Miss(ed) Manners

August 27, 2004

Miss(ed) Manners: Stop, Shop and Roll

Filed under: Column — missedmanners @ 8:28 pm

In case anyone’s keeping score, up until this point I’ve dodged the comedy rich territory of male/female behavioral differences like a squirrel wandering through an Ozark gun club. Normally I’m not a huge fan of pointing out the tired cliches. Men take five minutes to get ready to go. Women are bad drivers. Men have no idea how to match a bra and panty set. The list goes on for miles.

I find the observations to be wholly unoriginal. Sure men and women are different, having or missing an appendage like a penis will do that to a person. Also, two of the most important people in my life, my Girlfriend and my Mother happen to be women. So I’m not generally in the mood to poke fun at them, they both bite and pull hair.

However, after last weekend, I was utterly wronged by the both of them by a time honored, generally female-centric stereotype. Take a minute, look at the title of the column and try to figure out where I’m going here. Alright, now sit down, it’s not polite to stand and read, and prepare to be taken on journey into the heart of the twisted female psyche. Be afraid, be very, very afraid.

Last Friday night, Eileen and I went upstate to visit my parents. Ah, the old homestead, the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains covered as far as the eye can see in trees greener than hangover tongue. Saturday was a complete wash out, literally. It rained that steady fat drop kind of rain that hits you so often you feel like you’re walking through a perforated land lake.

We sat around, watched TV, read and played some trivia games. Seemingly boring, but when you’re in a place as pretty as that, the caliber of your daily activities are multiplied by the sum of your surroundings. It was the most fun I’ve had in months. Then, Sunday came around.

My mother, home from her Sunday morning community petri dish she calls, “Church” asked if we wanted to join her and a friend at a local land conservancy picnic. Jazz band, lemonade and cherry pie were promised. Now, as most of you know I’m not a very social person… well at least not in the sunlight, and after much protest, I begrudgingly acquiesced.

Fifteen minutes later I’m in a car with three women, two mothers (my mother’s friend and coworker, Rochelle had come along), one girlfriend and one man, traipsing through the countryside listening to NPR. I’m not sure what we were a commercial for but it wasn’t beer, I can tell you that much.

Another fifteen minutes later we sat parked in front of the site where our fabled picnic was supposed to be taking place. There was about as much activity going on at this invite described, “historical barn” as you’d expect. My mother looks at the invite and says, “I hope we didn’t miss it, the invite says the 21st.”

This was Sunday.

Saturday was the 21st.


It was funny. I was actually a little relieved. I’d been saved from an afternoon of small talk and old white people dancing on the grass trying to physically piece together metamucil thick memories of Woodstock as they all patted themselves on the back for saving a few more acres of forest from developers. Not the worst possible thing you could do on a Sunday, no, no, we were about to go do that worst possible thing.

With our plans for the day shattered like my dignity after a Clay Aiken concert, Rochelle said those words that all men fear, “I know this great little shop right near here.” I think I might have fainted for a second, I definitely fainted after I heard the word “Knick Knacks” more than twice in a minute.

And knick knacks there were a plenty. It’s hard to explain a store like the one we went to. I’m not a woman so I can’t understand and relate the allure of a place like this. Maybe I should start from the outside. It was also in a barn. This was twice I was at a barn in one day and not once did I see hay, pitchforks or a farmer’s sexually promiscuous daughter.

The store was called, “Hammertown,” you’d think saying, “Stop. Hammertown,” would be amazingly entertaining but I was quickly stared down by my three female traveling companions. Hammer, don’t hurt ’em. Hammertown’s stock in trade was housewares. Bedding, lighting fixtures, bathroom stuff, brooms, books, couches, suppositories, I don’t know. Whatever it was it was like crack that works only on women.

My mother, my girlfriend and my mother’s friend attacked this store like rabid pitbulls mauling a fluffy bunny that made some really biting remark about the pitbulls’ mother, and then they shot the fluffy bunny. There was this queer bloodlust in their eyes, like this store was a naughty store for having hidden it’s knick knacks away from them for so long.

