Archive | June, 2011

Boo Hoo

30 Jun

Crying can be a funny thing.  Well, not funny exactly.  It can be touching or heartbreaking or uncomfortable or communicative or frantic or…I guess funny.  Like, if it’s your enemy or something.

But for a guy, crying is weird.  You’re supposed to be able to handle when other people do it, but you can’t really get away with doing it yourself.  Personally, that’s where I sit at least.  I understand what to do when other people cry (I’ve taught preschool; I’ve had girlfriends), but it’s hard for me to really break down.  It’s like how I can read and hear Spanish better than I can speak it.

There are lots of different kinds of crying.  They generally fall into two categories.  We’ll call them “Weeping” and “Sobbing.”  Weeping is a passive cry.  Tears fall out of your eyes.  You deal with them.  Sobbing is an active cry.  You really put your body into it.  Beyond those two subsets, crying falls into several more specific categories.

Something In My Eye/Is Someone Cutting Onions In Here?

This cry could almost be chalked up to atmospheric conditions.  After all, lots of factors can physiologically make eyes water.  Wind, exhaustion, onions, pollen.

This cry can only be differentiated by context.  Is the crier watching “The Notebook?”  Is the crier at the wedding of a childhood friend?

If the crier is male, there are only a few circumstances that make it comfortable to be crying.  Did the crier just win the Super Bowl the week of his grandfather’s death?  Did someone shoot the crier directly in the tear duct with a gun?

Look, I’m not saying I like it or that it’s fair.  I’m just reporting my experiences.  I’m kind of a wimp, and I will tear up when the good guy sports team wins in movies.  Yes, even “The Sandlot.”  What…I mean…nothing.

Next category…

The Just Gimme a Second

This cry looks a lot like the first one, with the exception that some combination of its intensity and duration necessitate a cleanup of tears.  Generally the back of the hand and a strong sniffle get the job done.  In more severe cases, the crier may employ a tissue.

Generally this is a good news cry.  Weddings.  Engagements.  So good romantic news, I guess.  Business mergers, not so much.

Here’s where we move into sobbing territory.

The Bad News Cry

Here’s where the line gets drawn.  A good news cry is usually anticipateable.  You see it coming.  You’re invited to the wedding.  A guy gets down on one knee.  The movie is called “Remember The Titans.”

A bad news cry has emotion, plus surprise, plus…well…bad news.  A bad news cry is generally a weep, not a sob.  There’s a shudder at least.  Like being physically confronted with something.  Losing a job.  Hitting an animal with your car by accident.  Bad grades.  A death in the family.

The Dry Heave

This one’s the worst you’ll likely see in public.  It’s only appropriate for the death of a child or spouse.  Or a surprise announcement of a divorce.  We’ve all seen someone misappropriate this cry for other circumstances.  It’s awkward.  It’s like: “Dude, we all wanted to see another season of ‘Arrested Development.’  Pull it together.  It looks like you’re about to puke.”

It’s one thing to not be able to hold it together.  It’s another thing to not even try.

The Rock and Roll

The Rock and Roll is a full-on tantrum.  Writhing on the floor.  Screaming.  Sobbing.  If an adult does this, just run away.

So there you have it.  Hope this helps.  Sorry about your loss.

True Story

29 Jun

Guys, I like to hear a dirty story as much as anyone else.  Maybe more than  most.  My favorite are the kinds where sex/love/romance become endearingly embarrassing (possibly because those are the stories that I tend to accumulate myself).  One time, at a party, a girl told me that she had hooked up with a guy, realized she was too drunk not to pee in the bed, and slept in a trash bag.  The next morning she woke up, realizing that she had indeed wet the bed, and she sack raced home to her own apartment.  I demanded to be instant best friends with her.

Here’s what I don’t like: Sex stories where the storyteller is clearly the hero.  It’s all fine and good to tell a story with a happy ending, but it’s no fun just hearing about how smooth someone is with ladies or gentlemen.  There’s a reason why there’s not a reporter waiting outside your door for a postgame interview when you’re doing making out.  No one wants to hear it.

