Thursday, September 18, 2014

Adult education

As a kid, I worried about growing up. Adulthood, to me, seemed like a switch that had to be flipped, where you didn't play outside anymore or read the funnies or care about much besides money and drinking beer. Or maybe you still were a kid at heart, but you kept it to yourself or were looked down upon for it. Every time I pictured myself as an adult, I'd be wearing a suit or work uniform, an image that I couldn't reconcile with doing any of the things I didn't think I'd yet be ready to give up.

This image became a little more fluid as I entered my teens. The idea of owning a car and possibly a house and having a girlfriend or wife appealed to me, but wearing a suit, worrying about money and being serious still didn't. At that age, it seemed like there was room to be older and still be who I was.

Later still, as I grew to realize that being older is more of a gradual function of time than an act of switch-flipping, I decided I could just be me and chuck every other expectation. Yes, I would be responsible — I would work, pay my bills/taxes and take care of whatever needed taking care of. And I would never stop reading, learning and maturing. But other than that, I would still be the same person I always was — a kid who likes to ride my bike, collect license plates and write sometimes-ridiculous things. One who isn't overly obsessed with the things that earn one the Adult Card, unless such trappings converge with my wants and needs.

Many people, both my age and older, lament my line of thinking. They think that's today's young adults aren't sufficiently capital-A Adult, in life choices or mannerisms (and are torn on whether that's good or bad). Many times when I hear the specific criticisms, I think they could be directed at me. I couldn't care less. Some of it sounds out of touch, and some of it sounds like simple jealousy.

The way I see it, the alleged death of the adult is something to celebrate. It's admirable to hold on to what sustains you even when life, age and obligations get in the way. People are far more interesting when they don't, to quote the Bible and many a prude, put away childish things.

It's not OK

Despite living on the West Coast for more than a year now, I still forget how early Monday Night Football comes on. I turned it on at 8:45 Monday night and the commentators were deep into their post-game show. Ray Lewis was emotionally addressing the Adrian Peterson child-abuse allegations. Lewis hasn't been the most scandal-free player himself, but his points were pretty good. I was glad to see the ESPN team openly tackling controversial issues, just as other network personalities have been doing.

I'm also encouraged by the backlash against "my parents did it, and I'm OK." More often than not, when I've heard someone say that, it was with a combined tone of anger and defensiveness — a tone that suggests the person is anything but OK. They might be lovely, rational, thinking adults most of the time, but there's that terrifying lapse in patience that's ever-present. It can manifest itself in numerous ways. Spanking. Switching. Even harsher forms of physical punishment. Some exercise the mildest forms occasionally and regretfully. Others are harsher and see no problem with it. Still others boast of their use corporal punishment with inappropriate pride.

As someone who is opposed to spanking children, let alone the use of switches, I'm happy to see that Peterson has few apologists. Sure, people should have been outraged long ago, and many of us were, but all we can do now is stay vigilant about such practices in the future. Not because our pro heroes are doing it, but because anyone is.

I realize that many good people differ with me on the issue of spanking. But to me, the issue isn't the severity of the physical approach so much as the trigger in an adult's mind when they find it necessary to strike a child. It is against the law to strike another adult the same way, so why should we allow it from parent to child? And why be OK with spanking if the wounds Peterson inflicted to his children are so abhorrent? The anger in the adult and the trauma to the child are where the real scars form. So it all needs to stop.

The shame of manguage

During last Thursday night's telecast of the Steelers-Ravens game, CBS sportscaster James Brown addressed the NFL's recent scandal in handling Ray Rice's domestic-violence video. And by "addressed," I mean, "crushed it." Slate has it here.

What I like most about JB's short piece (and there's so much to like) is that he touched on how men often use feminine language to convey weakness and intimidation. I remember hating this as early as high school, where seemingly every tough guy would tell you not to be a pussy or a bitch, or not to get your panties in a bunch. Or they'd urge you not to throw like a girl. Considering that my cousin was one of the top softball pitchers in the state, I could only dream of throwing like her.

