Beauties and Beasts

NOTE: This isn’t a particularly funny post. As a deep and introspective writer, I reserve the right to ruminate on the more weighty aspects of existence with no one in particular. For the moment – with you. If you seek unbridled hilarity, move to the next post. If dick jokes are more your thing, rent Louis C.K.

Beauty appreciation is like nudity – its acceptance is 100% contextual. (Admission: Sometimes beauty is nothing like nudity, such as your 1980s math teacher in a circulation-constricting bathing suit). Van Goghs and Rembrandts are worth more than the GDP of many countries, and we openly judge them favorably against Rothkos and Pollacks, if we so desire.

rothko       Van-Gogh-Oil-Painting-FG-132-   Rothko (worth GDP of Latvia)               Van Gogh (worth GDP of USA + Germany)

Much of modern art is not necessarily “beautiful” in the traditional sense, but it is still a visual representation we value. We Save the Harp Seals but have pigs for lunch. We step on ugly spiders (or torture them until death with a hair dryer, if you are my brother John) but ooh and ahh over delicate lady bugs and butterflies.

harpseal     pigAdorable!!                                                          Bacon!

We admire magnificent sunsets, architecture, even shoes. We spend billions per year perfecting our hair, skin tone, eyelashes, brow curves, body curves, toe nails, and crow’s feet. But if we admire all of that effort in someone else – or those who win the genetic lottery and are born with such perfection – we are considered puddle-shallow. That stunning redhead in the svelte navy mini-dress, the dashing gent with a Clooney facial structure and emerald eyes? It’s a no-no to admire them for anything other than their soul, resume, or proficiency at Mandarin and the ukulele. The assumption is also that they’re stuck up or shallow themselves.

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And yet what is the first question people ask about a potential blind date? “Are they generous and intelligent?” Nope. “What do they do for a living?” Nope. That’s second. I’ll bet you a facial peel and bikini wax that it’s, “Are they hot?” How many women are jealous of another woman’s philanthropic record or ability to play a Beethoven sonata? If women carp at each other out of insecurity, it’s usually because the jealous one has smaller breasts, wider hips, a saggier anything, or a less Cosmo-friendly face.

Men are more insecure about their income and status, because they perceive women to focus on those areas, which explains why you see gorgeous women with pudgy, average-looking men getting into his Mercedes, but never the other way around. Wealthier men can get hotter women. But these things still have nothing to do with what we are supposed to consider valuable in others.

hotgirluglyguy
        Hot girl with unattractive guy                  Hot guy with unattractive girl (null set)

My suspicion is that people are so insecure about their looks because they are judged so immediately and harshly on them, and they’re not something people can lie about (colored contacts and breast lifts aside). It’s also something that isn’t as subjective as other qualities that someone might admire – such as athleticism, education, or a love of animals. Yes, the self-help section of Barnes and Noble is pretty huge, but most of it is motivational mumbo jumbo to boost your success. Hence the “self.” Every magazine at your average grocery store check-out counter has beauty, fashion, and body tips splattered over the covers. Not to mention Sex Sex Sex moves for your man. Where are the articles on where to volunteer in order to attract a mate? Yup, there are other rags, but I don’t see Utne Reader and The New Republic flying off the shelves (or even on them).cosmo

It’s not the supposed shallowness of people’s attitudes toward beauty that bother me, it’s the hypocrisy. It’s time to admit that the same beauty we admire in statues, animals, and flowers is rare but discoverable in the people (and animals, and insects) around us, and it does change the way we view or value all of these things. More than anything, beauty is the most fleeting attribute of a fading youth. Most of us are at our professional and personal peak in our 40s, but already things are beginning to ache, wrinkle, and sag.

It’s true you can’t have an inspiring conversation with someone’s impressive abs, but neither can you kiss and caress someone’s sense of humor. Physical attraction is physical, and you aren’t a jerk for admitting it. So please stop saying that beauty is skin-deep (yes, and paintings are canvas-deep) or that you don’t care about people’s beauty. Not only is it likely false, it’s a sad statement on one’s inability to appreciate the beauty among us.

