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ASK ESMOND ARCHIVES

Inaugural Column   Second Column   Third Column   Fourth Column   Fifth Column
Sixth Column  Seventh Column  Eighth Column  Ninth Column  Tenth Column Eleventh 

Inaugural Column


Dear Esmond,

Seeing how Nathan just turned 26, at what age are you officially over-the-hill?  And why?

-Nearing the hill?

Dear Nearing -

     I spent a good, long time - upwards of five minutes, off and on -thinking about your question.  And I thought about all sorts of "Age ain't nothin' but a number" slogans, and I thought about Britney Spears and the star-maker machinery down in Orlando, and I thought about how much I enjoyed The Golden Girls, and I thought about the cut-off age for the Real World...all in a quest to understand where I stood on the aging process.  Our society, you see, tells us repeatedly that youth=valuable, and after reading your question, I initially hoped to refute that with an inspiring argument that age is just a state of mind.But then I thought about it rationally for a second, and I came to some realizations you might not like.

     First of all, in wondering whether you're over "the hill," you naturally have to define what, exactly, is the hill.  I think - and this is all conjecture and guesses here, perhaps in future columns I'll actually do some research, but let's just call this one charming in its amateurish spontaneity - that at first, being "over the hill" coincided more or less with menopause.  For both genders.  Because really, once you're out of that game, you're pretty much out of all the games.  But in the past 30 or so years, I think the "hill" has crept up.  And where the hill is depends on what road you're traveling.

MY ESTIMATES

AGE AT WHICH YOU CAN SAFELY ASSUME YOU WON'T BECOME A MAJOR SUPERSTAR (ACTING/MUSIC):

Twenty-two.  If you were going to get famous - I mean big-time, really famous - you'd either be there or know you were well on your way by 22.  People don't get "discovered" any later than that.  You can still get famous, but only through giant heaps of hard work.

AGE AT WHICH YOU CAN SAFELY ASSUME YOU WON'T BECOME FAMOUS AT ALL (ACTING):

Thirty.  Yeah, by then it's over.  You can still make a living in a creative field, but you're not going to achieve any fame.  Harvey Keitel? Nathan Lane?  They were well on their way before the big 3-0.  What is "well on your way?"  If you have to ask...

AGE AT WHICH YOU CAN SAFELY ASSUME YOU WON'T BECOME FAMOUS AT ALL (MUSIC):

Thirty-three.  A bit more leeway here thanks to the "sensitive singer-songwriter" and "new age/smooth jazz" genres.  But not too much.

AGE AT WHICH YOU CAN SAFELY GIVE UP HOPES OF BECOMING A PRO ATHLETE:

Twenty.  You'll need to be playing at least semi-pro at this age if you hope to have a career afterwards.

AGE AT WHICH YOU CAN SAFELY GIVE UP HOPES OF BECOMING A HALL-OF-FAME ATHLETE:

Twenty-seven.  And, of course, you'll already need to be pretty damn good.  This one's actually been figured out mathematically by people who do this sort of stuff as their job, not on the sly during their other job.  If that young hitter you've loved in your favorite team's farm system hasn't put it together by 27 (see: Hensley Meulens, Roberto Petagine), it's not coming together.

AGE AT WHICH YOUR BAR-HOPPING SHIFTS FROM "WILD AND FUN" TO "TRAGIC AND PATHETIC":

Thirty-three.  By all means, keep drinking - just don't do it in clubs anymore.  It's time to shift to hotel bars and lounges if you're single, and cocktail parties in people's homes if you're married.  What's that, you say?  The ladies of Sex and the City have proven otherwise?  Good Lord, you watch too much television.

AGE AT WHICH YOU CAN SAFELY ASSUME YOU WON'T HAVE A CAREER WRITING FOR TELEVISION:

Twenty-seven.  They actually weed out Friends writers like it's Logan's Run or something.  Keeping it hip, you see.

AGE AT WHICH YOU CAN SAFELY ASSUME YOU WON'T BECOME A LAUDED NOVELIST:

Fifty-two.  This one seems to hold out a lot of hope, but bear in mind you'll need to have been writing, a lot, up until then.

AGE AT WHICH YOU CAN SAFELY ASSUME YOU WON'T BECOME A RENOWNED ARTIST:

Moot.  You can die poor and broken and get famous forty years later.  In a way, it's the most optimistic of creative lives.

AGE AT WHICH YOU MIGHT AS WELL STOP HOLDING OUT HOPES OF MARRIAGE AND CHILDREN:

Forty-five, I suppose.  This is pretty much the only one that's actually climbing.

     So that's the grim forecast.  Like I said, I'm certainly not an expert, and there's no formula.  But if you want to  hold me "accountable" or "refute" anything, get one of your friends to give you a page on his or her website, and stay the hell off of mine.  Granted, I haven't answered the big one, which is when you should give up hope of being happy with your life.  Then again, if you had already achieved the maturity necessary to be genuinely at peace with your life and your place in the world, you wouldn't be the type to concern yourself with being "over the hill."  And you're much better off, anyway.


Second Column


My latest question comes from ANONYMOUS, who writes to ask...

       "If one wants to stop being sexually attracted to a person, what are the steps one needs to take to 'get over' that sexual attraction? I have heard numerous theories, but none too appealing nor realistic. What's your take?" 

       Well, Anonymous, when I started reading your question, I immediately knew  what to do. See, you said "What are the steps..." and I have to say I appreciate that. Any time you can supply a columnist with a format like that, it's really welcome. It's so much easier to think of "steps," to actually number them, come up with titles for them, write one to three sentences in description, and BAM, you've got really another entire column, and you hardly had to work at all. Just look through any  magazine, and see how many "articles" are really glorified lists. Come up with ten  bullet points, write a paragraph for each, and you're done. It's so easy, it's great. In fact, now that I think of it, it's exactly what I did in the last Ask Esmond column. But then you threw me for a loop later on in your question, when you seemed to insinuate that my answer would have to be not only "appealing," but "realistic" as well. It's the old "one hand giveth while the other taketh away" trick...you've supplied me with a cake format, but now in so doing, you expect me to really boost up the content. Now I think about how easy it would be to write a long, winding essay if it didn't need to, you know, stand up to any sort of scrutiny. And I'm struck with an immediate reaction, which is, "What makes you think I know?" But then, that speaks to the very nature of the Ask Esmond column, and it's probably best we not address that now.

       Indeed, I think there's a pretty major difference between "getting over" a sexual attraction and "stopping" one. If a person is physically attractive to you, chances are, they will remain so. Oh, you can be petty and hope for a significant weight gain/loss, a disfiguring accident, or a tragic haircut, but these things are unlikely. Well, I guess the first one isn't, but that takes a while. You'll have to accept the fact that phyically, you will most likely remain sexually attracted to this person. And is that so terrible? You know, there's oodles of sexually attractive people out there. They're practically around every corner. Don't believe me? Walk around at whatever "hip section" of whatever "downtown" is near you on a Friday night, and be open-minded. Attractive people are everywhere. We see them every day. But this isn't really a problem, because other than noticing and appreciating a person's beauty, they don't really impact our lives. The other night my wife and I had dinner at a restaurant, and the hostess who seated us was attractive. It really wasn't a problem. I think your dilemma is not that you're physically attracted to the person. We shut out physical attraction every day - like the hum of fluorescent lights or the smell of your own perfume, you notice it at first, then it ceases to be an issue. Your problem is that you're drawn to this individual. Not only are they attractive, they're attracting, and you can't treat them normally because some part of you wants to smooch their face. Or some such thing. This is what we need to fix. Like I said, you can't "stop" being attracted to them, but you can "get over" the way it impacts your ability to relate to the person. So what are the steps?

