Friday, October 7, 2011

My Manliness: An Essay

"Where do you have to go for your errands?" Grant asked me, as I put shirts away in my closet last week.

"I don't know," I said with a shrug. "Or, shit, I definitely have to replace my shower nozzle. So...probably, what, Bed, Bath & Beyond?"

"No, dude, you need to go to Home Depot," he laughed.

"Hmmm. I think I was just looking for a reason to go to Bed, Bath & Beyond."

"You should be looking for a reason to go to Home Depot!"

"Oh my god, have you ever been to Bed, Bath & Beyond?"

This is my existence as a man. It's one long misunderstanding of what manly men are supposed to do. Or I imagine that's not entirely accurate. I guess a lot of the time it's me understanding what manly men do and then very purposefully ignoring it. Oh, what, I'm supposed to eat red meat, tell you all about the UCLA/USC rivalry AND know what's wrong with my car? I've got romantic comedies to watch, people!

But it always comes back to my dad telling me and my brother at the dinner table years ago, "I failed you as a father." It was definitely light-hearted, clearly not true and one of the funniest things the man's ever said. But, when it comes to knowing the manly things, my brother and I are somewhat, if not totally, inept. And I'm worse than my brother. We can't build shit, we don't understand cars and we won't follow sports. But at least my brother can barbecue a steak while talking about Game of Thrones or Call of Duty. Hell, he was probably already in the lead when he asked me, "What the hell is Two Weeks Notice?"

Recently, I took a wild turn and joined a fantasy football league. Why? Because my roommate and friends were doing it and I wandered into the basement on Labor Day wearing a bathing suit after partying my ass off on a Sunday evening. They needed an eighth person and they promised me it wouldn't be much work. Well, now, I'm in first place. In fact, I'm undefeated, leading one friend to check the standings once and drunkenly yell, "Jake doesn't even fucking like football!"

It's true. I only watch the sport one or two days out of the year: Super Bowl and New Year's Day (if I'm not in Mexico). Some years ago, I was at a Super Bowl party with an ex-girlfriend. Her friends' boyfriends talked about sports in the '90s and I laid down all of my knowledge about basketball and baseball from the decade, admitting I was a huge fan up until I was a teenager. They were taken aback, as they had heard the rumors that I was some pansy writer vegetarian. One of them asked, "What the hell happened when you became a teenager?" The girl I was with leaned over and answered for me, "He discovered poetry."

That had some weight and truth to it, though it was also because I realized I didn't give a good goddamn fuck about baseball. And then writing and music pushed out my dedication to basketball, though I still follow the playoffs.

I was on the phone with a friend, discussing football players' stats (because I look that shit up now for fantasy reasons), my brother stared at me, grinned and said, "You happy? Talking about sports makes you happy now? So you're into sports now? Just gonna leave your ol' brother behind, eh? Fuck you! I have to start talking about cars now!"

My old roommates were huge Angels fans. Needlessly to say, they stopped inviting me to watch games with them in the living room, because I'd just get drunk on cheap beer and heckle the television. I wasn't rooting for anyone but me then and watching baseball on television is usually tallied up as a loss in my book. Once, they invited my brother over. He said all kinds of solid observations about trades, injuries, RBIs, ERAs and made thoughtful suggestions about what he thought would improve certain players' games. My roommates were impressed. They all told him how much manlier he was than me and that it was cool to have a Kilroy watching sports with them. Then, around the seventh inning stretch, they realized he kept sneaking looks at his phone and took it away from him. After going through his phone's text messages, it became apparent that everything my brother had said in the last hour was actually his friend coaching him. My brother cackled and then made one last observation of the game: "That pitcher's name is really long." They didn't invite him back.

Thus is the Kilroy Brothers' charm: a resonating mockery of most things manly.

The two of us thrive on refusal. If someone tells us to be interested in anything, especially something manly, we automatically become less interested in it. And, not only that, but we also become obnoxiously uninterested in it. This, I believe, has lead to our ability to talk shit better than the average citizen. We actually don't get much flack for not knowing what tools are which, what team won what championship or what makes any car run. But we take serious interest in everything (another Kilroy Brother trait). We want people to tell us about building and mechanical projects. The two of us are sincerely interested in someone telling us why something is interesting to them. We just don't want someone to tell us we should or need like it. Because then it becomes twenty minutes of us making fun of that person until they feel like a dopey fuckard. Nobody in there right mind would put either of us on their list of Top Five People To Have On Your Side In A Physical Fight. However, I think we'd make it to a lot of lists if they fights were verbal.

At some young age, I imagine we were presented with a crossroads: get interested in manly things or get good at talking shit. We very definitely went with the latter. Nobody really hassles us anymore. We love being invited to do manly things, but we'll goddamned if someone's gonna make us do anything. Example: Both of us get invited to go rock-climbing, though neither of us actually rock-climb. Our friends know this. They invite us out to the spots, very nicely ask us if we want to climb and we very politely refuse. Why do we go? Because we love hanging out, camping and drinking. Our interest in sports goes about as far as makeshift games with friends and doing our best to not die of a heart attack.

But, as for general manly interests, I had an imagination that wouldn't tolerate the main interests of manly stereotypes. I built with Legos and my tools were plastic, so I never asked my dad for a real tool belt, since, to me and my wildly delusional brain, I already had one. I never asked my dad to explain an engine to me, because I had bicycles and go-karts. When he tried one time, I was 12 and told him, "This sounds like math."

