How can we move forward with so much pointed backward? 7

My wife and I were watching Avatar last weekend – James Cameron’s Dances With Wookies mashup that suggests that a significant number of people still eat magic mushrooms – and a line uttered by protagonist Jake Sully really struck me.

Sully’s all kicked back in his high-tech futon and he says, “Everything is backwards now.”

And I was thinking, I feel your pain, dude. I can actually remember a time – and you kids can scoff if you want, but I swear it really happened – when everything wasn’t backwards.

I can’t pinpoint when it all started to change, but I do remember a day when the only people who wore their ball caps backwards were catchers, umpires, and a neighbor kid Mikey, who often drooled on himself and occasionally barked like a dog.

Then, seemingly overnight, people apparently forgot how to wear a ball cap; all of a sudden, everyone in the country who wore a ball cap had it turned around backwards.

Why? What’s the point in wearing a ball cap backwards? I mean, that thing sticking out the front is there for a reason, right? If you don’t want to use it, perhaps you should wear a beanie.

OK, I realize that wearing ball caps backwards is fashion. But what kills me is that fashion too often trumps even the most basic common sense. I saw a young woman the other day, wearing her Longhorn cap backwards and using her hand (the one that didn’t have the iPhone in it) to keep the sun out of her eyes.  And I thought, “Hey, you know, you could … yeaaaaaah, never mind.”

Another backwards deal – when did it become au courant to wear sunglasses on the back of your head? I realize our shades need a place to stay when they’re indoors, but seriously – putting them on backwards? Have people not heard of pockets? Sure, it’s old-school technology, but it works.

I really don’t like the shades on the back of the head deal. Not only do I think it’s dumb, I find it horribly disconcerting when dining out to look up from my meal and see what appears to be a small bear wearing Oakleys and a Cowboys jersey glaring at me from the next table. It’s especially unnerving if I’m having salmon.

But if you want to wear your ball cap backwards, or perch your Ray-Bans on the back of your cranium, be my guest. But when it comes to parking, please knock off the backing-in stuff — you’re getting in my way.

Drive into a parking lot and you’ll find half the cars backed in to their spaces. A buddy of mine who was in Iraq said that, over there, they parked their Hummers that way so they could haul ass in a hurry if someone started shooting at them — but that’s usually not a problem at Chili’s. So, really, ma’am, you don’t need to block traffic while you “combat park” your Murano in front of the day spa. And unless the coach is putting you in next inning, turn your cap around.

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Hey, hipster, Moses called — he wants his beard back 9

Let’s get this straight right off the bat – I’m an old white dude and therefore completely clue free.

I have no idea who the most popular musicians are today (although a young friend informs me it’s not the Beatles and has not been for quite some time). Popular movie stars? Not only have I never seen their work, I have probably never even heard their names. And when it comes to fashion, I just found out that jeans shorts are about as hip as Hush Puppies.

Clearly, my unhip old-dude bona fides are rock solid. But even so, I am completely mystified by the sudden sprouting of Serious Facial Hair on men (mainly).

I’m not talking about the goatee, which seems to come and go – sort of like a cold sore, only not as attractive. Nor am I talking about the ubiquitous “soul patch” (aka “jazz dot”) —  that little spot of fur appended to the lower lip that has long been the choice of uber-cool black dudes and uber-lame white dudes (like me).

I’m talking about the full-grown facial forest that makes your average 20-something graphic designer / social media maven look like Jeremiah Johnson, come down from his mountain to stock up on coffee, beans, and maybe some new grips for his totally sweet single-speed fixie.

When I was a young dude, lots of guys – myself included – wore beards. But my beard never looked like the hair bibs I see around town. I have photos (OK, so they’re actually daguerreotypes) of myself in my 20s and I look like Che Guevara with some sort of skin disease. Seriously – compared to my bearded mug, Johnny Depp looks like Methuselah.

But Today’s Beard is a totally different phenomenon. I kid you not; walk around Austin for a weekend and you’d think you’d stumbled into an Old Testament prophets convention – that is, if Old Testament prophets wore skin-tight jeans and Sailor Jerry tattoos, and drank Pabst Blue Ribbon.

This caveman beard thing has been around for a while, but it now has a challenger in the Most Affected Facial Hair competition – muttonchop sideburns.

Although a newcomer to the field, the muttonchop is giving the Hasidic look a run for its money. Honestly, Austin alone has enough Stonewall Jackson look-alikes to make 10 Ken Burns movies. The town looks like one giant Neil Young look-alike contest.

One thing I do understand about Serious Facial Hair – it sends a strong message. It tells the world, “I am not a conformist”; it says, “I do not subscribe to society’s petty rules about how a man should look;” it shouts, “I don’t care if I ever get laid again.”

OK, on second thought, I was right the first time — I don’t get the facial hair thing.

Talking trash and saving money – the Lone Star State way 5

You may have heard from a reliable source (that is to say, not from me) that the State of Texas hopes to save $700,000 a year in custodial costs by having about 20,000 state employees dump their own trash.

