Friday, December 25, 2015

Festivus and the Airing of Grievances

Thanks to Facebook and people's contrarian attitudes, Festivus' popularity seems to be growing. The fake holiday, first shared on Seinfeld, was created by George Costanza's father, Frank.

Instead of a tree, they hoisted a plain aluminum pole, noted for its high strength-to-weight ratio, as a direct contrast to the commercialism of the season. Everyone gathered at the Costanza's house for the Festivus Dinner, where everyone would participate in the Airing of Grievances, which is your chance to tell everyone how they have disappointed you in the past year.

"I've got a lot of problems with you people, and now you're going to hear about it!" Frank Costanza told his guests.

As I write this, Festivus was yesterday, and there are a few people I have problems with, so now I'm going to air a few grievances of my own.

Donald Trump is a walking, talking grievance, and I could rant about him until next Festivus. In the last few months, he has mocked a disabled reporter, expressed his support for Japanese internment camps during WWII, proposed a database and special IDs for Muslims, and the British parliament is actually considering banning him from ever entering the country.

You know that one uncle who comes to Thanksgiving dinner and says things that are horribly offensive and racist? When he gets together with his other friends, there's one guy who is so over the top, your uncle says, "Dude, too much." Even that guy thinks Donald Trump is terrible.

Why hasn't William Shatner stolen a starship to go save Leonard Nimoy?

I've got a grievance with people who think they're foot soldiers in the War on Christmas. I'm especially aggrieved at those who are incensed over the plain red cups at Starbucks. Just because Starbucks chose not to put anything wintry, like a snowflake or snowman, on their cups doesn't mean they hate Christmas. Snowflakes are about winter, not Christmas.

Have these so-called defenders of Christmas forgotten all the people living in Florida, Southern California, and Texas who never see snow? Maybe they're tired of being reminded they're missing out on all the seasonal changes. Maybe they're tired of the War on Sunshine. For these snowless millions, the plain red cups reminded them of stepping barefoot on the sidewalk on Christmas morning, and you're trying to take that away from them.

Besides, when I went into my local Starbucks yesterday, they gave me a white cup. Is Starbucks declaring war on the War on Christmas? Where's the outrage now?

If you're truly offended by the plain red cup, just tell yourself the red cup is a closeup of Santa's suit, and then get back to the real meaning of Christmas: trampling complete strangers to save 20% on your third flat-screen TV.

Man buns. I have a bitterness in my heart for man buns. As I said previously, don't put your hair in a bun unless you're a ballerina or a Little House on the Prairie re-enactor.

I have a grievance against the children attending American colleges and universities. I say "children," because that's how they're acting: like precious snowflakes who are at expensive summer camp, and not at a major life milestone.

With their shrill cries of "trigger warnings" and wailing demands that universities keep them safe from controversial ideas, these college students won't be prepared for the cold realities of the real world, and won't be able to go hide behind their mama's skirts any more.

At Yale University, students demanded that a married pair of faculty members resign after one of them said she thought students could make their own adult decisions about whether or not to wear offensive Halloween costumes.

Their complaint? That they shouldn't have to be treated like adults, and that the university should, in fact, tell them not to be offensive.

In a video of the protests, one "child" even swore repeatedly at one of the two faculty members and said his job was "not about creating an intellectual space."

It was as if millions of grown-ups suddenly slapped their foreheads in frustration and then were silenced.

Finally, I have a grievance about people who get their panties in a twist over "spoiler alerts." Yes, I enjoy seeing a movie fresh, but I'm not going to have a full-on freakout whenever someone accidentally lets slip a key point in a TV, movie, or TV show. It's not the end of the world, so quit acting like your life is ruined.

Having said that, if anyone tells me anything about Star Wars, you will face me in the final Festivus tradition, the Feats of Strength.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Man Who Came To Christmas

"Hey, Kid, slide over a little. Give me some room!" Karl shoved my arm. "Seriously, you're crowding me over here."

Karl, I'm already over. Any more and I'm going to fall off the stool. My friend and curmudgeon, Karl, and I were sitting at our favorite Spanish bar, Escritor's, to watch the Roller Hockey World Cup final. Spain was facing Argentina, and it didn't look too good for La Roja.

"It feels like you're crowding me. I need my space."

Hey, I'm not your clingy girlfriend. You're the one who wedged yourself into the corner there. I'm sitting on my stool like a normal person, and giving you plenty of room. Karl grumped and grunted, and tried to make himself comfortable.

What's your problem, anyway? You've been a complete grouch this whole evening.

"I'm sorry, Kid," said Karl. "I'm just having problems at home."

You're single, how do you have problems at home? I knew you were a pain in the ass, but you just don't get along with anybody, do you?

"Not me! My kids. My kids are just getting underfoot and into everything. I can't have a private moment to myself."

I thought your kids were grown up and out of the house.

"They are. They're visiting for Christmas, and Sheila brought her kids and her idiot husband, Bartlett." Karl rolled his eyes at the name.

And how's that going?

"It's a zoo. Her kids are ill-mannered brats. They don't eat what's set in front of them, they don't stay at the table for more than five minutes, and neither she or her husband know the meaning of the word 'discipline.'"

That sounded bad. I'd met Karl's grandkids before. Sheila and her husband Bartlett were crunchy-granola hipsters who owned an organic farm-to-table restaurant, where they grew and served their own food. It would have been a peaceful, idyllic life, if their children weren't shrieking demon-spawn.

Is that it? I knew all that. Why do you think I mailed your Christmas present, instead of bringing it over?

"No, it gets worse. Remember Jake?"

Karl's son, Jake, was some sort of high-up muckety-muck at a corporation in Chicago. They made stereo equipment or car tires or something; I couldn't remember, and I don't think Karl knew either. This was Jack's form of rebellion — Karl was a laid-back literary type, so Jake became a cutthroat business executive who recently divorced his second wife.

"He and Bartlett are constantly arguing politics. Jake's a Ted Cruz supporter, and Bartlett's torn between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton."

I'll bet that's interesting.

"Well, Bartlett's been haranguing Jake about Cruz's stand on immigration and shouting about Cruz not being eligible to run because he was born in Canada and his dad's Cuban." Karl took a sip of his wine. "It's actually kind of funny. Last night at dinner, Bartlett was on his feet shouting at Jake, 'where's his birth certificate? Show me his birth certificate!'"

I'm sorry I missed that, I said.

"Don't be. The kids were running around the table, and Sheila was yelling at everyone to shut up, so I went up to my study and locked the door. I fell asleep on the couch with my headphones on, and woke up when Bartlett tried to break the door down because they thought I was dead." Karl snickered. "He dislocated his shoulder and has to wear a sling for a few days."

How long are they in town?

"Until after the new year. They closed the restaurant 'to let Mother Earth recover during the winter solstice—'" Karl made air quotes with his fingers and rolled his eyes "— so they're going to be here for at least 10 more days."

Well, it'll be nice to have family around. You don't get to see them that often.

"Yeah, but I like it that way. I was just with them at Thanksgiving."

How was it?

"As you might expect. The kids were brats, and Sheila only gave them vegetarian hot dogs and cheese quesadillas, which they never actually ate. The rest of us had a vegetarian Thanksgiving: tofurkey, organic sweet potatoes with artisan cane juice, and hand-mashed potatoes because a mixer was too 'violent to the spirit of the potatoes.'"

So how are you going to survive it?

"I figured I'd stay with you a few nights. You know, just to relieve some of the pressure."

Oh man, I don't know. My wife is kind of picky about having people over.

"No problem. I already talked with her. She said it'd be okay." He clapped me on the shoulder. "I really appreciate this, Kid."

Hey, Karl, give me some room. I shrugged off his hand. Seriously, you're crowding me.