Everything got handled, picked up, talked about, layed on, poked, prodded, opened, closed, question asked about, stock checked, colors switched, scratched, sniffed, tickled, sneezed on, massaged, talked to, asked out and eventually ignored. I felt like a UN weapons inspector wandering throught the world’s biggest Weapons of Mass Decoration factory.

I, on the other hand, walked in, took a look around, and five minutes later (that’s a very liberal guesstimation), picked something out for purchase. The ladies, unfortunately were just getting started.

Six hours later I had somehow reversed in age to being 4 years old again. I was huffy, cranky, there was no end in sight. I pleaded with my mother to hurry up so we could go. I think I even complained about having to pee. She eventually plied me with a gift of the item I had so instinctually picked out. I sat in the car, I chain smoked outside. I finished the ENTIRE Sunday Times crossword puzzle. I tried to call for help, but apparently Hammertown wasn’t possessing of a cell phone tower.

Eventually, loaded with things they probably won’t ever use and certainly things they don’t need the ladies emerged from the store. They had this fresh from the kill sort of look, their victims slung over their shoulders. My mother was carrying, I shit you not, a leopard skin print broom. Their eyes were glazed over, the fever was subsiding, but still there, the shopping instinct is hard to let go of. They looked at things in the garden next to where we parked the car, like they could buy the azalea bush.

When they got in the car, flush with excitement over their new acquisitions, I might have cried a tiny bit from relief. I felt like a kidnapped dignitary being returned to his family. What is this compulsion in women to not only purchase, but to go through the complex rituals and motions associated with the purchase? Why was it so painful to me? Why are people so fascinated with cast iron lights made to look like fucking medieval candelabras?

It’s all pretty simple actually. Many thousands of hundreds of years ago, when man was coming down out of the trees, woman decided to come to, because the trees looked like shit. Man was hungry, so he went and killed things. Woman, apparently, wasn’t too happy with the way the cave looked either so she fashioned the first ever knick knacks out of bones and stuff from the things man killed. She wasn’t even hungry, she just sent the man out to kill more animals so she could make a precious wind chime and hang it at the front of the cave. And everything had to be mammoth, so that it would fit the overall theme of the cave.

In truth, I don’t know, nor do I think I ever will know. Women to me are like a closed book, written in Sanskrit, in invisible ink, that’s been burnt to ashes. I mean, I love my mother, and even more so, my girlfriend, but God help me if I ever get corralled into another expedition like that one.

I just might snap and kill me a leopard skin print broom, too.

August 20, 2004

Miss(ed) Manners: Friendly Faces

Filed under: Column — missedmanners @ 8:26 pm

Cities are big places. Simple enough right? That’s why we come, go, live, rent, buy, drink and eat in them. There’s a certain kind of solace taken in the vast anonymity afforded when you’re just one of the faceless, grey suited worker bees that constantly course through the city’s arteries.

Then of course, there’s the other side of the coin. Sometimes you want to get recognized, sometimes you want to walk into a place and just hear the crowd, wait staff, proctologist shout, “NORM!” or whatever you’re calling yourself these days.

As with any issue, we’re picky about this. We don’t want to get recognized everywhere, no, most of the time we’re content just to slink about like an urban ninja on his way to the software development dojo. Instead what we want is to be recognized at only a few places.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I’ve got a handful of establishments where I’m a “regular.” God, what a great term. Besides the obviously scatalogical references being a “regular” means you’re known by face, certainly not by name, that would imply that you’re on the way to becoming friends, and I’ve got enough of those, Mr. Bagel Cart, let’s just stick you calling me “Chief.” You’re also generally entitled to special treatment, discounts, buy backs, extra back rubs (which is a little creepy at a Deli).

