Don’t be a Gatekeeper

Perhaps I’m wrong (no surprise there), but I seem to remember a time when liking things and having hobbies wasn’t something that needed rules. You could casually talk about a TV show at work with your colleagues, you could go to see a band play live without knowing their entire catalog of songs inside and out, or you could watch football without some jerk telling you you’re not a real fan because you don’t know the personal history of every player from the last three decades.

I’ve talked about this before in more depth, but I’m bringing it up again because it sure seems like gatekeeping other people’s fun is gaining more and more steam in society today. Worse than grammar police, gatekeepers take it upon themselves to protect and guard every single hobby, fandom, or interest that anyone anywhere might enjoy by making it clear that you are not a real fan and even if you were, you’ll never know as much about it as they do. Essentially, they’re the gatekeepers of fun. They might as well walk around with a loudspeaker and shout “Stand clear! Casual enjoyment is NOT tolerated here.” It would certainly help people know who they’re dealing with and I, for one, would be thrilled if those red flags flew high. You know, for visibility. 

Some people have an uncontrollable need to make absolutely everything into some sort of competition. Everything you can do, they can do better. Gatekeeping joy is no different.  I’ve thought about why some folks do this, and it really seems like it’s a matter of giving their ego a nice, long, painstaking massage. They want to prove that they’re more of a fan than you. A better fan. A bigger fan, if you will. Most important, they’re desperate to prove you’re not a fan at all. Now, why? Just why? Perhaps, they are a little bit insecure about something themselves, so they just want to appear more knowledgeable, even if that knowledge bank is just Witcher lore or thesis-level data on the original Marvel comics vs the MCU. Or maybe, just maybe, they do it for no other reason than they’re a pain in the ass. There’s a lot of that going around.

What would happen, I wonder, if two of these people met each other? What if two gatekeepers engaged in verbal warfare? Would they both stubbornly pretend they knew more than the other? Would one concede defeat and just pretend they didn’t really care? Is that scenario even possible? Or would they create a standoff for the ages, where an unstoppable force meets an immovable object and both of their superiority complexes combine to create an unbearable, condescending atmosphere? Perhaps the world would explode. In an Earth shattering kaboom, as Marvin would say. 

One of the worst places for this isn’t in real life, though; it’s online, specifically on social media apps like Facebook and Twitter. If you tweet a one-off, harmless opinion about how you think Tom Holland is the best Spiderman, your replies will be full of fandom police telling you that you obviously haven’t seen the original movies with Toby Maguire. Don’t even get me started on Andrew Garfield. If you’re bopping along to Fleetwood Mac and tweet, without thinking, that you thought Rumours was a great follow-up album to their debut, well, I’m sorry, but you’re about to meet an unfortunate demise.

“You fool! The original lineup had way more albums before that! And they were better! Blues is better than pop! Look at this idiot trying to talk about something they know nothing about – so cringe!”

Your common interest with these people about something you both enjoy is lost to the wayside in favor of fandom measuring. I guess you should have known better than to express enjoyment, right? On another note, do we still say “cringe?” 

When did liking things become so stressful? There aren’t supposed to be any rules to liking something. Celebrate the commonality instead of trying to make someone feel lesser than. Share the joy instead of stealing it. Stealing someone’s joy doesn’t make you the golden protector of your chosen fandom. It just makes you an asshole.

truer words were never spoken

Couple Goals at the IHOP

The internet (and probably your mother) can provide you with any number of suggestions to include in your list of couple goals. These range anywhere from putting each other first to knowing each other’s love language to traveling together without killing one another. Some suggest only speaking positively about each other (good luck with that) and talking about your relationship often (yikes!). In the age of Instagram and “perfect” relationships on constant display, finding that groove with your significant other can sometimes seem, well, less than perfect. After my recent trip to the local IHOP, I have a fresh take on my couple goal.

I went to IHOP because they have a new dish, Caramel Apple a la Mode Pancakes. This is exactly what it sounds like, and trust me, it is delicious! But while there, a middle-aged couple was seated next to my table. They both seemed perfectly happy with no argument in sight, and they were both on their phones (gasp!).