Still, sometimes I'd catch myself using that language. It didn't come as easily to me as those who thought nothing of plastering it on their pickup trucks, but it would creep out from time to time, subconsciously.

But the wrongness of it really hit home for me in college, when I knew a guy whose highest form of insult was, "You're worse than a woman." Most of my best friends at the time were women, so I'd think, "What's wrong with being a woman?"

I never have gotten my answer. Even if you go with the stereotype of women as overly emotional and irrational, well, that's nonsensical because plenty of men fit that description. Including the ones who say things like that. And definitely any "man" who acts like Ray Rice.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Crafting singles: A slice of American cheese


The subtitle of this article is, "More than half of people are now single. Is that because we can always swipe right, or because everyone else can, too?"

I'll admit I had to read on to understand the "swipe right" reference. Apparently it refers to the dating app Tinder, where swiping right means making the next stop on the virtual singles tour. And apparently apps like Tinder, according to Samhita Mukhopadhyay, are the reason why more than half of Americans are now single.

That's a misleading stat to begin with, because (as the author notes) that number simply counts the number of people who don't have a marriage certificate. It's like finding out a city has a 55 percent workforce-participation rate — it doesn't mean 45 percent of the populace is unemployed.

What compels me to comment on this isn't that stat, but another issue: Mukhopadhyay's (possibly tongue-in-cheek) assertion that the digital world has hindered us in finding love because of the perceived infinite opportunities.

I've often been asked why, as a theoretical catch, I'm still single. My short answer is, "inertia." My longer reply is that I am picky, because I think a decision as major as the person you most want to spend your time with should be informed by contemplation. For too many people, it isn't, and those couples are either miserable or (worse) they deny to themselves that they aren't living the best possible life. If there is, in fact, a rising rate of single people, that's less likely a testament to the prevalence of apps (always a weak argument in any case) than to the broadening acceptance of lifestyles. Fewer people are hitching up these days for the wrong reasons, which if anything strengthens the institution of marriage, and empowers individuals to have confidence in whatever decision they make.

In many areas of life, being picky to the point of taking no action is counterproductive. (Indeed, as I write this, I have five blogs backed up in draft for precisely that reason.) But when it comes to something as potentially life-changing as a relationship, a certain level of pickiness is good. Yes, it's possible that always thinking you can do better will leave you alone and unfulfilled. But that risk is preferable to settling for someone who isn't so good for you because you think you can't do better.

It's a big, bad world and life is short. The least you owe yourself is to be as genuinely happy as you can help being. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Surge to the future

They've brought back Surge. THEY'VE BROUGHT BACK SURGE!!

My enthusiasm is misleading. Mostly, I think this is hilarious. A social-media campaign successfully brought back the drink, which was sold from 1996 to 2002, though now it's available only through Amazon.com. Energy was expended on this. No wonder they need Surge.

I was 16 and in 11th grade when Surge arrived on the scene. It was much-coveted on the teen circuit partially because of its hip image and citrus overtones, but primarily because it contained an incredible (for the time) amount of caffeine. Monster wasn't yet a thing and Jolt was hard to come by, so Surge was the drink of choice for those who preferred to live life with, to quote the ads, a SURRRRRRRRRGE!!!

Ironically (and very weirdly), I had ended my brief infatuation with caffeine by age 16. I was drinking less soda in general, and was convinced caffeine did nothing for me. Mainly, I didn't like the dehydrated, sweetly queasy feeling I got from drinking large quantities of soda. Nevertheless, I did like citrus flavors, so I decided I'd try Surge. Also, all the cool kids were doing it, so I had to do it to ensure all the cool kids were doing it. Of course.

I had no problem procuring some Surge. One afternoon, my high school handed out cans of Surge to anyone who had two quarters to rub together. We even got to leave class to get it! Then, as now, I found it bizarre that a public school would hand out mildly controversial caffeinated beverages in the middle of class during a school day. The power of the Coca-Cola Company and its money.

