Blog: Skewed Views & News

Coffee talk

Spilling my beans

Like most adults, I now drink coffee. But like most accidental adults, I can’t fully commit to even this simplest of adult activities. Nope. For me, it’s decaf with a couple of ice cubes to water it down just a bit.

As I grabbed my “decaf of the day” this morning, I noticed my local coffee shop has launched a new marketing campaign that includes several motivational or inspirational slogans. Of course this one jumped out at me:

“Grow older without growing up.”

I couldn’t have said it better. Well actually, I hope I have . . . otherwise I’ve just wasted three and a half years of my life writing 50,000 words for my 223-page book. My point is, I was pleasantly surprised to see that their marketing slogan reaffirms my life’s mantra: “You can act your age without losing your cool.”

So let’s keep spreading that message.

Hey coffee shop! Here’s another one for your next campaign. “You don’t have to sell out to grow up.” Consider it a freebie, too. Just make sure you keep pouring my coffee from the orange pot designated “decaf” for adult lightweights like me.

Suburbia checklist

I can't hear you, Kelly.

I just returned from a weekend visit of my hometown, and the memories came flooding back. Growing up in Central Wisconsin often felt like living life in a fishbowl. There wasn’t a dirt road my buddies and I could drink on without word spreading to our parents as soon as we parked the Jeep. So instead, I used to spend countless high school nights cruising Central Avenue with buddies named Louie, Beags, Coop, Sarge, Wally, Wisk and Bar (don’t ask), dreaming of a future living in a downtown high-rise condo in a thrilling metropolis.

Like most of my dreams, it didn’t turn out exactly as I had planned. Consider the improbable five-year plan I sketched out after high school graduation . . .

1.         Move to Minneapolis.

2.         Meet Prince.

3.         Drum for Prince.

4.         File a lawsuit against Prince, settle out of court, and retire to a beach home (not in Minneapolis).

And now compare that to my current reality: married with three kids, working and living in a suburban St. Paul community, population: 13,069. So close, yet so far.

Despite my unrealized dream of a lively, anonymous metropolitan life, I’ve eventually adjusted to a much more subdued, if not surveyed existence in Suburbia instead. In fact, it’s come to suit me quite well – largely because I conducted a proper neighborhood inspection prior to moving in. If you’re like me, then your checklist should look the same: 

  • Garages filled to the rafters with multiple tool storage systems ready to serve as your own private(and free) rental center.
  • Fences, tall hedges, or other visual barriers that conceal your botched backyard landscaping projects.
  • Endless supplies of free firewood someone else cut and stored in the woods behind your house. (That’s communal, right?)
  • Front porches decorated with enough wind chimes to effectively drown out your wife’s voice as she berates you from open windows during summer months.
  • MILFs

 If a neighborhood can offer any of those amenities, simply ask, would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighborhood? Because people like us who have no right living among the grownups deserve a homebound haven where we can seek refuge from the adult responsibilities of the real world and do things our way—the wrong way.

I choose not to run

One and done.

A good friend of mine has been including me on his e-mail listserv for a running group he’s assembled. That means every week I get a handful of invitations to run anywhere from four to twenty miles with a group of a half dozen runners of varying ability. To this date, I’ve yet to take him up on his offer. Why?

  1. I prefer running alone.
  2. I enjoy running without a goal.
  3. After running a marathon years ago, I’ve sworn off long distances and the training that accompanies it.

Forgive me for being so proud, but I’m still a little astonished at my marathon accomplishment. But looking back on it, I really shouldn’t be. From an early age, genetics have given me a runner’s physique, and ever since college, I’ve increasingly become introverted. The solitary nature of running is a great fit with my personality. And running a marathon has become a wonderful addition to my conversation arsenal for parties and get-togethers. Whenever people ask me if I’m running another one, I quote the episode of Seinfeld where he defiantly declares, all Superman-like, “I choose not to run.”

