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 156: Redesign an everyday object.

There are two ways this could go — two ways it does go, because this happens all the time — the object in question can become genuinely better or more useful (the iPhone being the best recent example I can think of); it’s far more common, though, for the object to just get more complicated, without becoming any more useful, and often complication makes the object less useful. To wit:

Any idiot design student can take something that works just fine and render it non-functional — and I could have taken that route, no problem: spill-proof glasses which are hollow spheres, energy-saving lamps that don’t turn on, fans with no blades, &c.

I didn’t want to bullshit my way through this task, though; I wanted to do more than “redesign” something: I wanted to reinvent, to revolutionize — and I wanted a technology so old and so ubiquitous that people don’t even think of it as technology anymore.

As an aside: I’ve been using a lot of italics lately, and I’m not sure why. It just feels right, is all. Also I’ve started using longer dashes, and probably nobody cares, but I love dashes — Sterne’s Tristram Shandy is full of dashes, of all sorts of lengths, and they’re one of the many things I love about that novel.

Anyway, about the “everyday object” I chose to radically improve:

I chose rocks.

There’s an old episode of The Simpsons in which Bart and Lisa play rock/paper/scissors — as another aside, I have no idea what that should look like in print — and Bart picks rock, like always, and thinks to himself: “Good old rock; nothing beats that!” — and loses, because, of course, paper beats rock.

Well, not anymore. And that’s not all — except I can’t really tell you what else the New Rock™ does, or what modifications I’ve made, because the patent isn’t filed yet, and I don’t want my brilliant ideas stolen. Rest assured, though, New Rock™ will change your life in ways you can’t imagine: New Rock™ will not only replace your old rocks, it will replace your blender, your kitchen knives, your plunger, your spouse, and your sense of self-worth.

New Rock™: this shit just got real.


Day 116: Siesta day.

The Book wanted me to nap from about 11 this morning to about 2 this afternoon – as an “experiment with the concept of siesta.”

Napping is not something I have to experiment with: I love naps. In a perfect world, I would nap every day after lunch. Not three hours – although sometimes a ridiculously long nap is wonderful – but half an hour. Maybe 45 minutes. Just enough to get past that post-lunch drowsiness (and I’m always a bit drowsy post-lunch, because lunch always involves a few glasses of wine or beer).

This is not a perfect world, though, and I almost never get to nap. There’s always something to do – as if taking a nap isn’t doing something – and on those occasions when I think there’s actually not something to do, when I might actually be able to get away with taking a short nap, something requiring urgent attention materializes, usually about 60 seconds after I’ve lain down and gotten comfortable. If not that, then the children appear from wherever it is they are when I’m not paying attention to them, and demand that I not be asleep. The children hate for me to be asleep: they don’t want me to be happy, and sleeping makes me happy, and so they are constitutionally incapable of letting me sleep – during the day or at night.

There’s always something to do that gets in the way of napping: today, instead of having a siesta, I had conferences with my students about their final papers. I tried to zone out, to not really pay attention, to ‘sleep on my feet’ – but they kept talking to me, kept asking me questions, kept wanting me to read things, blah blah blah. Some of them didn’t even get the hint when I laid my head down on my desk and made snoring noises. By the time the last conference was over – around two in the afternoon – the optimal time for napping had passed. Damn kids.

I tried to make the best of a bad job, though, and did some things to try and wake myself back up, things that I thought might have similar effects to a nap: I had some coffee, I took a short wander around campus, I yelled at some people, I waded in one of the fountains, I looked at pictures of cats with funny captions on the internet — and then I was ready to work.

And by “work” I mean write this post; I do have a paper to work on, but all that “waking myself up” made me tired, and I don’t want to think and/or write anymore.

I think I’m going to have a siesta, instead.


Days 109 & 110, part two.

The results of this experiment were, as I think we all expected, wildly inconclusive.