By developing this type of relationship with a vendor you’re doing two things. A) You’re giving your pathetic existence a teeny bit of meaning, I mean, if you slip in the shower, surely that guy with the mole on his face that makes you pizza will come to your rescue, right? B) You’re making a statement of loyalty to that establishment, they can count on your business, even if a newer, shinier bodega opens up down the corner, you know, one without a football sized rat they insist is the house cat.

Well, this past Tuesday I got to enjoy both sides of the coin, like it was a copper filled oreo. I had awoken about an hour late for work, and as I hustled through my apartment, electric razor in hand, I wondered to myself, “Why are dogs so obsessed with genital sanitation?”

See, it’s errant thoughts like this that generally get me in trouble. Fifteen minutes later, I was on the train and still wondering why ball licking is the number one past time in the canine world when I realized I’d only shaved half of my face. That’s right. Just the right side of my face.

Now, I’m not talking about some five o’clock shadow that I forgot to scrape off, nah. This was some serious face pube growth we had going on here. I looked like a walking ad for Victor Victoria (thanks in part to the blush).

You know what? I didn’t care. I chuckled to myself a little, yes it was an actual chuckle, like the kind of chuckle you make when a little kid runs into something at full speed and falls down, a little melancholy. I didn’t care because I was on the train, out in the open, among the great unwashed. I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me and I was pretty sure I wasn’t the weirdest thing they’d seen that day.

Eventually, I got off the train and was out on the street, hoofing the rest of the way to my office. I decided to stop in at my morning deli to pick up a tube of shaving cream and a razor.

My morning deli is exactly the type of place that I described earlier. Whenever I walk in, the guys behind the counter get to work on making me my bacon, egg and cheese on a roll and large black coffee. They don’t need to ask, I don’t need to shout, it just happens. It’s like The Sting only none of us are wearing pimped out suits.

Only this morning I didn’t want my usual breakfast sandwich, all I wanted was a razor, shaving cream and a small coffee. Don’t ask me why, I think all that extra hair on one side of my face had effectively made me more left brained.

Ordering the same exact thing at one place for over a year and then one day just up and changing it, in addition to asking for something from the top shelf behind the counter is as good a metaphor for the biblical tale of the Tower of Babel as one can find in the modern day. I had to talk down the griddle guy who was already whipping my eggs, the coffee guy had to toss a large, half filled cup of coffee, the cashier had never given me change before, it was a complete fucking mess.

Also, please remember I looked like a mid transition werewolf, so I can only assume what the hell they thought was going on. There were other people waiting, shouts were exchanged, I got things and shot out of there like a half bearded pirate clutching some booty.

Work goes by smoothly, I get my shaving done, I start to feel normal, I head home on the train, now this is where the story gets a little weird. As I was sitting on the F train I looked up at someone carrying the Metro section of the times. Pictured there was what appeared to be the window of my Barber’s shop in East Harlem, with people peering inside of it, like something horrible had happened.

Let me explain. I go to Claudio’s barber shop on 116th and 1st Avenue. I’ve been going there once a month for just over two years. If you factor that in, that’s a slightly more than I see my mother and father. Your relationship with your barber is kind of like your favorite pair of shoes, comfortable, and posessing of a distinct smell. You know what to expect, the level of quality, the atmosphere.

Since I’ve been going there I’ve developed that all coveted status of being a regular, like I explained before. At least twice I’ve walked into a crowded line and gotten a cut before five or six people. I get the straight razor shave, I get the special treatment, the hot towell, the small talk, everything.

So was I concerned for Claudio’s health when I saw what appeared to be a crime scene on the front page of the Metro section? Not entirely. Actually, it was this pit of the stomache weight of guilt. You see, I had cheated on my barber. Oh yeah.

I work in the Meatpacking district, my barber is in East Harlem. That’s an hour and a half just for a hair cut, I mean, I’m going literally from one corner of Manhattan to the other just for a buzz cut. So about two weeks ago I just said, “Fuck It,” and went to some random super cuts by my office. Man it was worse than cheating, everytime I looked in the mirror and saw that slightly less perfect cut, the messed up neck line, the random inch longer stray hair sticking out of the side of my head I was reminded of what a despicable human being I am.

It was the worst.

When I got home I ran to my nighttime deli and grabbed a New York Times, flipped through frantically trying to find the Metro section. There it was, Claudio’s giant plate glass, never barricaded window.

And then I read the caption:

“A Dutch tour group looks into a barber shop window on a cultural tour of East Harlem.”

A fucking CULTURAL TOUR… of EAST HARLEM. My barber shop is a landmark and I’d thrown it away because of so many blocks. I’d thrown away one of my tiny bastions of familiarity in this giant city just because I didn’t want to sit on the train.

Needless to say, I’m going back next week to beg on my knees for forgiveness. Barbers are like martial arts experts, they can tell you’ve been to another school of hair styling just by seeing the freaking angle you hold your head at. I’m going plead with Claudio to take me back. I’m going to bring barbecide or something, I don’t know.

New York is a giant place, faceless, cruel and sometimes a little muggy. It’s up to you to find places and make them your own, you’re in charge of making a neighborhood of your choosing in this giant concrete and steel turd. Don’t make the mistake I did, don’t take your barber for granted, tell him you love him, or at least the way he makes your eyes light up with a simple layering technique.

Something, anything.

August 13, 2004

Miss(ed) Manners: A Tale of Middling Height, Part II: Scars, Birthmarks and Old Man Injuries

Filed under: Column — missedmanners @ 8:25 pm

That’s like the longest title of anything, ever. What’s worse is that it’s actually inacurate. I’m only going to talk about scars today. My quarter life crisis expectant body, young though it may be, is pocked, dented and weathered like a Himalayan yak trail. If I wanted to talk about all the little blips, bruises and blemishes that make me into the human Rorshach test that I am, I’d have the world’s creepiest 10,000 page anthology.

Scars are a great topic though, and I’ve got plenty of them. Three of them happen to be on or around my head. Long, jagged scratchy lines across my face that give me the look of a boy band member who wandered into a lesbian knife tossing class looking for some action. They add this sort of mystique to my personality because I look like someone who thinks jabs and hooks are methods of sewing.

Scars are the best kind of conversation life preserver. Let’s say you’re hanging out with some chick you just met, things are going great. You’ve covered everything from college major to favorite (ugh) reality show, and then all of a sudden, silence. Pure unadulterated, castrating silence. What the hell are you going to do? Your palms start sweating, you look around the bar for inspiration on what to talk about next, but nothing, you’ve got absolutely nothing.

“See this scar? Man, you should hear the story behind this one.”

Saved. Works every time. If you’re lucky, you actually do have a great story behind that scar, and not just some story like, oh, I got hit in the face with a tire iron. I don’t care if you got mugged and lost some teeth, that ain’t no story, Holmes.

Scar #1: Hello Kitty

Let’s start off with this guy:

This is my youngest scar. I got it when I was four. I got it because my best friend is a total cock. Sorry, dude. For those of you unfamiliar with him, Nick, my best friend, and I, have known each other since we were two. It’s one of those borderline Single White Female relationships in that we’ve been hanging out so long that we’ve begun to look alike.

So there we were, four years old, bright eyed, bushy tailed and on a play date. I heard that snicker. Play dates are what we had in the country, everyone was too far away. The only friend of mine that I could walk to go see was the creepy lady with that giant skirt covered in pockets and filled with GI chocolate from the Vietnam war. She wasn’t a fan of Chutes and Ladders.

What I liked best about going to Nick’s place was that he had this little kitten. My cats at the time were both over 15 years old and meaner than a female weightlifter going into menopause. I loved that kitten, it was adorable. Unfortunately, Nick liked to play with the kitten, by play I mean yank on, and by kitten I mean its tiny little tail.