Photo credit: Carlos Delgado (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

The worst spoiler I ever experienced happened when I was in high school, reading David Morrell's "Testament" before one of my classes. I was five pages from the end, where the hero, bent on revenge over the death of his family, is about to rain holy hell down on the man responsible.

He's hiding in a sniper's nest, the cold metal of the gun and scope resting against his cheek. He aims the rifle at the unsuspecting villain—

"He doesn't do it."

"What?" I looked up, frowning at the interruption. A friend, who had previously read the book, stopped to check my progress.

"He doesn't shoot him."

"What?!" I shouted. Everyone stopped and looked at me.

"Yeah, he chickens out at the end."

"Did you just spoil the ending for me?" I jumped to my feet. "I was five pages from the end! I've been reading for three days, and you just ruined it!"

"Erik!" said my teacher. "We do not shout in class."

I told her what my so-called friend had just done.

"Douglas!" she shouted. "You never, ever tell the ending of a book!" And she proceeded to lecture him at the top of her lungs.

It was months before I forgave him. Literally months. I had spent three days reading a book by my new favorite author. All 320 pages had built up to this moment and it was stolen from me at page 315 by some inconsiderate clod.

Despite my experience, however, I've never been that hung up on spoilers. I don't freak out if someone drops a hint at a scene in a movie. The experience isn't ruined for me, and I can enjoy the show even if I know the surprise twist at the end.

(Bruce Willis was already dead.)

But plenty of people lose their ever-loving minds when someone even hints at the tiniest detail of a movie or TV show. One friend has a lifetime ban on anyone discussing a show or movie he has never seen, even if the movie in question is 40 years old and the details have become part of our national identity.

(Rosebud was his sled.)

Out of politeness, I avoid spoiling movies and shows, but I have my limits. Not spoiling the ends of 33-year-old movies — Spock dies at the end — is light years beyond those limits. At some point, you're responsible for your own life, and if you can't be bothered to find out the ending of a decades-old movie, you deserve to have it spoiled. Hard.

(Kevin Spacey was Keyser Söze.)

It turns out spoiler haters may be getting their panties in a twist for nothing. In 2011, researchers at UC San Diego gave several dozen undergraduates 12 different short stories, with varying methods of spoiling the ending for some of the readers.

The results showed that, for the most part, readers actually preferred the spoiled story more than the unspoiled one. In fact, 11 of the 12 stories scored a higher rating for the spoiled version.

(In The Crying Game, Dil was actually a guy.)

What does this mean for the spoiler haters?

According to an August 2011 Wired magazine article, it's only recently that we've become obsessed with avoiding spoilers. For thousands of years, our stories were incredibly predictable — the guy always got the girl, the bad guy always lost, and the fortune was always recovered.

You only have to look at every play by Shakespeare to know that either everyone is going to live happily ever after, or die a horrible death.

(In Twelfth Night, Cesario was actually a guy.)

Even movies and TV shows over the last 100 years followed the same formula. John Wayne killed the bad guy, Cary Grant got the girl, and Harrison Ford recovered the fortune. No one dies in a romantic comedy, and she always marries the bad boy, not the stuffy, boring fiancee.

Seriously, if you scream "spoilers!" about a romantic comedy, you just don't understand how they work.

(Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks fall in love at the end.)

I admit there's some enjoyment in being surprised by a show. But there's also something to be said about knowing and watching how the writer and director manage to get there.

Try an experiment the next time there's something you've been waiting to see: peek at the end, or just read the reviews before you watch. See if you enjoy the show any less, or if you're still able to get the same amount of pleasure by knowing the end.

Spoiler alert: I think you'll like it.

(By the way, Dumbledore dies.)

Photo credit: (affiliate link)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, December 04, 2015

How to Meet People in a New City

Having moved to a new faraway city, I find myself meeting a lot of new people. Back home — I still think of Indianapolis as "home" — I knew plenty of people, and could always count on bumping into someone I knew at one of my regular haunts.

Except now I don't have a regular haunt, which means I have to find some new ones, which involves a lot of trial and error. Delicious, and rather unhealthy, trial and error.

Also, I don't know anyone in my new city. This means when I meet someone, which I actually enjoy, I go through the same get-to-know-you dance over and over. We ask and answer the same questions: What do you do for a living? Do you have any kids? What do you do for fun?

After a while, I think my answers sound boring, sort of like when you say the same word over and over, and it sounds weird. I worry that I'm coming across as an uninteresting person, so I occasionally make up answers just to relieve the monotony and feel better about myself.

"What do you do?" someone asked me once.

"Write soft-core porn for seniors."

In my defense, it was the first, and funniest, thing to pop in my head, so I blurted it out before I could stop myself.

Also in my defense, I used to get into trouble for speaking without thinking; it was a problem that plagued me for years before I finally learned to control my impulses.

I just have occasional lapses once in a while.

The poor guy was more than a little shocked, so I promised him I was only joking, and that I've never done anything of the sort. I don't know how well my joke went over though, since we've never been back to that church.

Based on my years of networking and meeting new people, and the fact that I've written a book on the subject, I've learned the right and wrong — oh, so very wrong — answers to give when I'm getting to know someone in my new city.

What not to say: I watch Netflix 'til about two in the morning before I go to bed. Then I get up around 8:00 or 8:30 and roll into the office around 10, get into pointless arguments on Twitter, take a long lunch, and get back around 2:00. I'll do a little work, head home around 4 – 4:30, do a little more work, and start watching TV around 8 or 9.

What to say: I'm a professional writer. What do you do?

What not to say: Ha, good question! My father was a merchant marine for nearly 30 years, and he was a firm believer in "any port in a storm." We're always meeting new ones, and at last count we were up to 16, including ones from Peru, Iceland, and Sri Lanka.

What to say: One brother and one sister.

What not to say: I get large salamis from the butcher and then pretend they've been captured and are being sent down a slow conveyor belt toward a giant table saw blade. Then I pretend I'm James Bond, and I have to rescue them before they reach their grisly end. Sometimes I fail on purpose so I get to have salami and cheese for lunch.

What to say: I do woodworking on the weekends.

What not to say: The skulls of my vanquished foes!

What to say: I collect Sherlock Holmes memorabilia.

What not to say: I farted around for a few years before I nearly failed out. So I broke into the bursar's office one night, changed all my grades to give myself a 3.95 GPA, and from there, I went to medical school in the Caribbean. After that, I posed as a doctor until I was finally found out after several of my patients "suffered severe complications."

What to say: Ball State University, class of 89.

What not to say: I don't see how that's any of your business, and if you don't know, I'm certainly not going to tell you.

What to say: No, I don't know how fast I was going, officer.

And if you're curious, no, I have never actually done any of these things. Are you kidding? Do you think I'm a moron? This is a humor column, so you can't take anything I say in here seriously. I know how to act like an adult, and know to never actually do or say this stuff! Come on, man, give me some credit for having half a brain.

What to say: Thank you for reading! Have a good week.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, November 27, 2015

How 49ers QB Blaine Gabbert's Press Conference Really Happened

Suppose they gave a press conference and nobody came?

Last week, the 3-and-7 San Francisco 49ers held a press conference for their new starting quarterback, Blaine "Yo Gabba" Gabbert, but forgot to actually tell the media. When Gabbert showed up, he was the only one in the room, other than a 49ers staffer there to record the event.

It was Gabbert's second week as the starting quarterback, after he replaced former starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was benched after seven games and only two wins.

"Hey, good to see you," he said from the podium. Then he sat in the front row and said, "I'll be the one asking questions." Local media reported that Gabbert chatted with the staffer for a few minutes before leaving.

Except the camera was rolling the entire time, and it captured the questions Gabbert actually asked.