Example:

I have a buddy who doesn’t get how storytelling works.  For a story to have drama, the hero has to overcome some sort of adversity.  Not this dude.  It’s just a wire to wire brag fest.  Here is an example of a story he might tell…

“So my buddy Dave wanted me to go out to this bar with him, but I’d just woken up from a nap because I’d been benching like three-fifty all morning.  So I’m pretty wiped out, but I’m still huge, so no big deal.  We go out to this place.  There’s a long line and they’re pretty much only letting chicks in but we get in I think because I’m bigger than the bouncer or whatever.

Keep in mind, dude, I’m wearing like, sweatpants and a white t-shirt with a pizza stain on it.  I’m not even talking or dancing.  I’m just standing in the corner reading Camus’s The Stranger in French, because why the hell not, right?  This girl comes up to me…doesn’t even say hello, just throws a tequila shot into my mouth and then sucks it out with her mouth.  Which is crazy because all I’d had for dinner was an entire bulb of garlic since it helps with my family history of cholesterol.

We end up back at her place.  It turns out her friends are all off-duty strippers [Which, writer’s note, I don’t think you’re an “off-duty stripper,” it’s not like a cop where you’re always kind of a cop.  You’re either stripping or you’re not.] and they just start making out.  So here’s the problem, dude.  It’s like a shell game.  They’re all making out, and I don’t know which girl is mine.  So I just jump in and start making out too.  It’s just like a sea of smoking hot chicks and me.  And did I mention that I hadn’t showered in a week and was wearing Groucho Marx glasses?

Finally, the first girl brings me into her room.  I take of my shirt and she literally passes out.  Faints dead away.  So I start doing chest compressions and mouth to mouth.  She comes to.  We’re making out again.  She says something about never having seen so many abs on one man before.  Whatever, I do crunches.

Now we’re on the bed, and we’re making out hardcore.  Seriously, the friction between the mattress and the box spring actually ignites a fire that consumes the whole house. Fortunately, we’re going at it so hard that a glass of water falls off of her night stand onto this science project she’d been working on (she’s also a physicist, dog) and we go BACK IN TIME TO THE BAR WHERE WE MET!  This time, when she comes over, I just tell her thanks but no thanks, and I buy a shot of Patrón for her whole party.”

It’s like, okay, dude, we get it.  Girls like you.

But also, technically, since you went back in time to earlier in the night…it never happened.  And then he’s like “You’re a nerd,” and I go home and eat a Friendly’s sundae cup.

Working Overtime

28 Jun

Whether you’re Dane Cook headlining Madison Square Garden to a teeming throng of adoring fans or a local unknown powering through a forty-five minute set at a regulars bar where the patrons didn’t even expect comedy, there’s still just one name for the job: Comedian.

Yesterday I woke up in New York (where I was visiting Gaby and my buddy Mark), wrote, had lunch with the aforementioned Gaby and Mark, then took a bus home.  From the bus I took the subway to my car, sucked down a coffee, and began my work day at seven in the evening.  I hosted my weekly open mic at Sally O’Brien’s in Somerville, and then I went back to my house with friend and comedian Dan Boulger to regroup for our second show.

“But Josh, where in Boston would you do a second show after 10pm on a Monday?” you may ask.

Well, internet readers.  Sometimes a high school decides that after graduation or prom, its students need to be locked in a secure location to keep the kids from drunkenly driving around town while having sexual intercourse and committing treason.  They call this event a “lock-in.”  Around 2am, they bring in a professional entertainer because they figure the kids are bored of whatever stimulus has already been provided, and the chaperones worry about kids choking each other out for a head rush, I imagine.

So at a quarter past midnight, Dan and I strike out for a small town in Connecticut.  I’m driving, so I’ve already sucked down two Coca-Colas at a bar while Dan put down a beer or two in an effort to steel himself against the judgy eyes of sleepy, horny, ostensibly sober high school seniors.  We stopped for coffee almost immediately.

We both felt a little nervy on the ride down.  The trouble with high school (and sometimes college) crowds is often that you’re asked to be clean by the administration, but there’s nothing the audience wants more than dirty jokes.  Dan and I crossed our fingers for the best and prepared for…let’s just say…not the best. (A quick aside: Dan and I had our first paid gig on the same night at the United States Military Academy at West Point.  We performed under a giant portrait of President Eisenhower.  So…it gets weird sometimes.)

