I don't sleep like a robot. Or Frankenstein. Do I?

I'm teaching storytelling at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health this week. 

This morning, I returned to my room to find a note from housekeeping:

"You don't need to make the bed."

I laughed. I didn't make the bed. When I went to sleep last night, I climbed onto the bed and simply fell asleep atop the sheets and blanket. It was a warm, summer night, so I had no need to slide beneath the covers.

When I woke up in the morning, I was still in the same position, lying flat on my back in the center of the bed. I stood up, leaving a perfectly made bed behind me.

I told some people in my workshop about the note, and they looked at me like I was a monster.

"You just fell asleep on top of the covers?" one woman asked. "Who does that?"

"I can't fall asleep if I'm not under the covers," said another.

"What kind of monster are you?" a third asked. 

There were mentions of Frankenstein as well, and one person suggested that I might be a robot. 

I really didn't expect this reaction. 

I've always been able to fall asleep this way. At summer camp as a boy, I often slept atop my sleeping bag because of the heat. I've taken naps at work when I was sick by lying down on the carpeted floor and falling asleep during my lunch hour. When I was homeless and living in my car, I slept on the backseat, where blankets and sheets were impossible. 

Is this really as strange as the folks in my workshop made it seem?

So many jokes. Such little ears.

Elysha and I brought the kids to Action Safari this weekend. Stretching the meaning of the words "action" and "safari," this attraction features a taxidermy museum that made me sad.

Even worse than the enormous number of stuffed animals was the moment Clara called out, "Daddy, what's a dik dik?"

You can imagine my confusion. 

It turns out that Clara was reading a plaque about an African antelope called a dik dik. 

Sadly, no adult was present to take pleasure in the enormous number of jokes that filled my brain, just waiting to spill out.

Last night, as Charlie was getting out of the bathtub, he looked down at his chest and apparently noticed his nipples for the first time. 

"What are these?" he asked, pointing.

"Nipples," I said. 

"What are they for?" he asked.

Once again, no adult was present for the flood of jokes that filled my mind, desperate to escape.

The right audience is everything.

One man. Two dozen women. A bunch of interesting questions.

This summer I'll be spending a week teaching at Miss Porter's School, a boarding and day school for girls located in Farmington, CT.

This only makes sense. 

From 1996-1999, I attended an all-women's college, and ever since graduating, I have continued to live in a female world. As an elementary school teacher for almost 20 years, I am almost exclusively in the company of women. It's not uncommon for me to be the only man in a room of 20 or more people.

It just happened a couple days ago. 

In fact, NEVER in my professional life have I attended a meeting, training session, workshop, or staff breakfast where there were more men in the room than women.

As I write these words, I am sitting in a cafeteria at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. There are about 25 people in the room with me, and once again, I am the only man.  

The ratio of women to men in all of my storytelling workshops is about 10:1. 

Even publishing is dominated by women. I've worked with six different editors on my various books and five different magazine editors over the course of my publishing career. 

All women. My literary agent, my film agent, and my publicist are also all women.   

I truly live in a women'a world.

Last week I attended an orientation session at Miss Porter's. As I was shuffling through my paperwork, one of the women at the table leaned over and said, "There are 23 women in this room, and you are the only man. What is that like?"

I told her that I hadn't even noticed, which was true. She didn't believe me, not understanding that this male-female ratio was nothing new for me.

She pressed. "Even if you didn't noticed, what is it like? You're the only guy here. You stick out like a sore thumb. What's that like? I mean, everyone knows you're the only guy here. It's one of the first things you notice. One guy. Isn't that strange? "

I wanted to tell her that I had felt perfectly comfortable with the situation until she implied that perhaps I shouldn't be, but even that wasn't true. I told her, with all honesty, that I feel at home in situations like this, and that over the years, I have learned to function quite well in large groups of women, despite my occasionally aggressive and possibly impolite nature in other contexts.

I live by my personal mantra: Speak less and speak least. 

I'm not sure she believed me. Who could blame her? Had the tables been turned and she was the only woman in a room of 23 men, she would likely feel very different. 