Trip Advisor: Part One

In order to pass time on the plane to Oahu, Hawaii, I compiled a little list of gems to help make your future preparations and flight less gruesome. You’re welcome.

32B: For Small-breasted Girls and Procrastinators
* note: For you boys who either have been gay or Dungeons and Dragons players since eighth grade, 32B is a bra size for petite (32) and marginally endowed (B cup) ladies.

32B is almost always a middle seat in the tail of the plane, and is guaranteed to be one of the last chosen. Not only is the tail the bumpiest ride, but if your plane cracks in half, you’re destined for a more uncomfortable plummet to your death. If this is news to you, read on, and achieve Eagle Scout-level preparedness for your airline ticket acquisition.

There are three levels of purchase expertise – Ordinary Joes who buy tickets on Expedia, ninjas who finagle a $400 ticket to Tanzania, and newbies who pay over-the-top dollar and end up slashing said ninja’s tires. I’m of the Expedia variety, which is optimal for those who lack both perseverance and money. That doesn’t mean, however, that this endeavor is without stress. Much like using Turbo Tax, you should assemble the required information before hopping online, so you don’t fret about your session timing out while you’re on the can, or have a panic attack while deliberating over ordering the vegetarian meal.

Your first decision is when to buy – earlier is cheaper, but what if that destination wedding is called off over choosing a cake, or you get Avian Bird flu three weeks before? If even attending a wedding makes your commitment-phobic palms sweat, you may want delay taking the plunge until prices begin to creep up. Just don’t wait until 32B is your only option (I mean the seat. Small-breasted women, take heart).

worst seat
Do NOT fly by the seat of those pants.

Next, you must pick a flight. This one shouldn’t matter, because the odds that your flight will be moved at least three times or cancelled entirely are roughly 93.4%.

Decision #3 is where to sit. If you have ADHD or can’t go five minutes without taking a whiz, the aisle seat is for you. If you wish to gaze at god’s beautiful handiwork while avoiding the drink cart, take the window. If you are a masochist, go for the middle. Keep in mind, however, that this choice doubles the likelihood of sitting beside an obnoxious third grader or someone whose stomach needs its own row.

Finally, you must choose your meal. While this option seems to be going the way of free checked baggage, it’s worth a thought. Beef or chicken, vegetarian or vegan? First, pick something that will still resemble food after an hour in a steaming foil-covered tray. This generally excludes spaghetti and anything that should be crispy. Second, avoid things that might kill you before you land. This excludes anything prepared in China. Finally, if you must order something that will have you running to the can every 30 minutes, please think ahead and buy that aisle seat.

Leader of the Pack
There are four kinds of packers:

  • Ordinary Joes who dutifully adhere to Trip Advisor guidelines
  • Crusty hikers who hit Belize for 3 months with nothing but a fanny pack (they’ll call it a hip satchel)
  • Gilded Age royalty who evacuate their closet onto the guest room canopy bed a month in advance, pack and repack an entire wardrobe for every mood and weather condition, then invite their feng shui consultant over to properly arrange it all into a configuration that aligns with their chi.
  • Those who fancy themselves crusty hikers, but end up bumming everything from Right Guard to quick-dry underpants from their soon-to-be-former buddies.

fanny pack  nude guy  nude lady
Don’t listen to the experts. You CAN underpack.

Like Buddha said, the Middle Way is best. You don’t need a pair of panties for every day of your three-week trip, but neither should you “flip and turn” your Jockeys (front and back, then inside out) for four days of continuous use. But if you must, DO NOT return them to your generous buddy. If they don’t combust on their own, burn them on the way to the airport. Also, pack complimentary items you can mix and match: if you are bringing white flimsy skirts to Tahiti, for the love of god leave your black g-string at home. Don’t bring your skinny jeans to Naples, your Jim Beam halter top to Kabul, or your Birkenstocks to Milan.

