Monday, December 22, 2008

A Cultivated Disdain for Vanity

I can’t recall the first time in my life that I became aware of my appearance. More specifically, I can’t remember the first time I demonstrated my independence for making statements of fashion. Like other young children, initially my attire selection was subject to the inclination of my parents. As time went on and I wasn’t reliant upon an adult to dress me, finally I was able to acquiesce to my nascent stylistic leanings constrained only by my limited wardrobe.

It can be said that revisionist history judges nothing more cruelly than fashion (it can be said by me anyway). Viewed from the lens of current style, what once seemed hip, now seems tragic. Understanding this, only time separates the judgment that what we are wearing now will some day in the future be deemed a catastrophe.

For the most part, I never deviated from the fashion norm and I certainly was not immune to trend conformation. Without hesitation I eagerly strapped on tube socks pulling them up to just below my knee. Though I never had aspirations of becoming a painter, I never hesitated to wear the pant of choice of these artisans . Further, while being extremely allergic to horses, I have previously donned a cowboy boots and a cowboy hat.

As mid 80’s fashion began to take hold, I began to find myself in a predicament. You see, the expression of hair as an accompaniment to fashion was particularly strong. As I was losing my hair (not so much losing it but just finding it in different places like the shower drain, and my pillow case and comb), my ability to compliment the latest fashion in my follicluraly challenged state left me on the outside. I felt like the instrumentless lead singer of a band during a guitar solo. Though I could go and lean against the guitarist and shake my head while offering a cool look of endorsement, I might as well have been out of the spotlight. Further I finally understood what it was like to be the page that reads “This Page Left Intentionally Blank.” Not only did it label me with having no purpose, but I felt that being told this using a split infinitive was adding insult to injury. Ultimately this feeling of alienation embittered me and morphed my resent for fashion and all things vanity.

Much like its fashion counterpart, health and beautification (H&B) techniques also have trend-like tenancies. I can recall a famous picture from Tour de France in the early 1900’s showing cyclists sharing a cigarette prior to a mountain climb. At the time, it was believed that the tobacco expanded your lungs. While the long-term benefits of tobacco use* are irrefutable and have stood the test of time, many other H&B fads continue to come and go.

* In today’s difficult economic environment, I have taken up second-hand smoking. It has all the health benefits of first-hand smoking without the cost. Simply stand outside any office building or a bus station, breathe deep and enjoy. Repeat as necessary.

Living in Boulder, the appetite for the latest H&B trends is insatiable. Given this, Boulder is ripe for the latest treatment or therapy. The other day I was walking by a Boulder spa adjacent to an outdoor ice rink that is in place for the Winter when I saw the sign below.
The sign reads.

While the kids skate, come in for a quick
• Focus Massage
• Mini Facial
Foot Facial

Though my disdain for H&B trends is pretty strong, it becomes vehement when preached by a spa. First off, the advice to leave the kids as prey for local sex offenders while tending to one’s vanity is beyond reproach. Second off, what the hell is a foot facial? Was this just some new trend that has easily slipped under my radar?

As I always do, I turned to the Beacon of all Truths (a.k.a. the Internet) for guidance and I was in luck. As it turns out, not only did a reputable news source do a piece on the foot facial, they also blew the cover off of having to submit to spa treatment with their investigative expose, “How to Give Yourself a Foot Facial.” The investigative journalism came courtesy of ABC’s Good Morning America. Though I have not seen the piece, it has all the earmarks Diane Sawyer and I am almost certain that it earned her a daytime Emmy.

Here are some excerpts from the piece:
To keep their feet looking attractive in summer sandals, celebrities and other spa-goers are spending as much as $225 for 90-minute "foot facials," a procedure that used to be reserved to the face. – First, I can only say that it is about time that face-reserved procedures made themselves available to other body parts. I dream for the day when botox can be applied to all my extremities!

A podiatric surgeon at New York Hospital, Cornell Medical Center, appeared on Good Morning America to demonstrate foot facials, and to explain how you can try some portions of the foot facial at home — at a fraction of the cost. - Take that spas! From now on, all foot facials in the safety and comfort of my own home. After I drop my kids off at the skating rink, of course.

