Saved by the Shave

I never thought shaving cream could change my life, but that’s the situation I find myself in these days.

A little while back, I wrote about my quest to dress a little better. I had considered trying one of those services which sends you clothes each month based on your style.

prorasoI ultimately passed on that idea, but did enroll in a plan which sends me grooming items along with some personal products once a month. I need all the help I can get.

My first box came last month. Along with some fun socks that make my daughter cringe, I received a small tube of shaving cream. I figured I would give it a shot.

I don’t want to exaggerate, but that first shave made me feel like world hunger had ended, people of all religious and political persuasions had joined in a group hug, and I would find a never-ending pan of pizza in my kitchen every day.

Fun socks and awesome shaving cream? They had a fan for life.

The box had a few other items, but none made an impression on me like the shaving cream did. I even went online and bought two tubes of it so I could have it forever. That’s the whole point of this service – send you sample sizes so you get sucked in and buy the real thing.

My second box came a week or so ago, but didn’t have the same impact. I did get some pretty neat sunglasses that fold up (but also make me look like those really big ones that people with eye problems have to wear.

There was also some shampoo and hair product which I will probably only use as a gag. But for the second straight month, the box included a cologne sample.

I really don’t have anything against people who wear cologne. That’s just not my style. My wife doesn’t particularly like strong scents as well so the thought of trying out a new cologne just doesn’t enter my mind. I have ended up tossing both samples.

Because I don’t want to waste product like that, I e-mailed the company and asked if there was a way they could put me on some “no-cologne list” for future shipments. I never intended to buy the full size product, I explained to them.

They sent me a really nice e-mail explaining that the whole point of the service is the discovery of new products. They said that I could fine tune my personal profile to make sure I received things more in line with my tastes. They told me that they couldn’t possibly have each person pick exactly what they did and didn’t want without running the risk of screwing things up.

Then they said the weirdest thing – they told me I could share items I didn’t like with friends of mine.

If guys could easily walk up to each other and say, “Hey, Hank, I think this cologne will smell great on you,” don’t you think we wouldn’t need to send away for a box if items once a month with items that might improve our grooming?

I appreciate that they think that might happen, but they might as well put something in next month’s box to treat a black eye if they expect me to go around telling guys what scent I thing would work for them.

But at least I’ll have a close shave when my friend decks me.

How I Would Have Met Your Mother

I have four older brothers. I spent a lifetime having someone offer me something only to pull it away at the last second and tell me I can’t have it. This can happen over and over again and gets quite annoying. Then when they finally get tired of the game, they give it to you and you wonder why they went through all that trouble when they could have just given it to you in the first place.

That’s the Ted and Robin storyline.

Now imagine in the midst of all this, they tell you that they have something else for you. Once you get it, they rip it away and throw it in the trash. You were just SO. FREAKING. HAPPY. to have that thing, but now it’s gone.

That’s Ted and the mother.

And that’s why the decisions that “How I Met Your Mother” creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas made for last night’s finale bother me today. It may make sense to some viewers, but they went through incredibly great pains to tell us why it made no sense to the point that they made Robin float away like Jesus. Then they did it anyway because they decided to seven years ago and didn’t realize that when the old footage of the kids saying Ted should chase Aunt Robin played, they could have easily filmed Josh Radnor saying:

“At one point, I thought that too. So did she. And it might make sense to some other people, but the story isn’t about how I have the hots for her. It’s about how I used to feel that way and how the experiences I had with Aunt Robin and our friends gave me what I needed to meet your mother. It’s about, no matter how clichéd it sounds, you sometimes find what you need when you’re not even looking. Your mother is the love of my life and losing her hurts me every day, but I can go on because of you two and because of friends like Aunt Robin. That’s why the story focuses so much on her and Uncle Barney and Aunt Lily and Uncle Marshall. They didn’t introduce me to your mother, but I couldn’t have met her without them.”

That’s an ending on par with Ted’s 45 Days speech and the two-minute date and Lily telling Marshall about his father dying. That’s the emotion that set this show apart, not a jagov who screws everything up with grand gestures making the cheesiest grand gesture of all that undoes so many plot points that had been painstakingly laid out since the pilot.

An Arresting Problem

Experts say that everything you do online could potentially haunt you forever. If that’s the case, I have put myself in deep trouble this week.

We are in the middle of rehearsals for the upcoming production of “Sin, Sex & the CIA” at Hanover Little Theatre, and I volunteered to help find an important prop.

We need handcuffs. You’ll have to come to the show to find out why, but we I promise that you will laugh when you see why we needed them.

