The Modern Etiquette Guide to Physical Greeting Gestures

Someone’s got to fix this situation. Pronto.

For a while there it seemed like the fist bump was going to take over as the world’s go-to physical greeting gesture. Sleek, efficient and powerful, the fist bump (also known as the ‘terrorist fist jab’) was riding the crest of an incredible wave back in 2008. When Barack gave Michelle that little jab on election night we all experienced the incredible power of the fist bump first hand. And once the swine flu hysteria spread I figured that the hypo-allergenic fist bump would displace handshaking once and for all.

But lately it seems like the fist bump is losing a little steam and now I’m utterly confused as to how to properly greet people. When I see acquaintances I end up doing some kind of weird Kabuki dance, thrusting out fists and palms randomly, never quite knowing what to do. It’s awful.

Let’s review the other options:

1) The Traditional Handshake. Your safest bet is to stick out your right hand and go for the traditional handshake. Everyone has seen it before and most people know how to execute it properly. The downside is that some people have clammy hands and once you shake a clammy hand your own hand feels weird and tainted for the rest of the day. Also, the traditional handshake may be viewed as being excessively formal and some people may feel slighted by not getting a more friendly or casual gesture.

2) The High-5. Outside of sporting events, the high-5 has really fallen on hard times. I suspect that this is because the high-5 is a surprisingly advanced maneuver and there’s nothing more embarrassing than a missed high-5. Look, these are dangerous times we’re living in and people just don’t want to take the risk of mis-firing a high-5 in public. Here’s the secret to a perfect high-5: the initiator needs to offer up the high-5 palm and hold steady. DON’T MOVE THAT HAND! When the initiator moves the hand is when the high-5 breaks down.

3) The bro-hug. A bro-hug is when you clasp half-twisted right hands (fingers on top) and bring the left arm around for a loose hug. The (oxymoronic) key to the bro-hug is that you can only bro-hug someone that you’ve previously bro-hugged with. Bro-hugs have to be pre-arranged or assumed. NEVER SNEAK ATTACK A BRO-HUG! If you’re not expecting it, the bro-hug is awkward and very uncomfortable. The one exception is if you’re at a Dead (excuse me, a Furthur) show – then please feel free to bro-hug away, my patchouli-wearing, dreadlocked, unshowered friend!

4) The full hug. I’ve discussed this in the past. Full hugs are exclusively for people that are related or intoxicated. No exceptions.

That’s really it. In order of intimacy and difficulty we’re looking at fist bump, handshake, high-5, bro-hug and full hug. And given those choices, I’m going to have to go with…

The gladiator handshake!

Whatever happened to that bad-ass move? The gladiator handshake, for those of you not in the know, is when you grab opposite wrists. It’s like an extreme handshake. It’s easy to execute, it’s cool and it’s super-macho. Plus, I can probably filch your watch if you’re not paying close enough attention.

Best of luck ‘greeting’ this holiday season.

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Top 10 Concerts (+ Top 10 Black Crowes Concerts)

Some people like film. Other people like fine art. I like concerts. There’s something about the live music experience that is pure magic. It doesn’t even really matter if the band is good or bad – as long as they’re playing rock and roll and they’re putting their hearts into it.

Over the years I’ve seen a lot of shows. I always catch my favorites when they hit New England and I try to see as many of the “legends” as I can. So here’s my list of Top 10 concerts. To avoid the inevitable Black Crowes clutter, I’ve actually made two lists: my top 10 concerts and my top 10 Black Crowes concerts. After my picks, old friend Kenny B has graciously provided his list as well.

Mitch’s Top 10 Concerts (in chronological order)

Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Great Woods, Mansfield, MA 9/20/1986
It was my first real boy concert (I had previously seen John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band at Six Flags/Great Adventure – they were pretty awesome and I stayed for the late show, by the way) and Neil truly delivered. We walked in during “Like a Hurricane” and for the next two hours the band literally blew us away. (Get it? Hurricane = blew away. Ha!)

Grateful Dead, Worcester Centrum, Worcester, MA 4/8/1988
My first Dead show and the only one while Brent was still alive. In retrospect the show itself was good not great (Jerry’s voice was rough, but no complaints about the “Jack Straw” opener and “Black Muddy River” encore), but it was still an amazing experience for a 16 year old. My parents made me attend a USY sleepover trip to the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” in exchange for seeing the Dead. Do you want to guess which show was more fun? (Listen to the show here!)

Hall & Oates, Palace Theatre, Albany, NY 2/14/1991
My college girlfriend and I had our first “official” date on Valentine’s Day at an amazing acoustic performance by the underappreciated duo from Philly. I guess it worked – we’re still together 18+ years later. Daryl & John strike again!

R.E.M., Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY 6/20/1995
It was the perfect timing to see R.E.M. live, as they were supporting their excellent rock album Monster and Billy Berry was still in the band. I’m not sure if I need to see them again, but we really dug that show.

