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Posts Tagged ‘nothing in particular

A new trend that I’m not a particular fan of, or potentially a well-established trend that I’ve only just begun to encounter and am not a particular fan of, is for the cost of a ticket to a book-reading by a celebrity to include a copy of the book. I’m not opposed to the selling of books per se, nor even to the inflated cost of a ticket to these particular readings; however, just because I’m interested in hearing what a particular actor I enjoy has to say about things doesn’t necessarily mean that I need to own a copy of their book. Especially if they’ve written a children’s book. While I do want to hear what successful people can share about their creative process, so that I can know specifically what I should be doing when I’m not doing it, I don’t want my bookshelf to look like I read nothing but celebrity memoirs. Which is why, in addition to generally avoiding celebrity book events, I also never invite anyone over to my house.

Last week, though, I bit the bullet and bought a ticket to see Nick Offerman read from his new book at the Wilbur mostly, I think, because I just found out on Wednesday that he was reading on Friday and the pressure of last-minute decision-making overrode my natural aversions. The event was interesting; Mr. Offerman is an engaging speaker with an interesting perspective and a laugh as ridiculous as it is divine.

After the reading, Mr. Offerman opened the floor to questions, and was met immediately not with questions but with a single word, shouted again and again by the audience: mustache. It wasn’t entirely a surprise; when he first took the stage, his face seemed empty without the iconic Ron Swanson mustache. I was taken aback to see his face so naked, and though initially I mourned the loss of Ron Swanson from the world, I was quickly won over by the similarly staunch and intelligent, though infinitely more ribald, Mr. Offerman.

In response to the audience, Mr. Offerman explained that he, a character actor, would be unable to play a new character if people only ever saw him as Ron Swanson. Thus, as beloved as the mustache may have been, it must now belong to the ages. As much as much sense as that makes, though, that we should learn to draw a distinction between the man and the character he portrayed, it does call into question the photo used for the cover of the book, which, now that I can tell the difference, is much more Ron Swanson than Nick Offerman.

As I said, I’m not opposed to the selling of books, and at this particular point, Ron Swanson will probably move more product than Nick Offerman. And probably, too, the cover was shot while the final season of Parks & Recreation was filming. But still; while I would never have cause to question Nick Offerman’s integrity (seriously: you should hear him talk about how much he loves his wife), I just wish he had used a picture of himself.

After the Q&A, there was to be a book signing. And though I enjoyed the idea of telling the erstwhile Ron Swanson that I am a librarian, the theater was so ill-prepared to organize the audience into a formation that would allow any single person to get his or her book signed while also not being an unbelievable fire hazard, that I decided my best course of action would be to head home.

And because last Friday felt like summer, unlike the deep autumn in which we find ourselves lo these several days later, I decided to walk. I know; I’m a damn hero over here. A hero who sees no reason to spend $2.10 to go two stops on the Red Line. Thrift is a virtue, I understand, and virtue is its own reward. Which makes it all the more amazing that on this walk I received the greatest possible gift when I found myself slightly alongside a couple engaging in perhaps the most awkward romantic banter in history. The topic, obviously, was mailboxes.

It may seem, especially when inebriated, which I desperately hope this couple was, that the mailbox presents no end of possibilities for romantic conversation. I mean, when you have key players like “box,” “slot,” “sign for delivery,” and “insufficient postage” doing the heavy lifting for you, the wit practically writes itself. And yet, despite this cornucopia of material, this fair woman, who hopefully was drunk, lost her grip on the topic in a terrible way but tried desperately to keep up with it by announcing that isn’t it so weird that no one ever steals from mailboxes?

As a practical person not generally given to romance, I would probably not have been swept up in her desperate whimsy and instead replied that it’s not, because they do. In fact, it’s a federal offense to mess with someone’s mail, and it probably wouldn’t carry a five-year penalty if no one ever did it. Which would have been unfortunate, as I believe pointing out that the drunken person trying so hard to impress you that they’ll say something unbelievably stupid just said something unbelievably stupid is what the kids call a mood killer.

On the other hand, though, sometimes a topic is so egregious that such a killing would be a mercy. Because even though her young man tried valiantly to engage, or at least not to dash the conversation altogether, it did not get better. On the contrary, it got so much worse that it was thrilling. Desperate to course correct, the woman announced that they just don’t HAVE mailboxes where she’s from.

