Latest 3 Things

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

38 Things

I started out with the best of intentions on a third year of THREE THINGS, I really did.  But as it’s want to do, life sometimes has different things in mind and an unintentional sabbatical was born.  As time wore on, I looked to the seminal pieces from the previous years as places to measure my interest in restarting, and while a number of holidays passed without inspiration, the annual anniversary of my arrival on this planet – which had previously used to list and share the lessons I had learned up until that day – loomed large.  Because for the great many things that seemed to inadvertently go on hold, the one thing that didn’t was the discrete learning process that has marked much of my adult life.  A young life spent training in mathematics did not leave with me any remarkable skill in doing arithmetic in my head (though it seems everyone wants this to be the case), but rather, a penchant for reducing inductive discoveries into rules.  In this form, they take on a utility, both to me and to others.  In this form they can be tested and tried – and most importantly, passed on.  And so, in the interests of doing something to celebrate 38 years spent breathing, here are 38 things I’ve learned:

  1. The answer to the problem of people not reading enough is not to give them dumber things to read: it’s to make them smart enough to read the things that are already written (are you listening Stephanie Meyer?)
  2. Each decade of one's life has a different most valuable commodity.  The first four (in order) have been: my toys, my friends, my lovers, and my time.  I have a strong suspicion that my next one will be my health.
  3. There is no more universal regret, when looking back on one’s youth, than what we wore.
  4. I’ve decided that it makes more sense to hate individual athletes than whole teams: so my sports hates are now Alex Rodriguez, Chris Bosch and everyone that plays for Notre Dame.
  5. Three things that women are universally bad at judging: what constitutes a good movie, how long they can wear their shoes without pain, and how attractive their friends are.  
  6. Forty is only the new thirty for men.  For women, forty is the new sixty.  But hey, you didn’t have to buy your own drinks for twenty years so shut up.    
  7. If the success of Mad Men, Robert Downey Jr., and Fifty Shades of Grey has taught us anything, it’s that, appropriate or not, we still love some man in our men.
  8. After military school, everything else seems leisurely-paced.  Including the law?  Especially the law.
  9. There is a name for clubs where you spend extravagantly to watch pretty girls dance on top of things and pretend they like you, and it’s not dance clubs, ultra lounges or country bars.  
  10. If you’ve got a boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife, and you’re out without them, if your first sentence to a stranger doesn’t work that word into it somehow, you’re a piece of shit.
  11. No, I do not want to teach you how to dance.  I’m 38, I need you to already know how.  Do you want to teach me how to talk to girls?
  12. Eye contact three times is the universal signal for “come talk to me.”  Making eye contact three times and then being an ass is the universal signal for “you’re going to die alone.”
  13. The color of the President’s skin is a terrible and ridiculous reason not to trust him.  The idiots he’s surrounded himself with works much better.  
  14. The ability of gay marriage to impact the moral fiber of society is somewhere just below that of the new season of Jersey Shore.
  15. If you can’t flex it, it’s fat.  
  16. The two least attractive words you can say to a woman at 38: “My boss.”
  17. Real Women don’t have curves, Real Women have a sweat suit they actually sweat in, and yoga pants that they… well, you get it from here.
  18. The more you started with, the less I respect what you’ve got.  
  19. The three movies that your failure to have ever seen are justifiable grounds for me to stop talking to you immediately are: Star Wars, Top Gun & The Breakfast Club.  Because there’s simply no chance that you’ll get me otherwise.
  20. The more technology we devote to making something “easier”, the harder it gets.  Case-in-point: communicating, knowing what’s going on in the world, and dating.
  21. Justin Bieber turned out to be worse than N’Sync.  By a lot.  
  22. The worst of us are vastly more entertaining than the best of us.  This is probably because one reminds us how good we are, and the other how terribly average.
  23. The great tragedy of religion is that, given the ultimate gift of the ability to look forward and perceive our future, we keep looking backwards to find something to believe in.  
  24. I would rather spend time with the Manson family than the Kardashian family.  
  25. There is always another train coming.
  26. Be wary of any place where you get the same advice for success as you get in prison (e.g, keep your head down, do your time, keep an eye out in the shower, etc.)  This is especially true for jobs
  27. Best friends come from the most unexpected places.  Of my four best friends, none of them are lawyers, only one has a degree, two of them are cheerleaders, three of them are hairier than me, and all four are better friends than I deserve.
  28. Though actual feral children are quite rare, you can closely approximate the experience at any local Wal-Mart.
  29. The great success of modern fashion is that we have finally convinced idiots to label themselves.
  30. There is nothing more terrifying or more satisfying than going out on your own, doing it your own way, and working without a safety net.
  31. People suck.  This is both cause for despair and a reason to truly appreciate those precious few people you know that don’t. 
  32. The greatest modern civic failure is traffic; a system that, after nearly 100 years, is still completely controlled by the dumbest person in line.
  33. Making someone feel stupid isn’t abuse, it’s motivation for them to get smarter. 
  34. The absence of a good ass-kicking from the vast majority of modern childhoods isn’t progress, it’s tragic.
  35. No matter how much better, higher-resolution, three-dimensional or otherwise awesome they make it, nothing will make me happier to see on a TV screen than Super Mario Brothers.  
  36. I’m not scared of marriage – I’m scared of divorce; which is governed by laws based largely on the 1950's.      
  37. The only really good gamble to make is on yourself.  Everything else is just luck and wishful thinking.
  38. I would rather fail spectacularly attempting some great thing than succeed at doing something average.

Here’s to a 39th year attempting great things.  Come what may.

Monday, April 16, 2012

3 New Douches

I swear I’ve written this essay a few times before.  No writer likes to cover old ground, repeating the same insights - which, the second time around, seem unoriginal and contrived.  And so it is with douchebaggery.  Given the number of times I’ve written about it, I feel like I should have it covered by now.  I’ve opined on this tragic male zeitgeist more than three times as many times as I’ve waxed philosophical on politics, and yet, the latter seems far more thoroughly covered.  It’s seems that the need for the self-aggrandizement of the modern male is a force so powerful that we are incapable of containing it.  No matter how shameful or ridiculous it is exposed to be, it endures.  No matter how many times we shout it down, it resurfaces: rebranded, redoubled and, impossibly enough, renewed.  But despite the overwhelming odds against me, I continue to rage against this unstoppable force.  Like the Spartan 300, I have confidence that while outnumbered, I am fighting for what it righteous and just, and that I can and will prevail.  And so, in the seemingly endless fight against asshatted chodery, here are 3 new douches that should be mocked into oblivion:

1. Hotness.  The tank top is already a staple of douchery.  One cannot even be considered an entry-level “bagger” without a significant number of these undershirts-come-outerwear in their wardrobe.  The same can be said for ill-fitting cargo shorts.  But whereas these fashion scourges and thoughtless homages to doughy physiques were previously something we were only forced to endure during summer months, they have recently become a year-round measure of visual pollution.  I imagine that wearing unseasonably warm clothing in sub-60 degree temperatures is meant to evoke a kind of awe in the toughness and abject badassery it must take to don the barest measures of cover when braving chilling temperatures, but when you’re doing it at the outdoor mall, it just makes you look (even more) like an idiot.  The worst part about this is that every moron that engages in this behavior seems to be the kind of guy (a) whose partial nudity is more likely to arouse disgust and disappointment than awe, and (b) who really should be covering up (for health reasons).  Watching people this intellectually under-equipped trying to manage the faux lack of discomfort over being dressed for temperatures twenty degrees cooler isn’t even entertaining, it’s just disappointing.  I can appreciate that sometimes ladies dressed for a night on the town can be caught in similar circumstances, but for gentlemen, where a jacket is always fashionable, there’s just no excuse.  Unless it’s discovered that hypothermia grows brain cells instead of killing them, this is yet another sign that the intellectual apocalypse is nigh.  

