Thursday, 19 April 2012

1000 Awesome Things...

Hello Friends.

They say celebrity deaths come in threes, thus explaining Dick Clark, Levon Helm from The Band, and the flautist from Men at Work responsible for this passing away in the past two days. Sad indeed, but the passing I'll really mourn is Neil Pasricha's 1000 Awesome Things. I've discussed his blog before, maybe in less than flattering terms, but that's just sour grapes on my part. I loved dipping into Neil's lists when I felt blue or just needed inspiration to write some stuff. To that end, I hope that people reading this blog will then read 1000 Awesome Things. But not before I add my own.

Dream: Take inventory of that which is awesome in my life.

Goal: Achievable. I've a great deal to be thankful for, and I hope I don't take the awesome stuff for granted, but I feel like I could benefit from making a list anyway.

Plan: Stop, smile, and make a list for today, April 19, 2012, of my awesome things. Like:
  • Then ten o'clock coffee. An hour into my workday, a coworker chats "coffee?" or maybe "caffee?" I accompany him downstairs to the little cafe in our building, he pays or I do, and we have big cups of sweet, hot coffee, and chew the fat for fifteen minutes. Sometimes people join us, sometimes it's just him and me, but its just a really nice fifteen, and I get five of those a week.
  • Second-skin t-shirts. You know the ones, the holey, flimsy, probably smelly t-shirt that feels so amazing. As soon as I get home from anywhere, off go my work clothes, on come the sweats and second skin shirt.
  • My two ladies. Every day after work, I pass these two ladies as I walk to the bus. They are short and stout (no evidence of handle or spout yet). They're foreign (if I had to guess, I'd say Polish) and have mad scowls as I think they're heading off to some job. Anyway, I see them every single day. If we don't cross paths, I worry. They're like short, stout guardian angels.
  • Oatmeal Crisp in the green box. Maple Nut, I think?
  • Parks & Recreation. Back on tonight, it's just my fave.
  • My darling laptop, old Compy.
  • I have really big towels that I can wrap around myself and be covered from chest to ankle, unlike the stupid towels they hand out at the gym. Those barely cover one thigh, so you feel fat, so you go back to the gym. Touche, Goodlife.
  • The woman in my building who calls me "Honey."
  • The Beyonce song Love On Top. Slow down, Beyonce, you don't have to work that hard on a song. But you do. I appreciate that.
  • The shorthand I have with close friends, like boom, moob, eyup, and blomp.
  • Catching the subway just as it pulls into the station.
  • The way I feel my back stretch out when I lie down in bed. That almost painful but therefore even more satisfying sensation of feeling your bones and muscles sink into a soft bed.
  • How Was Your Week with Julie Klausner. It's this podcast where this woman talks about pop culture for a few minutes, but she's really funny and sassy about it, and then she interviews great people, but it's just as off the cuff and charming. I feel like she's just my pal, talking in my ear every Friday.
  • Caesers. They taste good. And oh man, when you get one with asparagus or a bean instead of celery? One of them spicy beans? Good night!
  • Little, little kids who speak in full sentences. I was waiting for a table at a restaurant and this little gaffer ran by, pacifier in his mouth, clearly ready to stir up trouble. His tired Mom followed and said, "Tyler, come and finish supper with Grandma!" and Tyler said, "I'm not sure about that, Mummy." I mean, can you even!
  • Twists of lemon
  • Two hour Datelines
  • Doctor Jon
  • Long showers
  • Dreams, both sleeping and waking.
  • Family, near and far.
  • Friends past and present, close and distant. All y'all.
I know I've been soapboxy the past few weeks, and so not very funny, and I apologize for the amount of pretentious grandstanding and sentimental blather, but I don't always want to cloak everything in a kind of cynicism. Not always. I had a lovely dinner with two aunts last night, and we kept circling back to the question, "If I knew then what I know now, what would I do differently?" I don't know how I'll feel in twenty years, in ten, in five, or in one, but right at this moment, I'm a happy lad. I mustn't devote so much time to worry and wonder when I have so much to be grateful for. Right at this moment. Right now. Awesome.

Friday, 13 April 2012

An Open Letter to Vanity Fair...

Dear Vanity Fair,

I see what you're trying for with your May 2012 “Television Issue.” Four sexy TV star ladies covered only by a sheet in the same bed on the cover of your magazine: Julianna Margulies, Claire Danes, Sofia Verrgara, and Michelle Dockery. Sorry, but this isn't Demi Moore naked and pregnant. This isn't even Tom Ford biting Keira Knightley's ear. This isn't provocative, or especially interesting. Four straight ladies of varying ages naked in bed together doesn't make much of an impression anymore, surely doesn't raise much ire at the checkout counter, probably doesn't sell a lot of magazines.