Well, long story short, there he was yanking on this cat’s tail, I come in and go over to pick it up and I get a set of claws to the old impossibly high cheekbones. Also, as fate would have it, my mother was coming over to pick me up right at the very moment I come running down the stairs gushing blood and showing some white. It was like a Seinfeld episode, everything coming together for one gag at the end of the show, only I was bleeding and it wasn’t entirely funny, so I guess it was more like Friends.

Scar #2: Clothes Lined

I think I’ve told this story more times than Tony Danza’s tried to make a comeback. Somewhere right under the right side of my jaw I’ve got this sweet looking crescent shaped scar. It looks a little like what the ancient Egyptians would have made the heiroglyph for “croissant” look like. By all rights, I should have gotten this bad boy from the business end of a broken 40oz. But no, again, the story behind this little badge of idiocy is a little silly.

My 10th birthday party. 30 kids, One cake, ten DJ’s. Ok, no DJ’s. The main attraction of my birthday party was this little game we ever so creatively called: “Guns.” That’s right, “Guns.” As if running around the forest with plastic water pistols wasn’t an explanation in itself, just in case you still had no idea what was going on when someone screamed, “Taka taka taka taka taka! I shot you! You’re dead!” we named it “Guns.” I’m pretty sure we were all on Ritalin.

So at some point, Nick and I were out in the woods trying to be all stealthful and shit. Our plan was to skirt the field behind my house by way of the woods that surrounded it, find some guys from the other team and decimate them with our hyperrealistic gun imitations.

Well, in the woods, paranoia runs deep, and pretty soon I was hearing things, mostly the wind, which translated in my head to some sort of advanced flanking tactic by the other team. I broke out in a full on run, looking over my left shoulder for Nick, who no doubt was standing still, because he’s not a moron.

Thankfully, there was no crack platoon of single decade old commandos behind me. Unthankfully, there was a neck high barb wire fence right in front of me. WOW! It smarted something fierce, my head landing on a rock and knocking me out I mean. When I came too, my friends were dragging me out of the field, my shirt, soaked in blood. Again, thankfully, it was a white shirt, so it had maximum visual carnage effect for my mother who got to see me get carried like a casualty of the stupidest war ever.

Scar #3: Zack

I’ve got this really good buddy of mine, Zack. We’ve known each other since grade school. He’s just about the best kind of guy to have as a friend. He’s honest, loyal, generous and funny. Unfortunately, he’s the most accident prone person on the face of the planet. In the time I’ve known him, he’s directly been the accidental cause of at least three hundred visibly scarring injuries. I swear to God, he’s like a black hole of errantly flying objects, constantly orbiting his orange haired, UNSCARRED head.

This is the story of my run in with the mishap-omatic. I’ll just list it out in a bulleted list:

* Me, Zack and our friend Adam
* The old pine forest behind my house.
* A multitude of dead branches sticking out from the trunks of the pines.
* Us thinking it would be fun to break these branches off with other, dead branches. (Again, ritalin)
* Zack breaking a piece off of a branch and sending a foot long pine spike right into my upper gums.
* Me running in to see my mother, covered in blood.

There really wasn’t much special about this story other than the fact that I actually got to pull a piece of wood out of my face… (I swear to God, one more snicker and I’m turning this column right around).

What’s really special is that if you hadn’t noticed, every one of these stories ended up with my mother finding me, covered in blood. She was always around, always there when I fell down and went boom, or “Taka taka taka taka” as the case may have been. Even when it seemed like I’d lost my head, quite literally, she never lost hers.

Thanks Mom, you’re the best.

-Your clawed up, clothes lined and hole-faced son.

August 6, 2004

Miss(ed) Manners: A Tale of Middling Height, Part I

Filed under: Column — missedmanners @ 8:24 pm

I had a conversation with an ex-girlfriend the other day. One of those paint-by-number chit chats that cover all the current event bases. How are you? How’s the job? How’s he? How’s she?