Baby Got Snack
If you’re like me, you tunnel through 80% of your movie popcorn before the lights dim. I’ll chomp on Styrofoam with fake butter if there’s nothing better to do until some dancing cell phone reminds me to power down for the duration of the show. What does this have to do with flying? No – it’s not the in-flight movie. It’s the in-flight snacks. Trail mix marinated in sodium is something only a pothead would toss into their grocery cart. And yet, when you’re wedged in seat 32B between a five-year-old and a chatty Kathy whose name is Big George, this dog kibble is second only to the liquor cart. Also, it’s probably the only food you’ll get on the flight unless you’re crossing at least four time zones. So unless you want to be licking your finger and scraping the inside of that foil bag for seasoning remnants, listen up.

Hit the grocery store the day before your flight and fill your reusable bag with dried fruit, baked chips, granola and nuts, even a sandwich – anything that won’t rot your teeth or require more dry ice than an 80s strip club to keep from rotting. This means you have to pass on the Candy Corn and triple cream brie, but for good reason. First, the obnoxious kid next to you will ping you every three minutes for your Snickers, so save that for the movies (see paragraph one). Second, there’s more than enough time to ply yourself with fat and sugar once you get where you’re going. If you don’t leave your destination with a bungee cord holding your pants together and at least five cavities, go back and do it right. Even smuggled potato chips will make you the culinary envy of your seatmates, particularly if the $15 in-flight meal looks like roadkill, or is spaghetti from China.

chinese spaghetti   dog food
     No.                                                                Still No.

Bonus points for bringing a garlic and onion bagel on board. That should keep your seatmates from engaging you in conversation.

The Deliberate Wardrobe Malfunction
There are certain days when ordinarily tacky clothing is acceptable.

Examples:

  • Wearing an ironic ugly Reindeer sweater to that December party
  • Dressing like a slutty nurse, slutty cat, slutty __________ on Halloween (for the ladies)
  • Sporting your best “my lover just dumped me and I haven’t changed my underwear since Tuesday” look

Not widely known is the FAA ordinance that #3 is also applicable to flights over three hours. I forgot to do this on my current trip, and I ended up cajoling my mother into holding up her jacket while I hid in a corner of Gate C9 to change my underwire bra for a comfy sleep bra. Avoid this misadventure by dressing in clothes you could comfortably sleep in. If your flight is between midnight and 7 AM, an FAA corollary gives you permission to wear your owl jammies. Note, however, that you may have to remove your flannel onesie if the security mafia deem your padded footies to be shoes.

onesie 3

Don your sweats or “Thanksgiving pants,” bind your hair into a headphone-friendly configuration, and slide on those shoes that say to your date, “I just want to be friends.” If you happen to end up next to an Adonis on your flight, you have several hours to redeem yourself with your personality. And when he sees you on your first date, he’ll be pleasantly surprised. Of course, this tactic will not work if you are an asshole.

Keep Calm and Carry-On
Now that airlines demand your firstborn in return for forking over your Samsonite, everyone shoves two months’ worth of wrinkle-free blouses and toiletries into a 10 x 17 x 24 carry-on. The zipper teeth on these poor bags are clenched like the fly on skinny jeans stubbornly greased-and-shoehorned on by a plus-sized diva.

Overstuffed baggage isolated

While I normally wait until the boarding line has fizzled to peel myself off those plastic seats, I have, of late, recanted. Wait too long, and your carry-on will end up 78 rows behind you, strapped to the wing of the plane, or worse – in the checked baggage bin.

After spending 4 hours vacu-packing your goodies to fit inside something you don’t have to check, the last thing you want is to spend 30 minutes awaiting your suitcase like it’s a tuna roll on a sushi joint conveyor belt. If the flight is only partially filled, this may not be an issue, but odds are that two cancelled flights have been crammed into yours so that everyone under 120 pounds has to sit on someone’s lap (see Buying an Airline Ticket for statistical data on cancelled flights). One way to avoid this entirely is to be the Crusty Hiker, and stow everything under the seat in front of you.

