Latest 3 Things

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

3 Football Farewells

It seems like just yesterday that Las Vegas weather was cooling out of the three-digit range, kids were headed back to school and the real sports season was finally, thankfully, about to begin. There are a thousand things I love about the fall, but none so unquestionably as its marking of the start of football. I am a year-round sports fan and have watched more installments of SportsCenter than I have of every other show I’ve ever watched - combined. But where my love of hockey, basketball and baseball can at best reach ten, my love for football goes to eleven. Football is the modern day bloodsport - a satisfaction of our prurient, limbic need for battle. Its arrival is preceded by a nearly interminable parade of countdowns, previews and lead-ups. The sweet relief from which makes the inauguration of a new year’s tournament of warriors all the more welcome. But when this parade of glorious violence comes to an end, we are met with disappointment and longing in equal measure to those wondrous autumn days, pregnant with possibility and ripe with the promise of excitement to come. And so, with the final game of this season past nearly upon us, an ode to the season we leave behind - 3 things to miss from the football season:

1. Lasting Couch. In the fast-paced hyper-connected world we live in, unproductive time is scarce. We are constantly tethered to a global information and media network that allows us to work anytime, anyplace. What’s more, the money we’ve invested in our own connectivity imbues within us a sense of wasteful guilt if we spend a waking moment doing nothing of value. But there is activity, devoid of any value, social, professional or otherwise, that even in our online world is not only permitted, but celebrated. From September to January, and one glorious weekend in February, otherwise active, productive and responsible men can plant themselves on a couch for over three hours, glued to a hi-definition television and surrounded by food that has the capacity to simultaneously kill, preserve and irrevocably fatten them and rightfully be called fans. During the other seven months of the year, this same behavior results in you rightfully being called a lazy bastard. Farewell licensed sloth!

2. The Ties That Bind. There’s a reason why only men bond: because women are already bonded. That’s why they can, without having made acquaintance, go the bathroom together, coordinate menstrual cycles and extensively mock our sexual technique. Men, on the other hand, have a little ways to go to get to that point. We have to struggle to find some common ground, upon which neither of us has significant personal claim, which we can happily co-habitate on, and which we are at least marginally familiar. For most of us, this is simply too much trouble, and so we keep each other at a distance, and allow the fairer sex to join forces and pick us off one at a time. But for five months out of the year, there is something we universally relate to; one topic we can discuss with one another no matter where we come from or where we’re going. Because in each of us, short, tall, skinny, fat, young, old, strong or weak, is a football player. No matter if we suited up for fifteen years, or never suited up at all, in each of us burns the desire to tackle, throw, catch, run and celebrate a touchdown. And because of that, we all feel qualified to have an “expert” opinion on football - a feeling that we can’t wait to share with one another. Farewell to sharing our feelings with other guys.

3. The Crying Shame. There are precious few occasions when you can expect to see a grown man display any real emotions. There are even fewer when you can expect to see him do it in front of his friends. But as the summer gives way to fall, and the fall gives way to winter, you can find men regularly forgetting their devotion to stoicism and plaintive facial expressions. In their place, you will find unbridled joy, boundless jubilation, crushing disappointment and abject defeat. We celebrate or bemoan the winning or losing of face, pride, or even money, just as robustly (and sometimes even more so) as if we were playing ourselves. We jump up and shout, pump our fists, pound our chests and high five like-minded strangers. We pout, curse, plead and retreat into despondence. I, myself, am inconsolable after my beloved Navy loses a big game - avoiding all sports broadcasting of any sort until enough time has passed that it is sure not to be mentioned. During this cherished term, each week we have the opportunity to shed our muted exteriors and let loose the crazy, loud, over-the-top madman we’re otherwise ashamed of. Farewell to wearing our hearts on our sleeves (albeit the sleeve of our Navy jersey).

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Football is to adulthood what summer vacation was to childhood: a cherished annual occurrence that seemed as fleeting as it was wonderful. The day it was over, we began to wish for it to come around again, and hoped against hope that the time between occurrences would pass just as quickly as the time during it. It made the mundane somehow more enjoyable, and infused the whole world with a joy and purpose that seemed altogether absent during those dark days in between. And so it goes for 2011 - as we gather for a global wake, mourning the end of yet another season of pigskin with the world’s largest party. We brace ourselves for March Madness, the inexplicably marginal Stanley Cup, six months of professional basketball playoffs, and a baseball season that seems fourteen months long, armed with the knowledge that, no matter the banality of the sports we must endure to get there, football will be back, just as surely as the fall itself will follow the summer. And when it arrives, we’ll be there, farewells long forgotten and waiting for kickoff.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