"So what do you think of the team's chances this week?" Gabbert asked from his seat.

Gabbert ran up to the podium to give his answer. "Well, the Cardinals are a tough team. At 8-and-2, they're leading our division, which is some sort of record for the NFC West. I think they're on pace to win at least 10 games going into the playoffs, so we're all pretty excited," said Gabbert, referring to previous playoffs, where NFC West teams flolloped their way into the first round at 9-and-7, while certain AFC South teams barely made it in at 11-and-5.

Gabbert raced to the back row, and raised his hand. "How are you preparing for your first game against the Arizona Cardinals?" he asked, without waiting to be called on.

"Excuse me, excuse me, pardon me, excuse me," Gabbert said, squeezing past his fellow reporters on his way back to the podium.

"Well, they beat us 47 – 7 when Kap faced them in Week 3, so we already know how tough they are" said Gabbert. "I just hope whoever organized this press conference isn't responsible for organizing my O-line." Gabbert returned to his seat for the obligatory insider-joke laugh.

"But seriously, the Cardinals are a great team. We're keeping a close eye on Deone Bucannon, their leading tackler. And Dwight Freeney has three sacks this season. It's not the nine and ten sacks he was getting in Indianapolis, but man, when that guy does his swim move, you hear the 'Jaws' theme in your head."

"Do you think Coach Tomsula is taking a big gamble on starting you in place of Colin Kaepernick? What do you think that means for his future with the team?" Gabbert asked.

Gabbert took a long drink of water from his bottle, playing for a little extra time. "A big gamble? No, certainly not. I mean, sure, I was brought here as a backup. But backing up Kap isn't like backing up Peyton Manning. His backup barely has a chance of getting into a game. Hell, I think they listed Y.A. Tittle as his backup one week, and he's gotta be100 by now."

"But what about Kap's future with the team? Do you think he'll return to the starting lineup this season, or are you their Golden Boy?" Gabbert pressed. A scowl flickered briefly across Gabbert's face as he listened to the question.

"Do I think it means Kap's going to be traded?" Gabbert said, referring to recent rumors that the once-favored QB was now being shopped around. "Of course I have no way of knowing. We're just focused on the Arizona Cardinals right now. We just take the season one week at a time."

"Is it true that you're actually Coach Tomsula's favorite, but he can't say so in front of the rest of the team?"

"Well, I can't speak for Coach, but I think I'm at least in his top ten. Top five, at best." Gabbert paused for the obligatory laugh again, which he delivered from the second row.

When Gabbert returned to the podium, he continued. "I have been spending a lot more time with Coach Tomsula for the last couple of weeks, as well as (offensive coordinator) Coach Chryst and (quarterbacks coach) Coach Logan. I spent time with them anyway, but now I've become one of their favorites as well."

"Is Kaepernick still contributing to the team?" asked Gabbert?

"Absolutely," said Gabbert. "Kaepernick has been making solid contributions to the team. He is constantly contributing and providing a lot of contributable support. He's one of the most contributive members of the team, and his contributiveness is unmatched."

Gabbert looked over to his handler, Blaine Gabbert, who signaled that it was time to wrap it up. "Thank you everyone for your time. We'll talk again after the game."

"Good luck this week," called Gabbert from the fourth row. Gabbert stopped for pictures and answered a few follow-up questions as he left.

Photo credit: "Gabbert, Blaine" by San Francisco 49ers - Author. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - Wikimedia Commons

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Loving On People And Hugging Your Kids

What does it mean to "love on" someone? Why is that even a thing? It sounds weird and awkward, and I don't know whether to appreciate it or be creeped out by it.

I hear it a lot, especially in church when people describe what they do in their small groups.

"We get together, do life, and just love on each other."

We'll ignore the "do life" thing for now. You know, the phrase that means "to live" or "spend time together." It's an empty phrase that doesn't actually express anything.

You're "doing life" right now. You were "doing life" when you got up this morning and made coffee. You were "doing life" when you went to work. And you were "doing life" the entire day right before you met with the small group of people you "do life" with.

"Doing life" is not any different from what we've been doing all along: living. It just sounds so. . . California.

But we're ignoring that part, remember? I'm still stuck on "love on each other."

It makes me think of being grabbed by a particularly loud and gregarious aunt who clutches your arm, hug-smothers you in her ample bosom, and then plies you with food and hovers nearby while you eat.

I asked friends on Facebook what they thought it meant, and got a variety of responses.

For some, it means embracing or caring for someone deeply. Giving hugs and kisses, like a parent or grandparent. For others, it means just paying attention to someone, letting them know you're thinking of them.

One Facebook friend said it best, "Youth pastor with a soul patch and a tattoo, who isn't afraid to be XTREME. 'Somebody's gotta love on these kids, man. I love Creed probably.'"

A few people said they didn't like the phrase. They found it off-putting, like when someone you don't know very well hugs you too long.

Personally, my only complaint is with the additional "on." Since when did love need a preposition?

Other than being "an appalling lack of grammar," as another friend said, it doesn't mean anything. No more than "loving toward," "loving near," or "loving around," although that last one sounds a little slutty.

I did learn that "loving up" is another prepositional phrase that means something not suitable for this newspaper.

Still, "loving on someone" is not so terrible. I can live with it, even if I still silently judge people who say it.

No, the thing I hate is being told to "go home and hug your kids extra hard" any time there's tragedy in the news.

Major car accident in your city?

"Go home and hug your kids extra hard tonight."

Terrorist attack?

"Go home and hug your kids extra hard tonight."

Simon Cowell taking Howard Stern's place on "America's Got Talent?"

"Go home and hug your kids extra hard tonight."

Constantly being ordered to hug my kids makes me want to shout, "You know what? Screw you, and screw my kids! I was going to hug them today until you ruined the moment. Now my kids won't get a hug today, and it's. All! Your! Fault!"

I hug my kids several times a day, every day. I don't need to be reminded to do it just because something bad happened in the world. Something bad always happens in the world, every single day. Does that mean I have to go home and hug my kids extra hard every single day?

Being told to hug my kids extra hard, willy-nilly, raises more questions than it actually answers. Like, are there rules to this kind of thing?

For example, what if I work from home that day? Do I need to leave and come home again before my extra-hard hugs? Or should I just do normal hugs? Can I just give a normal hug, but make it twice as long?

What if I really do hug them extra hard every day? Doesn't that level of squeezing become the new norm? When that happens, do I have to squeeze even harder the next time something bad happens? How hard can you squeeze a kid before the authorities are called?

And what if I'm a back patter? Should I pat their backs extra hard too?

I don't understand what extra hard hugging is actually supposed to do. Sure, I'll feel better, but it doesn't do much for the people involved in the original tragedy.

"Steve was in critical condition after the car accident, and we weren't sure he was going to make it. But then Erik hugged his kids extra hard, and Steve pulled through. He's going to be okay!

"Now we can love on him."

(Special note: That's our friend, and Maddie's old youth pastor, Josh Reynolds. This is the only photo of any youth pastor I have. As far as I know, Josh does not like Coldplay.)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, November 13, 2015

How About "Big Daddy?"

Erik is out of the office this week, moving to his new house, so we're reprinting a column from 2003, because we didn't think anyone would notice.

I've wanted a nickname ever since I was a young boy. I like my name, but I've often wondered what it would be like to have a name that would sum up my passions and interests, like "Stein," "Wheels," or "Collectible Elvis Plates."

I'm named for Erik the Red, the famous Viking explorer. Although my dad says he liked the name because he smoked Erik the Red cigars. I tried them once many years ago, and thought they were nasty, so I don't tell that story. I prefer not being named after something that can kill you. At least that's what I tell my friend, Ernie "Barbecue Ribs" Tutwiler.