The Artist (Prince), FleetCenter, Boston, MA 7/25/1997
Say what you will about Prince, but he is an incredible performer. He sang, he danced, he shredded and he threw a hell of a party. The only thing missing was Morris Day.

Tom Waits, Orpheum Theatre, Boston, 9/21/1999
It was a dream come true: one of my favorite artists – who rarely tours – hit Boston and took us on a trip through his fertile imagination. I’m not even sure if it was a concert – it was more like musical performance art. He was part carnival barker, part spoken word poet, part musician and altogether amazing. I’d go see Tom again anywhere, anytime.

Jimmy Page & the Black Crowes, Worcester Centrum, Worcester, MA 10/16/1999
I couldn’t believe the news when I heard that my favorite band would be playing a Led Zeppelin show with Pagey himself. It was an incredible experience, capped off with a sit-in by Aerosmith’s Joe Perry. I still can’t believe this show happened. If you don’t own a copy of Live at the Greek (the double CD from the show in LA), then you’re missing out on one of the best collaborations in music history.

Phil Lesh & Friends featuring Chris Robinson, Agannis Arena, Boston, MA 12/1/2005
When C-Rob first hooked up with Phil for the 3 show cycle in December of 2004 I knew it was an inspired pairing – Robinson’s singing, harp playing and stage presence plus Phil’s musical genius and the Dead songbook – how could you beat that combination? This is probably my #1 show of all time. The Dolphins! Ruben & Cherise! (Listen to the show here!)

Boz Scaggs, Bank of America Pavilion, Boston, MA 8/17/2006
My wife and I were so excited to see Boz for the first time that we brought the ruckus to the Pavilion that night. The septuagenarians wanted to chill out, but our section ended up rocking out - thanks to us (until security intervened) You know that Slim appreciated the energy, though. (Review)

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, Orpheum Theatre, Boston, MA 2/21/2009
Boy, I wish I got on board with the Cardinals earlier. At least we were able to catch their last show in Boston before Ryan’s retirement. Adams and Neal Casal in the same band, playing their inspired brand of jammy country-rock, is a special thing indeed. (Listen to the show here!) (Review)

Mitch’s Top 10 Black Crowes Concerts (in chronological order)

Saratoga Winners, Cohoes, NY, 11/29/1990
We both loved Shake Your Money Maker, so when Longhair and I heard that the Crowes were playing a tiny barn just north of Albany we had to make the trip. They were young, sloppy and playing off of a small setlist, but it was obvious that they had the chops. I can still remember details of the show vividly almost 20 years later.

Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY, 2/5/1991
Opening up for ZZ Top (before they got kicked off the tour) it was great to see how much the Crowes had progressed in just 3 short months. I remember hearing the long “Shake ‘Em On Down”>”Get Back” jam and thinking that they were definitely starting to stretch things out. ZZ Top, while solid and professional, seemed a little too slick by comparison. I think I still have a bad VHS copy of this show somewhere.

H.O.R.D.E., SPAC, Saratoga, NY 8/13/1995
When the Crowes were headlining H.O.R.D.E. at SPAC, just four days after Jerry died, they were a very different band than they were in the early ‘90s. They achieved lift-off on “My Morning Song”. It was transcendent. They were playing on another level. No other band at that festival could even come close to them.

Orpheum Theatre, Boston, MA 10/26/1996
There were a lot of shows for us at the good old Orpheum and 10/26/96 was a real barn-burner, full of treats from 3 Snakes. If you were there, you’ll remember the crazy energy in that room. They were peaking and the loyal Amoricans were happy to go along for the ride. Triple encore!

Furthur Festival, Great Woods, Mansfield, MA, 7/1/1997
It was a long day in the sun at Furthur. There was a lot of acoustic rock in the afternoon (Bob/Rob RatDog, Arlo Guthrie) and by the time the Crowes hit the stage late it was like a slap in the face. They played a blistering hour-long set, with lots of bluesy nuggets like “Shake Your Money Maker”, “Spider in the Sugar Bowl Blues” and “Crow Black Chicken”, plus amazing originals like “Wiser”>”Ballad”, “How Much for Your Wings?” and “Another Roadside Tragedy”, plus a cover of Keef’s “Happy”. This show clearly illustrated the divide between the Deadheads and the Amoricans (the Crowes were far too heavy for many of the ‘heads) but by the time the night ended, with the all-star jam on “Not Fade Away” and “Knockin’ on Heavens Door”, we were all joined together, grinnin’ and spent. (Note: this marathon show is why my wife doesn’t do hippie festivals anymore!)

