Monthly Archives: April 2012

Things I learned from shopping with women

Now, please do not misconstrue what follows as some passive aggressive stab at scoring points for the fellas. I am abjectly opposed to the battle between the sexes and would really like for us all to get along irrespective of our reproductive organs. That way we can all focus on what is important; race, religion, and of course sexual orientation!

I kid. Or at least, it would be funny if such observations did not stem from the tragic reality. I suppose we should be grateful that we haven’t declared open war on each other. Thank god for sex.

Still, differences between men and women abound. Such differences are the source of much friction, library shelves full of unhelpful literature, and the regretable existence of divorce lawyers.

One of the differences too numerous to count is the way we shop. When a need arises in a man’s life that can be solved by buying something said item is – pending budgetary review – bought immediately. Problem solved.

Women go about this same process in altogether different way. First and foremost it must be made plain that ‘shopping’ is more than a mere verb to a woman; it is a hobby ( and in some cases a compulsion or even addiction. ) That being the case it is easy to understand that women experience a different, emotional response to the exact same activity, and as such – much to the lament and consternation of many a man stuck holding bags – seek to prolong the process beyond the point where even the most self-determined man would throw in the proverbial towel.

Theirs is not just a social mandate to stay contemporary with regards to trending styles, but a very real sense that if a woman were to forsake the act of shopping she would deny herself the joy of the experience men do not know to look for. The reason surely must be that for a woman shopping is about more than simply the acquisition. A man could not imagine trying on two dozen pairs of jeans and gyrating our derriere in front of a mirror to ensure our butt looks just so. (it is worth mentioning that womens’ shops outnumber mens’ some 10 to 1 and as such most of us would be hard pressed to find a dozen different jeans in our size – a topic for another time)

One of my favorite frustrations is the undeniably feminine ability to profess a pair of jeans perfect in every way, put them back, and continue shopping. This is an act of such irrational defiance a man simply cannot be expected to sympathize with a woman on the matter. Ladies, I put it to you here and now in no uncertain terms: it doesn’t matter what he says, it is not dependent on how much he loves you; if he says he understands, he’s lying. He doesn’t understand – cannot begin to understand – he thinks you’re crazy.

Between the advent of the internet and online shopping men have had much reason to rejoice. Not only has the world been opened up to us from the comfort of our own homes, but we are now able to further limit the amount of time we spend in stores by making all the necessary comparisons before actually venturing out to purchace the item we decide upon. Better still, often times said item can be delivered to us. Wonderful, because here is another thing: we despise sales assistants. We loathe the phrase “can I help you find something” on the grounds that it is presumptuous and hollow, incinsere and redundant. No, your “help” is not required nor is it desired. I came here for a specific item, predetermined through careful scrutiny, and all I need you to do is get out of my way so I can get it. Unless there is a massive discount to be had you may stand idly behind the register and await my displeasure with your lowest-common-denominator personality there.

Women on the other hand crave validation. Moreover they are biologically predispositioned to be group-based, social creatures and as such actively seek out and engage sales representatives. The exchange between a woman shopping and the sales representative is a wholly biased one; the sales representative is trying to sell things – things you may not necessarily want or have come in for to say nothing of liking them or not. Alas, a capable sales representative can interact with my girlfriend in a more meaningful way in the first few minutes of meeting her than I could the first few months. This enigmatic bond between women transcends such trivial distinctions as compatible personalities, interests, and political affilliations centering instead on a common love of materialism and looking good – the sacred duty of any self-respecting capitalist.

In the interest of looking good whilst enjoying the shopping experience women will also try on, hold, fondle, and caress items they have no intention of buying under any circumstances barring an unexpected and wholly improbable win in the lottery. Oddly this is the one thing I do understand on a very fundamental level although it must be said I object on moral grounds even to my own admitted understanding of the phenomenon. I like to imagine that if I could walk into the Lamborghini showroom and “try on” the new Aventador to see how cute my butt looked in its hand-stitched, Italian leather seats, I might be tempted to take her for a spin knowing full well I cannot afford the $375,000 price tag of the base model.

