Latest 3 Things

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

3 Accidental Lessons

As many of you know, 3 things has been on sabbatical of late; largely as a function of a self-imposed exile to study for the Nevada Bar Exam. The Bar Exam has the same relationship to the practice of law as true love has with ABC’s The Bachelor (or Lord help me, the Bachelorette), and studying for it is a lot like dating in Los Angeles: painful, expensive, and an unbelievable grind just to score something average. But similar to life in Los Angeles, the best part of it is when it’s over, and thankfully, I can finally now enjoy the afterglow of a July spent living like a shut in. The myriad of useless things that one is forced to learn for the Bar Exam is mind boggling. From bits of the Constitution that no one will ever care if you know to lawsuits that will never be filed, my brain hasn’t been this awash in utterly valueless knowledge since I thought winning at Trivial Pursuit might get me laid. It didn’t. But along the way, a funny thing happened, and I actually did learn a few things that not only did I not expect, but that actually might prove useful someday. As you might expect, not one of them was in my prep course syllabus. And so, in the interests of finally being back, here are 3 things I accidentally learned while studying for the Bar:

1. The Live Long Day. For the majority of my adult life, I have had the enormous good fortune to either (a) spend my days doing things that I like doing or (b) spend my days doing things I don’t like doing with someone’s boot up my ass to make sure it gets done. As a result, my days have always seemed woefully short. Just when I start to get up to speed, the sun’s setting, and it’s almost time to reload. I haven’t kept regular “working hours” for as long as I can recall, and if I’m awake, I’m usually trying to squeeze just a bit more into my days. But with a good, solid month to put work aside and try to channel my law-school self, I discovered that when you’re doing something you don’t really want to do and there’s no one there to motivate you - days are long. Like a rush hour trip on the 405 long, Out of Africa long, last-day-of-school-before-summer long. Never has the difference between having to do something and wanting to do something been more painfully obvious. I usually have to be reminded to eat lunch - and usually some time after one in the afternoon. But more than a few times in July I checked the clock three times before ten hoping it was noon. Even more depressing was realizing that there are actually five or six usable hours after dinner (which I had to use for something other than watching Law & Order re-runs and re-mastering Mario Kart). One thing I learned for sure, whoever said that “life is short” was definitely not studying for the Bar.

2. Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking? My regular readers know that I lamented many times over the unwanted changes that three and a half decades (or so) have wrought on my body, but always comforted myself with the corresponding gains my mind has made over the same years. It turns out, however, that not all of the changes to my mind have been as positive as I had hoped. I used to be really good at school. I mean, really, really good. I had a nearly insatiable appetite for classes, homework and tests. I didn’t just have a tolerance for pedagogy, I had a need for it. But in the intervening 15 years or so since I was last truly engaged in academic pursuit, my knowledge of the gap between what you learn in school and what you need to know to be successful has broadened to the point where I have approximately the same amount of patience for classroom-based academic instruction as I have when running a few minutes late and driving behind a minivan in the left-most lane on the freeway (trust me, it’s not a pretty sight). It’s not that the classes have changed that much - white boards instead of chalkboards and laptops instead of notepads, but still the same repetition, outlines, flash cards, practice tests, etc. And I couldn’t be less interested if it were a class on the Neo-Freudian nuances of Sex and the City. I once had the romantic notion that I might go back to school someday - get a Master’s degree, maybe even a Ph.D. I also once suspected I might be a superhero who simply hadn’t located his powers yet. Turns out there’s a better chance that I can fly.

3. Legally Gone. There are a lot of things not to like about being a lawyer, but the absolute worst part of the profession is having to spend time around other lawyers. Of course, I’m not saying that all lawyers are the same sort of insufferably self-absorbed, vastly over-apprised of their own worth and intelligence, shits that give rise to an entire subset of pointed humor and a nearly universal revulsion amongst the public, but it’s a large enough majority to warrant not betting against it. I have been out of the firm practice for over four years, and in that time I had almost forgotten how painful it is to not only spend time around people far enough up their own ass as to nearly come out their own mouth, but to be associated with them. It took me less than a full day into my Bar prep course - overhearing two attorneys talking at lunch - to remember. It was that day I committed to taking my review by video lectures at home, lest I have to endure another minute. There hasn’t been a group of people so poorly over-advised of their social value since the Kardashians, and it should come as no surprise that their patriarch was similarly licensed. I had once hoped that my revulsion to my professional colleagues was born of simply going to the wrong school and working in the wrong city. Nope, we really are mostly assholes.

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In the end, taking the Bar Exam was an instructive process. A reminder of a few important principles that I may have lost in my otherwise focused practice, and of the breadth of knowledge that the public expects from us. It was also instructive on just how long it’s been and how far I’ve come since the last time I sat in a room with that many other JDs. Six years is an otherwise unremarkable amount of time. After all, it took more time to get the education I needed to take the exam, to get from voting eligible to rental car eligible and from puberty to non-virginity (yes, I know). But in that time, I went from someone who had memorized a good bit of the law, to actually being a lawyer; the kind of professional that people entrust with their lives, their livelihood and their future. And while it took this kind of exam to start to figure out that I could do that, it’s going to take a whole lot more than another one to tell me that I can’t.