For the most part, my dad never pushed any interests on me. But he support and/or paid for any interests I discovered, from drums to website software. He never told me who or how to be. His philosophy was, "If I'm a good father, I'll raise a good son who has good interests of his own." However, my dad was a half-breed: half-manly man, half-not-so-manly-man, which is, in all honesty, probably where I truly fall. My dad's the editor of a racing magazine who self-published a poetry book. He can fix things around the house, but he always says he just barely did it. Realizing my meek frame and spazzy outlook on life as a child, my father probably assumed it would've been dangerous for me to do anything with hammer.

I mean, I'm the son of a journalism father and an English major mother. All I did was read. And maybe my brother looked at the television when an old war or cowboy movie was on (they were on at my house all the time) and then looked at me reading some chapter book in bed and made his decision to be the slightly manlier son, and, lately, he seems to only read books about history and environmentalism.

But, still, my brother's manly by family's standards. The influence of cinematic manliness has never really been there for us. My father's brothers want to drink good beer and discuss Irish music, literature and history more than anything else. My mother's only living brother is a reformed backpacker and current artsy carpenter. However, the one who passed away was a football-watching business owner who left this world when I was in elementary school. And then one grandfather taught me how to play the tin whistle and the other took me to see musicals.

I'm a product of my upbringing and my upbringing was whimsical.

Nobody in my family was fixing up a classic car or following hockey. Also, I'm selling my father, uncles and grandfathers short here for a good laugh. Everyone took me camping and fishing, though my interest in fishing died away when I stopped eating meat as a kid...which, come to think of it, probably sent me down this path in the first place. I mean, what, you're gonna explain power tools to a boy who thinks lambs are fucking adorable?

No, because that boy is going to grow up into a man who was legitimately thrilled when he realized he had to buy home decor for his new place. Shit, a few days ago, I had to buy a standing light. Did I go to Home Depot? No. Instead, I went to Lightbulbs, Etc. Is that because I'm not so manly or because I have really dope taste? Well, it didn't matter either way because I certainly don't have very much money and Lightbulbs, Etc. is crazy fucking expensive apparently. So, keeping son of a bitch manly man Grant in mind, I ended up going to Home Depot, which my friends call "Homes Deeps," a la Lord Of The Rings, and scored a really nice lamp for a totally good price. Good job, Home Depot.

Also, that reminds me of the time that Chase took my brother and I to Home Depot when he was going to build my family a new garage door. It was like the cool uncle taking his two sissiest nephews to carry stuff for him. When Chase would say, "Oh, I also need to check out somesortofsomething," my brother would do something like knock on wood and say things like, "Maple, eh? Pretty strong stuff here. You know, you could build a mighty fine shed with this." This line of silliness would lead to me laughing like an idiot and Chase just shaking his head in sympathy. Sometimes, Sarvas would invite the two of us along just to see how the other half views Home Depot. Guess what the answer is? It's like a way less exciting version of Target, where there's no popcorn or pretzals and we can't buy season two of any goddamn TV show.

The friends I see regularly are men who love Home Depot but also maintain lots of half-breed tendencies. The three guys I probably hang out with the most frequently are Grant, Rex and Chase. They all rock-climb, two of them surf, two of them wrestled in high school and they've all been in fights. I don't do any of that. I've rock-climbed a handful of times, but I mostly go with them on trips to hang out in the wilderness. I've surfed a few times, but I almost always prefer reading on the beach. I played junior varsity basketball for one year and then got over it when they put me on varsity. And I've talked my way out of every fight I've ever talked my way into.

However, I've also watched Love Actually, Grey's Anatomy and The Notebook with those dudes. Also, we definitely maybe saw Definitely, Maybe together in theaters on Valentine's Day one year. So...those are the sorts of half-breeds I hang out with. My high school friends, on the other hand, will never understand why I like anything.

I see manhood as the ever-changing existence. It's an entire spectrum. Sure, I've been known to do yoga while watching several episodes of Sex And The City, but I've also gotten drunk as hell on whiskey in the woods of Missouri. I write poetry, but I also swear like a sailor. My brother once had a long discussion about the properties of being a man. We decided that he saw man as the hunter and I saw man as the poet. That's where it stands, I suppose.

And, in all honesty, the spectrum is so wide that I probably do lots of manly shit by default. But it's a lot more interesting (and manly?) to observe the differences than the similarities. From a distance, I can't imagine it'd be obvious that I own both Sleepless In Seattle AND You've Got Mail when I get all hammered-ass drunk on Jameson and threaten to kill everyone while cackling. It's just a strange balance being a man sometimes.

Ah well. Whatever. Grant went with me to Bed, Bath & Beyond last night so I could buy pillows. And guess what? Bed, Bath & Beyond was totally amazing!


Anonymous said...

What if the hunter wrote poetry?

Jason Kornfeld said...

Never doubt yourself Jake.

Jake Kilroy said...

Rex (I'm assuming) - I would probably read hunter poetry. Also...WHAT IF THE POET HUNTED?

Jason - Without doubt, all we're left with is arrogance. Is your mind bloooooooown?

Anonymous said...

I judge a man by his character,his work ethic, by his ability to endure the worst even when times are at their best, by his sense of decency and social justice, and by his willingness to forgive others.

oh and he has to be able to drink whiskey.

good post jake.