Orpheum Theatre, Boston, MA 2/23/1999
While the Audley Freed era isn’t my favorite Crowes period, there’s still plenty of good music to be found under that sweet ‘fro. This show was our last before we had kids and the Crowes went on hiatus. We were treated to a first-time “(Only) Halfway to Everywhere” and a loud, fast, fun show that delivered a “No Speak, No Slave” prior to a triple encore. Plus, we were practically sitting on the stage for this one.

Hammerstein Ballroom, NY, NY 3/26/2005
When the reunion was announced I immediately bought tickets, not “realizing” that the show was in NYC the night before Easter. Good thing that I’m a Jew and my wife is sweet on me. I could have died happily when “Cursed Diamond” kicked off the show. The only black mark was that this show occured before Gorman came back. I always knew that Gorman was a great drummer, but I didn’t realize just how important he was to the band until he wasn’t there. Never leave us again, Steve!

Somerville Theatre, Somerville, MA 3/5/2008
After they announced the one-night only Warpaint launch shows I knew that I wanted to go in blind. What an experience it was to hear their first new album in 7 years live in a movie theater! Sure, we had to get single tickets, but it was well worth it. In addition to hearing the excellent Warpaint tunes, we were treated to a few nice covers, including a perfect rendition of Clapton’s “Don’t Know Why”. (Review)

The Opera House, Boston, MA 10/17/2008
This was the show where Luther Dickinson really won me over. Beautiful venue, great setlist, everything was perfect. Just a perfect, perfect show. That “Bring On, Bring On” was astoundingly beautiful. It was another great night in Boston. (Review)

Bank of America Pavilion, Boston, MA 8/27/09
The tour to support Before the Frost….Until the Freeze started a few days before the record was released, so again I got the opportunity to hear a bunch of new tunes played live for the first time. And as much as I love the new material, it was the kick-ass version of “Sometimes Salvation” that sent me home with a big smile. (Review)

Kenny B’s Top 10 Concerts (in descending order from #10 to #1)

Jackson Browne, Sedona, AZ 10/5/1996 (solo, benefit for Native American School)
This was just one of those spectacular fall days in Arizona and the music was a perfect complement to the red rocks that surrounded the stage. It could have been Raffi playing “The Wheels on the Bus” and it still would have been a great day.

Rolling Stones, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA 10/21/1994 (Voodoo Lounge tour)
Seeing the Stones live had been a dream of mine since I was 13 and I started listening to Beggar’s Banquet on my friend’s father’s turntable. They were great. Mick’s voice was above average, but it was their energy that really made the show great.

Grateful Dead, Compton Terrace, Chandler, AZ 12/5/1992
I hate to repeat praise, but outdoor, afternoon concerts in Arizona (unless it happens to be between March 1 and September 30) are just spectacular. This one featured the completely unexpected “Here Comes Sunshine” which hadn’t been played since 1974 and a guy in a big, yellow ultralight (those little flying mopeds) circling overhead. Bobby said “Jerry says it looks like a Texas dragonfly.”  Why Jerry couldn’t have told us that himself remains a mystery…well, probably not such a mystery when you think about it. (Listen to the show here!)

Eric Clapton, America West Arena, Phoenix, AZ 3/11/1994 (From the Cradle tour)
This was Clapton in his comfort zone. White painters pants and a white t-shirt blowing everyone away with old school blues.

Neil Young, Desert Sky Pavillion, Phoenix, AZ 9/27/1992 (solo tour)
I love acoustic Neil Young! Okay, I’m pretty much a fan of all things Neil Young (except that disastrous Shocking Pinks album), I even like the album he did with the Blue Notes and no one liked that one (based on the things people were yelling at him when he ended his show at Great Woods in the summer in 1989.) Give me Neil acoustic anytime. He was phenomenal. I am usually not a fan of the pavilion shows (Tweeter Center…er, Comcast Center) but I had third row seats, so I had that going for me too, which is nice.

U2, Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ 10/24/1992
This concert happened to also be my first date with a lovely young lady I had been looking to court for some time, and who naturally dumped me a couple months later. But like the romances of my early twenties, my relationship with U2 was equally as fleeting. I loved the show, I liked the girl. When we were together, it was magical. After a couple of months the newness wore off and I’ve never seen either one of them again. But it was fun while it lasted and it was a time I’ll never forget.

Aerosmith, Compton Terrace, Chandler, AZ 7/29/1993 (Get a Grip tour)
I saw Aerosmith only twice, but I’ve heard lots of live stuff from them. I’ve never heard Tyler sound like he did this night though. He hit every single high note and scream with precision and authority. And the boys rocked it hard. It was, as previously mentioned however, July in Arizona so was just a tad on the warm side. And don’t give me that “it’s a dry heat” crap. Stick your face in a hot oven for about two hours. That’s dry too!