What little, if any, conclusions we can draw from the myriad differences between men and women beyond biological purposes are not immediately interesting to me. Each generation and any number of self-professed experts will claim to have the answers to all our problems stemming from regretible interactions with the opposite sex, but – in keeping with my interest in observations rather than conclusions – I have noticed these are the kind of people who have been divorced a few times and have a lot of time on their hands to justify their failures. In the guise of learned men and women they spew their convenient, sugar-coated fortune cookie nonsense and for the bargain sum of $9,99 you too can among the clueless but endlessly willing diciples of abject mediocracy. The discerning (and if you made it this far, that means you) will not be surprised then that I offer no absolution of any kind. No helpful hints or tips to prevent your feet from hurting on a marathon shoppin spree with your significant other, nor advice of any kind regarding how to avoid being dragged along as a glorified shopping cart (or portable ATM for that matter). I think it is enough to spark the discussion and see what comes of it. I do so enjoy my fan mail after all – death threats and emphatic discertations that denounce me as an agent of Satan included.

As always I invite my audience to share their thoughts on the matter acknowledging aforehand that I realize doing so on the internet is like sticking your head through the bars at the zoo with your eyes closed and hoping you picked the enclosure of a pleasant herbivore saying “bring it on!”

Advertisements

A Shrinking World

There is great significance in a Dutchman being helped by a Peruvian speaking English in a shop in Japan. Better still, the item in question boasts a label that reads: “Designed by Apple in California” and goes on to say “Assembled in China.” 
In short, when you’re iPhone is on the fritz – or more accurately the crappy headphones that come with it – it brings together the nations of the world in a way that politics has failed to do since someone first suggested “you know what, I think someone should be in charge” and the phenomenon began.

I like the globalization of our planet in a theoretical sense. I think matters of language, culture, and race are poor indicators of a person’s potential and I firmly believe we are not so different from one another. In a very real and measurable scientific sense of course, we aren’t. I know we all like to think we are unique little snowflakes, but make no mistake that my DNA is not only more or less interchangeable with yours, unless you were a learned expert you’d have a hell of a time telling your own DNA apart from that of most other mammals. 
But enough scientific jibber-jabber; let us on to the issue at hand. The world is shrinking – not physically mind you – but shrinking nonetheless. Although the speed of air travel is often cited as the reason for this social phenomenon, let’s quickly remember that the Anglo-French Concorde and the blatant Russian rip-off, the Tupolev 144, first flew in 1969 and have since been retired. So in essence, air travel has slowed down – significantly actually – and I haven’t even started to talk about the excessive security at airports and all the fun and games we are subjected to during the hours of pre-flight, lay overs, and being made to feel ‘welcome’ by immigration.

Still, despite this, I maintain the world is shrinking. There are over seven billion of us now, and although you’ve likely heard that number before, very few people can wrap their minds adequately around the true size of the population it implies. Seven billion is the kind of number that most of us will never use in conversation in any other context than our population, or how many Italian lire will add up to a dollar if the Euro implodes. It simply isn’t enough to skim over this number and allow your apathetic brain to saddle you with the insufficient notion that it is merely ‘a large number.’ Seven billion is in fact a vast number – large in ways it is difficult to explain without resorting to tortured clichés such as how many Jelly Beans fit in a jumbo jet. 
But seven billion people is a number that starts making more sense when you break into (only slightly) more manageable chunks. The US population is estimated at around 280-300 million individuals. (I say estimated because your census is amongst the least accurate in the developed world) 300 million – still a larger number than has true meaning to us must then be broken down further so that some people start catching on to what we are talking about. A medium sized stadium seats around 30,000 people (large ones upwards of 50,000), and so we can fairly easily work out using more common numerical figures that to seat the US population in stadia (the correct Latin plural of ‘stadium’) we would need 10,000 of them. Please note that I am refraining from making the obvious joke that quite a few Americans would require two seats due to their bulk. Fucking fatties. By that same logic the world population would fit in 233,334 stadia, where I happily concede the last stadium may not be filled to capacity due to rounding margins. 