Might I suggest a slight tweak? Upend our expectations, subvert our views on sexuality, sell more magazines, even, with the simplest of changes. Put four men in the same bed on the cover of your magazine. They don't have to be gay, though Neil Patrick Harris, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Andy Cohen, and Chris Colfer would certainly move a few units among your gay male readership. Consider a sexy four in a bed like Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Matthew Morrison (Glee), Taye Diggs (Private Practice) and Chris Noth (The Good Wife). Or a funny four in a bed like Louis C.K. (Louie), Aziz Ansari (Parks & Recreation), Ty Burrell (Modern Family) and Donald Glover (Community). A dramatic four in a bed like Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Michael C. Hall (Dexter), John Slattery (Mad Men), and Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones). Late night with Jimmys Kimmel and Fallon, Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers. Reality competition bedfellows Seacrest and Adam Levine, Jeff Probst and Simon Cowell. Gender-bend if you like and throw in Ru-Paul or Chaz Bono for a little wink.

And don't explain yourself, Vanity Fair, let controversy fall where it may. I suspect there will be little fallout from your sexy faux-lesbo cover this month, but if you put four men shirtless and sleepy, people would write letters in support and damnation, you might get a few subscriptions canceled in The Real America, but I bet you'd earn a few more everywhere else. Maybe by showing four men in various undress, as you have hundreds of women over the years, you'd be implicitly supporting two men in bed at home. Taking the shock out of the notion (if any remains), by putting it on the cover of the one of most widely-read publications in the world. I don't care if you do it to shock or satisfy us. Sell a bunch of copies for your vanity, support some men in a bed because it's fair.

A loyal reader,
James Ostime

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Everything Old is New Again...

Betty White has been old my entire life. At least that's how it feels. Having recently celebrated her 90th birthday, she would have been at least in her sixties whenever I first saw her on television. And if I had to guess when that would have been, it was probably at my maternal grandmother's house. Like Betty, Grandma seemed like she was under a permanent contract with NBC, so I couldn't say if it was The Golden Girls or Empty Nest or even Mama's Family, but Betty was a funny older lady on Grandma's tv for as long as I can remember.

Grandma K. was also old my entire life. At least in my perception of her. But seemed to embrace age like it was a ball of fire or a ballgown made of knives. She replaced glasses with magnifying glasses and bought books in larger and larger print until she had to admit she could no longer to see to read. She cranked NBC louder and louder rendering any conversation with her impossible. She bought a three bedroom house in her 80's, determined to use it, but aches and pains kept her, far as I could tell, shuffling only from her bed to her chair and back again. She moved to be closer to us and I was able to visit her even more regularly than I had as a young kid. Being that she was my last surviving grandparent by quite a few years, I was determined to gain any life-changing insight I could on our visits. Squeeze all the wisdom I could out of her, as it were. But, as I say, she met the advancing years with a bottle of gin, a pack of smokes, and determination not to succumb to the stereotype of the sage senior, so prepared as I was for trite platitudes, she offered only one refrain on a constant basis.

Dream: Never get old, James. Never get old.

Goal: Unachievable. We all have to get old. But as my thirty will turn soon to eighty, I hope we regard our aged with a little more respect, a little less condescension.

Plan: Examine what exactly shifts in our perspective of oldsters, and why that happens.

It seems like we can't really handle the idea that someone we love is getting older, even when it's just a public figure. In fact, especially when it's a public figure. Betty White may be the exception but even she, getting up to accept an award last year to a standing ovation, joked “You didn't stand for me when I was forty!” But consider the public discomfort with the aging star. Alternately lauded and laughed at, we don't seem to know what to do with Bill Cosby, still touring stadiums and campaigning for education reform in his dotage, subject every week to an online death rumour, a cruel meme, a Twitter punchline. We can't stomach Joni Mitchell, in self-imposed exile after re-releases of her classic albums were halted by a disinterested record company. Even Frank Oz, pushing seventy, and the creator and muppetteer of Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and others, proudly presented his script for the new Muppet movie a few years ago and was summarily rejected by every producer only to watch Jason Segel pitch his own script and direct his own film just months later (Oz refused to participate as a muppetteer/voice in the film and was roundly criticized for it). But what's our problem? Do we believe age has diminished not just the appearance, but the talent we once thought these people possessed? The ability?

Yes, we're surely a youth-obsessed culture, but is that the way to go in every respect? Wouldn't you rather have a doctor older than you? A boss at least ten years your senior? When you feel lost, alone, or scared, doesn't at least a part of you immediately yearn for Mom and Dad, and not Dave from the bar? And yet, speaking for myself, I'm still ill-at-ease around an old person, especially if I don't know them. I don't trust that the old man on the bus will get off at the right stop, or that the old lady in the store knows where to find her groceries. I'm worried that they smell, that they're sick, that a gentle breeze could topple and destroy them. Surely that's true of some seniors, but do we young'uns have such a great track record in those three arenas? Walk past any trendy club on a Friday night and notice your fair share of contemporaries that smell, that are getting sick, the are easily toppled by a slight breeze.

