Archive for May 2010

Not a bang, but…

May 31, 2010

Graduation from university is a considerable achievement.  Whether or not the experience provided genuine challenge, and whether or not it conveyed stronger skills or character of any sort, a university degree nonetheless entails the satisfaction of a process that takes years, and sometimes just the act of crossing the finish line is impressive, whether or not you ran an especially good race.

So, one would expect that graduation ceremonies would properly reflect the scope of this achievement.  Fireworks.  Brass bands.  Prostitutes.

(the pretty ones, not the cheap ones with missing teeth)

Yes, one would expect that.

Last week I went to five graduation ceremonies, because I have a fair number of friends who completed their degrees this year.  I would possibly have been to more, but a few just happened at bad times, or even directly conflicted with one another.

(One might imagine me, eager-to-please but confounded, standing between two close friends, each luring me to one graduation ceremony or the other with promises of treats and affection.  “Here, boy!  We all know you love me more!”  “No, here boy!  I bought this shiny new Playstation game for you!”  Actually, both times I had to choose I went to the ceremony with the most comfortable seats.)

Now, graduation ceremonies are a little like sex: they take hours but lead up to one especially nice ten-second moment.  The thing about sex, though, is that the rest of the time is still great fun; with graduation ceremonies, not so much.  If I’m going to be sitting there for two hours waiting for the person I actually know and like to walk across the stage, the least I deserve is something more interesting than my shoe to look at in the meanwhile.  Instead, most commencement ceremonies are the rough equivalent of that boring sexual encounter where you spent most of the time trying to remember what the fourth thing was that you needed to pick up at the store after yogurt, apples, and orange juice.

(It’s always milk, by the way.  No one can ever remember milk.)

After one ceremony, a friend asked me how many others I’d been to.  I answered five, which would have been correct a few days later, but that day had actually been the third.  Why did I mistakenly answer five?  Probably because the other two were just that long and boring.

I’m not blaming the school, exactly.  Certainly, these days a public university can hardly afford fireworks and Dixie bands.  Even the financially-stable private school across town has been forced to cut back the caviar and flame-jets at graduation.  The problem, really, is that commencement ceremonies, pretty much by definition, aren’t actually for anyone there.  Obviously, we’re all, audience and graduates alike, there for a reason.  But, that reason is always one person, or a perhaps a few, and not the entire thing, not all the other people, and certainly not the commencement address by a prominent personage whose achievements unfortunately do not include lessons in effective public speaking.  As such, there is literally no one at that ceremony with a reason to be there for the entire event (or, in fact, more than about ten seconds of it) beyond pure politeness.

It is, sadly, considered rude to rush into a ceremony at the half-way mark, loudly conclude, “Ah, they’re doing the N’s now; we showed up just in time!” and then leave just as abruptly minutes later: “I’m so happy for Bill.  Let’s get out of here before we have to watch any of these other losers graduate.”

I like to think that if someone actually did that, I would mentally reproach them.  Honestly, though, I would probably just be enormously jealous that I hadn’t done the same.

Regardless, because we’re so determined to be polite, we all sit there, for the whole thing.  We try to stir some emotion for the dozens — perhaps hundreds — of people we don’t know, but in the end we never do; those are total strangers down there graduating, and frankly we just don’t give a rat’s fuzzy butt about them.

Now, this post sounds like a rather strict condemnation of the whole commencement process.  That’s actually not what I’m trying to convey here, and several of the ceremonies I attended this year were reasonably interesting, at least by the standards of the genre.  The fact remains, though, that these events really are rather a trial for everyone involved, and I have never yet met, heard about, or even seen speculated to exist anyone who has ever attended a university graduation ceremony with rapt enjoyment.  That’s just not how it goes.

But I still attend these things.  Why?

Well, the strawberries and cookies afterwards are good.

