Tag Archives: better

I’m a traditionalist

I’ve always thought of myself as a traditionalist, someone who sticks to what works. Why put all of your faith in innovation when some things are perfectly fine they way they are? Like turning signals. Call me old-fashioned, but for many years, drivers shared the road just fine by sticking their hands out of their windows and pointing at which way they were going to turn. But try telling that to the cop that pulled me over last week. He wouldn’t hear it, gave me a ticket for a broken turning signal, even after I showed him, “Look, it works just fine, I just prefer to use the hand signals!” he wouldn’t even respond to me, just kind of tore the ticket out of his book and let it float down in through my open window.


But I can’t expect the police to understand the values of tradition. They’ve practically given up on everything that’s come before them. Routine police work has been overtaken by all sorts of scientific mumbo-jumbo, DNA evidence, surveillance camera tape. When was the last time you saw a detective take out a magnifying glass at a crime scene? That’s like the most basic detective skill I can think of. No, but these modern specialists are all about forensics, taking pictures, using that two-way trick mirror supposedly to make suspects feel as if they’re not being watched.

And come on, if I’m ever in a room somewhere, and half of the wall to my side is a giant mirror, of course I’m going to assume that there’s someone watching on the other side. You know how old-school cops would do it? They’d interrogate a crook with everyone in the force watching, staring. You think a mirror is going to help extract a confession? I’m telling you, this new technology is ruining the force.

It’s ruining everything. It’s ruining dentistry. I went in for a checkup last month and there was this giant TV positioned right in front of my face. Whichever way I turned, regardless of what angle the dentist reclined the chair, I couldn’t turn away, they were playing Everybody Loves Raymond. What happened to sitting in a chair and listening to the soothing sounds of drill-on-tooth? Why do we have to be constantly entertained?

And yes, I still got to hear the drill, which I thought would have been enough to distract me from Raymond, but this fancy dentist thought of that one too, there were subtitles running along the bottom of the screen. When I was a little kid, there weren’t any subtitles. If you couldn’t hear the TV, if the volume button on the set was broken, and your little brother flushed the remote down the toilet, you just had to sit there and guess what they were saying.

And we liked it that way. What’s wrong with giving a kid a lollipop after he gets out of the dentist’s office? Call me an originalist, but I hardly feel like a free toothbrush and a travel-sized tube of Colgate Total makes up for the hour that I had to sit there and feel a tiny metal hook go back and forth over my gums. And go ahead, tell me that it was my own fault, that I shouldn’t complain if I turn down the laughing gas. My grandfather didn’t get to use laughing gas when he went to the dentist, neither did my great grandfather. And they had great teeth.

And they used to tell me that stuff like that was good for you, that sitting there being strapped to a chair while your mouth was in agony was a healthy thing. Like when my kids get braces, I’m going to insist on the old kind, a whole mouthful of metal, and I want those things cemented in, the kind of an adhesive that leaves a discoloration on their teeth after they’re done straightening everything out.

Go ahead and laugh at my antiquated ways, but it’s like I always say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t try to invent something else that improves on how it currently works.” It’s not as catchy as “don’t fix it,” but the gist is the same, and catchy phrases are nothing but grammatical trickery, a bunch of newfangled words arranged in a convenient jingle. No thanks, I’ll stick to how they’ve done it before, old, tested, that’s it.

Sports, strength, hand-eye coordination

I want to be better at basketball. I’m pretty tall. I can run. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be a pretty dominant player on the court. I play once a week, and I always imagine the other team’s perception of me, of my game. Everybody’s shooting around, everybody’s sizing each other up. Then I line up for the tip off. I jump for the ball, hopefully it’s not even close. But after that, I worry that I’ve already peaked.

Sure I can sprint down the court really fast. Yeah I can stand right under the basket and block any inside shots. But rebounding? More often than not I’m just swatting the ball away. It’s like I can never get a grip. It doesn’t matter if it’s well within reach or just slightly out of my arm’s way. Even though I know that I should be grabbing the ball and bringing it close to my body, I always wind up just slapping it, like it’s a volleyball game, a bad volleyball game.

