Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Life's a Beach

You know what I like best about summer? Avoiding the beach. “What?!” you exclaim. “What do you mean you don’t like the beach, you pinko commie!”

I am not a beach person, and when I mention this, people assume it’s because I’m self-conscious about my physique. Well, you would be too if every time you put on a bathing suit you looked like a milk bottle with arms. The last time I went to the beach, I got arrested for “public ugliness”.

But my dislike of the beach has nothing to do with my progressively sagging torso. It’s because I don’t like all the packing, driving, schlepping and crowds. Plus I don’t feel like sitting among a bunch of half-naked strangers; if I want to do that, I’ll attend a Senate party.

Let’s look at a typical day at the beach. My family and I wake up at some ungodly cow-milking hour so we can get an early start. The house is a flurry of activity as we eat, get dressed, brush our teeth and pack the car, tripping over the dogs who unfortunately think they’re going with us.

By 9 a.m. we’re on the road, thinking we’re so smart because surely no one else is crazy enough to go on Saturday morning – all the beachgoers went on Friday in the after-work rush hour. The morons.

At 9:45 the toll booth is backed up for three quarters of mile. Where do all these people come from? Does every human being within a 500-mile radius have to go where we’re heading?

A half hour later we get through the bottleneck, and just as the stress begins to diminish, someone announces that they have to pee. Now, I won’t mention who has to pee, because I don’t want to point fingers at anyone. Besides, if I revealed this person’s identity, she’d probably divorce me.

Okay, a little after noon we arrive at the beach. And by “the beach” I mean “the main strip that’s kind of near the beach but where there hasn’t been an open parking space since before Earth cooled.” So we drive around for 15 minutes looking for a piece of ground on which to leave the van. Why did we think there’d be any parking spaces, when everyone in the tri-state area is here today? Luckily we find a lot, which will hold our vehicle for a mere $12. A bargain, when you consider that the alternative would be to drive back home and walk.

The sun is sweltering and the air smells like we’re standing between a fishing boat and a landfill. We schlep chairs, blankets, towels, food and drinks a quarter of a mile to a heavily populated desert, where we manage to find a spot on the sand. We spread out our stuff and help each other smear sunscreen, which, when mixed with our sweat, makes us feel, in technical terms, icky.

Okay, we’re here. Yay! Time to ... uh ... kind of just sit around. My kids run into the water and have fun, but I just want to relax. So I read. There are some attractive young women around, and perhaps I would look at them if I were single, or my wife weren’t sitting right next to me, but now that I have basically turned into Al Bundy, I figure that if they catch me looking at them I’ll scare them. So I spend the next three or four hours staring at a book, frying in my own fat, occasionally turning over so I get evenly cooked and expose as much of my middle-aged flab to carcinogenic rays as possible.

Late afternoon. All of us are tired, hot and burned. The sea breeze has deceptively kept our skin below the boiling point so that we are unaware of just how much damage Mr. Sun has done. We pack our stuff and head back to the van. Whew! What a long walk. Didn’t we park closer?

The van is hot enough to broil a steak, along with some nice potatoes and asparagus. I turn it on and run the A/C, thus adding to global warming. We head home, the kids dozing off and my wife making sure I see every vehicle that I’m getting too close to:

She: “You almost hit that guy.”
Me: “Honey, he’s two lanes over.”

Ah, home at last. Now all we have to do is get out of the van and ... Jiminy Christmas, how did I get so tired and sore just sitting around all day?

We bring in all our stuff, which has somehow doubled in weight during the ride home. The dogs are ecstatic to see us and strongly suggest that we walk them. Sitting outside all day has energized them, whereas we humans can barely make it upstairs.

So who needs the beach? I contend that there is nothing the beach offers that you can’t get at home. To prove this, every summer I simulate the beach on my patio. First I set up 5 boomboxes and tune each one to a different radio station. Then I invite friends over and have them throw sand at me every two minutes while I get sunburned. I also borrow my neighbor’s small children so they can shriek in my ear, and I direct my family members to periodically drop a volleyball on me. During lunch I sprinkle a little sand on my food (why do you think it’s called a SANDwich, anyway?). I get the full beach experience without having to drive and, more important, I can go inside any time I need to answer Nature’s call, get relief from the heat, watch a movie, etc.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Couples Communication

The most common complaint that women have about their mate is his lack of communicating. Yes, we men are not very communicative, but it’s not our fault. And I intend to prove this premise, or look really stupid trying.

Many women have the knack of picking the most inopportune time to talk to their man and expect him to listen, for example, after he has gotten into bed and is drifting off to sleep. Ladies, please do not try to squeeze conversation out of us men late at night unless the house is burning down, and even then only if a major limb has caught fire (ours, not yours).

Men are not incapable of communication – it’s just that there is usually something else they’d rather be doing. They focus on hobbies and television shows to the point of neglecting their mates. A man changing a water pump finds his wife annoying when she tries to talk to him, and she thinks he’s a putz for considering his car to be more important than she is. That’s ridiculous. Nearly half the time, a man does not consider his car to be more important than his woman. More pleasant maybe, but not more important.

Men are often insensitive to other people’s problems – even those of their mate. Why? Because men are often insensitive to their own problems, so how can they empathize with anyone else? For example, if a typical man gets pushed to the ground and fractures his arm during a basketball game, which of the following do you think he’ll do?

A) Scream hysterically.
B) Call 911.
C) Take his two foul shots.

The correct answer is C. So, given that a man does not consider a broken limb serious enough to cause any concern, how can he be expected to care about his wife’s questionable mammogram?

