Recently I was reminded of a great article by David Wong on (of all places) Cracked about “6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person” (h/t to Patrick Hoolahan). If you haven’t seen it yet you should check it out; great advice and possibly life changing. The part that really got to me the most was “#5. The Hippies Were Wrong”. Wong makes a lengthy point about the well-known and oft-reviled speech delivered by Alec Baldwin in Glegarry Glenross. For the three of you who haven’t seen it, I’ll include it here (also for the rest of you, because it is awesome):
Wong makes the point that “half of the people who watch it think that the point of the scene is ‘Wow, what must it be like to have such an asshole boss?’ and the other half think, ‘Fuck yes, let’s go out and sell some goddamned real estate!’” I have to admit, I used to be in the former camp. I’ve heard just about every version of this: “What have you done for me lately?” “Have you earned your seat on the bus today?” “What have you done to add value recently?” And on and on, ad nauseum. I used to hate it, because it all seemed like they were picking on me and not valuing me for what I was bringing to the table. I was a hard worker, with experience and loyalty to the company, and I had big ideas about how to make things better if they would just listen. Sure, sometimes things weren’t perfect, but everybody makes mistakes.
Then I started managing employees of my own.
At first I was the exact opposite of “that boss”. I was the boss I always wanted to have: I was a good guy, friendly, warm, open and nice. If there was something that didn’t get done, didn’t get done right, or didn’t get done on time, as long as there was a reason, I was willing to hear it and give the benefit of the doubt, even if it was insufficient on the face of it or, worse, was completely irrelevant. I finally started to understand that when I thought I was being a good guy, when I was being “nice” to my employees, what was actually happening was they were seeing Uncle Sympathy, The Clown Who Gives a Damn. I wasn’t doing them any favors, because what I was teaching them was the wrong lesson: as long as they had an excuse, they would be excused. I had to cowboy up and start teaching the lesson nobody wants to hear:
Fuck you, close.
You want the promotion, the raise, the bigger office and the better title? Guess what, so does the guy standing behind you. The difference between the two of you is that one of you is going to be the guy who talks to me about what he did for me last month, and the other one is going to be the guy who tells me about the five accounts he brought in this morning and his action plan to bring in five more tomorrow.
Fuck you, close.
I’m not saying experience and loyalty don’t count, I’m saying that they aren’t magic talismans you get to just wave around and expect they matter for no reason other than existing. Understand why and how they’re important, and be able to elucidate that in a clear and concise manner.
Fuck you, close.
If you have personal problems, I empathize, but the truth is I don’t care, because I can’t afford to care. After work, when we have accomplished everything we need to do to get the job done I’ll buy you a beer and we can talk it out if you want, but for right now we have a job to do, and neither of us is getting paid to not get it done.
FUCK YOU, CLOSE.
That’s my new mantra. It’s not pretty, but it works. And the first guy I say it to every morning is me.
As we close in on the end of the year, I find myself in a somewhat reflective mood. Maybe it’s the approach of the Longest Night, or maybe it’s the New Year and the looming cries of “what resolutions have you made?” Either way, I’ve been thinking about the year gone by, and I realized I have been remiss in saying some things that really should have been said, things that I think most married men do not say but probably should.
No, “I love you” is not going to appear on this list. My assumption is that by now any married man has gotten to understanding he damn well better say it (and mean it) fairly often or he won’t be married very long. This is a list of the things we think but don’t say, either because we’re too busy, too tired, or because we just don’t want a fight.
In no particular order:
Yes, I was wrong. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Please don’t rub it in.
You are that sexy, that smart, that beautiful, that talented, and that amazing. I just wish you could see as clearly as I can.
Actually I do mind doing that activity or going to that place instead of staying home and doing the thing I was going to do instead. Please stop asking me if I’m sure I don’t mind. It’s only making things worse.
I admit it; I was looking at that woman. But so were you. The way she was dressed, I’m surprised the Pope wasn’t looking at her. It’s not like I hit on her, so please cut me some slack.
Thank you. I could list all the times and reasons I should have said it, but honestly I just don’t remember them all, even though I’m fairly sure you do.
Truth is I do know where everything in the house is. I’m just too lazy to get up and get it myself.
It’s your turn to take out the dog.
It’s my turn to do the dishes, clean the house, do the laundry, pick up the groceries, and take out the dog.
I’m proud of you. I’m proud of everything you do, every day. I’m proud I get to say I’m your husband.