Later, we were asked to engage in the team building activity that required us to build the tallest tower with uncooked spaghetti and marshmallows. I had our team simply lift the table when the time came to measure the height of each structure.

When a young woman complained that she would need to mail a form home for her mother's signature, I suggested she simply sign her mother's name, explaining that no one cares what the paperwork looks like as long as it's complete.

For years, I have been filling in the "Position" line on paperwork as "Upright" and no one has said a word. 

When another woman complained that she didn't have a professional reference to include on a form, I offer her my name.

"But you don't know me," she said.

"I do now," I replied. "Problem solved."  

I continued to suggest similar nefarious and corner-cutting strategies to complete tasks quickly and efficiently. At last one of the women leaned across the table and asked, "So how long have you been a grifter?"

I thought it was an amusing comment. Not entirely true, but perhaps a hint of truth. 

The first woman then leaned over to me and whispered, "So that's how you do it. You teach women to break rules."

Also not true, though in my experience, I have found that women are far more likely to follow rules and procedures than men, even when those rules and procedures make little sense. 

I'm sure there was a time when I felt odd or out of place in a room of women, but somewhere along the way, probably in college or perhaps in those first couple years of teaching, it stopped being a thing for me. 

I barely notice anymore.

But I'm left wondering: Though I may not notice that I am the only man in a room filled with women, how often do the women in the room notice that I am the only man, and what are they thinking?

I made an old woman cry. Was I wrong?

I'm standing in line at McDonald's, waiting patiently to order my daily Egg McMuffin.

The woman in front of me is having a problem. She's an old lady in the truest sense of the word. She's as crooked as a question mark and is holding a cane. She's ordered a "Big Breakfast Egg McMuffin" and received a Big Breakfast and an Egg McMuffin.

She's not happy.

She only wants the Egg McMuffin. She's added the words "big breakfast" to her order for reasons I cannot glean, but somehow, I know what has happened. Years of managing McDonald's restaurants makes the problem immediately clear to me.

I stand behind her and remain silent. I know that I inject myself into too many of these kinds of situations. Elysha has asked me to stand back and avoid conflict like this whenever possible. She worries about how people will react to my mouth. So I'm going to leave this to Janet, the employee who I see every day and know well.

Except that Janet is struggling to figure out the problem because the woman is yelling at her. Flailing her hands. Janet is frazzled by the sudden outburst of anger. She's unable to put two and two together.

I remain silent. I'm not going to involve myself. The woman is angry and treating my friend poorly, but my involvement will probably not go well.

The manager, who I also know, arrives and quickly identifies the problem. She explains the source of the confusion to the woman. She says that she will remove the Big Breakfast and refund the money. She grabs a scrap of paper to subtract the price of the Big Breakfast from the bill.

The woman shakes her hands violently and shouts, "Just give me my money!"

At last the issue is settled. The order is correct and the refund is complete. The woman moves off to prepare her coffee. I step forward and smile at Janet, who is still flustered. I wink. She smiles. She enters my order without me saying a word. I take my cup over to the soda station to pour.

The old woman is still there, stirring her coffee. I add ice to my cup and take a step closer to her to pour my Diet Coke.

The old woman turns to me and says, "These people are so stupid. How do you get this far in life being this stupid?"

I have done my best to remain uninvolved, but now she is speaking to me directly. Not only am I vigorously opposed to behind-the-back cruelty, but she is insulting people who I think of as friends. These are women who I see every day and exchange pleasantries with quite often. I feel like I must now say something. The woman has all but demanded a response.

Without missing a beat or considering my words, I say, "I think it's despicable when a person talks behind the backs of others. Despicable and disgusting. For the rest of my day, I'm going to tell every person I see about the despicable and disgusting thing that you just did."

And then she begins to cry.

This event took place in September. I asked my students what they thought of my actions. Most believed that my behavior was perfectly acceptable until I added the last sentence beginning with "For the rest of the day..."

"Over the line, Mr. Dicks," one girl said.

Many of my friends felt that my entire interaction was inappropriate. They suggested that it was not my place to impose my morals on this woman.

I reminded them that I did not interject myself into the conversation. She spoke to me.

That didn't matter for most.