I was four years old when I lobbied for a new name. One of my friends at preschool was named Sam, and he was a fast runner. I thought if I was named Sam, I could run fast too, so I asked my parents if they would rename me Sam so I could guarantee my spot in the 1984 Olympics.

Sadly, they said no, so I was doomed to a life of average running ability, thus ensuring I would never win an Olympic medal.

Olympic announcer: "And your three medalists in the 100 meter dash are Sam Johnson, Sam Lewis, and Sam Bannister. Meanwhile, Erik Deckers has tripped for a third time, and will not cross the finish line until Wednesday."

So I gave up my dreams of a new name altogether. Instead of some cool and unique name like John or Bob, I'd decided to accept my fate of being named after some Viking explorer who discovered a whole new continent.

But when I started the 7th grade, I discovered the magic of nicknames. With a nickname, I could get a whole new name without having to go through the hassle of changing the one stitched in my underwear.

So when my history teacher told us we could be called by any name we wanted, I desperately wracked my brain for one: "Spike? No. Flash? No. Studly McStudmuffin? Definitely not." Finally, because I couldn't think of anything that didn't make me sound like a dork, I chose my uncle's name, and told my history teacher he could call me "Pete."

As I think back, I have no idea why I picked that name at that particular moment. Which is why it never sunk in with me. I realized I'd made a bad choice when my teacher called on me that first day: "Pete, do you know when the Declaration of Independence was signed?"

Since no one had ever called me that before, I didn't realize he was addressing me.

"Pete? Pete?" he repeated a couple of times. I just sat there, looking at the blackboard, wondering why the heck this Pete kid wouldn't answer. Finally the kid next to me nudged me and said "He's talking to you."

The Pete experiment lasted for three weeks, before I got tired of trying to remember my new name, and asked my teacher to call me by my real name again.

I gave up on the idea of nicknames after that. And except for a brief window in college when a guy in my dorm called me "Elmo," I've been nickname free for 30 years.

At least until now. For the last few months, all sorts of strangers have given me nicknames: Dude, Guy, and Buddy. Someone even called me Sport once. (I've avoided Old Man Deckers so far; I've got a few more years before I have to start shouting at the neighborhood kids to get off my lawn.)

I just have to walk into the hardware store, and hear a "Hey, Buddy!" Or I stop by my favorite coffee shop, and get a "S'up, Man?" Or my personal favorite, "you want a biscotti with that latte, Dude?"

I'm 48 years old! When did I become Dude? I should have been Dude 20 years ago. I could have been Dude 14 years ago. I'm nearly freaking fifty, and NOW I'm Dude?! Where were you people when I was in college? I would have loved being "The Dude." Or even "A dude." Now, I've outgrown nicknames altogether, and they're finally being showered upon me.

Of course, none of this compares to the pain of the worst imaginable insult I've ever been called. "Will there be anything else, Sir?"

Photo credit: Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, November 06, 2015

A Rational, Scientific Explanation of Luck

I don't see the point in good luck charms. I don't believe a little trinket can bring good luck, so I've never carried one.

Sure, there are times I wanted a good luck charm, but rational scientific thinking stopped me. How can a fake crystal strung on a cheap necklace made in China, which I bought from a street vendor for five bucks, affect whether the entire universe will grant me favor?

Actually, I do carry one good luck charm in my wallet: a $2 bill my mother-in-law gave me many years ago. It's a reminder of her hopes for me, more than a belief that my efforts will fail if I forget my wallet. Of course, I take my wallet with me everywhere, so we'll never know, will we?

Carrying items for good luck is completely different from preventing bad luck. Everyone knows that. But you don't do it with charms or little tchotchkes in your pocket. That's just silly.

Instead you speak little incantations, make signs with your hands, or complete some small action to ward off evil spirits.

This is also rational, scientific thinking, because I read it in the back of a magazine at the supermarket checkout line. And if it's in print, it must be true.

See? Rational and scientific.

When I was growing up, there was a girl in our school that everyone called "Smelly Shelley." She didn't actually smell, she just had the misfortune of having a name that rhymed, and as 9-year-olds, we lacked imagination. Also, she was a bully and picked on us a lot.

The sidewalk on the way to school had two sidewalk squares with manhole covers in them. We declared these the Smelly Shelley Squares, and said if you stepped in them, it meant you liked her. It also meant other awful things would happen, but we were pretty vague on what those were.

When you're nine, the worst thing that can happen to you is liking another girl.

At that age, liking a girl was terrible, but liking this particular girl was the kiss of death, mostly because she would pound you. We all avoided the Smelly Shelley squares so consistently that we wore little paths in the grass.

Once, when I was in college, I walked from my dad's to my old elementary school, and walked around the squares, both ways. Old habits die hard, and I didn't want Shelley to pound me.

Theater people — a particularly superstitious lot who rank right up there with gypsies and baseball players — are very concerned about avoiding bad luck. They have an encyclopedic knowledge of Things One Must Not Do In The Thea-tah.

Like never turning off the Ghost Light, a light that is left on onstage, to keep away mischievous spirits. Or not whistling in the theater to prevent sandbags from falling on you. Or saying a theater is "dark" rather than "closed," because it could bring down plagues. Or never, ever saying the name "Macbeth." Instead, one refers to Shakespeare's work as "The Scottish Play."

In fact, if you say "Macbeth" or quote lines from the play inside a theater (other than when actually performing it), you must go outside, turn counterclockwise three times, swear (or spit), and then knock to be readmitted.

There's also the tradition of saying "break a leg" before a show, because wishing someone good luck is actually bad luck. It can catch the attention of the theater Sprites, who like to do the opposite of whatever is asked for.

If you wish someone good luck, the Sprites can cause bad luck. Instead, you wish someone bad luck so as to confuse the Sprites, and have them bring good luck.

Theater Sprites are not very smart, and can easily be tricked into doing things for other people, like helping friends move on the weekend or taking them to the airport.

Which raises the question, are there degrees of wishing someone good luck through bad luck? If I only want someone to do a little well, should I say "get a hangnail?" Or if I want them to do really, really well, do I shout at them to "FALL IN A DITCH AND DIE!?"

Should this tradition carry on outside the theater into any public performance? Should I tell public speakers at a conference to "get a concussion?" Or musicians to "get laryngitis?"

Maybe it's not such a bad practice. Theater Sprites seem to follow people around sometimes. We can trick them by wishing the opposite of what we want to have happen.

So, if you're reading this column, I hope you DO cut your finger, get ink poisoning, and have your hand amputated.

See? Rational, scientific, AND thoughtful.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Say 'No!' to the Man Bun

I have a terrible confession to make. It's going to come out sooner or later, and I want to get ahead of the story rather than fall victim to the maliciousness that threatens to expose my shameful secret. (There are photos.) So I need to clear the air while I can still tell the story on my own terms:

I used to have a mullet.

It's a long story — well, it's short at the beginning, and it gets longer toward the end. I was 24, everyone was doing it, and we thought it looked cool. It was the thing to do in the early '90s in Indiana, if you didn't live on a farm. Those guys still had crewcuts.

Of course, mine didn't look like a mullet, because I tied it in a ponytail. Basically, I had a ponytail with short hair in front, which may actually be worse. Like the difference between stealing and stealing from orphans.

At the time, I worked for an uptight, stickler-for-the-rules university department. But we were also all about diversity and respecting differences, so I adopted a "letter of the law, not spirit of the law" approach to some of our rules.

For example, we had to wear "professional dress," which included ties. I hate wearing ties, so I would buy the loudest, most obnoxiously colored ties I could find, which wasn't hard back then.