Border Control
Whether it’s the aforementioned hiker, a spread-kneed lounger, or a run-of-the-mill American wideload, your in-flight neighbor may not be Facebook friend (or seatmate) material. Enter the armrest. Defend your turf by popping this puppy down within 5 seconds of clinching your seatbelt. Then plant your forearm on it like a flag to indicate that this border is as defended as the Berlin Wall. Even if you Pricelined your ticket two days ago for ½ price, you still technically paid for 100% of your seat. Don’t let someone ooze, stretch, or spread onto a cheap fabric seat that belongs entirely to you. Keep Big George on his side of the invisible fence.

armrest

But the armrest is more than a physical barrier – it also erects a divide in the air space, a verbal no-fly zone. This will help you fend off the monologuer who rattles off his life story with the words-per-minute rate of an auctioneer. Even if his adventures shouldn’t get him past take-off, he manages to stretch it out until you’re returning your tray tables to an upright and locked position. Advanced avoidance tactics include screwing in your ipod buds or burying your nose in an offensive book.

One thing that requires more drastic measures is the smelly neighbor – maybe he’s a greasy, dred-locked hippie who follows 1980s French standards of hygiene; maybe the schlep to the gate made her sweat like a rhinoceros. The first option here is the hospital mask. I prefer the stylish, more comfortable Vietnamese cotton anti-exhaust mask. You can justify this with the fact that recycled cabin air is a petri dish in gaseous form.

snoopymask
you’re never too old for Snoopy

The other option is perfume. Not for them – that would be rude. Dab a bit under your nose and you’re good to go. Perfume will also help if you missed your alarm and opted for 1980s French hygiene to avoid missing your flight.

More in the coming week, as I glean invaluable knowledge about how to navigate the perilous landscape of beachfront property in Hawaii.

How to break up with your cell phone

 cell phone yelling

Dear Android,
Now that we’ve had time apart, I realize how much time I’ve wasted with you. In the beginning, I thought I was having fun, exploring new things… and I was so enthralled by you – your sexy features, your impressive abilities. You seemed to have the world at your fingertips.

I’ve come to depend on you the past few years, and I loved it at first, but then I realized how overbearing you are – always popping up to tell me what to do and when to do it, whom to speak to, even snooping my internet history and my whereabouts. I told myself that was the price for being with a “smart” one, rather than an old-fashioned type who was nice to talk with, but didn’t offer much else.

But now I wonder if those unexciting types are so bad. With you, I barely talk at all. A couple of hours of intense conversation and you shut down, needing time away from me to “recharge.”

You say you’re not controlling, but you often cut me off while I’m speaking and try to disrupt conversations with my friends – even prevent me from having contact with them. In the end, I have dropped many of them because of you.

When we chat, you don’t really hear me, but then you pass your ridiculous misinterpretations on to my friends. No wonder it seems like I “don’t make sense” to them anymore.

Sometimes you even call them behind my back. I don’t believe you when you say you meant to call someone else, or didn’t call anyone at all. How do you explain the phone bill? Ghost calls? Phones don’t accidentally dial themselves, you know.

It’s nearly impossible to get a straight answer out of you. Every time I think I’ve figured you out, you change, and I have to learn how to figure you out all over again. You’re so complex on the inside, but have such a fragile exterior.  I’d almost dropped you several times in the past, but I knew you’d likely either crack or explode.

But I’ve got your number – and so do the friends I have left.

I’ve grown tired of your unpredictability – you give me the silent treatment for no reason, then embarrass me by going off at the most inappropriate moments. You seem to change your tone with no reason at all.

And when I need you most, it seems, you disappear for hours or days at a time. Trying to call you is useless.

Then you turn up out of nowhere and want to take me on one of your infantile man-ventures – car racing, or gambling, or hunting. Yes, hunting. I know you’re big on word games – but “slingshotting birds” is no better than shooting deer. Well, I’m done playing your games. Even if I win, what good does it do me? The time I spend playing games with you I should be spending with friends.

And don’t even get me started on sleeping together. So often I turn you on and you seem ready to go, but then you run out of juice in the middle of things. Or I awaken to wonder where you are, and find you plugged into something in another room. Believe me, my friends think it’s weird that I sleep next to you at all, but I’m now learning that it’s easier to wake up without you going off at me each morning with the same obnoxious noise.