Grateful Dead, Silverbowl, Las Vegas, NV 5/29/1992 (Steve Miller opened)
A great “1/2 Step” to open the show and a solid first set. Just as the second set was opening to a great “China/Rider” the sky behind the stage began to turn into one of those crazy summer storms that you only see in those touristy pamphlets you find at rest stops. As the first few notes of “Looks Like Rain” began, the thunder began to quietly roll and a couple of lightning bolts crashed down way off in the distance. And just when Bobby starts screaming “I can’t stand the rain! I can’t stand it no!” as Jerry’s guitar poured the raindrops down, the thunder became louder and the lightning was brighter. Some claim it was Mickey playing around on the percussion, some claim it was God. I don’t know which is true, but it was awesome! (Listen to the show here!)

Pearl Jam, Mesa Amphitheater, Mesa, AZ 11/7/1992
It took me a while to accept grunge. I thought Kurt Cobain was a punk and that his angst was just a gimmick. But when Pearl Jam’s debut album, Ten, came out I loved it. It wasn’t my crowd, I was more attracted to a Dead show than the mosh pit scene, but I still had to see these guys. They did not disappoint! Everyone in the band is a great musician on his own, but it was Vedder’s voice that absolutely captivated. His emotions were real – you could feel it in every note. The crowd favorite “Black” was the highest of the highlights. As a side note, I then went back to listen a little more closely at Nirvana and began to appreciate them a little more. Pearl Jam was still #1, but Nirvana was okay in my book too. Cobain later proved that my theory about his gimmicky angst was very, very wrong. RIP, Kurt.

Jerry Garcia Band, Warfield Theater, San Francisco, CA 1/14/1995
I had gone up to San Francisco with a couple of friends for 3-nights of Jerry at the Warfield. The Friday night show (1/13/95) was good with a couple of highlights. Actually, the whole weekend was good with a couple of highlights each night. But the crown jewel of the run came to open the second set on Saturday night. A 27-minute version of “Shining Star” (the 70’s hit by The Manhattans). Somewhere in the middle Jerry was just leading the crowd with a quick note on the guitar every bar or so as we all sang to him “You are my shining star, don’t you go away! I want to be right here where you are, till my dying day!” In hindsight, it seems sort of prophetic.

So what are your personal favorite shows? Please feel free to share them in the comments.

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How to Stay Famous

One of the problems with today’s hyper-speed news cycle is that people barely get their full 15 minutes of fame anymore. One minute you’re surrounded by the paparazzo everywhere you go and before you know it – poof! – nobody cares about you anymore and you’re forced to rush out a bad memoir named after an X-Men character.

It sure seems like it’s gotten easier to get famous nowadays (thanks to more celebrity-based media and reality TV) but it’s much harder to stay famous. Worst of all, the truly talented people are getting lumped in with the general riff-raff (e.g. Jon & Kate) that are inexplicably clogging up our trashy magazines, website and TV shows.

In the future, if we want to keep evolving as a celebrity-obsessed culture, I think we’re going to need to create a new level of categorization somewhere between “celebrity” and “nobody.”

Now, you might be thinking, “isn’t that what the D-List is for?” And the answer is no. The D-List is for people that earned their way to celebrity-hood but didn’t have enough talent to stay famous or relevant. But that doesn’t take away from their initial accomplishments. For example, Corey (Feldman) & Corey (Haim) at their worst are still more culturally important than Octomom at her best. The D-List is still a part of the list and you need talent to get on the list in the first place.

Personally, I’d like to use the term “infamous” but that implies being known for negative reasons and most modern reality stars are more tedious than negative. Plus, killing sprees involve a lot of messy work, so “infamous” probably needs to be reserved for serial killers. Just like middle name usage.

So, unless you have a better suggestion, I’m going with “lamous.” Basically, we replace the term “fame” with “lame” in all of its uses to make it clear that this person is known, but they’re not famous. They’re lamous.

So that solves our first problem of separating the famous from the lamous and the celebrities from the celamebrities. But how can genuinely talented people stay famous in this unpredictable media era?

My theory is that many creative people get famous for being themselves. Their first book, album or TV show is original and authentic and society embraces them for being slightly more talented versions of regular people. But then they can’t sustain their fame because being famous changes them and takes away what we liked about them in the first place.

This happens on Food TV all the time. Someone like Rachael Ray is initially appealing precisely because she’s goofy and unpolished. Then she hits it big, becomes a “personality” and loses all of the goofiness that we found appealing in the first place. Look at Guy Fieri. I’m sure he’s a nice guy but they turned him into a caricature of himself with the stupid backward sunglasses and the sweat band and the ridiculous shirts and hair. When he was just a regular schlub and he dressed like that he looked fine. Now he looks like a douche. Plus, that dude will literally eat garbage. No one likes a celebrity that eats garbage.

Many, but not all, musicians suffer from the sophomore slump. People think that the sophomore slump is a result of the artist having run out of good material. But I don’t think it’s the absence of quality material. I think it’s that their environment has changed. They went from being poor, unknown chumps to being stars. You can’t write about everyday life and relate to regular people when you’re taking private planes everywhere and partying with Verne Troyer.

