Latest 3 Things

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.

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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). 

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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.  

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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).