Why is this relevant to a shrinking planet? Simple, there are now so many of us that we simply don’t all ‘fit’ anymore. Some big cities like Tokyo, Moscow, New York, and Beijing are over full; saturated by a biomass predominantly human, each individual within which must go about its life beleaguered on all sides, at all times, by hordes of his or her peers. Peers, you may recall, that include those from other countries in droves, themselves displaced by choice or by necessity, all interacting in the busy metropolis. (again, Latin – the root language for much of our vaunted, internationally popular English) These interactions – cultural exchanges and collisions – are happening more and more, as people move around the globe, do business, travel as tourists, and even marry those of ‘foreign’ descent. (You will note the quotation marks denote the fact that we are all foreigners to some people – most people in fact!) 
Thus do traditional, isolationist ways dilute into a more internationally fathomable culture, rich with compromise and understanding. (Incidentally fact that politics is slow to catch on to this wholly natural process is the reason why we still send armies of young men and women to go kill each other because the older generation never learned to get along.)

Don’t like what you are reading? Stop, no one is making you, but know that I sugarcoat for no man. 

The world is shrinking because though they are still not quite sure what to do with me, the Japanese are no longer surprised when they see a white face on their islands. Similarly, no one is surprised anymore than a black person can be French or American without the necessity for his or her ancestors having been forcibly removed from Africa. (Call Michael Clark Duncan or Ronnie Coleman a slave to their face – I dare you) The world is shrinking because there are just so many of us, doing so many things, in so many places, and now, with 24-hour news channels and a level of interconnectedness unrivaled since the entire human population (Adam and Eve for some of you, the first few homo sapiens to emerge from ancient Africa to the rest of us) could be counted by a clever monkey. I like this – as I have said – in theory. But the truth is we are not all ready for our world to shrink. We are not all willing to be connected to everyone else. Some of us do not want there to be an internet, nor an international stock exchange, or even air travel. These people are not wrong in the traditional sense of the word; they are merely ill informed, ill prepared, and perhaps even just plain mentally ill. 
People fear change. This is natural. We take great comfort in things we understand and are naturally skeptical of things we don’t. This is what safeguards the status quo and is the root of the tortured saying: “If it aint broke, don’t fix it.”

Yet this world is in constant flux – as is the universe at large – and, other than the laws of physics (and we are not 100% sure on those either), nothing is constant. There is, in effect, no status quo. Even the people who swear by “living in the now” do so only by way of definition, not by a chosen space in time – a decision that is not left to the likes of us by the forces of the cosmos. Moreover, change – the very change some loathe and fear – is the catalyst of all the things that you love and upon whose advent you now depend. Had some dapper ancient hominid not bravely and ingeniously sharpened a piece of flint rock into a crude but ostensibly functional knife, you and I may no be here now, much less the aforementioned internet, international stock exchange, and yes, jet travel. It is change that safeguards our right, not just to simply be, but also to maintain our place atop the food chain as the dominant species of this planet. It is and ever has been change that has moved us forward, not simply in time, but in our understanding of it, the lives we live, and the universe we live them in.

It is this never ending series of changes that has brought us to this point: a Peruvian man furiously inspecting my Chinese technological marvel designed in the US by people whose ancestors hailed from Europe. Thus the world is round just as it has been globalized. I have said I like this globalization in theory, and I do for the rather convoluted reasons herein, but there remains one problem; the reason why I don’t like globalization in practice.