3 You Know Whats

There are very few verbal devices from adolescence that prove useful in adult life. What’s more, the majority of the strongest tools in our verbal arsenal from childhood, seem to inspire the same sort of head scratching disdain and disbelief that thinking back on our wardrobe from the same times in our lives. There is one, however, that remains and becomes even more useful as we grow older, and that is the euphemism. Once used to avoid the ire and watchful eyes of our parents, guardians and caregivers as we made unavoidable references to our naughtiest bits, they become tools of expressing necessary references to the “adult” in adult life, in places where explicit references simply won’t do. That being said, with our own maturing, often comes the maturing of this brilliant lingual utility - with a few notable exceptions. Outside of their ability to amuse, entertain, and maintain decorum, euphemisms can also embarrass and expose far more about their users than a bald reference ever could have accomplished. And so, for those who hope to keep the secrets that they’re trying to - here are 3 you know whats that you should know better than to use:

1. Eating It Up. It was a food-based reference to genitalia that inspired this piece, and it seems only fair it should lead off this parade of discomfiture. It’s unclear how referring to one’s private parts as food items, somehow reduces the prurient nature of the subject, but the practice persists, nonetheless. After all, discussion of edible items does little to quell the appetite - no matter the particular hunger involved. What’s more, a little informal polling amongst my friends revealed that there’s little in the way of references that provide a more foolproof guarantee that the offending anatomy won’t be ending up in anyone’s mouth soon. I’ve heard everything from cookies and sweets, to veggies and chicken, and far too many references to produce (bananas, melons, etc.). At best, these are uncomfortably trite and at worst, they’re downright unappetizing. When it comes to euphemisms, it’s best to remember not to play with your food.

2. Child’s Play. Every parent goes through countless uncomfortable moments when they must teach their children about the sordid details of their growing bodies while still balancing their ongoing instruction in decorum and good manners. Out of this paradox grows a collection of nonsensical euphemisms that are so benign as to be heard on primetime network programming, and sound more like fictional characters in a children’s book than human sexual organs. Seriously, can’t you just imagine a father reading a bedtime story to his children about the misadventures of Hoo-Hoo Dilly, and her lovable sidekick, Winky? It’s debatable whether these are really of any use with kids, but it’s not so debatable as to whether they are o.k. for adults to use. Unless you have children and are speaking directly to them, referring to any genitalia using make believe words makes it a strong possibility that you’ll be having a make believe relationship in the near future.

3. A Rose as Sweet. Names are hard enough to come up with for each other. Add in the stress of appropriate and snappy nicknames, pseudonyms for security purposes, and the occasional stage name for promotion and you’ve got a full blown anxiety attack on your hands - just to meet one new person. Which makes it all the more inexplicable as to why anyone would give a proper name to the parts of their body - especially those parts that seem to have plenty of names already. The “Urban Dictionary” lists over fifty words for ‘penis’ and notes that it is a “small selection of the synonyms.” The same resource lists over a hundred synonyms for ‘vagina’ and more than that for ‘breasts.’ And with all these to choose from - a range from the benign to the truthfully raunchy - some still opt for “Frank”, “Sheila” or “Junior.” I’m sure there’s some sort of detailed psycho-analyzation which is possible once this kind of behavior is discovered - but for my money, I just can’t trust someone who gives anything a name immediately prior to hoping to have it slapped up, flipped or rubbed down.

* * *

In the end, it’s good to have a verbal tool at your disposal which allows for delightfully or necessarily inappropriate conversation at an appropriate time. But just like the rest of the tools in our verbal toolboxes, our skill at using it should grow as we do - from clumsy apprenticeship to ultimate mastery, otherwise you'll end up flailing it about like a toddler with a hammer (with similarly delicate results). A successful euphemism is one that makes the listener wonder, just for a moment, whether or not the hidden meaning of the term you’re using is the one you intended, or if he/she is just being a pervert. That little bit of titillation with a touch of embarrassment can be a strong tool in the hands of the speaker who knows how to wield it. On the other hand, an unsuccessful euphemism immediately calls into question the maturity, intelligence and sophistication of its utterer (not unlike hearing someone recite Miley Cyrus lyrics) and makes everyone wonder if the reason you’re having trouble referring to genitalia is that it’s been a while since you’ve seen any.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

