Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Eyes Have It

Last year, at a Halloween-themed party, I was talking to a woman I know, we’ll call her “Jane,” who was dressed as a witch, and wearing those contact lenses that make your eyes look really freaky. I could not keep my eyes off of her…off of her eyes that is.

Once I realized how much I was staring at her eyes, I laughed and said to her, “You know, I was just thinking about your contacts. They could solve a problem for women who…well, let me put this delicately…have issues with guys never talking to their faces.”

When she figured out what I meant, she laughed and said, “Oh, I don’t have to worry about that. I’m not well-endowed. Heck, I’m barely endowed at all. I don’t have to have these contacts in for you to not look there.”

Similarly, a few months later, I ran into “Carrie,” a former student who had a rather unusual set of nose piercings, and just as with Jane’s contacts, I found myself unable to take my eyes off of them.

I’ll get back to Jane’s comment in a minute. Let’s talk about my idea first.

It’s true. If you met a woman whose eyes looked like Jane’s did, or with Carrie’s piercings, I’m betting that no matter how “well-endowed” she was, you’d be staring at her face. I know I would. Those eyes would draw your attention by being so different from what you’ve ever seen before.

And ironically, that’s the case with many well-endowed women.

I had a student once who was, shall I say, “overly blessed,” and I felt sorry for the poor girl. Not just because of the looks she got, but because I could imagine how uncomfortable it must be to carry all that around. I saw back problems in her future. But going back to the obvious, after she complained about guys never talking to her face I said, “Sue, in most cases it’s not about lust at all. It’s as if you were really, really tall. You meet a person who’s seven feet tall, and you’re gonna stare. So next time you notice guys (and some girls) staring at you, just remember that you’re ‘tall.’” It became our little inside joke.

If we tend to stare at things that we’re not used to seeing, then for most of us, the girl with the DDDD is no different from the one who’s 7 feet tall, or the one with spiky purple hair.

And OK, I’ll admit that there are guys out there for whom DDDD doesn’t seem to be enough (silly boys). But I’d like to think that that’s not all of us. Heck, I’d like to think that’s not most of us.

But let’s get back to Jane and her comment about being barely endowed at all.

Why is it that so many women of “modest means” are made to feel that they need to invest in silicone in order to be attractive? I had a friend in college, a beautiful friend in college, who complained that she was flat-chested (if she was, I never noticed), and I told her that at least guys had conversations with her face. I had another friend who quipped that when she went to buy a bra, the clerk thought she wanted to join the auto club.

To my knowledge, these women never invested in silicone, nor has Jane, but I wonder about the ones that do. Do they ever stop to think that the guys they’ll be attracting after they “enhance” themselves will be attracted for all the wrong reasons? Do they ever stop to think of the back problems they’ll have down the line? Do they ever stop to think that someday they’ll get tired of guys not having a conversation with their faces?

Well…at least when they do, they can invest in a set of freaky contact lenses or get their noses pierced.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Last Shall Be First - And Get Trounced

Well, with the 2011 World Series starting tomorrow, it’s time for a baseball story from third grade.

I remember very clearly that when it came to choosing sides for softball, I was always among the last to be picked. Nowadays schools tend not to do something as “potentially damaging to a kid’s self-esteem” as to pick two team captains and then have them chose players by turns. Nah, today they’d just have everyone count off by twos and then divvy up the teams that way, so no one’s feelings got hurt. But let’s face it, in the real world, not everyone’s gonna be a winner. Not everyone is equally good. Some people are going to be chosen last, and some won’t be chosen at all. And you have to learn this at an early age, otherwise you’ll be in for some major disappointments when you get out there in the world without bumpers.

I sucked at softball and I knew it. I knew I couldn’t catch if you threw the ball to me from two yards. I knew that I couldn’t hit if you threw a basketball at me. I knew that I sucked, and I knew that as a result I’d be among the last to be chosen every time. It didn’t bother me, it was just a fact of life. I sucked at softball, but there were other things I was good at.

However, every day, when Miss Murphy’s class went out to recess, two different kids were picked as captains. So even though I knew that I’d always be among the last kids chosen for a team, I also knew that one day I’d be one of the captains. And when that happened, things would be different.

Well, the day finally came, and when it did, I picked Terry, who was another kid who was perennially at the end of the list, as my first player. The other captain picked Roy, who was good. Real good. My turn came again and I picked Gregory, another end of the list kid. The other captain picked Robert, another powerhouse player. By the third or fourth iteration of the picking process, it was apparent to even a third grader, which we were, what I was doing – I was picking all the last kids first. All the kids who I thought would appreciate being first for once in their lives. The other captain was taking advantage of my idealism by picking up all of the good players while I took the scrubs.