As I stare down the barrel of “the Big 4-0”, I’ve been giving some serious thought to my midlife crisis. This is the sort of thing you only get to do once, and I really don’t want to screw it up. There are so many options, and I want to be able to look back on it and say, “yes, I made the right choice”, instead of being one of those pathetic guys who is even more morose and unhappy after the fact.
So far, I’ve identified the following broad categories of Midlife Crisis:
THE CLASSICAL: Go out and buy an expensive car that you can’t afford, probably a Mercedes-Benz. Tool around town in it. Act like a tool. Pretend this makes up for all the failed and waste dreams of your youth.
THE NEO-CLASSICAL: Go out and buy an expensive sports car that you can’t afford, probably a Ferrari. Zoom around town in it. Act like a tool. Pretend this makes up for all the failed and waste dreams of your youth.
THE MODERN: Get a mistress, preferably one who is much younger than you. Lavish her with money, gifts, and promises that you will divorce your wife. Pray that nobody ever catches you.
THE POST-MODERN: Get a trophy wife, preferably one who is much younger than you. Lavish her with money, gifts, and promises that you will never divorce her. Pray that nobody ever catches you.
THE NOUVEUAU: Quit your job and do something “that would make the 15-year-old me happy”. Wait for your wife to divorce you.
THE ART-NOUVEUAU: Quit your job and take a swing at whatever unrealistic artistic endeavor you abandoned sometime in your late teens or early twenties when you decided it was “time to get serious about life”.
THE HOBBYIST: Devote all of your time and energy to some sort of meaningless and quite possibly insanely dangerous hobby, such as skydiving, bear-baiting, or gardening (REAL gardeners know what I mean).
THE EXTREMIST: AKA The Sampler. Quit your job, divorce your trophy wife, and let your mistress drive your brand new Ferrari over a cliff while you both go skydiving out the open top.
While I’m more than a little tempted to go for The Neo-Classical, I somehow doubt My Not So Humble Wife would approve. Plus I can’t drive stick, so a Ferrari is kind of out of the question. Besides, I want to do something truly exceptional, something that will set me apart from all the other men who have gone before me and had midlife crises of quiet desperation.
And so I have set out a plan. A most audacious, stunning, some might say awful, plan. It is epic in scope, awe-inspiring in its execution, and if successful, will enshrine me in the annals of history:
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And then, as I spike the head right there on live television, I’ll look straight into the camera an say with a smile, “I’m going to Disney World!” because, you know, sponsors.
So that’s my plan. Is it bold? Certainly. Is it insane? Probably. Is it illegal? In every country and jurisdiction on Earth, with the exception of two. But it will guarantee me immortality.
And isn’t that what it’s really about?
Today is the day after Halloween, and we all know what that means.
(“The start of Diabetes Awareness Month?”)
Close, but no. It means that we’ll all be eating lots and lots of candy. Whether you’re a parent sneaking the best bits out of your kids’ hauls or, like me, you’ve got the dregs of what you couldn’t give away on The Big Night, there’s plenty to go around. Temptation will be everywhere for weeks to come, as everyone brings the sweet treats everywhere they go in a desperate attempt to pawn them off on others rather than suffer through the sugar shock of being stuck with it themselves.
Personally I’m in a different boat than I’ve been in before. First I had to miss out on the trick-or-treaters because I had class, which I deeply regret since that’s my favorite part of the holiday. Even more than Christmas I believe Halloween is for children, and seeing them come to my door and beg me for sugar so that I can send them laughing maniacally into the night and leave their parents to suffer with their sugar-crazed fiends for the next several weeks warms my cold, cold heart. Apparently we had quite the bounty of them last night as well, which is why we have so little left over candy, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.
It’s a good thing, because lord knows I don’t need any more candy lying around the house, and as I already mentioned there’ll be plenty around work and elsewhere for me to get my fill. It’s a bad thing because this is the first year I had almost complete control of the candy buying in my household, and My Not So Humble Wife and I agree on candy in general anyway, so it wasn’t an issue. You know what I’m talking about: that one guy who insists on buying The Shitty Candy.
I hate that guy so much. There’s so many things wrong with that. First and foremost is that I’m forced to give out The Shitty Candy to the kids who come to my door. Setting aside the very real possibility of an unsanctioned home delivery of eggs and toilet paper, there’s the simple fact that I have a reputation to protect. I want to be the guy who gives out The Good Candy, nay, The Great Candy, and in great heaping handfuls. So I have to do my best to avoid having The Shitty Candy dumped in the bowl, but inevitably we either run low or (worse) when I’m not looking Shitty Candy Guy starts pouring it in, and he ALWAYS mixes it up. SO then I have to rummage around and try not to give it out, but the kids see me rummaging around, so if I accidentally give them a piece of The Shitty Candy, it looks like I did it on purpose, and I become That Guy.
