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.