Yesterday was a more-or-less neutral day, luck-wise. Sure, there were some minor inconveniences early on — I was lying about the hat, though, by the way — but not nearly enough to count as bad luck. It was a day: a long day, a day in which I got some work done, but not all the work, a day in which I drank more coffee than is probably good for me, and didn’t sleep enough – and so on.

I managed to get out of bed on my left foot this morning, because I stayed last night at Lorna’s cousin Jared’s house – Jared very graciously lets me drink his alcohol and eat his food and sleep in his guest room the nights I have class until later than people should have class – and the bed is positioned in the room in such a way that one has to get out left-foot-first.

Today has been not that different from yesterday. It’s had good moments – like having fried egg and avocado sandwiches for (late) dinner with my wife – and it’s had the tedium of commuting and traffic, and there has been working and not getting everything done and there will be not-getting-enough-sleep again tonight. It’s raining, and it was overcast and cool today, which has been nice.

Nothing’s happened, though, that I would consider lucky or unlucky. I didn’t find money. I didn’t break my fingers in a freak stapling accident. A bottle of bourbon did not spontaneously appear in my office. My car was where I left it, with all its windows intact. I made it home safely. Et cetera.

I didn’t expect anything lucky to happen, of course, because I get out of bed on one foot or the other every fucking day, and lucky or unlucky things don’t happen every day. If they did, they would cease to be lucky, wouldn’t they?

Except Lucky Charms, I guess. They’re always lucky. And now I want a bowl of them, dammit. I’m going to crave them for weeks until I finally break down and buy a box, and the first few bites are going to be awesome, but by the end of the first bowl I’m going to regret buying them, but I’m going to have to finish the box, because I can’t let them go to waste – and it’ll take four or five years for me to forget that they’re not worth it, and then I’ll buy another box, and do it all over again.

Fucking leprechaun.


Day 73: Get a hobby.

Hobby is a word with an interesting history. I looked it up – in the OED, where else? – because the definition I carry around in my head is both precise and nebulous: I can think of plenty of things that are hobbies, and I understand the connections between these disparate activities, but I didn’t think I could articulate the definition in a lucid, concise, and accurate manner.

The OED does lucid, concise, and accurate pretty well: 5. A favourite occupation or topic, pursued merely for the amusement or interest that it affords, and which is compared to the riding of a toy horse (sense 3); an individual pursuit to which a person is devoted (in the speaker’s opinion) out of proportion to its real importance.

Notice the bit about the “toy horse” – that’s a hobby-horse, which is, at its simplest, a wooden rod with a horse head at one end. This sense of “hobby-horse [4]” dates (in print, at least) to 1589, and by 1676 “hobby-horse [6]” also meant “a favourite pursuit or pastime” – and it wasn’t until 1816 that this sense of “hobby-horse” was shortened to “hobby” in the sense quoted above.

So: hobby-horse [4] as toy horse (1589) begets hobby-horse [6] as pastime (1676) begets hobby [5] as (somewhat childish and foolish) pastime (1816). As an aside: the dates in the OED are the dates that words first appeared in print (or manuscript, in some cases, and electronically, possibly, in others) – because there are records of these things – but, for example, “hobby” was probably used in speech to mean “a favourite occupation” much earlier than 1816, if only because people like to shorten things. Personally, I’d probably get tired of saying “hobby-horse” after about twenty minutes.

The earliest definition of “hobby” is a small or middle-sized horse; an ambling or pacing horse; a pony, and this definition dates (in print, in modern English) to about 1400 – and it comes from an older Middle-English word. So there. This (original) sense of the word “hobby” persisted until at least 1860, which may account for why “hobby” [5] didn’t become short for “hobby-horse” [6] until 1816.

There are, amazingly, a few other senses of “hobby-horse” worth mentioning. For a few brief years around 1820, a “hobby-horse” [5] was a kind of push-bicycle, a contraption that seems both ridiculous and ridiculously inefficient, or at least less efficient than walking – except maybe going downhill. It was forty years after this when somebody finally got the idea to add cranks and pedals, and the precursor to the modern bicycle was born.