2. On The Toes.  I have a very simple rule when it comes to mens feet: the respect I have for another man is inversely proportional to the number of times I’ve seen his bare toes.  I’m not sure where this comes from, and I’m not sure if this is indicia of some kind of weird phobia, but I do know that I’m not a fan of feet.  In fact, of all the misinformation provided by the modern mens fashion industry, there is none more egregious than the idea that mens sandals (“mandals” if you will) are somehow acceptable formal (or even casual) footwear.  Of course, if dignity, pride or the initial impression of others are matters of no concern to you - feel free to ignore this advice.  The men who actually spend big dollars for this fashion mandals are a special kind of idiot, but more and more, I have begun to see sport sandals at the most inappropriate places.  To be clear, I’m not talking about flip-flops, because that’s ground we’ve already covered (i.e. unless you’re at or near the beach/pool, you’re doing it wrong), I’m talking about straight up, one strap across the whole foot shower shoes.  Now for the record, I have on two occasions, actually owned such footwear.  Once, when I was stationed aboard a submarine and using the same shower as 10-12 other guys, for use when going to and from the facilities and also while inside (so as to avoid any nasty fungus-based events); and once more, when playing a lot of field sports, to avoid wearing my cleats to and from the field, in the car, etc., and not having to don/doff the associated socks.  As far as I’m concerned, this concludes the list of acceptable places to wear this kind of shoe.  You will note, this list does not include: the gym (while using the cardio equipment/lifting weights), the grocery store, the mall or any restaurant -  all places where I have recently seen it done.  Being shoeless or sockless makes you about as badass as being homeless, and really just makes you seem clueless.

3. Stockings Hung.  On balance, there aren’t a whole lot of good reasons for a grown man to be wearing a hat of any sort these days.  Aside from the few obvious exceptions: ball caps if you’re actually playing baseball (or at least at the ball park), cowboy hats if you’re an actual cowboy (e.g. you can ride a horse, rope a calf and fix a fence - without help from YouTube), or a helmet if you’re riding, well, just about anything; you’re really better off just going with your hair - no matter how ill-conceived it might be.  The one universal and unqualified exception I have always made to these rules was the stocking cap for inclement weather.  There’s just no reason for pride, vanity or fashion when it comes to keeping your brain, head, ears, etc. from actually freezing. That said, while I wasn’t paying attention, these most utilitarian head coverings appear to have gone from functional staple to hipster stupid.  And while you might think it difficult to tell the difference between these two diametrically opposed uses, it’s actually a quite simple test.  If you see someone adjusting their stocking cap in front of a mirror, that’s the douchey kind.  Because if you’re using this device to keep your head alive, you check if it’s working by walking outside and not by making sure your hair is poking out of it just so.  Seriously, if you’re getting your fashion ideas from Fat Albert re-runs, what do we really have to lose if your head freezes?

* * *

Look, I want to stop writing about this.  I really do.  Much in the same way that cancer researchers would love to stop their efforts, food banks would enjoy not having to stockpile provisions, and police would appreciate not having to investigate violent crimes - because in each of those circumstances, we would have solved an epidemic.  The replacement of the traditional American male with the douche is not just about visual pollution, having to keep an even closer eye on the modern teenage female, or inexplicable bravado of youth.  It’s about the displacement of the most revered male archetype the world has ever known with a hastily thrown together and abortive amalgamation of Chris Angel, Levi Johnston and all the male cast members from the Jersey Shore.  By failing to guide the twenty first century young man, we’ve unwittingly created a facile and feckless twenty first century man.  But it may not yet be too late.  As while I’ve often said you can’t save the world with what you wear, it turns out that you might just be able save it with what you don’t.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

3 Dressing Do's

Over the past three years, I have offered all measure of fashion criticisms.  From the subtle to the ravingly overt, if nothing else, THREE THINGS has provided an intricate road map of what not to wear.  As society has all but eliminated even the slightest bit of personal shame, I have endured a visual onslaught of the unimaginably poorly dressed at sometimes so disgusting as to literally eliminate my appetite.  But for all this identification, and foolish attempts to inspire consideration by way of pointing out the obvious, I have offered little, if any, in the way of constructive suggestion.  After all, what good is a critic if he can’t provide at least a modicum of solution to the problems he identifies?  Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t the slightest idea of how to remedy the deep-seated and systemic social issues which have gotten us to a place where it’s a acceptable for men to wear skinny jeans, for women to poorly-knit ponchos or for anyone to wear their sunglasses inside at night, but I do know a few things that you can wear and not look like an asshat.  That’s right, after a three decades of dressing myself, and usually not doing it well, I have learned a few things (mostly thanks to patient advice of the women in my life) about what to wear.  And so, in the interests of pointing out a few solutions to the countless problems I have ranted about, here are 3 things to wear to keep everyone from laughing at you:

1. The Plain White Tees.  Men’s fashion has a love-hate relationship with the gay community.  On one hand, they have delivered a profoundly greater level of personal grooming to their straight counterparts, and more than a few style ideas that keep us all from dressing like we did in the seventh grade.  On the other hand, they have also misled a number of otherwise well-intended fashion convertees into androgynous fashion disasters (not everyone looks good with a pocket square).  On balance, though, the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy phenomenon has been a good thing for us.  At the pinnacle of this mountain of gay contribution to the straight community is the v-neck t-shirt as a fashion staple.  Now I know that this has already been taken too far by some.  The deep v-neck is an ill-advised an idea for your average man as as a Speedo swimsuit.  But, your standard v-neck t-shirt is about thing to happen to the male torso since the t-shirt itself.  If there is a universal panacea to the screen-printed apocalypse that is Affliction (and similarly douchey brands of skulls, crosses, crowns, swords, etc.) it is the plain v-neck shirt.  And by plain, I mean plain.  All the same color.  No printing, no fancy stitching, and for God’s sake, the right size.  I first discovered this beautifully simple solution while observing the actually successful crowd in LA (as opposed to the wanna-be/poser crowd).  It’s brilliant, understated, masculine and simple.  If you know someone who can’t stop wearing 80 dollar shirts that look like the art project of an 8th grade boy who watches too much TV, do them a favor, burn their shirts and leave them with a 3-pack of Calving Klein V-necks.  It’ll be the best twenty bucks you ever spend (and it counts as your wedding gift if this finally lands them a girl who doesn’t think Twilight is “literature”)

2. Up to the Chuck.  If there’s one area of fashion where men are almost permanently doomed to being behind their female counterparts, it’s in footwear.  Women know shoes like a native language - a way they learned to communicate that predated their ability to speak.  And men?  We treat shoes like our car keys - something we grab at the last second while heading out the door - and only because we have to.  Men have a hard time even matching their shoes to their particular utility.  Because if this isn’t the case, then there are a lot more people heading off to a skateboarding session than you can tell from watching the local skate parks.  Seriously, skateboard shoes are the footwear equivalent of Underoos - and yet, I see them on grown men daily.  But I get it, dress shoes are about as comfortable as a healthy punch to the groin, and even less cool.  The brands that attempt to create a hybrid (Sketchers, Aldo, Clarks) end up making you look like that asshole that used to work at Chess King in the mall, and (hopefully) you feel ridiculous in flip-flops.  So what to do?  Look to the 1930’s.  The Chuck Taylor All-Star is the most universally acceptable shoe since they started making them.  They come in literally thousands of varieties, and they are, at once, grown-up without being too grown up, stylish without being too stylish, and comfortable without being, well, Crocs.  They also cost less than $40, so you can own more than one pair without being that guy.  Wanna know something you’ll never hear? “Hey look at that guy’s Chucks, what an ass.”  If there’s another kind of shoe you can say that about, I’d like to hear it.     

3. A Great Pair.  There was a time when jeans for men was a simpler concept, and my theory is that this was due in large part to the fact that it was very difficult to screw this up.  Jeans came in pretty much one style, a handful of colors and the sizing was relatively simple.  In fact, the worst thing we ever did with our jeans was to “peg” them against our ankles, in a suburban homage to the hip hop artists of our time.  But while we weren’t paying attention jeans got completely out of control.  They actually developed different “cuts” for men.  Of course, if you’re looking for the ones we used to just call “jeans”, those are now listed under “straight leg”; but now there are also “bootcut” (your girlfriends jeans in your size); “relaxed fit” (previously listed under “husky”); “skinny” (heaven help you if you think this is a good idea) and “slim fit” (listed as - no joke - “for those who want the hipster style of skinny jeans but don't make the cut weight-wise”; if this is you please stop reading now).  Here’s what you need: one great pair of jeans.  If you’re doing well and have the coin, maybe two.  They’re straight leg.  The following things on your jeans are considered an abject failure (and in a world where I was king would result in an immediate rake-slapping): rhinestones, studs, pre-cut holes, flaps on any pocket, embroidery that spells anything or makes a picture and decorative buttons/snaps.  You’re going to spend over a hundred bucks - just suck it up - after all, you’re only going to have to do this once a year or so.  You’re going to make sure they fit - and by fit, I mean, it doesn’t look like you’ve crapped your pants but I also shouldn’t be able to reliably opine on your genital grooming from a glance below your waist.  You’re going to get them hemmed by a professional and you’re going to take good care of them.  With these simple steps, you’ll find they spend a lot more time crumpled up on the floor in the company of their female counterparts than just protecting your couch from your ass.  