We pulled up to a giant athletics complex.  Outside, surrounded by a fence, sat six students smoking cigarettes.  Half of the males were shirtless.  The chaperone introduced himself.  He was very nice.  “Do whatever,” he told us.  “Just not too many f-bombs.”  Dan and I breathed a sigh or relief.

We walked into the complex and saw before us: Astroturf fields for football, soccer, and frisbee.  Basketball courts.  Bouncy castles.  A mechanical bull.  Our eyes lit up.  In the span of one minute, this went from potentially a hell gig to what my friend Andy Sandford calls a “swell gig.”

We rode a the mechanical bull.  We had an obstacle course race in a bouncy castle (where a chaperone yelled at me to take off my glasses).  We dunked on 8 foot basketball rims.  Then, we did an hour of comedy, and it was pretty good.  The students were remarkably attentive given the hour.  The administrators seemed happy.  Then we got in the car and drove home.  I fell asleep at about 5:30 am, having woken up at 8 the morning before.

And sometimes, gang, that’s comedy.

 

Trends With Benefits: Call It a Comeback!

27 Jun

Within the hipster community, the popularity of vinyl, Polaroid film, and other near-obsolete technology has surged in recent years.  In an increasingly digitized age, there is a certain vogue to analog technology.  What’s next?  Will it be a reemergence of horse and buggy transportation (it’s green, too, so hot right now) or a series of hard to find crossbow shooting galleries around Portland, Austin, and Brooklyn?

Well, dear reader.  Worry not about being left in the present while the culture of the future plunges boldly ahead into the past (what?).  Today’s installment of Trends With Benefits predicts the next popular wave of ironic nostalgia.

1. Phone Booths

Sure, everyone has a cellular phone nowadays.  And smart phones with zillions of features and apps are getting more and more popular.  But don’t you miss the halcyon days of standing in a transparent glass prism shouting a conversation into a filthy public telephone?

The phone booths of tomorrow will offer a charger for your dead/dying cell phone battery and all the prestige of having a tiny corner office in the middle of the sidewalk.  Plus, it gives hipsters a trendy spot to trade crushed up Adderall and Ecstasy pills, just like the drug deals of yore!

2. Anabolic Steroids

After Barry Bonds, Mark Maguire and Sammy Sosa went on their bigheaded home run rampages a decade ago, steroids have gone out of vogue.  Well, leave it to hipsters to revive an era of our history that no one really liked very much to begin with.

And the ultimate irony, a bunch of waif thin twerps have no physical reason to take steroids, but they will be able to blog WITH THE STRENGTH AND FURY OF TEN MEN!

3. Baggy Pants

In urban culture, the popularity of baggy pants has not waned the same way it has in the suburban communities.  But, just as certain sects of white culture “ironically” enjoy rap music (“They’re poor by accident, isn’t that funny?”), this fashion will come into style via a tongue in cheek cultural absorption.

Picture this, a 20-something guy or girl, caucasian, wearing oversized Fubu or Phat Farm jeans.  They sag below the buttocks to reveal underneath…a pair of skin tight thrift store jeans.

4. Polio

Vaccinations have all but eradicated the disease in the US.  It is, however, still present in small numbers in the third world.  This hits the hipster trifecta of diversity, obscurity, and obsolescence.  I’m imagining a lot of hipster Halloween costumes consisting of an eye patch, a cigarette, and a wheelchair.  Trick or treat, it’s FDArrghhh.

5. Jam Bands/Free Jazz

When you’re talking about “cool” culture, possibly the most important element is the elusive ability to try super hard without looking like you’re trying at all.  Jam bands and free jazz ensembles typify this aesthetic.

With the Grateful Dead split up into demi-groups and Phish going on again and off again like Michael Cera and whatever bangs-sporting waif he’s failing to lock it down with in his latest movie, there’s been a definite void in the noodle-verse, man.  Plus, we’ve pretty much all caught on to jazz’s crap by now.

In 2012, I’m envisioning huge success for a jazz/classic rock fusion by the name of Miles Jefferson Davis Starship.