And it’s true. I choose not to run – at least no more than ten miles at one time. I know many people find marathons addictive, but not me. During my training, I saw the ugly side of 6 a.m. on far too many Saturdays. I dropped twenty pounds that I didn’t really have to lose. And I lost both of my big toenails which took almost six months to grow back ingrown, painful, and well . . . not pretty. Nope. I’m done. I can cross “run a marathon” off my Life List. If I really had a Life List. But let’s not get technical.

By running those 26 (.2!) miles, I did something that only about one-tenth of one percent of the population has done – or so says my condescending training guide, Marathon: You can do it! That sweat-soaked manual also says that the average age of marathon runners is about thirty eight, which also means I participated in a largely adult-like athletic activity – a slightly disorienting realization for this reluctant grown-up.

So instead of hitting “delete” or replying, “Unsubscribe,” I’ve instead decided to consider the running group’s e-mails an honor. By including me in their invitations, my friend and his running partners must consider me a worthy partner in their adult athletic activity.  And for this accidental adult, that’s comforting, even if I choose not to run. Because in the game of life, excelling at an adult athletic activity feels like winning—and accidental adults like us need to take our victories where we can find them, no matter how small.

Take a seat (away)

Seriously. Keep moving.

Does your job define you?

Regardless of how you answer that question, most accidental adults would agree that coming to grips with a vocation-formed identity is often hard to swallow. What’s a young professional to do when you’re suddenly considered a colleague of middle-aged coworkers? Are you really expected to swap “How was your weekend?” stories on Monday mornings when your account might make your officemates blush? Are you succumbing to adulthood or just sucking up by telling your boss you spent your vacation reading his gifted copy of Who Moved My Cheese? And is deep, lasting, self-loathing an appropriate reaction the first time you hear yourself mutter, “Thank God, it’s Friday . . . all day!” as you refill your coffee cup at the water cooler?

During my first job out of college, I worked with a socially stunted middle-aged man who talked incessantly about the NFL draft no matter the time of year. He was so engrossed in sharing with me his concerns over Green Bay’s potential seventh-round pick that he became oblivious to all of my nonverbal cues (crossed arms, flared nostrils, rapid breathing) telling him I didn’t give a frog’s fat ass what the Packers did during the offseason. Before I knew it, damn near every cubicle visit from this drone would eat up about an hour of my time—time that could have been better spent needlessly mentoring Cara, the cute college intern. Enraged at this injustice, I finally got creative.

My solution? A suddenly cluttered visitor chair at the end of my desk. It works like this. When you see or hear any undesirable coworker approaching your office, immediately stack up a pile of papers and folders on your guest chairs so your advancing colleague can’t sit down. Sure, his inane stand-up monologue will still rob you of a few precious moments of your life. But eventually his arch supports will give out, and he’ll leave in search of a more comfortable office from which to hold court, effectively cutting his unsolicited visit to your office at least in half. Conversely, don’t forget to immediately clear off your chair when you hear Cara, the cute college intern, approaching. You wouldn’t want to miss her office rounds at 9 a.m. on Mondays when she offers salacious recaps of her girlfriends’ weekend escapades. But try not to look too obvious or overly anxious by rushing to your chair and sweeping it free of clutter with one broad stroke of your arm, knocking books and folders to the floor. Just be glad she might even consider talking to you. If you weren’t her internship advisor, you know you’d be SOL.

Parenting primer

Fathers know best

Child development studies show that children demonstrate strong indicators of their future character and personality by the age of three. That’s not much time to influence them to become the coolest person possible—modeled after you!

So allow me to share with you a few tips from what I call “The Marginally Mature Parent’s Primer for Raising Kids Without Selling Out.”

FOR PARENTS OF GIRLS: So they want to join Girl Scouts? Great! So long as they agree they won’t sell cookies. It’s part of the sacred Scout agreement, they say? Then ask them how much profit they need to clear, and come up with the cash yourself. There are better places to learn life lessons about giving guilt and receiving rejection than on your neighbors’ doorsteps.

Discourage them from giving you a button with a photo of them in their leotard from dance class or gymnastics. Because if they do, and you don’t wear it, then you’re a jerk. If you do wear it, then you may as well buy a Members Only jacket to pin it on and zip it up tightly over your short-sleeve buttondown dress shirt and knit tie, or maybe even consider taking up mall walking. Wearing buttons like these is exactly what grandparents are for. They already have an outfit that complements these buttons perfectly.