I didn’t fully hear the rest of what said for two reasons. The first was that, when presented with an intellectual puzzle, I need to make an attempt to solve it, however feeble. Where could a person be from that doesn’t have mailboxes? The most obvious answer is another planet, and this young woman was some sort of intergalactic spy. Which is encouraging to think of, that at least this particular alien race is so poor at fitting in amongst us that any possible invasion would have to be several years away.

However, their conversation continued and turned to the delivery of packages – because they were talking on their DATE about PACKAGES; and not in the sexy way. I assume, while I was marveling, it was put forth that, though the mailbox itself is impervious to theft, not every delivery will fit within said box and must then be left completely unguarded on a person’s porch, tempting any thief who might pass by with its vulnerability,causing her to reveal that on her home planet, packages are simply left with neighbors. Which means she lives in a place without mailboxes, but people are always home during the day. So, alien home world, or, just as likely, trailer park.

The main distraction, though, was that I am, like, 1 billion percent sure that I know guy who was on this amazingly awkward date. A former co-worker, I believe, with whom I was not particularly friends with but knew a number of people who thought well of him. By which I of course mean thought he was cute.

I have to say, here in the honesty of the internet, that I did not see it. Which, as with other things that are particularly beloved that I don’t get, I chose not to comment on. Not out of preservation in this case, but simply because I am very much in favor of finding people attractive, in general; that I may not agree in a specific case is irrelevant to the larger cause, which is one that I think should be celebrated in all its forms.

So my relationship with this gentleman is tenuous; we know each other well enough to recognize and say hello, but not well enough for us ever to laughingly reminisce about that time I saw him on a date with an alien female who wouldn’t stop talking about mailboxes, and he was gamely trying to go along with it. It’s not a memory he and I will share, which is sad, because it is one I will treasure forever.

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As I believe I’ve mentioned before, not every topic I think about writing about makes it into this blog. Usually, it’s because I’m just lazy and never get around to writing about something, but there are other reasons – or, as some might call them, excuses –  for why a topic will be cut. Of these “reasons”, the most common is that, although I’ve come up with a killer punchline, I can not for the life of me gracefully reverse-engineer the rest of the joke; other times, I’ll actually start writing something, only to realize that it’s not actually all that interesting; other other times I’ll start writing something only to realize that the contortions I’d have to go through to get to the ostensible point would render the whole thing unreadable (that’s the Romantic in me, what with my reach exceeding my grasp); sometimes, I briefly think that I shouldn’t get too complainy about things; and then finally, we come back to lazy and are confronted with all the posts I just never got around to writing.

As we greet the new year, I could resolve that I will, this year, definitely blog about all of these topics. And not just these topics, but any new topics that should occur to me. After all, what is a resolution for, if not to be broken? Instead, I decided to start the new year off with a favorite old stand-by – the list – and just present, all at once, and in no particular order, those topics that I really thought I had something to say about, but did not, and why it originally occurred to me.

Ready? Here goes:

True Detective : this show is so good, but the best way to watch it is the binge. Otherwise, you may use the time between episodes to come up with crazy and ridiculous theories, forgetting that True Detective takes place in the world, and then be disappointed to learn that Carcoza is not some mystical revelation but simply the name bad men gave to the place where they did bad things, when you should be utterly creeped out by exactly how bad those men were. Other points that would have been made : McConnaissance? Yes. Absolutely. But don’t overlook Woody Harrelson; his role is less showy, but I think it’s actually the more difficult of the two, since he has to get you on his side while being utterly oblivious to his own many failings. Plus, his joy at seeing his family in the final episode will completely break your heart. Also, big ups to the director for letting us know exactly how awful things were without ever showing us, and to the writers for turning the simple word “flowers” into something again unseen but unquestionably terrible, as well as for tricking everyone into thinking this show was a murder investigation when it really was just a chess game to get Rust and Marty back together.

True Detective, season two : I am excited, but I have concerns. Primarily casting-wise. Taylor Kitsch, please don’t get stuck in a Rust-lite role. Yes,  Texas forever, but not Riggins forever, even though we’ll always love Tim Riggins. We want more for you, is what I’m saying. I’m equally concerned about the chemistry among the rest of the cast. Plus, if it’s set in California, does that mean no more investigating the Tuttles? Expectations are high, but, as with Serial‘s looming second season, they may be impossible to meet.

Serial, season two : Seriously, what could be as compelling as Season 1? I worry. Also, what should I listen to, podcast-wise, before season 2, to keep myself occupied?