I know this image makes some people cringe. People spend too much time on their phones these days. Kids are becoming zombies to the screen, and people aren’t talking to each other anymore. There are games or dinner protocols to try and curb the trend of mealtime phone use. Some groups all put their phones face down on the table, and the first one to look has to buy everyone dinner (talk about having rich friends). Other people won’t allow phones at the table at all. All of that sounds great for most people, but this couple had it figured out.

They looked up to order and then went back to being on their respective phones and didn’t put them down until their dinner came. They sat next to each other rather than across from each other; losing that bit of real estate allowed them to reach out often to touch hands or lean over to place a head on a shoulder. Sometimes they would nudge the other and then share their phone to watch a quick video or read a meme and laugh together. It was adorable, really. And what I strive for in a relationship. No chit-chat. No small talk. Just enjoying each other’s company while perusing memes, scientific journals, craigslist, or whatever. Sounds absolutely pleasant, doesn’t it?

I’m sure we’ve all had that experience of being around an arguing couple. The tension so thick in the room it feels smothering. The animosity between the couple so heavy it weighs down the conversation around them. Snarky comments and disdain sucking the air out of the room. Fun times, right?

What about the couple that’s all goo-goo for each other? The over-the-top Instagram-ready interactions are hard to take seriously. Pet names, baby talk, and constant touches that border on inappropriate in the company of others. I’ve always found there to be a certain inauthenticity to those couples.

Sure, there are many different types of couples, or even the same kinds of couples, but in different moments. We are human and subject to the chaotic fluctuations of emotions when sharing the intimate aspects of life with someone. But seeing this couple at IHOP has offered me new inspiration in what it can look like to couple up with someone.

You may be one of those people that thinks phone use at the table is inappropriate, that it stifles conversation and erodes the foundations of intimacy. But conversations are overrated, and intimacy is displayed in many ways. Give me a partner who loves caramel apple pancakes with a thread of funny memes on the side and the occasional touch of affection. That’s my new couple’s goal.

New Year’s Resolutions? What New Year’s Resolutions?

Another year has passed us by and the year coming… well, let’s just hope for the best, shall we?

They say you should welcome the New Year with a resounding declaration of “a new year, a new me!” This is excellent advice and I just want to take a moment to share my reflections on the past year and the personal changes I have in store for the coming… oh, who am I kidding?

A Cheerful Christmas Story, Or Not

Time for a rant. So, my daughter and I were at the local grocery store the other day and we saw this little girl, maybe 5 years old. Well, first we heard her. We didn’t see her till later. And that would be because she was in the walkway at the end of the cash registers on the floor. You really couldn’t see her unless you looked for her or were say, trying to leave the store (since she was blocking the walkway). You could certainly hear her though.

Being the time of year it is, it was about Christmas. Of course, I mean, it had to be, right? She was repeatedly yelling that she wanted presents for Christmas and for Santa to visit her – all in that whiney little voice that only a child’s own mother can tolerate. I was a little late to the party here, but I gathered from the cashier that this precious little light of mirth had demanded candy or whatever and her mother said no. Not only that, but the mother had chosen to pour a healthy amount of salt in that wound by additionally threatening that Santa wouldn’t visit unless she behaved. Bad move, mommy. That bold-faced lie unleashed the kraken hiding within her doe-eyed daughter turning what may have been a manageable tantrum into full on Krampus fodder displaying itself for all to see on the floor of this grocery store.

We all have our parenting style and I’m not (fully) criticizing what this mother did next. I’m just saying that it’s not something I would do and leave it at that. So, the kid is screaming full blast and this mom, rather than step away from her conversation with the cashier, decided instead to proclaim to the child, “NOW, Santa won’t visit or bring you presents unless you get up off the floor.”  Right.

