Day 165: Develop your very own eccentricity!

In other words: become a hipster.

The problem is that this is a game that never ends. This dude wears crayons in his beard: for a while, he’s the only one — because it looks fucking stupid — and so he gets hipster cred for being the only one. But people see him, and people talk about him, and soon there are others: not people in his circle, but people who are strangers or, at best, very tenuously connected. For a while, each of them gets hipster points for the crayons-in-the-beard thing, though the above dude, as the “OCBG” (“original crayon-beard gangsta”), gets the most hipster points.

Then a terrible thing happens: a critical mass of crayon-bearded hipsters is reached, and suddenly it’s “mainstream.” There are a variety of factors that determine the critical mass: the size of the community, the geographical area in question, the rate of spread of the eccentricity, how quickly it is possible to “fake” the eccentricity (in this case, with handmade felt fake beards with old-school crayolas in them), the first appearance of the eccentricity on You Tube, &c, &c.

Once the critical mass is reached, however, there is no going back, and the originator(s) and early adopters will drop the eccentricity faster than Julia Roberts dropped Lyle Lovett. Some may go so far as to shave their beards completely. Then they have to do something new, like bring back the penny-farthing. Or, at this point, the velocipide.

The only way to win this game is to not play, to strip oneself of all affectations and eccentricities. Of course, this is its own form of hipsterism, if done in a deliberate and conscious manner, with the goal of not being a hipster, which is why I’d be doing it.

My only option is to come up with something that most hipsters wouldn’t want to adopt, so that I can avoid the suddenly-fucking-everyone-has-crayons-in-their-beard problem: that something is manual labor.

Not just “manual labor” generally, but something specific, like laundry or deck construction or post removal. Everybody does laundry; deck construction takes too long; post removal is more work than I want to do, especially when the posts are in concrete. So I’m going to go into artisanal tree-trimming: to make it hipster I’ll be wearing cutoff shorts, too-small t-shirts, a fedora, and I’ll be drinking PBR out of a can, and I’m going to haul my tools — all of which I’ll acquire at thrift stores, garage sales, or on the side of the highway — on my xtracycle. I’m also only going to trim trees in small batches, whatever that means, though I’m going to charge a lot for it, probably twice what it would cost to hire actual professionals to do four times as much trimming.

Let’s see you do that, hipsters. Check and mate.


Day 150: Reconnect with your aquatic origins…

“…by spending all of today underwater.”

This was tough.

I didn’t have easy access to a body of water that I could spend all day in — no swimming pools, no ponds, no stock tanks — so I spent all day in the bathtub. And by all day, I mean about an hour and a half.

It was the most boring ninety minutes of my life. The water was nice and hot for about twenty minutes, and lukewarm for another fifteen, and then it was cold. I turned into a prune, and then into a mummy, and then I began collapsing in on myself like a black hole. I wasn’t in a sensory deprivation chamber — I was in a bathroom, with the lights on, and with people knocking on the door and asking what the hell was going in there — but I started hallucinating at some point: flying monkeys and talking rocks and faceless men in bowler hats.

I don’t feel like a fish. I don’t feel like a walrus. I don’t feel like a shark, or a dolphin, or a clam, or a krill, or a giant squid.

I don’t like large bodies of water, and I don’t want to “reconnect with my aquatic origins.” Water is a necessary element — you can’t make beer without it — but it’s somewhat inhospitable in large quantities. If I’d spent all day (ninety minutes) in a larger container of water, even something as big as a hot tub or a children’s wading pool, I’d probably have drowned, or lost my mind and set something large and wooden on fire.

If you were to get dropped, alone, just yourself, in the middle of nowhere, a hundred miles from the nearest town, on land, you’d have a decent chance of surviving and getting back to civilization (at least if you’ve ever been outside in ‘nature’ before). If you were to get dropped in the ocean, a hundred miles from land, you’d be fucked. If you had an inflatable raft, it might take a little longer for you to die, but you’d probably still die.

Water doesn’t like you. It puts up with you, when there are small quantities of it, but when enough of it gets together you’d be wise to steer clear of it. In this, it’s like fire ants: if you find eight or a dozen walking along the sidewalk, you can stomp them or jeer at them or piss on them or whatever, but if you fuck with a colony they’re going to eat you alive.

What fire ants have to do with a bath, I have no idea. I guess I’m still recovering.

Day 148: Leave a note on someone’s car windshield.

Notes that get left on car windshields are always mean – passive-aggressive or aggressive-aggressive, or frighteningly violent – and I didn’t want to leave that kind of note. What to leave, though? Something “affirming,” but not too affirming.

“You’re doing a fine job. Keep it up.”