FOR PARENTS OF BOYS: Help them maintain a nice little circle of grubby, naughty, and funny friends, but also show them how to play politely with the girls. Don’t let them become that typical little creep who throws mud on the girls or calls them names. They have no idea how well their coed chivalry at six years old will pay off when they get older. (Your sons may even thank you later.)

Remind them that it’s cool to kiss their dad, even in public, no matter how old they are. If Eddie Van Halen can kiss his sixteen-year-old son on stage in front of 20,000 roaring and drunk middle-aged fans, then your son can let you plant one on his cheek when you pick him up from school.

FOR PARENTS OF ALL CHILDREN: Teach them how to always, always, always clap on two and four.

A successful childhood shouldn’t necessarily hinge on your kids fulfilling every wish on that list. It would just make your life easier. And for me, that’s a primary goal these days. After consecutive mornings of kids coughing across my breakfast and brokering peace accords because someone sneaked an extra Flintstones vitamin . . .well, frankly I could use a little help.

Unhandy Man

Right off, left on.

When it comes to home improvements, accidental adults like me never measure up to real adults. Call me repair impaired. Or simply call me a fix-it failure. Just don’t call me a do-it-yourselfer. Because when things go to hell around the house and repairs are required, at best I’m a do-it-for-me kind of guy who’s craftiness and dexterity is a lot less like MacGyver and a lot more like MacGruber. To put it bluntly, home repairs usually make me feel like a tool.

Sure, I’ve had some marginal success crossing a few projects off the proverbial “Honey-Do” list. It’s just that in my house, the list is usually titled, “Honey-Don’t, Unless You Really Know What You’re Doing This Time.”

This weekend, I added yet another entry into my expanding Home Repair Hall of Shame. As I set out to replace the corroded burner on my neglected (by me) gas grill, I surprised myself at how quickly the installation proceeded. But when I made the seemingly proper connection to the propane tank and opened the tank valve, I heard and smelled leaking gas and immediately feared a bad seal. Calling my very adult neighbor for advice, he responded immediately with a series of diagnostic tests we could apply – none of which proved necessary as he soon realized the leaking gas was the result of both on/off dials set to the “On” position. So glad I panicked.

Does that fix-it foible feel familiar to you? If so, you’re in good company. So we’re not Bob Villa. But we’re also no fools. We’re accidental adults. And when it comes to projects that really matter (like replacing dead batteries in our beloved remote control), we know our stuff.

How we roll

Purple Rain

Goal for this weekend? Kick-starting my beloved 1986 Honda Spree scooter and tapping into that warm, fuzzy, retro place in my soul. That place where the biggest challenge in my life was figuring out how to advance to Level Five on Frogger and my heaviest responsibility was finding a coworker to take my shift at the B. Dalton bookstore so I could go to the DJ dance Friday night after the game. Considering how much more complicated life has become since those days, is it any wonder why I’d cherish a quick spin on my Purple Rain? (Yes, I lamely named my scooter.)

Some people believe that what you drive says a lot about you. If that’s true, then every time I straddle my scooter and strap on my sensible DOT-approved helmet (I have to set an example for my kids now), I’m thumbing my nose at convention and shouting to the world: “That’s right. I’m suffering from full-blown adult denial. So bite me!” I mean, think about it. What’s more fitting for a reluctant grownup than tooling around town on a two-wheel throwback to the ’80s—the best decade in history? In fact, I’d say my scooter serves as the perfect symbol for accidental adults like me. Some men work through their midlife crises by clinging to their souped-up Corvettes or buying testosterone-boosting motorcycles. That’s what real men do. But not me. I’m searching for the road less traveled, because the main thoroughfare is coursing with ordinary adults, and that scares the hell out of me.

The only trouble with a father of three owning a scooter is that silly little nonsensical sticker attached to the steering column—the one that says “WARNING: OPERATOR ONLY. NO PASSENGERS.” No matter though. Now that my children are old enough to lock their little arms around my expanding waist, I look forward to every spring when I ignore that single-passenger warning sticker, and I take them for the first scoot of the season around our neighborhood. When it comes to transportation and accidental adults, this is how we roll. Now if I can only get the engine to turn . . .

