Archive for Lifestyle
Last week, I came across an interesting thesis expounded by a reporter in a Boston paper. He says the biggest threat facing middle-aged men isn’t obesity or smoking, but loneliness. Middle-aged men let their friendships lapse, experience depression as they age, and spiral downward from there.
I’m certainly guilty of letting old friendships stagnate, but I probably have a better excuse than most. I moved around a lot and far away after university, before there was e-mail and social networks to make staying in touch effortless, not that most of us do. I now live half a world away. I calculated that in the last 25½ years, I’ve only seen my best friend from university a total of less than two weeks. I went eight years without seeing him after college, though we stayed in touch by phone, and another seven years from the time I left the US to the time I returned for my first visit.
Seven or eight years ago, when I was living in a beach resort town in Thailand, I made a concerted effort to have Guys Nights Out at least once a month. Three to five guys would show up, enough to make it worthwhile and still keep it personal. All the better if one of the other guys brought along someone I didn’t know as long as the occasions remained a night out for just the guys. As time progressed, some of the other guys didn’t take the nights out seriously. One brought his prostitute-like ‘girlfriends.’ People didn’t make the time, they started moving away, and the nights got shelved.
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When the television show Star Trek hit the TV airwaves in 1966, viewers got a glimpse of Captain Kirk and his crew exploring strange new worlds and boldly going where no man had gone before, though it does seem odd, does it not, that everyone spoke perfect English in all these previously undiscovered locales.
On our own planet, there aren’t so many or possibly any undiscovered pastures left. In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, Albania sounded like one such place. I couldn’t think of anyone who’d ever gone. Today, it’s a member of NATO and the European Union. In 2014, The New York Times rated Albania #4 in a list of 52 places to visit. Albania’s not such a secret anymore.
In the 1990’s, Myanmar (Burma) was also rarely touristed. A mandatory $200 exchange, a restrictive visa regime, and a repressive government kept the masses out. When I visited in 1994, the country had a rather ambitious goal of reaching 1m tourist arrivals by 2000. They fell far short of that, but have since more than rebounded. In 2013, the country saw over 2m arrivals.
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Anyone born after 1980 and probably a good share of people born a decade-and-a-half before that likely have no idea about Life magazine. When it was launched as a photojournalist magazine in 1936, it was considered groundbreaking. For the next 36 years, it remained a weekly magazine, sort of a Time, Newsweek, and People all rolled into one.
The magazine’s circulation peaked at 8.5m in 1969. Costs to produce it rose and advertising revenue fell, a sign of things to come for the magazine industry as a whole. Playboy reached a peak circulation of 7.16m in 1972 and now has a circulation of just 820,000. Time magazine declined later from a 1988 peak of 4.6m to less than 3.3m in 2014.
Looks like it was a prescient move to shelve Life as a weekly way back in ’72, well before the magazine would have turned into a hemorrhage for its publisher Time Inc.
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Friendship isn’t what it used to be. On several levels.
As a little kid, you were friendly with everyone. Your mother arranged a playdate with little Joey because you and Joey were about the same age. That was all you and he needed to have in common to spend an afternoon together.
This sort of open minded innocence quickly fades. By the time, you reach adolescence, you actually have to have something in common with your friends. Common interests at this age are described in very simple terms, by a music group, a sport, a computer game. By the mid-teenage years, you’ve entered a stage where you might chat daily with your buddies, get together for sleepovers, hang out at school events. This stage continues in minor variation throughout the college era.
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You can succeed at any age. The character actor Brian Dennehy didn’t make a serious go as an actor until he was 38. Henry Ford didn’t incorporate the Ford Motor Company until he was about 40, and the Model T, Ford’s flagship product, didn’t hit the market until he was 45. Colonel Harland Sanders worked as an insurance salesman and filling station operator before the first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise opened when he was 62.
Still, for most, it’d be better to succeed while young.
Too young, no. You can read about a litany of child actors who were millionaires before they could drive. Gary Coleman, Willie Aames, Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes, and many more. Life seemed to peak early. The amount of attention, money, and erstwhile praise they garnered later never equated to what they got in their primes. The saddest of the lot try, for the rest of their lives, to earn that elusive status back.
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In the 1970 movie, Five Easy Pieces, Jack Nicholson’s character enters a diner and asks for wheat toast, which isn’t on the menu. So Nicholson proceeds to order a chicken salad sandwich, without the butter, the lettuce, the mayonnaise, and the chicken.
A similar, though not quite so dramatic, incident happened to me a couple of months ago. My wife, I, and a friend were enjoying an upscale riverside luncheon buffet in Bangkok at an international brand name hotel, far from Nicholson’s Denny’s off Interstate 5 in Eugene, Oregon. The buffet included unlimited coffee, but when I asked for an iced coffee, I was informed iced coffees weren’t included. Nicholson’s waitress tried to kick him out of the restaurant for being smart and sarcastic. I didn’t get imperious. I asked a different server for a hot coffee and a glass of ice, and when he was out of eyeshot, mixed them together myself.