Yup. The Texas Facilities Commission, which manages hundreds of buildings for the state, just replaced a whole bunch of old-fashioned desk-side trashcans with fancy-schmancy combo trashcan/recycling bins. When they’re full (the containers, not the employees), state worker bees will take a short, invigorating walk to what the TFC calls “conveniently located central collection stations” to dump them.

Not only will this save the state money, it will also free up custodial staff for other duties, such as raiding break room refrigerators and pretending to vacuum.

This trashcan/recycling bin combo is called – and I am not making this up – the miniMAX. Is it just me, or does this sound like a feminine hygiene product? I wonder if they got this moniker from the marketing geniuses at Apple, who famously dubbed their latest toy the iPad. “Hey, this is Frank over at TFC – you Apple guys got any cringe-inducing product names you’re not gonna use?” “Yeah, sure – how about MiniMAX? Even Steve Jobs gagged at that one.”

I know the state is in deep fiscal fertilizer but I really have to wonder – is having employees dump their own trash the best way to beef up state coffers?  Some other states are raking in a king’s ransom by legalizing and taxing a certain highly popular recreational plant, but not Texas. Apparently, our leaders wouldn’t even dream of actually legalizing the wacky tobacky, but they’re sure not afraid to sound like they’ve been smoking it.

But seriously – saving money by making professionals dump their own trash? Really? That’s the best you can do? The economy tanks and the state is going to ask employees, “Hey, on your way to your second job, howzabout you dump the trash, ‘K? Thanks.”

As fate would have it, the same day I read the article about state employees being asked to dump their own trash, I read another article about our own governor Rick Perry, and how he’s working about seven hours a week (and probably not dumping his own trash).

Where it takes the average state worker 40 hours a week (not counting trips to the dumpster) to get their work done, apparently Perry is so efficient that he’s usually wrapping things up before he goes home to his rented West Lake Hills mansion every Monday afternoon.

If this figure is correct, it means that Perry – who, BTW, pulls down about $150,000 year, and whose swank digs cost taxpayers about $10,000 a month – has 33 hours (mas o menos) of spare time a week on his hands. So I had this great idea – why not have the governator dump some trash?

Under my plan, Gov. Goodhair wouldn’t have to spend all that spare time playing janitor – just a few symbolic hours to show the grunts he’s not afraid to roll up his sleeves and pitch in. And anyway, he’s been a politician most of his life, so he’s probably not accustomed to real work.

This plan would not only send the message to state workers that he feels their pain, it would also show folks he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. More importantly, it would also give him some hands-on experience in working for a living. And who knows – that might come in handy on Nov. 3.

Wear a mirdle, lose your man card – it’s that simple 5

Do you know what a “mirdle” is? How about a “mansierre?” Until yesterday, I didn’t. And I was perfectly happy without that knowledge; in this case, ignorance truly was bliss.

But that was yesterday, and this is today. My innocence has been sorely compromised – plus, I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.

If you aren’t familiar with these terms, let me ruin your day for you – a mirdle is a man’s girdle, and its role is to keep in check all those cheeseburgers and Bud Lights that today’s man just can’t seem to say no to.  And, as you have probably figured out, a mansierre is a bra for guys; it lifts and separates those problematic “moobs,” or man boobs.

I just threw up in my mouth – a lot.

Mirdles and mansierres are both part of the growing trend of “shapewear” for men. That’s right – some guys have been unmanned to the point that they’re ashamed to be the big, fat slobs they are, so they’re taking a lesson from the ladies and buying underwear to help them maintain that seek silhouette they’re too lazy to work for.

May Clint have mercy on our souls.

For me, the divider between what guys can and can’t do without getting their man card revoked has always been less of a sharp line and more of a zone. Guys do and wear lots of things that were once the sole domain of the fairer sex. For instance, when I was in college l had long hair – really long hair. I eventually cut it short, but I still have a pierced ear. And back in the day I used to carry a bag; we called ’em “stash bags,” and today that same bag would be called a “man purse,” (or maybe “murse”) but a bag is a bag is a bag.

Also, it’s not just the act itself; it’s as much a matter of the guy doing it. Jimi Hendrix could wear a feather boa, and Joe Namath could rock the Beautymist pantyhose, and their masculinity was unassailable. Likewise, David Beckham may be more sleekly waxed than Kim Kardashian (of course, she’s Armenian, and that would be like waxing a wolverine) but no one calls him a girly-man.

So, clearly, what’s manly and what’s not is kind of nebulous. But, fellow dudes, I’m drawing the line at girdles for men.

Wonder why it’s called shapewear? Probably because those clever marketing bozos know they won’t sell many units calling ‘em girdles (and they’ll sell even fewer calling them mirdles, or I miss my guess).

I know all this because someone sent me a link to a website that sells this stuff. It cites the mirdle and the mansierre as “the latest words in pop culture” and claims, “You’ll be hearing a lot more about them in the near future.” But I don’t wanna hear more about them; in fact, I may pierce my eardrums just to make sure I don’t.

Guys, I say to heck with this trend. If you want to look like Jabba the Hutt in that overpriced Hollister t-shirt, own it. Say it loud – I’m fat and I’m proud. But if you don’t, for Steve McQueen’s sake, don’t stoop to wearing a mirdle – just say no to that second Egg McMuffin and take a freakin’ walk.

