Every thing doesn't need to be a thing

My friend and podcast host Rachel was recently told me about a recommendation she received about the joy of drinking a glass of bourbon while in the shower.

This is, of course, a ridiculous idea. And it's indicative of something that seems to be gaining purchase in society that I would like to publicly take a stand against:

Making a thing out of every thing.

It's happening all around us. It must stop. 

Remember a time when guacamole was prepared in the restaurant's kitchen and delivered to your table by a member of the waitstaff rather than prepared at the table by a member of the kitchen staff, momentarily stifling conversation so you can watch someone do their job for reasons that are ultimately meaningless and slightly awkward?

Remember when weddings didn't require signature drinks named after the bride and groom?

Remember when children's birthday parties didn't end with overflowing goodie bags? 

Remember when soccer was played on fields within your town limits? Remember when terms like "travel soccer" and "weekend tournaments" had not yet been invented? Remember when hundreds of dollars were not spent on hotel rooms so kids can run around on a grassy field just like the one down the street from their home?

Remember when the word promposal didn't exist and you asked someone to the prom by asking them to the prom?

Remember when lattes were not canvases upon which baristas created art?

Remember a time before the use of the ubiquitous use of the word barista?

Every thing doesn't have to be a thing. It's getting ridiculous.

I am a person who prizes simplicity. Efficiency. Productivity. Minimalism. I despise ornamentation. Ostentatiousness. Unnecessary complexity and purposeless expense. I cannot stand when something is made precious that is not precious and was never meat to be precious.

A glass of bourbon in the shower is a stupid idea. Take your shower, get dressed, and then, if you want a glass of bourbon, drink one. Don't turn the act of washing your body into anything more than it is.

Get in. Get out. Get dressed.

Be happy that you're able to shower at all. More than half of the world's population still doesn't have access to hot water for showering on a daily basis. A shower is already a thing. It's an amazing thing. You don't need to add bourbon to the mix to make it any more precious than it already is.   

Guacamole being prepared at the table is ridiculous. We get excited about watching avocados being smashed before out eyes because we think it denotes an exceptional level of freshness and offers an artisanal flair.

It doesn't.

Having your guacamole prepared in the kitchen one minute earlier achieves the same damn thing and doesn't interrupt the conversation with a ridiculous, artificial, ultimately meaningless moment during dinner.

Promposals are atrocious. Teenagers perform and record these elaborate displays because they want attention. They want their prom to mean something more than it already does. They want the recording of their promposal to get more likes or views or shares than their friends' promposals.

There was a time - not so long ago - when a prom was a moment significant in its own right.

Actually, it still is. Teenagers just can't stop staring at YouTube long enough to realize it.  

Signature wedding drinks are created by caterers and bartenders who know that guests will consume these drinks in large amounts, thus allowing them to manage their inventory more effectively and maximize profits. Bride and grooms embrace the concept of  these signature drinks - sometimes spending hours deciding upon the name for each one - because they apparently don't think they are going to get enough attention on their wedding day. They've become such a thing that magazines and websites are now dedicated to the challenge of "perfecting the art of naming your signature drink."

It's an art now.

It's an art apparently capable of achieving perfection, despite the fact that a week after a wedding, no one could tell you the name of the bride and groom's signature drink. 

People love the art that baristas design in their lattes because everything about coffee has been fetishized in our culture. If anything in this world has ever been made into a thing, it is coffee. Drinking a cup of coffee is no longer a means of quenching a thirst or warming you up on a chilly day or injecting caffeine into the bloodstream or even drinking something that tastes good. Coffee has become a ritual for people. The coffee culture has taken something that was once small and simple into something of enormous import and great meaning. Coffee is no longer a warm, tasty beverage that people enjoy in the morning. It has become a means by which people define themselves. It has become a constant source of conversation. It is precious and artisanal and zen, and latte art reinforces these silly beliefs.   

Competing with coffee on the highest level of things being made into things are travel sports. Parents drive or fly their kids to soccer tournaments and swim meets and baseball games around the country because they believe that their children need to compete against the best of the best or be seen by the best coaches or because every other parent is bringing their kids to Timbuktu to play basketball this weekend and "my kid can't be left out!"

I hear from these "travel" kids all the time. Kids who travel from city to city, state to state to play baseball and soccer and swimming and hockey and basketball. They always tell me these four things:

  1. They don't care where they play or who they play. They just want to play.
  2. Their parents take sports way too seriously and are overly involved in their sporting life. 
  3. They worry about making the travel team only because of the enormous pressure they feel to play on the team or else be perceived as inferior by their peers. 
  4. They love travel sports not because of the games or the competition but because they love staying in hotel rooms and swimming in hotel pools.

We have turned this thing called youth sports into a thing. An enormous, expensive, ego-driven, parent-centered thing. A thing it was never meant to be and never needed to be. 

I'll say it again. Every thing doesn't need to be a thing.

Showers can just be soap and shampoo and water. 

Coffee can simply be a beverage.

Soccer can be a sport that kids play after school and on Saturdays on the field around the block or even across town.

Asking a girl or a boy to the prom can be a simple - albeit courageous - question posed privately after school. 

