Archive for January 2010

What goes up…

January 31, 2010

I just shaved with a fresh razor blade.

Almost all guys know this feeling, and many women also.  The last few times your blade was just about done, so it wasn’t a very pleasant shave.  Now, you pop in a fresh blade, and it’s like magic; your beard (or other offending hairy part) shaves so easily and painlessly that it’s like a whole new experience.

“This,” you think, “is amazing.  Why don’t I use a fresh razor blade every time?”

And then, you remember: these stupid razor blades cost four dollars each.  Even shaving as irregularly as I do, that would be a month’s rent spent on razor blades every year.

Hmm.  Yeah.

Life really is just one big tease, isn’t it?

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Why don’t we learn our lesson?

January 29, 2010

I’m not often hung over (although the last time wasn’t that long ago).  Perhaps, that’s why when I am, I tend to be especially filled with regret.  The experience is unpleasant enough (even when relatively mild) that when it’s happening, it’s very hard to pretend that it’s not happening.  You might try to distract yourself, or just hide in bed where the nasty pointy light can’t reach you, but in the end you mostly just sit there experiencing your hangover.

Today, I am hung over.  Meh.

What bothers me, though, isn’t only the physical discomfort (though, admittedly, that part really bothers me), but rather the very certain awareness that this absolutely did not need to happen.  A hangover is not, at least for me, the inevitable price for an evening of drunken fun.  I can get completely blasted and feel fine the next morning; in fact, I tend to wake up earlier and more completely the night after I’ve been drinking.

No, a hangover for me represents that one drink (or more) too many.  I’ll be having a great time, thoroughly sloshed, and then have a drink that I absolutely do not need to have, and that will be my hangover the next morning.  I can usually look back and clearly see the moment I went too far, when I had one-too-many of the blue drink of which  am so fond, an extra drink that was completely pointless, given how I was already nicely drunk, already with drinks in my belly that would likely keep putting alcohol into my system for hours to come regardless of adding any more.  That last drink probably won’t even hit me until I’m asleep, when it’s good for literally nothing except bizarre dreams and a hangover the next morning.

To which, I’m sure most people would reply, “Well, duh.”

Yes, the flaw in my drinking pattern is obvious.  But, that’s my point: it is obvious.  Really obvious.  So obvious that when I’m drunk and continuing to drink, I still know it.  And yet, how many times in my life have I stopped, thought about the obvious and well-observed flaw in my drinking habits, and acted accordingly to prevent una mañana terrible?

Not once.  Ever.

Now, it would be remarkably convenient if I could blame it on the juice.  If this were just a drinking thing, maybe I could get away with that.  But, this isn’t about drinking, this is about excess, and similar stuff happens when I’m stone-cold sober.  I’ve written before about my unhealthy willingness to procrastinate.  And, just the same, I know better but simply don’t do what is clearly in my best interests.  I’ll stay up all night playing video games, even though I know I need to sleep, and that the games will be waiting for me the next day anyway.  It’s probably a really good thing I never get heartburn or stomach aches, because if I did I’d sure as hell regret my immoderate eating habits.  This isn’t even an issue of enjoyment — I’ll exercise until I’m purple and know perfectly well that the next day I’ll barely be able to move, and I hate exercising.  I don’t just do it when I don’t even want to do it; I do too much of it when I don’t even want to do it.  What the hell?

But, on some level, there has to be some sort of instant gratification involved in staying the course, even if what you are doing is unpleasant or potentially destructive.

I have a theory: people hate change.

“Well, duh, again.”

And, yes, on the level of life changes, this is something that we figured out a long time ago.  People stay at jobs they hate when no other job could possibly be worse.  People cling to romantic partners long after they have grown apart, and when they finally break free they cling to a rebound partner long after that relationship has lost its value.  People wear ugly clothes with holes in them for no good reason, rather than just go buy a nicer shirt with underarms that are the same colour as the rest of it.

