To loan or not to loan

This cat knows what I'm talking about.

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be."   - Shakespeare

"Loan a book, lose a book. "  - Me

We've all experienced that awkward moment when a friend or respected colleague starts gushing about a great book he recently read. [sidebar] If you're like me, you usually have a pretty focused reading plan laid out. Whether you actually execute on it's another thing (ask me how my vow to read nothing but the big Russians in the summer of '12 panned out). But the point is that we're ready for certain books when we're ready for them. Rare is the NY Times review or personal recommendation that makes me abandon my path. [end sidebar] Now this guy is totally into recounting everything he can cram into five minutes of non-stop narrative--rambling, semi-coherent synopsis, character profiles, use of metaphor ("And the otter represented his dead grandmother, man.") Bottom line, this cat just had a like-altering experience thanks to this book. And that's great.

You nod with empathy and say, "Sounds like a good one." Then, silence.

"Hey," he says. "I'll load in to you. Just give it back when you're done." 

Oh, shit. Now you're screwed. 

Politely decline the offer, and the guy feels like a fool because you're basically saying, "Yeah, it's cool you had such a profound experience with that, but I'm operating on a different (i.e., higher) plane, so I'll take a pass." 

But it's no better to acquiesce and actually take him up on the offer under the false pretense that you'll actually read it when it's really destined for a perpetual literary on-deck circle that was already overcrowded the moment you added yet another translation of Don Quixote.

You can't even try to tackle it. If you force yourself, each turn of the page will be a more monumental task then the last. Every chapter is nothing more than fuel for your seething anger of your friend until the introduction of minor character number 47 pushes you over the brink and you promise to bludgeon your buddy with the latest Stephen King hard cover the next time you cross paths.  

So if you do get roped into borrowing it and you've had it in your possession for three to six months, you have a couple choices. You can surreptitiously throw the book on his desk with a Post-It note affixed that just says, "Thanks!" and hope he never brings it up. You can keep it and figure it serves the guy right. But I recommend returning it face to face. When you do, cut off any conversation about it by saying it proved incredibly cathartic and hit a place so deep in your soul and psyche that you're not ready to open up about it yet. And before you go, take the book you've strategically tucked under your arm. It'll be the longest, most dreadful tome you've ever encountered. Rave about it and guarantee that anyone who reads it will see this big, spinning planet of ours in a fresh, new light.

Throw it on the desk with a big smile and say, "I know you'll enjoy this. Just give it back when you're done." 

Hats off, hats on

The hatted one stands in front.

We recently got the go ahead at my office to wear hats. Strange as it may seem, for my first eleven years there, we had to remove any chapeaus upon entering the building. This was a rule laid down by the owner himself. When I started, I was a software developer and had grown accustomed to wearing a baseball cap while I coded--pretty standard practice among developers. It took nothing less than a steel will to remain hat-less while furiously tracking down a production bug.

hen one Saturday I found myself in the office. I'd had a deployment moved up a couple days and knew I'd have to put some weekend time in to hit it. Truth was, I'd been wracking up a ton of hours. At the time, things were happening at a crazy pace, and getting code out the door fast was paramount. Irritated that my services were required on a beautiful Saturday, I strolled in with my University of Arizona baseball cap, sat down at my desk, and without removing it, started working.

Time started to fly when I suddenly heard footsteps walking down the aisle. Weird, but not the first time I'd seen another developer in on the weekend. Then the owner of the company--did I mention this was a Saturday?-- strolled up to my desk. He looked at the baseball cap on top of my head and said, "Do you feel strongly about wearing that cap in my building?" I took a deep breath and decided to vent just a little. "Well," I said, "I figure that since this is a Saturday, I'm actually here working for you on my time. And since that's the case, I feel I should be able to wear my baseball cap."

He sized me up while I read his face for any indication as to what he was thinking. Unfortunately, the guy has a better poker face than Gus Hansen. After what seemed like an eternity, he said, "Okay. I'll let you wear it today only." With that, he left. I lifted the hat with one hand, wiped the beads of sweat off my brow with the back of the other, and then re-perched the hat on my head. With the slightest of grins, I started back at it and knocked out some of the best code of my life.

Buddhism and the "s" word

Meditate on, brother.

Life is suffering.

That's what Gautama Buddha said around 2,500 years ago, right? We don't know for certain because his utterances--which were only written down after his death--would have been in Sanskrit. When we read the English-translated version of Buddhism's Four Noble Truths, the first one that confronts us is:  Life is suffering. And herein lies the problem.