There was also no rule against hair length, so I grew out my hair and started wearing it in a pony tail. It eventually got so long, I could grab it with two hands, and leave an inch or so sticking out the end. But I kept it short up front, so as to maintain that "professional" look.

It was only slightly less embarrassing than a bald man with a ponytail.

These days, I've gladly given up my follicular follies and keep my hair fairly short. Nothing crazy or trendy for me. But given my history with long hair, you would think I would be tolerant of men's questionable hairstyles these days.

You would be wrong.

There are some men's hairstyles that can only be solved with a static electricity machine and hedge trimmers.

Like the man bun.

The man bun is so terrible, so morally reprehensible, I can't even bring myself to capitalize it. It makes the wearer's head look like a birthday balloon. Like, if I clipped off the knot, the wearer would fart-fly around the room as he deflated.

But I would have to do a lot of clipping: a recent article said the man bun is growing in popularity, based on the number of YouTube searches for tutorials and products (4.1 million searches).

Just like every generation has a bad hairstyle their teenagers will make fun of one day, 2015 has given us the man bun. It gained attention after Jared Leto and a pair of skinny jeans named Harry Styles began sporting the hirsute knot.

Still, I don't understand why the man bun has become a fashion phenomenon for skinny boy hipsters. Also, those damn kids won't get off my lawn.

But take heart, grumpy old men. says the more popular hairstyle is the comb over, which garnered over 10.3 million YouTube searches, as men tried to understand some of the different comb over styles, like the high fade, low fade, long comb over versus short comb over.

But it's not all because of Donald Trump, which is less a combover and more a Windsor knot of hair. It's because fully-follicled celebrities like David Beckham and Justin Timberlake are sporting the new 'do.

However, unlike the rest of us, Beckham and Timberlake are not using the hairstyle to cover up any baldness. Instead, they're styling their hair in thick, luxurious waves to draw attention to the fact that they should be punched in the face.

There's even a regionalism to the new hair styles. The article said ". . .'comb over' searches are concentrated on the coasts — especially California — suggesting it has more room to move inland." But only once it grows longer. All the other countries will still be able to tell though.

Basically, if you can rock a comb over, more power to you. But, unless you're a ballerina or a Little House on the Prairie re-enactor, there's no reason for men to tie their hair up in a bun.

Still, the man bun makes me feel less guilty about my mullet. Like maybe it wasn't such a big deal. And if I can be forgiven for the mullet, then maybe it's time to come clean about another transgression from that same time in my life.

I also had a handlebar mustache that went down nearly to my chin.

Photo credit: Eva Rinaldo (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Karl the Curmudgeon Hates Bullies

"People can sure be mean," Karl said. "I mean, downright mean."

I didn't say anything! I protested. All I said was I didn't think that was a good throw.

"Not you, Kid!" Karl said. "Not everything is about you, you know."

Oh no, of course not. That's 'cause it's all about you. You and your big bushy beard that just insists upon itself, and sticks itself out there!

"What the hell are you talking about?"

I don't know. I think that last schnapps went to my head. We were sitting in The Tilted Windmill, our favorite Dutch-themed bar, watching the Dutch Women's Curling Team in the European Curling Championships. It was a tough match against Ireland, but our ladies in orange were giving it their all.

"I'm talking about online," Karl said. "People are terrible people online. They're mean, abusive bullies."

Those people are called 'trolls,' I said. Their lives are so pathetic and sad, they get their kicks out of being cruel to people.

"Not those people. I know about trolls. I'm talking about everyone else powering the Internet Shame Machine. Those people who will jump up and down on someone and will ruin the lives of their latest victim, because there's apparently no room for forgiveness online."

Don't you think some of those people deserve it?

"Not necessarily. The Internet has become a den of nastiness and venom, even when it's standing up for those who can't do it themselves. Do you remember Walter Palmer, the dentist who shot Cecil the lion a few months ago? People just hammered that guy."

Yeah, but he deserved it, don't you think?

"To a point. I mean, the guy did spend $50,000 to hunt a lion, and he ended up shooting a protected lion that was beloved by the entire world, which we can agree was terrible. But people made death threats against him and his family. They vandalized his house and shut down his business. I think he should face legal consequences, but I don't think he or his family should be murdered."

That was pretty extreme.

"Or Justine Sacco, a PR flack who tweeted a joke about AIDS in Africa, and was roasted by the Internet so badly, she lost her job. People weren't just angry about her tweet, they wanted her to be fired, and there were threats of death and violence. People were actually happy ruining her life, trying to make her homeless, and demanding her death."

I see your point. That's—

"I even remember a story from 2013 where a guy got shamed on Twitter by a woman, after he told a private joke to a friend at a tech conference. Her tweet went viral, and the guy got fired 24 hours later. After he was fired, a lot of women-hating men went on a bullying rampage, made death threats, and got her fired as well. He could no longer take care of his three kids, and she slept on a friend's couch for several weeks for her own safety."

I get it, Karl. People love ruining the lives of other people.

"It's more than that. We've got a mob rule mentality where people just aren't happy with being outraged. They work themselves up into a fake blood lust, and they can only satisfy it with the heads of people who offend the Internet."

Weren't we like this before, as a society?

"Maybe so. When I was younger, we had decency groups and protestors who would actually wave signs at a particular location. That took some actual effort, because they not only had to make the signs, they had to go to the place where the protest was being held."

I thought when you were younger, you and your friends protested by throwing all the tea into the harbor.

Karl gave me the finger. Then he waved down Nicholaas, our bartender, and ordered a couple more beers. He took a drink from mine before he handed it to me.

"My point is, we can ruin someone's life as easily as we buy a book on Amazon. Social media has turned everyone from armchair warriors into click-tyrants."

I blame Facebook, I said. We've made it so easy to shove our opinions down other people's throats, everyone's getting angrier at everything. So one day, they reach the end of their rope, and just explode.

"That's why I'm not on Facebook anymore, Kid. I got tired of all the drama and griping. I figure I didn't need to be in that world anymore."

Uh-huh. You forgot your password, didn't you?

Karl took another drink of my beer. "Shut up, Kid."

"Cecil the lion at Hwange National Park (4516560206)" by Daughter#3 - Cecil. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, October 16, 2015

I'm The Kind of Guy Who Laughs at a Funeral

I've never been one for being serious. I'm not truly happy unless I'm laughing or making other people laugh. My entertainment choices always run to comedies, never dramas. Not unless there are car chases and explosions.

If there are car chases and explosions, I'll watch just about anything you want. Unless it's a movie about how a car chase blew up a building filled with orphans and puppies, and the survivors search for healing in a world gone wrong. Then I'm just going to watch a show with fart jokes, like Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Downton Abbey.

I've built my writing career around humor. You could say my whole life is built around it. When I give talks at conferences, I'm always trying to get people to laugh. And when I'm out with friends, I always want to do something fun and enjoyable, not moving and meaningful.

This includes my theatre selections.

Not "theater," because that's the place where you go to watch movies. "Theatre" — pronounced "thea-tah" — where they do plays, on a stage, with actors.

Pronounced "ACK-toars," not "ak-ters."

While I'm not a regular theatre goer, I do attend my share of festivals and shows. For the last several years, I was a reviewer at the Indianapolis Fringe Festival, with a strict "comedies only" rule for the shows I chose.

My job was to write reviews — not critiques — for the Fringe website as a way to promote the shows for other festival goers.

I know jack squat about the theatre, so any critique would just be an ignorant rambling about the symbolism of man's struggle against the blah blah blah I just said I didn't know!

Despite my "comedies only" rule, I still accidentally ended up at dramatic plays on occasion. Like at this year's Fringe, when a friend invited me to watch the comedy "4.48 Psychosis" with him.