But, I think it’s worse than that.  I think we’re even lazier than that.  We like momentum so much (or, perhaps hate changing direction so much) that once we decide on a course, we stick with it until life does the work for us.  If a relationship isn’t working, and we decide to stick with it, we’ll stick with it until someone is in jail or moves away.  If a shirt is looking a little threadbare, we’ll decide if we want to throw it out, and if we don’t, it stays until it falls apart.  And, if we’re drinking, we’ll decide (usually fairly early in the evening) if we want to stop at a pleasant buzz or go for full-on bender.  And, once that bender is declared, nothing will stop us, even if the bender is achieved and then some.  We know better than this, but we do it anyway.  Why?

There are two ways to look at this.  Either, we are great about making a decision and following it through (and the glass is half-full), or we are so desperately afraid of change that we’ll keep doing something painful just for the sake of not deciding to do something else (and the glass is half-empty).  I lean towards the latter, but I have to admit that the first perspective does have its appeal.  I’m not hung over today because I’m an idiot; I’m hung over because I’m a man of action who makes a plan and follows through!

So, there you are, man of action.

Man of action with a headache and a funny tummy.

One good deed…

January 24, 2010

I live two blocks from a major university, in a front-facing ground-floor apartment on a street that alternates apartment buildings with fraternity and sorority houses.

Usually, when people visit, the first thing they ask about is all the frat and sorority houses.  “Isn’t it loud and violent and annoying and disruptive and messy?” they ask.

And I usually reply, “Eh, it’s not so bad.”  And, really, almost all the time, it’s not.  It’s just that on those occasions when it does suck to live on this street, it sucks a lot.  I’m definitely awakened by a disproportionate number of fire trucks.  I’ve seen more fights outside my window here than through any other window I’ve ever had.  And, wow, I just leave on game days; there’s no point in even trying to be around here.

So, this afternoon when I heard cheering and air horns, I didn’t think much of it.  It’s rush week; the greeks are busy.  Whatevs.

Then a dozen topless women with letters painted on their tummies ran down the street past my window.

Sometimes it’s really, really hard not to love the things that hurt you.

A little discretion goes a long way

January 18, 2010

Privacy is an interesting thing.  I’m a pretty private guy in general, and my friends have called me on it more than once.  I generally don’t volunteer information, and people who don’t specifically ask will often not know much about what I’m up to.  I’m not averse to talking about myself; I just don’t do it unless I’m sure that someone wants to know.  If nothing else, it’s a useful barometer for recognising which people in my life care enough to bother asking how I’m doing.

(It’s a bit of a breakthrough that I even have this blog.  The compromise, of course, is that I don’t tell anyone it exists.  I’m still confused about where most of my readers came from.)

Anyway, I live on the ground floor, and I never cared for how people walking by could look in my windows.  To this, most people ask, “Why on earth would anyone be looking in your window in the first place?”  And, really, people who go looking in random windows and catch me walking around naked deserve what they get.  But still, for the good of everyone involved, I finally went to Home Depot and spent the whopping $20 for some “privacy film” to put on the lower halves of my windows.  It’s designed for shower doors (um… so people in the shower don’t have to look at people on the toilet, or vice-versa, I guess?), but it also works beautifully at blocking casual glances from the street.

(It’s a shame I put the film on so badly.  If anyone reading this ever thinks about using this product, just spend the extra $8 and get the application kit.  The tools in there will make it look a lot less like you hired a team of retarded monkeys in blindfolds to apply the film.)

My perspective on windows isn’t shared by everyone I know.  “That’s where I masturbate!” a friend cheerfully told me when I observed how her window-side bed is in plain view of an entire apartment building across the street.  She walks around naked with the blinds up all the time.  Total strangers almost certainly see her; she doesn’t care.  Of course, being seen by strangers is a little different from being seen by people you know, but I doubt she’d really mind either way.

This raises an interesting point about privacy, and how it goes two ways.  I don’t mean this in the sense that everyone should respect the privacy of others as they would want others to respect their own (although, that’s certainly true; do unto others, and whatnot).  Instead, I’m thinking more that it’s important to be aware of what other people want or need to know.