When I reached the school lobby to purchase my can, a cute girl I'd known for years wrapped her arm around me, put her other hand on my chest and asked, flirtatiously, "Ian, will you buy me a Surge? Please?" With those eyes! So I did. And she thanked me and quickly left with it. 

Again, the power of the Coca-Cola Company and its money.

I brought my drink back to class (which was the newspaper class during a down cycle, so it quickly devolved into everyone obsessing over Surge) and took a few semi-reluctant sips. It tasted good enough, but I was determined not to let the caffeine get to me; after all, I'd told everyone that caffeine didn't affect me. In fact, it made me sleepy, because even my nervous system was contrarian.

And, in fact, aside from a slightly increased heartbeat, I was mostly lethargic after finishing the can. But that could have been the fact that I was stuck in a classroom with very little to do at close to 2 p.m.

I drank a few more Surges in the following years, but it wasn't a habit. I didn't notice until long after its demise that it wasn't a thing anymore, and only then it was because a friend was rehashing a complaint.

It's good to see it back, though, just because I love a happy story. I only wish they'd play the same EXTREEEME mid-'90s ads they did during Surge's earliest run. Let's get a campaign for that!

SURRRRRRGE!!! [Makes metal noises]

Today in no: Airline edition

J. Bryan Lowder at Slate thinks we should dress up when traveling.

No thanks.

To be fair, I do try to look good on a plane, train or bus. But only because I (almost) always try to look my best wherever I go. Granted, my interpretation might be different than the norm — for me, it usually means wearing an unwrinkled pair of khaki shorts or jeans and a clean button-down or T-shirt. I think I pull off this look, and I feel good doing it.

Isn’t that always what they say? “If you look good, you feel good.” I’m not the kind of guy who feels right in a spiffy suit. I dress up when appropriate (and look good or mostly OK doing it), but I don’t seek every opportunity to don dressy duds. When many people look at vintage photos from the early 20th century where everyone’s in their Sunday finest for a day at the beach, they pine for such a dapper era. But I tend to think, “I would have hated every tuberculosis-laden, segregated, rigid-social-mored second of it.”

The problem I have with Lowder’s pretentious screed is that it belongs in another decade, one without a 2 (and perhaps with a 5) in it. He seems to think that flying, especially, is the near-exclusive province of businesspeople heading first-class to their next business meeting, where even the plebeian coach seats are wide enough so that everyone has space for a dinner dish and an ashtray.

But the main thing that's wrong with his stance is that it isn't even rooted that much in personal dignity — it's more a case of, "Think of those around you!" Yes, the teeming paparazzi masses of judgment. Their flashbulbs are so bright that I barely notice how my slacks reduce my legroom by nearly a third.

I once wore slacks and a tie on a flight, but only because I was heading directly to a job interview two states away. Far from feeling like I classed up the express jet, I felt self-conscious when I saw an old friend in the next seat, who was heading to Atlanta with his band (and dressed the part). My getup fit for the interview (I got the job), but not so much for my perceived sense of style in transit.

That trip aside, I fly on my own time, from desert to swampland and back, in a country where you have to take off your shoes and pass through a metal detector and perhaps make friends with a wand to board your jet. Then you’re herded onto what is basically an air bus (and which was probably built by Airbus) and share closer microbe space with your seatmates then you have with some third dates. Sometimes the toilet stall works and sometimes it doesn’t. And you can get a free ginger ale if you want, but the snacks cost extra.

Flying might have been glamorous once, but that was when relatively few people could afford it (and before America lost its alleged innocence about five times over). I enjoy flying, but ultimately it’s just another means of conveyance. Just like I don’t care what fellow passengers are wearing, I doubt they’d even notice if I dressed better for a random plane trip then I do for work. If they ever do, I shall guffaw at their harrumphs.

Comfort level is something everyone should decide for themselves. If that means wearing your finest dress, go for it. If it means looking like me (or schlubbier), more power to you. But that’s your decision, not the one of a man who would deign to judge crowds of strangers. You’ll know him when you see him. He’s the one craning his head from first class to see if everyone’s noticing him.