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Technology, gender roles, and work definitions have changed immeasurably in the last century. The mechanics of relationships, however, continue to look very much the same.
There’ve been some minor allowances. A June 1964 magazine article in Life, then a major newsweekly, profiles how Hollywood police closed gay hang outs near Santa Monica Blvd. One bar owner hung a sign in his bar “Fagots [sic] – Stay Out!” This behavior would be seen as reprehensible fifty years on. Same sex marriage is now legal in twenty U.S. states, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Spain, Sweden, and ten more countries, with still more inevitably on the way. Miscegenation laws were enforced in some U.S. states until 1967. Nowadays, no one bats an eyelash spotting a Caucasian married or dating an Asian, Black, or Hispanic. Cohabitation, while not quite mainstream worldwide yet, is readily accepted and considered a viable union in some nations. In Scandinavia, they have a real term for it besides “living together,” and there is no stigma propagating without being legally married first. Blended families are common.
I call these minor allowances, as major as they may seem to the communities which benefited, because all that’s been done is to extend the accepted definition of a union and its accouterments to once disenfranchised alternative lifestyle communities. What’s considered proper and permitted within the confines of these unions is about the same as it was a hundred years ago.
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Being a teenager is never easy, but it’s probably a lot harder to be one now than it was twenty, thirty, and forty years ago. A teenager’s tender spot has always been his or her unwillingness to stand out from the crowd during a period of great emotional and physical change. Today’s teens are subject to more adult stimuli than I ever was, and voracious marketers appeal to them as aggressively as they would the teens’ very own parents. These teens get endlessly bombarded with images of things they “need” to be part of the ‘right’ crowd, whatever that means.
When my stepson was eight or nine, he came home from school infatuated with tiny skateboard toys about the size of the Hotwheel and Matchbox cars I played with when I was his age. All the kids had them, and he didn’t want to feel left out. As he got older, his toys of choice got more expensive. One of his later presents was a $200 hand-crafted skateboard from Korea, which he’s only used once or twice. Most of the time, I don’t think he ever really wanted these things. He just wanted what all his peers had.
Last year he asked us to buy him a pair of Crocs. Crocs are lightweight plastic flip flops which come in a variety of designs. Five years back, I was local shopping mall and purchased a $3 pair of flip flops for use in our swimming pool. The pool was missing a few tiles at its base, and it was all too easy to cut one’s feet severely during a casual swim. I wore the flip flops as protection and only in that pool. I found out a bit later that these $3 flops, bought on a whim, were virtually identical to Crocs costing $30 to $40. I was dumbfounded because, to me, they look like they’re worth just $3. My stepson has seen me wear the shoes on many an occasion and could see they were almost identical to the Crocs, yet he still wanted the Crocs at nine or ten times the price. What a crock!
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Years and years ago, so far back that it feels like a dream now, I used to do something called hanging out. There was no ultimate purpose to it. I wasn’t networking or cutting deals or paving the way for my future. I’d go to such-and-such a place around such-and-such a time to meet someone. This could be a person I knew very superficially or barely at all.
Think back to your own past. In high school, you’d go to the football game on Friday nights and just hang out. No one really watched the game. You’d drift around the bleachers, running into classmates, and exchange some banter. An impromptu gathering at the ice cream parlor or arcade might end the evening.
When I went away to university, there were more opportunities to hang out than ever before. I no longer had the same people in most of my classes, and those in my dormitories were not the same people I saw in class. I’d order pizzas off the cuff with dorm mates, arrange to meet for dinner with a classmate whose name I just learned, agree to go to a party because a friend of a friend of a friend told me about it.
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Last December I received an invitation from a groom-to-be for his wedding in India. It was to be held outside Delhi and promised to be an extravagant affair. Hundreds of dishes. Over a thousand guests. His mother is a prominent Indian political official and plenty of political big wigs would be in attendance.
I’d met Sanjit barely a year before when I was passing through Delhi. At that time, he was not dating anyone. He was not placing profiles on dating columns. He’d come to Thailand with five friends in July and e-mailed me several times with travel questions. No mention of a girlfriend back home, of love blooming amidst the Indian monsoons. Then, all of the sudden, in November, I found out he was getting married.
Sanjit’s marriage was arranged. When I first met him, in India for another wedding, he was in the company of his cousins, all of a similar age between 27-28. There was talk then of Sanjit having to get married before his cousin Ajit, who in turn had to be paired off before his other cousin Eashan. Sanjit was several months older than Ajit, and Ajit several months older than Eashan.
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