When I lived in a university residence hall, I met plenty of people who didn’t understand that privacy works both ways.  There was a person who liked to use the restroom with the stall door open.  “I don’t care if other people can see me,” she said.  Well, you know what?  Other people care; they don’t want to see that.  An infamous resident, who went through three roommates in one semester, would masturbate aggressively in his bunk at night while the roommate was trying to sleep, moanin’ and groanin’ and shaking the bed.  He didn’t seem to care if the roommate knew what was going on, but the roommates (even issues of seismic comfort notwithstanding) certainly did.

(I always wondered what he was doing to himself that was so amazing he couldn’t help but make a spectacle of it.  He’d probably have told me if I’d asked.  I did not ask.)

This all comes down to an understanding of what the people around you want or need to be exposed to.  Sometimes, “I don’t care if other people find out,” really just means “I don’t care if other people will be hurt.”  I know someone who would rather hurt people and end friendships than shut up.  On the other hand, my friend with the exhibitionist tendencies probably isn’t hurting anyone by walking around naked in her apartment, but is that only because she’s young and attractive?  I’m willing to bet that her neighbours would be less accepting of her high level of body comfort if she were seventy, hairy, and in the latter stages of elephant-man disease.  Even as she is, it’s still possible that someone across from her apartment is thinking, “Oh dammit, she’s doing it again!  Now I have to close my blinds.”

(Of course, she probably has a dozen other neighbours who respond with, “She’s doing it again!  Quick, call the guys!  Where are the damn binoculars?!”)

When it comes right down to it, I don’t share much about my life at least partly because I’m not sure anyone wants to hear it (and, for a similar reason, I don’t press my naked body up against the street-level windows of my apartment).  Whether I care about sharing isn’t really the point; other people might not be keen, or might simply be better off in the dark.

Now, I cheerfully admit that I’m oversensitive, but I really do think that in general people need to have a less self-centered notion of personal privacy.  Too many people think, “I don’t care, and therefore no one else will either,” as if all people are on exactly the same wavelength about everything.

Don’t tell the entire world about your cold sore.  Unless you’ve got the right audience, keep your dangly bits to yourself.  And, if you’re going to sleep with the wrong people, at least have the common courtesy to shut the hell up about it so no one is hurt.

What does “home” mean?

January 16, 2010

So, one of the things I do with my spare time is volunteer at a weekly immigrant resource clinic.  I do this partly because I have personal reasons for being especially sensitive to the needs of immigrants, and partly because it slightly soothes my white guilt.  It also provides the occasional opportunity to use my feeble Spanish.

So, mostly this office assists immigrants who are undocumented in the United States, who wish to apply for legal status.  The INS is not especially friendly to those who apply for registration as immigrants only after they are already here, but there are ways to get into the system without too much risk of having Immigration and Customs Enforcement bundle you up like cordwood and ship you back to your country of origin.

Usually, the clinic brings a broad mix of undocumented locals, most Latin Americans, with the occasional south-east Asian, and an eastern European or Caribbean islander once in a blue moon.  Today, all but one of the people across the desk from me were from Haiti.

Now, there is a fair-sized Haitian community here.  It’s not large or prominent, but it’s definitely there.  The reason so few come for registration assistance is mostly that their nation of origin is (relatively) close, and because they generally aren’t desperate to become documented residents of the United States.  In the very unlikely event that a local undocumented Haitian is detected and removed from the United States, it’s not so terrible to be back home for awhile, and he can be back here eventually anyway.

At least, that’s how it was until Tuesday’s earthquake in Port-au-Prince.  For an awful lot of Haitians abroad, home disappeared; suddenly, there is nothing to go back to.