3 Technology Tragedies

A year ago, THREE THINGS was dedicated to my first-ever trip to the CES (Consumer Electronics Show), a lifelong dream fulfilled, and proof positive that I am, in fact, a shameless geek. I love all things technology, including my iPhone, iPad, TiVo, Bluetooth, etc., etc., etc (believe me, I could go on). And while there is no doubt that I am a disciple of the church of gadgetry, and all the ways in which it can make one's life better, I’ve also noticed that there is a downside to all this techno-sprawl. As the world’s electronics manufacturers have brought these microchip miracles to the masses, they’ve brought with them a whole host of problems which we never could have anticipated. A year removed from the greatest moment of my technology-fueled life, I stand aghast at the world around me, and can’t help but notice that some of it can be traced to our new electronic lives. And with the honesty only a techno-apologist could muster, here are the three cons to all of our technology pros:

1. Paying Attention. There is a new posture that has replaced the slacker slouch which characterized two decades worth of youthful disappointment and has afflicted far more than simply the Stridex set. In fact, it can be spotted in the fanciest clubs and restaurants, even being adopted by the social elite. It is the smartphone hunch. You know the one I mean, the head hung down staring at the upward facing LCD screen, being held by both hands (so as to leave thumbs free), with shoulders tightly hunched in rapt attention to the brightly colored display. Our portable portals to the information superhighway command an almost constant attention, and as our online lives have become ever more personal, we are only too happy to give it to them. I’ve truthfully seen groups of young women sitting around a table at a bar, ostensibly on a “Girl’s Night Out”, each of them dressed up ready for action and yet dutifully glued to their phones, sometimes even using them to talk to each other. You know technology’s gone mad when it makes even bimbos anti-social. If you find yourself at a social gathering in this position, turn your phone off and your humanity on. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did. If you find someone else in this position, feel free to slap the phone out of their hands and let them know that if they only want to play with themselves, they’re better off staying at home.

2. Shorthanded. As our communications have gone from voice to digital voice, to electronic writing to short-form electronic writing, we have naturally developed a shorthand to infuse these ever-more efficient means with the personality which their unimodality strips away. After all, there is no body language in a call, no inflection in an e-mail, and no nuance in a text message. And in this vacuum of subtlety, a universe of acronyms and text version of facial expressions has been created. Few amongst us don’t know and don’t use “LOL”, “:)” or “TTYL” - and as they have come into common use, they've proven quite valuable. We all know that leaving off the appropriate acronym or emoticon can be nearly disastrous - especially when communicating with the opposite sex. The voluminous use of this shorthand, however, is now coming at the expense of its storied predecessor, actual writing. Thousands of teachers have reported the use of these acronyms (and yes, even their smiley-face counterparts) in term papers, book reports, science projects and more. It’s one thing to use these shortcuts when limited by time and characters, it’s another when you’ve got all the time and space you need. If the only way you know how to express happiness is with a colon and a parenthesis, it’s a fair bet that you’ve never really experienced it at all.

3. A Voice For Everyone. As the content of all this new media becomes less and less populated by monolithic networks, and more and more by independent sources, it has become possible for each of us to broadcast our thoughts, beliefs and conclusions literally around the world with just the touch of a button. I, for one, am grateful for this particular advancement - as without it, there would be no THREE THINGS, no book and no way for me to visit with each of you every week. But while this universal access sounds like a wonderfully democratic idea, it turns out that when we give everyone the opportunity to broadcast, we do not give it exclusively to people who have even the slightest bit of intelligence, rationality or the ability to think logically. No, we gave it to the crazies, the fanatics and the woefully under-informed; the whack-jobs, the religious right and the local militia members - and as luck would have it, they turned out to be some of the loudest voices in the crowd. These shouting simpletons have done far worse than simply drown out still small voices that we all might be better served to listen to - they’ve found each other, banded together and formed a political party (complete with its own television network). Of course, it begs the question then, whether I would give up this pulpit, if I could once again have these collective fools banished to the rural fields and dark suburban corners from whence they came. And the answer would be a resounding “yes.”

* * *

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not planning on putting all my gadgets up on eBay, and trying to create a desert Walden, here in southern Nevada. No, I’ll still be logging in and logging on - just as data hungry as I was yesterday, and still looking to the recently departed exhibitors from the CES to populate my wish list in the year to come - but I am cautious to look to them for anything more, or to continue to recommend the technology that I have personally adopted to everyone around me. Because what I’ve come to know, after observing the aforementioned horrors, that technology is a powerful tool, and any of you with power tools know that they’re not to be handled by just anyone. And so in the absence of minimum IQs, ages or measurable social skills as a prerequisite for owning these new technologies, I can only hope that the new electronic economy that emerges from the Great Recession will make these electronics prohibitively expensive - or at least a whole lot harder to use. Perhaps then we'll find that the problems with our online lives are best solved by turning them off.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