Except it wasn't a comedy. Turns out, it's a rather dark and chilling look at the meaning of sanity, coping with mental anguish, and suicide. I waited five minutes for the first laugh, and when it wasn't coming, I scribbled a note in my notebook and showed it to my friend:

"Worst. Comedy. Ever."

Turns out, it was the next show we were supposed to see, not this one starring Melancholy Mary and Captain Bringdown.

(See, this is why I'm not a theatre critic. You can't just write "I hated it. It was sad.")

I was in a similar situation when a friend invited us to a play she was in, called "Joe's NYC Bar." It's a largely improvised, interactive play where the audience is encouraged to participate in conversations with the actors. I made smart aleck comments to make my wife and a few people around us laugh.

This is when I'm in my element: cracking jokes for a few nearby people, while serious and important events are going on around us: lectures, weddings, church sermons, funerals.

By the second act, the actual drama had begun. With all the hair-clutching angst of a high school prom, relationships were falling apart or being repaired, and I couldn't stop making jokes. The play itself was good, but I didn't want to be in the drama, I was still living in the comedy part.

However, as a considerate theatre goer, I lowered my voice so only my wife and a nearby couple could hear me. The other woman kept laughing at my jokes, which only encouraged me further. At one point, I made her snort, and she became my new best friend for the night.

Had that been a real bar with real dramatic events unfolding before us, I would have been thrown out after the entire bar banded together to beat me up, but at least they would have forgotten their troubles.

Still, we had fun, and I have a new appreciation for improvised, interactive plays where no one is there to shush me.

"Not everything in life has to be sunshine and roses," someone said to me on Facebook several years ago. "Whoever said everything in life has to be happy?"

"Whoever said life has to suck with only brief moments of joy punctuating an otherwise life of dreary existence?" I answered. "Life is what you make it, and I choose to make mine happy." She didn't have a response.

Am I turning my back on the realities of life? Am I just burying my head in the sand and ignoring the bad things in the world? Maybe so, but stand up and take a long look at the world outside the sand.

Are you happy and content? Does life fill you with joy? Do you easily laugh or smile?

If not, then maybe you'll understand why I've buried my head in the sand.

That, and I get Netflix in here.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Today's Parents Need to Relax a Little

Today's parents are often reluctant to let their kids do the things they did at that age. I don't let my children date, they don't stay out until midnight on weekends, they've never seen a rated R movie at 14, and they certainly won't have a chance to get throw-up drunk at age 16.

But what about when they're 10? Would you let your kids ride their bike out of your sight? Would you let them spend the night at a friend's when you barely know the parents? Or how about letting them build something in the garage with tools without your supervision?

What about letting your 10-year-old watch a PG movie?

I saw a recent advice letter in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (official motto: "No, we don't mean 'smarter.' Stop emailing us.") that may be a little too protective. A helicopter mother wrote to columnist Carolyn Hax, concerned that her 10 year old son was hearing about PG movies from his friend.

The other 10-year-old boy has told her son about "cool movies" like Stripes, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Groundhog Day. The mother is apoplectic and very concerned about her precious snowflake's emotional well-being.

Snowflake is not allowed to watch television at all, she says, except for the occasional G-rated DVD.

So Snowflake's mom wondered if she could tell the ne'er-do-well's mother those movies were harmful to both boys, without actually hitting anyone with her helicopter blades.

I can appreciate a parent's desire to keep their children safe from the world, but I also know our children will grow up and step into that world one day. And if we've done a poor job equipping our kids for that world, they'll still be living in our basements well into their 30s.

So when Snowflake's mom asked Hax whether there was a diplomatic way to say "I think her son's movie viewing is harmful to her son and mine," Hax wisely said no.

No, there is no diplomatic way you can have that conversation without coming across as a total wet blanket who's never truly happy unless she's interfering in someone else's life.

You can tell her, said Carolyn, that your son can't watch those movies at his friend's house. You can tell her you won't be showing them at your house. But any more than that, and you're accusing the other mother of being a terrible parent.

I wouldn't be concerned about the harm 1980s movies are doing to a 10-year-old. If we should be concerned for anyone, it's Snowflake. His mom just told the world he's only ever allowed to watch G-rated movies.

I can relate. When I was a kid, I was only allowed to watch one hour of TV a day during the week, and five hours on the weekends. This wasn't as bad as you might think.

This was in 1977, when there were literally five stations. One of them was PBS, and the other was so staticky, you couldn't watch it if there was a single cloud in the sky.

The real problem was my mother.

When I was in the fourth grade, my school was wrestling with whether to put televisions in the classrooms.

Parents were up in arms! They feared this would lead to mayhem in the classrooms, because teachers would leave cartoons on all day long. Never mind there wasn't a single cartoon on until Saturday morning.

Our parents worried we would be running around unsupervised in some Lord of the Flies tribal society, where we all smoked, drank whiskey without wiping off the bottle, and watched hours and hours of daytime television.

This wasn't even the worst part.

The worst part was when my mother spoke up at a PTA meeting and told an entire gymnasium filled with parents and kids that I was only allowed to watch one hour of TV a day. She was worried that we'd break my limit on a daily basis in the classroom, and I would slowly grow stupider as each TV minute ticked by.

For the next few weeks, other kids teased me about only being allowed to watch an hour of television, and I had to suffer in silence. How do you defend yourself against a rule you agree is totally asinine?

What valuable lesson did I learn? First, I learned not to tell my mom about watching The Three Stooges at friends' houses. I learned not to tell my parents about movies we saw, which is how I was able to see Caddyshack at age 14, when a friend's mom bought us tickets.

If anything, Snowflake's mom is teaching her son a very valuable lesson about the way the world works. When you want to do something badly enough, do it when your parents, or other authority figures, aren't within earshot.

That lesson has served me well for decades. Especially now, because it gives me an idea of what my kids are up to.

Photo credit: Greg Williams (Creative Commons granted to Wikimedia Commons and Wiki-World)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Measuring the Dollar Value of Friendships

We don't admit it. Not in our polite, the-best-ship-is-friendship society.

We judge the value of our friendships based on money.

Not "how much can this person give me?" value. Rather, it's a "how much am I willing to spend on behalf of this person" basis.

A friend recently wrestled with a wedding gift idea to give another friend she wasn't close to.

"Oh, you mean a low-dollar-value friend," I said.

She gave me the side-eye.

Her friend had mailed a postcard wedding invitation, probably from, announcing the wedding. It even included a web address for their gift registry, a Williams-Sonoma meets type of website.

"What are your options?" I asked.

"The wedding is next weekend, so most of the good stuff is gone already. All that's left are a few house gifts they'll never use, like a pastry server. Who the hell needs a pastry server?"

"What is a pastry server?"

"A fancy pie spatula."

"Bleah. What else can you get?"

"I can fund some of their honeymoon to Italy."

This is not an uncommon practice for weddings these days. A lot of couples, especially if they live in small apartments or houses, don't want a lot of stuff. So they request cash in lieu of gifts, especially for their honeymoon.

Some people look down on the practice. They prefer to give an electric pie slicer or his-and-hers matching ashtrays, which will be regifted to another wedding. But it's an excellent way for newlyweds to get a jump start on life.

"I could contribute to their airfare," said my friend. "How much do you think I should give them?"

"How good of a friend is she?" I asked.

"What? What does that have to do with anything?"

"It's everything," I said, ignoring her indignation. "Have you been to her house?"

"No. Why is that important?"

"It just is. Has she ever attended any of your events or special happenings?"


"Did she ever buy your lunch?"


"Then 25 bucks."

"You mean, since she never bought me lunch, I should cheap out on her gift?"