Mail “kimp” : the only reason this is funny is because “chimp” is such an easy word to recognize. However, in finding the “kimp” pronunciation funny, we’re all agreeing that “mail chimp” is a perfectly logical juxtaposition of words. It is not.

Rumpelstiltskin : Rumpelstiltskin should not be considered the bad guy in that story. Bartering for a baby aside, all he really is is a skilled, independent craftsman who expects to be compensated fairly for deploying his skill to benefit another, and who probably should have learned that, when you want to keep something a secret, maybe don’t write it into a song that you sing while dancing around a campfire, no matter how deserted you believe the woods to be. Also, is it really a happy ending that a woman who traded away her baby for a chance to marry the king gets to keep it? Particularly considering that the king the child’s father is so stupid that he believes a woman can spin straw into gold, and yet she comes from a family of laborers rather than nobility? And that the grandfather of the child is a greedy, grasping liar? Why is the child necessarily worse off with Rumpelstiltskin, again?

Things everyone seems to love on the internet that I do not : Oh my god, I hate The Oatmeal so much you guys! I’m not even going to link to it, it’s that terrible. People seem to think it’s funny, and I tried to, I swear, but it’s not funny; it’s mean-spirited mediocrity wrapped up in bright colors and oversized text. There is nothing even remotely paradoxical about a different species eschewing foods that we enjoy, there are zero good reasons to punch a dolphin, and if you engage the services of a sex worker, stick to the terms you agreed upon, you asshole. I can not at all understand why wonderful, intelligent people like this horrible, hateful site. It’s the Two and a Half Men of websites.

Other things I don’t like about the internet include : Patton Oswalt, Joss Whedon, Louis C.K; – Stop quoting these 3 yabbos all the time; other people say things that matter sometimes, you know? Especially about feminism – there must be a well-spoken funny lady somewhere who could provide some quotable perspective on feminism, right? And yet all I ever see are these 3 guys. Also, Benedict Cumberbatch, who, to be fair, does seem like a very charming individual, but the obsessive mania that he inspires is a little too much to take.

Star Wars, Dr. Who, and Nerd Culture : the widespread acceptability of nerd culture can probably be traced directly back to Star Wars prequels, the first of which (The Phantom Menace) was released in 1999. Because those movies are terrible, and universally recognized as such by even the most ardent of Star Wars fans, they put said fans in the position of being able to bust on the franchise even while liking it; it wasn’t uncool to like Star Wars, as long as you could still make fun of the prequels – those were the real nerds! Which doesn’t actually hurt anyone, because nobody liked the prequels. Although, I should confess that I did cry at Revenge of the Sith, which I saw in the theater; the montage where the Jedi get slaughtered was very effective.

Similarly, the relaunch of Dr. Who, which took place in 2005. I’ve never actually watched a full episode of Dr. Who, which I imagine to be just unbearably whimsical, but I did have to suffer through my brother watching the original series in the 70s and 80s. To me, this is what Dr. Who looks like, or this; intelligent, probably easily befuddled, a little old-fashioned even at the time – kind of like a British Indiana Jones, if Indiana Jones were a professor of theoretical archaeology who never left the safety of the university and always wore a sweater.

And then along comes 2005, and suddenly Dr. Who is this guys, who I can only imagine was free for the role because the new James Bond went to Daniel Craig. The new Dr. Who has clearly never worn a sweater in his life, much less a scarf covered in question marks, because that would be a liability in all of the bar fights he probably gets into. Subsequent doctors were this guy, who at least looks smart and not like a bruiser, but is also very cute and someone I would make out with, hard; this fellow here, who is not my cup of tea but I imagine appeals to the same sort who like the aforementioned Mr. Cumberbatch; and finally, this guy, who is at least appropriately old and could conceivably wear a sweater or scarf or any other garment knitted with question marks for warmth, but is again someone I would make out with, although this time more gently so as not snap his surely brittle bones. And, while I know that there have always been posters of Dr. Who for people to hang on their dorm room walls, I don’t imagine that they were ever supposed to be pin-ups; my understanding is that’s what the companion is for.

