Latest 3 Things

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. 

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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.  

Monday, January 2, 2012

3 You Oughta Know By Nows

Traditionally, the turning of the calendar page to a new year inspires forward-looking resolutions which embody the optimism that always surrounds this celestial recurrence.  I, of course, am not immune to these seductions, and have renewed almost all of the resolutions from 2011, which each failed miserably in its own right.  It is in the spirit of this failure which I look over the landscape of the past to see just how far we haven’t come.  In an era where stupidity is celebrated in its own right and we enjoy the benefit of innumerable technical advances which make that all the more surprising, it is not what we understand that merits note, but rather, what we don’t.  We are over a decade into the new millennium, and we appear to have all but wasted it.  Almost every day, I see people handling decade-old developments with all the dexterity of a drunken chimpanzee and only half of the impulse control.  It makes me wonder if the Information Age has inspired a point we never thought we’d get to, a place where our brains are actually full, and if we want to put anything new into them, we’ll have to call in one of those doctors from Hoarders to help us clean out the mental Beanie Baby collections and diaper stacks to make room for it.  And so, in the interests of helping a few folks into this brand new year by teaching them something they should have learned ten years ago, here are 3 things you ought to have figured out by now:

1. Does That Go Any Louder?  In 2012, Smart Phones have become nearly ubiquitous, as marked by the fact that I can be video called by both my father and my niece & nephew - who are, at last count, nearly sixty years apart in age.  So now, when someone says “It seems like everyone has one of these phones”, they don’t sound like as much of an asshole (well, ok, maybe a little bit).  But, more importantly, it marks the time where the generation of technology behind it (the standard cell phone) has become what the home phone was to it - something in literally every household.  As a general rule, anything that you can buy in a 7-Eleven can be considered available to everyone, regardless of your station in life.  And with the omnipresence of cell phones has come the omnipresence of cell phone ringers.  Of course, early in the life of this technology, the projected public cacophony of a ringer in everyone’s pocket led to the development of a silent ringer (the “vibrate” function) which appears to have been the most widely ignored bit of genius since Arrested Development.  I regularly hear someone’s obnoxious ringer go off in an otherwise quiet setting, and not only long enough to remind them to silence it, but repeatedly as though they suspect they’re the only one that can hear it.  If you can’t figure out how to silence your phone, you don’t deserve your opposable thumbs, let alone that device.  If your phone rings audibly more than once without you answering it public, everyone within earshot should be permitted to slap you with a rake.  

2. Easy as 1,2,3.  Long before I was a regular flier, I still took a flight every now and then.  And back then (when flying dollars were tight), I was always searching for discounted fares - and so, I flew Southwest long before I had to be wooed with my bag flying free or online self-booking.  And while Southwest has always had open seating, their current seating procedure has now been around for over four years (which is longer than the current President, and two thirds of the acts on the Billboard Top 100).  This carefully tested process was dubbed “foolproof” by the consultants which implemented it, proving only that they have no idea what kind of fools are flying these days.  For the uninitiated, this unimaginably complex process includes the assignment of an alpha-numeric code to each passenger with the letters A,B & C, and the numbers 1 through 60.  Impossibly enough, the passengers are then queued by letter (boarding group) and number (place in line) and invited to board the plane and select their seat in order.    They truly couldn’t make this any easier if they had written the instructions in crayon - and yet, I see grown men and women look at these letters and numbers as though they are alien glyphs that they can’t possibly decipher.  Seriously, if this confuses you, please stay home - because if we crash on a desert island with no food, we’re eating the dumb people first, and that means you.

3.   It’s Electric.  If you’ve been to a wedding, bar mitzvah, corporate holiday party, country bar or decently-sized birthday celebration in the last thirty years, you have probably heard this song and seen this dance.  It’s the Electric Slide, and is commonly done to the Electric Boogie by Marcia Griffiths.  In fact, the Electric Slide was first choreographed in 1976!  That’s right, this dance is older than you are.  Hell, it’s almost older than I am, and that’s saying something.  And just like your public schooling, it’s only got 18 steps (well, maybe a few more for some of you - but the same step twice doesn’t really count as two, ok?).  But to my point, you probably take more steps than that getting from your bed to your shower, and they’re probably more complicated.  However, despite this dance being older than your creepy uncle, and easier than your drunk aunt, I still see people messing it up like it’s some kind of complex tribal rite.  Notwithstanding what passes for dancing these days (don’t even get me started on that), if you can’t manage the same 18 steps over and over, you really should stay as far from the dance floor as possible.  Seriously, nothing that was cool in 1976 should be even remotely challenging for the modern-day socialite.  And yet, I’ve seen this particular dance butchered more routinely than Journey songs at karaoke.  No matter what your friends have told you, if you can’t do the Electric Slide, you can’t dance - and the place where you need to be if you’re out, is the bar (where you can show off the Electric Lean).

* * *

It’s not that I’m not hopeful for a better world in 2012, because I am.  It feels like we’re waking up from a horrible national (maybe even global) hangover, after spending most of the previous decade partying like nothing could ever go wrong.  And like any hangover, no matter how bad it seems, you ultimately come out of it a little smarter and just as spry as you were before.  I guess I’m just hoping that we all take the opportunity whilst looking forward to take a brief look back and make sure that before we go trying to build our hopes and dreams, that we’ve got a foundation that includes the ability to operate basic consumer electronics, keep from looking foolish in a basic airport queue, and maybe, just maybe, dance a little bit.  After all, what good is being successful if you don’t got the boogie?