       1. GET THEIR MEASURE. It's a lot easier to be distracted by a person's beauty when we don't know that much about them. That pretty girl across from you in History class? Sitting there, with the sunlight playing off of her long brown hair, it's easy to get carried away with quick (but no less effective) fantasies of falling in love, having this fantastic relationship, meeting your soulmate...you imagine she's funny, challenging, interested in the same things as you...she seems great. Then you meet her, and she's a vapid, shallow, self-centered bore. And suddenly, she seems a lot less attractive. Or - maybe that seems too easy - you meet her, and she's a witty, insightful, on-the-ball gal. Even then, the perfect relationship you had mapped out in your head is changing, you realize she's not exactly what you thought. She becomes her own person, and her physical appearance is just an aspect of that person.

       2. FEED A COLD AND STARVE A FEVER. I chose this name for this step because I can never remember if that's what you're supposed to do, or if it's the other way around. So I take it on a case-by-case basis, and so should you. Now, in many cases, cutting off contact from this noisomely attractive individual will solve your problem. They'll still be attractive, but you'll never be around them, so it won't matter. But beware, sometimes that can only further romanticize someone. Another tactic is to spend as much time with this person as possible, so that you get so accustomed to their appearance that it loses its impact.

       3. FIND SOMEONE EVEN MORE ATTRACTIVE. Naturally, this is risky,because you may wind up back at square one with your problem. But you know, I'm not licensed or anything. This stuff might not all be brilliant. 

       In conclusion, an anecdote. I once knew this kid, we'll call him Pete. Pete and I hung out a lot in, say, '85-'86. Pete was kind of geeky, but that was fine by me. Pete pretty much liked to stay inside and play video games and listen to music, so I considered him the ideal summertime friend. One day I was over there and Pete had a headache. So I suggested taking aspirin (even then, I was dispensing invaluable advice). And he said, "I can't, I can't swallow pills. I have some sort of problem, I can't swallow them." And that was just patently ridiculous. Now, we were kids, but definitely too old for this sort of behavior. There is no problem that exists that renders one "incapable of swallowing pills." We all swallow chunks of food much bigger than an aspirin every day. He was AFRAID to swallow pills, he didn't WANT to swallow pills, and so he believed he COULDN'T swallow pills. He wasn't incapable, just unwilling. Anonymous, your attraction to this individual need not be a problem. You can control how much you're romantically interested in someone, it's even easier than quitting smoking. And like most challenges of self-control, you'll be surprised at how easy it is once you just start.


Third Issue


Here's the latest question posed to Ask Esmond, and I'm a few days late in responding...

       "Okay. Here is my question. I have discussed this topic with numerous people and cannot come up with a decision as to what's the right way to go on this: fake laughing. Someone tells a joke, a quip, a story, an aside, whatever, and it's SUPPOSED to be funny, and it's just not, e.g., office humor. The question is, does the listener laugh/smile/show approval even though the listener did not find the joke amusing out of politeness/to remove the awkwardness, OR does the listener NOT laugh because the listener simply did not find the tale funny?"

       That's an excellent question, one with which all of us can sympathize. I know I, too, have thought about this a great deal. Personally, I used to have a real problem with laughing. In my younger days, I was a performer, and I had the bad habit of laughing on stage. You know, if something struck me funny (which was often), I couldn't help it. Just part of being a jolly, happy-go-lucky guy. Only, audiences don't like that. Or, really, they do, but they shouldn't, and that's a different topic. Anyway, thanks to some friends of mine, I spent about a year of my life making a sincere effort to stop laughing - at all. I realized the only way I could keep from laughing when I wasn't supposed to was to suppress my tendency to laugh altogether. So, after a while, I stopped. And as a result, I became acutely aware of the phenomenon of fake laughter. Normally, I'm against anything that's fake. I suppose in a perfect world, we'd all be having brutally honest, heartfelt, candid, heavy conversations all day long. However, that's simply not realistic. Who has time? So we save our real, meaningful conversations for our loved ones and our friends, and the rest of the day we drop it into a lower gear of basic communication. The workplace is a perfect example of this. While it never goes so far as to degenerate into "Me need document" levels, the sort of banter that takes place at work really doesn't represent our considered desire to interact. Years ago, I was stuck in a mind-numbing office, and I came to a realization. People, I discovered, really have let their senses of humor atrophy. Day after day, I'd hear conversations from your typical white-collar types, and all of the jokes would consist of... "That's more information than I needed to know!" "Sounds like a personal problem to me!" "That had to hurt!" "Don't go there!" ...and all that sort of crap. It dawned on me that people really aren't making jokes anymore, in the most basic sense of humor. They're not recognizing the incongruity of the situation with people's expectations and making comments to illustrate or ridicule that. Really, they're engaging in a sort of conversational math, where they monitor the progress of the conversations and wait for one of their ready-made quips to apply. Then it's just a matter of zipping it in there first. Few people actually create a funny comment anymore. Disgusting, isn't it? A bit disheartening? Well, don't be down, because as I said earlier, these conversations really don't represent people at their best. All they are is a social currency - an exchange of ideas and information designed to create and maintain social relationships. Because these workplace relationships aren't all that valuable to us (if we're being honest), the social currency isn't all that valuable, either. We get throwaway conversations, with throwaway jokes. It's not truly intended to be memorable, just a means to an end. That being said, the natural going exchange rate for a throwaway joke is a throwaway laugh. We're not pretending to laugh in order to trick the person into believing we really find their comment wildly hilarious, it's just part of the exchange of the social world. Think of it along the lines of "Ah-choo!"/"God bless you" or "Hello"/"Hello." If someone were to sneeze, I wouldn't sit them down and explain to them that in the recent years of my adulthood I've come to believe in the concept of God more along the lines of a non-sentient continuance of existence than a benevolent or wrathful individual supreme being. Who cares? You just say "God bless you," and you're done with it. By the way, "Gesundheit" is stupid. You may not have expected me to answer this question that way, and believe me, by advocating the fake laugh, I'm not saying you need to do it with an iota of sincerity. In fact, I don't even necessarily laugh, myself, I more or less half-grin and not my head. It's strictly to avoid awkwardness, to keep from portraying yourself as stoic or miserable. If people expect me to actually laugh, with the ha has and so forth, they'll have to really amuse me. And that's no small feat. I'd also like to add a couple of caveats. First, if the joke is sexist/racist/homophobic or discriminatory in any way, you are under no obligation to laugh. I should think that would go without saying. Secondly, if you're confronted with the office "funny guy," and he's constantly got something "funny" to say and trying to knock everyone out with how "funny" he is and he's a pain in your ass, by all means, feel free to not laugh at all. Again, humor is a form of social currency, and I support you in any attempt to impose sanctions on Jimmy Jokester, Office Cut-Up. I can't stand those guys. 


Fourth Issue


Dear Esmond,

"Okay.  I've found myself in this predicament, and I'm sure others have to. Now.  Let's say you're in a conversation with a person (co-worker, first date, friend of a friend, etc.), and you notice that said person has a booger, a flippy flyer hanging from said nose or even a green-black thingy stuck in between his/her teeth.  I imagine if you were friends with the person (I would HOPE anyway), you'd say something without doing the "I'm-rubbing-my-nose-to-let-him/her-know-subtly-that-s/he-has-something-in-h

is/her-nose" Routine.  Because we all know this routine can lead to future problems, surrounded by paranoia.  So, if you DON'T know the person too well, but anticipate a long conversation, what should you do?  If you choose to say something, what DO you say?  Personally, I do the ignore (and people might be up in arms about this), and really, I don't think this is the appropriate thing to do 'cuz I know as soon as said person goes to the bathroom, s/he will see in the mirror the flippy flyer/green-black thingy and will get all sorts of embarrassed and well, pissed off that I didn't say jack.  Again though, what if I don't know the person too well?  Even still, what if it's in a group of people and I happen to be the closest person (not physically speaking) to the afflicted person?  How do I say something then without creating a scene?

Which brings me to my second question:  what is the SAFEST thing to eat on a first date without anticipating the first problem (green-black thingy caught in between teeth) or any other problems that can come after a meal?

Your wisdom is greatly appreciated."