Anyway, the point of this was going to be that, while equal-opportunity ogling is always appreciated, as a people, we haven’t actually embraced nerd culture, we’ve appropriated it

Working life – I actually do still plan to go into a great detail on this topic. Primarily, though, the big lesson of this year is that having a boss who has no regard for their staff, be they a piece of garbage so devoted to cheating on his girlfriend (now wife, the lucky lady) that he thinks it charming to disregard when a woman says no, or just a garden-variety crazy person who must have been good at something to have failed upward to the level of Director yet shows no sign of understanding anything, is terrible under any circumstances. Co-workers everywhere, too, be crazy.

A few months ago, I wrote about two songs that are not particularly good. And while that piece is undoubtedly the best press either of those songs has gotten at this late date in 2014, and is also undoubtedly considered long enough by anyone who actually read it, it does not include a few major points that I’d intended to make but unfortunately left out due to scheduling issues and poor time management on my part.

Point the first is that having a hit song, be it on the radio, the local music video station, or wherever it is music gets played these days (Youtube, I guess? I honestly have no idea where music happens anymore), takes a tremendous amount of effort. Even a truly terrible song represents sometimes years of hard work, of commitment to practice, of prioritizing the band, of just showing up, day after day after day, to play music or sing or perfect a chord progression (those are things, yes? chord progressions?) in front of a small audience of people you know and a handful of strangers who aren’t paying attention but are raising their voices so they can talk over you and all of your hard work. While we, the end-user, might be under the impression that the song we just heard for the first time ever is from a brand-new band, the truth is that the band existed long before we the public ever heard of them, and the fact that we’re hearing from them at all is an exceptional achievement on their part.

I admire the hell out of that. Even when I don’t like the end product at all, I have to recognize that these people have achieved something that I probably never will be able to do. I mean, I fully intended to write this follow-up post months ago, but didn’t get around to it because I’m so lazy. And even today, I’ve already taken about 5  breaks since I started 2 hours ago. Which, for those of you who did not flee to Kentucky to study math, means it’s taken 2 hours to write 2.5 paragraphs. That there are people – many of them! – who can sit still and focus on writing, every day, over and over and over again, is just amazing to me. That what they’ve written is terrible is utterly besides the point, because their terrible actual writing surpasses my brilliant imaginary writing, simply because it exists. Which is not to say that actual things can not be measured on their quality; it is only to say that there are real-world applications to getting an A for effort, just as there are to not living up to your potential.

Point the second is that while I will go to my grave insisting that those songs are no good (in a scenario where I am murdered by a crazed Deep Blue Something fan who, distraught that they can’t secure funding for a shot-by-shot remake of the video starring Avatar-style animated versions of the cast of the shot-by-shot remake of Psycho, holds me responsible for the failure of their Kickstarter but then, in turn, meets their own tragic end when my death at their hands is avenged by Oola, as is foretold), I never actually said that I don’t like them. In fact, the reason Breakfast at Tiffany’s was declared the winner of that particular scuffle is because I happen to like the song quite a bit : it’s catchy, the singer’s voice is pleasant, and I like thinking about breakfast. That might seem like faint praise, and it is; however, the point is, the song being objectively bad has no bearing on whether or not I like it.

In many circles, this would make Breakfast at Tiffany’s my guilty pleasure. Guilty pleasures have become increasingly popular over the past few years, for reasons I can’t begin to suppose although I do imagine some enterprising young cultural studies major will be writing a thesis on it. Guilty pleasures have become a niche market, especially on television, or at least it seems so to me because I read a lot about television, where, every season, some new show is being touted as “your new guilty pleasure”. And while I appreciate the level of effort that goes in to making these shows a success, I must admit it’s to finding it extremely interesting when they fail, as that usually generates at least one “Your new guilty pleasure – why did it fail?” article, as though the answer can not at least in part be found in a marketing campaign that considered the show being so terrible that liking it would be embarrassing a selling point.

To me, though, the concept of a guilty pleasure is a little weird. I’m not embarrassed by liking a particular song, or television show, or movie, or book, or whatever. Enjoying something that is definitely terrible is not the sum total of my taste, and even if that something is completely without merit, if I like it then I like it; it doesn’t make sense to feel bad about it, in the same way I don’t at all regret not liking something overflowing with merit. Which, considering how I don’t like just about anything (like Death Cab for Cutie; talk about your dumb band names), is really for the best.

Sometimes I feel bad for people who have cats other than Oola. For instance, as I was leaving work the other day my office mate said I should have a good night at home playing with my cat. I wasn’t feeling particularly well that day; I said all I really wanted was to lie down on the couch and have the cat sit on me. This, my office-mate clarified, is what she’d meant.