But mostly, I figure it like this: if these people can spend four years, or more, getting their degree, then I can forego a few hours of my life to show that I noticed the achievement.  Yes, it’s boring.  Oh my god is it boring.  But, the whole ceremony is a perfectly appropriate metaphor for a university experience that is itself mostly wasted time interrupted by rare moments of what you actually went there to get.

I care about these people enough to remind them that I care.  If graduation ceremonies were fun, it wouldn’t mean anything to be there.  In point of fact, these university departments are arguably doing a poor job just by making the ceremonies as tolerable as they are.  If, for example, every ceremony started with kicking each audience member in the groin, I would be more able to remind these people how much I like them.  I’m quite certain that even in these tough economic times, public universities can afford to hire vagrants to kick the friends and family of graduates in the groin.

So, graduation ceremonies are like sex, and like the entire university experience, which is therefore also like sex, which is also like being kicked in the groin.  No wonder people work so hard to get into good schools; who wants to spend four years sleeping with an ugly person, just to get kicked in the groin?

Which, again, raises the issue of why there are no hookers at these things.

Worst. Pain. Ever.

May 22, 2010

Nicking yourself with a knife while you are preparing food hurts.

However, there is no pain the world worse than nicking yourself with a knife while slicing lemons.  It is the worst pain ever.  Ever.

Oh my god it still hurts as I type this, and it happened half an hour ago.

I’m sure some of my female readers are reflexively counter-arguing with that hoary old chestnut of an example, childbirth.  Well, you’re wrong.  Nicking yourself while slicing lemons hurts worse than childbirth.

Although, I’ll concede that, hypothetically,  giving birth to a lemon might be worse.

Happy Birthday, Pepito!

May 12, 2010

Today is my friend Pepito’s birthday.  He’s 22: “I feel like 22 gives me drinking street cred. Like, it’s proof that I didn’t get drunk for the first time last week, which is what most people seem to think 21 means.”

(His name isn’t actually Pepito.  To protect his identity, reputation, and delicate future as an overworked document monkey, I generously describe him with a pseudonym.)

He makes an interesting point.  Pepito is a success by almost any standard.  He attends a prestigious law school, will shortly start an impressive law-type summer job, and is many times more together with himself and his life than I was at 22.  He can also grow a better beard than I could then.  Or can now.

But, he’s right about how people view his age.  At 21, you’re automatically a scrub, pretty much entirely because an arbitrary milestone (that in many countries happens years earlier) is recently crossed.  Now, his birthday last year wasn’t exactly a showpiece of mature restraint, but that was hardly because it was his first time drinking.  He was, in fact, celebrating his newly-legal drinking age extra-hard mostly because it was such an arbitrary convention — it’s not like he was drinking for the first time, and it’s not like the sleazy bar at which he celebrated was really a special accomplishment to enter legally.  But, because he was turning 21, a social benchmark, he got drunk off his ass and needed help to pee.

(Not my help, thankfully)

And, now he’s 22, and still feeling the social expectations of being 21 even as he escapes them.  It shows the kind of weight that gets put on 21 that it becomes both a goal and a stigma at the same time.  A 20-year-old drinking is cool; “Look how slick I am, just barely flaunting a widely-ignored law.”  A 21-year-old, though, is just a scrub; “Now that I can legally buy beer, I’m starting to notice that beer tastes gross.”

22, though, should represent some measure of freedom for poor Pepito.  Now, he is officially a real adult, and not just some sort of stunted trial adult.  He officially gets his “grown-up” merit badge, and can enter society as a productive and useful contributor.  He begins a grown-up job shortly, even if just for the summer, and that is kind of a big deal; he may not magically become a different person just because he is officially one year older, but a summer of cocaine and hookers will probably get him up to speed.