Guys' Movie Night

Let the countdown begin. One week from tonight is my favorite night of the month. Well . . . maybe my second favorite evening, after Date Night with My Wife. (I just realized Kelly could be reading this.)

In my circle of college friends, the first Wednesday of the month is known as Guys’ Movie Night. By now, it’s become a somewhat sacred tradition where each guy takes a turn choosing the happy-hour spot, the movie to see and the bar to visit after the movie. Those who can’t attend are duly chastised for disrespecting the custom. (Those who pick lame movies are also castigated, but less so . . . )

Accidental Adult Advice Alert: You know that calendar in your kitchen where your wife posts silly notes like “Be home on time—it’s your turn to drive the girls to dance class” or “Call TiVo today to cancel service”? Well, try using that funny little grid to schedule a regular tradition with friends. Without an established event, getting together can often slide to the back burner. And if your friends are like mine, they’re great reminders that despite the daily grind of work, family life and forced maturity, your journey as a reluctant grown up is not a solitary one. Take it from me. If we can stick together, accidental adulthood truly can be a satisfying, grand way of life.

Lawn caring

Burned baby, burned.

For me, the adult activity of lawn care is merely a painful obligation, a neighborhood courtesy, if you will. And unfortunately, I live on a street where the real men care a hell of a lot more than I do about the appearance of their lawns. How can you tell? Long ago, most of my neighbors wisely retained professional lawn-care services to properly fertilize their yards. But like any accidental adult, I fought this assimilation for years. Instead, I’d go out there and kick and curse that fertilizer cart as I dragged it haphazardly across my lawn. I only relented and hired a lawn care pro after I accidentally burned a dozen jagged yellow stripes into my front lawn when the fertilizer spreader broke halfway through the job. For the better part of two months, I felt like the teenage son who ruined his daddy’s lawn. But, hey, at least the burn pattern didn’t spell out an obscene word. (Note to other accidental adults: repeatedly kicking a jammed fertilizer spreader does NOT ensure even application of the product.)

Chances are you’ve had your own experiences that scream “accidental adult in action.” Don’t be embarrassed. The real adult world is a frightening and confusing place for people like us. But don’t worry, you’re running with the right crowd.

Defining our terms

What exactly makes someone an accidental adult? It’s largely a matter of resistance. For most well-adjusted people, growing up isn’t an unwelcome surprise. Many accept the inevitability of adulthood and embrace it. They resign themselves to lives of responsibility, serious endeavors and a sensible wardrobe. They check their smoke alarm batteries twice a year. They know what kind of gas mileage their cars get. Some can even name their city councilperson.

But some of us join the world of adults kicking and screaming. Yes, technically we are adults. But more importantly, we are reluctant grownups who refuse to accept we’re just like every other chump with credit card debt and an aching lower back. When we look in the mirror, the person we see staring back is decades younger and way cooler. We may spend an hour researching the best place to meet for a happy hour—you know, someplace not too noisy, with adequate restroom facilities, convenient parking and a menu that accommodates our newly acquired shellfish allergy or gluten intolerance. But the point is, we still go, while many other adults hurry home to finish that drop ceiling in the new rec room. Are they conscientious? Absolutely. Fun? You tell me.

So what is the opposite of an accidental adult? An assimilated adult is one who embraces the responsibilities of adulthood without fearing the inevitable loss of a joyous, youthful soul. These are the adults who understand what society expects of them and do the right things the right way. They know how to get a better interest rate on their credit cards. They understand the proper ratio of comprehensive versus collision coverage on their auto insurance. They know what they pay in property taxes (every year). But don’t let their numbers fool you. Every day I see evidence of other accidental adults like me—people my age who are capable, working professionals who don’t feel confident handling jumper cables and who can’t taste the difference between a cabernet or a Chianti. People like you. And the best part is we simply don’t care. Especially when ignoring a few cultural standards and embracing our inner smart-ass can be tons more fun.