Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Owl Of Delight

Many creatures have crossed my path while out jogging over the past few years. Dozens of chipmunks, deer, red foxes, rabbits and a handful of black rat snakes. While out running in Florida I even stepped over a dead aardvark. But today was the best. A barred owl flew just a few feet in front of me, then landed on a tree branch and stared, radiating cool wisdom. I stared back, while jogging stupidly on the spot. I haven’t seen an owl in the wild since I was 12 years old, and never from this close up.

A sparrow, likely protecting its young, tried to mob the owl, but it was dismissed with a perfunctory flap of a wing. I kept staring, but didn’t want to outstay my welcome. So I turned my back on the bird and continued running, shouting out loud, “Wow! Fuck! Wow!” Occasionally, even a 44-year-old house-dad gets to burst out through his wrinkled, weary cynicism and enjoy a moment of wide-eyed astonishment. Magnificent.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Save The Herbert

Smiling Herbert, on the left

He’s a bit of a herbert,” we used to say of a certain type of young male back in the 80s. It’s hard to qualify exactly what we meant, but perhaps the best way to sum him up was ‘good-natured moron’. Someone not too bright, but harmless. You’d see one in every gang of skinheads. The band of knuckle-walkers would be trying to look all hard and terrifying, and right in their midst, spoiling everything, would be the grinning idiot. He was only in it for the larf, and if all his mates had been mods or stamp collectors or members of the Egerton Forstal Croquet Club, that’s what he’d have been doing too.

It’s been years since I spotted a herbert, but to my delight I crossed paths with one yesterday afternoon. I was waiting to sneak out of the back streets and in to the usual depressing stream of commuter cars on Connecticut Avenue. A battered white non-brand vehicle was toiling along the inside lane, coming from my left, and there in the open window on the passenger side, was a young herbert. He was staring me in the eye, and then he raised his finger to me, for no apparent reason than perhaps an immediate, instinctive dislike of graying suburbanites looking to merge with traffic. I stared back at him. His face began to betray some uncertainty. “Why am I showing this bloke the finger?” could have been the thought process, if ‘thought process’ was a possibility beneath the close-shaven head bone. His hard stare began to crack, and then it broke into a mindless grin. In that second the inner herbert was unmasked.

Sadly he and his chauffeur were subsumed by the Beltway traffic before I could catch him up, flag him down, and then swap details so that we could maybe meet up and talk about the dying art of herberticism. Still, I’d long since assumed that herberts were extinct, like sincerity and the ivory-billed woodpecker. To see a face bearing a cheerfully shit-eating smirk of vacuity completely made my day.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Great Suburban Traditions No. 9 - Badly Dressed Men

You see them only at weekends. After the effort of suspending all residue of wit, spontaneity and character from Monday to Friday in order to blend in with their fellow faceless professionals at the next desk, the white suburban male is sufficiently sapped of energy that he can only succumb to the worst manifestation of sartorial defeat. And so, while cowed into carrying out the chores his wife claims to have been doing all week (when in fact she was at Book Club talking about the area’s top 250 delis), he dons the universal uniform of the bedraggled dad – baseball hat, over-sized t-shirt, and crumpled knee length khaki shorts, all supported by depressingly brown loafers or sandals.

Badly Dressed Suburban Man’s identity is then boiled down to two basic items. 1. The sporting allegiance proclaimed on his baseball cap, which is generally worn backwards until the age of about 35, then turned front on to hide a receding hairline and to avoid skin cancer. 2. The name of a college on his t-shirt. He didn’t necessarily go to that college, but no one’s going to be interested enough to ask him if he really is a Duke graduate or not, so he can get away with it. Sometimes the t-shirt is just blank. Navy blue seems to be a favourite, as it can disguise the summer sweat a little better. The main thing is, it shouldn’t under any circumstance match the shorts, but that’s not a problem. After all, what actually goes with beige or pale grey?

You’ll see masses of them listlessly operating shopping trolleys, wandering the mall in a daze, or standing on the sidelines of a sports game automatically yelling, “Good job, buddy!” approximately once every sixty seconds. In the right hand pocket of their shorts is a Blackberry, which they fondle to remind themselves of who they really are on week days. The money maker, the main man. Although the wife has forbidden them from taking the Blackberry out and pretending to be reading important e-mails, they surreptitiously caress the keys, thinking that the weekend does at least have one saving grace – it makes going back to work on Monday morning more of a relief than a duty.

This passive assault on fashion hasn’t changed one jot in the 11 years I’ve lived here. You can admire its stasis in the same way that you might happily occupy a few hours by watching a tortoise walk in circles. You could even claim that its progenitors are, albeit unwittingly, involved in a collective statement against the fickle transience of mutating trends. Or perhaps it’s a collaboration of housewives dressing their husbands down to stop them looking hot to potential predators. The husbands acquiesce for the sake of a quiet life, and because hell, just because a t-shirt’s 20 years old, doesn’t mean you can’t still wear it, right? What's more, you can jump in the pool and drown yourself without ruining a good shirt.

More Great Suburban Traditions:
No. 8 Going To The Mall
No. 7 Cocktail Hour
No. 6 Grocery Shopping
No. 5 Limited Guilt
No. 4 Asexuality
No. 3 Dog Crap
No. 2 Neighbourhood Watch
No. 1 The Piano Recital

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Screwed Up Girls Are Sexy

That's the title of just one of the truist tracks on the incredibly limited new Dark-Eyed Juncoes CD 'Love To Make You Cry', released this week on the world's most unmarketed label, Paper Wasp Recordings. It also includes the group's first ever song in German, three brain-bending instrumentals, and a few unseemly mental leftovers channelled through randomly fiddled-with synthesisers.

Four tracks are available here for preview. Make sure not to annoy your friends by sending them the link.