Monday, October 28, 2013

The Number One Loser Should Travel Well.

It is better to travel well than to arrive.   -The Buddha

I think if I were an Olympic athlete, I would rather come in last than win the silver. You know, you win the gold, you feel good. You win the bronze, you think, well, at least I got something. But you win that silver, that’s like congratulations, you almost won. Of all the losers, you came in first of that group.

You’re the number one loser.   -Jerry Seinfeld

It's so easy for we who inhabit American skin to be torn between those two philosophies, yes? 

On the one hand, we Yanks are all about winning. From Mormon Bar, California (I love the internet) to Shin Pond, Maine, we share a barbarous thirst for victory. 

And no, ties aren't acceptable either. Ties are either for parents trying to judge living room talent shows…or the French. We want a freaking winner and we'll go to extra innings or overtime or playoffs or Final Jeopardy to settle the joint. It's actually possible for a National Football League contest to end in a draw, but mostly because it's highly unlikely that enough players would remain unconcussed and of sound spleen after seventy-five minutes of gridiron butchery to determine a victor.

Sweet brother of Eli, that's why I loves me some football.

Anyway, that's not my point. For the past few days, I mean years, I mean decades, I've really struggled with the notion of goal setting. Have I achieved some lofty milestones? Hey, does the Pope have a girl's name?

I've won the neighborhood moss and dandelion growing competition five years running.

After exhaustive research, I discovered I'm the only member of my extended family to barf lime Jell-O.

In 1985, I ordered Domino's twenty-one times in one calendar month, a Lake City Way record which may outlast Joe DiMaggio's consecutive game hitting streak. 

The thing is, those are all inadvertent accomplishments, not the culmination of specific goals. The Minnesota Vikings have appeared in four Super Bowls as their conference's champions, yet haven't won the big one. The Buffalo Bills reached four consecutive Super Bowls and fell short each time. In the non-sporting realm, Robert Redford has never won an acting Oscar and Colby totally should have won Survivor, Season Two. Would any of these folks be considered failures for approaching greatness yet stopping one rung shy of the pinnacle?

Yeah, they would, based on the way our culture judges champions. 

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Over the past six months, I've received no less than forty-four rejections from literary agents concerning my middle grade novel, and I'm starting to think maybe I'm approaching this whole book thing from the wrong perspective. I lecture myself quietly and constantly. It's about the joy of storytelling, the buzz that can only be obtained by putting pen to paper and scribbling so feverishly that I can't get it all down fast enough. When it's flowing, there are not agents or editors.

Don't get me wrong; I'd love to get this thing published. I think it's a solid book, one that could appeal to adults and kids alike. 

But I suspect my ego has been occupying the driver's seat of this Hummer, slamming its fist down on the horn and screaming bloody oaths at every vehicle blocking its way to the publishing house. I could choose jealousy and resentment. I could continue to cultivate my festering scorn by barking at a moon bathed in the reflections of those who have "succeeded," and further fertilize my field with the manure of grumpy old men.

I could definitely stick with the Seinfeld silver medal approach. 

Or I could just stop worrying and keep writing. 

Let's go with option number two.

Monday, October 21, 2013

I'm an Accidental Fashionista.

A few mornings ago, my thirteen-year-old daughter emerged from her room, prepared as usual for the discerning fashion eyes of her eighth grade peers.

"Mom," she asked, "should I wear my red Vans with this dress or my short black boots?"

The voice came from the bathroom where my wife stood crop dusting her hair with Monsanto-inspired abandon. "I'm not sure, honey. Go ask your dad."

You heard that correctly. Our house, while inhabited by three females, has dubbed the lone male, also known as me, as fashion consultant to all things feminine.

I'm pretty much the same age as those rugged-looking dudes in the commercials, the middle-aged guys who can pull a truck out of the mud with a couple of horses or fix a printing press with their bare hands…you know what I'm talking about? They've got it all, except for a little problem below the Mason-Dixon. 

But here's the thing: I doubt those ads would sell any blue pills if the Marlboro man stood by his wife's closet, pointing out which infinity scarf looks better with that cashmere sweater. 

Like I do.

I work in the fashion industry. I have for twenty-two years, designing advertising for a well-known apparel and shoe retailer. Most dad-types occupying my demographic pigeon hole are about as interested in women's clothing trends as the Tea Party is interested in Burger Kings without drive-throughs. 