Others argued that I was caustic and cruel to an older woman, and that I should've tempered my words because of her age.

I argued that this was agism.

None agreed.

Others argued that my words made no difference in the future behavior of this woman, so I caused needless pain and suffering for no result.

I suggested that this woman might think twice the next time she wants to criticize someone behind her back to a stranger.

Most disagreed.

Looking back on the incident with the advantage of time and perspective, I still believe that my actions were just. That old woman involved me in the situation after my attempts to remain silent. I simply spoke from the heart and said what I believed. I didn't consider her age a handicap to decency or discourse, and I genuinely believed - and still do - that our encounter might temper this woman's future acts of behind-the-back cruelty.

I tell this story today because of a response to a post on the ridiculous use of imperatives in argumentation. A friend on Facebook reminded me that "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing!"

I don't think that the woman was evil, but I also couldn't allow such condescension and cruelty to go unchecked when directly involved.

I wasn't happy that the woman began to cry, and it certainly made for an awkward pour of my Diet Coke and a hasty retreat, but I said what I thought needed to be said. It would've been easy to ignore the comment. Nod and move on. Even explain to the woman that I know the employees well and are always impressed by their professionalism and performance.

But after watching this woman shout and flail and condescend, I didn't think gentleness was in order. "If you're going to dish it out, you have to be able to take it" is an expression that has always rung true for me. I think it applied well in this situation, despite the tears.

Thoughts?

Warning: Women with handbags crossing

Do you know what this sign warns motorists about?

It's okay if you don't. Why would you? It has NOTHING to do with the purpose of the sign.

Answer below.

The sign indicates a school crossing, even though it more closely resembles two women with handbags rather than any child crossing the street.

Can you imagine the moment when this design was chosen?

"Yes. Perfect. This design makes me think of kids in crosswalks exactly. Make a million of them!"

Beautiful but temporary: Why would an artist ever choose such a fleeting medium?

This is remarkable, beautiful, unbelievable, and maddeningly temporary. You must watch. 

It's hard to imagine why someone so talented would create art that lasts for such a short period of time. 

Perhaps he doesn't suffer from the existential crisis that plagues me.

I lost a "friend" this week in an interesting, baffling, and amusing way

A few years ago, I met a man in a workshop that I conducted for would-be authors on finding a literary agent. He was earnest, enthusiastic, and hopeful. He liked the workshop a great deal. He later became a friend on Facebook and would occasionally attend my storytelling shows. 

Last week, I received an email from this man that began:

Hello Matthew,

I just unfriended you. Bye bye. I suggest you spend a little time with the Constitution before your next social blovation.

He went onto explain that he does not like Donald Trump but considers Hillary Clinton a career criminal undeserving of my vote. There was more to his argument that I didn't read, but he ended by telling me that he has helplessly watched American exceptionalism atrophy over the eight years. "Now it's your turn. Suck it up."

I am fascinated by this email for a few reasons:

1. He opens the email in such an insulting and demeaning way, but then goes on for quite some time explaining why Clinton is bad and Trump is palatable. If he genuinely wanted to teach me something about Hillary Clinton or help me to understand his opinions, why open with such an offensive, off-putting greeting? I honestly didn't bother to read the bulk of the following paragraph simply because his first few statements made it clear that he was not engaged in thoughtful rhetoric.

2. The "Bye bye" is also interesting. I think it's meant to be condescending, but instead, it comes across (at least to me) as childish. Anything but serious. It's an unfortunate rhetorical choice that strikes me as petulant and angry and in no way helps his cause.

3. The most surprising aspect of his email is simply the fact that he has chosen to unfriend me because of what I have written about the President. Frankly, this kind of astounds me. I have been exceedingly careful to avoid insulting or even criticizing Trump supporters while writing about the President. I stand in opposition to Donald Trump's administration, but I have not attacked the people who voted for him. I have even gone out of my way to explain to some people why fundamentally decent and rational people might have voted for such a fundamentally indecent and irrational candidate.