The simple answer seems to be to “keep it real.” But that’s unrealistic advice. Nobody is going to live in a shitty apartment or eat Ramen noodles just to keep it real. That’s not authentic, either.

Nope, the key to staying famous is to never relate to regular people in the first place. By definition, you can’t lose touch with people that you were never in touch with in the first place. That’s what makes celebrities like Madonna (or her modern-day knock-off Lady Gaga) so compelling, even though their music is awful. They don’t seem like real people. They don’t look like they were ever kids or not-famous. They appear as if they were birthed fully-formed as celebrities, like Athena from Zeus’s head.

(My apologies for that burst of pomposity.)

In conclusion:

If you have talent and want to sustain a long career of fame, don’t be a regular person that hits it big – people will get bored with that. Be a famous person that occasionally treats the commoners to a glimpse of greatness.

If you don’t have talent, but you want to be well-known, please feel free to go on a reality TV show or a multi-state killing spree. But be forewarned, you’ll never be a real celebrity and we might use your middle name.

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Getting Old Ain't Hard to Do

While many people will scratch and fight and basically do anything they can to avoid getting old, there is a small minority of individuals (okay, just me) that actually enjoys aging. I’m guessing it’s because as a child I was blessed with three glorious old men in my life – my two dearly departed grandfathers and my writing idol, Andy Rooney.

I love old men, with their lax hygiene and their stubbornness. I love their rambling, pointless stories about multiple unnamed characters. I love their complaining about anything and everything. And I especially love their old man cars.

Oh my, do I ever love their old man cars. Give me a Lincoln or a Mercury any day. If I had the money I would single-handedly save the American car industry. I dream of one day owning a Cadillac and putting a box of tissues and a navy cap on the rear shelf. I love that fabric roof top that looks like a convertible but isn’t. I love driving a little too slowly and drifting over the center line a little too much. And I love getting mad at anyone that tries to tell me to pay attention to the road.

But my big problem is that time moves so damn slowly. I’m just not getting old fast enough. It’s taken me practically a whole lifetime to get to be my current age and I’m not sure that I have the patience to wait until I’m officially pronounced old (I’m calling 70 old these days).

To ease my fractured nerves, I’ve been thinking about some of the signs of aging so that I can anticipate and celebrate them as they happen. You know, I’m just looking for a few positive markers to keep me motivated during my long journey.

So today, I’m excited for the day when I can no longer feel the roof of my mouth.

Let me explain. If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant (I was a cook for 7+ years) then you know that soup can never be hot enough for an old person. No matter how bubbling, boiling or scalding the soup is upon delivery, it absolutely won’t be hot enough for an old person. I’ve served thousands of bowls of soup in my day and I have never once heard an old person say “that’s too hot!” (Although I did once hear an old lady say “that’s hot!” like Paris Hilton and it haunted me for months.)

Since the same exact thing happens with old people and their coffee, my educated guess is that old people must lose all sensation on the roof of their mouths at a certain point in their lives. My palette, on the other hand, is still as sensitive as a baby’s bottom. In fact, just yesterday the roof of my mouth got all “skin-y” from an overly vigorous toothbrushing session.

Speaking of coffee, why do old people drink it with everything? Next time you’re in a diner sneak a peek at the old people and you’ll see that they all drink coffee (black, maybe decaf) no matter what time of day it is or what they’re eating. Coffee and an english muffin? Sure. Coffee and a tuna fish sandwich? Of course. Coffee and spaghetti? Why not?

So, as I was saying…wait, what was the point of this essay again?

Hey! I really am getting old! Hooray for me!

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A Beard's Life

One of the best things about being a man is having facial hair. Not only is growing a beard totally fun but it also allows a guy to completely change his look. Unlike women who can color and cut their hair to mix things up, most adult men just don’t have enough head hair to do anything exciting.

(On a side note, I once had a meeting with a 40-something guy with perfect hair: flowing locks, full and shiny. I was mesmerized by it. What Faustian bargain did he strike to score that hair? And how come actors and politicians always have more hair per capita than regular guys? Is it the hair that makes them successful? Would it be awkward if I ran my hands through your hair?)

I first fell in love with the beard when I got a copy of Springsteen’s “The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle” as a young boy. Bruce had a great, scraggly beard on that LP cover and I dreamed about having a beard like that one day. A few years later Tom Selleck and his fantastic moustache appeared on Magnum, PI and I was smitten. Now that was a moustache that you could set your watch to!

I always wanted to be that kid in high school with the facial hair. Remember that one guy that hit puberty way early and was already shaving on a regular basis? Yeah, I wanted to be that guy. In retrospect, that guy seems weird and creepy but at the time he seemed very mature and debonair. Then again, it wasn’t really an option for me as I couldn’t grow a beard in high school. Actually, the beard came in first, but the moustache was still pretty sketchy my first year in college.