Well, you would have thought that she’d sent an electric shock straight through the air to this child. The little girl splayed herself across the floor with flailing limbs that resembled an 80’s break-dancer and her voice reached a pitch of whine that I thought only possible in a machine shop. And, almost impossibly (but I swear it’s true), her repeated demand that Santa must visit her and must bring her presents, got even louder. It was truly a sight to behold.

Unfortunately, the first possible collateral damage entered the scene in the form of an elderly woman who had had enough and had decided that no matter how curious she might be to see if this demon girl’s head was going to start spinning she’s got other things to do and tried to make her way out of the store. She had to gingerly make her way past this kid without having a leg taken out from under her and breaking a hip. Wonder what Santa would’ve said about that!?

And the mom of this lovely floor ornament? Well, the mother, to her credit, was not the least bit fazed or concerned, certainly not enough to become a proactive participant in this wild scene. In fact, you’d barely know she had a child at all. Instead of physically removing the child from the aisle so the elderly woman could get by safely (which would have been the LEAST of my kids’ problems had this been them), she simply continued repeating her mantra… “Santa won’t visit unless you get off the floor” from the relative safety of the checkout line. What kind of idiotic bribery is this? Good grief, the parenting skills that people use today! Oh wait…skills imply talent or useful abilities. Scratch that. Good grief, what passes as parenting these days! Is this one of those feral children I’ve heard so much about?

I mean, really? Let’s do a little play-by-play. First the girl misbehaves. Next, mom pulls out the Santa’s Watching card. So of course, the girl’s natural reaction is to throw herself down on the floor. Santa’s watching after all, right? Magically though, now Santa visits tantrum throwing kids just so long as they don’t throw their tantrum while flailing about on the floor or take out the elderly woman trying to exit stage left. Oh wait. Okay, well, just so long as you don’t take out the elderly woman, you’re golden. Talk about a bit of holiday spirit perversion. I think Santa would be appalled if he knew he was being used in this manner. I’ve always had a thing for Krampus and I think this may be why.

I wish I could be a fly on the wall of that household when the natural dynamic of this mother and child hits the teenage years. Now that should be a party! Bet Santa’s invite to that one gets lost in the mail.

Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum

I love Christmas. Ornaments for the tree? I have enough to fill my tree, my neighbor’s tree, your tree, and the National Tree in DC. Who cares if my tree is only 4 feet tall? Do I buy more every year? You bet. Christmas cards? Yup. I have enough to send out to people I don’t even know for the rest of my life. Do I buy more every year? You bet. Lights, snow globes, bells, wreaths, glitter … I’ve got it all. In spades. What’s even more fun is coming up with a gift list. Oh, not for myself, but everyone else. I truly enjoy gift-giving.

Well, ever since Halloween, I’ve been humming “The Little Drummer Boy” to myself and it made me wonder – is it ever too early to be thinking about Christmas? Some of you are rolling your eyes and harrumphing: “Of course, there is a too early for this crap Christmas time-frame!” I couldn’t agree with you more. We all know this. But humming to oneself like a nutcase and throwing up a tree and full-blown decorations are two entirely different things.

I’ve seen and heard so many people get straight up grumpy about Christmas making an early appearance – I’m one of those people, actually, as I gripe about Santa and decorations showing up in stores before Thanksgiving has even reared its fine-feathered head, and yet every year it keeps happening. Earlier and earlier we see the commercial side of this supposedly altruistic holiday.

Back in the day, it was the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Santa who set the timing for the season. Then the stores got the idea to bolster their profits by having Black Friday which, in reality, starts way before Thanksgiving when you think about all of the advertising, early-bird deals, etc. Now, the stores are like: “Is it almost Halloween!? Dust off last year’s Christmas paraphernalia and throw that out there with the turkey napkin holders, pumpkins, ghosts, and skeletons … let’s get this Hallowthanksmas conglomeration started!”

