Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Haircuts & Highways

A long, long time ago in my early 20s, HGOC once told me that he would know he's in a mid-life crisis once his wife decides to get one of those short haircuts. You know what I'm talking about. I suppose at a certain point in time, women simply (or maybe agonizingly) decide that long locks no longer work and do away with them.

Admittedly, I laughed at this statement, but not because I was laughing at the hairstyles of middle-aged women. I laughed at how accurate it was. At that point I flashed back to of all the short female haircuts I had ever seen in my life and who they belonged to. My friend's observation was spot on. It wasn't something I had ever thought about until that point, but why would I?

The reason this exchange has come to mind is because I've been noticing something that middle-aged men do. Women may disagree with me, but from a male perspective I would consider this thing to be an indicator of a mid-life crisis, or at least that your life has become utterly boring. (Side note: maybe those two things are one in the same...)

So, what is this potential mid-life crisis indicator? The commute conversation.

You've definitely heard your fathers engage in this conversation with the other men at some sort of gathering with friends or family, or maybe you've even heard co-workers or clients do it at meetings or dinners. They start talking about where they work and where they live, then the conversation inevitably turns to how they commute between the two places.

The formula for this conversation is pretty uniform across the board. You talk about which freeway you take (I-95, US-23, I-696 etc.), the direction you take it (North, South, East, West), which exit you use (Exit 69 Big Beaver Road -- yes this is a real exit in Michigan), and you name a landmark because some people in the conversation will stare at you blankly because they are lost and you'll need to help them get their bearings (there's a Hooters & Home Depot right at the corner after you exit).

I've heard this conversation go down hundreds of times, but only in the past couple of years has hearing it brought me to this stark realization: I have no way of avoiding this fate. Throughout my 20s, I thought my life was going to be a never-ending party. But as I near the final stages of this glorious decade of life, I'm realizing that I'm going to be old one day, and it is going to suck.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What Do You Do?

There's a scene in the most recent Jason Segel romantic comedy, The Five-Year Engagement, where Segel's character is at a party with his fiancee, and he is meeting all of her new colleagues in the pyschology department at the University of Michigan. There is a sequence of about three introductions where basically the same thing happens: he says he's a chef, and the other person says something to the effect of "so it's like Top Chef?"

This scenario totally resonated with me. Whenever I meet new people, which has happened a lot since moving to Philly in January, 95% of the time they'll ask me what I do. Let me just put this out there. I fucking hate when this happens.

Most people ask this question within the first minute of conversation. The dialogue will go something like this:
  • Statement 1: Hi. Nice to meet you.
  • Statement 2: Where did you move from?
  • Statement 3: What do you do?

Can't they ask something else? Why do they want to know what I do? Granted, most people I meet are grad students, either from med school at Temple or b-school at Wharton, so I think some of them may actually be interested in what I do. Actually, these are the only people I meet since the only two people I know in Philly go to those schools. And just to be clear, it's not just Philly grad students who are guilty. It's all of mankind.

In any case, I'm grateful for meeting these new people, but I really do despise when conversation goes down this path. I sometimes fall into the trap of asking the question, and I hate myself for it because I know I don't give a shit about the answer 90% of the time. I'd love for all of us to get a bit more interesting with our conversations.

To that end, I'm going to start changing it up. I'll start asking people to tell me one random interesting thing about themselves or what their very first concert was. Yeah -- it'll be out of the blue, and it'll probably be really strange, but at least it'll be more captivating than hearing that someone is a consultant/banker (or was a research assistant, in the case of med school students). And if they don't want to talk to me after that because I was too weird for them or they found me boring, then I'll be cool with that. At least I'll remember Max from Randomville, Kentucky, saw Rammstein for his first concert and that it was the most harrowing experience of his life.

Now, back to the main reason I hate this question and why I told this Jason Segel story. I work in advertising. It sucks. But I bet you can guess what people ask me when I tell them I work in the industry. It goes something like this (my thoughts in parantheses):
  • Response 1: Oh that's cool. (No, not cool at all)
  • Response 2: So, it's like Mad Men? (lak;jdlfjalsk;dfja;ldsfjakla;klf!!!!!)
  • Response 3: You're like Don Draper. (see comment to Response 2 above)

I'm not a (complete) jerk, so I'm polite & go along with it by telling them I guess it's a little like Mad Men but my role is more like Pete Campbell but not a smug prick. (I'm also polite because if I anger these people, I basically have no friends.)

I really want to tell people that my job is not at all like the show. It's 2012, not the 1960s. I have a laptop & a mobile device for work, so I can basically be reached all the g-damn time. Because of that, I can't escape for three-martini lunches. I sit through meetings all day, so I can't do any actual work until 5pm. I can't hide in my office, smoke & sleep on my couch for a few hours. Those cool ads you remember that you associate with advertising -- that's like 1% of the industry. Most of the work is not that spectacular. Not everyone works on Nike, and not everyone is spitting out "1984" or a 90's Budweiser ad. There isn't a plethora of hot secretaries I can degrade or sleep with. So no, it's not at all like Mad Men.

In fact, it's more like this: