Men tend to get angry about small things like particles of sand clinging to the skin between the fingers (above), and the bigger picture gets lost. But if you can distract him with small shiny gadgets or the keys to a Porsche, the moment passes and all memory of it will be lost. Women, on the other hand, get angry about big picture issues, and stay angry, and have the amazing capacity to get angry again if the issue is brought up, even after years and years have passed. I just saw a couple in my office who are celebrating their 65th anniversary, and I asked what the secret to their success was. The man who hadn’t spoken a word the entire visit, piped up, “you’ve got to give up and surrender.” And he raised up both of his arms. Very funny, only the young lady was not laughing.
One of the things that happens to men of a certain age is that we really notice that our minds are degenerating. It’s as if we left them on the kitchen counter one morning after turning forty, and slowly over the days and years, you see mold growing, and flies buzzing, and then in a horrible time-lapse progression, you get an explosion of maggots and eventually a puddle of goo.
It is hard not to feel this happening as I write, and not be a little saddened by it all. You see, when you hit forty, it’s like reaching the top of a hill. You’ve spent your entire life getting there, working to get to a point where work, serious man-work, is present all the time and you get terribly efficient and good at it. And then you look up and see the vista all around you, and you see that it’s just a one-way ride down the hill. You don’t even need to pedal.
People respond differently to this Kobayashi Maru moment. Some buy Porsches. Some run off, lose a lot a weight, and then buy a Porsche. Some navel gaze obsessively, offending many in the process. The best way to deal with this is complete suppression and utter denial, with hair replacement as necessary. Golfism helps a great deal as well.
I have read that President-Elect Obama learned about being African-American through the lens of television. I am not surprised. All land mammals take cues from the environment and do internal, brain-stem level assessments based on first impressions. That’s why some dogs bark when I approach. That’s why the groundhog on Wakonda #11 rears up on it hind legs and hisses at me (I’m going to get it and turn it into a hat). That’s also why I don’t wear a Batman costume to work.
That is also why I bring up this book: The Preppy Handbook. It was written as satire, but in fact, it was a cultural Rosetta Stone, Enigma Machine, and decoder ring wrapped up in a pocketable volume. Being an immigrant, I had no clue as to how to dress or talk in the social cauldron of a southern prep school. Having just come from Brooklyn was no help -I may as well have arrived from Mars.
Being an analytical yet typical teen, I set upon a quest to break out of non-conformity, and did it the only way I knew how -by research and keen observation. Funny thing was, this book was available at my school’s library, and I checked it out for about …26 years. It was like reading Jane Goodall’s field notes, and it was with the same determination that I jumped into the world of tassel loafers, khaki pants, and button down Oxford shirts. It took Jane about a year before the chimpanzee’s of Gombe let her sit among them. It took me about the same amount of time before the inner ring of high school students let me lounge around with them at the gazebo on our sprawling campus.
Ultimately, it was about one thing. Okay, maybe two or three things, but I was still too young to even think that the third thing was possible. But who knew? Knowing what I do now, I have no regrets.