It’s got to be a coordination thing. Sometimes the ball will bounce right at me, and I’ll still miss the rebound. Passes that should wind up directly in my hands sometimes hit me in the face, followed by my own hands, also hitting me in the face, trying unsuccessfully to follow the ball, to get some sort of a hold on the object of the game.

After ten minutes of game play, the other team is on to me. As long as they can move the ball around and keep it outside, the majority of my advantage is successfully neutralized. On offense, I’ll score a couple of baskets every game, really just due to a combination of my height and dumb luck. But I don’t know. I should be better. If my brain just knew what to do on a second to second basis, I think I have a basketball player’s body. Something’s got to click eventually.

I wish I were a better skier. I’m fearless. So it’s not any sort of built-in inhibitions holding me back. It’s the technical aspects. I’m really good at holding my legs together and going straight down the trails, but where’s the skill in that? Where’s the technique? I’ll be effortlessly flying down the mountain, not really doing anything other than standing there on my giant skis. And then I look to my sides and I see these seasoned pros artfully dodging moguls and cutting symmetrical zigzags in the snow.

I try to do that. If I cut the snow on my right side I can kind of do it. I have to be going really slow. But I can’t get my body to swivel at all the other way. My right leg always gets stuck trying to bend. I’ll fall over trying these techniques out at slow speeds. Again, it’s not a matter of a lack of practice. I go skiing every season. It’s got to be an internal block, some kind of resistance holding me back.

When I was playing hockey growing up it was the same problems, a miscommunication somewhere between my brain and my legs. I could never really get the hang of the hockey stop. And when I did, when I finally learned how to stop after my parents sent me to a weeklong intensive training camp, it was still only on that one side. No matter how hard I tried on the other, I’d always wind up cutting the blade into the ice at too dramatic of an angle, instead of slowing my momentum I’d stop way too abruptly, falling and tripping over my own legs.

Whatever, sports are supposed to be fun, just a way to blow off some steam. But still, even though I know I’m doing this stuff purely recreationally, I still get into it, I still want to get better, sink more baskets, master those moguls, stuff like that. I have the energy to do it. I even have the knowledge of what I’m supposed to do, in theory. But in the moment, my body is always moving much faster than my brain. I’d love to be able to stop and think it through, but it’s usually the case that I get my moment and blow it before I even have a chance to realize where I am or what I’m doing.

I really don’t take myself this seriously. I just wish I were better, faster, stronger. And I wish I knew how to play lacrosse, and golf, and motocross, and hang gliding also. Hot air ballooning, skateboarding – I’ve never even been able to ride a block on a skateboard – cross-country skiing. I’ve never played tennis. Maybe I’m really good at tennis! I’m terrible at ping-pong. There was this kid at college that destroyed me in Super Smash Brothers every game, regardless of what character he picked, it didn’t matter that I was Captain Falcon every time. Sure I’ve changed a flat tire now and then, but oil changes? Coolant leaks? If I ever break down in the middle of nowhere without a cell phone, I’m fucked, I’m at the mercy of passing strangers. And maybe one of them will come up to me and, while they’re helping me call a tow truck, they’ll be like, “Wow, you’re pretty tall. Any good at basketball?” And what am I going to say, am I going to start going through this whole boring speech about my reflexes and how I’m pretty good at defense but otherwise I’m a huge spaz? No, I’ll just be like, “Yeah, basketball. Any word on when that tow truck’s coming?”