* * *

I know what you’re thinking: these tips won’t work for everyone.  What about young guys?  What about older guys?  And to this I would say:  maybe you’re right.  After all, I can’t say that I didn’t violate all of these rules/suggestions during my second decade, and my own retirement may bring on a fashion malaise so profound that I abandon wearing pants altogether.  But (as you might expect) I would ask that you remember three things:  first, if any of my readers are gentlemen in their 20’s, they’re certainly well ahead of their peer group intellectually (as my work rarely includes lingerie photos, fart jokes or nut-shot videos) so they’re probably up for dressing ahead; second, the only guy in his 60’s that reads my stuff is my dad, and he taught me all this stuff; and third, I’m not sure the world wouldn’t be a whole lot better place if men acted a little more like men and I’m not sure I’d mind if that started with dressing the part.  

Monday, March 26, 2012

3 Things I Learned From Jack

Seven months ago, after thirty seven years, I finally increased the size of my family to a number greater than one.  After completing the cognitive and academic Bataan Death March that is the Nevada Bar Exam, I decided to fulfill a life-long dream of owning a “frisbee” dog and began to search in earnest for border collies in or near Las Vegas.  After locating a rescue on the other side of town that specialized in border collies and Australian shepherds (a breed I had never heard of), I planned a Sunday trip.  The next day I was visiting a foster home and a furry-faced Australian Shepard horribly misnamed “Ziggy” by his foster family came to live with me as “Jack.”  The intervening time has been filled with as many adventures as misadventures.  I’ve laughed at his hijinks, cried when I almost lost him; I’ve been amazed at him and confounded by him, and all the while wondering why I waited so damned long.  But more surprising than anything, was that I learned more from this 50 pound bucket of fur, slobber and love than I have from most of the other people in my life.  And so, as a tribute a great first seven months, here are 3 things I learned from Jack:

1.  Time for Two.  I am a lover of great and wonderful toys.  From the first day I set eyes on a Nintendo Entertainment System, I have held a special place in my heart for the visceral joy of controlling things on a screen.  Arcades were welcoming halls of wonder, when the vagaries of normal social interaction escaped me.  And computers were a gateway to a place where all things were possible, when it seemed I lived in a world where impossible was a way of life.  But no matter the nearly unimaginable detail in modern virtual worlds, no matter the reminiscent joy of seeing my old friends Mario, Luigi and Sonic after years gone by, no matter even the fulfillment of a childhood dream to have an arcade in my own living room - there is still something lost in this type of play: playing with others.  Even the most complex and rich solo experience fails to capture the simple bliss of having a friend along.  Jack has a big back yard, more toys than he can remember to bury/dig up, and a ton of free time on his hands (paws).  But nothing makes him happier than having someone to throw things for him to chase, someone on the other end of that tug-o-war, or simply someone to pay a whole lot of slobbery attention to.  When other people are around, his natural lethargy turns to a nearly limitless energy and as long as someone is willing to throw something (no matter how tired he might be) he is willing to chase it.  Jack’s simple lesson: cherish your time with others, for it is the best you have.

2. Stranger Danger.  Thankfully, Jack is not much of a barker.  I didn’t know this when I met him, and didn’t ask the rescue staff or his foster parents about it - even though I probably should have, especially given the high regard which I hold peace and quiet in.  But as it turns out, I got lucky, and Jack likes it quiet, too.  But unlike me, speaks only when absolutely necessary - and this is when he senses danger, someone or something he doesn’t trust.  Of course, Jack’s a smart breed - a herder.  He can’t be head faked easily and you don’t want to be the person trying to keep his toy-du-jour away from him.  But he’s still a dog and it’s not like he can perceive the obvious things that we do.  That said, it turns out that he’s an excellent judge of character.  At first, if he doesn’t know you, he’ll bark if you show up anyplace but the front door.  It doesn’t matter how cute you look, or how nice you talk to him, he’s not buying any of it at first.  Once he’s decided that you mean no harm to house or family, he’s still not ready to be friends.  A good once over with the nose, and then back away again - just to give it a few minutes to see what you’re all about.  In short order, he’s made new friends (turns out that it’s damn near impossible not to love the little bastard) and all is well.  There have, however, been a few instances of people that he never took a liking to, and I really should have paid better attention to that.  Jack’s simple lesson: be wary of everyone at first, and wait a bit before letting people get close - people that can’t be trusted are usually obvious if you just sit back and watch for a minute.

3.  The Best You Can.  Since the very first time I saw one, I wanted a frisbee dog.  In college, where I learned to throw a flying disc farther and better than I ever imagined, my desire become even greater.  After all, what could be a better match than a dog that loved catching frisbee and an owner that loves throwing it?  Alas, my career and location always seemed to make the idea an impossible one - until finally, it didn’t.  I wasn’t even sure that Jack liked frisbee, and again, I didn’t ask.  I just knew he was the right breed - and I hoped against hope.  As luck would have it, Jack loves the frisbee.  On our frequent trips to the park, as soon as he spots it in my hand, he starts trying to run out in front of me and get ready for the next throw.  Like his adoptive father, he is easily distracted, but not when the frisbee is in my hand.  In that moment, he has a laser-like focus, and he tracks every move it makes.  When it flies, he hits a dead sprint, sometimes even outrunning what I had always assumed would be impossibly long throws.  I quickly learned that when you don’t have thumbs, picking a traditional disc up off the ground (i.e. with your mouth), can be a somewhat frustrating experience - so we went and got something a little more flexible, and problem solved.  The other problem with not having thumbs is that you can’t do much in the throwing-it-back department, but he doesn’t seem to mind the run.  And so we play, me throwing and him catching and retrieving - he suffers my sometimes errant throws, and I suffer him slobbering on my disc.  We have a hell of a time, and with respect to everyone I ever threw a frisbee with, the best time I ever had throwing one - despite the fact I never get a chance to catch.  Jack’s simple lesson: it’s not how you play, but that you play that counts. 

* * *

I’ve often heard that people end up with pets exactly like them, sometimes even in appearance.  I was never really sure of how this occurred, given the myriad of ways in which people come to own pets.  I’m not sure I even place much credence in the idea.  I mean, take Jack: he’s a complete spaz; he has an insatiable appetite for playing (even at odd hours of the night); he will eat to excess if you put treats in front of him and seems to particularly enjoy chicken and anything sweet; he’s cute in sort of a unique way; and stronger than he looks; he’s profoundly lovable, but can also be an insufferable pain in the ass; he’s smart, even for his breed, but also has a weakness for pretty girls, which can distract him from just about anything; he naps at odd times, speaks up when it gets too quiet and, in the end, loves as hard as he’s capable of - even though it sometimes falls short.  C’mon now - who do you even know like that?     