If it is so difficult for men and women to communicate and thereby stay together, then how did our species ever survive? Simple: sex. As much as they drive each other crazy, men and women still lust after one another. And their procreative activities ensure that there will always be succeeding generations of sex partners who experience the same problems as their predecessors. Mankind evolved way before the advent of language, so all that our early ancestors had to do was obtain food, find shelter, and screw. Once language was invented, each gender used it mainly to talk about what they were genetically inclined to do: men hunted animals, fought enemies, pursued women, and built dwellings; women cooked food, bore and raised children, and picked out clothing for their men (“You’re not going to wear that bear skin, are you?”). Since neither men nor women were interested in what the other gender had to say, women talked to women and men talked to men, and everyone was happy. Men did not sit down with women to discuss feelings, and in fact any man who did this was unable to pass on his genes because either 1) he could not provide food and protection for a woman and children; or 2) the other men killed him.

Let’s look more closely at the history of our species. Man evolved in packs of 10-20 members, with the men hunting and protecting, and the women gathering and nurturing. Thus, out of necessity, men and women are different. Men have good spatial and reasoning skills. They are able to concentrate on a single task. They communicate best with hand signals and grunts, not lengthy sentences. They have good tunnel vision that enables them to see an object far away, but their peripheral vision is not very good, which is why they can navigate their way to a place they’ve never been before, but they can’t find the mustard in the fridge. They thrive on competition and power. Women can multitask. They have very good peripheral vision. They talk and listen well. They can sense people’s moods. They thrive on cooperation and support.

Modern society has removed the need for these differences. Laws and police mean that men no longer need to fight off enemies. Nuclear family rather than communal living means that women no longer have a cave full of other women to talk to while their men are gone. Grocery stores and restaurants mean that men no longer need to hunt and women no longer need to gather. But evolution has not kept up; those biological differences are still there, and will be for a long time. Society has given men and women the ability to spend a lot more time together, and we often find that we don’t get along because our minds work so differently. Each thinks that there’s something seriously wrong with the other because we can’t or won’t see the other’s point of view.

So what can we do? Well, one solution is to live like our ancestors. Get rid of the minivan, the Internet, the digital cable and the air-conditioned home. Band together with a few other families and live off the land. The women can take care of the children and talk incessantly to each other while the men hunt neighborhood pets and the occasional UPS man. In this way, men will get to silently hunt without being berated for not sharing feelings, while women will get their emotional needs met.

Or we can learn how to alter our behavior in order to get along better. After years of reading and marriage and arguments and therapy, I have concluded that the vast majority of behavior alteration has to be done by men. Now before you men show up at my door carrying torches and pitchforks, let me explain. I am not saying that men are wrong. It is only because of society that we have to change. If we lived in a world where we still had to hunt and protect, and there were no such thing as babies, then women would have to severely modify their behavior. But this is not the way it is. The skills that we developed during the first 99.999% of our existence have been rendered useless by the very institutions and technologies we have invented. We seek ways to keep using our biological skills: we play or watch sports and go on occasional hunting or fishing trips, but these are merely outlets designed to appease our now outdated brains. Furthermore, the need to raise offspring is still with us, and women can still “gather” at department stores, so women’s brains are well-suited to society. Conclusion: if men are to have harmonious intimate relationships, they have to behave more like women.

That said, both genders need to realize that our brain and hormonal differences make us communicate differently. For example, let’s say you need to give someone directions to your house. A man would do it this way:

Go north on Route 85 to exit 12B (Jones Road South). Go 4.3 miles and take a left on Greenhill Street. Take 3rd right on Wilson Drive. My house is the 4th on the left, #24.

Now let’s look at those same directions given by a woman:

Drive toward Minneapolis on Sheridan Parkway. Take the Jones Road exit; it’s the one with those nice chrysanthemums and snapdragons growing in the middle of the off-ramp. Head toward the Westview Mall (the one with both a Victoria’s Secret and a Gap). As soon as you see Payless Shoes, turn left onto Greenhill Street, but be careful! I was broadsided there two years ago because those poopyheads at City Hall won’t install a green arrow for those of us making the turn. Now, you’ll pass a dry cleaner, a Safeway, and the cutest little Cape Cod with green shutters. Turn right at that house. My house is about halfway up the street. You can’t miss it – it’s chartreuse with mauve trim.

Note that both sets of directions are correct; they’re just presented differently. The female version might be over three times as long and use words like “chartreuse” and “poopyhead” instead of numbers, but women will understand them. A man will not. He’ll be out there looking for chrysanthemums and end up in Winnipeg.

So both men and women communicate. They just do it differently. Men want the least amount of information possible, while women want the most. For example, when a man hears that someone gave birth, that’s all the information he needs. He does not need to know unnecessary information such as the baby’s weight, height, hair color, gender, etc. Women, on the other hand, need to know EVERY SINGLE DETAIL, including the baby’s length. This is why birth announcements always read like a technical manual:

Herbert and Edna Kaboodle announce the birth of their new baby girl, Kit Ann, who arrived on June 12th, 2005, at 7:03:37 a.m., under the sign of Capricorn, during the full moon, with light northeasterly winds. She weighed 7 pounds, 13 ounces, and 4.7 grams. Her length is 19 inches, 5 millimeters, 23 microns, and 2 Newtons, with a head circumference of 42.726 centimeters. Her hair color is burnt umber with a slight maroon tinge. She will attend the Plenty Pricey Preschool, and has plans to go to Harvard where she will study to be a lawyer.


The preceding was an excerpt from my book, Relationships for Morons. Look for it on http://www.bn.com and http://www.amazon.com. Or e-mail me at fitandfun@yahoo.com to order a signed, discount copy.