I have no objection to laying on the couching being considered a game; if it could be considered a sport, I would be a world-class athlete. And there are certain challenges to having Oola sit on me for an extended period of time; for example, I have to stay very still so that she won’t be unsettled and decide to sit somewhere that is not on me. So, unlike regular sitting on the couch, where I might fidget or lean over or decide to get up and walk into the kitchen for more water or something, Oola sitting on me sitting on the couch means that I might not move at all for literally hours.

Even while staying perfectly still, there is a very definite presence to be felt when Oola is sitting on me. Unlike some of your fluffier cats, Oola is solid. Last we checked, she weighed in at 13 pounds, although you’d never guess it to look at her, in part because black is slimming, even in cats; and in larger part because it’s almost entirely muscle.

How does a tiny little kitten build up 13 pounds of muscle? In Oola’s case, it’s from play. Because, while sitting on the couch completely still is a perfectly enjoyable way to pass a couple of hours, it’s actually quite a different experience than playing with Oola. For Oola, there’s an element of destruction in play that cannot be achieved through stillness. In play, there’s activity : the chasing of an object, which occasionally explodes into running from room to room to room seemingly at random. Oola is not content merely to bat at things being dangled in front of her; Oola puts all of her energy into chasing these things, and she chases them because she wants to catch them. Oola chases things because she wants to catch them, and she wants to catch them because she wants to kill them.

What are the things Oola wants to kill? Anything, really. Feathers. Pencils. Plastic pull tabs from soy milk or orange juice cartons. Ribbons. Bed sheets, but only when they’re being changed. Hands and wrists. The red dot. Books and magazines. The corners of cardboard boxes. Occasionally, an official cat toy. Regardless of what it is, Oola brings the same level of intensity to finding it, catching it, and destroying it.

These tendencies toward destruction seem to invite frequent comment from others, and that comment is most often that Oola is very lucky to have landed in my home. From this, I have concluded that most people would not be happy with a cat like Oola. Which in part makes me sad for them, but mostly makes me realize how lucky I am that Oola ended up here. Otherwise, I might now be sitting here right now with some light-weight feline resting on my leg, and barely be able to tell there’s a cat in the house.

There was a time not too long ago in memory but perhaps a bit further back as the crow flies when, instead of taking to the internet to share half-formed thoughts however deeply felt, I would walk on down to the Pamplona cafe and write. Not, as many of my friends did, in a journal; I have never managed to quite wrap my head around the thought of writing for no audience – particularly when the alternative is to pass hours upon hours with the same thoughts whirling around my head in a most productive fashion. Instead, I would put pencil to paper to write letters to my friend Naopi, who was living in Greece at the time.

An interesting thing about these letters, or so I think, is that, although I did almost nothing at all in my free time except write to her (then, as now, it took me an exceptionally long time to complete a single letter), I always had lots to talk about. While the overall topics are probably pretty similar to the categories on ye olde blogge here – people being strange, shopping, animals – the specifics of most of those letters have been lost to the hoary mists of time, and possibly the recycling can. Except for one topic, which I remember quite well : what makes a person boring.

There are two main reasons why I remember this topic : one is that, as soon as I mailed it off to Naopi, I received from her a letter dissecting what is was that made a person charismatic; she couldn’t possibly have received my letter before writing her own – the Greek mail system being notoriously slow in the mid-’90s – and I thought it an interesting and symbolically meaningful statement on our friendship that we would both approach the same topic at the same time, but from such very different directions. The second is that there was a cute boy involved.

Said cute boy was Luke, who had been a classmate of mine at the college Naopi attended as well. Luke and I had a few classes together, and he played in a band with a guy who lived downstairs from me freshman year (whose roommate that freshman year, a propos of absolutely nothing, took dreadful notes), so I had ample opportunity to appreciate his classic, Aryan dreaminess.  Luke’s most important quality, it turned out, was that, in one chance encounter behind a Walgreens in Somerville, he utterly obliterated the very boring theory I had spent so many weeks working out.

Then, my theory had been that whether or not a speaker was interesting was determined by energy. It was a simpler time then, I was young, and so it made sense to the optimism of my youth not that any topic would be inherently uninteresting, but that a lack of energy and enthusiasm displayed by the speaker would translate to a corresponding lack of interest in the audience for anything they had to say.