The next worst thing is the day after, when we have to start eating the leftover candy. (Throw it out? I know each of those words, but your sentence is meaningless.) Despite having insisted on buying The Shitty Candy and handing out The Shitty Candy, I notice he never bothers to eat The Shitty Candy, at least not at first. He always goes straight for the leftovers of the stuff that I bought – you know, The Great Candy. This offends me, not because The Great Candy tends to be more expensive (c’mon, this stuff is like five bucks a bag), but because the whole point of Halloween candy is what it says about you as a person. Are you a Milky Way guy? Are you a Junior Mints kind of gal? Or are you one of those Mary Jane weirdoes? (If you give away Werther’s at Halloween, you deserve what you get.) Eating the leftovers is the reward or punishment for the choices you made, and going straight for someone else’s Great Candy is Halloween identity theft.
This year, I might have missed out on the trick-or-treaters, and I might not have much in the way of leftover candy, but what I do have left is nothing but Great Candy. And that’s worth 100 Grand.
A friend of mine recently moved from DC to Northern Virginia (and we’re very glad to have him back), but there was a side effect I wasn’t expecting. While I was aware his kids had all grown up in DC, it never occurred to me that they wouldn’t appreciate car culture, particularly his eldest. She’s in her late teens, and yet the other day she complained about several people nearly running her over. I actually had to pause to think about this for a minute, because the very idea was so alien to me. Then it registered: she was on foot – OUTSIDE.
The very idea of it honestly came as a complete shock at first. I mean, sure, intellectually I know people do that sort of thing, but you so rarely see it around here that it just doesn’t occur to me as something normal people do. I had to explain to her that she doesn’t live in the city anymore, and the rules are a little different out here. And for my money, thank goodness for that.
I honestly can’t imagine what my life would have been like without cars; especially from the time I became old enough to drive them solo. While I’ve never been a gearhead, I’ve always had a special attachment to the cars I personally have owned. They have served me in every conceivable way: as transportation, storage, even shelter at need. They may or may not have aided me in the acquiring and hiding of street signs, and more than once I used them as a means of enjoying a romantic rendezvous away from the prying eyes of inquisitive parents and a nosy sister. Ever since I first got my license cars have equaled autonomy, or at least the potential and promise to have it. All you needed was enough money for gas and you could just go as far as the tank would take you, and the only thing that would bring you back was your own decision to turn around.
My friends and I always had special names for our cars, names that reflected our personalities, our feelings about our cars and our relationships with them. I have owned such delights as Casper (the Not So Friendly Child Eating Ghost), Cheshire, Lincoln, and Alice. Another friend owned various incarnations of The Road Smasher, and one notable friend and former roommate owned Zippy Blue Unfaithful. (If you ever have a few free hours, you should buy him a beer and ask him to tell you “The Story of The Death of Zippy Blue Unfaithful”. I was there, and I can promise he sticks to the facts… mostly.) This ritual of naming our cars did more than give us something to talk about and a way to distinguish one used hand-me-down from another. They distinguished us, identified us, and helped us to shape ourselves and our environment at a time when we had precious little control over our circumstances.
I’m not as free now as I was when I was a teenager, but every once in a while I still feel the urge to hop in my car late at night, pick a direction and just drive. Maybe it’s nostalgia for a time in my life that I can never capture again, or maybe it’s something deeper, more primal. Either way, I’m glad to have my car, to have that option should I choose to take it. All I need, even today, is enough money for gas (even if that is a lot more than it used to be) and I can go as far as the tank will take me, and the only thing that will bring me back is my decision to turn around.
I’ve come to realize I need a break from being a responsible adult.
I don’t mean a holiday, or a weekend, or even a vacation. Even on the rare occasion those roll around, I still have all the same concerns. I have to be aware of bills, rent, chores, work, school, family, and all the obligations that make up everyday life for a typical adult. It gets to be overwhelming after a while, and I’m getting to the point where I really believe I’ve earned a little distance from it all. I know this all sounds a lot like “first world problems”, but I’m acknowledging that even folks in other countries need this kind of break too, probably even more than I do.