Consider all the money that goes into Christmas. According to the American Research Group, the average American plans to spend roughly $835 on gifts this year. That doesn’t include holiday travel (pandemic be damned, apparently), decorations, or food, which I’m sure is some astronomical number of dollars. Given the huge investment that the Christmas season is for many people – not to mention, the profit margin for the businesses who have honed their capitalistic holiday campaign, it’s no surprise that they want to get their money’s worth. After all, if I was spending over $800, I’d want to have warm seasonal fuzzies for far longer than a month. “Hey, I bought that singing, blow-up snowman for my yard and I’ll be damned if I don’t get to annoy my neighbors with it for as long as possible!” Okay, fine, so annoying the neighbors is an “all year” treat that I do take advantage of, but that’s just me.

Decorating a house, depending on your commitment level (I’m looking at you Paul), can take some serious time, with the tree alone taking a few hours. Lugging boxes from the garage and carefully putting hooks on every individual ornament isn’t something to take lightly. Getting that just-right Griswold effect on the house is also a feat that is nothing if not time-consuming. I mean, I can totally understand that if people go to all of that effort, they want it to start as early as possible and last until they’re good and ready to take it all down. Even if that means those decorations stay up until Spring.  A friend of mine used to leave her Christmas tree up long enough that it became a Mardi Gras tree around mid-March, just for the sheer fact that it was too pretty and too much work to take it down.

As much as I love Christmas, and I do love Christmas, my tree is up barely in time for the day itself and comes down the day after. Love the holiday, hate the clutter. I always dream of a decorated home worthy of a Home and Gardens cover, or at least, a photo spread on the inside pages … but alas, my anxiety won’t let me. Or rather, it does, but if you blink, you’ll miss it.

Now Christmas songs seem to be a different animal entirely. Songs don’t take much effort (for the listener, that is), but like any song, there can be too much of a good thing after a while. So, should we be listening to Christmas songs as early as we are decorating? Radio stations certainly think so. Literally the day after Halloween there are round the clock Christmas music broadcasts. Maybe that’s why I’ve had vintage pa rum pum pum pums rattling around in my head. Personally, I don’t have a problem with that. Bonus, my not quite under my breath singing annoys my coworkers, so there’s that. In all fairness though, by the time Christmas is over I’m so sick of hearing “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time” that I want to die. I think the secret to success with Christmas music is creating your own playlists. And earplugs when traipsing through the department stores with piped-in music. No-one wants those songs in their head all day.

When it comes right down to it, the Christmas season is whatever you want it to be. Do I hate retailers who put out their inventory before that Thanksgiving turkey even hatches? You better believe it. Am I going to be rifling through that very same inventory as excitedly as a child at um… Christmas? You better believe it.

Till Death (or ridiculously bratty behavior) Do You Part

It’s not exactly the season for weddings, but what the hell. Bridezillas. Amirite? Can’t live with them, can’t leave them on the side of the road, um, I mean altar. Many relationships are thrown to the wayside because of the horrible behavior of certain brides-to-be. Some people will say it’s the stress of wanting everything to be perfect on that perfect day as guests gather to celebrate that perfect couple on that, you know, perfect day. I’m not so sure. I think it’s more likely that these bridezillas were always a little full of themselves and they’re simply showing their true selves at a time when those in their social circle are less likely to balk at their increasingly narcissistic demands due to the traditional mindset of “this is the bride’s day.”

Imagine your dearest friend tells you the good news (of course, that phrase is relative) of her engagement. She asks you to participate in the day that “every little girl dreams of” (seriously, are we still so archaically inclined?). You congratulate her with a hug and a smile. Perhaps there’s some smugness there if you’ve managed to avoid the trap of matrimony. Or maybe you’re masking disappointment and resentment because you are still waiting for your “forever” partner. Either way, you congratulate her. You effervesce appropriately about her upcoming nuptials, the most important day of her life (is it though?).  She hands you a slip of paper.