That day on the bike path, though, Luke was interested in whatever it was he was talking about. He was smiling, eyes crinkling, hands gesticulating an amount appropriate to the topic. Also : still very handsome. If we were in a silent movie or being watched from afar through high-powered binoculars, it would not have been unreasonable to conclude that our conversation was of great interest and perhaps some little import. When, in fact, the conversation was stunningly dull.

So boring. It was so boring! I don’t remember at all what we were talking about, but I do remember a peculiar sense of loss as I realized that there would be attractive people in my life that I would have no interest in talking to, and a more profound sense of disbelief as my theory of energy crumpled in front of a handsome face, clearly so jazzed about the topic, and yet, somehow, so, so boring.

I have, of course, been bored many times since then, and even, on a few occasions, by a handsome gentleman. Though I have not had reason to return to my formal studies, I have, through repeated exposure to things and people that are not at all interesting, realized that “boring” can not be reduced to either the presence or absence of one single element, but instead is the complex result of the interplay of several factors:

  • The most sure sign that you are at the advent of a boring conversation is an assumption by the speaker that the audience has knowledge it could not possibly have. This gambit is often employed by the advertising industry, which will develop products to help you sync to the The Cloud, perfect its BB Cream, or list the 10 most tell-tale signs of Imposter Syndrome, without ever having established that the cloud, cream or syndrome actually exist and, further, serve some purpose. They do not.
  • In conversation, this will typically present as an especially difficult part of a task that has not been previously discussed, and, as in advertising, is an attempt to hook the audience’s interest by exploiting the audience’s unwillingness to admit they don’t know something and risk looking foolish. Unfortunately, my typical response to context-free information that sounds like nonsense is not worry that I don’t know what’s going on, but rather to conclude that the speaker is kind of a dick.
  • An addition signifier of a boring conversation is the inclusion of numerous but completely unnecessary details. This one is difficult for me to point out, as there are few things I love more than unnecessary details – it’s kind of my signature. And, indeed, a well-deployed detail can add flavor and depth to a story. However, few are the people in the world who would enjoy an in-depth discussion of each individual vegetable that could potentially top a Subway Sandwich, even if the shredding of the lettuce could indeed be the key to replicating that sandwich at home.
  • A corollary to unnecessary detail is the allusion to other unspecified details. The speaker may reference a previous event as though it had been aforementioned , e.g. “So then there’s that whole thing,” the emphasis on that indicating the potential of interesting, or perhaps even scandalous, information. As with the assumption of knowledge, this is often an attempt to get the audience to ask after that whole thing, thus prolonging the conversation and the speaker’s role as the center of attention. Don’t fall for it.
  • While the speaker might happily digress in a direction of their choosing – revisiting that whole thing, for example – they will not allow for the natural flow and development of a conversation that can occur between two (or more) equal participants. Even if another participant does manage to introduce a new topic, a boring speaker will always revert back to the original topic.
  • Similarly, while it may feel like a boring conversation just will not end, the fact is that is that a boring conversation is actually far, far longer than an interesting conversation. As with the previous point, it is impossible to bring to this conversation a natural end; even if you were to tell the speaker that you knew exactly what they were going to say, and then prove that by going ahead and saying it, the speaker would still continue on the predetermined path of what they want to say. That may sound far-fetched, but I’ve done it.

The Smithsonian reported earlier this week that we’re approaching “Peak Beard”. Which is to say that we’ve reached a cultural saturation point with regards to  facial hair; beards, their infinite varieties and configurations, are indeed everywhere. And while there will always be a need for the beard in our society – how else a  silver fox make himself even more distinguished? or a sports team win the playoffs? –  right now, that necessity has become commonplace. Through their very numbers, any individual beard has dissolved into the vast sea of beard that has washed over us all. The beard, in short, has sold out.

That being said, the dawn of Peak Beard reminds me of the one and only beard story I have. At least, it’s the only one I remember in its entirety; I do have a vague recollection of an apartment search that  involved a bearded lady, but I couldn’t tell you how. That story may not have had a punchline, or not one beyond “bearded lady”; that makes things harder to remember.

But, I digress. Anyway  – several years ago, I was having  lunch with some friends; our table was crowded, but the only two people I remember specifically as being present were Debbie and Scott, though not because that was unusual. We were deeply involved in your standard lunchtime conversation, filling what would otherwise be silent in an unremarkable manner, when by our table passed a guy with a beard.