Disagreeing with my positions on our President and his policies is fine. But why does this person - and so many others - take this difference of opinion so personally? It was not uncommon for me to find myself in the company of someone who did not support Obama while he was President. I was not opposed to listening to their opinions. I was not offended when I learned that they felt differently than me. I oftentimes thought that they were wrong. Misguided. Misinformed. Even dishonest in the deployment of fact. Perhaps even racist on occasion. But their views were not an attack on me personally.  

I found this level of anger directed at me for the expression of my opinions bizarre. After all, I wrote the words. Just don't read them.

4.  Facebook's unfriend feature does not require an email notification. Why not simply unfriend me and move on? Why send me a condescending, insulting email that would most assuredly do nothing by way of enlightening me? Did it make him feel good to spout off? Or why not simply hide my posts? I have hidden the posts of friends and even family members when their level of vitriol exceeds tolerable levels or they attack a group of people to whom my friends or I belong.

Never would I waste my time firing off an angry email in addition to unfriending someone. A thoughtful, rhetorically rational email? Perhaps. But even then, if I was unfriending the person, that's probably enough to turn them off to anything else I might say.

Happily, this email gave me something to think and write about, so it wasn't all bad. It was even a little entertaining. Slightly amusing. 

I don't think that was his intent, but when you use words like "bloviation" (spelled wrong in his email) and phrases like "Bye bye" and "Suck it up," it really can't be helped.

Melting ice sucks, but projectiles to the head are bad, too.

There’s been much fear and consternation over the potential loss of the polar bears as a result of the rapid melting of polar ice. Many environmentalists have adopted the polar bear as their symbol of the dangers of global warming.

With this in mind, I think that it might be prudent to revisit the Oslo Agreement, which permits the hunting of this vulnerable species. The treaty allows hunting "by local people using traditional methods," although this has been liberally interpreted by member nations. All nations except Norway allow hunting by the Inuit, and Canada and Denmark allow trophy hunting by tourists.

More than a thousand polar bears per year are killed under the auspices of this treaty.  

While I believe that the preservation of longstanding Native American traditions is a good thing, there are certain customs that we may want to put the kibosh on. For example, scalping was a common practice for certain tribes of North American Indians, but we don’t allow this sort of thing to take place today.

If we are really concerned about the possible extinction of polar bears, why not keep the bullets and arrows out of their heads?

Random chairs in restrooms make me uncomfortable. Justifiably so. Right?

I will never understand why a restaurant would put a random chair like this in their restroom. It serves no purpose other than to make me feel awkward and nervous and a little afraid.

Shouldn't yellow raincoats the only appropriately colored raincoats?

School buses are most often painted yellow because the color attracts attention and is noticed quickly by peripheral vision. In fact, the human eye detects yellow faster than any other color.

Scientists describe this as follows: "Lateral peripheral vision for detecting yellows is 1.24 times greater than for red."

For this same reason, raincoats are often yellow. In the low visibility of a rainy day, you want pedestrians to be as visible as possible to those behind the wheel of vehicles.

This leads me to wonder:

Based upon this data, shouldn't every child's raincoat be yellow? If we're going to paint vehicles that are 45 feet long and nearly impossible to miss yellow so they will be even more impossible to miss, shouldn't we be encapsulating our three foot tall bundles of randomness in cocoons of yellow to protect them, too?  

If red, blue, pink, and green raincoats are not as readily detected by motorists, operators of heavy machinery, garbage collectors, cyclists, pilots of exceptionally low flying aircraft, and folks on horseback and camelback, what kind of monster would dress their precious little child in anything by a yellow raincoat?

Where the hell is black?

Forget the gender implication contained in this graph. Where is black?

I've always thought that the concept of a favorite color is kind of strange. My color preferences tend to depend upon context. I might prefer red in some circumstances and green in others. 

But if pressed, I say that black is my favorite color. It is my preferred color in most contexts. 

When it comes to choosing clothing colors, I prefer black. 
When it comes to ink, I prefer black over all others.
My car is black. My golf bag is black. My sneakers are black.  

So where is black on these graphs? 

Am I the only person in the world whose favorite color is black?

Seeking submissions for my annual list of shortcomings and flaws

A reader once accused me of being materialistic after I wrote about my lack of a favorite number, specifically criticizing me for saying that when it comes to my salary, my favorite number is the largest number possible.