"No, it tells you what kind of friend she is. She's never invited you to her house, which means you're not a dinner party friend. She doesn't come to anything you organize, which means she's not a supportive friend. And she's never said, 'let me buy your lunch today,' which means she's not very generous. At best, that makes her a $25 friend. Hell, I don't even know if I'd buy her a gift in the first place."

"I was thinking $50."

"She doesn't sound like a $50 friend. That's a lot for someone you don't even meet for coffee."

"So what am I?"

"To me, you're a $100 friend. I'd give $100 to your airfare when you got married." That made her smile.

But she still gave 50 bucks.

I'm not suggesting we should assign our friends a monetary value. But one day, we will all face a dollar value decision about a friend, and it will say a lot about how the value of the relationship when you decide how much to spend.

Your college roommate, who you haven't seen or talked to for eight years is having a destination wedding in Hawaii. It will cost you $3,000 to attend. Do you go?

No, of course not. You haven't seen your friend in so long, you're not even morally obligated to attend if you lived next to the church. Send her a $25 Starbucks gift card and wish her well on Facebook, where she friended you two months ago so she could get your address and mail her "invitation."

Compare that to your best friend. She wants to go on an all-girls weekend to Chicago. Total cost is $750. Do you go?

Absolutely! This is your best friend, you enjoy hanging out with her, and it will be something you remember forever. And because you skipped your college roommate's wedding, you have an extra $2,250 to spend in Chicago, which means you can park your car for two days.

When you have to spend money on behalf of a friend, ask what kind of friend they've been. If they've been with you through thick and thin, spend more. If you don't even know where they live, and they've never even bought you a single coffee, spend less.
    Of course, if they've provided months and years of humorous newspaper entertainment, they're worth at least the cover price of their first novel. As soon as they write it.

Hardback prices, too, please. Don't cheap out and buy the Kindle version just because it costs less.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, September 25, 2015

I Can Even Use a Power Saw

Erik is traveling this week, and is out of the office. We are reprinting an old column about his old house.

Ever since we moved into our house 11 years ago, I've enjoyed working on it. Building and insulating the walls, putting up drywall, and watching my wife paint.

We finished off the upstairs and the basement with her parents' help, and I learned the manly art of bashing my own thumb with a hammer. In fact, I got so good at it that I find I enjoy working with my hands, beyond just typing on the computer with eight useful fingers.

Some days, I even fancy myself capable of doing this on a daily basis. I can imagine trying to earn a living, doing what I do on the weekends: drinking beer, puttering around in the garage, drinking more beer, and watching football on TV.

Sadly, there is more to being a contractor than that. It's not as much football watching, which is bad, but a lot more beer drinking, which is good, unless you're using a power nailer.

The problem with doing this kind of work is that it really can damage a Guy's hands. Whenever I think, "wouldn't this be fun to do everyday?" I remember what my hands looked like when I was finishing the upstairs of my house six years ago.

Every week brought a new scratch, scrape, scar, or bandage. I began to look like a walking triage unit, and personal injury attorneys followed me in the grocery store.

A hand's scars are a historical road map. They show us where we've been, what we've done, and how poorly we handled sharp objects. There's the scar where I cut myself with my dad's hunting knife, the scar where I cut myself with a kitchen knife, and the scar where I cut myself with a utility knife while cutting some drywall. I have serious problems with knives.

For the past few weeks, my wife and I have been tackling major projects around the house, and my hands look like I've been wrestling a sack of nettles. I have cuts on my fingers from an errant hacksaw, a few poison ivy blisters, and a couple of scratches from God only knows what. And this was a good week.

But Guys wear their scars like badges of honor. Stupid, I-wasn't-paying-attention-and-sliced-my-hand-with-my-utility-knife scars. Big hey-want-to-see-what-a-hot-drill-bit-can-do-to-human-flesh scars. And we parade them around for others to see.

When most non-Guys injure themselves, they will carefully clean the wound with Bactine, put some antibiotic ointment on it, and put a clean bandage on it every day. They also get their wives to "kiss it and make it all better."

Guys, on the other hand, will only put a small Band-Aid on the wound to make sure they don't get blood in their nachos. Afterward, they take it off so people will ask them about it at work the next day.

Concerned co-worker: Eww, gross! What did you do to your hand?

Guy: Oh that? That's just a scratch. I was building a new storage shed out of some pine logs and plywood. I guess one of the pieces got away from me, because it slipped and gashed my hand up pretty good. I just wrapped a little duct tape around it and kept working.

Other Guy: What are you talking about? I was over at your house, and you were cutting little rosettes into some baby redskin potatoes, and you sliced your hand on that little bitty paring knife. You cried like a baby and insisted I take you to the emergency room.

Guy: Yeah? Well, now you can forget about me making that lobster bisque and pasta bolognese for your birthday!

Guys take pride in their scars, because they earned them. They performed the labor, put themselves at risk, and made the gross error that nearly lopped off a finger or severed an artery. These aren't self-inflicted little scratches that we made to look cool. That would be like buying pre-torn jeans.

We'd never intentionally drop lumber on our foot. We'd never try to injure ourselves with a sharp chisel. And we'd never overdramatize a groin injury and then purposely get suspended from training camp as a way to try to leverage a better contract than the 7-year-$49-million contract we signed the year before. (Looking at you, Terrell Owens!)

Not that I'm pointing a finger or anything. It's still too painful to move after I whacked it with a hammer.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, September 18, 2015

A One-Sided Conversation About Moving

"Remember, Buddy, lift with your legs, not with your back."

"That's still not funny."

"Because it wasn't funny the first fifty times it."

"Because you're already lifting with your hands. Saying it 49 more times doesn't make it funnier, it just means I'm making you carry more stuff."

"Because you could injure your back and end up with chronic back pain."

"I wouldn't have to repeat myself if you would just do it right the first time."

"I do not! I lift with my legs just like — blurg! I can't squat down that low."


"I don't care how old he is, Michael Jordan isn't here to help us move, is he?"

"I'll bet he can't squat that low either. The guy's so tall, he probably gets the bends if he stands up too quick."

"What's he going to do, dunk it onto the truck?"

"Just lift it up."

"Turn left. No, left. I want you to go backward."

"Your other left."

"That's your right."

"That's still your right."

"Stop, stop, stop. Set it down."

"Because my back hurts."

"Because I can't squat as low as you can. My knees are worse than my back."

"What? I didn't shout at him. I said stop."

"Because when I wanted him to turn left, he went right."

"Fine. Dude, when we pick up the couch, head toward the front door."

"Just watch your feet and stay on the sidewalk."

"Because the younger lifter always goes backward."

"It's in the rules."

"My rules."

"I, uh, packed them in the truck already."

"Dude, you're just going to go backward. Deal with it."

"Because I always went backward when I was younger. Now that I'm the senior mover, I don't have to go backward."

"Fine. She'll agree with me though."

"Wait, wait. Let's finish moving the couch out before you go tatt— I mean, tell her."

"Yes, backward."

"See, it's not so bad. You get to guide the speed and direction."

"I'm guiding from the back. It's part of your apprenticeship."

"Until you have your own house to move."

"You get to boss your own kids around, that's what."

"No, I'm not helping you then."

"I'll be busy that day."

"A friend's house for dinner. It's on the calendar."

"I'll find some new friends. Bottom line, I'm not helping you move then."

"Because I'll be 60 and I won't feel like it. Besides, if you're thinking about moving in here after college, you've got another think coming."

"Set it down right here, and scoot it in place. Mom will fit it in place just right."

"I can lift heavier things than she can, but she has better spatial skills than I do. It comes from her playing all that Tetris."

"No, 'spatial,' as in being able to perceive things in space."

"We may live in Indiana, but we don't talk like that."

"Short 'e' sound, like bet or feather. As in, 'I bet these boxes would feel as light as a feather if you would lift with your legs and not your back.'"