At first, I thought this was a pretty simple activity. I have helped chase down various props for several other productions. We have loaned items from our house for set decorations. That’s just how it works in community theatre.

But this one carried a risk I had not anticipated when I started searching on Amazon for handcuffs.

First of all, to put it delicately, a lot of people don’t buy handcuffs with a theatrical production or law enforcement in mind. I knew this going in, but those kind of “recreational” uses jump right to the top of the search listings.

That’s not why we needed them for the play. I promise.

So once I stopped giggling over handcuffs covered with fur, I started to take a look at the reviews from people who had bought the ones that looked normal.

Some of the comments came from people who had bought the item as a child’s play toy. But some others came from adults who seemed very eager to share just how and why they needed handcuffs and how this particular item worked.

Now I’m all for consenting adults doing what they want to do, but I really don’t see the need to share that information online, especially when some of the reviews used what seemed like real names.

I moved past that, however, and did a little more research. When I saw a pair of handcuffs that looked OK, but might not have fit our needs, I checked the section below the item where it tells you what things that people who bought this thing also bought.

Once again, I did not need all of that information. But now I am worried that some of the ladies wearing the “lingerie” that some people paired with handcuffs may catch a cold. It really didn’t cover much.

Once I re-gained my composure I went ahead and bought the handcuffs we needed – without any additional items that might shock anyone in the audience.

As they made their way through the shipping process, I started to worry a little. If anyone ever gains access to my browser history, what would they think?

I just needed handcuffs for fun, not for any nefarious purpose. I didn’t mean to click on any links that may have led to something unseemly. I’m a curious guy. You can’t help but wonder what other folks are doing.

I promise I only bought the handcuffs, and we only need them to make you laugh. I guess you’ll have to come out for yourself to make sure I’m telling the truth.

Losing Streak

Every day, I take my life into my own hands. I need a lot of courage to survive.

No, this has nothing to do with my commute on windy country roads. I’m talking about playing Scrabble with my wife.

The computer program we use to play the word game throughout the day isn’t called Scrabble, but that’s what we’re playing. We use one of those Facebook games to take each other on throughout the day.

A better explanation, however, is that Maria uses the game to beat the pants off me. She wins more than 80 percent of the games. So why do I worry about my life?

Those other 18 or 19 percent of games could spell doom for me. I have recounted the Parcheesi incident in previous columns and don’t want a repeat of that. (In short, she was one move from beating me at Parcheesi, I made an amazing comeback, she got mad and wouldn’t play the game with me for years.)

My wife isn’t unbalanced or anything. She just gets some pretty serious competitive juices when playing board games. And not only do I run the risk of stirring them up on those occasions when I win, but I do something on occasion which might send her over the edge.

I cheat.

There, I said it. She knows it, but I needed to admit it publicly. Now I don’t really think I’m cheating, but I need to conform to the generally accepted public definition of the word.

If I ever got dragged in front of a court of law on this matter, I would throw myself on the mercy of the court. You see, when you play Scrabble online, and you know that the Internet also contains websites where you can input the letters you have and get a list of every possible word you could play, you pretty much have no choice, right?

I think that’s true, especially when your regular opponent has a distinct advantage. She’s really, really smart and reads a lot of books. I’m just a poor TV watching, sports-loving, chicken-wing eating guy. How can I expected to know all those words?

To be fair, I don’t cheat all the time. I do hunt around the board and see what words I can make, but when I have a rack with a Z, a Q, three E’s, a W and a R, I pretty much have no choice.

I also think the whole aspect of cheating goes out the window when she plays an 82-point word on her first play of the game, pretty much dooming me to yet another loss. At that point, I’m not cheating. I’m just trying to make the score respectable.

I have a ton of fun playing so I keep it up knowing that I’m tempting fate. I won three times in five games in February so I started to get a little worried. But she keeps accepting my game requests and has won six of the last seven as I write this.

Even though I’m losing, I feel a little safer.

The Brians Go on Hiatus

I usually find myself in a celebratory mood about this time of week. I’m usually ready to take a wistful look backwards at the year in cinema.

No, not The Oscars. I’m talking about The Brians, the awards I have handed out for the best movies I have seen in the theatre each year since 2003. You know, the important awards.

Sadly, we won’t be celebrating any winners this year. I have to admit that 2013 was a movie-going bust in our house.

I quickly looked into the mug where I keep movie ticket stubs and only found two movies from last year – “Oz: The Great and Powerful” and “Now You See Me.” I can’t justify simply picking between two films.