A buddy of mine who knows I've read a bit on Buddhism asked me to sum it up the Buddhist philosophy. When I hipped him to the first Truth, he looked perplexed. "I don't think that's right," he said. And that's a valid reaction. Especially in the relative abundance of the West, we're apt to look at our personal situation and, aside from minor annoyances, feel like we've got it pretty good. So it is with my friend. That's great, but it makes Buddhism's trek an uphill one if people balk at its first tenet. My opportunity to expose my buddy to my rudimentary understanding of Buddhism was derailed out of the gate by semantics. Opportunity lost.

When writers/scholars talk about the the first Noble Truth, they'll many  times change "suffering" to "discontentment" because they feel that's a more accurate interpretation of what Buddha really said. I like that because  I think all of us can relate to that feeling. Unfortunately, most of us are saddled with pretty big appetites for one thing or another--money, recognition, stuff, sex, food--that we satiate only to quickly want more of the same. How many times have you thought, Once I get/achieve/experience [fill in the blank], then I'll be happy? I sure have. But the feeling of elation we get from those things is always temporary. And it's that cycle of wanting, getting, then wanting again (and thinking that this next time we'll be satisfied) that is embodied in the First Truth. If you really think about the consequences of running in circles like that, you might reach the conclusion that "suffering" is actually closer to the truth.

Even so, the next time I get the chance to talk Buddhism and launch into the Four Noble truths, you better believe that I'll give the discontentment angle a shot.

Equip your beard

That color!

Growing your beard is like passing through a membrane--initially it's a struggle but when you finally emerge, you're inextricably changed (and maybe a tad gooey). I've had the most recent incarnation of my face fuzz since November and fall in love with it more every day as I go for the yeard. A yeard is what culminates on one's face after a 12-month commitment of unconstrained whisker growing. If I had a time machine, I wouldn't go back to high school to un-ask Susan Blake to that prom where they served the bad halibut. No, I'd set the dial for Halloween day of this year to revel in my face, if I can even see it.

You know how you buy a new car and suddenly start seeing the same model everywhere? It's the same with a beard. Your beard sensing mechanism kicks into overdrive and when you walk into a room of strangers, you just feel that there's a beauty of a beard waiting to meet ya. As it turns out, the company I work for currently has a number of beardsmen in its mist. That I like to see. What I don't like is the lack of quality tools some of these guys are employing on their beard journey.

Like all worthy endeavors, upkeeping your growing whisker bush is simple but requires consistency. Y'all just need three things:  combs, oil, and pills.

  1. Beard comb. But not just any one. I've seen the manglers that some guys are running through their beards, and I recoil. A buddy of mine said his actually catches and rips out two to three whiskers per session. Holy shit, people. Those 99-cent, unbreakable combs from your youth have no place here. Nor does anything you spot at the counter of your local Sally's Beauty Supply (no offense to Sally--she's great). No, you need one of the fine comb offerings from Kent. Reason enough would be the cool tortoise shell color. But what's even better is that the teeth are rounded at the end. The end result is that each whisker gets a gentle hug that releases its natural oils and butters.
  2. Oil, maybe wax. This is a biggie, people. If you stick past the two-month or so stage, the beard starts to look a little...rascally...flyaway...unkempt. It's usually then that significant others start to raise objections, if they haven't already. What I've learned in retrospect is that they're actually right about the fact that your beard isn't looking quite as awesome as you think it is. I know this because at that point, I had the good sense and/or dumb luck to buy Mundus Beard Conditioner from Jennifer Mundus' Etsy store. This stuff is going to turn your s.o. around. My wife loves the scent of it, and it tames my beard in the most delightful way. I even had a buddy of mine say that my beard now glistens when the sun hits it. Damn right, it does. I ended up buying a second bottle just to have at work because I found myself transporting the first one back and forth. Yeah, it's that good.
  3. Performance enhancements. I'm not talking anything crazy here, just good old fashioned supplements that probably have a lot of other benefits for your body that I really don't care about as long as my whiskers benefit. And I can tell you that what they benefit from is a good multi vitamin, biotin, zinc, and 6,000 mgs of fish oil capsules. Yep, I down six of those huge gel caps every day just to keep the growth a-goin'.