The best sense of the word “hobby-horse,” however, first appeared in Shakespeare’s Loves Labours Lost (1598) (and again in Much Ado About Nothing, a few years later): A lustful person; a loose woman, prostitute. That’s right: a loose woman. This sense is, arguably, still present in Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, the first volumes of which were published in 1759 – but probably none of you will ever read it, because I seem to be one of the few people anywhere who actually enjoys it, so you don’t need to remember that any time Uncle Toby’s hobby-horse comes up, there’s a joke about prostitutes.

While this sense of “hobby-horse” never appears in print as just “hobby” – at least in the estimation of the editors of the OED – I find it hard to believe, given the closely-interrelated histories of the two words, that no instance of the word “hobby” ever puns on “hobby-horse meaning loose woman.” It’s just too good not to have happened.

Thus: I’m interpreting today’s task as “get a loose woman” – and I’m going to re-interpret that as “get a woman loose.” So, if you’ll excuse me, I have a wife to massage.

QED, motherfuckers.


Day 70: Are you a psychopath?

The Book provides a test, about the accuracy of which I have my doubts. So rather than putting myself through something that’s the equivalent of something like this – and which only tests for one thing! – I’m going to post a short story I wrote back in August of 2008, and let you judge my mental health for yourselves.

Grey House, Red Door

My grandfather bought the house on Laurel Street in 1946, when he came home from the war. Within a month, he had married (and impregnated) his high school sweetheart, and they lived together in that house, with its grey asbestos-tile siding and bright red front door, for the rest of their lives.

I didn’t find out that my grandparents were dead until six months after my grandfather was in the ground, and it was the executor of his will who broke the news to me. I’m a bit estranged from the family, which is why he had to tell me – probably also why it took him so long to find me, since no one in the family except my grandfather had any idea where I was.

The lawyer had come to find me because my grandfather had left me the house. I loved that house growing up; it was the scene of all my childhood holidays, Christmases and Easters and long stretches of summers. I was never as happy at home as I was there, and my grandfather knew it, I suppose, which is maybe why he left me the house. Also, no one else wanted it. The rest of the family had made it quite clear they had no desire to live in a small town.

So that’s why I packed my life into my ’84 Toyota Camry and drove halfway across the country to the house I never thought I’d see again, the house that was now my home.

••

My grandfather left me the house, I said. He didn’t specifically leave me any of the things inside the house; so it was, naturally, completely empty when I arrived. No furniture, no stove, no refrigerator, no dishwasher – the kitchen sink was still there, but one of the toilets was gone. Who steals a toilet from a dead man’s house?

••

My car somehow made the trip from Seattle to Texas, but it refused to go any further once it was parked in my new driveway. I eventually traded it to some random guy in a pickup for a box of old tools and two rusty bicycles. To be fair, it had already made the trip croos-country once, in the other direction, and maybe coming back was more than it could take. It was almost more than I could take.

I left home the day I graduated high school. I’d gotten up early, thrown my clothes and my books into the car and tied my bike to the roof, so I could leave town as soon as I got my diploma. I left the ceremony early so I wouldn’t have to tell my parents goodbye, and I never looked back. The only person I had any contact with was my grandfather, and that was sporadic, at best.

I never got the impression from him that anyone was that upset that I’d left.

••

I didn’t come home with much to show for my time away, at least in material terms. A few more books, a few more bikes, new underwear. But it still all fit in that stupid car.

It comes from not working any more than I had to to survive. I lived in one-room apartments and ate beans and rice or corned beef and cabbage, but I had plenty of time to read and bicycle and hike. Also, it prepared me to live in a house with no furniture.