So, why am I babbling about all of this?  Yes, turning 21, or 22 (or 16, or 40, or whatever) may be just an arbitrary milestone, something socially-conditioned like a Hallmark holiday.  But, (like those holidays), all that really matters is that we take the milestone to heart and use it as a reason to move forward. Pepito is going to remember today for a long time,

(There may be… gaps, but he’ll still remember not remembering.  And, YouTube and Facebook can do wonders for preserving interesting details)

and he’s going to remember it surrounded by people who care about him and wish him well.  And we, in turn, will always try to remember him as the idealistic and hopeful friend who turned 22, and not as the burned-out syphilitic wreck that will doubtless return to us after a summer at the firm.

So, happy birthday Pepito!  May your birthday leave you with all the memories you hope for (and none of the ones you don’t…), and may the coming year bring you all the happiness and success that you deserve.

But, seriously, shave the beard you freaking hippie, at least for your birthday.

Missed opportunities

May 3, 2010

This evening, my dinner companion accidentally dumped a not-inconsiderable amount of ice-cream in my lap.  It was cold.

You’d think that this would lead to one of those sexy, “Oh, you have ice-cream all over your lap; let me wipe that off for you, very slowly” moments.  But, no.  All she said was, “Oops, sorry.  Wow, you should go home and change pants.  I’ll wait for you here.”

Whoever is doing the writing for life has no sense of contextual appropriateness.

The injustice of a tasty new recipe

May 1, 2010

So, this evening I arrived home after a long day, starving and tired.  I thought, “I don’t want to bother making food.  I’m going to get a pizza.”

Now, when I moved into my new apartment recently, I was fortunate enough to be very close to an absurd number of restaurants, among them a Domino’s Pizza.

(As an aside, I’m aware that a disproportionate number of my posts seem to be about fast food.  I don’t know what to tell you, except that I obviously spend a lot of time thinking about food.)

A few months ago, Domino’s began an aggressive television advertisement campaign, the main theme of which was basically, “You told us that our food tasted terrible, and we listened.”  So, apparently the entire menu was revamped to feature improved, not-terrible recipes.  I found this exciting, because frankly I always though Domino’s tasted fine (not amazing, mind, but certainly good enough), and as such the prospect of it tasting better was appealing.  I’ve had a mental note ever since then to try Domino’s again when I had the chance.

(That’s right: it took me three years to correctly learn my old street address, but an idle  mental post-it note to eat pizza can last months without being forgotten)

So, after I arrived home and changed into clothes that aren’t designed to make me look like a credible professional, I headed right back out again to go to the Domino’s around the corner.  This was exciting for me.  I was excited.

But, what did I see when I arrived?  No, not the smoldering, burnt-out husk of a former Domino’s, which is probably where you thought this was going,

(although, some time I really need to write a post about the time we drove 45 minutes out of our way at the instruction of a GPS whose restaurant data contained the locations of the nearest Del Taco in our area.  That was the day I realised that if a restaurant closes, your GPS has no way of knowing.)

but instead I saw the same white storefront, neon sign, and photos of pizzas in the window that I expected.  Everything was right, with one important exception. The neon sign read, in stark simplicity,

Campus Pizza

It was like an episode of The Twilight Zone, where everything is exactly as it should be for the protagonist, except the one thing that matters is wrong.

Domino’s Pizza just rolled out delicious new recipes.  “Campus Pizza” couldn’t possibly offer anything near what I wanted.  “Campus Pizza” didn’t just spend millions advertising how they used to suck but now they don’t.  “Campus Pizza” probably never even sucked in the first place!

I don’t know what happened to my Domino’s Pizza.  Maybe they left and a new business jumped at the chance to run out of a storefront that was already set up to sell pizza.  Perhaps Domino’s is a franchise, and the owner just decided to go it alone without corporate support.  Perhaps I actually did enter a parallel dimension, in which everything is exactly the same except for the pizza place around the corner from my apartment.

But, it really didn’t matter.  All that mattered was that Domino’s was gone.

Heartbroken, I instead ate at McDonald’s, where I splurged and ordered bacon, because bacon makes everything better.

Sometimes life just isn’t fair.