While the cat’s away, don’t expect the mice to keep house 4

My wife recently went out of town for a week to attend a writers’ retreat. That meant that for seven days I was entirely on my own, without the domesticating influence of a female. It also means I was without anyone to help with the quotidian household chores that seem to multiply like roaches (OK, poor choice of similes there).

I’m not a total slob but I am a guy – and as someone correctly noted, guys are basically just bears with furniture. Despite that, I thought I had done a pretty good job keeping up with the place in my wife’s absence but I got the distinct impression that my standards and hers are at odds.

This was underlined when I heard my wife discussing with a girlfriend the state of the house upon her return. I didn’t actually hear the question that prompted this response, but I didn’t need to. All I needed to hear was, “The house? It was … habitable.”

Habitable? That’s an adjective you’re more likely to hear in reference to a house that survived Hurricane Katrina, or used to describe a Ukrainian village downwind from Chernobyl. But it’s definitely not one you want to hear when your wife is discussing your housekeeping skills.

Surprised and disappointed to get such poor marks, I quickly reviewed the evidence. Since there are only three areas in which I could have seriously dropped the ball – washing the dishes, cleaning the house, and doing the laundry – I figured it would be easy to prove that my wife’s slight was uncalled for.

The dishes I used had been washed – or most of them had. Well, one of them had for sure; I know, because I had eaten a frozen lasagna off of it, and I rinsed it off so I could eat a piece of pie. OK, two pieces of pie – and some ice cream. Sure, I left the lawnmower carburetor in the sink (long story, but I was trying to fix it), but that’s not nearly as bad as tossing my sweaty gym clothes on her side of the bed (if the volume of eye-rolling and dire muttering is any indication). Anyway, I think I can safely rule out the dish-washing factor.

How about my tidying up? We have a very nice Persian rug in our living room – of which my wife is very fond — and I was extremely careful not to disturb the protective layer of dog hair and sandwich crumbs that had descended upon it in her absence. So, cleaning is clearly not it.

Could it have been the laundry? (Note to fellow guys: your wife’s not just being a smarty-pants — it really doesn’t do itself) And who knew that “Dry Clean Only” means exactly that? Anyway, knowing how my wife enjoys folding (she spends hours each week on this chore, so I assume she’s crazy about it) I left a small mountain of clothes just for her. So, I think I can discount laundry as the cause of her less than stellar review.

So, that’s my case. Maybe I’m clueless but I think that the facts clearly show that my wife’s ire was totally off-base – or at least it was until she finds out I pruned some of favorite her flowers with the lawnmower. And while I’m thinking of it, does anyone know how to get rose petals outs of a carburetor?

Colonoscopy brings out the worst — in every sense of the word 7

Let me ask you a quick question – how did you spend your Sunday? Church, maybe, or perhaps you slept in. Could be you took the dog to the park, or met your old hippie friends to toss the Frisbee around. And maybe you topped everything off with a good, hearty breakfast. Mmm … I can almost smell the bacon!

And how, you might ask, did I spend my Sunday? Did I go to church? No, I did not – nor did I sleep in. No park, and no Frisbee, either. And for sure no breakfast.

None of that stuff for me, thank you very much. I spent my Sabbath trying to write a column while simultaneously prepping for a colonoscopy.

If you’ve never undergone this procedure (the colonoscopy, I mean), the drill is basically this: you fast for 24 hours, and then they sedate you and put a tiny camera in your colon for a look-see. I know all of this is for good cause, but if I wanted to be starved, drugged and anally violated I would have joined the Skull and Bones Society.

If you’re my age, you’ve probably had a colonoscopy; if you aren’t, you surely know someone who has. And no doubt that someone won’t shut up with the horror stories of having to choke down an enormous volume of noxious intestinal Drano, and being effectively chained to the commode for a day.

I can attest that those stories are true. Especially nasty is gagging down a gallon – and BTW, that’s a cup every 10 minutes for about three hours – of what goes down like refrigerated saliva but doesn’t taste nearly as good. Between that and a laxative taken earlier in the day, I felt like a can of beer that someone had dropped on the floor and slipped back into the fridge for a laugh. No kidding – about 8 o’clock I started sneezing, and was seriously afraid I might propel myself across the room like a very frightened squid.

It’s also funny (but not funny ha-ha) how hardships (and by “hardships” I mean “my problems”) can bring out the cruel streak in others (and by “others” I mean “my wife.”) On my no-solid-food Sunday, I broke my fast with a cup of broth; she had a couple of slices of toasted cinnamon bread. For lunch, I supped on another cup of broth; she had leftover porcini ravioli in pesto.  My dinner was – care to guess? Yes, a cup of broth but also a bowl of orange Jell-O (or at least orange-colored). My wife made bruschetta with fresh basil from the neighbors’ garden.

Like I said: cruel. And it didn’t stop there. I was whining to her about having to do double duty, and she went all Dorothy Parker on me. “Writing a column and prepping for a colonoscopy huh? Look at it this way – they both involve excreting large quantities of something unpleasant so, actually, you’re multi-tasking.”