“Hey,” I interjected. “Who’s that guy with the beard?”
“Which one?” Debbie asked.

The table paused, as everyone stopped to focus on Debbie. Debbie had a habit for malaprop, most famously declaring her tendency to “eat several guys under a table” in a discussion of how much she enjoyed food. The  beard question did not, on its face, have quite that level of humor inherent; it was the context in which the question was posed that elevated it into the annals of Stories We’d Tell, and the context was this : we were in high school at the time.

Specifically, we were Sophomores. And, while puberty comes to different people at different times, facial hair is scarce enough as a whole, and then patchy enough in its initial expression on the faces of youth, that anything robust enough to be fully and properly referred to as “beard” on the face of anyone other than a teacher, is noticeable. This was not like the time Heath had burst out in frustration “Petunia Pig, dammit!” in his effort to call  attention to a particularly unattractive floral top; this being the ’80s, particularly unattractive was the norm, floral or otherwise. In high school – which, in many ways, is the opposite of peak beard – “the guy with the beard” should have been description enough.

And so we paused, briefly, until it became clear that the only possible response to Debbie’s question was for all of us to raise our voices in unison to reiterate “THE ONE. WITH. THE BEARD.”*

It turns out Debbie didn’t know who that guy was; no one did. He remains a mystery to this day. Possibly, he was a narc of some kind. But, more than anyone, I hope for his sake that the transition back to post peak beard is swift. Because if he couldn’t reliably be recognized for having a beard in high school, then the past few years must have truly been torture.

 

*And this, even though we did not yet have sarcastic punctuation in the Eighties.

I.

Now that I have the training and (some of) the experience of a librarian, I recognize that the decision to become a librarian was one that should have been researched quite a bit more thoroughly before committing. Certainly, it should not have taken becoming an information professional to realize that a program devoted to churning out librarians would present the prospects of the prospective librarian in the most positive light, but I suppose that it did only serves to underscore a point made many times over the course of my library school curriculum, which is that without libraries and properly trained librarians no one will ever learn how to do research.

Regrets aside, the bright side of this terribly deep hole that I seem to have dug for myself is that it provides a focus and scope for any future job search I might conduct; in library speak, the topic has been selected, leaving the only the task of identifying resources that might point me to a valuable conclusion. My last non-library job search had no such focus, and, consequently, I had to review just about every ad on Craigslist. Or, at least, all the job-related ads.

There’s a certain repetition that comes from reading ads on Craigslist, partly due to the fact that, in order to stay on the first page, some companies will place the same, or slightly edited, ads over and over again; another part of that is probably that some of those companies are just terrible places to work, and so are in a constant process of replacing departed employees.

I don’t know into which of these categories Circles falls, and, despite having read their company information at least once a week for several months, I don’t have any idea at all what it is that they do. I thought, vaguely, yet unshakeably, that they probably were some kind of cult.  Like an H.P. Lovecraft story, the language in these cryptic ads was entirely straightforward, yet something was being plainly obscured by their very everday-ness; no matter how many times I read them, the key to understanding that sense behind them remained elusive.

I really liked the idea of getting a job at Circles. That it might possibly have been a cult was part of the appeal, but what I mostly I wanted to find out what it was; I would plumb the depths of Circles and surface rich with knowledge, and if the secrets of Circles into which I would be initiated were worth keeping then I would keep them, and if not, then I would probably complain about them for a little while. My sister liked the idea, too, because if I got involved in a cult, then she could lead the effort to deprogram me. And vice versa. It was fun to think about, as long as you studiously ignored the fact that we both were somewhat seriously considering a cult as a viable alternative to our respective  employment situations.

II.

Every day when I left that respective employment situation, I would walk past the old Sears, Roebuck building on my way to the bus stop. The size of the building made clear, or possibly I read it on a plaque, that the building had been a major warehouse and distribution center for the Sears, Roebuck catalog, and that countless modern, time-saving marvels had been shipped out from that building to homes all over the country. Walking past that building in the early days of the internet, when the primary purpose of this new technology seemed, as I understood it, to be to allow people to shop for things without ever leaving their home, it was hard not to consider how little innovation this actually represented, and how much of progress is really just people moving in slightly widening circles, with families making things on their own being replaced by trading and purchasing from their neighbors, which is enhanced by being able to purchase things via catalog, which becomes mostly obsolete by department stores expanding into smaller neighborhoods so everyone can buy things immediately, which then gives way to the convenience of  staying home and avoiding crowds by using the internet, which is now home to an ever growing DIY community of people trading and selling handmade goods and homemade things, which walks hand-in-hand with the urban homesteading and localvore movements, which is undoubtedly already in process of pupating into something else that I likely won’t hear of until US Weekly reports that Gwyneth Paltrow is doing it.