After refuting the charges of materialism, I acknowledged that I had plenty of other shortcomings and flaws and offered to list them in order to appease my angry reader. Then I did. Then I added to the list when friends suggested that I had forgotten a few.

Nice friends. Huh?

So began an annual tradition of posting my list of shortcomings and flaws, starting first in 2011, and continuing in 201220132014, and 2015.

The time has come to assemble my list for 2016, which means I will be reviewing the 2015 list carefully, hoping that I might be able to remove a few and looking to add any that I think might be missing. 

As always, I offer you the opportunity to add to the list as well. If you know me personally or through this blog or my books or my storytelling or my podcast and have detected a shortcoming or flaw to add to the list, please let me know. I will be finalizing and publishing my list in about a week, so don't delay. 

I look forward to hearing about all the ways in which you think I suck. 

What is the longterm impact of not having the support of parents after high school?

My friend and I were discussing the possibilities of a barbecue this summer. I asked him about the size and condition of his gas grill.

"It's a little dented, but it came that way. My dad assembled it and gave it to me for Father's Day, but he didn't secure it well in the back of the truck when he drove it over. It got tossed around a bit. But it works fine."

"Hard to complain about a free gas grill," I said. "I had to buy my own. And assemble it by myself, too."

As I said these words, it occurred to me that I haven't received anything from either one of my parents since I was 17 years-old.

My father left my life when I was very young, and my mother rapidly descended into abject poverty when her second husband - an evil son-of-a-bitch - left her with almost nothing about a year after I graduated from high school. Other than a music box, a collection of state quarters, and a few other small gifts, I haven't received anything of value from my parents for almost thirty years. 

No gas grill. 
No college tuition.
No cash bailouts when I was in trouble.
No downpayment on my first home.
No birthday, wedding, house warming, or anniversary gifts. 
No grandparent gifts for my children. 

Furthermore, there was no inheritance when my mother passed away. No family home. No savings account. No precious family heirlooms. My mother died in a nursing home with almost nothing to her name.

I've been on my own for a long, long time. 

  • I've bought every car that I've ever owned with my own money. 
  • I paid every penny of my college tuition.
  • When I was arrested for a crime I did not commit, I worked more than 80 hours a week for almost two years to pay the $25,000 attorney fee.
  • When I was 22 years-old and lost my home, there was no childhood home to return to. No place to recover and regain my footing. I moved into my car and became homeless for a time. 

No safety net. No support system. No backup plan.

Thankfully, my life has turned out well despite the lack of support. I managed to make it to college when I was 23 years-old and managed to graduate five years later with degrees in English and elementary education. I became the teacher and writer I always dreamed of being when I was a little boy.

I was lucky. My dreams came true. 

But I find myself wondering about the longterm financial impact of financially stable parents on a person. More specifically, how do outcomes differ between individuals who have the financial support of their parents into adulthood and those who do not?

When a person have to pay their way through college, how does this impact their life longterm?

When a person doesn't have parents to assist with the purchase of a car or a home, how does this change their longterm financial outlook? When there are no parents to pay for weddings, assist with home repairs, provide infusions of cash at precarious moments in the person's life, and even buy the occasional meal or holiday gift, how does this alter a person's future?

is their financial outlook vastly different? Do they differ in terms of happiness and healthiness? Do their life spans differ significantly? Do they become fundamentally different people? 

I have friends whose parents have paid for their family vacations. Supplied a downpayment on a home. Fully funded their wedding and honeymoon. Paid every penny of their college tuition.

I have a friend with two children who has never purchased a diaper in his life.

His mother buys them. 

I have friends who have joined successful family businesses and have never felt the fear, uncertainty, and sting of longterm unemployment or debilitating poverty. I have friends who have been bailed out of enormous jams by their parents. 

Then I have friends like me who have had to grind it out on their own. Find their own way. Save themselves over and over again.

If you're a sociologist, I'd like you to conduct a study that examines the longterm outcomes of people who enjoy parental support post high school graduation and those who do not. I'd like to know how these two groups of people differ in terms of employment, wealth, happiness, life span, health, marital outcomes, and overall achievement.