3 New Things

It’s relatively easy to make promises and resolutions when you’ve got no real idea about what sort of sacrifices it’s going to take to see them through. It’s a whole other thing to make those same promises when you’re fully aware of the time, effort and sweat involved, especially when the memory of what it took to keep a year-long promise is still fresh in your head. But despite all of this, less than a month after publishing this column into a first book, and less than a week after publishing last year’s last piece, I’ve resolved to come back for a third year of weekly writing, knowing full well that it means writing through writer’s block, on weekends where I haven’t got a spare minute - let alone a spare couple of hours, and relying on the kindness of friends, family and loyal readers for editing, publicity and that little positive feedback that makes it all worthwhile. So here we go friends, on another year’s worth of picks, pans, and rants - and just to entice you to spend another year on this journey, here are 3 things you can expect from THREE THINGS in 2011:

1. More Mr. Nice Guy. If reading over a year’s worth of writing has taught me one thing, it’s that I’m one angry bastard. Seriously. Two-thirds of my titles had the word “bad” in them. There’s more optimism in a South Carolina School Board meeting than I’ve got in the average column. I’ve seen more happiness at a cancelled emo concert than I put in my weekly musings. There are better vibes in an adult bookst... well, you get the point. So, you can expect to see a little more sunshine amidst the raincloud that is normally my Tuesday spotlight on social decay. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not going all Stuart Smalley on you. You have a better chance of locating a three digit IQ at a Tea Party rally than finding an affirmation on the pages of THREE THINGS. This isn’t about to become the rainbow unicorn of columns just because I wanted to turn up the nice a bit. No, you’ll still be able to drop by and find me poking fun at the purposefully stupid, the petulantly ignorant, and anyone who insists that the sound coming out of Miley Cyrus’ mouth is “music.” But, I’m also going to stop and smell the roses every once in a while, too. If only to appreciate just how awful the awful really is.

2. My Favorite Favorite. Everyone loves a little variety. Baskin-Robbins didn’t make their money by having 31 versions of the same flavor. But you can also be damned sure that when I trot my lazy behind into one of those shops, I’ll be leaving with a scoop of Chocolate Peanut Butter, no matter what the other 30 flavors are. So while you might fairly expect that 2011 will bring a whole bevy of threes that you’ve never heard of and never expected, there will also be a healthy helping of your old favorites. The fact is, there is never going to be shortage of horrible things that people wear, ridiculous things that people say/write, or inexplicably stupid behavior. It’s never been about finding only three of these things to write about on any given week - it’s been about picking three out of the countless there are to choose from (or, more to the point, identifying the three that have been aggrieving me the most on that particular week). So, if your favorite topic has already been covered, and you think from here on out it’s going to be also-rans, fear not - I’m bringing the most popular topics back (albeit with brand new threes), and chances are that yours is in there.

3. Reach Out and Touch Someones. At the heart of any writing is a desire to communicate, and at the heart of every writer is a burning desire to hear something, anything, after he/she shouts their monologue into the abyss. After all, if a column is written in the forest, and there’s no one around to read it, does it make a difference? Nothing I have written in this project has meant as much to me as any of the things that you have written back to me - and in 2011, there’s going to be a whole lot more of you in what I’m writing. I’m pulling a new distribution list from Facebook for the e-mail notices; I’m taking column requests (okay, I'm still taking column requests) ; I’m reaching out with the book, and I’m asking each of you to, at least once during the year, leave something here - in the hopes that I can add a “Best Comments” chapter to the book at the end of the year - and make you all a real part of a project that wouldn't be possible without you. With far too many of you, this column is the only meaningful communication we have - and that makes the fact that it’s mostly one-sided that much more tragic.

* * *

The excitement and promise of the new year is certainly not lost on THREE THINGS. I had no idea what this project would be when I started it, and even after 55 installments, two editors, one book and some well-intentioned Photoshopping, I’m still just as excited about what could become of it. I have no delusions of grandeur, and don’t expect to go viral tomorrow. I have long known that candid photos of Wal-Mart shoppers, Chuck Norris declarations and the auctioning off of things you don’t really need will always be more popular than good writing. But I labor under the steadfast belief that the artfully crafted essay will endure, as a place where you can exercise your mind at the same time you’re tickling it. Sure, it’s not the most objective viewpoint I’ve got, but the belief that there are still people out there who love a good read just as much as a good laugh does a whole lot more than keep me writing, it keeps me waking up in the morning. So thank you for reading - and I hope you enjoy the ride.