••

I said before that the house was empty when I moved in, but that’s not entirely accurate. The pantry had a few things left in it. There were some canned goods that looked like they pre-dated the Vietnam war. There was a dusty bottle of bourbon in a bottom corner, which must have been overlooked by the raiding parties. And there was an old coffee can on the top shelf, at the back, which was stuffed full of money. My grandfather never put all his eggs in one basket. That’s why I didn’t have to bother with a job.

It’s also why I started drinking.

I wasn’t much of a drinker in Seattle – would’ve meant more time at work. But that first night, I had no food (and no can opener, even if I’d felt like eating really old creamed corn) and no car, and no idea where to find a grocery store, and so I got drunk. When I woke up hung over, I drank some more. I don’t remember much of those first few days, but I must’ve stumbled to the grocery store at some point, because when the fog finally lifted, there was food in the kitchen and a shopping cart in the garage.

••

When I was a little kid, my father would sometimes zip me up in a big suitcase and leave me in the closet in my bedroom. Usually he let me out after a few hours, but he’d occasionally forget about me, and I’d spend all night in the closet, zipped up in that suitcase.

••

I fell into a routine pretty quickly, for someone with no job and no friends, and no desire to get involved with anyone or anything in the community. When I woke up, whenever that happened to be, I would eat some breakfast, and then ride my bike for most of the day. Some days I would stay home and read, but most days I rode.

One of the nice things about rural Texas is that it’s crisscrossed with farm-to-market roads and two-lane highways, so that it’s easy to get lost, but just as easy to find another way back to where you started from. I spent my first few months re-discovering the backroads that my grandfather used to take me out on, teaching me to drive in his old Ford pickup, and lying to my parents about it when we came back in.

Some days I would get so caught up in the ride that I’d lose track of time, and I’d find myself across the county at dusk. I spent more than one night in some farmer’s field, as hidden as I could get without getting too far from the road, waking up to find a herd of cattle grazing a few yards away.

Oddly enough, I think I slept better those nights than I did at home.

••

The city didn’t allow the sale of liquor inside the city limits, so there was at least one liquor store on every road out of town, as close to the city limit as legally allowed. So I passed a liquor store almost every day, because most of my rides took me out into the county. Some days I rode past them; some days I stopped, and bought a bottle of scotch, and drank myself stupid. Usually I lost a day when I did that, but I didn’t usually know what day it was, anyway.

When I got back on my bike after a bender like that, I would ride into the hills north of town, and slog up them in as high a gear as I could until I threw up, and then I’d go home. Sometimes, though, I’d sit on the side of the road and sob for hours.

Those days usually ended with getting drunk again.

••

I’d lived in the house for almost nine months before I got a water bill from the city. I went to city hall and paid it, and didn’t bother telling them I wasn’t Miguel Gonzales. I only bothered to pay it at all because water was the one utility I needed.

I threw my trash away in my neighbors’ cans or the dumpsters of nearby businesses. I didn’t use any electricity – I didn’t have any appliances, or a TV, or a phone. I used candles for light, and used the fireplace in the winter to keep warm. By then I’d bought a mattress and a half-dozen blankets at Goodwill, so I stayed warm enough. When it was hot outside, I was just hot.

One week, toward the end of December, there was an ice storm, which was unusual for that part of Texas. I’d overheard some of the locals talking about the forecast at the grocery store the day before it hit, so I was able to stock up on firewood, food, and whiskey. I spent most of that week drunk, and cold, because I kept passing out and letting the fire die.

That was a bad week.

••

A few months after I moved into my grandfather’s house, I decided to circumnavigate the county on my bike. It was a disaster. I thought I knew my way around, mostly, and was arrogant enough to still not have bought a map of the area. So naturally, I got lost.