My friend Nathan and I say this to each other. If I remember correctly, it’s something his boss or a co-worker used to say to him – or maybe something he used to say? At any rate, it’s both affirming and sarcastic. The adjective changes: “adequate” is my favorite, I think, and occasionally one of us will use a “terrible” or a “pathetic” or something like that. We also only use it when the other is doing something really simple, like putting forks on the table or making coffee or just walking down the hall.

I made nine or ten of these. I put one on Carl – Carleton Livingstone Butterworth Goldsmith I, Duke of Somerset – who lives with my brother and his wife. I left a few on random windshields around Hampden, but windshields got boring pretty quickly.

I left one in a copy of Machine of Death in Atomic Books. I left one with (not as, because that’s not right) the tip for our waitress at 13.5% Wine Bar, where we drank beer instead of wine, because bottles were half off, and they had good bottles (I had a Brewdog Hardcore IPA and an Orkney Skullsplitter; my brother had a Petrus Aged Pale Ale and a St. Bernardus something-or-other). I left one on a bicycle – a nice vintage Peugeot – in front of a Rite-Aid (when I came back out of the Rite-Aid, the owner of that bicycle was preparing to ride off; the note was gone, so he’d obviously seen it, but it would have ruined the effect to have said anything).

I have one left, which I’m going to deploy somewhere in NYC tomorrow. I’ll keep you posted.

Day 143: Distribute these friendship coupons.

…for things like “one hug” and “honest advice” and “one round of drinks,” which turns into “one drinking binge,” to be followed with “one embarrassing secret” – although you’d have to give all the coupons to one friend in order to get that progression to work. That’s not a problem for me, because I don’t have any friends.

Seriously, though, I don’t like these things. They work for children, and what I mean is that they work for children of a certain age to give to parents, or caretakers, or whoever (whomever? —whatever), usually at the prompting of a different parent or caretaker or &c. I can remember making them as a youngish child, and Elanor is about the right age for such things (she has, in fact, given her mother a coupon good for a ‘tea party’, which is sweet, except that she made it with the expectation that Lorna would make the tea and cucumber sandwiches).

Coupons like this can be useful tools: they can teach children that familial relationships and friendships work because people who care about each other do things for each other – because love is expressed in sacrificial action, and the most meaningful sacrificial actions are those that seem most mundane: emptying the dishwasher, taking out the trash, folding the laundry, scrubbing the toilets, mucking out the pig-pen. At some point, though, they become bad things, because they encourage people to think about relationships as transactional.

If I buy a friend a drink, I’m not doing it because I gave that friend a silly piece of paper at some point when I felt guilty or otherwise obligated, and that friend then ‘cashed in’ the silly piece of paper. No, I buy friends drinks – rarely, but it happens – because that’s the kind of small sacrifice friendships are built on. More than that: the buying of a drink, or the receiving of a drink, is a symbolic, ritual action – it’s the outward sign of the communion that happens in the conversation and time shared over those exchanged drinks. It doesn’t matter if nothing ‘important’ gets discussed, which is usually the case when guys talk over drinks – although after a certain number, shit can get real – because the sacrifice, though a small one, hallows the entire experience.

Nobody gets hugs, though. Nobody.

Day 135: Subtext day.

I am supposed to “read between the lines” today.

Man, I don’t ever not read between the lines. Reading between the lines is what I get paid for. Not only that: I get paid to teach other people to read between the lines.

For example: remember this Budweiser commercial from the 2010 Super Bowl? The one where the dude has a house made of Bud Light? It’s not particularly impressive the first time one watches it: “Ha ha, silly man, doesn’t realize that the house is going to get deconstructed a can at a time in a round of good clean American fun and responsible drinking.” Something like that.

That’s not what the ad is about, though. It’s actually an anti-alcohol advertisement, and a fairly poignant one at that. The house: not only a primal symbol of domesticity and family life, but also a symbol of the American dream, with its neatly manicured lawn and Georgian-Colonial-Revival facade. The owner of this home – who, the ad implies, is also the builder of the home, further emphasizing that he is a man to be admired, respected, emulated – the owner has it made; he is living the dream; he is Homo Americanus Suburbians.

And yet: his house is made of the devil’s brew, and with each drink – each one so small, so insignificant – a mere twelve ounces of watery, flavorless malted-barley beverage – the house becomes more unstable, more un-homely, bleaker and sadder and less welcoming, until it collapses into a pile of empty cans and broken dreams, and the owner – once a beacon of virtue, uprightness, and the American Way – is homeless, a broken man, a shell of his former self.