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

3 Political Prorogations

We’re a scarce two months into our latest Presidential election year, and already I am profoundly sick of politics.  Keeping in mind that I count myself as someone who is actually interested in politics, this is particularly troubling - because for the average American (who, for the record, can’t reliably identify the Vice President) the current election coverage must be about as enjoyable as watching reruns of American Idol.  And in a way, I feel for the producers of this mindless mush.  It can’t be easy to come up with new material after the campaign has been going on this long, and it’s not as though they have diverse and interesting personalities to work with in the first place - I’ve seen better developed characters in pornography (well, at least I’ve heard of them).  But there are some bits of it that I just can’t take anymore.  There are some parts whose repetition appears to betray their own foolishness beyond the point where I can ignore it any longer.  And so, in the interests of keeping the remaining nine months of political coverage at least marginally tolerable, here are 3 political moratoriums that must be imposed:

1. Go To Heil.  I’m the last person who should complain about the overuse of simile (or hyperbole for that matter).  In fact, robbed of those particular literary devices, I suspect my entire essay project would reduced the written version of me screaming.  But when comparing things for sake of reference, we must always be careful not to take too much license.  Or to put it another way, we should take care to not ever compare modern politicians, political parties, or even white-collar criminals to a historical dictator who engineered the greatest genocide the world has ever known.  And if you’re still not getting it, comparing anything that happens in modern-day America to the Third Reich, the Nazi party or Adolf Hitler makes you sound just as blindly ignorant as those who deny the whole thing ever happened.  Honestly, there weren’t this many references to Hitler during World War II - so just what the hell are we talking about?!  Inflammatory rhetoric is one thing, but euphemistically referring to the political platform of either major party with allusions to Hitler’s Nazi regime does dramatically more to cheapen the sacrifice of European Jews, to expose one’s own bigotry and highlight the smallest world view since we discovered it wasn’t flat than it will ever do to frame up anyone’s disagreement or disgust with modern-day politics.  It’s not as though there a shortage of evil characters (both fictional and otherwise) to use in this type of discourse.  In the past year, a half dozen or so brazenly brutal North African dictators have been deposed, countless swindling and greedy white collar criminals have been exposed and Justin Bieber has released an album of...(wait for it) REMIXES - so why do we even need to refer to the Nazis?  You can’t find good enough evil closer to home?  The bottom line is, as soon as you pull the “Hitler card”, I know everything I need to know about you, including all the reasons I’ll ever need to never listen to another word you say.  Stop it already.  Unless it’s waving a swastika around, you’re the small-minded, hate-monger for using this needless hyperbole.

2. Flipping My Lid.  One of the best things about getting older is the profound perspective it gives you on things.  I don’t know anyone in their 30’s or 40’s who wouldn’t like a chance to go back and talk to their 20-year-old self and tell them just how ridiculous they’re being, how not important the things they’re worrying about are, and how they really might want to consider picking up a few shares of Apple.  The fact is, one of the best things about our minds is our ability to change them.  Over the years we aggregate facts, experiences and interactions which can change even our most treasured and fundamental beliefs.  Religious zealots become atheists.  Bodybuilders become yogis.  Sometimes, on rare occasions, even Nickelback fans start liking real music.  The point being, I don’t trust anyone who never changes their mind.  If I still believed the things I believed when I was 21, I’d be a complete wreck.  Hell, the same is true for most of the things I believed five years ago, and some of the things I believed last year.  We make mistakes, even the best and brightest amongst us.  What informs as to who’s really paying attention is whether or not we learn anything from them (and whether we make them again).  And so, the idea of “flip-flopping” as the highest form of betrayal by a politician has me baffled.  I want my politicians to get smarter as they go, and yes even during their terms in office.  I would love for an elected official to realize that once they really looked at an issue, they had it all wrong and switch positions.  We don’t elect politicians to think a certain way no matter what - if that were the case, we’d simply elect mindless party drones who would just vote the way they were told (don’t worry Tea Party, I know you’re already working on that idea - I’m not infringing a patent here).  I’m sure there are a few people out there who aren’t getting any wiser as they get older, who aren’t learning from their mistakes and becoming better people for their experiences - but I’m happy not to know them, I hope they’ve had the good sense not to procreate and the last place I want them is in charge.  

3. Losing Touch.  Look, I know we have this romantic idea that our politicians are just like us, just with a different job and slightly nicer suits.  But that’s about as enlightened as believing that reality television is real.  (Spoiler Alert: There’s a script.  Yes, for all of them.)  The reality is that politicians, at least the successful ones, are our modern-day royalty, and they can be expected to be about as in touch with “the people” as the Kennedy clan.  In fact, they have people for that.  Yes, that’s right, they have people for being in touch with “the people.”  And before you get all righteously indignant, try to remember that despite your superhuman expectations, they are still only people themselves.  And inasmuch, that’s the only similarity you can expect between them and the proletariat.  Do you really want the people in charge of the world’s largest collection of nuclear devices, the world’s most influential economy and the world’s most complex bureaucracy to be invested in the day-to-day struggles of you or your Aunt Ida?  Because, here’s the deal: I don’t.  I don’t want the President to be in tune with the people, I want him to be in tune with the United Nations, NATO, and whichever crazy dictator has most recently started slaughtering his own people.  I don’t need him to understand about traffic problems during my commute when the federal deficit has gone totally insane and we’re pork-barreling bridges to nowhere.  In fact, the very last thing I want is for the people in charge to have much of an idea about what the rest of us are going through on a daily basis.  There are over 311 million of us, and because we can’t all expect to be heard, none of us should.  We aggregate our voices through representatives, polls and economic behavior - and if we are loud enough, we can be heard.  And that’s how it should be - because when one voice demands to be heard above the crowd, we end up with school shootings, compound stand offs and lone gunmen that the FBI has to take down.

* * *

I have little idea what to expect from politics anymore.  We’ve gone through the looking glass so long ago that I’m now pondering the paradox of what might happen when you go through it again and from the other side.  Somewhere deep inside me, I hope against hope that this results in the impossibly simple result of ending up where we started - where some modicum of of sanity, temperance and intelligence informs the impossibly complex world of modern politics.  Unfortunately, the side of me with its eyes open, its dreams jaded by a five-year stint in Los Angeles, and fair bit of mathematical reasoning knows that heading through another mirror will only land us in increasingly smaller and less distinguishable versions of what we started with, until we’ve got nothing at all.  What is truly troubling about politics, however, is not that it isn’t an accurate reflection of who we are, it’s that it is. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

3 Freed Limits

It’s easy for us to get caught up in freedom.  After all, we are the land of the free and the  home of the brave, and no refrain about this great nation is heard more often, even petulantly, than the declaration that it is, in fact, a free country.  We tout our freedoms with more pride than any other hallmark of our democracy, and as well we should - we enjoy them in greater measure than any other place on the planet.  But as often happens when we enjoy things in great quantities, we tend to get a little carried away.  We tend to forget that not all of our freedoms are of the unlimited variety - in fact, despite what most people think, most of them are more limited than we might recall.  Whether by statute, practice, or just plain common usage, the unchecked freedoms imagined by our forefathers have been whittled down - and usually for our own good, as they could scarcely imagine the nation of idiots, morons and fools that we’ve become.  But there are some that still commonly misunderstood and overestimated.  And so, with my legal education securely in hand, and for purely educational purposes, here are 3 freedoms that aren’t as free as you think:  

1. Arms Wrestling.  We have a special relationship with the Bill of Rights in this country.  For the millions of pages of laws that we have written in our centuries of existence, we know none of them as well and hold none of them as dear as these precious ten amendments to our Constitution.  And perhaps none of them is more contentious than the second, our right to bear arms.  Back when it was drafted, the “rugged frontier” was not an allegory it was a reality.  The need for protection was not augmented by modern day urban living, police forces or personal security options.  If you wanted any measure of security back then, you had to carry it.  But despite what the fearmongers on the evening news will have you believe, we live in vastly safer times.  Outside of Detroit or San Francisco, there are no longer roving gangs of thugs  who can mug you without fear of reprisal.  Police forces and emergency dispatching services place armed response within minutes of just about all of us.  And while this doesn’t obviate the need to carry your own weapon, it turns it from a necessity to a measure of over-security for those who need it.  But even for those few, the freedom to have one’s personal security should not include to need to arm themselves for a small-scale invasion of a neighboring country.  If you can make a case for why letting private citizens, who can’t reliably wield gardening implements and household tools without causing serious injury to themselves, legally possess grenades, assault weapons or anything rightfully classified as a “rocket”, I’d love to hear it.  The fact that we can package massive amounts of destructive power into personally carry-able devices is a wonder that our founding fathers never could have imagined, but it’s also an excellent reason to reconsider what we let private citizens carry around.  The freedom to bear arms isn’t the freedom to bear arsenals.  