“Home” is a funny concept.  It can be where you are, but also where you’re from; you can walk home to your apartment, or fly home to visit your mother.  If you’ll forgive a personal example that feels awfully trivial in comparison to the context I’ve set so far, I was fiddling with my “hometown” Facebook setting yesterday.  It originally named the city where I grew up, and then briefly the city where  I was born, and then until yesterday the city where I currently live and have spent most of my adult life.  The most recent setting didn’t seem right, and neither did any of my previous choices.  So, I tried to list “I don’t even know any more,” but that just confused Facebook and I ended up with a blank entry.

(Of course, that blank spot didn’t stop Facebook from notifying all my friends that I had changed my hometown.)

The thing is, probably more than anything else, “home” is the place that you can always go back to when you need.  I realised that at some point, I stopped having a place like that.  This isn’t a terrible thing, because I like where I am right now, and I suppose letting go of the place my rather small family still lives is something I did voluntarily, even if I didn’t really realise it was happening.

For the Haitians I talked to today, though, home didn’t just fade away — it got flattened Tuesday evening.  It’s not simply gone from their hearts; it’s gone.  Several of them literally became orphans this week.  A few people think they may have lost their entire families.  Almost all of them would have nowhere to live if they went back to Haiti.  So, now, suddenly, here is home, because there isn’t anywhere else, any more.  So, they come to the immigrant resource office, to find out what they can do to make sure that the only home they have left won’t be taken away either (In this case, Haitians are eligible for “temporary protective status”).

With luck, a few of these folks will find out in the coming weeks that things aren’t as bad as they feared, that some of their family survives, or their property remains.  But, even then, home isn’t the same any more, and what they would go back to isn’t what they left.  That happens to everyone, of course, but not usually this abruptly or unwillingly.

The only thing I can really bring from this experience (aside from a very, very deep desire to get very, very drunk) is the old idea that we should all appreciate what we’ve got, because we might not have it forever.  If you’ve got a place to call home, where you are loved and where you feel safe, then take a moment to be grateful for it.  Some day, eventually, it won’t be there, or at least won’t be the same, and you’ll miss it.  While you still have it, appreciate it.

Call your mother.

Hot Pockets, now with Kung-Fu Grip!

January 6, 2010

So, Hot Pockets come with a little silvery cardboard bendy-thing, which you are instructed to wrap around the pastry when you microwave it.  The instructions refer to this item as a “crisping sleeve,” which, to my mind, vaguely implies that it will somehow make the pastry more crisp.  You can also tab one end closed and use the sleeve to hold your pastry after it is cooked, much like the sleeve on a cup of hot coffee.  I suppose this feature of the sleeve is helpful for people who don’t know the difference between microwaving something for two minutes and microwaving something for twenty minutes.

At any rate, I have noticed that my hot pockets never seem to be especially crisp, even though I am quite certainly using the crisping sleeve correctly.  So, I thought I’d try something.  A few minutes ago, when I was hungry, I put delicious pizza hot pockets in the microwave.  One was inside the crisping sleeve; the other was not.  In a rather unscientific comparison, my observation is that the resulting hot pockets were exactly the same.  After switching them around in a three-card-Monte-esque manner, I had no idea which one had been in the sleeve and which hadn’t.  My conclusion — the crisping sleeve did exactly jack squat.

That said, both hot pockets were delicious.

But, that got me thinking (the uncrisp foods; not their nonetheless deliciousness): if the “crisping sleeve” isn’t actually there to make the hot pocket more crisp, what exactly does it do?  I see two possibilities, neither of which reflects well on either the consumer or the hot pockets.

First, the crisping sleeve does nothing to the food; it is just silver cardboard.  It is, however, a feature, and therefore an impressive thing that will motivate consumers to buy the product.  “Hot Pockets, now with Crisping Sleeve!!”  That is, the marketing for Hot Pockets is deceptive and evil, and consumers are idiots.  That… sounds about right, really.

Second, people do really get burned by the pastries often enough (and perhaps sue often enough?) that it seemed wise to include a sleeve with which to hold the hot food.  But, knowing that consumers aren’t going to spend five seconds putting a sleeve on food when they could be eating it while being badly burned instead, Nestlé (the maker of Hot Pockets©) concocted the “crisping sleeve” label to encourage hungry consumers to put the sleeve on before the pastry goes in the microwave, and it’s already there when the hot food comes out.  So, the product design team for Hot Pockets assumes that consumers are reckless but manipulable, and consumers, again, are idiots.  That sounds about right too.