I think back to a time (perhaps more recent than for some, but hey, I was a late bloomer) when I didn’t have so many concerns. I didn’t really appreciate then how good I had it. Even as recent as college (well, when I was a full-time college student, at any rate) I got winter and summer break, and hanging out with my friends all night at coffee shops and diners. We would talk and joke, discuss philosophy or the news of the day or even just make lewd and inappropriate jokes.
Before that was high school, when I could leave most of my real worries behind at the end of the day (the problems I created for myself were another matter entirely). I had acting and other hobbies that filled my time, and of course my constant flailing attempts to chase girls, which I will not describe in any detail in an attempt to preserve what little dignity I have left (and I will thank my friends and family to respect that decision).
Before high school was elementary school, when I didn’t even have homework, and every afternoon was a sweet release of cartoons and video games. Weekends were more of the same. I had my problems, to be sure, but they were problems of the moment, and the good times overall outweighed the bad.
Perhaps I’m looking at the past through rose-tinted glasses, which is of course the prerogative of nostalgia. I realize it’s an old refrain that “youth is wasted on the young”, and I certainly wouldn’t want to go back and have to live through all of it again, if nothing else because I was terrible at geometry. But I do wish there was some way to be relieved of my burdens of worry and woe for just a while, a chance to let my guard down for a time, stretch my shoulders before picking up the burden again. It’s not that life is bad, and I wouldn’t trade the life I have for someone else’s life, but I do yearn from time to time for a way to step back from it all.
Other than winning the lottery (and mo’ money, mo’ problems, am I right?) or retiring, is that something that ever happens? Or do I just have to accept that being an adult means, as 1 Corinthians 13:11 says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways”?
I wonder about the strangest things sometimes.
Example: I was in the restroom at work the other day and I noticed there are three stalls, two urinals, and four sinks. What happens if everyone finishes at the same time? Is there a specific etiquette for this? My coworker suggested it becomes a game of musical chairs (first come first serve), or possibly the guys who were in the stalls have first dibs (let’s face it, they need to wash their hands more).
But this also made me wonder, how do they calculate these things? Is there somebody somewhere whose job it is to figure out the optimum sink-to-stall ratio? Must be a tough job, since you have to account for the overly meticulous guy who’s going to wash his hands longer than anybody else, but you also have to factor for those filthy fellows who don’t wash at all. And then there’s the guys who dash in specifically to wash their hands but don’t need to use the bathroom at all. Do they throw off the calculations?
Clearly this is a job whose time has come, since at school there are two sinks for about 20 “rest stops”, if you will. But then I expect nothing else from my beloved university, where “We Kill Efficiency Whenever It Raises Its Head” was just edged out as a school motto by “You May Drive Here, But You Can’t Park Here”.
And speaking of driving, I will never understand traffic patterns as long as I live. It used to be that back roads were supposed to be the way around traffic on the highways. I moved recently and subsequently have had to change my commute (which is now technically longer) away from back roads to a highway, one of the most popular in the region in fact. Most days my commute time has been the same, and some days it’s even shorter. This makes no sense to me. The only exception has been the first week of school, when apparently everybody went to work and/or drove their kids, before they all let out their metaphorical guts and said, “ah, the heck with it” and went back to their normal routine.
I’m still trying to develop a new routine. Bad enough I had to move to a new house in a new neighborhood, AND I’m back in classes, but My Not So Humble Wife started a new job as a school teacher. Yes, she’s a first year teacher, which from objective observation seems to me to be akin to Purgatory: indistinguishable from Hell except insofar as it will someday end. She’s also in class one night a week, a class composed almost entirely off first year teachers, who all have to be up early enough to wake the rooster on the way out the door. Her professor is aware of this, so naturally he lets them go early every week. Just kidding! She goes to the same school I do, “Where Killing Your Dreams Is Tradition”, and he keeps them right up to the last minute and sometimes after every week. What a swell guy. I need to put him on my Christmas card list.
Speaking of Christmas, I may (finally) be able to put up outside Christmas lights this year. I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but for the better part of the last decade I’ve lived in a house with no outside outlets. How does that happen? I grew up putting on the biggest and gaudiest – excuse me, most tasteful light display possible every year, and I’ve looked forward to continuing that tradition in my own home. It saddens me that I have an inflatable snow globe still sitting in the box in my attic, waiting to greet the people of the world. I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever get to use it.
But like I said, I wonder about the strangest things sometimes.