There's other lengths one can go to--cold showers that boost the metabolism (brrrrr), cardiovascular exercise to boost testosterone production (pass)--but the above have the least impact on one's day-to-day. This is a call to arms, fellas. Don't use a musket when an AK-47's available.

Of tattoos and tushes

The intrepid Jay Cavna at work. Sorry for the view, buddy.

Back when I performed standup comedy, I had a joke in my set about tattoos. To wit:

"So I'm at this party the other night and I'm talking to a guy who has full sleeve tattoos. When I ask him about them, he said that each tattoo was a reminder of what he was going through at that time in his life. Together, they comprised nothing less than an inked tapestry of his existence.

You should have seen the look on his face when I told him about the whole 'keeping a journal' thing."

ell, I've changed my mind in the intervening 15 years as evidenced by my own tattoo. Don't worry, this isn't the blow-by-blow account of an I-want-a-tattoo-but-don't-really-know-how-to-approach-it-so-I'm-going-to-get-a-tasteful-tribal-sun-on-my-shoulder story. No, for the first one, I decided to cover the largest plane of contiguous skin on my body with a full Japanese back piece tattoo that extends from neck to knees. My tattoo artist, Jay Cavna, liked having a clean, large canvas and poured in a ton of work--14 sessions in all.

I was committed to Japanese style because I think that tradition has mastered how tattoos should flow with and complement the body. Case in point:  Traditional American back pieces many times terminate at the waist but Japanese back pieces are designed to cover everything down to the just above the knee. It's a beautiful termination point aesthetically, plus it gives you room for more subject matter. Unfortunately, some collectors balk at the idea of getting their ass inked. I'm not sure why that's the case. Sure, the ass and hamstrings (for me) were the most painful areas to get tattooed, plus there's the indignity of having to strip completely naked for the below-the-waist work. Still, I don't understand why someone wouldn't go for the whole shebang.

My tattoo advice? Save your dough until you can drop a chunk of it on something bigger and better than you initially planned. And when the big day comes, don't be afraid to drop your drawers.


Good tattooer, bad tattoos


I dug puzzles as a kid. When I was a wee lad, I had three books that running advocate/aficionado Jim Fixx put out: Games for the Super-Intelligent, More Games for the Super-Intelligent, and Solve It!. (If you want to hear a hilarious standup comedy bit at the expense of Mr Fixx, google Bill Hicks' scathing observations about the jogging lifestyle he promoted.)

You'd think that puzzle books such as these would be a good-for-one-read type of thing, but I continued to thumb through them long after I had every right answer committed to memory. One of my favorites was a puzzle about the two town barbers, Mel and Johnny. Mel's shop was as immaculate as his neatly-trimmed coif. Conversely, Johnny's hair was dreadful. His shop was in constant disarray and reeked of cat urine. (I made the cat urine part up.)  You're new in town and visit each shop. The question is:  Which barber do you trust your precious locks to?

If you're like most, your inclination is to slide right into Mel's barber chair. After all, it appears that he's got his shit together. But the solution given is counterintuitive. The smart money says that Mel's shop is meticulous because his lack of clientele makes keeping his shop clean a breeze. Johnny, on the other hand, is such a whiz with the shears that a constant parade of clients makes even basic shop maintenance an impossibility.

I'm going to apply the same reverse logic to tattoo artists and unequivocally state that I'll never get tattooed by an artist who doesn't have at least one terrible tattoo on him. (Let's not even get into the question of whether it's okay for a tattoo artist to have zero tattoos.)

The reason for my artist discrimination is that I want my guy to have gotten bitten by the tattoo bug so early and so hard that he started getting them before he had the money and/or knowledge to get the good stuff. It's the guy who needs to have that piece of flash on the wall NOW! and not the one meticulously planning his full bodysuit that I'll hand over my hard-earned money to.

It's no surprise that some of the best tattoo artists have some of the worst tattoos. Jay Cavna, who did a tremendous job on my back piece, has stuff that's he's covered, lasered, or just plain hates. He once remarked that one piece on his chest is so bad that when he's at tattoo conventions, lounging by the pool with the other artists, he makes sure to keep his shirt on.

When I brought up the subject of bad tattoos to him during one of our sessions, he echoed my sentiments but for a reason that I'd never thought of. He said every tattoo artist should know the feeling of walking around with a bad tattoo. When you do, he said, you'll do everything in your power to make sure that a client never feels the same. Couldn't have said it better, myself. And that's why when I stop by the shop later this month, I'm gonna talk to Jay about doing the rest of my body suit.