Nowadays I’m a regular facial hair growing machine. I can bust out a credible beard in just under a week. I’m pretty proud of myself for that, by the way.

I almost always wear some kind of facial hair as my skin tends to be a little ruddy and my nose seems even bigger without the facial hair (yes, I’m painting a very attractive picture for you today.) I usually vacillate between 3 main looks:

Look #1: The Full Beard

Actually, the full beard would imply no shaving and I usually clean up the neck a little. Also, I trim it before it gets too bushy, or else you look like a crazy mountain man. Trimming requirements aside, the full beard is by far my favorite look. I think that it makes me look more rugged and macho and let’s face it – I need all the macho that I can get.

The only problem with the full beard is that it doesn’t work in the summer. Not only is it hot and itchy, but it’s just looks weird – like wearing cords in August. Or wearing manpris, any time.

Look #2: The Goatee

I actually hate the goatee because I think that it’s for fat guys and baseball players. Since I’m trying not to be a fat guy and I’m not so great at baseball I just don’t feel right with the goatee. But, the goatee is the go-to option when it’s too hot for the beard. I don’t think the goatee looks as good on me as the beard but it looks better than clean shaven, so I stick with it.

I’ve tried many of the fancy goatees but I just don’t like them – the beard only, the disconnected top and bottom, the wide goatee, the narrow goatee – nothing really strikes my fancy, though.

One time – just for fun – I shaved my goatee into a Fu Manchu and picked up my son at the YMCA summer camp. I knew that it must have looked creepy when parents were literally shielding their children from me. The Fu Manchu: It’s not just for bikers anymore!

Look #3: The Soul Patch

For some odd reason my wife likes the soul patch on me, but I feel like a tool when I have it. Mine is just too rectangular and a good soul patch has to be triangular. It seems like such a half-assed attempt at being a hipster, too. I mean, when you pull up next to me in traffic and I’m belting out some later-era Elton John power-ballad with the car seats in the back, don’t you just despise me and my stupid soul patch? Don’t you want to smack me for ruining the soul patch and everything that it stands for? I do.

One summer when I had the soul patch there was another daycare dad that had one (first). So we called him “Soul Patch Man #1” and I became “Soul Patch Man #2”. For the next few weeks whenever we spotted a soul patch man we would add to our list. It was fun, like we were a little club – the soul patch brotherhood. The moral of the story is that soul patches are more popular than you might think, but I still look like a loser with one. Sorry guys, I’m out of the brotherhood.

The Experiment

Lately I’ve been trying to figure out if people treat me differently based on the style of facial hair that I’m sporting. Like yesterday, I’ve got a very rugged 4 day stubble going – just enough to show that I mean business. And the barista at Starbucks gave me a venti for the price of a grande. And when I asked why she just kind of giggled, as if to say: “because you look so damn sexy today, Mr. Stubble, because you look so damn sexy!”

Or, maybe she just hit the wrong key on the register. But I think we know that it was the stubble. Anyway, I’ll keep tracking the results and will update you with any interesting findings.

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Having a Fine Time Doing Time

I’ve always thought that I could really succeed at prison life. And I don’t mean the local lock-up or even the county jail. I’m talking medium-to-maximum security prison-prison. Now, I’m not saying that I want to go to prison, nor am I implying that I accidentally killed a man in Boise and deserve to go to prison. I’m just saying that I think I could survive – and possibly even enjoy – a little time in prison.

Things that I think I’d like about Prison Life:

1) The clothing: prison garb consists of loose, flowy pants and shirts that ride the line between sweats and real clothes. Sounds comfy to me!  Plus, the vertical stripes are very slimming.

2) The alone time: while I’m no Unabomber, I’m also a person that can go long stretches without needing to leave the house and/or interact with other humans. Solitary confinement sounds kind of awesome if you think about it.

3) The mobile library: here I am, like a schmuck, going to the library and bookstore while in prison they bring the books to you.

4) The food: they don’t serve that fancy chef-inspired crap that I detest so much in prison. We’re talking Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes and other real food three times a day, every day. Yum!

5) The gangs: I feel like I’d do pretty well working my way up a prison gang hierarchy. I’m not great with a shank, but I’d definitely work on my skills if I knew that I was going to be in the joint for a while.

6) The free Johnny Cash concerts: ’nuff said.

Things that I think I wouldn’t like about Prison Life:

1) The yard: never a great athlete, I feel like my lack of sports skills might prevent me from getting on the prison soccer/football team and planning a dramatic escape.

2) The guards: they seem mean and are always demanding favors and bribes. I don’t like their attitude at all.

3) The gangs: I’m not sure which gang to align myself with. I’m leaning Latino, but I’d have to brush up on my Spanish a bit first. The skinheads would definitely not like me. I’d like to read some brochures before I commit, though. It’s such a major life-decision – kind of like picking a fraternity to pledge, I’d imagine.