I definitely wanted to see other movies, but never got a chance. Either we had too much going on or just didn’t feel like schlepping out to the theatre. Eventually, I’ll catch films like “42,” “The Great Gatsby,” “The Way Way Back,” “The To Do List,” “Gravity,” “Captain Phillips” and “Saving Mr. Banks.” I can’t promise anything on “Smurfs 2,” however.

So The Brians are off. But there is good news.

First of all, we have already seen three movies this year – “Anchorman 2,” “Monuments Men” and “The Lego Movie,” so this will only be a one-year hiatus. Secondly, the real reason for the dearth of candidates is pretty important.

We have instituted a new tradition at our house, one that started before 2013, but definitely kept us much too involved to worry about what the movie studios wanted to ram down our throats. On pretty much every Friday, we watch a movie together.

But this is much more than just popping in something which we missed on the big screen. This is an education for our daughter and time machine for my wife and I. Our movie nights typically showcase a classic from the 1980s.

I bet those movies in the list of things we missed could end up delighting and entertaining me, but they would pale in comparison to introducing “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” or “Real Genius” to a new generation.

We don’t solely focus on the movies that got Maria and I through high school and college, but that is our main focus. The primary goal is to showcase the kind of comedy which helped lay the building blocks for today’s filmmakers.

That goal came into clearer focus with the death of writer/director/actor Harold Ramis last week. We’ve already shared “Meatballs,” “Ghostbusters,” and “Groundhog Day” and hope the lessons from those films got across.

Of course, we will probably have to hold off on “Stripes,” “Caddyshack” and “Animal House” for a few years, but I like knowing that we have more to look forward to in this project.

We have so many entertainment choices – current and classic – it’s OK once in a while to look back and remember what got us here. The Brians will return. They just needed some time to remember why movies mean so much in the first place.

The VCR Connection

As I looked through an advertising circular recently, something caught my eye. I didn’t particularly need the item, but knew I had to share the information with the rest of the family.

Someone – I don’t remember the store – had a DVD player on sale for $20. I drifted into old man mode and remarked that I could not believe a DVD player could cost so little even though these kinds of deals have existed for a few years now.

I guess the deal caught me by surprise because already have a DVD player. Since we don’t even watch them very often, I hadn’t checked out prices on new players for a while.

That didn’t stop me from thinking back to a time when buying a device to consume media didn’t cost less than a tank of gas. Of course, this notion amused our teenage daughter who finds discussions of things like typewriters and record players and VCRs a constant source of comedy.

So we started talking about the time when my wife and I bought a VCR together. We had been dating for less than a year. Our mutual love of television spurred this decision, quite possibly the first major one in our relationship.

Yes, we’re the kind of people who mark “jointly buying a VCR” as a major moment in our life together. Deal with it.

This was sometime before the spring of 1993. I don’t remember exactly when we made the purchase, but I do know that we used the machine to record the final episode of “Cheers” that spring. I worked nights back then so could not guarantee that I would see this important event.

We approached the decision very rationally and figured that we could easily justify the cost, which was significant back then for two folks not making a lot of money.

If we had a VCR, Maria could catch up on shows if she fell asleep in front of the TV. Then I could come over to her apartment the next day to watch the shows I missed while working. Better yet, we could watch our favorite programs together on the weekend if we wanted.

So we went to some big electronics store in Lancaster and took a leap of faith. I cannot stress how much this signified the strength of our relationship for me. If I made a TV commitment with someone, it was pretty serious.

The whole thing worked out wonderfully in the end. I couldn’t have written a better script. Oh, yeah, Maria and I stayed together too.

I have no idea whatever happened to that old VCR. In fact, we don’t even have one in the house. I thought of that recently as I came across a box of old video tapes while looking for something else in the basement.

I managed to sell the last VCR we had at a yard sale a couple of years ago. That meant I had nowhere to turn to look at those tapes, some of them which had no identification as to what they contained.

I guess I could always go to the store and buy a new one. That wouldn’t take as much of a commitment as it did 20 years ago, but it would probably cost more than a DVD player.

Dressing for Success

I might not always give off this vibe, but I like to dress up. I had to wear a coat and tie all through high school and have spent a good number of my professional years in a tie, so it kind of makes sense.

These days, however, I don’t get many opportunities. I do have to dress what is commonly called “business casual” these days and don’t get too sloppy in my free time, but the chances to really spiff myself up are few and far between.

Every once in a while, I vow to change that. I promise to wear a tie once in a while just to throw people off, but never follow through.

However, my presence in the world of social media has me once again considering a style overhaul. This time, I am falling prey to the companies who offer monthly clothing deliveries.