"Let's just get some boxes. Mom can stack them next to the couch."

"With your legs, Buddy! Your legs."

"Like this. Watch. You just crouch down and — $#&!"

"No, I didn't actually do it, I just said it."

"Dude, quit laughing, it wasn't that funny. Just go get your mother, please."

"What did he tell you?"

"No, I did not do that in my pants."

"I said it because I injured myself."

"Because he's got the humor of a 12 year old. Look at him, he's still laughing."

"What's in there, your anvil collection?"

"Well, it made me hurt my back."

"No, I just need a few minutes. Give me some Motrin and let me sit on the couch, and I'll be fine."

"You go on ahead. I'll be right there. I just need to. . . . *snnnnkkkkk*

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Life Lessons for My Children

As my children get older and enter young adulthood, or as I like to think of it, "*sob* I don't want you to go away to college!! *sniff*," I've tried to impart important life lessons to each of them.

However, since I never pay attention to anything I say — no one else does either — I'm not sure what I've said to which child. So I've compiled it all into one easy-to-lose guide that none of them will actually read.

1) Don't put your money and energy into possessions. You'll spend your money on things you never really needed or wanted, and you'll end up throwing half of them away in three years.

Instead, spend your money on things that make memories, like an HD TV and satellite subscription, with a Major League Baseball game package. Oh, and a nice recliner. I remember the recliner my parents had when I was a kid. It was so comfortable, I could take deep, satisfying naps in it during baseball games.

See, nice memories.

2) The best things in life are free, but only when the other person isn't looking.

3) Author Sherwood Anderson once wrote to his son, "Above all, avoid taking the advice of men who have no brains and do not know what they are talking about." He was referring to small businessmen who had achieved a modicum of success, but as an entrepreneur, I disagree. Instead, avoid the advice from people who work for the government, for large corporations, or start sentences with "I saw on Fox News last night. . ."

4) Do not depend on another person to make you happy or complete. We have repeatedly told my daughters, you do not need to depend on a man, wait for a man, or take directions from a man. Learn to live independently for a while, because if you bring a young man around the house, I plan on frightening the hell out of him.

For my son, find a woman who is strong, independent, and won't wait on you hand and foot. If you're not sure of what that looks like, ask your mother to make you a sandwich.

5) Most importantly, if we do let any of you get married, find someone who makes you laugh. Not a polite little titter, but a great braying ugly laugh that only your family has heard. Your mother has always said she knew I was The One because I made her laugh. And also, because I didn't make her feel like throwing up.

Which, now that I think about it, "I married you because you didn't make me throw up" is not the lovely sentiment I had previously imagined.

6) Find a hobby you love. Something that you can throw yourself into and enjoy. Television is not a suitable hobby. Neither is playing games on your phone. Consider things like cooking for the elderly, dispensing medication to the aged, or maintaining a guest room for long-term guests who come to live with you when they're in their 70s. You have 30 years to get good at these things.

7) Don't openly revel in the misery of others. Do it quietly where they can't see you.

8) Don't worry about being the most popular kid in school. Enjoy being different and not following the crowd. Recent studies have shown that the popular kids often don't live up to their self-expectations later in life. Instead, it's the geeks and weirdos who go on to do amazing things. Celebrity astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson was not a popular kid in high school, Miley Cyrus was.

The big difference? Nowadays, Neil deGrasse Tyson is respected for his intellect and talent, Miley Cyrus is, well, not.

9) Kurt Vonnegut once said, "Go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable."

This is a terrible idea. Go into a sensible profession. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. As a professional writer, I speak from experience. When I'm old, I'll be counting on you and your family to make my life more bearable.

10) On the other hand, make sure you have a job you love. As my father used to say, it's better to have a job you love that doesn't make much money than to make a lot of money at a job you hate.

I'm happy to pass all this advice to you, because I love my job so much, it's pretty much your entire inheritance.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Peter and the Disembodied Voice

"Do you ever wonder about The Voice?" asked Peter.

"The TV Show?" asked Peter's grandfather.

"No, Grandfather, The Voice," said Peter

"What voice? Is someone talking to you?"

"No, The Voice that tells us what's happening. I can hear him sometimes, when I'm out playing."

"Are you sure it's not one of the neighbors?"

"No, no. It sounds like God. He talks about what I'm doing, as if he's explaining it to someone else."

Peter's grandfather studied him. The boy had never been quite right, not after his parents had died, and Peter had been sent to live with him. Grandfather petted Cat sleeping in his lap. Cat had worn himself out, chasing Duck and Bird again, but hadn't had any luck. He reached across the table for Peter's hand.

"Peter, do these voices tell you to do things?"

Peter pulled his hand away. "Grandfather, I'm not crazy," he huffed. "There aren't any voices telling me to burn down the wood shed. There's just one voice, and he describes what's happening, like a, uh, like a nora-tor."

"Do you mean a narrator?"

"Yes, that. 'Narrator.' It was his voice that told me when Wolf came out of the woods and tried to eat Bird and Duck last summer. That's how I knew what was going on. I heard Narrator talking about how Wolf chased Bird and Duck, and I heard the French horn and flute and oboe. That's when I snuck out the window to save them."

"What does Narrator sound like?" asked Grandfather, leaning forward slightly. Cat raised his head to make sure everything was okay. He didn't hear his clarinet, so he went back to sleep.

"Well, he sounds funny. Like he's British or something. He sounds like someone Very Important."

"Do you still hear him?"

"Sometimes," said Peter. "Not all the time. Usually when I'm outside playing. I started listening to him more, in case he tells me when Wolf is coming out of the woods."

"Not The Wolf, Peter. You marched him right to the zoo in a big parade and rescued Duck from the tree."

"I know that, Grandfather."

"Kitschiest damn ending I'd ever heard," said Grandfather. "God forbid we inject a little real life into a children's story." Grandfather reached for his bottle. "When I was a boy, it was cold. We were always so cold. Some days, we never had enough to eat, and my mother would—"

"Grandfather, you're getting maudlin again. We have fun times here. This isn't an MFA story."

"A what? Emmiff ay?"

"No, M. F. A. It means Masters of Fine Arts. People get them for writing sad stories about their childhoods or wars."

Grandfather set his bottle down. "You're right, Peter." Grandfather rubbed his face with his hands. "So why do you think you hear him?"

"I think he's just lonely. He doesn't have anything to do anymore. Apparently we only had the one wolf in the woods. It's been six months, and we haven't had any more sightings."

"Well, that was pretty exciting, you have to admit. The Hunters with their great guns and drums, carting off The Wolf. You all certainly gave me such a fright when I thought he was going to eat you. I certainly wasn't happy with you, until I saw you leading The Hunters and The Wolf in a parade to the zoo."

"I remember, Grandfather," Peter said, his eyes staring at nothing far away. "When I think of how we almost lost Duck that day, I still get the shivers."

"Now who's getting maudlin? So what else does Narrator talk about?" said Grandfather, changing the subject.

"Well, he talks about Cat, Bird, and Duck a lot. He saw the Hunters off in the distance once, and I heard the kettle drums. Another time, we had a tense moment in the garden when I thought I heard The Wolf, but it was just a trombone."

"Maybe he is lonely, Peter. Now that the villain has been taken to the zoo, there's nothing for him to do."

"Can we invite Narrator to dinner, Grandfather? Maybe he wouldn't be so lonely if he had some friends."

"Oh, I don't know Peter."

"I know you didn't like being portrayed by a bassoon, but maybe he'll even let you pick a new instrument."

"That's not it, Peter. You know what a man like that can become once he gets the drink in him. A darkness comes over him, a cold darkness, and he begins to—"

"Grandfather, you're MFAing again."

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.