2. Hard of Rearing.  Because we lead the world in freedoms, we necessarily lead the world in the abuse of those freedoms.  But even with the many great examples of this that I’m certain immediately come to mind, I’m hard pressed to think of one we currently abuse more egregiously than our freedom to raise children.  It has often been lamented that while you need a license to own a dog, any idiot/asshole/etc. can bring a child into the world.  And while there’s not a great deal I can add to that sentiment, I also know there’s not much we can do about it.   Can you just imagine if the government made you get licensed to have kids?  Because they make you take both a written and a practical exam to drive a car, and that’s proven about as effective as fishing with your bare hands.  Any government restriction would be so basic that it would offer little more confidence that the current requirement to have children (i.e. a pulse & functioning genitals).  The problem is not the qualifications of parents, plenty of intelligent and well-heeled procreators are fucking up kids left and right.  It is, rather, the misguided notion that the freedom to rear children is also the freedom to raise them as whatever kind of assholes you’d like.  Children are now fashioned as a measure of revenge and rebellion, the modern day equivalent of dying your hair a primary color, piercing your nose and dating someone who wears too much leather.  Don’t like minorities? Raise a bigot.  Don’t like being told what to do?  Raise a petulant rebel.  Don’t like idealized media images?  Raise a fat kid.  My generation made a bad habit of blaming our parents for all our small problems.  I guess it serves us right that once we finally stopped doing it, that we’d end up dealing with kids with real problems and parents who were actually to blame.    

3. Sticks and Stones.  Of all our freedoms, we hold none more dear than the freedom to speak.  But there is also no freedom more universally overestimated.  The beloved First Amendment only guarantees freedom from reprisal from the government - which means that the rest of us private citizens are free to discriminate, judge and otherwise verbally abuse you however we please if you say something stupid, incorrect, incendiary, etc.  Because in addition to the traditional legal restrictions on free speech (e.g. no hate speech, no inciting panic or violence, no defamatory statements), the government isn’t obligated to protect you from the natural consequences of saying something stupid.  These may include: someone yelling something stupid back at you, someone, someone getting mad, someone doing something about getting mad.  The enduring failure of modern parenting appears to be the deficit in understanding that freedom to do as you please is not freedom from the consequences of doing those things.  Yes, you’re free to stand on a street with a hand-painted sign, lamenting about the unfairness of life, and blocking the way of someone trying to do something with their life.  But they’re also free to confront you about this - and you might be surprised to find out how interested (or not interested) law enforcement might be in allowing them to remove you forcefully.  Additionally, I’m free to assume you’re a shiftless and ignorant hippy.  The don’-judge-a-book-by-its-cover crowd should love idea that we’ll actually wait to hear what you have to say before judging you, right?  Or is that still too soon?  Outside of what someone’s wearing, I’m not sure I can even think of a better way to judge them than what they’re saying.  Because as dearly as you love your freedom to spew that verbal masturbation that you think is somehow thoughful and considered rhetoric, I love my own freedom to use it to confirm my suspicions of your produce-level IQ, even more.

* * *

The most important thing to remember when determining the limits of our freedoms is that they stop right at the point where what you’re doing starts infringing on the freedoms of others.  It’s actually a beautifully simple rule, which makes the fact that it seems almost incomprehensible to most of us, even more maddening.  Your freedom to protect yourself ends where it starts making me feel unsafe.  Your freedom to raise kids stops where it starts making your children my problem.  Your freedom to speak ends where it keeps me from enjoying my freedom to move, work, and not listen to you.  Freedoms are the ultimate statement of trust - because in less-enlightened places, the government doesn’t trust its constituents to exercise their will without stepping on the rights of others, so they just don’t let them.  But here, in this greatest of nations, we operate under a collective trust and understanding that we can be who we want to be and let everyone else do the same.  Because if we can’t exercise these freedoms like we’re not the only person doing so - we don’t deserve them at all. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

3 Overcorrections

As human beings, we are an emotional sort and, as such, we tend to overcorrect.  We get invested far beyond what might be sensible or advisable, and soar to greater heights and fall to greater lows than can possible be excused.  Our passions are both our greatest strength and our greatest weakness.  And nothing makes the pending robot apocalypse more terrifying that the lack of emotion that it appears to imply.  The problem with this predisposition to overcompensate is that it often leaves us with a “solution” which is worse than the problem was to begin with.  Because we are creatures of limited and pointed perception, the grass always seems greener on the other side - and, to our own detriment, we long sometimes long only for change rather than change to particular thing (e.g. the current and failing Presidency).  I would never want to be a perfectly sensible people, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to be a little more sensible when we’re trying to repair things.  It doesn’t mean we can’t try to look a little down the road to make sure we’re not diving out of the frying pan and into the proverbial fire.  And so, in the interests of making sure we’re not making things worse by fixing them, here are 3 overcorrections:

1. A Matter of Faith.  If you really want to shake your faith in humanity (even more so than a late night trip to Wal-Mart or weekend trip to Costco) you need watch MSNBC’s American Greed.  Each show details how greed, fraud and corruption turn businessmen into criminals and provides an insight into just how we’ve come to thoroughly mistrust the educated class in the country.  It used to make perfect sense: we could put our faith into the educated and wealthy, by definition, they knew better than we did and they were also trained by higher institutions, steeped in traditions of honor, duty and ethical conduct.  But the scams and scandals stopped being the exclusive purview of skeezy con-men and caricatured mobsters, and found their way into far more hallowed halls.  Before long, the curtain had been lifted and no one and nothing was sacred.  Positions of trust seemed almost a prerequisite for the modern-day fleecing, and our skepticism ultimately give way to paranoia.  But in this mistrust of the moneyed, educated and powerful, we turned to an unlikely place for guidance and inspiration: the simple, the uneducated and the downright stupid.  We longed for sound-byte explanations to complex problems, for faith in higher powers over higher education, for strength in common ignorance: and we found it.  Those who peddled trust began to peddle mistrust, and we ended up with a national epidemic of trust in those least qualified to have it.  We hold “common sense” in higher regard than actual knowledge and have generated a throng of foolish prophets who abhor facts and are masters of hateful rhetoric and alliterative catch-phrases.  We have every reason to turn away from the traditionally educated - but you can’t fix bad smart with stupid.  You fix it with smarter... stupid.  

2. A Bad Fit.  No matter how practical and advanced we become, there will always be a place for artists and artisans - it is their inspiration which will always provide the motive force behind our advancements.  But the problem with these creative sorts is their utter inability to control their innovation in any substantial way.   It’s up to us to say “too much” and/or “too far.“  And such was the case with fashion models.  These lithe creatures of the European runway kept getting taller and thinner, trading in femininity for a taught androgyny - as the creative minds tasked with guiding what we wear began to stretch the limits of our own form.  And when “heroin chic” finally created a nearly global level of disgust, we realized that “healthy body images” could not include skeletal young women who looked in more desperate need of a cheeseburger than anything nice to wear.  We looked at a nation of young women obsessed with being “skinny” to the point of starvation and other eating disorders and decided that enough was enough.  But then we started celebrating overweight as the new normal.  With euphemisms that declared that the world needed people “of all shapes and sizes” - we permitted round shapes and XXL sizes as necessary components of a healthy populous.  We gather men and women at universities and preach the acceptability of a “few extra pounds” at a time in their lives when they should be enjoying their physical prime.  Even worse, we demonize idealized human forms as “unhealthy” and demand that we believe the “plus-sized” to be just as beautiful as their slim-waisted counterparts.  Nonsense.  It’s just as certain that the fashion industry got way off track in believing that the “cracked out” look was somehow beautiful, that it is that the current “big is beautiful” prophets are simply rationalizing an increasingly lazy proletariat.  There is only one kind of healthy body image - and that’s fit.  Everything else is just excuses.    

3. Sparing the Rod.  I’ve often tried to put my finger on the moment in history where it suddenly became unacceptable to spank your children, but only come with the fact that it was completely ok when I was being raised and it’s completely criminal now.    Seriously, you’ll receive less disapproving looks for urinating in public than from physically disciplining a child in the same locale.  And on some level, I get it.  We are not the best when it comes to impulse control - and today’s spanking can quickly become tomorrow’s beating.  But, of the many anachronisms in the Bible that make it a questionable choice for a document to live your life by, there is one truism that seems to ring as true now as it did a couple thousand years ago: spare the rod and spoil the child.  Or in more modern parlance, if you don’t discipline your kids, they’re going to turn out to be assholes.  We tend to, often incorrectly, to look at children as simply miniature adults (with a predisposition towards macaroni and cheese).  No matter how often this is psychologically disproven - we still do it.  But the truth is, you can’t have a discussion about acceptable behavior with a five-year old.  Because they’re five.   Besides, if corporal punishment is so bad, how did we manage to get by with it for so long?  But because we keep moving the definition of “child abuse” to include an ever-increasing percentage of things our own parents used to do to us, we have turned to no discipline at all, and allowing kids to essentially raise themselves.  As you might expect, this has produced a generation with the least promise since average global life expectancy was somewhere around forty years.  Just because something sucks doesn’t mean it’s bad.  Take, for example, cardio - which almost universally sucks, but is really good for you.  Also, in retrospect, you can probably agree that the overwhelming majority of adversity in your life actually improved you as a person.  When your parents used to tell you that spanking you was hurting them more than it hurt you - they weren’t kidding.  Corporal punishment sucked for everyone involved - but it worked, and if you think modern discipline methods are working as well or better, I would submit that you haven’t met very many kids lately. 