I had the opportunity to replace you several months ago, but decided to hold on, believing your promise that a better version of you was on the way.

But I don’t believe that is around the corner. And even if it is, there are plenty of other options that will fit with my two-year life plan. Who knows? I may play the whimsical bachelorette, with a new companion every couple years – someone younger, sharper, slimmer, and faster – internally complex yet simple to understand, with a better memory and sexier features.

As for you, I know you aren’t exactly trash, and I shouldn’t treat you as such, but consider yourself dropped — ironic, isn’t it? Don’t worry – I’m sure there’s a teenage retail assistant at the mini-mall who would be happy to take you in as a fixer-upper. I’m sure she will help you erase all memory of me.

PS — I’ll admit, at least you’re not corrupt like my last computer-obsessed boyfriend, Dell.

A Certain Kind of Crazy

* In the interest of protecting the anonymity of loved ones, my mother will be called Judy throughout this article.

Back in the 1980s, alarm clocks could only be set by speeding the time forward. This was a great aggravation, as my alarm to this day must be set at a 15-minute interval — 15, 30, 45, 00. If I needed to peel myself out of bed at 7:15, and I accidentally set it to 7:16, I went around the 23 hours and 59 minutes until I got it right. In the 1990s, some genius discovered that you can scroll a clock backwards, so today my neuroses only costs me a second or two. To put this landmark in perspective… the Hubble Telescope was snapping shots of galaxies billions of light years away in 1990, and we were cloning sheep in 1996.

Dolly the Sheep_detail
Dolly the sheep’s reaction: “I’m beside myself!”

I find it ironic that the D in OCD stands for “disorder.” Everything on my desk is parallel, and my laces can’t be flapping about on my carpet when my shoes are aligned on their shelves as meticulously as a North Korean army procession.

North-Korea-02

By the time I have arranged my pillar candles to perfection, they’re half as tall as they were when I grabbed them. Disorder? Surely you jest.

What can I say? I am Judy’s daughter. A woman who ironed her homework in grade school. Who shook out the bathroom rugs before a party to get all of the fibers standing up, then had us circumvent them until company came. Whose hangers are not only exactly an inch apart — when I lazily shove a tee shirt back into her closet, it’s back in her Korean procession of hangers within 3 minutes. I don’t even see her zoom from the kitchen and back to reconfigure. It’s like a superpower. If she had a cape, she’d iron it every day.

messy-closet
Good god, make it stop.

You can veer too far the other way. I have a cousin — we’ll call her Marla — who has a clean pile of $120 blouses and a dirty pile of $120 blouses, which merges into one pile as the days roll on. As all brilliant minds with messy desks, she has a system, and knows which half of the pile is headed for dry cleaning. It is also possible that she remembers every blasted thing she’s worn the past three weeks, the way she recalls every restaurant meal she or her co-diners have had since bottled water and sushi were only sold in Beverly Hills.

Everyone is a certain kind of crazy. As long as it doesn’t interfere with your work or hygiene, or relegate you to playing World of Warcraft in your mother’s basement, feel free to let your freak flag fly. Disinfect your hands every time a redhead sneezes on a full moon, organize your socks by the wavelength of their primary color, or twist your Christmas lights until they all face the same direction (note: this is not possible. I have spent hours trying).

imagesCA1HIPTL

And if you come to Judy’s condo for pasta and spinach pie, feel free to walk on the carpets and fuss with the hangers. I’m actually curious to see which she’ll fix first.

Technol-oh-geez

My brother and his wife Jasmah are moving to her birth country of Malaysia, where — if you recall — my family spent 10 days amidst the sweltering heat, fish mongers and Jasmah’s 200+ wonderful cousins. They have spent about 100 hours selling all of their furniture, parsing their clothes, packing what they’re keeping, and pawning off Tigger the cat to Jasmah’s daughter. They — and Mom — have spent about 300 hours fiddling with, talking in circles about, testing, and calling Verizon about how many pennies it will cost, and how to use, Facetime, Skype calls, Skype IM, phone texting, calling, and Apple’s iMessage. That sentence has 10 commas in it, which tells you something about the extravaganza factor of this endeavor.