Toward dusk, I was coming down a county road that I thought would run into a road back into town. It didn’t. And I found myself, almost at sunset, at an intersection with a road I didn’t know, and no real idea which way the town was. I should’ve just quit there and slept in a field by the side of the road, or turned around and gone back the way I’d come until I got my bearings again. Instead, I turned onto the road I didn’t know, and kept riding  until almost midnight, turning every time I came to a road that looked more promising, until I finally couldn’t ride anymore.

The next morning, after an hour or so of riding, I found myself in a little town I’d never even heard of before, in a completely different county. The waitress at the diner I had breakfast in looked at me like I was crazy, but eventually told me how to get to the state highway that would get me home. The next day I bought a map.

••

One morning I woke up in a ball on the floor of my hall closet, with a terrible headache, clutching an empty bottle of scotch. I had to spend the rest of the day in my yard, trying to shake the feeling of being in a suitcase.

••

I lived in my grandfather’s house for a year and a day. Maybe two days. It doesn’t matter.

I came home from a ride one day to find the house burned down, or mostly so. What was left of it was still smoldering. The garage didn’t burn, so my bikes were okay, and the twenty dollar fire-safe-box I got at Wal-Mart actually worked, so the cash I had left and the deed to the house were fine, but everything else was ruined – not that I had that much stuff to begin with.

The fire marshal said the fire was caused by faulty wiring, which pisses me off, because I didn’t even use the wiring. I didn’t think there was even electricity coming to the house. Stupid fucking wires.

Anyway. I rented a cheap apartment. I bought new clothes. I had what was left of the house cleared off the lot, and then I sold it. I bought an old VW van with a bunk in the back, loaded my stuff into it, left town, and never looked back.


Day 43: This evening, write a proper diary account of your day.

I apologize in advance if this is boring.

Slept in this morning. That is, Jack woke me up about 8 a.m. – though, thanks to the magic of motion picture technology, I didn’t actually have to face the world until 8:45 or so. Got dressed. Thought about making breakfast. Opened the curtains in the living room – and saw the dogs, who are supposed to remain in the (fenced) back yard, out in the neighbor’s yard. The stupid-but-obedient one came in when I called, but the smart-and-rebellious one took off running, so I had to put shoes on and go after her (in the car – damn dogs will get in any car that stops for them – and I’m tired of chasing them down on foot).

Made breakfast: scrambled eggs cooked in bacon jam. Made coffee. Drank coffee. Washed dishes. Lorna and Jack left; Elanor was already gone (she spent the night with my in-laws), so I had the house to myself. Threw a drunken party. Drank some more coffee, tidied up the house a bit. Went on a short bike ride – we’re in a raw milk co-op, and I had to drop off the empty jugs at the droppin’-off place. Came home, drank more coffee. Thought about eating lunch, had a glass of wine instead.

Did some writing, which involved a fair amount of pacing around the house. Thought about taking a nap, but didn’t. Ate something resembling lunch around three in the afternoon. Answered a few emails, goofed off, tried to write some more. Lorna and the kids got home around 5. I put some bacon in the oven, and Lorna started making pancakes.

Around 6, people started showing up for the smallgroup that meets at our house on Saturdays – and that was the point at which Jack decided to melt down for the day. Because Lorna was still making pancakes (and because people like her more than they like me, and because she’d been dealing with Jack all day), I took Jack to bed. He was not happy. He pitched a very long fit, but eventually calmed down enough to let me read to him – the Tales of Benjamin Bunny and Squirrel Nutkin. Then Lorna read to him for a bit, and I got to hang out and eat some dinner – bacon pancakes, pork medallions, orange chicken, some sort of rice thing – and then I went back to dealing with Jack, who finally fell asleep around 8.

Everybody had gone home by 9. I finished tidying up the kitchen (though most of the work had already been done, because I have awesome friends). I read to Elanor – we’re a few chapters into Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I went to go pick up the milk from the picking-up place. I turned off lights, locked doors, poured myself a scotch, and got into bed. I wrote this blog post. Now, I’m going to (try to) do a bit of reading before I give up and go to bed.