I'm curious. Which type of person fairs better in the long run?

I'd like to think that those who make it on their own are ultimately more successful in the indicators I have mentioned above, but I suspect that this isn't the case. If I were to hazard a guess, I suspect that people with the support of parents after high school are far better off than those who do not. They tend to be happier, healthier, and wealthier than their counterparts. 

And while I certainly don't denigrate my friends who have enjoyed the ongoing support of their parents or joined ready-made family businesses, I tend to be more impressed by the people I know who had to blaze their own trail through life, absent of the gifts of college tuition, downpayments, family businesses, and gas grills.

Unfortunately, I suspect that many of these parentless people fail to blaze their own trails and often fall by the wayside without anyone ever acknowledging the way in which a lack of parental support may have contributed to their negative outcomes.

Perhaps I'm wrong. I hope so. In a day and age in which the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee claims to be a self-made business man despite joining his family's real estate business at an early age and receiving an enormous cash infusion from a father who was worth more than 200 million dollars, it would be nice to know that actual self-made people exist and thrive, despite their lack of familial support.   

Get on that, sociologists. I want to know. 

Where have all the rebels gone?

Blogger Jason Kottke writes about the differing approaches to "being an adult." In his post, he establishes two kinds of adults:

A: Those who have set aside their childish ways
B: Those who rebel against the lack of freedom of childhood.

“Basically opposite approaches,” he writes. “Responsible adulthood and irresponsible adulthood.”

Kottke continues:

The A people feel that being an adult means eating healthfully, being financially responsible, dressing to meet the expectations of others, flossing regularly, servicing your vehicle regularly, etc.

Folks who take the B approach feel that adulthood means that you can eat candy for breakfast, drink too much, fail to keep careful track of your finances, stay up late, play hours of video games a day, skip dental cleanings for three years, order the steak instead of the salad, etc.

The division between these two types of people has been something that has interested (and frustrated) me for a while, but I don’t entirely agree with Kottke’s distinctions.

I am constantly asking myself where all the rebels have gone.

I cannot understand what causes the adolescent hellion, the teenage idealist, and the twenty-something non-conformist to suddenly accept, embrace and surrender to the traditions and mores of modern society. I marvel at people who are my age - former activists, dreamers, militants, and all-around challengers of authority - who have become so thoroughly invested in cultural, religious, familial, and societal conformity. They have chosen to adhere to the expectations of appearance, accept the etiquette of the masses, follow in the footsteps of previous generations, and possess an overall concern with the opinions and values of the majority.

In short, they have begun to resemble the conservative, staid, judgmental, risk-free nature of the parents they once found objectionable at best.  

Have they forgotten the vows made as teenagers and young adults?

Have they chosen to ignore the disdain that they once felt for the rigidity and formality of the adult world?

Have they failed to remember the anthems of their youth?

I think so, and it makes me crazy. I thought that I would be a member of the generation that would tip conformity and convention on its head. I have been disappointed. The majority of people who are my age seem to have eased themselves into the stream of the compliance and traditionalism. This is why clever websites like My Parents Were Awesome are able to exist - as totems to the rebels these people once were. As the website says:

Before the fanny packs and Andrea Bocelli concerts, your parents (and grandparents) were once free-wheeling, fashion-forward, and super awesome.

I agree, but look at the majority of them now. Free-wheeling? Super awesome? That’s starting to become a harder and harder thing to say about many people my age. I see them giving up on the dreams of their youth, forgoing art and passion completely for cubicles and corporate culture. They are joining their father's companies, doing work that they do not love, and finding value in corner offices and career ladders rather than joyful exuberance and personal expression. 

It has made me so sad to watch. 

I tend to lean towards non-conformity. I always have. I challenge conventional wisdom whenever possible. I question the most basic rituals and procedures of society.