There are two reasons I'd like to point out as to why the above was selected as this month's Ask Esmond question.  First off is that closing sentence, "Your wisdom is greatly appreciated."  Isn't that nice?  And so unconditional...I could have answered the question, "Hard to say.  Use your best judgment," and still, my wisdom would have been appreciated. Greatly, at that.  That just makes me feel nice.  And a nice feelin' is key to getting me to respond.  The other reason this question is the lucky winner is because, well, I don't actually receive so many questions, necessarily.  Sure, I'd like to actually have a "choice" when writing the column, but more often than not I just pick the single question I've received and type out an answer.  So, just think, yours could be next!  Send questions to kesmond@csc.com, or better yet, to nshelkey@yahoo.com.  And now, let's get down to it...

Don't we all live in fear of having a big boogie (my preferred term) on our nose?  I know I do.  There are plenty of concerns that badger me incessantly throughout my interactions with people - is my fly down, do I have any hairs sticking up in the back like Alfalfa from Our Gang, is there spit in the corners of my mouth, is my breath bad, et cetera - but chief among these is, of course, boogies.  Nothing else would be quite so horrifying, quite so unclean.  If I did, indeed, have a boogie on my nose, I would want to know IMMEDIATELY, so I could remedy the situation as quickly as possible.  And I'd venture, the same would hold true for everybody else.  I shudder to think of the weirdo who would simply say, "Well, does it bother you?  Because I don't have a tissue on me right now and I really need to discuss these figures."

The best thing to do is say, as casually and matter-of-factly as possible, "You've got a little something on your nose."  Most likely, you'll immediately see the person raise their hand to their nose in a one-finger-searching, four-fingers-covering position.  They'll ask, "Where!?" in a panic, but you probably needn't answer, as they'll locate the offending object themselves in a matter of seconds.  From there, it's effusive apologies on their part.  To put the ordeal to rest, you should then say, "Don't worry about it," and then launch right back into the original topic of conversation.  Quick, laid-back, as painless as possible. You want to give off a "I've dealt with this a million times" vibe.

Now, if they're like me, they'll continue to be haunted by this for the rest of their week, and a little bit each time they interact with you for the rest of their lives.  But, you know, that's okay.  Seeing someone's boogies, like seeing someone naked, is a great equalizer.  Once you've told someone they've got a chunk of snot hanging out of their nose, they've really lost the ability to intimidate you for all time.  And if you can really pull off the quick, kind, no-big-deal attitude, they'll be forever indebted to you.

And just think, if you do let them off the hook gently and they ever do start to get haughty with you, you need only bring up the anecdote, "Remember that time you were talking to me and you had that big huge boogie in your nose?" in public, and they're duly disciplined.

As for safe date foods, it's really not that difficult.  You want to stay away from complicated salads (anything with supple, hard-to-control Romaine, for instance) because of obvious teeth concerns.  Chinese?  Too tricky.  Mexican?  In the immortal words of Shelktone himself, "I like Mexican, but it's so messy."  Italian, with its rich, colorful sauces, is also too much of a threat.  Best to stick to the carnivore platter, either steak or some sort of broiled chicken.  You control the bite-size pieces you'll ingest, no stain worries, you're fine.  As a side, let me recommend the mashed potatoes, which are easy to control and, if they do get stuck in your teeth, inoffensively colored.  For my vegetarian readers, I'd recommend any sort of patty-shaped entreé that is eaten with a fork and knife.  And don't get dessert on a date.  That's just overkill.


Fifth Column


So I went to Albuquerque for a week, and when I got back, there was a new question for Ask Esmond waiting in my inbox.  Only it wasn't so much a question as a winding, wordy, empassioned diatribe.  Unfortunately, while its central theme (baseball) was very timely when it was sent, it was old news by the time I got back to my computer, and it's even older news now. However, the question itself, I feel, speaks to some larger points, somegreater universal truths.  So I'll assay to address those in responding.Baseball fans and non-baseball fans alike, please give this question andanswer some consideration.  You may find something worthwhile in there.

It's way too long to print here, so I'll try to truncate:

"I've followed these Yankees the past three years, as they've steamrolled over everything I've loved, and you know what?  They're a pretty damn good team with a lot of exciting players who play the game the way it should be played.  They've got heart and they even face adversity.  When it comes right down to it: They are winners.  And they'll only prove that when theyfinish off the better-on-paper Mets.  So how does one go about appreciatingsomething good in the face of the thing you hate?  The fact is, I wishthose guys were playing for my team.  I wish New York had nothing to gloatabout.  I wish the New York media wouldn't dictate to the rest of the country what is or is not an event.  In all earnestness, how does onesurvive in this Yankees-dominated world?  And where do our own ingrainedallegiances prevent us from enjoying what might be considered (gulp) a good thing?"

Wow.  Isn't that something?  And that's, like, not even a third of the original question.  There are enough points in there to sustain six columns.  Good God.  I hardly know where to start.  But here goes...

Years ago, I was reading a column from a New York writer about hot dogs. Actually, it was probably a column about backyard barbecueing or something, it's not like it was late-breaking news on the hot dog front.  Anyway, it included the following statement: "New Yorkers know that this soft, steamed thing you get nowadays isn't a hot dog.  A New York hot dog is crispy on the outside, and delightfully warm and gooey on the inside.  Growing up, I went to Nathan's at Coney Island, and blah blah blah....."  I don't remember how it went on, because that description of a "real" hot dog to a "New Yorker" stunned me.  Crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside? That's sickening!  And yet, if you've ever eaten an original Nathan's dog, you know that this is, indeed, how they're prepared.

It occurred to me, at that moment, that I hated New York - or, at least, that aspect of it.  "Isn't there anyplace to get a decent bagel around here?"  "This ain't pizza...you gotta go up to New York to get real pizza." "You want a rollercoaster, you go to Coney Island, ride The Zipper.  Best rollercoaster in the world, ask any New Yorker."

New York is Richard Cory, resplendent and huge and teeming with character and charisma, and we non-New Yorkers are the townspeople, wretched and hobbled, forced to look in from the outside, feeling resentment, envy, and awe.  And who knows, perhaps one day New York will commit some form of suicide.  But that's probably just wishful thinking.

I'm from Marlton, New Jersey, just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. If, in order to find a decent egg cream (???), one must consult a New Yorker, than allow me this - if you're looking for someone who really despises New York, you've got to go to Philadelphia.  Less than a hundred miles from NYC, Philadelphia is also a pretty darn big city in its own right.  However, it's a bit like putting a candle next to a bonfire - sure, the candle gives off enough light for you to read, but who needs it?  And New Jersey...oh, don't get me started.  Those syringes and the garbage washing up on our Jersey beaches in the late 80's, prompting (still more) national ridicule?  They came downstream - from New York.  The only reason NJ can't wrest the "We Hate New York" crown away from Philadelphia is because so many North Jersey residents are content to bask in the Big Apple glow, even though "real New Yorkers" couldn't care less if Jersey people live or die.

I tell you all this to assure you, I hate New York as much as the next guy, if not more.  I hate the fact that every sitcom in the past ten years has been based there, I hate the fact that its residents claim to be the experts on everything, I hate the way people who have spent a couple of months there reserve the right to call themselves "New Yorkers," I hate its neighborhoods, its landmarks, its Giuliani-led rennaissance, and most of all, I HATE New York sports teams.

Ahem.

I started out watching the Subway Series just rooting for as many players as possible to get injured.  But that's just childish, and I do love baseball, so I soon settled into that weird sort of detached trance-like state one achieves when one truly doesn't care who wins or loses.  And with my distance came perspective, even clarity.

The Yankees are a damn good team.  No doubt about it.  You have to give them credit, they've got themselves a dynasty.  I don't know how they're doing it, I could have sworn Scott Brosius sucked, I felt certain that Luis Sojo didn't belong in the majors anymore, I'd have bet money that bringing David Cone into a game was a big mistake.  While I'm on the subject, I'll never understand how Joe Torre was a lousy manager with the Mets, Braves, and Cardinals, and is a genius with the Yankees.  Blows my mind.