First you would massage a special paste onto your foot. Combine: 1/2 cup kosher salt (very coarse), 1 tablespoon Epsom salt, 1 tablespoon… - For those that don’t know, Epsom salt is the gentile counterpart to Kosher salt. While it can’t efficiently draw blood out of a chicken, it can help to provide a relaxing bath, a face scrub or a hair volumizer. Seeing these two salts, which are symbolic of the Judeo-Christian ethic, work together in harmony makes my heart happy.

At the spa, the second step would be to use microdermbrasion (a sandblasting machine that is used to blast off hard skin), which is also done in facials. - A sandblaster? Why not just use the Zamboni from the skating rink? At least you will be able to monitor your kids?

Additional procedures: Botox - Though it is normally associated with the face, on the feet, botox is not used for wrinkles, but to combat odor and hyperhydrosis (severe foot sweat condition). - Botox use now available outside the face? Dreams can come true!

Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Capitalism and the Public Restroom

In mankind’s history of existence, our experience with capitalism can be seen as a relatively recent experiment. Though some economists trace elements of capitalism back to the Roman Empire, modern capitalism based on merchantilism spawned after the 16th century. While I view the benefits of capitalism to be far superior to other economic schools, I cannot deny the negative occurrences that do result from this system. While one of the drawbacks of capitalism is its propensity for the creation of asset bubbles (tulip bulb mania, Internet stocks and recently housing), in my view, one of the most offensive externalities is the perpetuation of fundamentally useless products. Examples of these frivolous goods include such marvels as the Flowbee, clothing for dogs and the tanning bed. Though I thought I had seen it all, nothing could have prepared me for what I witnessed yesterday…

Having squandered the majority of my adult life as a cog in the capitalist machine, I have spent a significant amount of time working in office buildings. Within this setting, I have spent the most of my quality time in the restrooms of these structures. While many have proffered that one can tell the most about a person’s character by how they react in times of crisis, I strongly feel that more can be gleaned about an individual by their behavior in an office restroom. In addition to being able to develop an insight into the hygienic practices of an individual, say who goes from the “dumper to the door” and who washes their hands, in my view, lifestyle decisions related to health and diet can also be garnered through simple auditory analysis.

As I entered the office restroom yesterday for a routine visit, I was immediately taken aback by new additions decorating the restroom floor: urinal mats. While I consider myself to be well-traveled with respect to restroom visitation, to my recollection, this was my first encounter with the mats.

My head filled with confusion as I slowly approached the urinal. As observed by the picture below, I was not the only one confused as the directional placement of the mat demonstrates inconsistency. The mat was also set out from the base of the urinal leaving uncertainty as to whether it was for standing or not. While I feel it important to boast that I am quite comfortable with my accuracy within a foot, I quickly surmised that a receptacle for errant urine was not a suitable place for standing. I successfully conducted my business, washed my hands and left.

After my maiden urinal mat encounter, my head filled with questions. I had not been this perplexed since the first time I tried to recycle my plate, utensils and food scraps at Whole Foods. I needed answers and I needed them now so I consulted the Beacon of All Truths (a.k.a. the Internet). As a matter of bias, I am usually drawn to the domain name that I find the most germane to my search. With this, I quickly directed myself to Once at the site, I was quickly introduced to the complete WizKid line of products for the urinal and the commode. Navigating to the About Urinal Mat page, many of my questions began to be answered. While I will never be able to rationalize the need for a vessel to preserve urinary remnants, the page boasts that the WizKid is the “only urinal mat that makes sense.” This statement helped to calm me and provided satisfaction that going forward I may actually be the beneficiary of sensible urinary practices in my office restroom. Reading further, my bewilderment turned to inspiration as I realized that the prudent use of a urinal mat was based on scientific observation:

We discovered that when the WizKid is in place customers are more likely to stay docked until the procedure is finished and more inclined to assist in keeping the restroom clean.

Getting back to how I draw inferences from others from their bathroom habits, I never even considered the rudeness of the bathroomgoer that deliberately engages in premature undocking practices prior to completion of the procedure. Selfish bastards!!!

