Preppy

How long does it take you to get ready in the morning? Are you thinking in terms of minutes? Or is it easier to quantify in terms of how many episodes of a hit HBO drama someone could watch in the meantime? Do people make plans around you getting ready? This is a question that has been close to my heart ever since it came to light via party small talk that I take a longer time to get ready in the morning than my wife does. Significantly longer. How did I not know this prior, you might ask. Because I’m not a petty man, and I don’t keep track of things like these. Or put less kindly, I’m not the most observant person.

If you want to put labels on it, my wife takes 10 minutes to get ready, and I take 40. Math people will tell you that I take four times as long as my wife to get ready in the morning. But what they’re not accounting for is a difference in purpose in the getting ready process. My wife uses the act of getting ready in the morning to get ready in the morning; I use it to bask in mental and emotional solitude and rejuvenation. While getting ready, I ponder deep issues in life, like–is my cousin who just became a lawyer complicit in making America an overly litigious society? And, how come nobody uses the word “stooge” as an insult anymore? I also identified four specific (and incredibly essential) activities that may account for an extended time of morning ablution.

1. Using separate shampoo and conditioner. 2-in-1 shampoo/conditioners are the enemy of humankind. Under their care, it’s completely impossible to discern when your hair is being cleaned of impurity and when it’s natural oils are being replenished, which is maddening because these two activities are polar opposites. As such, your hair will leave a 2-in-1 shower session feeling confused and frightened. Separate shampoo and conditioner (along with lines for crowded activities) are the only things that separate humankind from the animals.

2. Using beard wash and beard oil. Nurture your beard, and it will nurture you. A beard that isn’t washed with a generous helping of jojoba oil in the shower and conditioned afterward with a mild styling agent is a dangerous place. Dry, scratchy, and crusty hair abounds and provides a fertile breeding ground for just the sort of chaos that led to the Bolshevik Revolution and to a lesser extent the Subprime Mortgage Crisis of 2008.

3. Singing a personally arranged Vegas-Lounge-Act-Style rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” Nothing more need be said.

4.  Brushing teeth for the entirety of the dentist-recommended two-minute time period. You only get one set of teeth in life, so you better take care of them. I’ve even gone a step further and divided my mouth into twelve sections on which I spend ten seconds each, thus ensuring that every part of my mouth is equally clean. Results speak for themselves; I have only four cavities.

After talking with a number of people, I think I’ve discovered another reason why I may take longer on my morning routine. The majority of people whom I’ve asked have admitted publicly that if they need to pee before getting into the shower, they do not wash their hands in between the discharging of waste and the entering into the shower. This, frankly, is heinous. They’ve assured me that “you’re going to clean your hands anyway” but your hands are what you’re going to use as the primary implement of cleaning in the shower, and you’ve just implicated them in the crime of peeing! If people washed their hands in between, like I do, to make sure they enter the shower with a clean slate, a clean slate, I think we’d see a bit more parity in morning prep times.

And really, we’re missing the point here anyway. When a butterfly emerges from a chrysalis, nobody asks it what in the world took it so long and can the rest of us please use the chrysalis now that you’re finally finished? And that’s all I’m doing each morning–retreating into the chrysalis of the bathroom as a foul-breathed unkempt caterpillar only to emerge as a glorious butterfly with a supple beard, warmed vocal cords, and only four cavities. You’re welcome.

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Canst Thou Hear Me Presently?

It may surprise you, but being a theatre kid in high school and college can, in certain limited circumstances, have a negative effect on your life. In my case, my experience treading the boards and telling the tale of the Bard made me too good at talking. Specifically, it made me too good at volume. More specifically, it made me very very loud. Because in the theatre, when you are treading the boards, telling the tale of the bard, speaking the speech trippingly upon the tongue (hereafter referred to in layman’s terms as “acting” or “being a self-indulgent dork”), you are taught to project. I was very early on taught that I needed to project my voice and speak at such a volume that I could be heard from the very back seat of the theatre (hereafter referred to in layman’s terms as “the theater”). This is excellent advice when you are performing a play for a group of people who have paid a set admission price in order to sit in seats and watch you perform a play. It is not great when you’re, say, sitting in your living room talking to your wife.

Being the go-getter that I was, though, high school me went at whatever he did 110% percent–120% if there was an inspirational figure there to push me to new heights of greatness. So I didn’t feel a need to turn off the vocal projection when I was not in school doing the theater. But when I was at home, my parents never said anything about my newfound decibels. Maybe they legitimately didn’t notice, or maybe they were just glad that theater was keeping me out of the gangs and off of the marijuana pot that all these kids are into these days.