Now, it’s true that none of this prevented me from enjoying my hot pockets.  But, as a consumer who occasionally pretends to see through the manipulations of the consumption machine even though almost certainly I really don’t, I feel vaguely offended that this product assumes I’m an idiot.  I’d really like it to be a little better hidden that my pizza pastries think they’re smarter than I am.

I have a university degree.  I’m smarter than a Hot Pocket.

My New Year’s Resolution…

January 5, 2010

So, I don’t believe I’ve ever successfully stuck to a New Year’s resolution.  In my defence, I’ve probably made only half-a-dozen of them in my entire life, but I’m pretty sure none went anywhere.

But, this year I’m making one.  I’m actually almost a week late on this, which isn’t a good start.  But, I’ve decided that I want to do something, and it’s close enough to the new year, so I am.

I want to gain 10 pounds.

I can hear the eyes rolling.  This is amazing, both because blog technology hasn’t yet reached the point of audio-recording reader responses, and because eyes make little noise when they roll.  So, I suspect what I’m actually hearing is contempt and disdain (also normally quiet, yet conspicuously loud right now).

And that response, the negative “Pfft, what a stupid resolution” response, is half of why I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions.

Admittedly, the other half is laziness and indifference.

I see a negative response to resolutions all the time, though, and it’s a bit of a downer.  It’s not that people are being unsupportive jerks, though (“You want to go to the gym?  Why?  You’re too ugly for it to matter what shape you’re in.”).  Rather, it’s people who are being that odd mix of supportive and honest that sometimes comes off as condescending (“You want to go to the gym?  Why?  We’re all beautiful just the way we are!”).  Friends often think that they’re helping when they casually dismiss an attempt to improve:

Oh, it’s just a little gut.  You shouldn’t worry about it.
Lots of women are turned off by muscles, anyway.
I doubt your family really cares if you spend more time with them.
Why would you possibly want to learn Spanish?
I don’t  think you’ll be happier if you paint your house bright purple.

What they’re actually doing, though, is telling you that your own perceptions about your life, body, happiness, or whatever, are silly and wrong.  I tell people that I want to gain weight, and the eyes, they roll.  And, you know what?  If you’re trying to lose weight (or get fit, or be taller, or grow another arm, or whatever), you should understand what it’s like to want a body that isn’t the one you currently have.  But, instead, I mostly get, “Oh, shut the hell up and enjoy being skinny.”  I’ve written before about my (admittedly, probably not reasonable) body image issues, and the simple fact is that weighing more will make me happier with myself.  I don’t think that is such a patently absurd or self-destructive statement that it merits dismissal (in contrast with something like, say, “Microwaving my head will make me happier,” which really should get some negative attention).

I think it’s actually very sweet that friends will, when confronted with another friend’s self-conscious imperfection, attempt to convince him that it’s not worth worrying about.  Self-acceptance is a really valuable thing, which very few people have.  But, since I’m not going to have self-acceptance any time soon, I would like to to be self-conscious at a more ideal weight.  Who cares if I don’t need to gain ten pounds, or even if I won’t look any better if I gain ten pounds? Who can say what makes each of us happy?  If it doesn’t hurt me, doesn’t hurt you, and doesn’t involve children or cute animals, then it’s all good, right?

I think  that New Year’s resolutions should be less about fixing ourselves (something that is probably impossible for most, and potentially misguided or even harmful) and more about setting a reasonable goal and being pleased to reach it.  And, as such, even silly, trivial, or patently unnecessary goals are still valuable in the sense of representing an objective, and subsequently an achievement.

Therefore, in addition to gaining ten pounds, I also resolve to be more supportive of other people’s New Year’s resolutions.  That sounds reasonable, right?

I still hear eyeballs rolling.