So is the urinal mat another useless product line and another negative externality of our capitalistic system? Is the WizKid, much like soap-on-a-rope; a product marketed more on name rather than an innovation based on science? While the answer remains, its acceptance in our economic system will ultimately be guided by what Adam Smith in his classic book The Wealth of Nations referred to as the “invisible hand of the market.” At least with the WizKid, while the invisible hand sorts this out, the other hand need not be pressured to assist with perfect urinal aim.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Maybe if You Just Open Yourself Up

I will never forget the day. It was a late summer Sunday afternoon in Boulder as I hurriedly pulled into the Whole Foods parking lot. At the time it was a relatively small lot which was shared with a Barnes & Noble and a six-screen movie theater. Finding decent parking was always a challenge and given the peak shopping hour, I understood that finding the mack-daddy space was unrealistic.

As I scouted the dregs of the far ends of the lot I observed white backup lights as a vehicle began to evacuate its space. I immediately took the on-deck position to fill the space and exclaimed my objective to do so with my left-hand turn signal. As the exiting car backed out in front of me, it unintentionally created an avenue for another approaching car to come in and take my targeted space.

I looked on is disbelief as late 80’s, faded-paint model Honda adorned with a Free Tibet bumper sticker snaked into the space. And then she, I will refer to her as Windsong, emerged from her vehicle completely oblivious of her actions. Windsong was the poster child for the early 20’s, Boulder-hippie wannabe. She wore torn jeans with an equally torn tee-shirt. Birkenstocks were her shoe of choice and dreadlocks garlanded her air-filled head. I immediately rolled down my window and addressed her. “Excuse me,” I said in a perturbed voice, “but I was waiting for that space.” And then, she spoke the words that have left a lasting impression on me to this day: “If you just open yourself up, maybe something will come to you.”

I realized at this point that rational argument was fruitless. I shook my head and crept forward towards the front of the lot as I gazed once more at Windsong who was making her way to the store. The smell of patchouli oil permeated the walls of my car as I drove past her. And then, a miracle happened. As I moved forward, I saw a space available right in front row near the entrance. Not to be denied, I hurried forward and pulled into the space. A brief smile fell upon my face. As I got out of my car, Windsong was just meandering by. She caught my eye, smiled at me and said in her hippie twang, “See, I told you.”

In my own life there have been great thinkers that have helped to influence how I have framed the reality around me. Immediately I recall the likes of Maimonides, Socrates and Mr. Miyagi just to name a few. I can say with conviction that these brilliant minds truly inspire me. Actually they only inspire me temporarily until I forgot the wisdom they imparted. OK, the reality is they actually make me feel stupid because I am not bright enough to understand them (this however, does not preclude me from garnishing my bookshelves with their works to impress others but I digress). My encounter with Windsong however, went beyond philosophy. It was a tangible demonstration of a belief system that played out right before my very eyes.

I am reminded by the confusion that exists in our lives on a daily basis. This reminder usually occurs when I take our dog out to go potty at night. As I watch her sniff every square inch of our lawn and repeatedly pace back and forth examining and reexamining the potential spots for her eventual urination, I consider my own life’s search for meaning. While my dog rarely heeds my advice to open herself up, like my dog I search and search but the answer is in front of me the whole time. Until I open myself up, I cannot find the meaning in my life, and more importantly, the best parking spaces. So how will I know when I have learned to live my life with this openness? The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the Windsong.

More on this to come…

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Becoming an Optimist

We live in challenging times and I ponder our current state every day. As I savor the solitude of the morning, I dawn my ancient prayer garments and prepare for the morning sacrifice. While the practice of the sacrifice ceased shortly before the destruction of the second Temple, I find the experience to be cathartic and insist on it being a part of my morning ritual. Being a long standing member of P.E.T.A.* I am conflicted by animal sacrifice. Thus my offerings are creatures from the Littlest Pet Shop. This morning, Bunny and Lady Bug, in spite of their oversized heads and wide “please don’t kill me” eyes are tendered.
* Disclaimor : I have never really paid any membership dues to PETA. I just wanted to convey that I might be motivated by moral or social empathies when in reality I am substantially barren of these traits

During the sacrifice, I am assisted by one of our servants, a boy from somewhere in Mongolia. I am not sure if he is from the inner or outer region because he speaks no English and I am too lazy to read it off the passport which I confiscated from him. When I ask him which region he is from he simply returns a bow all the while adhering to my strict admonishment of not making direct eye contact.