  • I almost always dress for comfort and personal preference rather than the expectations of others.
  • I refuse to wear any item of clothing (save sneakers) that that is adorned with a designer label.
  • I stopped wearing ties (long before Obama), finding them to be little more than decorated nooses with no discernible purpose.
  • I don’t drink coffee or tea, and I drink very little alcohol.
  • I still write embarrassing comments in the Memo sections of my checks when presenting them to friends as payment.
  • I tell revealing, embarrassing, occasionally shocking stories about myself on stage that many people advise me against.
  • I've read the Harry Potter series and Stephen King's The Dark Tower series three times each. 
  • When I guy shakes my hand with excessive force, I whine like a little girl, asking him why he’s so mean and trying to make him feel stupid.
  • I play music exceedingly loud in my car when I am alone.
  • When asked to indicate my position on a form at work, I write "Upright."
  • I often propose unconventional, radical, and occasionally (albeit arguably) offensive ideas on this blog and elsewhere.
  • I go to 7-11 in pajamas and slippers if I need something late at night.
  • I'm looking for people willing to play tackle football with me. 
  • When someone knocks on a locked bathroom door, I respond by shouting Monty Python quotes.
  • I still play video games with my friends from time to time (and would do so more often if I had the time).
  • I've been known to stay up way too late and wake up way too early. Often.
  • I punched someone more recently than anyone I know.
  • I think that dessert can be a part of breakfast, and I long for the day when I am still hungry enough to enjoy a slice of pie after my eggs and toast.
  • I eat ice cream for breakfast at least once a year just because I can.

If you were to ask my friends, they would likely identify me as one of Kottke’s type B adults.

Yet in many ways, I am very much one of Kottke's type A adults as well. 

  • I floss daily.
  • I like to think that I am financially responsible.
  • I may not eat as well as I should, but I try, and I work out at the gym almost daily.
  • I have my car serviced every 3000-5000 miles. 

The distinctions that Kottke makes - responsible versus irresponsible - are not quite accurate when describing these two forms of adults, but they are close.

I believe that a type B adult - the kind who does not conform to society’s expectations and challenges convention - can still be responsible when it comes to taking care of him or herself. Despite my desire to tip the world on its head, I don’t want my teeth to fall out, my house to be foreclosed upon, and my heart to explode at the age of 50. I would argue that a person can reject the traditional construct of adulthood while still maintaining a healthy, financially independent lifestyle.

One does not need to live in sloth and destitution in order to be - as someone recently described me - “interesting but difficult.”

Or as another person described me last year:

"Different, in a good way, but sometimes in not so good a way." 

A person can reject the trappings of adulthood and still floss regularly.

I wish more would. In both regards.

"Close to the chest" or "close to the vest?" The answer annoys the hell out of me.

I've heard this idiom spoken both ways:

  • "Play your cards close to the vest."
  • "Play your cards close to the chest."

So I wondered: Which of these is correct?

The answer: Both.

There is no definitive answer to this question. While it appears that "close to the vest" appeared first, "close to the chest" followed almost immediately, and today, both are used with equal frequency.

This annoys the hell out of me. I want there to be an answer. I want one of these idioms to be correct, and frankly, I want it to be "close to the vest."

This middling, indecisive linguistic uncertainty is stupid. 

As a writer, I'm thrilled with a variety of ways to express a single idea, but that variety should contain some actual variation rather than two words (vest and chest) that essentially mean the same thing in this context and rhyme. 

And it shouldn't be the result of an inability to decide upon a correct way of expressing a specific idiom.  

So I'm taking a stand. I say that "close to the vest" is correct and those who say "close to the chest" are heathens and cretins and socially unacceptable monsters. Linguistic criminals. Language murderers.

Disagree with my selection? Unsure if I'm right? Do a Google image search on "close to the vest" and "close to the chest" and see which set of images more closely capture the meaning of this idiom and which set of images make you marginally uncomfortable. 

Who is with me?

When I watch children's television, I ask questions about fictional funding (or the lack thereof)

My kids are currently watching large amounts of the television show The Octonauts.

They also own many Octonauts toys.

I tend to avoid watching these shows with my kids, and when I do, I rarely pay much attention. I listen to podcast, work on stories in my head, and make excuses to leave. Despite my best efforts, I've become familiar enough with the show to understand the basic characters and plot. 