Regardless, I managed to get all the way out into the real world without noticing, until my then-girlfriend-now-wife Jen asked me, “You know you’re incredibly, loud, right?” To which I responded, “Maybe your ears are just too sensitive, and it’s your problem.” Y’know, standard stuff you say when you’re trying to get a woman to fall in love with you. But alas, I went back to my group of appropriately sensitive male friends and asked if I talked loudly. The verdict was unexpected. “We all assumed you were just a really passionate guy–just really excited about whatever it was you were saying.” While being known as a passionate, passionate man is not a bad thing, that wasn’t necessarily the personal brand I was trying to foster, so I was in Dire Straits. I was truly undergoing the Walk of Life.

I’d found myself in a quandary. How could I simply start to be “not be loud” when I never thought I was loud to begin with? My “pleasant conversation” was apparently everyone else’s “The Hindenburg’s going down, oh the humanity.” So I just started talking quieter. Which was not the solution. On several phone calls, people asked me, “Are you in a library?” or “Have you been kidnapped?” or “Have you been kidnapped by militant librarians? What are their demands? Do they want an expanded budget for microfiche archives? Tell them no deal; the United States doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, except for all the times that we definitely do–I don’t know why that phrase is in every 90s action movie starring Harrison Ford.”

So I had to take a more nuanced approach. In my late 20s, I have essentially had to relearn how to talk. How did it turn out? Luckily, the only person that sees me on a daily basis now is my wife, so as long as she isn’t pissed off, it’s all good. Oh yeah, and people at work, but see my post re: biking to work, and you’ll see I’ve pretty much shot any chance at having a normal relationship with them.

 

Cold Stone Schemery: Part 2

“But Kevin,” you might say. “Surely your scheming and sidequesting in real life isn’t all that absurd.”

“Oh really?” I would counter. “To illustrate, maybe it would be helpful to know that once, upon discovering that I hated my job, my solution was to dress up like an 17th-century samurai.” Which is entirely factually true, and I can produce witnesses if needed.

The thinking was this.

I convened a mental board of directors meeting on the state of my job satisfaction. All board members were present and agreed that the situation was dire. Id, Ego, Superego, That Weird Part That’s Always Telling You to Jump When You’re In High Places: it was a unanimous vote–I disliked my job intensely. Now, on to the solution. Certainly, a scheme was in order. And certainly, that scheme would have to be sidequestrian in nature. If Jackie Gleason and Zelda are both on board, you can’t be wrong–the board reasoned. So, how might one deal with a terrible job in the most roundabout way possible?

Well. If you aren’t happy with your job, you need to find a new one, right? BUT, if you’re unhappy with your job, you’re coming home drained, depressed, and chock full of malaise–Jimmy Carter levels of malaise. And that’s not a state that you can effectively look for a job in. After all, looking for a new job is basically a job in and of itself, and the only thing worse than having a job you hate is having two jobs you hate; that’s just simple math.

So…How can I come home and be a little bit more peaceful so that I can start my second job of searching for a second job? I am an avid fan of Japanese culture, so I thought, “traditional Japanese culture is all about peace and harmony” (there may or may not have been alcohol helping to paint this broad-brushed sketch; I won’t confirm or deny). “Maybe all I need to do is Japanese up my room some; turn it into a real Asian Oasis.” And so the scheme began.

First thing’s first: let there be (better) light. I replaced my harsh overhead light with rice-paper lanterns to create a more calming atmosphere. I bought three different kinds because having all the same type of lantern is, of course, less calming.

Next, I tried to spruce up the floor. Fake hardwood is fine and all, but not as peaceful as a mat made out of dead grass. So my next step was to buy a goza mat.Gassho This mat did indeed feel amazing, and if looking for a job was a task that only required my feet, they’d have been ready right then. Sadly though, I’m not able to type, view web pages, or process neural impulses with my feet, yet–so I had to press on.

Then I realized how important it is to be able to enter in to the Asian Oasis. Right now, my entry consisted of a garbage Western door with the ability to slam–one of the least harmonious words, unless you’re pairing it with the word “jam” and also the words “everybody get up it’s time to (slam) now, we got a real (jam) goin’ down, welcome to the Space (Jam).” So my next important acquisition was a noren entry curtain, held up by a timelessly elegant $8 Amazon Tension Rod.

But once I had entered into the Asian Oasis, I realized that most of the room was still woefully un-Asian. When I looked around, I still saw my stressful Western dresser and my bed with the denim comforter I’d had since college. Not a problem that a shoji folding screen and some decorative floor pillows can’t fix, though.