But they're great, even if we wish they weren't.  And, to me, that's what winning a championship is all about - taking away people's rights to say "they suck!"  Teams vie for the World Series championship so that their fans can relax, and stop defending themselves in arguments with fans of other teams.  The Yankees are really good.  That's that.

Around the same time as I read the New York article, I read another one, which described the value of sports in our society.  I can remember thinking it was brilliant, worded perfectly, and that I should copy it down and never lose it.  Immediately, I lost it.  But I'll try to explain it anyway.

People may explain that they watch sports because the respect the athleticism of the players - that they see the tasks they're trying to perform, they recognize the difficulty, and enjoy watching it done well. On this level, competitive sports are much the same thing as ice skating, or ballet, or acrobatics.  You may encounter this during the Olympics, or perhaps on ESPN-2, when you see people you've never heard of competing in sports you've never seen, and you're interested and entertained anyway.

But that's not what makes a fan.  We are fans on an emotional level, as part of a relationship, that really has little to do with the actual physics of the sport.  We root for uniforms.  In this day and age, players come and go too quickly, you don't get to watch a team grow up from a bunch of fresh-faced rookies to gray-templed, wizened veterans anymore.  Each year your team has a bunch of new guys, and many of the guys for whom you rooted previously are now playing for the teams you hate.

But you're still rooting.  It's no accident that teams are associated with cities, that the era of "barnstorming" leagues has passed.  There is a great deal of pageantry to sports, from the National Anthem at the beginning to the team nicknames to the bright uniforms.  I used to say I got into baseball when it was no longer cool for me to be into comic books, and it's true.  Athletes are an extension of superheroes.  Brightly-dressed noble men fighting for a cause with which we identify.  What is that cause? Philadelphia vs. New York.  Bragging rights.  It doesn't matter, really, anything at all.

And that's the beauty of it.  I come home from work, turn on the Phillies. I worry about their young players, I'm exasperated when they fail to produce.  I'm crestfallen when they blow a game, thrilled when they pull one out.  Then I turn it off, and go on with my life, and ultimately none of it matters.  Sports provides us with a struggle we can clearly understand and with which we can identify.  When it turns out well, we, as fans, get to share in all of the happiness and pride.  And when it turns out poorly, well, it really doesn't matter.  We can be upset, but it hasn't changed our lives.  Imagine the constant, ongoing catharsis that is being a Phillies fan.  It's like free primal scream therapy.

Let's talk for a moment about that most odious of creatures, the frontrunner.  A frontrunner is a person who claims fandom of whatever team is good.  Presently, a typical frontrunner would be a big fan of the St. Louis Rams, New York Yankees, New Jersey Devils, and Los Angeles Lakers. The particularly offensive examples will desperately claim to have always liked these teams, that their current good fortunes had nothing to do with it.  Other, more rational frontrunners will give you an arguemnt along the lines of, "Hey, they're good, I like to watch a team that's really good.  I like teams that play well.  Isn't that what sports is about?"

These people have no idea what it is to be a fan, really.  They're getting all of the comedy, none of the tragedy.  It's a steady diet of cake and soda, and they're not getting any protein.  They wouldn't understand why you and I have such a hard time living with the reality that the Yankees are really good.

But someday, the Phillies will win a World Series.  And when they do, I'll remember 1989, and 1996, and this past year.  I'll remember rooting for such awful players as Steve Jeltz, Al Pardo, Steve Stanicek, and Clemente Alvarez.  I'll remember every time I sat through a slaughter, and someone walked into the room and said, "Why are you watching these guys?"  I'll remember every Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Braves, Orioles, and Dodgers fan who ever made fun of my team.  I'll remember feeling like they were incapable of winning.  And I'll be happier than any frontrunner could ever possibly be.

So it's okay to recognize that the Yankees are great, to wish that their players played for your team.  It's possible to loathe them and still sppreciate World Series games.  In fact, ultimately, it's adding more depth to your life as a fan.

Okay, this has gone on long enough.  There were myriad other issues raised in the question, including why the ratings were bad, dangerous cliches, and the ongoing popularity of sports in general.  But perhaps I'll address those later.  Now I'm going to go check ESPN.com and see if the Phillies were able to pick up a middle reliever. 
 


Sixth Issue


Welcome back to the world’s most sporadic question-and-answer column.

This season, an anonymous mystery lady writes:

“Is it me or does Russell Crowe just seem like an ass?  Do you say it's just an Australian gruff-ness?  Or does he really just got a problem?  I now feel like my opinion of him as an actor has dwindled cuz he comes off like a jerk.  Is this wrong, Esmond?”

And to that I say, what the hell is “cuz?”  Oh, I know what it is, but why do we use it?  I’ll grant you that English is a living language, and that the meaning of “cuz” is perfectly clear.  But here’s what I don’t understand – why do people type these things?  Is it really so hard to make the four extra keystrokes required to type “because” instead of “cuz?”  And I hear you asking, “What’s the harm?”  And I’ll tell you, it’s the gradual erosion of the written language.  Already society seems to have adopted an attitude of “It’s only e-mail, nobody needs to worry about spelling.”  Actually, I’m giving people too much credit.  I think verbatim, the attitude would be, “Fuck it, it’s a fuckin’ e-mail, what the fuck?” 

It’s one thing when Ben Grimm’s word bubbles feature such colorful phrases as “I wuz thinkin’ the same thing – mebbe we should leave.”  But we’ve already got an entire generation out there with no idea that the round pastry is properly spelled “doughnut.”  It’s not a good sign.  Personally, I’d like to place the blame on E.E. Cummings.  And hell yeah, I capitalized his initials, and I did it out of pure spite.

Anyway, moving on to the matter at hand…

You know, I’ve always loved Steve Martin.  And I loved the job Steve Martin did hosting the Oscars.  Laid back, understated, very witty, very classy - a comedian’s comedian on top of his game.  I think everyone was enjoying the job he was doing.  You could see the warm smiles on everyone’s faces, finally freed from Billy Crystal’s desperate, lookatmelookatme shtick reworking Cole Porter tunes to make them address the Best Picture nominees.  Yes, everyone was having a lovely time.  Everyone, that is, except for Russell Crowe.

Now, I was more than happy to give Russell Crowe the benefit of the doubt.  The first time, I kind of thought he was looking miserable on purpose, sort of playing along with the joke.  The second time, I thought, “Well, hey, the guy does have a kidnapping plot against him.  Understandably, he’s tense.”  The third time, I thought, “Lighten up, asshole.”  Gladiator winning for Best Picture didn’t help my mood – man, was I steamed about that.

Anyway, I forgot about it in time, until I came across a report in the paper about Russell Crowe flipping off students at Princeton.  Apparently, he’d been signing autographs, and some students called out to him from an upstairs dormitory window, and he gave them the old middle finger.  I’m not sure exactly why, although according to the report it wasn’t like the students had said anything rude.  Ron Howard was on hand (the two are filming a movie in New Jersey), and explained, “He signed a lot more autographs than he gave fingers.”  And I’m sure that’s true.

But it brings to mind a larger issue – what do we want from celebrities?  Why is it we ask our actors and actresses to be not only talented and effective, but also gracious and charming?  And why is it that when a celebrity is indeed a really nice person – say, a George Clooney or a Dolly Parton – it’s somehow, strangely, ultimately unsatisfying to so many of us?

I think that we are the superstar generation, raised to believe we would, one day, be famous – or, at least, widely loved.  I know no one actually sat you down and told you to expect celebrity, but nonetheless, the seeds were sown.  Allow me to explain.

Growing up in the late ‘60’s, through any point in the ‘70’s, children had a heaping dose of hippie love hoisted on them.  The 1960’s counterculture poured their messages of peace and love into myriad children’s television programs, books, records, radio shows, et cetera.  I suppose they wanted jobs in a creative field, and since there was always a very fine line between psychedelic mind-expansion and childlike imagination, it must have seemed natural.