Twitter strikes me, too, as a point on a large circle, as free verse and the beats exploded the rigid forms of writing and poetry, and in the face of such limitless freedom of expression, people rush to confine themselves to 140 characters or less. Only now, instead of the format forcing people to think carefully about what they want to say, now we can use it to say everything we think, without putting any thought into it at all. But Twitter didn’t exist back then, so I rarely thought about it while walking to the bus stop.

III.

The next job that I managed to get was not in a cult, but in Watertown, and to get there meant taking the 70 bus. I have hated that particular bus route since the ’90s, when it was one of the very few ways a car-less student could make her way from Waltham into the actual city. Rarity did not unfortunately make it a very good way to get into the city – the 70 is a really long bus route, that makes a lot of stops, many of which are very close together and could easily be eliminated. Riding that bus end to end is a good way to meet some interesting characters, one of whom told me how the Lotus Flower blooms and seeds at the same time. But it is also a powerful way to feel your life passing; the three stops at the mall are enough to make you abandon hope altogether. And while most people use “going places”  when speaking career-wise metaphorically, it seemed a particularly bad omen to me that, despite my new job, I was not, in fact, going any place I had not already gone before.

I may not have found the bus route to be particularly ominous had I not known from the outset that I wasn’t going to like that job. Yet I had similar trepidations, perhaps unwisely overlooked, when I made my (rash?) decision to attend library school and discovered that the school itself was in the very same neighborhood as the job I had just left, and, while I would no longer be walking past the Sears, Roebuck building, I would be riding that same bus, just a few stops farther than the one to which I had walked for so many years.

My very first library job, at The Smaller Institution of Which You Probably Have Not Heard, too, was in that same neighborhood, just two blocks or so away from the Library School. Which was in a sense convenient, particularly on Saturdays, when I had class in the morning and then worked in the afternoon. But, as much as I liked it there, it did more and more seem strange to me that, with all of the city before me, I just seemed to be caught in a circuit between two points.

IV.

The Illustrious Institute changed that. Of the many reasons I was excited to work there – I could walk to work! It was a full-time job! I have a Memento-like inability to remember problems that are not my own and so had completely forgotten how utterly unhappy Derbs had been there for almost all of the years that I’d known her! – one of the most important was that it was in a brand-new neighborhood, one I had never worked in before.

However.

While I will grant that the outdoor stations on the Blue Line are more picturesque, I firmly believe that the Red Line is the best of all of the MBTA lines. Yet, I have nothing but scorn for the people who ride the Red Line only one stop. I tell myself that I don’t know them, or their lives, they may have had a really long day, or walked really far to get to the station. And no one can argue that the train will get you from Porter to Harvard faster than any of the buses that go that way. And it’s not particularly crowded. And it’s going to stop at the station anyway, so why not?

Because I would never take the Red Line only 1 stop, not within Cambridge, anyway. So no one should. The distances for which it is acceptable to take public transportation have been very clearly defined, by me, making everything else within walking distance. Which is the reason I walk to work; it’s not because I enjoy walking, although I do. And it’s  not because there is no public transportation option conveniently available, because there is – it’s the bus that, eventually, goes to The Library School, The Smaller Institute of Which You Probably Have Not Heard, and to the stop just by the Sears, Roebuck building.

V.

It was inevitable, I think, that excitement would wane over the course of years, but it was an enormous surprise, to no one more than myself, how suddenly, and violently, mine was crushed a few months ago. Certainly, there will be good days every now and again, but then I’ll remember how my new and internally promoted boss would refer to one of the library users as  Dirty ShitPig, and, when I stop wondering how I ever thought this job mattered, I realize that I have that same desperate urge to flee that I had 10 years ago, when I actually spent time pondering the merits and relative drawbacks of brainwashing and deprogramming. And now that I’m back where I started, I’m anxious to find something that holds the same intrigue that Circles did, the mystery, the promise of discovery, the secrets. Because I think that, what I’ve learned, is that the only way to beat the circles is to join a cult.


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