* * *

In the end, I’m just happy to see that in a nation where apathy has become the new national pastime, people are still trying to fix things (and not just wait for the government to do it).  But once we’ve got a critical mass of people willing to make a change, we ought to devote at least some of our time and resources to making sure we don’t screw it up any worse.  The danger in seeing the world as black and white is that it leads to simply prescribing the opposite of something when that something isn’t working out.  In addition to not always being right, this approach is often just plain wrong.  Big problems seldom have easy answers and when you’re lost, the right answer is almost never simply turning around and heading the opposite direction.  Sure, I can appreciate that it’s better to move in the wrong direction than not to move at all - but we ought to be certain to evaluate our solutions with the same critical eye that bore out the problem in the first place.  Otherwise, we’ll end “solving” ourselves into a much deeper hole than we started in.                

3 Past-Due Punching Bags

If you haven’t figured it out after nearly two years of ranting, I’m a pretty angry guy.  Don’t worry, I’ve heard it all before: “You’ll give yourself an ulcer”; “Don’t take things so personally”; “Just chill, man”; and more.  Fact of the matter is, rather than let it consume me, I’ve turned my anger into something constructive - the best example of which is what you’re reading here.  Additionally, it’s always been a great motivational tool, both physically and mentally.  Without it, I’m not sure I would have gotten as far as I have.  And so, with these constructive outlets, I’ve mostly managed to keep the beast at bay.  But, there are some things that bring it busting out of me like a gamma-ray induced green rage; some people who are in so desperate need of an ass-whupping that my military training can barely allow me to sit idly by, and I am worked into a lather so severe that it often takes me the whole day to come off of it.  But at the very least, I’ve got this bully pulpit from which to put these people on blast; a public peak from which to shout out my righteous indignation; a forum for my paralyzing frustration - and a place where I can always find people to have a good laugh while society drives me ever closer to writing a manifesto, arming myself heavily and moving into a cabin in Maine.  So, in the interests of identifying my high value targets, here are 3 crimes I’d like to see added to the death penalty list:

1. Lunatic Fringes.  Somewhere along the line, we lost track of the political extremists in this country, and left to run wild, they’ve gotten completely out of control.  It has often been the hallmark of Third World nations to allow their fringe elements to control the majority of the population - and here, in the seat of the modern First World, our recent politics look more like a banana republic than the great republic once imagined for us.  Nowhere is this more obvious than the popularity and growth of the Tea Party and the Occupy movements.  One extreme right and one extreme left, and both completely insane and out of touch.  Armed with the First Amendment and an aggressive disregard for truth and/or reality, these half-wits stand around with hand-painted signs to chant at the rest of us as if (a) that will change anything, or (b) it will make us want to join them.  These masters of mania really only traffic in one thing: annoying everyone.  But heaven help you if you threaten to physically move of them out of your way - because then you’re just a part of the “man” trying to keep them down.  The fact that we’ve allowed our hate-groups into the open is disgusting enough, the fact that we acknowledge them with 24-hour news coverage is tragic.  Listening to the extraordinarily small percentage of people who actually have time to stand around and chant in the middle of the day seems like a recipe for being out of touch.  I can accept the fact that just as we are nation of good neighbors, patriots and dreamers - we are also a nation of bigots, idiots and lazy hippies.  But please don’t confuse my acceptance with acknowledgement, legitimizing or wanting to listen to endless stream of ignorant profundity that streams from your mouth.  Trust me, it's all I can do to keep from rake-slapping those signs out of your hands.      

2. Behind-the-Wheel Bad Asses.  Driving has become so inimical to American life (well, everywhere outside of NYC) that as a skill, it is nearly ubiquitous.  However, this only applies to the most basic levels of the practic, as the overwhelming majority of drivers seem to drive their cars like pre-programmed obstacles in a defensive driving simulation.  Of course, as a nation of the overly-self-esteemed, it should come as no surprise that a full two-thirds of us believe we are “excellent” or “very good” drivers.  This belief leads to a startling phenomenon: the belief by drivers that no harm can come to them, and that while surrounded by a ton or so of steel and plastic designed to travel comfortably at seventy plus miles per hour, they can act with the same authority of an actual person with that same size and power.  Of course, the blatant disregard for angering anyone else is perhaps the kind of behavior you would expect from a person that weighs a couple thousand pounds and can blow throw brick walls.  Unfortunately, too often these people are approximately as physically intimidating as your average jar of mayonnaise.  But armed with the ability to speed away safely, they’ll honk their horns, scream out their windows and make obscene gestures as though they’re driving around with Randy Couture in the passenger seat.  In reality, they want no part of any actual confrontation, and a solid  argument to reenact late19th century dueling laws - to handle these disputes.  I have a strong suspicion that would calm everyone down quite a bit (or at least give us something to do at intersections besides texting).   

3. No Man Is An Island.  In case you haven’t noticed, the world has gotten crowded; like New Years Eve crowded.  And not just at concerts, sporting events or holiday celebrations.  No, everyday occurrences like every Sunday at Costco, Friday night at the movie theater, on-ramps to the highway, etc.  More and more of us are being forced to share less and less space, and despite the civic efforts to keep up with it, they’re hardly making a dent.  In these ever-increasingly cramped conditions, you might think that the best way to cope would be to be ever-mindful of those around you, so as not to make it any worse than it already is.  Unfortunately, we’ve gone completely the other direction, and amongst these ever-larger masses of people most everyone is tuned out, and tuned in only to themselves.  The basic social principles of taking turns, sharing excess, etc. have been abandoned like so much day-old baked goods, and even the simplest situations ring more like a re-enactment of Lord of the Flies than suburbia.  I see people walking down hallways in a group abreast - so that one can get past or overtake them.  I watch people drive without the faintest regard for pedestrians, back-up lights, or the fact that other people are on the road.  And the worst part about it is the measure of pride that seems to accompany it - as though there is some measure of dignity in ignoring everyone else around you.  Trust me, no matter how rich, famous or important you are (or, in the more likely circumstance, you think you are) it’s not ok to act indifferent to everyone around you.  This behavior is almost understandable for the adolescent, but it’s completely untenable for adults.  Neither your age, your ethnicity or your personal hardships entitle you to this kind of behavior.  Wake up and look around already, if you don’t want to be part of the group - go ahead and move to the wilderness already, I'll be happy to help you out with directions.

* * *

The problem of living in a world where we are expected, in ever greater share, to deal with our differences intellectually, is that we’re trying to do it with more ignorant people than we’ve ever had before.  We cannot expect to teach people who are unwilling to learn - and sometimes the only memorable stimulus for the petulantly stupid is actual stimulus.  In a world that celebrates simplicity as a virtue, I fear there always be a place for “beating” lessons into people.  When a population is utterly shameless, what other choice do we have?  The time for "hoping" it will fix itself is rapidly passing.  Besides, if you don’t know someone who is in desperate need of a good butt-whuppin, I would submit that you don’t know anyone at all.  So join me, and rise up against the ignorant - if nothing else, they surely won't be able to outsmart us.    