I went to 12 years of Catholic school, myself, but I have no horror stories of cruel nuns in black habits beating kids with rulers.  No, the nuns who taught me had names like Sister Connie and Sister Pat.  Many of them played guitar.  Hippie propaganda segued nicely into self-help and self-empowerment literature, all of which was surprisingly adaptable to whichever religious framework one chose to employ.  The end result was that texts like Your Faith and You weren’t all that different from Free to Be You & Me.  Everything around me seemed to be repeating one message – I was special.  There was no one like me in the whole world.  And the kicker – I could be anything I wanted to be.

And of course, that’s not entirely true.  I think we’d all want to be wildly successful, wealthy, and beloved.  But that simply can’t be.  So many of us settle into lives not as the astronaut/baseball player/singing star of our elementary school daydreams, but as something more mundane.  And many of us are perfectly happy.  However, sometimes we’re plagued by those inner superstars who never were, left to compose and recompose Oscar acceptance speeches we’ll never deliver.  At times like these, we get angry with celebrities who seem to be behaving less graciously than we would have.

I have a very small sample size by which to judge Russell Crowe.  What do I know about him?  He flipped off some Ivy Leaguers.  He dated a married woman.  And he was a prick at the Academy Awards.  Going on that, I’ll say sure, he’s an asshole.  But try not to let it get you down.
 
 



 

Seventh Issue


Now, because it’s been months and Shelktone has waited so patiently, I’ll tackle yet another question.  Believe it or not, they’re kind of related. 

Dear Ask Esmond: 

Tax Time is upon us again, another year to reflect on what we've made and how we've made it.  When the tallies are done, two things jump out at me: 

1) I didn't make much money 
2) Most of that money came from a joyless job(s) 

My mind inevitably ponder a few of life's basic questions: 

-What am I doing here? 
-Is this where I need to be? 
-Where do want to go? 
-Why haven't I gone there? 

I've heard lots of post-graduate advice from people who have survived their 20's and early 30's and some of it makes sense and some of it doesn't: 

-Get away from your friends - they'll give you a false sense of security. 
-Don’t spend too much time in one place, see the world, live in different 
cities, explore your options. 
-Follow your dreams, never compromise. 

and conversely: 
-Find a group of people that inspire and support you. Stick with them. 
-Sooner or later you'll have to find a place to settle and grow roots. The sooner you do, the sooner you can build on that foundation. 
-Have a back up plan, be practical, don't miss the finer things in life in search of an unattainable goal. 

So what's the secret A.E.? 

He narrows it down with “What’s the secret,” which kind of turns it into one question, but really, this is about sixty questions.  Nonetheless, I’ll assay to answer… 

Some people switch cities from time to time.  They’ll try New York, and if things aren’t perfectly happy there, they’ll switch to L.A.  If L.A isn’t a bowl of cherries, they’re off to Chicago.  It gets strange as we get older, because people have a tendency to start with the big metropolitan giants, so that by the time they’re 40 they’re saying, “Yeah, I really think everything could be different if I moved to Omaha.  That’s really where it’s at for me.” 

The problem with this method, of course, is that one eventually runs out of cities.  You’re left with yourself, wherever you’ve finally wound up, with all of your talents and all of your shortcomings. 

Friends are the same way.  If we’re constantly hopping into new friendships simply for the sake of stimulating different aspects of our personalities, we’re not forming any real, lasting relationships.  And again, in truth, we’re left with ourselves.  Our friends are rarely to blame for holding us back from anything; they simply make a convenient scapegoat. 

Plenty of people have found success staying in one city, hanging out with one group of friends.  Whether or not you succeed depends only on you.  The central issue here is really, whether or not you should “follow your dreams.” 

Should one follow one’s dream without compromise, or is that simply tilting at windmills?  I’d be remiss telling anyone anything along the lines of, “Oh, come on, man.  You’ll never make it as an 
actor/director/musician/athlete/etc.  The competition is way too great, and you’re already too old.”  That’s simply not true.  People are succeeding in those professions every day.  Plenty of people “make it” in their dream careers, and horror of horrors, it’s not pure merit that determines one’s success.  Few goals are truly unattainable.  In truth, the only unattainable goal may be complete satisfaction. 

I was reading Mamet's book of essays about a year ago, and of course, a lot of what he says is crap.  But he did make several points I really liked.  The first was, "Information is the new opiate of the masses."  I'm reminded of that every day at work.  The second was that nudity and sex scenes always detract from the story.  My inner 14-year-old desperately wants to formulate a solid argument against that so that I can continue to see things like Kate Hudson's breasts in Almost Famous, but I know I can't.  The third is sort of twofold...or, really, he made them as separate points, but to me they're closely related, and very closely related to your (and everyone’s) dilemma. 

The first was that "Longing is integral to the human condition."  The second was that...I can't remember how he phrased it exactly, but it was basically that we all think back to our childhoods as times of pure happiness and freedom from care, but in actuality, that's just not so.  Throughout our lives we have been worried, fearful, dissatisfied, wracked with concern.  If you were to ask me, I'd readily tell you I had a very happy childhood.  I don't feel like I ever really wanted for much, I don't feel like I've ever endured any great suffering.  But when I think back more closely, naturally there were all sorts of miseries...book reports I didn't do, an older kid who used to pick on me, wondering why I was no good at sports, all sorts of things.  Granted, these aren't "from where will my next meal come" or "how can I find shelter" or "why do the soldiers keep taking my loved ones," but you know, unhappiness is unhappiness. 

Now, you know me.  I don't ever, ever want to be cynical or pessimistic or dwell on the negative.  But I thought a lot about these concepts, and ultimately, it was very freeing. See, I'm happily married, my day job is much better than I ever anticipated, I enjoyed my now-ended affiliation with a high school drama program, and now I have a few different creative opportunities from which to choose.  I live in my hometown among family and friends, and we're all generally healthy.  But am I sated?  No.  Satisfied? Not really.  I often make fun of myself - my complacency and my general lack of ambition.  But of course, just like the next guy, I want more for myself. 

 Like anyone of our TV-always-on generation, I grew up with constant fantasies of fame.  And while I'm over that, naturally I'd love to sustain a comfortable lifestyle through nothing but creative endeavors.  And perhaps one day I will.  But shouldn't I be happy with what I have now?  Yes, certainly, I should.  I have more than most; I am fortunate.  Is it, then, awful of me to want more?  This is my point.  No.  We can't help it.  We will always be, on some level, dissatisfied with our lives, and we will always paint a rosier picture of the past than was real. 

All this in response to your basic question, "will I be unhappy if I never 'make it?'"  Yes, you will.  How could you not?  Be it friendships or geography or effort, you'll create a clear crossroads in your past on which to hinge any future dissatisfaction you might feel.  In other words, "will I be unhappy" is the heart of the question, and the answer is "yes, from time to time."  Any sort of  "...if I never start hanging out with a different group of people” or “if I stay in one city and never see what others are like” part is incidental.  I don't mean to imply that ambition is wrong or anything like that, and I understand that you understand the basic difference between occasional wistful regret and true, lifelong unhappiness that might occur if, say, the world at large embraces someone who's exactly like you in every way only a little worse at everything.  I guess all I'm saying is, if you feel you are at a crossroads, don't worry.  If you’re the type of person who can make the best of things, you'll do well.  All we can do is sit down, weigh the good and bad of our options, and make a choice. 
And of course from time to time we'll regret the choice we've made, but that's nothing we can help. 

The “secret,” then, is simply knowing that a certain amount of 
dissatisfaction is an inevitable part of being human.  St. Thomas Aquinas referenced this when he attempted to prove the existence of God.  According to his (twisted, agenda-serving) idea, the fact that no one is ever 100% satisfied with every aspect of their lives proves that an ultimate perfection does exist somewhere.  To him, that was in God.  To others, it may be with a hipper crowd, or in London or Dublin or Memphis or somewhere better than (insert town here). 