I thought that the end of the list kids would appreciate being picked first, but I wasn’t prepared for the response I got. After I’d picked the first three or four kids and my teammates figured out what I was doing, they begged me, even screamed at me to pick some good players. They realized that in picking them, I was picking a losing team. They had no illusions about their softball skill. They knew that they sucked just as much as I did. The difference here was something I hadn’t counted on: they didn’t mind being picked last as long as they were on a team that had a fighting chance of winning. When they were picked last, the teams were at least evenly matched. Barring either a miracle or major incompetence from the other team, my picking all of the end of the list kids first doomed them to a team that was bound to lose. Badly.

And we were trounced.

That was over 40 years ago, and do I care about losing that game? The answer is a resounding “no.” I don’t care about losing that game or any of the roughly 60 others from that school year. Heck, that’s really the only game I remember, and I don’t remember it all that clearly. What do I remember? The fact that even losers want a chance not to be chosen first, but to win; and that if it means that they’ve got a chance at being on the winning team, they’ll take being chosen last. What I won as a result of that one game I remember from third grade is the knowledge that I need to not shallowly assuage the egos of those who are always chosen last, but to give them a fighting chance of being on a winning team – by specifically choosing them last.

I also won the knowledge that by allowing myself to be chosen last, perhaps I’ll have a better chance of being on a winning team.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Little Shameless Self-Promotion

Yeah, I know it's not Tuesday, but this is a special occasion. I've been published.

Well, yeah…I know…I've had articles published in magazines and letters published in newspapers before, but this is different. I've been e-published, with the first of what I'm hoping is a series of short stories, leading up to me finally making my novel available electronically.

What on earth am I talking about?

Well surely you've heard of the Amazon Kindle, the Nook from Barnes and Noble, and Apple's iPad. They're either all ebook readers or have apps that will let you read digital books. And digital publishing is looking like a way for writers to get their material out there without necessarily having to have a deal with a traditional publisher. In fact, a friend of mine sent me an article about a woman who made a couple of hundred thousand dollars just publishing her stories digitally, and then St Martin's Press offered her a million-dollar contract.

Hmm…no overhead, no expenses, this sounded like something I could get into…especially with as many stories as I have floating around in my head.

So please, go check out my new site at keithgatling.blogspot.com. Become a follower, so you know when I've put out a new story.

And, for Pete's sake (or for Keith's sake), buy and download my first short story, The Restraining Order. It's only 99c.

And if enough of you buy it, and recommend that your friends buy, I might be able to buy lunch at Wendy's next week.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Girls Gone Stupid or Jimmy Stewart, Where Are You?

A lot of you might think that I’ve been living under a rock, but I had seriously never heard of Girls Gone Wild until I saw the bus pass us on the New York State Thruway back in April. Well, actually, I might have heard of it, but I really didn’t know what it was all about. My wife knew what it was because she’s up in the middle of the night, when the commercials are on. But I was totally unaware of the entire phenomenon.

So I decided to check out the website.

HOLY CRAP! This was not at all what I was expecting.

I mean, from the brief glimpse I got of the bus as it passed us in the opposite direction, I assumed it had something to do with girls in bathing suits doing crazy things. But like I said, I was not expecting what I saw when I got there.

It was like a train wreck…it was terrible, but I just couldn’t stop watching. I clicked on link after link, fascinated, and horrified, at what these girls were willing to do on camera for a t-shirt.

Yes…for a t-shirt.

And then I thought about Jessie Logan, who I mentioned a few weeks ago. She was the beautiful 18-year-old girl who committed suicide after intimate photographs, meant only for her boyfriend, were spread all over town.

On the one hand we have a girl so mortified over her small town seeing intimate pictures of herself that she killed herself. On the other hand we have girls just a few years older (and sometimes the exact same age) willing to do more than just expose themselves for an estimated 100,000 men -- both on the Internet and on home video.

Just for a t-shirt.

How on earth do some people get there?

I'm thinking that a false sense of sophistication, or a misguided desire to be considered sophisticated is involved. Let me just give you two names here: Lindsay Lohan and Brittney Spears.

But alcohol also has a lot to do with it, since the GGW crews seem to tend to show up at places where a lot of drinking will be going on. I can’t possibly imagine any of the young women in these videos agreeing to be filmed doing these things if they were stone cold sober. And apparently there has been quite a bit of “next day remorse,” resulting in quite a few lawsuits.