6. True Love

We get it.  You’re too cool to get attached because love is dead and probably you had emotionally unavailable parents and a bad high school breakup.

In the future, there’s going to be a return to old school romance, but in a real smug way.  A lot of Journey songs snickered at at lavish weddings.  Probably a bunch of parents adopting kids of the same race because “nobody does that anymore.”  Lots of “Where’s The Beef?” t-shirts given as gag 50th anniversary presents.

7. Irony

This whole irony thing is pretty played out.  This one will probably take a little while longer to emerge, but it’s going to be a doozy.

After a suitable mourning period, irony will make its own ironic comeback.  It will be harder to identify what is actual irony and what is double-irony.  You’d probably need some sort of philosophy doctorate.  You’d have to be what I call a “meta-rinarian,” which is a pun that will become double ironically cool.  Or regularly ironically uncool.  Or not cool at all.  It’s hard to tell.

It’s hard to be hip, guys.

It’s Running Cats and Dogs

24 Jun

Are you a dog person or a cat person?  It is a question that people assume can tell you a lot about someone.  “Dog people” value loyalty, warmth, and compassion.  “Cat people” prize beauty, independence, and resilience.

But the dog/cat dichotomy implies that there are only two kinds of people.  It resembles like our political system.  We’ve whittled it down to a handy binary set of options.  Red state.  Blue state.  Democrat.  Republican.  Dog.  Cat.

But here is the dirty secret.  Cats and dogs are not that different.  They are furry, domesticated quadrupeds that drink from bowls.  In the grand scheme of things, they’re roughly the same size.  People like to draw battle lines and take a stand, but in the end, cat people and dog people basically want the same things.  Something they can care about who cares back unconditionally.

It is the same with politics.  Over the past several years, for better or worse, we have seen a shift towards centrism.  President Obama has continued the Bush tax cuts and sent more troops to Afghanistan.  Moreover, he has made a concerted effort towards compromise and bipartisanship.  We also have our modern day “compassionate conservatives,” who are the same folks who might say: “You’d love my cat!  He’s just like a dog!”

At the end of the day, though, we have become a nation of cat people and dog people.  Folks who paint themselves as opposites but have more in common maybe than they are willing to admit.  Chocolate ice cream.  Vanilla ice cream.

Fortunately, however, this year’s field of presidential hopefuls shatters that paradigm.  The Republicans alone present such a strange diversity that we cannot easily put them under the “cat” or “dog” umbrellas.  We need a new set of categories altogether.  I have created some, and I will give you the rundown.

Barack Obama“Dog Person”
I alluded to this earlier on.  Our president is a classic dog person type.  He is concerned with everyone liking him.  He seems loyal and friendly, but he becomes aggressive when threatened (See: Libya).  A cat person president would have brought Osama Bin Laden back as a trophy like a bird or a rat.  Not a dog person president.  Burial at sea.  Most strikingly, people are fascinated by his ethnic mix.  He is our puggle president.  (Or labradoodle, if that is more respectful.)

Mitt Romney“Cat Person”
Romney displays classic cat person features.  He is handsome, yet slightly aloof.  He believes in corporate interest and has excelled in business.  The ultimate cat quality is the ability to seem totally indifferent to people that clearly love you.  In this analogy, the cat is Mitt Romney, and the people are poor people who vote for him.  Plus, it is really fun to picture Romney stroking a cat with one arm while explaining a plot or scheme to another country’s spy.

Sarah Palin – “Goldfish Person”
A goldfish has a memory of less than ten seconds, which would explain Palin’s grasp of American history.  Plus, a goldfish looks great in a small bowl (*cough* Alaska *cough*) but would seem tiny and out of place in a larger ocean (*cough* International Relations *cough*).  The biggest similarity between Sarah Palin and fish is that when the former speaks out loud, criticizing her is like shooting a barrel full of the latter.

Ron Paul – “Snake Person”
A private citizen is not allowed to keep certain animals as pets.  They are hard to control and can be a menace to the public.  When I was a kid, a neighbor up the street illegally kept an Egyptian King Cobra in a tank in his garage.  No one ever would have known, except the snake escaped, and the man had to alert the authorities.  Animal control found the cobra in a child’s lunchbox in a nearby elementary school.  For the rest of history, kids would throw rubber snakes on this man’s lawn on Halloween.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you libertarianism.

Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum “Ostrich People”
Santorum’s wife underwent a life-saving abortion, and her husband continues to be anti-choice.  Gingrich recently closed a rumored half-million dollar line of credit at the Tiffany store.  He also allegedly began divorce proceedings with his second wife as she lay in a hospital bed recovering from surgery to remove a tumor.  Heads, meet sand.

Michele Bachman – “Unicorn Person”
Bachman, a Tea Party founder, does not allow facts to get in the way of her beliefs.  She pushed the “death panel” rhetoric on the American public and introduced something called the “Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act” into Congress.  Bachman also supports teaching intelligent design in public schools.  It is only a matter of time before she introduces her much anticipated “Bigfoot Search and Seizure Act” legislation into the House of Representatives.

So there you go, America.  A buffet of choices for 2012. Enjoy and vote wisely. USA!  USA!

Inspect the Uninspected

23 Jun

Yesterday I wrote about my last day teaching preschool in a fairly comprehensive and sentimental fashion.  Here is a very specific story that happened on Tuesday that was too much of an outlier to wrangle into that piece…

Once a month during the school year, my boss and I would take a small group of 4-year-olds to the local nursing home.  The kids sang songs and put on a little show for the residents, and everyone had a good time.  Our students got to feel like stars, and the seniors got a little extra companionship and attention.  We never had any unpleasantness happen, excepting the one Halloween where the children all wore costumes, and one of them dressed up like the Grim Reaper.

Generally, though, the monthly trip passed without incident.  My boss and I loaded three students each into our cars (with car seats of course) and lugged them the two-ish miles to the nursing home.  Pretty simple operation.

On Tuesday, though, we hit a snag.  I will preface the rest of the story by saying that it starts off unfortunate and then ends up weirdly very lucky.  At first everything seemed to be business as usual.  I was driving.  The kids were engaged in their typical mid-ride banter: “Josh, how come your car is so messy?   My daddy’s car isn’t this messy.  Oh!  There’s a gas statation…and there’s another gas station…AND THERE’S ANOTHER GAS STATION!!!”  We were about a quarter of a mile from the nursing home when I got pulled over.  Yikes.

At first, the kids were kind of excited.  There were flashing lights and a siren, and children haven’t yet learned that you rarely have a police officer approach you with good news.  Either you’re reporting a crime that’s been committed against you, or you’re being apprehended for doing a crime.  And I hadn’t broken any laws, but getting pulled over is like getting an HIV test in that even when you haven’t done anything dangerous, you still get a little antsy.

The officer came up to my window.

“I pulled you over because your inspection sticker has expired,” he explained.  He was not wrong.  It had.  “I need your license and registration”  I handed them to him.  “You’ve got a boatload of kids back there,” he continued.  Again, he wasn’t wrong.  Three kids is an awful lot when you’re twenty-six and not Catholic.

“Yep,” I said, not knowing how else to respond.  He took my paperwork and walked to his cruiser.  By this time, my students had grown bored.  The sirens had stopped, and the police officer had moved out of sight, and he hadn’t arrested or shot at anything.

“When can we go?” the kids began to whine.  To pacify them, I decided to lead a singalong.  The four of us launched into “The Wheels on the Bus” with a great deal of enthusiasm.  Just then, the officer came back.

“Cool it.  The fuzz is here,” I said to the children.  They didn’t get it, but I had fun.

“I’m going to let you off with a warning,” the officer began.  Great news.  I’m never the guy that gets a warning.  I rarely get pulled over, but when I do, it’s tickets all the way down.  I can’t figure it out exactly.  I’m always polite.  It’s never for anything especially reckless.  My best guess is that I a. don’t have any cleavage and b. am not “Boston-y” enough to appeal to a sense of kinship or sympathy in an officer of the law.  I know that sounds insane, but I have a secret belief that if I could just offer a convincing: “Yah, guys.  I know that stickah’s expiyahd.  But how about them Bruins, kid?  Mahhhchaaaahnd! then I’d be off the hook every time.

