirts) and even certain ways of wearing otherwise innocuous items (sagging pants). But of late, these same clubs have added a restriction to their list - to prevent an even more insidious and worthless group from access - the banning of “TapOut” and “Affliction” shirts to keep out Team Douche. Never in the history of clothing has a brand become more unerringly indicative of an overall absence of redeeming social value than these two. What the white hood is to racists, the screen-printed skulls, crosses and other faux badassery is to chodes. No matter what sort of artistic or stylistic value these brands used to have, they have been completely and irrevocably absorbed by the least desirable social element since street gangs, and the time has come to either take them out of your closet and burn them - or abandon any defense you may have to being an asshat. There is simply no good reason to ever be seen in one of these shirts again.

3. Man Dazzle. As a general rule, it is never a good idea for a man to buy clothes at any store that might be rightfully classified as a “boutique.” Men’s clothing has, until recently, been gloriously simple. For those with refined taste and a similar budget, there was elegant simplicity. And for the rest of us there was regular, old, simple simplicity. Quality notwithstanding, our clothes came in shapes, sizes and colors that just made sense. The only things that were attached to these practical pieces were buttons, zippers and the occasional snap. On the rare occasion you needed something shiny affixed (e.g. cufflinks, tie clip, etc.) it was a completely separate affair. But just when I thought screen printing had reached a critical mass of ridiculousness, someone got out their hot glue gun and upped the ante. Studs, rhinestones and hastily affixed shiny trim began to appear on casual clothing like unwelcome pimples on a questionable complexion. This man-dazzling has turned the previously banal exercise that was men’s laundry into a tag-reviewing mid-term in the myriad wash modes and drying techniques available in the laundry room, and even exposed the dry cleaner to casual men’s clothes. If there is a worse idea than built-in accessorizing for men, I haven’t heard of it. Seriously, this was barely acceptable for Elvis and it most certainly isn’t o.k. for you. If a shirt has anything on it besides a device it keep it closed, you’re better off without it.

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No matter how exhaustively I try, I suspect there will always be an opportunity for me to shamelessly mock what people are wearing. After all, without fashion misses, there would be no fashion hits. But with the pace at which trends are set, obsessively followed and then abandoned, the struggle to keep up has all but eliminated any measure of common sense in the process, and a nation of the tragically hip are left to the wit and whimsy of a few eccentric Frenchmen. Is it really any wonder we end up looking foolish? For me, unlike any other areas of my life where I prefer the cutting edge, I tend to purposefully stay a few steps behind with what I’m wearing. That way I can vet the current trends, see if there’s anything I like, or whether I’ll stick with the time-tested classics that I know and love. After all, they don’t call it “fashionably late” for nothing.