Questions that sum up to conversational calisthenics before the deep talk track meet. Once the gun fires you’re off into a full on sprint of hopefully one of those great dialogues you dated that person for in the first place.

In this case, I came away from the ten minute hurdles with one main-point medal, apparently, I write too negative, too much. Taking a cue from this, I’ve polled some friends, family and street performers, to see whether or not this has been an issue for anyone else. Overwhelmingly, most people just seem to think that it’s a character trait of mine, to bitch and complain. Which is an understandable conclusion given the facts.

So, since it was her birthday yesterday, and since I feel like I owe a lot of people an explanation as to why I write the way I do, I’ve decided to jot down the first part of my autobiography. Maybe it’ll help explain why I get so mad when I see some “big boned” person leaning up against a subway pole in a manner that both of her ass cheeks envelop it, forever ruining car 7658 on the F line.

And so, without further delay:

Part I: The Early Years

I was born on May 22nd, 1980, 8:45am. There’s a certain amount of lore and myth surrounding the actual details of my birth. How much of it is true, I can’t actually be sure. The question of whether or not I’m the love child of Steve Perry has been met with only laughter. Suffice to say, details are foggy at best.

My birth name is David Brewster Conkling, there’ll be more on this at a later date. For now, let’s just say that it was the result of an unfortunately timed geneology, and no, I was not a fan of the show.

I was born a full month late. So happy was I in my mother’s midsection that I refused to come out until she resembled Alfred Hitchcock’s silohuette thrown through the silly mirrors at a funhouse. Eventually, when I did emerge, I weighed in at around 10 and a half pounds, complete with drag queen shoulders. My head was so large that its soft, unformed mass was sculpted into an alien-like cone. No word on whether I craved Tang.

So there I was, weighing more than a Christmas ham, laying on the bed, cone shaped head, drag queen shoulders and in dire need to evacuate my bowels. Which is apparently the second thing I did out of the womb. Don’t wrinkle your nose at me, bitch, I was in there for TEN months, with my mom craving Big Macs the entire time.

Immediately preceding this movement, I made an even stranger one. Laying in a swaddle cloth next to my mom, I rolled from my back to my stomache and pushed myself off of the bed, in push up fashion and looked around.

Ok, let’s recap here. My mother, who had just carried me around for almost a year goes through a few hours of labor to crank out her second son. When it’s all over, she’s greeted by a giant baby shaped conehead doing push ups with his drag queen shoulders and taking a champion shit on her bed.

A story only a mother could love… to tell, and she does.

Some time later, conehead slightly fixed, I met my mother’s mother, for whom this column is named. Grandma Bette was, is, and will always be referred to in our family as “Miss Manners.” While most kids visited their grandparents and say, went shopping for toys, playing on the playground or organizing pitt bull fighting gambling rings, I was at home with Bette learning why I’d get my elbows sanded off if they touched the table again.

She’s a card carrying cynic, a fire cracker, a real bitch, all three of the main reasons why I love her so much. Did your grandma have an Atari for you to play when you came over to her house? Mine had a slingshot that she gave to us to try and thin out the local squirrel population.

It was from Bette that I learned every rule of polite society, rules that over the years have formed into my Modus Operandi.

Don’t talk so loud.
This was before I could actually talk.

Watch where you’re going, there are other people in the street.
Definitely wasn’t pushing my own stroller.

It’s pronounced Pe-cahhhhhn, not peecan.
I hate pecans.

I think society needs more Bettes. Hell, without her I probably would have turned into one of those slobbering idiots I’m constantly bitching about. It’s because of women like her, with her “figure out which one is the salad fork or I’ll chop a finger off” attitude, that society stays together.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: In a large part, we’re the product of our upbringings. In my case, I was born a freakish, defecating conehead. However, thanks to my Grandma Bette, I am the slightly less coneheaded, bitter, jaded and socially correct man you read before you right now.


Stay Tuned for Part II: Scars, Birthmarks and Old Man Injuries

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