I'm not sure what is more despicable: a blotchy, poorly groomed right-wing nutcase, or one who makes an effort. I guess the latter-- if I'm having a spa day, the last thing I want is to run into Christopher Hitchens.
I used to think that tattoos were like venereal diseases: just something you woke up with, but now I am reconsidering. Wandering around downtown the past week or so I've been thinking about how an informal sampling can sometimes provide a pretty accurate picture of a genuine trend. With the warm weather upon us, women especially are wearing outfits that reveal more skin-- something I applaud, incidentally. Hardly a trend worth noting, except that more and more of the skin I'm seeing is tattooed.
I started counting, and estimated that about a quarter of the women under 40 -- and a fair number of the women over 40-- were sporting one or more tattoos. Women are better for this sort of study. They are more interesting to look at generally, of course, and they expose more skin than men do, but in the interests of science I started surveying the ornamentation on men as well. A friend of mine likes to say that he has told his kids that if they want a tattoo they have to join the Navy first, but from the available evidence it would appear that tattoos have appeal beyond the crusty old mariner demographic.
With my raw data in hand, I turned to the internet to see if my observations could be verified. Tattoo Facts & Statistics yielded some numbers:
"The National Geographic News stated in April 2000 that 15% of Americans were tattooed (or approximately 40 million people!)
"Esquire Magazine estimated in March 2002 that 1 in 8 Americans was tattooed.
"According to the American Society of Dermatological Surgery, they stated in 2005, that of all the people they treat with laser and light therapy, only only 6% are getting a tattoo removed.
"Harris Poll, 2003, estimates that fully 36% of those aged 25-29 have one or more tattoos.
"A 2006 a study done by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that 24% of Americans between 18 and 50 are tattooed...."
The Harris poll, which is quoted at length, is particularly notable for a number of reasons (Democrats are more likely to be tattooed than Republicans; and Republicans are more likely to regret being tattooed. There is a Hillary Clinton joke in there somewhere, I'm sure.) Harris is vague on the big tattoo question, though. Although people with tattoos are usually eager to explain why they have a particular design, "Why did you get a tattoo?" seems to be a harder question to answer. A hint is in the answers to the question, "Compared to not having a tattoo, having a tattoo has made me feel...." Five percent reported that their tattoo made them feel "More intelligent". These are undoubtedly the people with mis-translated Chinese characters on their necks. Twenty-nine percent said that their tattoos made them feel rebellious-- presumably not the people who choose pictures of their baby, but then again, what do I know? The largest single group, 34%, reported that their tattoos made them feel sexy. Chacun à son goût, I reckon. If you think former Secretary of State George Schultz is a sexy looking guy, maybe a tattoo is just what you need to hotten up your look.
When I read stuff like Gary Kamiya's "I'm Younger Than That Now", I just want to scream.
"Lately I've been asking myself: When did I get so damn old?
"Will it be on Saturday, when my son graduates from high school? Did it start 10 years ago, when my knees gave out and I had to say goodbye to sports other than bocce ball?"
Get a hold of yourself, man! You are, according to your whiny article, 53. Do you really mean to say that you gave up sports when you were 43 years old? Good heavens, you lump, no wonder you feel like hell. We defy age by continuing to do the things we love to do, not by shrugging and saying, "Well, I'm old now." When I see guys in their 70s and 80s out running, I think, "That's what I'm going to be like," not, "I wonder how they do it?" How they do it is simple: they never stopped. Count on it, those people are still having sex, too> They don't think, "Wow, my body sure is decrepit." They think, "This is great!"
"Age defying" is either a bogus tagline for a product that probably doesn't work-- or it is a way of life. People who say that they aren't active because their knees hurt make my head hurt. As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing."
I'd like to tell Mr. Kamiya to grow up, but he'd probably dry up and blow away.
Product makes a difference, even if it isn't the difference we wish for. There are limits to the anti-aging properties of all product. Actually, a good rule of thumb is to keep in mind that the usefulness of any product stands in an inverse ratio to the extent that its anti-aging qualities are emphasized. If we focus on being well-groomed and taking care of ourselves, the rest will take care of itself, mostly.
