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.  

Elaborate prom proposals are happening. Promposals, they call them. They are stupid.

I am the veteran of the prom season. In my youth, I attended a total of seven proms.

I attended both my junior and senior proms with my high school girlfriend, Laura.

Laura was a year younger than me, so I also attended her junior and senior proms as well.

Laura and I also attended the prom of friends Eric and Lisa in a neighboring town. I was Lisa’s date (I would eventually date Lisa later on) and Laura was Eric’s date.

When I was eighteen and managing a McDonald’s in Milford, Massachusetts, I attended the prom of an incredibly shy employee who needed a date and asked to me to go with her by handing me a slip of paper as her shift ended. It was a unique prom experience that went remarkably well and then didn’t.

A story for another day.

When I was 22, I attended the prom of another McDonald’s employee while I was managing a restaurant in Brockton, Massachusetts. She and I had survived an armed robbery of our restaurant, and her mother asked me to escort her to the prom, feeling like she would be safe in my company.


All of this is to say I have some prom experience.

A recent trend in the prom circuit is prom proposals or “promposals.” Rather than simply asking a person to the prom (or handing over a slip of paper), high school students are now proposing to their would-be dates using extravagant and digitally-shared proposals which, as far as I can tell, almost always serve to demonstrate how creative, clever and romantic the boy is and have almost nothing to do with the actual girl.

I’ve watched a bunch of these promposals, and while the production values differ considerably, the general theme of these proposals is the same:

Look at me. Watch me propose to a girl, but don’t look at the girl. Look at me. Look at how talented and clever I am. Look at me. Look at me. Look at me.

And what are these prom proposers going to do when it comes time to propose marriage someday? Some of these stunts are so elaborate that topping them will be nearly impossible.

Of course, by that time, no woman in her right mind would want to be proposed to in the way that these kids are proposing to their prom dates.

Simply search on “promposal” on YouTube and you will see what I’m taking about. This one is especially egregious

I’m sure that the young man in the video is a delightful and respectful individual., but I suspect there will come a day when he regrets this moment in his life and the video may disappear from YouTube forever. The idea of a promposal is bad enough, but the degree of narcissism and self-promotion on display here is astounding.

The most baffling part of the video for me, however, is how indulged this boy appears to be. Not only does he have an emcee, a band, a local news crew present to interview the happy couple after the proposal and the implicit support of the school administrators, but he has multiple, professional-grade video cameras operating throughout the stunt and a throng of enthusiastic classmates.

It’s his classmates that surprise me the most.

Who are these kids? Where is the adolescent apathy that characterizes so many of the high school students I know? Where is the intense disinterest? The purposeful listlessness and focused indifference that I have come to expect (and love) from teenagers? 

What is wrong with these people?