Now on this slip of paper, you imagine there to be beautifully handcrafted calligraphy. This paper, you imagine, proclaims the bride’s affection and the honor of having you by her side as she embarks on this new journey. You consider not reading it in front of her because emotional reactions make you uncomfortable, best friend or not, and you are just about full on the sentimentality for the moment. But it is your best friend after all, and you catch the bright gleam in her eye (which, in hindsight, might’ve been a clue), so you shyly look down. There on the paper, where swirling curves of sincere penmanship and affirmations of undying friendship should lie, rests typed words in the conglomeration of a list.

Hmm, you wonder briefly if it’s a mistake before reading further, and the horror sets in. These are not loving words of gratitude but demanding orders to dictate your new role in your so-called friend’s life. The demands may include anything from the hairstyle you are allowed to wear during the wedding (hair color included) to suggestions on weight loss and tattoo cover-ups to how much you must spend on your dress, bridal and wedding gifts, bouquet, and destination bachelorette party. Sadly, this is not a trope resigned to the film and tv industry but an all-too-real experience for many unfortunate bridesmaids across the country.

One bride forced the bridal party (children included) to pose for pictures in the pouring rain. Of course, the bride and groom were blessed with umbrellas. Some brides ask guests to wear specific colors, way-too-specific clothing styles, the no makeup look, or certain hairstyles. This goes beyond the routine “formal – black tie optional,” “cocktail” or “semi-formal,” and I can only assume it’s a misguided attempt to keep the focus on the bride. What about the bride who specifies the minimum allowed wedding gift purchase? Yeah, okay, my wedding is next month, and all guests must show up with a $500 plus wedding gift while wearing puce pantsuits, bowl-cut hairstyles (no inauthentic hair colors please!), and absolutely no makeup allowed! You laugh. But it happens.

Some brides use their wedding party as free labor. One bridesmaid complained of her friend’s goth wedding and the hand cramps and burned fingers that resulted. Apparently, the wedding party was “asked” to learn calligraphy to write the hundreds of handmade invitations the bride couldn’t trust to professionals. To complete the theme, they were required to seal them with hot wax. 

In true bridezilla fashion, one woman physically assaulted the shuttle driver when there wasn’t enough room for the entire wedding party. That outburst left them all stranded on the side of the road.

I read a story about a bride demanding that a bridesmaid either let her wear the bridesmaid’s necklace or take it off as it “looked nicer” than the bride’s jewelry. The bridesmaid had previously asked if personal jewelry was allowed. On top of that, the necklace was a dainty opal not the Crown Jewels. What the hell, folks?

Far too many brides choose outlandishly expensive dresses and leave the wedding party with the bill or demand the bridesmaids pay for the bouquets and entire bachelorette party at a costly destination event of the bride’s choosing and “day of” gifts for the bride. Perhaps the topper was a bride who, having worn a dress that required the assistance of three other women for bathroom functions, slapped a bridesmaid when she would not wipe her. Needless to say, that was the end of that friendship. Or at least, I sure hope it was.

These stories are just the tip of the iceberg and don’t even get me started on brides who willfully demand to exclude their partner’s children or friends and family who may have disabilities for fear of *gasp* marring the perfect photos of the perfect day. One bride-to-be had the gall to seek ways to ban her 3-year-old future stepdaughter from the wedding day (despite the groom’s excitement about having her included … or perhaps because of?), saying: “She’s three. I am marrying him not his crotch goblin. That’s his mistake not mine. I don’t want her there because she’s needy asf and makes everything about her.” All I can say is that I hope the groom discovered her true intentions and reexamined his relationship with this horrible human being.  

Too many relationships across the world have suffered under the demands of brides with ridiculous expectations. So, if you ever find yourself with your best friend from college or third cousin twice removed handing you a slip of paper or bestowing on you the “honor” of being her bridesmaid, perhaps you should think long and hard before answering yes. It just may be the perfect time to plan that year-long sabbatical.

The Tradition Continues

It’s that time of year again, folks!  Time for me to share my favorite movie scene, one that embodies the Thanksgiving Day spirit… or at least the spirit that dwells in my house.

So while I wish you all a truly blessed and happy Thanksgiving, without further adieu, may I introduce Ms. Wednesday Addams… at her best.