After a breakfast of probiotics and Cocoa Pebbles, I leave my Dick Cheney-fortified bunker for work. It is at this moment that the harsh realities of the external world begin to expose themselves. While I possess the keen awareness of Patrick Swayze’s character of Dalton in Road House, which allows me to identify any sharp objects that might be obfuscated within one’s right boot, I still attempt to find goodness in all that is broken around me.

The staunch optimism that I possess can be directly attributed to my exposure to the Optimist’s Club while in the 9th grade. During this time I participated in an oratory competition where I presented an essay on the theme of “In My Youth I See.” My essay focused on the credo of understanding one another and the benefits of tolerance. While I skated through the first round of competition uncontested, I was defeated in the second round by an essayist who outlined his case on why the U.S. should boycott the Soviet-hosted Olympics due to their invasion of Afghanistan. While I still scratch my head at what his message was, I am of course better for the experience. With the loss came deep sorrow but also the consolation of an open invitation from the panel judging the competition to join them for breakfast at Denny’s any Friday morning at 7:30. This made me feel a little better and also wanted.

While I never joined the Optimist’s for breakfast, I recently became intrigued as to whether they have been able to prosper with our changing and challenging times. With this curiosity, I consulted the Beacon of All Truths (a.k.a. the Internet) to seek their whereabouts. To my delight I found that as with all unstoppable enterprises, the former Optimist’s Club has since gone global and now boasts the moniker of Optimist International.

In times like these I thought it would make sense to investigate the longevity and achievements of this group and hopefully draw upon their cause as a source of inspiration. A visit to their website immediately revealed their Mission Statement:

By providing hope and positive vision, Optimists bring out the best in kids.

Now, while most organizations would simply stop with a mission statement, there is no boundary to the enthusiasm of the Optimist’s as they also have a Vision Statement (no one else could be so bold!):

“Optimist International will be recognized worldwide as the premier volunteer organization that values all children and helps them develop to their full potential.”

These two powerful statements were enough for me. As I read these, tears of hope began to fill my eyes and streamed onto my keyboard. As I continued to read I came across their credo and was amazed that all of this invaluable information was not only posted on the Internet, but was absolutely free of charge! It was an epiphany and from that moment I vowed to do the work necessary to fulfill the ambitious creed. Below I outline my approach:

The Optimist Creed
Promise Yourself-

To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind - Check. As I child I was always inspired by this 70’s Boston’s song and now I see it as no mere coincidence. This should be easy.

To make all your friends feel that there is something in them - Check. I have no problems letting my friends know what is in them, particularly what they are full of.

To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.
- I would like to view this as possible but I envision scenarios where this cannot be done. For example, if I am stuck in traffic and have just ingested a large coffee and two bran muffins…I think you see where I am going with this.

To think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best. - So basically this inspires me to work for someone who is really good and only think about being the best while also expecting the best. Note, this does not inspire me to in any way work to be the best myself. Check, I am already doing this.

To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own. - I promise only to do this up to the point of jealousy.

To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future. - I have always been inspired that my next opportunity for great failure is just around the corner.

To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile. I would like to wear countenance but unfortunately it washes me out and makes my ass look big.

To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet. - This is one with which I take exception. I just never see myself as being “that guy” and I certainly don’t want to be labeled. I can see it now, oh here comes Mike and all he wants to talk about health, happiness and prosperity. Further, I don’t think this is in my DNA.

To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others. - I really like this one however I think it neglects an important two-pronged approach. By allowing criticism of others, it brings them down to a much lower level thereby decreasing the amount of time I have to spend improving myself.

To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble. - Anabolic steroids should help with the weight gain and strength and anti-depressants should cover the happiness. Not sure what to take for nobility but if I wear a crown, this might help do the trick.

With this great challenge ahead and in today’s difficult times, I invite you to join me in my quest.