4) The pay: $1.65 an hour to do the laundry seems a little low. Sure, I could always supplement it by dabbling in the cigarette-strawberry wine trade, but still, I’d like to make at least $6 an hour.

5) The sheets: I hear that the thread-count is below 300. That’s really not going to cut it. I have sensitive skin, you know.

6) The free Billy Ray Cyrus concerts: ’nuff said, again.

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Strangers I Love: Old Man Jogger

Dear Old Man Jogger,

Please know that today and forevermore I love you.

I love how you jog up and down my street every day. Well, I suspect that you run every day but I don’t actually see you every day. Perhaps you take a day or two off a week. You probably should. You don’t want to get shin splints or anything.

I love you because you’re old and you jog. You jog a lot more than I do and I’m at least 40 years younger than you. You jog by my house. You jog on the promenade by the beach and you probably jog in other areas that I don’t frequent.

I love you even though your ribbed wife beater is threadbare and full of holes. I love you even though you look kind of grouchy. I love you even though you barely grunted at me that one time I said “hi” to you. And I still love you even though you smelt really, really bad that one time I tried to say “hi” to you.

I consider you an inspiration to all old people between 70 and 85. I thank you on behalf of the oldsters in town.

On the other hand, you should probably know that you make people my age feel guilty. I know that I feel guilty when you jog by my house and I’m stuffing yet another Suzy-Q down my piehole.

Either way, I just wanted to say that I love you. And good luck with the jogging.

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Cross-Cultural Intellectual Relativity Theory (C.C.I.R.T.)

I’ve been hard at work in the lab lately doing some landmark research on cross-cultural intellectual relativity theory (C.C.I.R.T.) and wanted to share some of my initial findings just in case any readers had valuable insights to share before I submitted my final report to the appropriate scientific journals.

I believe that I have proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that individuals in possession of a British accent receive an intellectual credibility enhancement (I.C.E.) benefit of approximately 63% upon arrival in the United States. This benefit differs based upon the sub-variant of the accent. For example, a Cockney accent only yields a modest 10% benefit while an East Yorkshire-on-Little-Paddington accent receives an incredible 134% gain (on average).

This (frankly undeserved) intellectual perceptual boost helps to explain* the massive emigration of British citizens to the U.S. over the last three decades. Many Brits are now well aware of the fact that Brits of average intelligence have a much greater chance of financial success in America simply because the average American thinks that Brits (even dumb ones) are wicked smart because of their fancy way of talking.

(*Please note that our research also showed that many Brits prefer life in America for many other reasons. Some of the listed examples include: the American habits of wrapping food in hygienic containers, chilled beverages, cable television and sporting events that do not drag on for months on end without resolution.)

Sadly, there appears to be no reciprocal factor. Residents of Great Britain (England in particular) are wholly unimpressed by American accents and actually have a higher opinion of dim-witted Welshmen than of Americans, especially Southern-accented Americans. This is most likely due to the perceived intellectual limitations of former American president George W. Bush.

Other notable findings of the study include the fact that most Americans view Australian accents favorably; but as opposed to the intellectual credibility enhancement associated with the British accent, the majority of Americans just thought that Australians sounded like “they’d be fun to party with.”

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The 5 Stages of the Company Holiday Party

This time of the year the media is always full of useless articles with suggestions for avoiding embarrassment at your company’s annual holiday party. Ironically, these articles provide the same advice that my Mother attempted to pawn off on me in high school: “Just nurse one beer throughout the entire evening.” This makes a lot of sense – unless you’re the person that wants more than one drink.

(Please note for the record that I work for a highly professional organization that celebrates the holidays soberly and sedately in the traditional fashion – with a retelling of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol and a trip to the Nutcracker. You can file this essay under the heading of “fact or fiction?”)

So while I cheerfully advocate having a good time at your party, it’s also important to keep track of “The 5 Stages of the Company Party” to make sure that you don’t commit any professional faux pas:

Stage 1: Anticipation

Starting right after Thanksgiving and culminating with the pre-party drinking at the office, the Anticipation stage is a wonderful time of reminiscing about parties past and dreaming of future glories. If you do karaoke, it’s also a great time to talk about past performances and to think about this year’s potential song selections. While generally a wonderful time, the anticipation stage can be rough for those who have embarrassed themselves in the past.

Stage 2: Love

After the drinks start flowing, the combination of holiday spirit and alcohol usually produces an outpouring of love and affection. Awkward hugs, proclamations of eternal loyalty and even a few stray tears are the tell-tale sign that you’re knee-deep in the love stage. Yes, it’s a beautiful and natural expression of human emotion, but you may live to regret it if you get too swept away in the moment.