Happy Thanksgiving from me to you — Addams Family style.

Living the Wrong Life

I’m a reasonably confident person. I mean, I’ve made it this far in life and am still alive and mostly well. That has to count for something, right? Right!? Oh, sure, I’m awkward and filled with anxiety, and social situations are not exactly my thing. I still can’t make homemade seitan, but I didn’t think I was doing something wrong at EVERY turn. Now, thanks to the internet and yahoos with too much time on their hands, I’m not so sure.

Unfortunately, we are probably all pretty familiar with the articles and videos telling us how we’ve been doing such and such all wrong. They’re everywhere you look, so you end up viewing them whether you want to or not. These helpful how-to PSAs break down even the most basic tasks and rub in our faces how we have totally misunderstood items and their functions, things obviously so simple.

Peeling a banana. Apparently, monkeys know how to do this right way; it’s most humans that don’t. Peel it from the bottom to avoid squishing it. Perhaps this says even less about me, but upon application I learned that I can squish this fine yellow (and I would say inherently squishy) fruit no matter which end I peel it from.

I guess the same goes for slicing French bread. Flip that baby over and slice from the bottom, so it doesn’t get mushed. Based on my performance with the banana, I’m guessing that won’t be the case for me. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I’d rather not look too deeply into that one.

Hold a wine glass by the stem to avoid any unwanted warming from body heat. Okay, that one I knew. I do like my wine. But I still don’t follow this advice. Did I mention I’m awkward?  And clumsy?  And uncoordinated?  Yeah, it’s not a good idea for me to gracefully hold a wine glass by its stem… not if I want to maintain a steady grip on the delicate glassware, that is.  Because I have no grace. I think I’ve made that clear. And what tends to happen is the glass, much like myself when walking up steps, gets top heavy and tips over. Sometimes it happens slowly, which is pretty funny whether it’s me on the steps or the glass of wine on a white carpet, and then other times, it just happens with a sudden plop. Either way, it’s a mess. So, warm wine it is.

This one completely baffles me for a variety of reasons. Take the drawer under the oven, you know, the one where you store the pans and lids? Apparently, that is a warming drawer for keeping that green bean casserole warm while waiting for the main dish to finish baking. Now, I don’t know about your drawer, but mine seems to attract crumbs and dust, and other unsavory particles from the cooking, um, environment. How does a person keep those tidbits out of the drawer? I’d also rather not store any food I’m about to eat on the same level as my feet and dust bunnies, thank you very much. Also, perhaps a more relevant question, where in the hell do you keep all those pans and lids if not in that bottom drawer? Who has that kind of cabinet space?

Chinese take-out boxes are meant to be unfolded and used as a plate. I’ve seen countless actors and actresses on screen dig their forks and chopsticks into those boxes. Never once have I seen them unfold it and eat their dinner like a civilized person. I’m going to blame Hollywood for my ignorance there.

Speaking of messy foods, this next one is perhaps my favorite. I would argue there is no wrong way to eat a cupcake, but there is a way to avoid the icing mustache. This technique also lets you avoid the disappointment of being left with the not-as-exciting-and-delicious layer of un-frosted cake. Peel the paper, slice the cupcake halfway up from the bottom, take that bottom layer, flip it over on top of the icing, and press down. Voila, a cupcake sandwich!

You can go down your own rabbit hole of videos and articles on how wrong you’ve been doing things all your life. Of course, there are the classics like which way to set up the toilet paper roll and how to properly hang a shirt (apparently that little loop of fabric on the back is there for a reason), but I recently learned that I haven’t even been eating potato chips correctly! And with as much practice as I get, this revelation came as a surprise.

I try not to put too much stock into being told how wrong I am all the time by folks I don’t even know. I mean, hell, I get that enough from people I do know.  Seriously though, who needs the stress? I like to think I’ve lived a reasonably successful life. I mean, I get up in the morning and manage to make it through each day relatively well and sane despite eating squished bananas and drinking warm wine.

But, I do love the idea of cupcake sandwiches.