These companies advertise a no-hassle arrangement where they send you clothes that fit your style once a month. You answer some questions, and they determine what kind of clothes you need. You pay a fee, keep what you want and return what you don’t like.

Easy peasy, right? That’s how they suck you in. Things get a little quirky after that, however,

These websites often don’t let you see the clothes you might get until you create an account. Sometimes, you even have to give your credit card information and commit to the first month’s offering before you can even get a good idea of what you might get.

Sure, they show some “samples” on the front page of the site, but who knows how accurate that is. I know the whole point is to make shopping easier for guys who hate shopping, but I want a little sneak peak for what they think will look good on me.

Sometimes I worry whether I can pull off more current styles at my age, but I have an even bigger concern. Are these clothes they promise to send me ever created with short chubby guys in their middle 40s with stubby legs in mind?

I try not to have a too negative outlook on my physical appearance, but let’s be realistic here. I never really looked like the guys modeling clothes, now more so than ever.

So when I go through the hassle to sign up for this service and pay for my first shipment, will I end up with a bunch of items that say they are my size, but don’t even come close to fitting me? Will I have to spend just as much in tailor fees just to look presentable in these clothes? Will they make me look fatter?

These questions pretty much sum up why I have started the registration process for a few of these sites, but never followed through. My cheapness plays a role as well since the shirt and pants I’m wearing as I write this cost less than $30 combined.

And I still look pretty good. The high fashion of the Internet can wait.

Saving America

I know what America needs. I don’t mean I can solve our myriad political and social problems. That’s an impossible task for anyone to challenge.

But I know what to do so we can all smile again, as long as we forget all those political and social problems. This may sound ambitious, but I know how to make everyone happy again.

All I need to do is to convince some of the biggest stars of television and movies to band together for a televised weekly variety show. Oh, and I need to convince a network to broadcast the show.

No big deal, right?

I fondly remember the bygone days of television when the people we loved would show up on the Carol Burnett Show or the Love Boat or Battle of the Network Stars. However, the whole notion of branding – as well as network competition – has stopped a lot of that.

“Scrubs,” one of my favorite shows ever, tried to reunite all the people who had an impact on the life of J.D., the main character, in the finale. But some actors could not do it because their current show on another network would not agree to the appearance.

These walls have started to come down a little since then, partially because of the Internet. Actors who are friends off screen will work together on a small project for online release just for fun. Adam Scott from “Parks & Recreation” has led four installments of “The Greatest Event in Television History,” which are merely goofy remakes of old television intro segments padded with hysterical back stories.

Watching those as well as clips from “Saturday Night Live” and some of the late night talk shows convinced me that we need to harness all these forces into one weekly hour-long show that will eventually solve all of our problems.

We can individually surf the Internet and share links for a laugh, but why not focus the star power into sixty minutes one night a week? The cast does not have to be regular – one week we can feature Paul Rudd, Jimmy Kimmel, Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling while the next can spotlight Tina Fey, Jennifer Lawrence, Adam Scott and Jon Hamm.

And, of course, Justin Timberlake will stop by every week just because.

I defy you to find someone who would not find this concept entertaining. Zooey Deschannel could swing by to sing a little, possibly a duet with Ed Helms playing the banjo that sounds awful on paper, but would ultimately end up charming us. Then there would be a sketch that somehow involved James Franco, Sandra Bullock, Adam Palley and Alyson Hannigan.

If you like to waste time like I do and follow some of these folks on social media, you would see that they really want to do something like this. We need to stop searching  the Internet for clips of their funny work from various shows and pack it all into one, big package.

Of course, whatever network agreed to broadcast this would probably put it at 10 p.m., and I would never be able to stay awake for it so I would have to watch the clips individually online. But the show would exist, and we would all be happier. That’s what really counts.

The Gravy Train Has Ended

As the youngest of eight children, I grew up with a bunch of perks. Some recent developments, however, make me think the gravy train has started to slow down.

My siblings remind me all the time how easy I had it growing up. They joke that I was my parents’ favorite. I don’t deny that I had it good, but I think that happened more because the first seven kids wore out my parents. They didn’t like me more – they just were sick of dealing with things.

That’s how I ended up having a small exception to the “we won’t buy anyone a car” rule. I didn’t get a car, but we did end up with an extra vehicle during my later teenage years when my Dad got a company car at the same time we already had two perfectly fine vehicles (well, if a green Ford Pinto hatchback qualifies as “perfectly fine”).

The brother and sister closest to me were home from college for the summer around this time so the rationale I remember is that the extra car would make life easier for all of us. But I probably did benefit more than anyone else, especially during the busy school year.