I want to be better

I wish I were better at guitar. I’ve been playing since I was in the ninth grade, but my skill level never really developed past decent chord strumming and very basic finger picking. It’s a combination of reasons, really. Lack of natural talent, sure. I’d never describe myself as a natural. But that’s not everything. I’m a firm believer that practice, practice, practice can overcome any built-in limitations. And over the course of my fourteen year history with the instrument, yeah, I’ve picked it up at sometimes regular intervals and worked on stuff, songs and techniques. There’s been some improvement. But I should have been able to learn all of my accumulated skill in a fraction of the time, a year really. I love playing but I get so frustrated whenever I spend too much time making stupid mistakes, not really getting my fingers to do what I know they should be doing.

I wish I could slam-dunk. I’m tall enough where you’d think just by looking at me that I could totally slam-dunk. And I can’t. I can’t even palm a basketball, but my hands are gigantic. Yeah I can jump and get my hands over the rim, but there’s just something missing. I can run. I can jump. I can hold a ball. Why can’t I slam-dunk? A few times in my life I’ve stood right under the basketball and jumped really, really hard, holding the ball in both hands, and sort of touching the rim as the ball went in. Slam-dunk? I’d say yes, but really, no. It gets me nuts when I see people significantly shorter than me fly off the ground and dunk it in.

Snowboarding. I’ve been snowboarding like five times and I could never get the hang of it. Little kids can snowboard. Every fifteen year old can snowboard. Why can’t I get the hang of it? At this point I don’t even try anymore. If I’m going to spend three hours in a car and sixty bucks on a lift ticket, I’m not going to waste my day falling down the mountain. I’ve gotten to the point where I just tell myself that I like skiing better. And I guess I do. But I’m not even that great a skier. I just kind of go, it’s automatic. I’m not doing all of those crazy controlled back-and-forths like all of the real skiers do. And then when I’m going down, a whole group of snowboarders will zoom past and I’m just like, how the hell?

Drawing. Illustration. I’ve been basically drawing the same picture of Spider-Man over and over again since I was in the second grade. Which sucks, because when I’m presented with a pencil and blank sheet of paper, I get a really strong feeling inside, all of the potential, the possibilities for creative expression. But I can never come up with anything interesting to draw. I can do a pretty decent still life, but that’s just pure technique, strictly an ability to replicate what I see in front of me. I’ve taken drawing classes. I’ve gotten pretty good at faces, features. But hands, fingers, proportions. It’s all so hit or miss.

Poker. Every time I try to play poker I make an idiot out of myself. I know the rules. I’m a fairly intelligent guy. Why can’t I develop some sort of winning strategy? Not even a winning strategy. Why can’t I develop some sort of a non-losing strategy?

Pumpkin carving. I hate how, every fall, I go online and see all of these photos of ridiculously intricate pumpkin carvings. One time I tried following a pattern of something that I found online and there was no way. I’d get that knife in and I didn’t even think about the angle at which I was cutting. And then making a sharp point? Or a nice round curve? It looked terrible.

Viennese pastry cooking. Holy shit. I found this cookbook in my mom’s kitchen called The Cooking of Vienna’s Empire. And I know my way around a kitchen. But I picked what I thought looked like the easiest recipe, a sachertorte. It was a disaster. Getting the layers of cake from one pan to another. The raspberry jelly tasted like industrial glue. Why can’t I make a decent cake? These things aren’t outside of the realm of human possibility.

Knife sharpening. There has to be a way to keep your knives sharp without taking them for a professional sharpening every month. I have like two of those stones, one of those long sharpening rods. I think they have to be just for show, just a way to get people to spend money at kitchen-good stores. I’ll sharpen back and forth, slowly and deliberately for like fifteen minutes, and then I’ll go to slice something and the blade slips and cuts my finger.

Wound management. Whenever I cut myself, I never clean it just right. Like I’ll wash it out, but then I won’t let it dry enough, or I’m not putting enough pressure on it, elevating it just right, but it keeps bleeding, and then I add too much Neosporin so the band-aid doesn’t stick, it falls off when I’m at work, and then somebody finds a band-aid in their soup. Or the band-aid sticks too well, like I keep it on for days, and then when I finally peel it off the skin is all white and sickly looking.

Man, I just wish I were better at things.