Yesterday's eLave post sent me looking for new product to test, and although Nancy Boy's line does not feature nakedness, it sounds like good stuff. The author of this piece from The Spectator has an excellent point: "We males have few rituals to enjoy, and those few minutes spent with badger brush and blade, rare and precious scents wafting in the steam about our heads, are a magnificent start to the day."
So now I have a shopping list. I'll update with test results anon.
I haven't tried the product, but as soon as I know more about eLave I'll be sure to update here. In the meanwhile, I highly recommend the website, which is kind of just about how I've always imagined the laboratory of a cosmetics company would look.
If you were looking for a way to gauge media susceptibility, you could do far worse than to look into the way that men use colognes and the like versus the way that these products actually work. There’s a terrific example right now for something called “Axe” that embodies the paradigm. Axe is a body spray, and although there are different varieties, they all smell pretty much like air fresheners. The commercial in question shows a guy fumigating himself with this stuff as hordes of bikinied women stampede him from every direction-- by land and by sea. The reality, of course, is that the liberal application of Axe would be likely to cause a stampede in the opposite direction, an evacuation of the bikini babes, leaving the hapless guy alone on the beach, reeking of candy apple and musk.
This is not a new problem: remember Hai Karate? It came with a marshal arts defense manual, so that the user could fend off the women driven wild by the scent. Since it kind of smelled like ammonia I don’t imagine that too many guys had to worry about it.
It may be my imagination, but there were probably more horrible after shaves back then. There were guys who favored Aqua Velva, for instance, endorsed by no lesser light than Pete Rose. It is hard to imagine anyone regarding Charlie Hustle as a grooming paragon, but people-- or at least guys—apparently did.
At some point for most men the dime drops, and we stop intentionally perfuming ourselves altogether. Freshly showered and smelling faintly of Safeguard is fine, but it doesn’t have to be that way. A subtle scent is a pleasing thing, and it is surprising how it can work to make a positive impression—chances are there is a guy at your workplace with a signature scent. Watch some time as he picks up his messages from the receptionist after lunch and gets the big smile when he walks up and the soft sigh when he leaves. Olfaction is the sense that is linked to the deepest parts of the brain, after all, and a whiff of light cologne can be very pleasing.
And speaking of haircuts, the maestro, the Manolo, weighs in on John Edwards' $400 buck coif:
"If the Manolo were the gambling man, he would be willing to bet that other candidates are also spending many hundreds of dollars each month on their hair care.
Certainly Mitt Romney and the hair-beplugged Joe Biden have the mark of the expensive stylist beast upon them. But then neither of these politicians is so simple as to have his campaigns pay for his hair care, which means that this expense will not become the matter of the public record, which was John Edwards’ true error.
Finally, if you doubt the importance of having the best haircut possible, the Manolo reminds you of the cautionary counter example, of the politician who has never spent more then $14 on his hair cut. His name is Dennis Kucinich."
I've always assumed that Kucinich was wearing a rug, but I suppose it is possible to have real hair that looks like that. And as bad as the one-time Boy Mayor of Cleveland's hair is, at least he never set it on fire. Lots of guys with mops like that would go the Paul Simon route and superglue a baseball cap to their heads, but Kucinich has more integrity than that.
I got a spring haircut over the weekend-- it had been a while, and although it was Michael Douglas long and looking okay a month ago when I was on the Left Coast it had become a bother. "Take out the clippers and take it down." I told the stylist, and less than ten minutes later I was shorn. "That's quite a change," she said. "Now people will stop crossing the street when they see you."
Now that I think back on it, I'm pretty sure I over-tipped her.