We seem instead, intent on bizarrely infantilizing an old person. Preferring to see them as cute instead of wise. Kitschy instead of stylish. Less than us and not more. Bringing it back to Betty, consider the cachet she trades on in recent appearances and roles. She's the horny old Grandmother who busts out references to Facebook and Justin Bieber and we laugh because “she doesn't know what she's saying! Adorable!” And though, at least culturally, this seems to be a gender-specific prejudice (consider daffy Cloris Leachman against Christopher Plummer or Max Von Sydow), how many men in their 80's that live on your street get any respect and accolades, rather than distracted pats on the hand from a stressed-out caregiver?

Are we uncomfortable with old people because their lives are so foreign to our experience up until now, or because their current existence is our inevitability, god-willing? It would be nice not to get old, of course, but consider the alternative. Its time we considered what we really do by not meeting the gaze of the senior walking down the street. What we're really trying to avoid. What we're refusing to see. I can't visit Grandma K. anymore, as she kept her reign as last surviving grandparent for just a few years before joining the others in my childhood memories. I think of them all so often, and wonder if they're smiling down from somewhere, or if they simply don't exist anymore in any place. If the latter is true, even if it's not, I hope I respected them as they deserved while they were here. I hope I can see seniors not as just older people, but people people. Men and women that deserve our time if only because they've spent so much of their own. I hope I'm not too young to learn from them.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Ineptitude of Aptitude...

Hello Friends.

Do you remember taking those aptitude tests in high school? Those multiple choice, fill in the circle completely ones with sections labeled “Mechanical Reasoning”, “Abstract Intelligence”, “General Prickishness?” They supposedly determined the career for you based on how adept you were in each category.

I don't remember what parts of the test came particularly easily or proved difficult, though I remembering especially hating the analogy bits like “Bird is to fax machine as Cher is to ___” (of course I know now the answer is taffy, but I didn't then). But I do remember that my results were inconclusive. I did not excel in anything specifically and, as such, would not be ideal for one career over another. At the time, I remember as a kind of artistic badge of honour. “I'm a square peg, man! You can't put me in your little box! Don't label me, narc!” Now, though, I realize how damning such diagnoses can be.

I don't regret my university education, my real world experiences, all those times I get paid to do stuff I sort of know about, but I do wonder how different things would have turned out for old James has I been the perfect candidate for x, y, or z.

Dream: Determine the up and downsides of any possible career.

Goal: Achievable. I'm not a career counselor, but I watch a lot of television. Plus, if I'm at a party and meet someone who has a different job than me, I make a concerted effort to learn about it rather than play my usual party game, “What's with your eyebrows?”

Plan: A down and dirty pros and cons list of jobs that line the road less traveled, such as:

  • Saving lives
  • Cool coats
  • People get naked when you tell them to
  • You're around sick people all the time
  • Long hours
  • Constant handwashing

  • Winning an argument gets you money
  • Whatever you say can be read back to you on a whim
  • Yelling “Objection” and, occasionally, “No YOU'RE out of order!”
  • Getting criminals off sometimes
  • Being a criminal sometimes
  • Wearing a suit every goddamn day

Elementary School Teacher
  • Helping a child to learn
  • Knowing the answer before the stupid children do
  • Longer summers and Christmas vacay than others.
  • Having no free time between prep, class, and extra-curricular
  • Teaching the same material day after day, year after year
  • Helping children to and from the goddamn bathroom

  • Always in business
  • Sandwiches with no crust at funerals
  • Weekend at Bernie's laughable in its implausibility
  • Crying people snotting on you
  • Constant references to Six Feet Under at parties
  • Pervasive and ongoing sense of doom

  • Tips
  • Gratuities
  • Coins for laundry later
  • Being hit-on by drunk weirdos.
  • Running off your feet until 4 in the morning
  • Stupid songs like “I'm on a Boat” being played all the time for seafaring bros.

  • See all over the world
  • Weak applause when you nail a land
  • First dibs on left behind porn (this is a real thing! My father used to being one of those luggage loader/unloader guys and he says dudes would buy porn on a business trip or something, realize they still had it in their luggage, ditch it on the plane before going home to their wives).
  • Persistent flight attendant chatter
  • Waiting on the runway for two hours for no reason
  • Probably dying in a plane crash
CEO of Big Business Businesscorp
  • Lots of money
  • Hot trophy spouse
  • Steak for lunch, steak for dinner, and puny little bleeding hearts like you for breakfast
  • Expensive divorces
  • Lawsuits, lawsuits, lawsuits
  • Crap your pants during unexpected heart attacks; loss of slacks, quality of life

  • Bring life to a character
  • Do cool things in front of an audience
  • Constant stoking of your fragile ego
  • Rejection, rejection, rejection.
  • No money
  • Tights and shoe polish in your hair.

My Job/Copywriter
  • Better paycheque than cashier
  • Get paid to write stuff
  • Super fun coworkers
  • Long commute
  • Weird computer problems
  • Terrible smell in the cafeteria sometimes

So all things considered, I ended up with a pretty good gig, at least for now. I don't often consider how things would be with a different sort of job, because I feel like I'm going to have at least six more jobs between now and my first gig as a trophy spouse. I suppose the great thing about having no particular aptitude is that you have every opportunity. And aptitude is to opportunity as gargoyle is to ferrets.