Am I fashionable personally? Sure...compared to Tom Hanks in Castaway or maybe Rush Limbaugh without the benefit of a push-up bra.

Hells no, I'm not fashionable. If I could wear basketball shorts and a t-shirt every day for the rest of my life, including weddings, funerals and dinners with Michelle and Barack, I freaking would. I'm currently lobbying for my gravestone to be inscribed, "Here lies Tim. He thought elastic was fantastic and sweatst were the best."

But after two full decades wading through terra-pixels of women's skirts, jackets, tops, pants and shoes, it's become part of my genetic makeup, similar to the Cheeto-tinted face of John Boehner. 

I recently reached a new low. I caught myself using the word "pair" as a verb, as in "Why don't you just pair that sweater dress with some tall boots? No, no, leggings are fine. They're just a conduit between the boots and the dress." Shit, what a dork. I had to watch an hour of football to purge myself of that metro-sexual stench.

Occasionally, I'll discover myself talking about clothes with two or three of my wife's friends. The husbands never hang around to glean any information about the latest UGG color, as well they shouldn't. I usually join them later, timidly entering their presence, my aura still reeking of chunky chain jewelry.

Every once in a while, I'll demonstrate cutting-edge stylishness in spite of myself. That tiger design is currently sold on my company's website for sixty dollars. But as you can see, my wolf shirt puts it to shame, and at a fraction of the cost.

Don’t' get me wrong; I'm not ashamed of the trajectory my career has assumed. I just, you know, don't want to talk about it anymore.

How about those Seahawks?

Monday, October 14, 2013

We Wear Uniforms, Not Outfits.

If you are tuning in today to possibly read about something that matters, well, you may be out of luck. In fact, you might assign more importance to future posts featuring my 3D prostate growth chart or the top five best mammals to make into jerky. Yes, today the pond can't get much shallower without becoming simply a moist algae bloom.

This piece concerns irrational loathing. I won't go so far as to use the "h" word, since I know how damaging it can be, especially after having it used against me by my own children hundreds of times. Should I be upset at the frequency with which the little urchins screamed "I hate you!"usually for nothing more than suggesting they brush their teeth sometime before Easter? Probably not, but I still find it difficult to lob "H bombs" at anyone besides the Jerry Sanduskys and Ariel Castros of the world.

Have you ever despised someone or something with one hundred percent potency? I'm talking all Yang and no Yin, not ninety-five percent acrimonious and five percent compassionate. I'm talking about perfect, black malice with not a ropy vein of lukewarm empathy.

I've only felt this churn of enmity a few times during my five decades above ground: 

When a guy smashed into my daughter while she was stopped at a red light and then took off, I visualized acts of violence using nothing more than a wood rasp and three Bic lighters. 

I had a boss a few years back who held a graduate degree from the Ann Coulter School of Motivational Speaking and Public Humiliation. After having prepared a presentation for several days, I entered her office and placed a stack of my drawings on the conference table. Several of my co-workers sat quietly watching her. She closed her eyes and said, "I will not open my eyes until you tell me that this is sophisticated."

Rivulets of smart-ass responses dripped though my brain and then toward my oral cavity: Actually, no, it's not sophisticated. I went with a toothless Appalachian theme in honor of your mom. I held back and replied, "Uh, yeah, I think so."

She continued, squinting."Because if it isn't sophisticated, you're going to have to put on your big boy pants and start over again—you're aware of that."

I wanted nothing more than the ability to cause her bowels to spontaneously evacuate. 

Geez, I'm getting myself all worked up now. Anyway, I haven't felt those levels of vitriol with much frequency, thank the lord. But I did feel it again on Saturday when the number-two-ranked Oregon Ducks rolled into Seattle to play my Washington Huskies. The gridiron rivalry dates back to 1900.

How do I feel about the Ducks? Let's just say that if the U of O were my ear, I'd grab a steak knife and go all Van Gogh on that thing. 

After years spent wallowing in mediocrity, Oregon's athletic program was infused with over $230 million by Phil Knight, founder and chairman of Nike, Inc. and an Oregon alumnus. His uncomfortably narrow, overpriced shoes and gaudy apparel translated into lavish collegiate facilities in Eugene and sweltering sweatshops abroad. Here's Phil, performing a convincing imitation of a western buffoon in Ted Bundy clothes.