Fashion Week 07
In The Devil Wears Prada Mirada Priestly lectures her assistant: “What you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise, it's not lapis, it's actually cerulean. You're also blindly unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar De La Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn't it, who showed cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of 8 different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room.” Going to Fashion Week sets my mind whirling, trying to spot these sort of trends, but it's not that simple. Maybe Anna Wintour can do it, but it’s a lot harder than spotting the same color three times in three shows and than pronouncing that “everyone will be wearing topaz”. Although we did see a lot copper…. One thing I have learned is that fashion is hard work. Pros in every field try to make what they do look effortless, and maybe this is more important in the style industry than anywhere else. Don’t fall for it. Just as Tiger Woods makes the most frustrating game in the world look like a matter of hitting a ball straight, the best designers are trying to make looking well put together as simple as pulling on this attractive outfit. The pulsing music, the dim lighting in the showroom that explodes into brightness, the studied nonchalance of the models—hell, the crush at the door, the endless waiting in line and the fact that everything runs at least a half hour behind schedule. All of it is intended to create anticipation, excitement and release, and if that sounds a lot like sex to you, than now you are starting to get it.
There was a time when travel was manageable, and it was possible to arrive at one’s destination without looking like you’d slept under a bridge. I know it seems like that must have been way back when men wore hats and women wore gloves, but it wasn’t really that long ago. Of course, now that a chapstick is viewed as a potentially lethal weapon it is harder to do, but with the proper attitude it is still possible to get from Point A to Point B with élan.
Most people who travel a lot travel for work, and most people who travel for work are delighted to tell you about what a chore it is. You’d think they were chained to oars to hear them tell it. This mindset may be why some people show up at their out of town meetings disheveled and disagreeable. I can understand this. Since I’m personally already inclined to believe that the world exists to inconvenience me, the existence of the Transportation Safety Administration seems perfectly rational: a governmental agency which specializes in making me miserable in airports: what could make more sense? The Department of Motor Vehicles is a nightmare vision of hell, but how often do you have to go there? The TSA there for you every time you have to go out of town. I am thankful that this degree of specialized, personalized hassle hasn’t been adopted by more governmental offices. Imagine buying broccoli if the Department of Agriculture started running things like this.
Even though the airport experience feels like you should be dressed in an orange jumpsuit, the best way to get past this is to channel your inner Cary Grant. It is tempting to dress for travel in loose fitting attire, and shoes that slip off easily, but this is a mistake. At a minimum, wear a sports coat. Even if you plan on changing at the hotel, dressing like you are going somewhere important will mean that you’ll be treated with a modicum of respect. Wearing a tie with my jacket has gotten me bumped up to first class more than once—and that will make anybody’s trip more agreeable, even if it just means that you’ll be having your coffee in a porcelain cup instead of a foam one.
As a recovering New Yorker it pains me to admit it, but attitude makes a difference. Saying “good morning” and smiling as I hand over my photo ID usually gets me a better seat selection, and keeps me out of the line where they wand you. The funny thing about attitude is that once you learn to fake it you even fool yourself, a little, and then you are in a positive feedback loop. It’s too much hassle to bring this technique to my every day life, but I can handle it for short stretches a couple of times a week at the airport—and it means that I typically arrive in a better mood than I would after my ordinary commute.
Little efficiencies help, and so do treats. For example, standing on lines at airports has taught me that a jacket is a good place for change, and your keys, and your cell phone, and all the other metal things that are likely to set off the metal detector and get you the pat-down. Someday I will have my own airline, where babies and pokey tourists with cumbersome luggage that doesn’t quite fit in the overhead bin are banned. Until the formation of Crabby Bastard Air, however, if you want to get through the lines quickly, consider standing behind the guy in the suit. Chances are he’s going to slip out of his jacket, pull his shoes off, and be past the checkpoint long before that guy in the Bills hoodie. Be a guy in a suit yourself, and be right behind him. This works even better on weekends, so leave the sweatpants home when you travel.
They say of Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates that he’s so rich he buys his toothpaste at airports. I’m not even sure they sell toothpaste anymore, but I’m seeing more and more mini-spas in airports, and I like this idea. Airport bars are depressing and expensive, but in the JetBlue terminal at JFK I can get a $30 buck facial. Think about it—arrive dehydrated and a little hungover, or moisturized and looking a little younger. I’ve been the only guy in the spa when I’ve tried this, but that’s just another upside the way I think about it.
One thing you can always do at an airport that is hard to find in other places is to get a shoeshine. There is nothing that costs less than ten bucks—including an airport beer—that will make you feel better about your appearance than a fresh shine on your shoes.