Every thing doesn't need to be a thing. We are all important enough already. Life is sufficiently complex. There is already great meaning in simple things if you pay attention. There is no need to make food or drink or sports or toddler birthday parties so ostentatious and grand that we garner undeserved meaning from them.

When a thing is made into a thing, it's usually done in an effort to bring false meaning to a process or undeserved attention to a person. Allow the thing to just be a thing. 

A shower without a glass bourbon has been relaxing and joyful experience for a long, long time. Don't add an alcoholic layer to the process in order to make it any more precious than it already is. Instead, pay attention to how precious and lovely and perfect it already is. See the beauty and meaning and import of the world as it already is.

Things are already things. See them as such. Embrace them for what they already are.  

Rugged good looks. Beautiful wives. No java.

I used to think that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and I only had our rugged good looks and coincidentally beautiful wives in common.

Not true. 

According to Yahoo sports:  

Don’t expect to see Tom Brady at his local coffee shop anytime soon.

The 38-year-old star quarterback for the New England Patriots told radio station WEEI’s “The Dennis and Callahan Show” in Boston that he has never drank coffee in his life. Never even tasted it.

”I never had any coffee or anything like that,” Brady said. “I just never tried it.”

Brady admitted to indulging in “burgers or ice cream” when asked about his food weaknesses.
— https://gma.yahoo.com/tom-brady-claims-never-tried-coffee-203649743--abc-news-celebrities.html

Not only are burgers and ice cream two of my favorite foods, but as you may know, I have also never tried coffee or anything like it. 

Great minds think alike. 

8 things I have never done that you probably have (now with the much-requested rationales behind each)

Yesterday I posted about six (which expanded to seven and then eight) fairly ubiquitous things that I have never done that most people have.

I was asked to explain my rationale on these issues many times. I will do so here:

1. I have never purchased a lottery ticket.

This is simply a matter of playing the odds. I have a better chance of being elected President (fact) than winning Powerball. As a poker player, I only play hands that give me a realistic chance to win. The lottery does not provide realistic odds.

2. I have never taken a selfie.

I think the selfie is kind of stupid. I have never wanted a photograph of myself unless I required one for professional reason. 

It's also important to note that I define a selfie as a photo of oneself. Add my children into a photo and I am no longer taking a selfie. I rarely take these photos either, but I have taken a few.

3. I have never used an emoji.

As a writer, I prefer words. There may come a day when I feel differently, but not today.  

4. I have never yelled at my children in anger or frustration.

In the words of my good friend, as an elementary school teacher for more than 17 years, I have a well of patience. I don't yell at students in school. I don't yell at my children at home.

So far at least.

I'm also a naturally calm person. It takes a lot to upset me. A childhood of verbal confrontations with an evil stepfather taught me to remain calm and rationale whenever possible. I learned that the person who shouts is oftentimes the person who will lose the argument or at least most likely to appear foolish and unhinged.  

In our dozen years together, my wife has seen me lose my temper once. It was the result of traffic on the interchange between I-684 and I-84. For a few moments, I lost my mind.

Rather than firing cannonballs when I am angry, I prefer to lurk beneath the surface of the water like a submarine, quiet and deadly, listening carefully and waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

For the record, I don't think Elysha has ever yelled at our children in anger, either.

5. I have never used an illegal drug.

There were many opportunities for me to experiment with illegal drugs throughout my life, but since I was 18 years-old, I have been on my own, operating without a safety net. I was poor, unemployed, homeless, the victim of violent crime, and arrested and tried for a crime I did not commit. For my entire adult life, I have felt like I was walking on a tightrope, in danger of falling off at any moment. I still feel this way today. 

Whenever the pressure or desire to experiment with an illegal drug arose, I thought about how difficult my life already was, how precarious my position has always been, and how I couldn't afford any more trouble. Thus I was able to avoid experimenting with drugs even once. 

6. I have never consumed even an ounce of coffee.

I have avoided coffee for several reasons: 

  • I saw how miserable my parents could be before their first cup of coffee in the morning. I didn't want my mood to ever be dictated by the consumption of a drink. 
  • I suffered for years with teachers who had horrendous coffee breath. I never wanted my breath to smell even close to this horror show. 
  • I don't like hot drinks of any kind.
  • I've always found the coffee making and drinking process complicated, time consuming, inexact, and oftentimes treated far too preciously for my taste. I have always embraced simplicity. Speed. Minimalism. Coffee is anything but these things. 

7. I've never activated cruise control in an automobile.

I've always felt that if you're going to drive the car, then drive the damn thing. Steering wheel and pedals and all. I've always viewed cruise control as a device specifically designed to reduce the driver's level of engagement, which has always struck me as both dangerous and lazy.

8. I've never smoked tobacco of any kind.

Smoking kills. It says it on the package. It also makes you smell and look terrible. I never found anything appealing about it. Avoiding it has been a no-brainer, despite the fact that more than half of all Americans have tried smoking at least once in their lifetimes.

Sometimes a cell phone holster can tell you a lot about a person

I know. I shouldn’t’ judge. At least that’s what I am told.