300px-Device_pile6

Mom will drop $120 on her sixth turtleneck burgundy cashmere sweater, but is fretting and sweating over potential 20-cent texts. I think she caught this condition from Dad, who hemorrhages thousands over his boat but uses paper towel fragments as napkins unless highfalutin guests are coming for dinner. My Dad and I were watching the final Seahawks football game (#1 in the country, thanks very much), and every time he muted the TV for commercials, sentence bits would float from the den… “How do I get the microphone to work?”… “If you iMessage and I phone text” … “The blue text bubbles or the green ones” … “wireless or cell data charges.” Mind you, this was a 3.5 hour ballgame.

Dad — who is now retired and has taken to vacuuming every damn morning because there are 25 litter pellets scattered throughout their condo and this will just not do — has circumvented this issue. He writes snail mail letters to everyone from my doctors (registered mail) to the addresses in small print at the bottom of food products of which he disapproves. Actually, they probably reach their destination before they would if he actually tried to email them, which is often a 15-minute-per-word triathlon. Only these three triathlon events consist of trying to put a Google Group in the “To” field, trying to get the email back on the screen after accidentally clicking into another program, and cussing out the computer until Mom or I run in to stop the bleeding.

But I digress. I believe the solution we have decided upon is to keep a ledger akin to the 20-field spreadsheets that accountants keep — you know, the stiffs who align their pencils with magnetic North and know pi to the 11th decimal place (3.14159265359). At the end of January, we will figure, refigure, configure, and reconfigure our list of calls, texts, iMessages, and Skypes to see what was free, what cost the equivalent of a paper towel fragment, and what cost the equivalent of a turtleneck burgundy cashmere sweater. I will post our findings in a cross-checked spreadsheet that will be readable in Google Docs, Apple’s Numbers, Microsoft’s Excel, and on mobile devices worldwide.

Celery for One, Please

A single person’s groceries are sort of like freshman girls at a frat party — most are likely to be wasted. Americans throw out 30% of their groceries on average, and that includes homes that skew the curve downward — such as huts teeming with teenage boys who tilt the fridge toward their plate and scarf everything that falls onto it. Single folks skew the curve in the other direction, probably chucking 2/3 of what we pile onto the conveyor belt, where our goodies are ruthlessly judged by the checkout lackey.

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If you’re a Stouffer’s / Cap’n Crunch kind of guy whose food has a longer lifespan than most marriages, this probably doesn’t apply to you, but I live in one of the organic, gluten-free capitols of the US, where even your broccoli has a holistic nutritionist on its speed dial. My average lunch is a salad with more veggies than those p-patch community gardens that hippies buy into. I know “good food goes bad” sounds like a reality TV special, but it’s true.

Our local Whole Foods-type store has caught the gist and is finally selling individual sticks of celery for $.17 cents a piece, so that folks flying solo can make a damn tuna sandwich without having to buy a wad of fibrous greenery, then throw out the best looking celery stick’s five ugly stepsisters.

celery

There are also fresh salad bars, sushi bars, and loose-leaf lettuce bins (and by-the-ounce grains that I veer away from because they require an actual pot). This way I can buy exactly what I want and have it fresh every day. I’m not afraid of commitment, but eating the same salad for six meals in a row in an effort to beat the wilting lettuce is a bit much.

In addition, cooking your own food is like making your own clothes. Why bother when you can pay someone else to do it? Other things that fall into this category, depending on who you are:

college students: doing your own homework
yuppies: cleaning your own bathroom
1% ers: cleaning your own indoor swimming pool
seniors: clipping your own toenails
cats: clipping your own toenails (actually, they don’t even pay)

toes

In fact, in a world where we can push a button to wash our clothes, wash our dishes, start our minivans, and blow up the planet, it’s all I can muster to use a different set of tongs for each item in the salad buffet. However, I am not an animal. But don’t expect me to get a different plastic container for that square of feta and four olives I’m putting on my salad, just because they’re $8.99 a pound instead of $7.99. It’s not that I’m cheap, I’m just lazy and — as a liberal Seattleite — trying to save the planet.