Globalization, the free market, jet planes and Internet – these things all contribute to the shrinking and ever more crowded world of man. In it I feel claustrophobic, trapped, and powerless to free myself from its oppressive grasp. Worse, I admit only a part of me wants this autonomy – my heart – whereas my rational mind knows it to be folly and impractical, a flight of fancy based in emotion and not in reason and practical considerations. The world is shrinking, like an island sinking slowly into the sea, and so the beaches grow more crowded. One cannot move without bumping into a neighbor – perhaps equally reluctant to share this shrinking world with you as you are with him or her – and the situation is deteriorating. Our ballooning world population has a voracious and growing appetite for increasingly limited resources and, barring one of the great changes that have allowed us to come this far coming soon, I fear the life we have come to know is unsustainable. Thus I find myself longing for the times of past generations, without internet and a world market, where each man carved for himself a miniscule place in this world, called it his own, and wanted for nothing. The shrinking world has made the elective isolation of the individual a practical impossibility and hence I labor, typing away even now to pay the bills, still my hunger, and quench my thirst in a world whose busy hum drones out the echoes of paradise in my mind. Image


The Folly of Man

Men battle each other as mankind battles itself, ill content and restless, ever longing for that which he fails to name. Thus young men die – lives unlived – their potential robbed by the technologies of death at the behest of others who do not themselves see it fit to fight. War is the tragic lowest plain of our morality and understanding whereupon sacrifice abounds and true victories are few. We betray the blackness within ourselves – the false benevolence mankind sees within itself because we wish it to be true – when we honor our victories more fervently than the wisdoms that stayed the coming of war.

So many have suffered and died in vain; the lesson we should have learned long ago beyond our understanding. How many more must join them before we lose all taste for battle? How many more before we wean ourselves off our antagonistic bloodlust for one another.

***

We are a predatory species, this I do not deny. Nor does the universe at large have any concept of our notion of fairness. Survival is tough – an eternal struggle wherein species and individuals come and go with terrifying brevity of stay. I am reminded that the vast majority – well over 99% – of all species that have ever existed on this planet are gone, extinct, never to return. We are a prideful species; a self-congratulatory bunch easily impressed by our modest accomplishments in the face of an apathetic universe we do not fully understand. It is true we are the dominant species of this planet – the apex predator by virtue of our technology and propensity for rapid (and indiscriminate) propagation. Yet this earth is venerable in ways we fail to imagine and is littered with the fossilized bones of species whose reign was no less dominant and lasted a great while longer than ours has by a margin of several hundred million years. Yet we seem to be the first species that, while not actively cannibalistic, seems most likely to be the architect of its own downfall. Save for the world or the greater universe at large wiping out our species in any of the number of spectacular ways it can and indeed has done to other species in the past, we may yet be the ones who – in our exuberance and impatience – create and utilize the means by which every last one of us will cease to be.
I am humbled by the thought that we are not nearly as special as we presume to be, in our arrogance, and in clear defiance of all the evidence to the contrary. Like so many of the great ironies in life this fact would be funny were it not so tragic. Men build buildings, gleaming and tall, and proclaim themselves masters of the earth. We build airplanes and satellites and believe ourselves to be masters of the skies. We build ships and submarines to circumnavigate the globe and we fancy ourselves lord over the seas. Yet when our technology fails, the fuel runs out, or complacency steers us awry, our buildings fall, our ships sink, and our airplanes are reunited with the earth by the relentless and unforgiving pull of gravity. Without our technology we are amongst the most ill-equipped residents of this planet – a shockingly impractical design – whose global population would crash should we ever be robbed of our long-compounded advantage. We stick tigers and bears in cages and assert our dominance over them with camera phones and regulated feeding times. We are the dominant species, yes, but enter the cage and the playing field is not evened but skewed utterly in favor of the animal over which we, on the other side of the bars scant moments before, claimed utter dominance.

We are an enigmatic species – upright and bald – without horns or claws or fangs, possessed only with intelligence and fervor in this brief geological moment during which we have come to rule over this world. Yet intelligence – ours or that of future generations more cerebral still – may be no more than a precarious evolutionary branch that will not bear long term fruit; doomed, made redundant by nature’s other, more successful stratagems in the struggle for life in which we are yet but infants.