But in truth, it’s all up to you.


Eighth Issue

Let's be honest with each other for a moment. This is my eighth column for the Shelktone website, and I've known every person who's written in with a question. That's not a complaint; I'm just saying that while these questioners may be anonymous to you, in reality, they're mostly people with whom I went to college. And so, for the most part, I can usually figure out just what they're talking about when they describe their problems. But for my latest question, while I understand what the person is saying, I'm clueless as to the details. So I'm left guessing to whom she might be referring, and that's just all sorts of fun.
 

Dear Mr. Esmond, 

My topic concerns the maintenance of friendships when affected by a relationship with a significant other; specifically, friends who have disappeared into the arms of their significant others with no sign of ever returning. Here is my frantic slew of questions: 

What's the significance of "girl time" or "boy time?" How important is this in the face of a dating relationship? How do you go about hanging out with your friend but not their significant other? And perhaps, more importantly: WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU LIKE TWO PEOPLE AS INDIVIDUALS BUT NOT AS A COUPLE? 

And if it seems like this "boy time" or "girl time" isn't happening, how do you get over feeling resentment towards a friend who has "let you down?" For example: one who repeatedly hails that something like "boy time" or "girl time" is important and then fails to support it. Or only goes out ONLY when the significant other is out for a "boys' or girl's night"... and it is convenient? Is it beneficial or harmful to the friendship to voice concerns when this becomes a pattern? 

Advise us, oh wise one. 

-Insignificant 
 
 

Well, we've all been through this - in fact, we've probably been on both ends of it. And you'd think that as we push thirty, we'd be better equipped at balancing our time between friends and significant others. But you'd be overestimating us. 

Hey, you know what? I just got what the writer meant by signing it "Insignificant." See, she's not the "significant other," so in that way she's "insignificant," but because the person in question isn't spending the requisite amount of "friend time" with her, she's really being treated as though she were "insignificant" entirely. That's clever. I can't believe it took me that long to figure it out. 

That pretty much spells out the situation, too. You see the impression we risk leaving when we hole ourselves up with our brand new boyfriends/girlfriends? It's a shame. Of course, when someone sets out on a new relationship, they certainly never intend to ignore their friends, it just sort of happens. Why is this? 

First of all, let's face it. What were you going to do anyway? Go to a bar, talk about which Tom Waits album is the best? Make fun of people doing karaoke? Rehash the finer points of your last failed relationship? As much as we love hanging out with our friends, it usually pales in comparison to the heartfelt declarations of devotion and non-stop jackrabbit sex with which we're presented at the outset of a new relationship. In the earliest stages, one can hardly fault someone for staying shacked up a while. 

But as time goes on, it's important to find a balance. Important so that our friends don't feel "insignificant" (I just love that), and also important to give the new relationship some room to breathe. I'd say "friend time" (Let's all try to be mature enough to not separate it into "boy time" and "girl time." Do we really only have friends of the same gender? Haven't we matured at all?) is significant - but, like most things in life, just how significant is hard to define. 

It's natural for friends to feel a little jilted in these situations, particularly if they're either a) without a significant other of their own; or, b) well-entrenched in a long-term relationship, having already struck a perfect balance between "friend time" and "love time." Ideally, we'd all start new relationships at about the same time (let's say June 20th, shall we?), so we could all spend six months or so out of the public eye without missing each other. But the logistics would be a total nightmare. 

It's just as natural for the New Lovers (I'm not coming up with a better term, even though I really hate how that one sounds) to get a little inconsiderate in these early stages. We're certain our friends are doing just fine without us, and we expect them to be waiting patiently for our return. And, you know, for the most part, they are. It would be different if you were truly someone's only friend, and you decided to stop calling them while you enjoyed your Retreat d'Amour. But in truth, our friends generally have other friends, and they'll be fine. 

Now, let's go forward six months. After six months, the New Lovers will either evolve into Broken Up or an Established Couple. If they're Broken Up, well, we're back to square one. Sure, you can resent them ignoring you, but try not to say anything you'll regret when the tables are turned and you yourself are in the throes of a budding relationship. 

If they're an Established Couple, it's important they find some way to re-enter society. Unless it's The Blue Lagoon, they'll have to find some way to interact with others. If nothing else, they'll need bridesmaids and groomsmen one day. 

Hanging out with friends should, ostensibly, come really naturally. Hey, if I really like Reed, and Reed really likes Sue, then I'll like Sue, too, right? Well, maybe not. 

What if the unthinkable happens? What if our friend has become involved with someone we don't like? Or, as "Insignificant" asks, what if I like both Reed and Sue, but I can't stand them together? 

I have a rule by which I live my life. Allow me to share it with you. 

I WILL NOT SPEND TIME IN THE COMPANY OF PEOPLE I DON'T ENJOY. 

Yes, it's beautiful in its simplicity, isn't it? Oh, I know, there are all sorts of contingencieswhat if I'm at a party and someone I don't like shows up, what if I find myself sharing a cab with someone I dislike (Of course, I'd never be in a cab. This is just an example of what's called "Knowing Your Audience."), et cetera. And of course, in those situations, you remain perfectly pleasant, perfectly engaging, and you endure. I'm not a curmudgeon. I don't storm away from anyone with whom I've got the slightest issue. But for the most part, I don't seek out opportunities to spend time with people unless I know I'll be enjoying their company. If I have to, then I have to. But if I don't have to, then I won't. 

Now you're left with a clear choice. Does this advice seem harsh? Extremist? Do you not like the idea of dropping these friends, just because you don't like the way they are together? Well, then you must not dislike them that much, hmm? Maybe their couplehood isn't so bad after all. Does it seem like the advice you knew, in your heart, was right all along? Well then, your course of action is clear. 

Finally (I always seem to jumble the order), is it worthwhile mentioning to a friend that their all-for-love, friends-be-damned attitude is forming a discernible and unpleasant pattern? Only when they're single. Bringing this up while they're in the middle of a relationship will seem like an attack on the sanctity of their love, and isn't likely to be well-met. Just try to stop it from happening the next time. 

Well, I hope this helps. And I wonder who the couple is. Perhaps Shelktone knows, and will enlighten me. 


Ninth Issue

1/9/02

Wow, you know, it’s hard for me to even remember when the last column was posted.  And I’ve been sitting here, patiently, the entire time, just waiting for another question to come over the wires.  Just as I was figuring the whole advice column was a thing of the past, I received this…
 

All right, Edmond.  You wanted someone you didn't know to ask you a question, so here I am.  I'm actually an old high school friend of Nate's from "Swingfield", but I don't know you.  Anyway, my question is regarding work.  I am a musician before anything else, so of course I have a day job.  I have had many of them in fact.  I want to know how people can be managers of restaurants and retail stores and actually enjoy their work.  They seem to love their little mantras for boosting employee moral.  Things like "Pride in our employees, Enthusiasm for the customer, A bug for cleanliness and safety".  Do they expect us to be excited about this?  Do they expect me to be smiling and happy to customers all of the time and NOT go insane?  Do they believe that all of this crap is really a worthwhile profession?  I want to understand how they can come to work every day and hope to one day become a general manager and that be their goal in life.  I just don't get it.  Please help me understand.

Thanks,
Disgruntled and "a little snappy sometimes"
(that's how my manager described me)
 

First off, it’s “Esmond.”  Not “Edmond.”  Just thought I’d clear that up.  You know, it’s kind of a simple name, but you’d be surprised how often people screw it up.  Some of my wife’s friends and relatives are still sending mail addressed to “Mr. & Mrs. Kevin Esmund.”  I’ve gotten “Osmond” a few times, as well.  But it’s “Esmond, like ‘Desmond’ without the first D,” as I sometimes tell people.  What’s more, most of my paternal relatives pronounce it “es-mahnd,” which I’ve never understood.  Desmond, Osmond, Hammond, Drummond, all pronounced similarly, but somehow they’re convinced it’s “es-mahnd.”  Kooky.