I’m not really sure why judging is bad. I think the general feeling is that by abstaining from judging others, you promote kindness, compassion, and cultural sensitivity.

You also don’t arbitrarily place your lifestyle choices ahead of others. 


But judging isn’t always bad.

Judging the men in a patriarchal society that doesn’t allow women to vote or drive cars and beheads them for doing so seems perfectly acceptable to me.

They suck. Right?

Judging a parent who is smoking in their car while their baby is strapped into the car seat in the backseat also seems acceptable to me.  

These parents suck, too? Right?

Still, some judgments are probably more appropriate and productive than others. So when I saw the man’s cellphone holster, affixed to his belt like a modern day gunslinger (except not nearly as cool), I immediately thought poorly of him.

I knew that casting such aspersions was not right.

I recently adopted a policy of never making negative comments (or even having negative thoughts) about people based upon physical appearance. If Bermuda shorts in a blizzard makes you happy, who am I to think otherwise?

It’s been four months since I adopted the policy, and I have yet to make a negative comment about physical appearance aloud and have substantially curbed my negative thoughts as well.

It’s actually not hard. Once you tell yourself that everyone’s physical appearance is off limits, it’s only when you encounter an extreme example of physical appearance that those negative thoughts appear.

Half-naked teenagers. A woman struggling to walk through the parking lot in her three-inch heels. A man wearing a shirt that doesn’t entirely cover his gut. A boy wearing a shirt emblazoned with profanity. Women wearing large amounts of makeup.  

I haven’t been completely successful in avoiding negative thoughts about physical appearance, but I’m working on it.  

The same should apply to cell phone holsters. Right?

Then the man with the cell phone holster followed me into the restroom. He sidled up to the adjacent urinal. That’s when I noticed that he was holding a Styrofoam coffee cup in one hand as he worked the belt and button on his pants with the other. A moment later, he began drinking his coffee as he conducted his business. Slurping it, in fact, as if needing to maintain some sort of fluid equilibrium.

Liquid out. Liquid in.

The grossest thing that I ever saw was a man standing at a urinal, conducting his business while eating a hot dog, but this came close.

Then the man flushed the urinal, tossed his now-empty cup in the trash, and walked out of the restroom without washing his hands.

Nope. I was right to judge. The man was stupid and disgusting.

The cell phone holster was merely the tip of the iceberg.

The reason why soda drinkers are more depressed than coffee drinkers is obvious.

According to the research by the National Institute of Health, people who drink four cans or more of soda daily are about 30 percent more likely to be diagnosed with depression than people who don't drink soda. Coffee drinkers are about 10 percent less likely to develop depression than people who don't drink coffee.

The NIH offers no explanation for this phenomenon, so I would like to offer my own:

Non-coffee drinkers (we are most certainly in the minority) continually find ourselves in the midst of conversations with coffee drinkers about coffee. These conversations can range from their need for the coffee, the taste of a specific brand of coffee, the cost of procurement, the location where their coffee has been purchased, the device in their home that produces coffee, the various accouterment associated with coffee and a myriad of other topics surrounding their beverage of choice.

For the non-coffee drinker, these constant bits of communication about a beverage can often amount to a verbal assault on our auditory senses.

Of course soda drinkers are depressed.

We feel left out of these conversations. We find ourselves isolated. We are  in many ways cultural outcasts. We watch drive by dozens of Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and independently own coffee shops each day, knowing that these are places that bring coffee drinkers so much joy, and yet we find no solace in their interminable presence. They exist as continual, concrete reminders of an ever-growing aspect of our culture from which we are excluded.

Of course we are depressed.  

Most, though, we worry about the future of a culture that makes coffee a primary topic of conversation on a regular basis.

You think I’m kidding, coffee drinkers. You think I’m being facetious.

I’m not.

You never shut up about the stuff.

Of course soda drinkers are depressed.  

I already wrote this story.

TIME magazine reports on a funeral home in South Carolina will soon offer Starbucks coffee, lattes and free Wi-Fi for those grieving over their loved ones.

Having written an entire novel about a combined funeral home/fast food chicken restaurant (it’s still in the desk drawer), I find this news slightly disconcerting.

Did Starbucks just steal my idea?

I don't like hot drinks. I may be a thermal taster. Kind of like a superhero.

I don’t drink coffee, which places me in an extreme minority, at least among my friends and colleagues. hot-beverages

I also do not drink tea or even hot chocolate. For years, I have told people that I don’t like hot drinks, a statement that is often greeted with a furrowed brow and many questions, particularly on a frigid day.

Now my unusual taste preference may have an explanation.

A study reported in Scientific American finds that the intensity of some flavors varies with temperature.

While this might not be terribly surprising, the study also finds that for most people, temperature can enhance flavors. But for some, dubbed thermal tasters, temperature alone can be a flavor. Heating or cooling parts of the tongue creates the sensation of taste without food.

So my distaste for anything other than a chilled drink may have less to do with the actual taste of the liquid and more with its temperature.

Hot drinks just taste bad to me.

Except for coffee. That stuff is gross regardless of temperature. Even coffee ice cream makes me want to wretch.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to ruin ice cream?