The Octonauts follows an underwater exploring crew made up of stylized anthropomorphic animals. This team of eight adventurers live in an undersea base, the Octopod, from where they go on undersea adventures with the help of a fleet of aquatic vehicles.

When I watch this show, I can only think of one thing:

Who is funding this organization? It must cost a fortune to maintain this fleet of aquatic vehicles and this enormous undersea base, not to mention the salaries of these undersea scientists, who seem to be on duty at all times. 

Is this a government sponsored endeavor or privately maintained?

The same goes for Paw Patrol. a show about A boy named Ryder leads a pack of talking dogs known as the PAW Patrol. They work together on rescue missions to protect the city of Adventure Bay. The Paw Patrol has an enormous home base, equipped with a variety of vehicles, all positioned to rescue the idiots in Adventure Bay who can't keep themselves out of trouble.

Who is funding this canine rescue team? Does the government of Adventure Bay have enough tax dollars to fund a police force and a team of canine rescue experts?

I know it's silly to be asking these questions about a show designed for little kids, but I also don't want me daughter to think that these people can act with economic impunity. 

When is it too early to introduce the idea that all things - regardless of the good they may do - cost money?

Question: Which person alive today deserves immortality for the sake of future generations?

I saw Springsteen on Wednesday night. After watching him perform for almost four hours, I felt so fortunate to have seen him sing and play almost a dozen times over the course of my lifetime.

As I exited the stadium, I thought, "That man can never die. No one does it like him. No one will ever do it that way again. We need that man."

It got me to thinking:

If the Gods were kind and just, they would allow humankind to choose immortals. Human beings who we decide are so universally unique and beloved and needed that we can freeze them in time. Stop their aging process. Hold them as we have them now and forever more.

And it's not like we need an infinite amount of immortals. Let's say that we get ten names. Ten immortals to keep with us forever.

This is what I proposed to my friends as we left the stadium.

Who would those ten people be?

I added the stipulation that the person needs to be alive today. While someone like Abraham Lincoln might be deserving of immortality, once a person is dead, they cannot be brought back.

Given these parameters, which ten people deserve immortality? Who would we choose to keep in place forever?

Bruce Springsteen is on my list. 

I have yet to find a second name worthy of inclusion.

Enough power?

Do you think that these ten unevenly placed electrical outlets - located about a dozen feet in front of the McDonald's counter in a rest area off the Mass Pike - are enough?

I'm not so sure. Perhaps they should have covered the entire pole in outlets from floor to ceiling, just in case a busload of weary travelers want to charge their devices while simultaneously waiting in line for a Big Mac and a Coke. 

Richard Marx is trapped in my head, and I didn't even know it.

My wife decided that the theme of our next Speak Up show at Infinity Music Hall in Hartford would be "Should've Known Better."

We decided this in the car on the way to New York. As she spoke the words aloud, I said, "Isn't there a song called Should've Known Better? 

And there is. It's a Richard Marx song from 1987 - almost 30 years ago.

The song never hit #1 on any billboard chart.
I've never owned a Richard Marx album.
I don't have a song by Richard Marx in my iTunes library.
I was never a Richard Marx fan. 
The song probably hasn't been played on a radio station since 1990.

And yet when Elysha played the song, I knew every single word. 

That song - one I don't partuicularly like by a musician I never particularly enjoyed - has been living in my head for almost three decades, just waiting to come out. 

Even Elysha - a woman who has more music in her head than anyone I have ever known - didn't know the lyrics to this song.

I knew every single word. 

I can't help but wonder what else is living inside my head, waiting for the moment to raise its ugly head. What other song or memory or bit of trivia is still lying dormant, as pristine as the day it was encoded into my biological hard drive, waiting for someone to ask the right question and bring it forth?

The brain is a strange thing. Capable of forgetting something you were told five seconds ago yet also able to retain enormous chunks of information over decades without any effort to maintain the integrity of the data. 

Oh, and I took a look at Richard Marx's other hit songs., I know at least six others by heart. 

Perhaps the man is simply a virus. 

Butchers and doctors should not look alike.

Am I the only one who thinks it odd (and deeply disconcerting) that doctors and butchers dress so similarly for work?