We don’t see any of that in the ad, of course, but that’s part of its power: we’re shown the initial stages of the downward spiral, when everything is still “fun” and “harmless” and nobody’s thinking about the consequences. That’s all we’re shown, but it’s enough; the image lodges itself in our brains, and we ruminate on it, and soon – the next day, or the day after that, or the next week – we realize what the ad is really telling us, and we weep.

At least, I weep. In class, when I walk my students through this. They just look at me like I’m crazy, and I have to end class early because I can’t get my shit together. True story.

Day 134: Hack into a computer network.

Two impossible tasks in a row!

Not than hacking into a computer network is that hard, really: just that it’s beyond me. It’s definitely more beyond me now than it would have been in 2003 or 2004, both because the internet has changed and because I have not at all kept pace with those changes. I can still write a decent algorithm, I just can’t write it in anything except for terse English.

So instead of attempting something impossible and illegal – and while I’m on the subject, have I mentioned before that the Book seems keen on getting me arrested? – I decided to drink a beer, fold towels, and watch The Matrix: Reloaded.

I guess a lot of people were unimpressed by the sequels to The Matrix: certainly Reloaded and Revolutions both have moments that are unnecessary or ridiculous or unnecessarily ridiculous, but there are also some really interesting moments in both films. The fights are more elaborate, which appeals to me: nothing is awesome in quite the way that balletic kung-fu car-chase violence is awesome.

There’s also a lot of exploration of free will, determinism, choice, fate, &c, in Reloaded. A lot of it is very pop-philosophical, and some of it borders on silly, but there are also moments that allow one to engage in actual thought, which is good in a movie, sometimes. Right?

The best scene – the best not-a-fight-scene, I should say – and the best of the whole trilogy, I think, not just in Reloaded – has to be the conversation between Neo and the Architect. I actually used one of the Architect’s speeches – the “as you adequately put it, the problem is choice” bit – as the epigraph to a paper I wrote this semester, on free will in Reformation Europe, with an emphasis on Paradise Lost and Hamlet.

Also I used the word “grok” in that paper, because that’s the sort of ridiculous thing (humanities) academics get to do.

Day 126: Exercise your full rights as a consumer.

Apparently, the extent of my rights as a consumer is my right to buy “prepackaged material by the unit” – and not just prepackaged items in a larger package, like all those candies and little bags of chips that say “unit not labeled for individual sale,” but items that are loose in their packaging, like two Oreos or three eggs. Sort of like shopping in the bulk section, but in a way that makes the rest of the package unsalable.

I have no idea why anyone would want to do this – but, since I had to go to the grocery store anyway, I decided to give it a try anyway.

I had both kids with me, and anyone who’s taken children to the grocery store knows how awful that can be. Once, when I was a child, I crashed the cart – which my mother had, for some reason, allowed me to drive – into a display of glass jars full of pickles. The result was, of course, glass and pickles and brine all over the floor.

Nothing like that happened today, but there was an excessive amount of bickering and poking and whining and grabbing and buy-me-this-ing. I was on edge before we even got to the store, and by the time we got to the beer section – where I was going to ‘exercise my rights’ by buying a single bottle of beer – I was ready to start throwing pieces of raw meat at bystanders.

I selected the single I wanted to buy: a bottle of Stone’s Ruination IPA, a six-pack of which runs about $16. I put a bottle of it into my cart. I yelled spoke sternly to my children, again. I put a package of honey-roasted cashews one of them had grabbed back on the shelf, though with the cheap wine, and not the nuts. I started toward the registers, and snarled at an old lady on the way.

At the checkout, I unloaded my cart: bananas, grapefruit, onions, ground beef, chicken, cereal, corn tortillas, ibuprofen, washing soda, gluten-free rolled oats, eggs, orange juice, whatever. A bottle of beer.

The checker balked at the single bottle. I asserted my rights. She called her manager. He also balked. I re-asserted my rights. I yelled at the children. I told the dude behind me in line to piss off. The manager re-asserted his balking, and asked me to behave in an appropriate manner.

I paused. I thought about the question we often ask Jack when he’s misbehaving: was I making a good decision? No, I realized – I wasn’t. I needed to change my approach.

I grabbed the bottle of ibuprofen, opened it, poured a few into my hand, and dropped the rest of the bottle on the ground. I popped the pills, four or five of them, into my mouth. I grabbed the beer, opened it – I always carry one of these with me – and drank it, all of it, maintaining eye contact with the manager the whole time. He gave me a look of mounting disbelief, and I gave him a that’s-right,-what-the-fuck-are-you-going-to-do-about-it? look in return.

I set the empty bottle back on the conveyer belt, tossed a fiver at the checker, said “I don’t need any of this other shit,” and walked out. The children, after a moment of hesitation, followed.

I felt pretty damn good about myself. Like a boss.

Lorna made me go back and apologize.