I look back on things like that more and more fondly with each passing year, especially since my siblings are starting to ruin each and every great memory I have of being the youngest. They have started to do something which completely changes the family dynamic.

They have started to retire.

When the first one announced her plans, I felt a wave of joy. I knew she had worked hard and deserved to enjoy the next phase of her life. Her husband had retired a few years ago so they had plenty of adventures ahead.

Then a second sister retired earlier this month. And a brother made a comment about the kind of place where he would like to set down roots after retiring.

Pretty soon, I’ll be outnumbered. I love social networking but will eventually have to quit Facebook because my feed will have nothing but pictures of my siblings enjoying the good life as I continue to slave away.

Sure, I may have had a few more chances to drive a car by myself as a teenager, but that hardly makes up for the constant trips to Disney or the beach that I will have to hear about over the next decade or so.

To pile on, another sibling has started to work from home so I have to hear about the “difficult” commute down the hall to his home office. I just can’t catch a break these days.

One of the worst things about growing up the youngest in a large family is that I had seven historians following my every move. Well, not every move, just the ones that would make embarrassing stories.

They have continued this role, but now they only chronicle the good things in their lives. And I can’t even get my revenge because they won’t care when I get a chance to retire. This just isn’t fair.

Do the Olympics Have Sports Anymore?

I’m sure everyone has heard the news by now. Due to a knee injury, marketing plans for NBC’s coverage of the upcoming Winter Olympics are up in the air. This knee injury may prevent millions of Americans from watching the Games.

Well, that’s the version I gleaned from my online interactions. In reality, American skiing star Lindsey Vonn announced she couldn’t ski next month at the Olympics because of an injury to her knee.

But why worry about the health and dreams of an athlete when we can talk about marketing plans and commercials?

I know that makes me sound curmudgeonly, but if it’s curmudgeonly to actually care about the sports more than the ratings, I’ll wear that badge with honor.

These days, I occupy a strange niche of sports fans. The sports themselves mean more to me than any of the stuff which goes on around them. The television networks, however, have little time for my kind because we’re a dying breed.

I do feel bad that Vonn won’t be able to ski in the Olympics, but this notion that she will kill the way NBC promotes the competition is just silly. Instead of breathless promo after breathless promo about her, we’ll have anguished profile after anguished profile about how her dreams have been dashed.

While that stuff is going on, people like me will be screaming at the television, “There are actual sports happening right now! Show them to me!”

Crazy, right?

Despite the fact that television coverage of the Olympics does everything it can to show us as little actual competition as possible, I remain entranced by the spectacle. As a kid, I dreamed of one day wrestling in front of the whole world on that stage.

Back then, Bruce Jenner ended up on the Wheaties box after he won his event. The post-game plans for athletes these days come way before anyone steps on the medal stand and sometimes don’t even reflect who won the competition.

Things have improved a little bit with the ability for NBC to stream sports online. Folks like me can tune into the things they love to watch that way and leave the “Today Show” treatment to the prime time program aimed at people who may not care who wins or loses.

I should learn to appreciate this development. I can plan my own schedule instead of sitting through teaser after teaser for something they will only show in a heavily-edited package at 10:50 p.m. That kind of stuff happens far too often these days.

So while NBC frets over how to re-frame the storylines they pre-determined months ago, I will scour the Internet for the best time to catch some curling action or live coverage of biathlon, one of those sports that continues to fascinate me.

As long as they don’t try and compare someone who hurts themselves to Lindsey Vonn, I’ll be OK. I don’t have anything against her. I just want to focus on the things that actually happen at the Olympics. I’m a weirdo like that.


How I Would Have Met Your Mother

I have four older brothers. I spent a lifetime having someone offer me something only to pull it away at the last second and tell me I can’t have it. This can happen over and over again and gets quite annoying. Then when they finally get tired of the game, they give it to you […]

Music in 2012

So all kinds of people have started to come out with their end-of-the-year lists. I took a look at a couple of ones related to music and realized just how old I am. On Pitchfork’s Top 100 songs for the year, I recognized one. Uno. And since “Call Me Maybe” really existed as a pop […]

Saved by the Shave

Saved by the Shave

I never thought shaving cream could change my life, but that’s the situation I find myself in these days. A little while back, I wrote about my quest to dress a little better. I had considered trying one of those services which sends you clothes each month based on your style. I ultimately passed on […]

The VCR Connection

As I looked through an advertising circular recently, something caught my eye. I didn’t particularly need the item, but knew I had to share the information with the rest of the family. Someone – I don’t remember the store – had a DVD player on sale for $20. I drifted into old man mode and […]