Stage 3: Aggression

At this point, we’ve reached the half-way point of the evening. Love has been displaced by aggression. People are starting to get drunk and old resentments are surfacing. An accidental bump or spilt drink can turn ugly. I don’t like this stage and I don’t understand this stage, but alcohol clearly activates some prehistoric gene in the Y chromosome that makes men crazy and violent. Smart money says to avoid this stage in the bathroom, at the bar or out with the smokers on the sidewalk.

Stage 4: Sloppy

The early-birds have left. The floor is wet. People who shouldn’t be drinking anymore start doing shots. Inappropriate coupling is taking place. Glasses are breaking. People are falling on the dance floor. It’s sloppy time! This is my favorite time of the party because this is when the memories are made – but it’s not for the faint-of-heart. When a party turns sloppy you’ve either got to go home or buckle up and go for a ride.

Stage 5: Remorse

Sometimes it hits you during the cab ride home. Sometimes it hits you when you’re getting sick in the alley. Sometimes it hits you the next morning when you wake up. Or worst of all, sometimes it hits you when you walk in the office and are reminded of the horrible thing that you forgot about the next day. It’s fairly certain that if you didn’t leave before things got sloppy, you’ll probably regret something (or someone) the next day. Don’t worry, though, plenty of companies start hiring again after New Years!

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Jets, Rails & Cars: A Handy Little Guide to Choosing the Perfect Mode of Transportation When Traveling Away from Home (not legally affiliated with Planes, Trains & Automobiles)

You’ve read A Handy Little Guide to Choosing the Perfect Place to Stay When Traveling Away from Home.

You’ve booked the perfect room.

Now you’re probably wondering how to get to your destination.

Fear not! For today we bring you:

Jets, Rails & Cars: A Handy Little Guide to Choosing the Perfect Mode of Transportation When Traveling Away from Home

For most of us, we have three main choices when we’re traveling from home: we can drive (and fight the traffic), we can take a plane (and fight the security), or we can take a train (and fight the railway hobos).

You might be confused as to why I left boats and busses of the list. I’ve got two reasons (movies) why: Titanic and Midnight Cowboy. If you’ve watched those movies and still choose to travel by bus or sea, well then I really can’t help you. (But a doctor probably can. Legionnaire’s disease is no joke!)

Automobiles

Cars are an extremely popular form of transportation these days. In fact, they’re so popular that it’s practically impossible to get anywhere in a car because of all of the other cars on the road!

The nice thing about cars is that you’re in control of your own destiny. You can play with the radio. You can pull over for some delicious road food and coffee (calories consumed in the car don’t count!) whenever you want. You can cut people off and give them the finger if you need to blow off a little steam.

Plus, the advent of DVDs and third-row seating has made traveling with the youngsters practically a dream come true: now instead of being badgered “are we there yet” after 15 minutes, we can enjoy a full 35 minutes of peace before the whining commences. Huzzah!

Sure, cars are an expensive, inefficient and dangerous mode of transportation but they deliver one thing that you can’t get anywhere else: the illusion of control. Savor it.

Planes

On the opposite end of the spectrum are airplanes. Everything about the flying experience is tortuous: the check-in process, security shakedowns, being 47th in line on the tarmac, the pilot’s overly-loud and tedious announcements, the stupid farewells when you’re trying to get off the plane, trying not to poo at the airport, etc.

Even though I’m not particularly scared of the big ol’ stinky bus in the sky, I desperately hate everything about flying, especially the phony security experience (are planes really susceptible to sneaker-water-toothpaste bombs?) You know, if we really wanted to get revenge on the terrorists we shouldn’t torture them or lock them up in Gitmo, we should just make them spend the rest of their lives at the airport waiting in the security line. That, my friends, is what we call poetic justice.

Of course, we put up with the flying experience because it’s the fastest way to get long distances. But the real question is: do we really need to get everywhere so quickly?

Trains

That’s where trains come in. I love traveling long distances by train. I yearn for that brief period in history where there were trains but no planes. Damn those stupid Wright Brothers! I wish that we just ditched the whole airplane thing and built high-speed trains that went everywhere. If trains were the only choice for cross-country travel then we’d all accept that it takes a week to get to California and everybody would slow down a bit. Every trip would turn into a reprise of Festival Express. We’d be drinking Jack with Janis, singing with Danko and chasing the dragon with Garcia. Sure, we might need to spend a little bit more time in rehab, but isn’t that a small price to pay for a little piece of mind?

Everything about the rail experience is great. You can read, listen to music, walk around, eat, work, talk on the phone, drink, smuggle things to foreign lands, play Uno, whatever.

Summary

Whether you choose to drive, fly or take a train on your next trip, the important thing to remember is that there’s really no need to ever travel beyond the cozy confines of Route 128. As we like to say in Boston, everything that you need in life can be found within the 128 border – and if it can’t, well then you probably don’t need it.

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