At this point, you can probably imagine that I was getting very close to being ready to look for another job so I could quit the job that I didn’t like. But also as you can probably imagine, I wasn’t quite there. Because while I could see very peaceful things, I couldn’t hear them. Outside my window, it was still all sirens and stray cats and domestic disputes. So I bought a Japanese water fountain (called a shishiodoshi, or deer chaser),

Shishiodoshi

Which needed a bowl to sit in,

Bowl

Which needed stones in it so it wasn’t just an empty bowl,

Stones

Which needed a grate to sit on because I was too cheap to buy enough stones to fill the entire bowl,

Grate

All of which needed a bench to sit on because it wasn’t very soothing sitting on the floor,

Bamboo Bench

Which needed a lantern on it as well so it didn’t look like the only reason I bought a huge bench was to put a water fountain on.

Lantern

Acquiring all of which made me very peaceful, which I’m sure you’ve gathered.

And yet.

I was surrounded by a very peaceful atmosphere. Sidequest completed. Scheme executed. But who was the me who was surrounded by this peaceful Asian Oasis? It was a very dismal man–that may be a little generous–a very dismal male dressed in a “Chautauqua Laser Tag” t-shirt and baggy shorts. This is not peaceful apparel. This is not job-search apparel. And so, I obtained all of this:

Which, to save you some Googling of a bunch of Japanese words, is the traditional garb of a 17th-century Japanese samurai, complete with under-robe, over-robe (kimono), jacket, pleated pants, socks, and a sword because both it and I were on Amazon at 2 AM. And at last, my friends, I was at peace.

So I started looking for a job, right? Sort of! If by “look for a job” you mean “host a Japanese tea ceremony for my roommates,” that is exactly what I did!

Later on, my now-wife married me in spite of a weird Japan obsession I had, and she strongly encouraged me to actually look for a new job, which I did, and then interviewed for, and then got. So you see? The scheme paid off.

Cold Stone Schemery: Part 1

I once tried to sell unboxed, heavily used action figures that did not belong to me. I say “tried to sell” rather than “sold” only because the other party failed to buy them. Apparently Ninja Turtle action figures with scuff marks and fading paint “aren’t worth it.” I sold them because I needed money for something that I can’t remember the specifics of but that probably wasn’t illegal. And for some reason, my first thought to accomplish this unnamed venture was to fence plastic turtle warriors rather than, you know, do some actual work like mowing some wealthy-yet-infirm elderly person’s grass.

I say “for some reason,” but it’s actually two reasons that the turtle-selling scheme appealed to me more than the mowing: formulaic sitcoms and video games. Because in every sitcom, whether it was the Honeymooners or the Prehistoric Honeymooners (i.e., The Flintstones), there was always some character scheming. He always had some cockamamie plan that was going to put him and all his buddies on easy street, just you wait. And it was going to easy and fast, just like America made love in the 50s. Even in Scooby Doo–can you imagine how much money those villains would have made if they took all the time they spent pretending to be ghosts and just used it to hold down a steady job and invest well? But even though the schemes always backfired, the character always learned some valuable lesson about friendship or patriotism or Lincoln Savings and Loans, and everyone seemed pretty happy as the credits rolled. So when I was growing up and staying tuned and not touching that dial and watching these shows (heavily in reruns by the time I got my hands on them, thanks TV Land), I figured that scheming seemed like a pretty decent way to go about things.

If sitcoms are the main robber in this heist of childhood decision making, video games can be thought of as the wheelman. Because in story-based video games, there are things called side quests. These are things you can do in a game that are tangentially related to the main story, or maybe not–who cares (I’m looking at you, Zelda). So maybe the main story is you’re going to find your mom who disappeared in some mysterious incident involving something-or-other. But in order to go find your mom, you have to go get some fresh mangoes for some annoying kid because he saw where your mom went, but he won’t tell you because he’s sad and only fresh mangoes will cheer him up. And then maybe when you’re bringing him the mangoes, he gets kidnapped, so you have to go rescue him so you can give him the mangoes so he can tell you where your mom is. I wish these were extensive exaggerations of actual side quests, but they are only slight (I still see you over there, Zelda). The beauty of the side quest for a young Kevin is that there can be no task too trivial or uninvolved with what you’re actually trying to accomplish–maybe it’s a side quest on your way there! Which is why a young Kevin would often be sent off to clean his room and be found hours later searching for fresh mangoes.