3 Fashion Fatalities

It feels like a long time since THREE THINGS weighed in on the fashionably hopeless.  Once a staple of this weekly rantasm, the wardrobe-impaired have been getting a free ride for the better part of a year.  Part of me wants to believe that everyone had collectively obtained some combination of self-awareness, personal shame and regular access to mirrors - but after a good look around, it turns out I just wasn’t paying attention.  There is some measure of tragedy when it comes to the poorly-dressed, only because (a) it seems so easily prevented and (b) when it goes wrong it’s just so bad.  What we wear is the most important communication tool we have aside from our voices, and there is no shortage of heady advice available.  But all of this notwithstanding, bad fashion appears to be harder to kill than zombies, cockroaches and Kim Kardashian’s career combined.  Mind you, I’m not some E! network junkie waxing on the audacity of wearing “last season’s” fall collection.  I’m talking about things that I thought were killed off years ago and were long since left for dead.  But as has often been said, only the good die young, and this badness seems all but immortal.  And so, as a hopeful epitaph for these criminally ill-advised ways to dress, here are 3 fashion trends that need to go ahead and DIE already:

1. Public Screening.  I had a long and satisfying relationship with t-shirts with cheeky sayings printed on them.  And like any relationship, it went through stages.  At first, there was a doe-eyed wonder - when I realized that t-shirts could send a message other than “My mom dressed me” or “this was expensive.”  Then my collection became expansive and more brazen.  From cute sayings, I had moved on to shirts with ever-increasing shock value, confident that my irreverence translated into pure bad-assery in the eyes of anyone passing by.  It even got to the point where I was making my own shirts - feeling that the highest form of wearing one’s sense of humor across their chest could only be realized by sporting one-of-a-kind pieces.  Then I looked around at all these assholes wearing snarky t-shirts and realized - I am one of these assholes.   Turns out that it’s hard to be ironic when you’re doing what everyone else is doing.  It’s like trying to call a genre of music “Alternative” when you’re outselling the “Mainstream.”   Guess what?  You’re the new mainstream.  I then abandoned pointed t-shirts for “retro” fair, and slowly realized that while I was trying to represent a generation, I was unwittingly allowing my generation’s coolness to be hijacked by a generation (or two) that haven’t been able to generate any of their own.  And finally, I dumped screen prints altogether - relegating them to gym wear, and opting for plain shirts that I previously considered not-fancy-enough.  It turns out that if you’ve got something to say, you’re much better off using your mouth, and not the real estate on your chest - because if you need to use your t-shirt to be funny/interesting/outspoken, you should probably keep your mouth shut anyways.

2. Skinnin‘ Ain’t Winnin’.  There is perhaps no greater American fashion institution than denim.  It is, at once, our quintessential casual cool and a testament to our rugged western heritage.  And for the most part, the evolution of denim has left the very worst of it behind us.  Though they survived for a decade, bell-bottomed jeans were finally abandoned.  It took some time to realize that it was really never ok to use the fabric to make jackets - but we finally got there.  And thankfully, I haven’t had to endure excessive back pocket embroidery in quite some time.  But for some reason, the skinny jean endures.  First off, if you believe that this is acceptable clothing for men - please stop reading immediately, go to the garage and step on your rake.  I can only hope that sharp blow the head will knock the stupid off of you.  But while I previously opined that these were, under certain circumstances, acceptable for women - I’m here to say that I was wrong.  I’m not sure who invested you ladies with the idea that these are in any way flattering - but they were lying to you.  And you can’t possibly be wearing them for comfort - I’ve seen cozier police restraint systems.  The simple fact of the matter is that the basic effect of this clothing is look like your legs - just fatter (which makes the name even more baffling).  I can count on one hand the number of women I’ve seen look good in these pants - and they had the kind of "heroin-chic" legs that you’ve been campaigning against ever since Kate Moss had a modeling career.  Please ladies, please - if you take nothing else away from this, take these two words: boot cut.

3. Sweatin’ To The Oldies.  There is a great deal of women’s fashion devoted to hiding butt size.  Of course, they don’t call it this, they have plenty of glamourous euphemisms: “flattering your figure”, “accentuating your curves”, etc.  But no matter what you call it, the business of optical illusion in fashion has been around since we starting cinching our togas at the waist.  Of course, the man version of this is wearing t-shirts a size too small to make our torsos look bigger, but this couldn’t be any more transparent than if we just stenciled a notice of our own low self-esteem on our chests.  But women have turned this into fashion, and for the most part, made it look good.  Black stretchy pants, vertical stripes, A-lines and the list goes on.  But there is one that just needs go away.  Look, if you’re at the gym, there’s really no shame in not looking like you’re in tremendous shape - after all, at least you’re doing something about it, and that puts you ahead of about 95% of the rest of the fat bastards in this country.  Of course, I know that there are some physically intimidating people lurking around these sweat factories, but that’s motivation, not a reason to be the kid at summer camp that swims in his t-shirt.  So, with that said, stop it with the sweatshirt/jacket tied around your waist.  Seriously, no one harbors the illusion that you’re hiding a fantastic butt underneath that thing, and what possible reason could you have to have your jacket at the ready while you’re inside?!  You can’t hang it on the treadmill you’re running on?  Afraid that even with dozens of TV to watch, their own music to listen to, or iPhones to peruse, that everyone behind you will be looking at your backside if you don’t cover it up?  If you’re that self-conscious, wear baggier pants, work out at home, or just give up altogether - because the only person you’re fooling with that ridiculousness around your waist is you

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Sure, it’s a free country and you’re allowed to wear whatever you want - but with all that power comes some responsibility, or at least some accountability.  Because just like you’re free to express yourself however you’d like, I’m free to express how much I hate it, and how stupid you look wearing it.  There are a lot of great reasons not to judge people: their race, their class, their silly-sounding names.  But there are few better reasons to judge someone than what they’re wearing - especially when it’s something that looks expensive.  After all, we are all dressing ourselves these days, right?  I mean, we are all forgiven our fashion mistakes, provided that we recognize and learn from them - but when someone becomes petulant, stubborn or just plain ignorant about what they’ve got on, we’ve all earned the right to laugh at them.  I’m all for not following the pack when it comes to dressing yourself, but when it comes to the message you’re sending with what you’re wearing, it’s best to make sure it’s not an invitation for the pack to follow you - to someplace they can slap the stupid off of you.  

Friday, January 20, 2012

3 New Generations of Idiots

Just because the syntax that reliable pop-culture mavens use to inform us about trends is available to everyone, does not mean everyone is qualified to use it.  With that said, I am hard-pressed to think of a phrase more popularly abused than the declaration that (something old) “is the new” (something better).  You know, brown is the new black, pale is the new tan, smart is the new sexy, etc?  (believe me, I could go on - and if you can’t, go ahead and Google “is the new”)  Even in an age where simply saying something in a public forum is about 80% of the credibility you need to make people believe it, these announcements hardly qualify as trendsetting. Nowadays, these notices seem more wishful thinking than actual trend reporting, and are usually bald attempt by folks who want to make what they have look more like something they want.   But nowhere is this facile pronouncement more frequently abused then when talking about aging.  Pundits everywhere are trying to shave off a decade (or two) simply by hoping it so.  There’s no doubt that technology, medical care and healthy living have increased not only how long we live, but how much we enjoy it.  But even with that said, we are still very much the ages we achieve, and in the interests of reminding everyone just how young they aren’t, here are 3 ages which are aren’t the new anything:

1.    The Golden Age.  The Baby Boomer generation has always taken great pride in breaking stereotypes, and redefining their generation as it grows older.  But no matter how great they were, 60 is not the new 40.  60 is the official age to stop: stop dying your hair, stop wearing anything low cut, low rise, push up, etc, and stop using the word “sexy”.  60 is the age where you can no longer be insulted by someone calling your “sir” or “ma’am” - or for that matter, “grandpa” or “grandma”.  60 is when “incontinence” stops being something you think you may have forgotten from Geography class and the most embarrassing reason you’ve had to visit the drug store since you were buying condoms as a teenager.  60 is the age where you can legitimately look at new technology like it’s some kind of dark sorcery that you should mistrust at all costs and call all professional athletes ‘kids.”  More importantly, 60 isn’t the new anything.  At 60 you’ve had all of the new you’re going to get.  The only thing “new” at 60 are the occasional new diagnoses from your doctor and the “new” friends and family members that you’ve known for years that only senility can offer.  Wake up and smell the AARP card, 60 is just 60.

2.    Stuck in the Middle.  Middle age is about as much fun as the Middle Ages; which is to say that it’s not a particularly enlightened time, and it’s marked mostly by unfair and unexpected persecution and pain.  And so, it makes sense that everyone who is going through this trying time has a fair bit of denial going on.  But all the hoping and believing in the world can’t change the fact that 40 is not the new 30.  Take it from someone who’s in between those two ages - the speed/strength peak that you hit when you’re 30 feels more like twenty years away than the ten it will be at 40.  40 is officially “creepy guy at the club” aged.  40 is realizing the closest you’ll ever get to a pro athlete is at a fantasy camp for other middle-aged guys like you.  40 is realizing how good it sounded to tell people you were 32 (back when you were wishing you could still say 28).  40 is excellent credit.  40 is every band you really love being on a “reunion tour” and a solid collection of khaki pants.  40 is the minimum age to be a “cougar” and the maximum age to wear anything with writing across the butt.  But the most important thing that 40 isn’t that 30 is, no matter what you dress it, drive it or party with it in, is plain old cool.  But look on the bright side, at least you’re not 60.    