And as I think about the role that alcohol plays in getting young women to agree to be filmed by these people, I keep coming back to a line from the classic movie The Philadelphia Story where Jimmy Stewart’s character explains to Katherine Hepburn the reason he didn’t take advantage of her the night before, saying “You were a little the worse…or better for wine…and there are rules about that.”

“There are rules about that.” What a concept. What ever happened to the ideal of not taking advantage of a girl…or anyone…who’s had too much to drink? There may not be rules out there with the force of law about situations like this, but Jimmy Stewart will tell you that a gentleman knows that you don’t do that.

And yet, I have to admit that, unless they’ve been living under the same rock that I was under, people who go to events sponsored by Girls Gone Wild know why the crew is there. So there is some personal responsibility.

But come on…doing all that for…a t-shirt? Honestly, with what GGW will eventually make from those images, they can afford to give those girls a lot more than that.

Or would that somehow cross some sort of psychological line? Is there a difference between taking off your clothes in exchange for a GGW t-shirt…for “fun,” and doing the same thing for $1000? Would the crews attract “the wrong kind of girls” if they were offering money? Would offering money somehow run them afoul of the law?

Who knows.

But still…a t-shirt?

The other day, while we were in the car, I heard Brad Paisley singing his song I’m Still A Guy, and was struck by the following lyrics:
You see a priceless French painting
And I see a drunk naked girl
Hmm…maybe the phenomenon is older than we think. Could it be that Renoir was a painter for Mademoiselles déchaînées?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Four Stupid Smart Girls and US

Dan told me the story of what he calls “the four stupid smart girls” that he graduated with, and I think it’s one worth repeating.

As I recall, there were four girls at the top of his graduating class in high school. They were all friends until it came time for class rank to be posted and for the valedictorian to be announced. You see, by any normal measure, all four of them would’ve been listed as number one, the person after them would be listed as number five, and that would be about it. After all, that’s what happens when more than one person is tied for number 42.

But number one was different. Whoever was number one got to be the valedictorian of the class, and give the big speech. So now, who was number one was important, and Dan says that the school took their calculations out to three decimal places to try to figure out who was really number one.

Because after all, you couldn’t have more than one valedictorian…at least not in 1974 you couldn’t.

All of a sudden, Dan says that the claws came out on these four girls, as they argued amongst themselves and in front of others about who was the smart one and who were the stupid ones. Each of these girls wanted to be the valedictorian so badly that it destroyed their friendships.

Meanwhile, Dan, who was "only" number 20 in a class of 450 laughed at the spectacle, as did many of their classmates. You see, Dan realized that even at number 20, he was still in the 95th percentile, and these four girls, tied for the number one spot, arguing over who the stupid one was, were up there in the 99th. They were so much smarter than everyone else, and yet it was important to them whether one of them had a 99.999, a 99.998, a 99.997, or a 99.996. Their egos were so bound up in this, that they couldn’t understand that it didn’t really matter, and that no one would care in four years.

And that's what made them stupid.

Why do I repeat Dan’s story here? Because it’s important as we think about where the United States sits in global comparisons about education, technology, and a few other things.

A few years ago, at a faculty meeting, I was shown a YouTube video called Did You Know, that’s scaring the pants off of people. It talks about how India and China are going to catch up with, and surpass us in a few years. About how in a few years China will have more English speakers than the United States. I've also heard from other sources that America sucks in math and science because our students only come in at number 10 on whatever test it is that they're using to figure this out.

My response to that is pretty much the same as Dan’s was to the four stupid smart girls: So what?

Really. Is there any rule that says that we have to be number one in everything? Were we always number one in education or technology? No. And if we’re “only” number 10, doesn’t that still put us in the top 10 of all the countries in the world? And maybe the way other countries do their testing is different. Perhaps those countries that seem to be beating us only let their best of the best take whatever test it is that they’re beating us on, while we believe that everyone should have a chance. Maybe if we cherry-picked our best and had them take the test, we’d beat the pants off of everyone else.

But again, the question remains: Why do we always have to be number one? What’s wrong with hanging out with Dan in the 95th percentile? That’s still pretty darn good.

This fear we have of falling behind, and of being beaten by some other country, has us now trying to shoehorn students who would’ve been better in English, Psychology, Linguistics, or Music into Engineering, Computer Science, or some other technology-related field, so that we can “regain our edge.” I think that’s a very bad idea.

And I’d like to think that 37 years later, even the four stupid smart girls would understand that.