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.