But anyway, this time I get the warning.  That’s fortunate if a little strange.  But here’s where the weirdness goes off the charts.  Before he lets me go, the officer says:

“These all your kids?” to which I honestly reply…

“No.”  He considers for a moment, nods, and says…

“Well have a nice day, sir!”

Really?  No follow up question there?  There were two possible responses to that question, and I gave the red flag answer.  Wow.   What could I have said to elicit further queries?

“Are these my kids?  Well, they are for now.  You want one?  It’s gonna cost ya, but I’ve got to unload one fast…my basement ain’t big enough for all three.”

How is it that a lapsed inspection is a pull-overable offense, but a potential triple kidnapping is ho hum business as usual?  Is it a paperwork issue?

Either way, thanks officer.  For turning a blind eye to the crime I did commit as well as the way worse crime it appeared I was committing but wasn’t.  Best.  Pull over.  Ever.

 

A Farewell to Legos

22 Jun

Just before I walked out the door on my last day at my job, I was handed an oversized construction-paper going away card containing messages like:

“Come back and play with me!”
and
“Go buy a unicorn!”
and
“I give you beat down!”

And even though I’d pushed through my last eight hour day as a preschool teacher without getting too choked up, the card really got to me.  The card my coworkers had signed for me was thoughtful and touching, but the one with transcribed messages from the kids touched a nerve for a different reason.

There’s no sense of propriety or convention with children.  They haven’t learned cliché yet.  Everything a kid says is exactly what he/she is thinking.  Sometimes those thoughts make literally no sense.  And other times they’re startlingly sincere.

A 3-year-old never says “Keep in touch!” without meaning it.  There’s no small talk.  Everything’s urgent, even when it’s about the color of a fire truck or what the best flavor of ice cream is.  To be fair, that second topic always gets me a little heated, too.

But I think that’s one of the reasons I liked being an early childhood educator.  I enjoyed working at a place where there was so little pretense.  The immediacy of the job keeps red tape to a minimum.  When a kid gets a paper cut and for a second it seems like the whole world is about to come apart, your job is to hold it together.  There’s no removal from the effects of your work.  When you’re doing a good job, a room full of tiny people is peaceful and happy.  When you’re not…they really, really aren’t.

And as I walked out the door for the last time, it occurred to me that whatever I end up doing next will probably deal exclusively with adults.  That certainly has its benefits.  Rarely does a grown adult put his pants on backwards and then throw a tantrum when you ask him to switch them around, as happened on a near-daily basis at this job.  Never have I heard of a grown person pooping in the middle of the floor and being impossible to catch because the entire room is full of suspects.  (To be fair, that only happened once.)

But, on the other hand, the joy that we allow ourselves to feel as adults is nowhere close to what kids feel every day for the tiniest possible reasons.  I have watched children celebrate as if they just won the Super Bowl for all of the following reasons…

-Popsicles.
-Being on a bus.
-Two boys finding out they are legally allowed to marry each other in Massachusetts.
-The Cat in the Hat coming back.
-Seeing an ant.

Obviously, human society would function at a much, much slower pace if these little events remained as big a deal for grownups as they are for children.  My point is just that how often do you get to be around one of your peers when they are at their most enthusiastic and engaged?  A few times a year, maximum.  Weddings, promotions, buying a “Goonies” lunch box on e-bay.

We’re guarded against joy.  We have to keep up appearances.  When we’re happy, you can’t jump up and down.  When we’re sad, we can’t shut down and cease to function.  And these are all reasonable, productive ways of dealing with each other.  It would be madness to see everyone who is having a bad day bawling and squirming on the floor of a subway car.

And I don’t want this to be a piece about how everything we need to know, we can learn from children.  That is false logic. Kids don’t know math.  They can’t drive.  They’re terrible cooks.

But there are fewer and fewer jobs where you spend your day doing things that have to happen versus things that just “need to get done.”  Firefighters.  Doctors.  That type of thing.  I’ve probably never saved a life teaching preschool (unless you count pulling a lego out of a kid’s nose), but I feel like I got to spend my days at a rare level of practical and emotional engagement.  And I’m really lucky.  And I’m going to miss it.