The Ducks football machine spares no expense, donning a different uniform for every opponent. Here are some of Oregon's notable football fashion statements:

I have to admire their designers. It's got to be tough to find colors that compliment the distinct hue of kidney malfunction. 

Maybe I'm just jealous because the Huskies used to own the Ducks and now haven't beaten them for ten years. The frustration spilled over at Husky Stadium on Saturday. Two chubby U of O fans continued standing and dancing amid a sea of downtrodden UW supporters, taunting the crowd even after Oregon had sealed the victory. The guy next to me, very mild-mannered for the entire contest, suddenly screamed out, "Sit down, fuckhead!"

The crowd erupted in laughter. The guy sat down. The Huskies lost.

I hate the Ducks. Oops. Oh well.

Monday, October 7, 2013

No other way to say it—this is bullshit.

I would like to make a prediction. This may happen in five years, maybe ten, maybe never.

Anyone who's ever queued up at a grocery store checkout line, whether for just a pack of chipotle e-smokes or lugging a cart filled with enough stuff to get the Ingalls' covered wagon from De Smet to Walnut Grove, has passed that densely stocked tabloid section. It's usually wedged somewhere between the Five Hour Energy and last chance Super Size Kit Kats.

Leading the pack is the bastion of bastardization, The National Enquirer, but always trailing in close pursuit are pubs like The Globe, Weekly World News and OK! Oh, but things are hardly okay in the tabloid universe. With the consistency of an A-Rod fib, these rags spell out doom and divine intervention in equal helpings. Here are a few headlines I wouldn't be surprised to see next time I hit Safeway:

Miley and Billy Ray secretly wed. In legal ceremony, happy couple proud to call Tennessee their home.

Woman finds hair clump in her calzone and discovers the face and beard of Jesus. Crowds flock from all corners of Tennessee.

On visit to Tennessee, Bill Clinton discovers second penis inside his nose. Can't stop blowing it.

Anyway, back to my prediction. I submit that, before too long, video screens will accompany the printed pages along checkout row. Sensational headlines will beckon us to their broadcasts and websites.

And anything goes. Saturday night, I got another whiff of the bitter stench of tabloid journalism. I don't know about you, but I find local news insufferable—the ridiculous banter between the flirty weather guy and the sexy anchor in her shellacked hair and one-piece Nancy Reagan clown dress, stepping all over each other's weak jokes, then chuckling anemically before snapping into "serious mode." Time to talk about some more car wrecks.

I try my best to avoid local news, but sometimes it's just a wrong-place-wrong-time type situation, and such was the case Saturday. As the concluding credits rolled up on a college football game, the pulsing headline titled, "Only on KIRO 7," filled the screen. The broadcast led with the horrific assault of a security guard in Seattle's Westlake park back in July. Instantly plastered in high def were the name and a Facebook image of a thirteen-year-old boy identified by the guard as one of the youths who beat him to unconsciousness as he attempted to prevent the group from stealing a backpack. Not until he'd recovered three months later was the guard able to label the boy as one of his assailants, someone he'd seen on numerous occasions hanging out in the park.

But it didn't end there. The story cut to a reporter standing on the front porch of the alleged perpetrator's mother's apartment. She quickly shut the door without comment, yet she wasn't swift enough to avoid her image being beamed across western Washington. Apparently, KIRO 7 takes no prisoners. If it bleeds, it leads.

I think we've all grown fairly callous regarding "infotainment," the new face of broadcast journalism. We're used to the rapes and murders and fires that dominate our headlines. 

This is different. While Seattle's online newspaper, The Post-Intelligencer, chose to run the same story with the same facts, they also opted against naming or picturing the accused boy. Of course, KIRO could have also done that, but that wasn't quite enough red meat for a ratings-starved station that consistently finishes last among Seattle's three predominate news channels. KIRO chose to put a face to the story, to erect a lightning rod to absorb our fear and prejudice. 

Look at this kid. He's thirteen, but he looks about nine. It sounds like he's going down the wrong path, and if he did what they say he did, he needs to be punished. 

But that's not the point. It's one thing for a television station to prematurely condemn an adult, but a child? Would KIRO do the same if a white kid were involved, or would they be wary of the legal ramifications brought forth by a family with more substantial resources? I think we all know the answer to that. 

To KIRO's credit, the headline projects a rare bit of insight:

"Only on KIRO 7."