On to the matter at hand…you know, I noticed an interesting pattern throughout my working life.  The less I’ve been paid, the worse I’ve been treated.  Some naïve, idealist part of me thinks the opposite should be true, that if you’re down around the minimum wage level, the least employers could do was be nice to you.  And the more they were paying you, the more right they had to run you into the ground.  Sadly, this is not so.  When I was a “Sandwich Artist” at Subway, when I was a stock boy at a liquor store/farm market (that’s South Jersey for you), and when I was washing dishes at the JMU dining hall, I was treated like a pack mule.  Now, ensconced in the white-collar world, I’m livid if someone doesn’t ask nicely.  Why should I now enjoy the luxury of civility?  Actually, more to the point, why wasn’t I always treated well?

I suppose part of the reasoning has to do with the fact that my other jobs were entry-level positions, and if I didn’t work out, I was easily replaced.  There’s a system for baseball player evaluation called “value over replacement” that’s gaining more and more acceptance.  Rather than try to determine what a guy is worth by imagining the high end of what he’ll provide for you, you simply compare the player to the average replacement you could pick up.  In other words, how much better is our first baseman that any old first baseman working in the minor leagues or Japan?  By that logic, even if I was a really fantastic Sandwich Artist, my sandwiches weren’t going to be that much better than those made by anyone else.  So as an individual, I didn’t seem that important.

That still doesn’t excuse being treated poorly.  Nothing does, really.  It’s just not that difficult to treat an employee with respect.  And of course, what made it even more unpleasant was the fact that it was ME in question.  I was intelligent, pleasant, an all-around swell guy.  Why not recognize that I’m a worthy individual?  I think most management would do well to remember that they’re individuals, not simply employees.  But you know, there’s another side to that coin.  And here’s where I actually get into your particular situation.

(Maybe it’s these wordy tangents that has my inbox less than stuffed.  I should really try to be more concise, you know?)

I don’t know you, and I’m not exactly sure what your behavior is like at your day job.  But what concerns me is how quick you were to preface that this was a “day job,” rather than simply saying “I work in a restaurant…”  It’s because you’re a “musician before anything else,” of course.  But the funny thing about day jobs is, when you’re there, it’s not particularly relevant whether you’re a musician in your free time.  Or an actor.  Or a writer.  Or whatever.

I’m not sure how managers of restaurants and retail stores can enjoy their jobs, because I’ve never tried it.  But I have no doubt that many do enjoy them.  Or, if they aren’t exactly thrilled with their present situation, at least the general profession of restaurant or retail management holds some appeal to them – probably great appeal.  You’ve never, for a moment, entertained some daydream about running your own restaurant or shop?  I mean, I’m sure you’ve never sat and dreamt about the joys of putting together the schedule for a franchised bar and grill, but consider the more idealized form.  Consider a hip, stylized downtown five-star restaurant, or a cute little bookstore that for some reason my imagination keeps placing in New England somewhere.  (How does my imagination indicate New England?  There’s a guy standing there in a flannel shirt and winter hat holding a fish.  Swear to God.)  You can see the appeal of that kind of career, right?  Maybe not.  But consider this…

What’s the point of being a musician if you’re not already on MTV?  Why even write songs unless Rolling Stone is lauding you as the important new voice of your generation?  Why write songs that no one will know?  Why play and play to uninterested audiences?  If you can see why, if you can understand that the joy of simply doing anything as a musician is worth the trouble, you’re on your way to understanding your boss.

Look at your typical college.  Or better yet, I’ll look at mine, since I really don’t know you and I’m the one writing the column.  There were tons of “creative types” all around me, writing songs and plays, acting and directing, singing and dancing, and doing some of the best damn improv comedy the world has ever known.  But we were greatly outnumbered by the business majors, dressed in their nice outfits, perfecting their pie charts, scoring internships, and doing whatever the hell else they did.  I don’t know.  And a fair portion of those business types were majoring in – can you guess?  That’s right, hotel and restaurant management.

The same mid-level franchise restaurant manager whose life seems a waste to you is probably looking at your career as a musician and wondering when you’re going to grow out of it.  This is the great divide between business types and creative types.  This is the root of your problem.

Is it their goal in life to become the general manager in a restaurant chain?  Probably not.  Is it your goal in life to write five to ten new songs a year and play them on open mike nights at random NYC bars?  Certainly not.  If they’re smart, their goal in life is to be happy and healthy.  If you’re smart, so is yours. 

Many jobs stink.  I’ve often said, “If you wanted to do it, they wouldn’t have to pay you.”  But it’s a big, honking economy, and we’re forced to work within it.  And it’s always been my belief that if you cash the paycheck, you’re forfeiting your right to complain about it.  That brings me to another point.  “Do these people expect you to be smiling and happy to customers all the time and NOT go insane?”  Positively.  This is pretty much a solid rule of thumb for life.  Be pleasant to anyone and everyone. “Snapping” at a customer isn’t going to bring about sincere, effusive apologies from him or her.  You’re not going to show someone the error of their ways by being unpleasant toward them.  Make life easy for yourself.  Don’t let it bring you down.  If you think being pleasant at work is enough to drive you insane, you may already be closer to crazy than you think.


Tenth Column

June 2002

If it's a wedding column, it must be June (or close to it).  A regular 
reader writes in to pose the following question.  Please read carefully. 

Dear Mr. Kevin Esmond, 

In the spirit of this wedding season, I'd like to cordially invite you to 
offer up any words advice. 

What is the best modus operandi in dealing with 
ex-boyfriends/ex-girlfriends/ex-lovers at the aforementioned events?  Of 
course, those who have the gumption to read your column will epitomize the 
sheer essence of maturity and goodnature.  but how to deal with someone 
possibly still harbouring ill feelings?  avoid them?  Sure.  OF COURSE. 
BUT, what if the ex purposefully does something to make the situation 
uncomfortable for more than just the intended?  like (and these have 
happened before) sitting across the table on purpose ? even if it's with 
someone he or she does not even like, or the old "i'm going to monopolize 
all of YOUR friends" number?  No one wants an awkard moment.  Especially on 
such a happy day. 

The courtesy of your reply is appreciated. 

Now, you know what's cool about this?  See, it's set up like a wedding 
invitation.  With the "cordially invite you" and the "courtesy of your 
reply" bits, get it?  Isn't that great?  And I'm not being sarcastic here 
at all, I really appreciate that sort of stuff.  See, anyone can send in 
questions.  This individual took the time to add a little style.  Would it 
surprise you to learn that this is the same reader who wrote the 
now-classic "Insignificant" question, with its nuanced play on words? 
Because it is.  We could all learn something from this anonymous 
correspondent.  Adding a little something extra really makes your letter 
stand out from the thousands and thousands I receive each day. 

And now, I shall respond. 

I have been to many weddings.  Many, many, many.  I was recently discussing 
this fact with Shelktone, and I estimated, without hyperbole, that I must 
have attended upwards of 60 weddings in my life.  Well, let me be more 
specific - upwards of 60 receptions.  Not so many ceremonies.  You see, 
when I was younger, I used to work as a roadie for a wedding band.  They 
were called the Good Times Revue, and they were damn good.  The quality of 
their shows led to them always being booked, which led to me going to lots 
and lots of weddings.  I'd help them lug in their gear, set up the lights 
and microphones, then just hang around while they played.  They'd even let 
me handle lead vocals on a few numbers, like "Louie, Louie" and "Come 
Dancing."  This was usually later in the evening, once people were too 
drunk to care that the expensive wedding band they'd hired was using a 
15-year-old frontman.  Once the night was over, I had the other 50% of my 
work staring me in the face, as I had to take down the lights, wrap up the 
cables, and help load the whole show back into the truck.  I was paid $25 
per night, plus a fancy wedding dinner.  It was a great job. 