3.    Adding it Up.  No generation likes to acknowledge its shortcomings, no matter how small.  This is how the last generation of widespread American racists refers to itself as the “Greatest Generation” and a generation defined by nearly universal drug abuse prefers to be known by the obsession with flowers that these hallucinations caused (rather than their more deleterious side-effects).  But Generation Y, which collectively holds about as much promise has a Hanson reunion, seems to have only two marketable skills: declaring its own relevance, and noting the unprecedented difficulty they have to endure just to be, well, themselves.  However, no matter how important they they think are, 20 is not the 30, the new 40, or the new (insert relevant age here).  20 is the enduring belief that the programming on MTV is both interesting and relevant (it's neither).  20 is recovering from a night of drinking with a stiff cup of coffee and an extra hour of sleep (rather than an entire next day).  20 is finding yourself, 30 is trying to make money off of what you found, and 40 is trying to keep what you found a secret.  While 20 may suck, it’s certainly not difficult.  The only thing difficult about 20 is having to deal with it when you're 30 and/or 40.  Don’t worry though, 20-somethings, you’ll have those extra decades soon enough - and then you’ll know why we're laughing. 

* * *

I am, if nothing else, a lover of new things.  I have never really understood the appeal of antiques, remakes or rebuilds.  The idea of newness, hell even the smell of it, inspires an optimism in me that little else can match.  New houses, new cars, new gadgets - all a testament not only to how far we’ve come, but also to where we’re going.  But not all new things are so universally good.  In fact, if I’ve learned nothing else in the years preceding this writing, that the one thing that indisputably gets better as it gets old, is us.  Time spent declaring the faux youth of your old age is exactly as productive as simply wishing yourself younger.  Why bother?  What you're really looking for, youthfulness, if nothing else, is the ability to live in the moment where you are - not longing to rush forward or look back.  Besides, the real message of the age-old command to act your age is to not live by someone else's definition of what that age is, but rather to make sure you’re not acting a different one - especially one that’s off by a decade or two.    

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

3 Communication Failures

It’s no secret that the genders often struggle with communications.  Despite common languages, we speak in different dialects, and the nuance which is plain to our same-gendered friends can often be completely invisible to the opposite sex.  Every year we devote hundreds of books, thousands of periodical pages and millions of television minutes to this constant battle and yet, despite this war of words, we seem no closer to resolution.  However, as a trained mediator and negotiator, let me offer what is often the most important step to resolution: a view from the other side.  There can be no more vast chasm than the difference between what you ladies believe you are saying and what we men are hearing.  Your light-hearted expression becomes a crushing burden, and your thoughtful insight becomes a throw-away observation - each to your grinding chagrin.  Perhaps, however, if you understood precisely what it is we hear, you might be able to rephrase, restate or simple relax - and cut us a little slack.  And so, in the interest of inter-gender diplomacy, here are 3 things lost in translation:

1. Where in the World?  During my since past online dating phase, I trolled through thousands of profiles, and found one nearly universal “interest” amongst women: travel.  Now when you say “travel” you mean spending time with someone special, far away from the rigors of home and work, getting to know them, long walks on the beach, etc.  You think it makes you sound cultured, adventurous and fun.  Wrong.  It makes you sound expensive.   You want to know what a man thinks when he hears you say that you like travel?  He thinks about double airfare, hotel suites, fancy meals out, nightly entertainment, solely funded shopping excursions and no televised sports whatsoever.  “Travel” is code for two thousand dollar weekends, five thousand dollar weeks and a 50/50 shot at seeing you naked.  “Travel” isn’t a hobby, it’s an expense.  We know you’re not talking about splitting the cost of the trip, because that’s not romantic.  And we know you don’t mean weekends at the lake, because you are careful to also mention your favorite destinations, which always include someplace international (i.e. Paris, Rome, London), and usually someplace tropical (i.e. the Caribbean, Costa Rica, Hawaii).  Here’s the deal, everyone likes vacationing - and listing it as a hobby is like listing “money” on a list of favorite things.  It doesn’t make you sound interesting.  In fact, it’s one of the few things you can say (along with enjoying the Twilight series of books) that actually makes you sound less interesting.  Trust me, if we like you, we’ll be planning a trip with you soon enough - just spare us the knowledge that you’re already expecting it.  

2. The Panic Button.  Despite the numerous protestations to the contrary that I have received when raising the specter of almost universal female knowledge of this next miscommunication, deep down I feel like women know precisely the level of anxiety they inspire with the most terrifying four words in their entire lexicon: we need to talk.  There is nothing that recounts a man’s deepest fears of the trauma that can be inflicted by the often-fickle female psyche like this painfully vague premonition.  What’s worse, even if we’re not particularly worried by the potential consequences, the pain of the process can prove just as worrisome.  Having a conversation with a women about “feelings” is like having a conversation with your first-year Spanish teacher, in Spanish, after just a couple of weeks of class.  Sure, you might know a few words here and there, but for the most part, you’re just nodding your head, trying to keep your eyes from glazing over, and replying to every long-winded soliloquy as meaningfully as you can with “si.”  The universe of potentially bad subjects that can be covered by “we need to talk” runs from breaking up to getting married, from possible pregnancy to where-do-you-see-this-going.  Each of these is comparably enjoyable to a Lifetime movie marathon, watched during a baby shower and while simultaneously undergoing a prostate exam from Dr. Big Hands.  And so, giving us what you might think is “fair warning” is actually sounding a recognizable death knell - only one that leaves us to wonder just how and when it’s going to happen.  If you care anything for us (and want the same in return), do us a favor: when you want to have a heavy talk with us, just start talking.  We’ll gladly take a little surprise over a lot of dread.

3.   Keeping the Resume Updated.  It is a strange time we live in with respect to dating.  It used to be, on some level, a relatively innocent pursuit.  It was charmingly clumsy and awkward, but we were all, in some way, invested in the magic it promised: that we’d find someone in the midst of dinners, movies, dance halls and kisses goodnight, that would be our one and only - and there’d be some happily ever after, even if it wasn’t happily for-ever after.  But in the intervening time from when I started dating to now, it has since become a commodities and futures market: fast-paced, ruthless and stripped down to nearly bare economic efficiencies.  And of all the things that trade well in this market, nothing seems to trade quite so well as an impressive dating resume.  After all, what could be better in proving that you’re a hot commodity than demonstrating just how important, well-heeled, famous, etc. previous buyers have been.  I mention this because, every time I have the audacity to believe that maybe I’ve gotten it all wrong, and that maybe there is still a little magic left out there, I am greeted by a lengthy dating resume.  Most girls seem to bring it up with all the subtlety of an air horn, and run through the list of minor celebrities, band members and private jet owners that they have dated (or who at least wanted to date them) in the past as smoothly as though they had memorized it for an audition.  Which I suppose, in fact, is what it’s supposed to be.  The intended message being: Hey, these impressive men wanted me, so obviously I’m worth wanting.  Unfortunately, what we hear is: I have standards that vastly outpace my worth; I’m expensive, high-maintenance, and if our first date doesn’t involve “shopping” or a $300 dinner tab, don’t even bother.  The only thing more emasculating than this exercise would be an actual castration, so unless you’re applying for the position of regrettable mistake, leave the dating resume at home.  

* * *

On balance, women are still vastly better communicators than men.  In fairness, they usually get a whole lot more practice, and just by sheer volume, it makes sense that they might actually, therefore, engage in far more dialogue mishaps than their woefully under-skilled counterparts.  Which is to say that, on average, we are probably much more likely say stupider things, but we’ve also learned (to compensate for this handicap) to keep our mouths shut.  Because for as dumb and simple-minded as we are, we still ultimately learn our lessons (albeit the hard way) and we’re just as difficult to fool twice.  Despite what you may think, we do know what you’re saying when you’re not actually saying it.  And the problem isn’t that we aren’t getting the message, it’s that we are.  And so, as the moral to the story, we arrive at a new twist on an old axiom - as there’s little use anymore being careful what you say, to avoid sending the wrong message, be careful what you mean.