Combine these gigs with the weddings of friends and family I've attended as 
an actual, invited guest, and I've been to more than my share of weddings. 
I bring this up not because I'm compelled to waste several paragraphs 
before actually answering any question (although you'd think that), but 
because I had to take that history into consideration when I was thinking 
about the matter at hand.  You see, my initial impulse was to more or less 
say "You'll be surprised, people tend to be on their best behavior at 
weddings, I doubt you'll have any trouble."  But when I thought about ALL 
the weddings I've seen, I realized that that's not necessarily so. 

I have seen brides so drunk they passed out mid-reception.  I have seen 
newlyweds - like, married an HOUR, tops - get into vicious, obscenity-laden 
arguments.  I have seen fistfights start at receptions.  I have seen enough 
tongue-kissing on the dance floor to last the rest of my life.  Babies 
crying, ladies crying, spills, sickness, cake mishaps, dance floor 
pile-ups, and abject misery.  I've seen things looking hopelessly bleak, 
only to turn around once the band launched into one of their kick-ass 
showstoppers, be it Paul Simon's "Late in the Evening" or Sly & the Family 
Stone's "Dance to the Music."  Those never failed. 

My point is, I guess anything can happen at weddings.  There are just a few 
things you need to keep in mind.  One is, hopefully, if you've been taking 
the advice of my column to heart, you've by now stopped spending time in 
the company of people you don't enjoy.  And if everyone has done this, you 
can rest assured that the individuals on hand at the upcoming wedding will 
be mannered and trustworthy enough that you won't have a problem.  But 
there are two problems with that solution - one, no one reads this thing, 
and two, it's crazy the way wedding invitation lists take shape.  A deadly 
combination of collaboration and sensitivity, they always wind up including 
people they shouldn't.  And that brings me to the real solution. 

Always, always have a seating chart.  Prepare this seating chart with great 
care, doing your best to anticipate any potential volatility of matchups. 
The idea here is to get through the meal without incident - as for the 
all-dancing final portion, there's no safe way to play it.  Hopefully, by 
then, the joy of the occasion will be pervasive enough to cut off ill will. 
And besides, there's nothing short of specatcle people can do at that point 
to get their point across, and no one likes spectacle, not even 
vengeance-minded jilteds. 

If you're going to be a guest at an upcoming wedding, put the call in to 
the bride and/or groom and voice your concern.  While assembling a seating 
chart is a hassle the likes of which the unmarried among us can never know, 
the couple will desperately want to avoid trouble at their reception and 
will be glad to take your suggestion.  Well, no, maybe not "glad," they 
might throw a mini-fit (people planning weddings are even worse than people 
studying for exams in their capacity for woe-is-me diatribes), but I'll bet 
come the reception, you'll find the seating chart organized in a way that 
honors your input. 

If this is your wedding, I must first go back on something I said earlier. 
If you ignore everything else I've said, please pay attention to this - do 
not invite exes to your wedding.  You'll have plenty to do that day, plenty 
of plates to keep spinning.  You want to minimize your hassles.  However 
patched up your friendship with the individual seems now, best to avoid 
conflict - if you're writing in about this, the person obviously has the 
potential to behave in an unseemly manner.  Do not give them the 
opportunity. 

If the damage is done, if the invitation was sent and the response 
received, take extra care with that seating chart.  The night before my own 
wedding, I discovered that my 10-seat plan wasn't going to work with the 
surprise shipment of 8-seat tables we received.  So instead of recasting my 
bachelorhood in a more adventurous light or taking a moonlight walk to 
think about myself as an individual, I had to redo the whole sucker while 
watching a rerun of E/R.  Well, I didn't have to watch the rerun, I chose 
to, but it was one I hadn't seen. 

I worried that my "college friends" contingent might not like the new 
arrangement, a hasty attempt to avoid any potential confrontations.  But 
you know what?  Well, you do, anonymous writer, because you were at my 
wedding.  But for the benefit of everyone else, it didn't matter.  Everyone 
ate, drank, danced, had a good time - or at least did a damn good job of 
making me think they were having a good time so I wouldn't feel guilty. 

Changing seating combinations has worked for years for elemantary school 
teachers trying to break up nests of misbehavior, and it can work for you, 
too.  Trust in your ability to anticipate trouble and line people up in 
pleasant clusters.  And when that's all done, relax, because people will 
surprise you with how gracious and pleasant they can be.


Eleventh Column

October 2002

Howdy, readers.  Here's the latest.

WANTED:

Well-thought out words of wisdom on how to deflect unwanted criticism of 
life choices, artwork, etc.

Sure-fire methods of dealing with those "helpful" suggestions people feel 
are so important to share.

Graceful reactions to those emails full of things one "might not" have 
thought about or completely thought through.

Winning ways to respond to Ann Landers' advice when you don't remember ever 
having written to her in the first place.

I am ASKING for your advice, Mr. Esmond.
 

Man, damn it.  "Well-thought out words of wisdom," eh?  So I can't just sit 
here and type the first few things that come into my head and be done with 
it?  You want me to actually mull this one over?  Perhaps take it back to 
the Advice Columnist Guild in our fortress atop the mountain and kick it 
around during a round-table?  Okay, sure.  But first, let me jot down some 
initial impressions.

That's a pretty wide range there, between "artwork" and "life choices."  I 
mean, if you're working in any sort of creative field, you've got to realize 
that constant feedback, much of it inane, comes with the territory.  Sure, 
we'd appreciate it if people's comments were somewhat sensitive, if they 
took some time and thought through what they wanted to say.  But instead, 
these people, like random internet advice columnists, are far more likely to 
just start in on something than really give it a whole lot of thought.

Ultimately, all art is subjective.  Well, no, what did I want to say?  All 
art is subject to subjective response, I guess.  That's what I meant.  So 
the question becomes, who should be sharing this response?  Just anyone?

In the end, yes.  Show someone a piece of art, play them a song, read them 
something you wrote, and they get to weigh in.  This is likely why Emily 
Dickinson led her life in secret.  Although I think that's a myth.

Now life choices, that's a different story.  Art really only exists in its 
relationship to its audience, you know?  Your life, that's yours.  And while 
we all appreciate advice when it's a) coming from someone we like, and b) 
simply reinforcing the choices we've already made, it can be hard to take 
otherwise.

I'm tempted to say a few words (in typing style) about whether or not these 
people should be weighing in at all.  Really, that seems to be the 
underlying message of your question 'why won't people shut the hell up'  
Sure, you're technically wondering how to react, but that's easy, so I'll 
get to it later.

To put it simply, people are going to have opinions on everything.  They 
can't help it.  Sure, somewhere those individuals exist who see a person's 
life unfolding and don't make judgments about it because it's not their 
place.  But most of those people are lying:  they DO have opinions, they're 
just not telling you what they are.  The minority, the people who really 
don't give it any consideration, are either really ignorant or really 
boring.  Or both.

The question is, do these opinions matter to you?  And if so, why?  If 
they're getting to you, it speaks to some level of insecurity about the 
choices you've made.  Perhaps they've recognized something you were hoping 
no one would.  It can be bothersome when someone points out something you 
should have realized for yourself.

Now, if they're saying something with which you utterly disagree, how should 
you respond?  Why, with a simple "Duly noted" or "I disagree" or "You 
think?" or something along those lines.  The problem here isn't that someone 
is talking too much, it's that YOU'RE not talking enough.  If it's an 
intelligent person expressing an honest opinion, there's something to be 
gained by discussing it with them.

If it's a boorish person expressing an ill-conceived opinion?  Well, I refer 
you back to my cardinal rule:

I WILL NOT SPEND TIME IN THE COMPANY OF PEOPLE I DO NOT ENJOY.

You can end your frustration by cutting them off.  Otherwise, take the time, 
respect their experience, and listen to what they have to say.

Then just tell them they're wrong.

p.s. Ann Landers is dead, actually.  Long live Ask Esmond!