Friday, March 25, 2016

The Contents of a Man’s Pockets...(a Rant)

(Author's note: this is the closest thing you'll get to men's fashion advice in this column...)

There seems to be a movement afoot wherein grown men become very conscious about the contents of their pockets. The movement is called EDC, which is an acronym for Every Day Carry. While I will wholeheartedly agree that grown men typically have responsibilities that require the lugging about of certain material goods, the movement has taken on an air of man-boy dress up. I get that adult life can indeed take some very weird turns, and as a good Boy Scout you should “Be Prepared”. Sometimes that train of thought can run on some pretty bizarre tracks.

Case in point, in researching one of the many blogs dedicated to EDC, readers of the blog take some sort of photo of their “EDC Kit” and post it up for other readers to comment upon. One thing that struck me, is that most of the photos had far more crap in them than most folks carry on a daily basis. One sample had a full size 1911 handgun, a spare mag, a small revolver, two flashlights, and (no kidding) three knives as well as one multi-tool. I doubt very seriously any grown man packs that much crap on a daily basis going about a workaday life- even a workaday life that might involve physical violence. One thing curiously absent was a key ring. Given the presumption that the poster was indeed a grown man, one would assume you’d have some level of responsibility for managing a key of some sort. Close to 10 pounds of steel rummaging around in your pockets or belt and no key to a house, car, office, etc. I call Walter Mitty on this one.

One of the things that also struck me strange is the counterpoise to the entire EDC movement, which is The Minimalists. It is not  unusual for these folks to not carry much at all-no watch, no wedding band, only a tiny sliver of aluminum or leather that holds a driver’s license and a couple of credit cards. No cash, certainly nothing in the way of a firearm, no pocketknife. About the only thing for certain is a giant, honking smart phone which might very well replace a full sized computer in their home. It is as if any sort of material good is a physical encumbrance that goes beyond what is acceptable. A wallet or watch might slow them down or tax their stamina beyond the limit. I’ve even seen ads for a new smartphone technology that eliminates the need for a credit or ATM card- your phone can be used to get cash or pay for purchases directly. Sounds like a complete disaster.

So here is my view from middle age in my not so humble opinion on what every grown man ought to carry on a daily basis.

The required…
1.     Wallet- if you’re a grown man, you need a wallet. Period. You’ll need to carry some form of ID, most likely an ATM and credit card, insurance card, a photo of the family for the married man (or a list of phone numbers for the bachelor). In my youth, I’d sure hate to trust the number of a knock out redhead I just met to some digital ether. And speaking of phone numbers, a grown man ought to have a business card or two in there. Nothing fancy, but opportunity strikes when you least expect it. A wallet also needs to be leather. A nylon number that closes with Velcro is fine if you’re in junior high- adulthood is different.  A well-made wallet can outlast you. A wallet with a chain attached to your belt? Do I really need to go there?

2.     Cash- to go in that wallet. There is nothing that points to adolescence like being financially naked. There is simply no excuse for a grown man to be rolling around with just a couple of bucks. While I’ll admit there is a practical limit here; a man should be able to buy a tire, buy dinner, and buy a few groceries or a tank of gas without whipping out the plastic. A surprising number of life’s minor disasters can be readily solved by the application of a couple of Benjamins. Nothing says “adult” like paying the dinner tab (and the tip) with a single bill of currency in the check and walking out of the restaurant.

3.     Watch- a grown man is going to have some level of responsibility. Part of that responsibility involves getting to places on time. Punctuality is the basic level of respect you give other people- give it and expect it from others. I know your dang phone has a clock on it, I get it; but a man looking at his watch and a man looking at his phone portrays two very different messages. I can subtlety (or not so subtlety) glance at my watch and frown at some chatty Kathy to let them know that I value my time and have more pressing matters to attend to. Looking at your phone just makes you one more of zombiefied masses so common today.

 And speaking of a watch, it needs to do two things- tell the time and tell the date. Gadgetry need not apply. Calculator watches were cool when you were a kid and there is simply no need for a watch with an altimeter and GPS to keep you moving smoothly through your day. A giant dive watch is only appropriate if you’re a professional diver or a submarine captain (you’re neither so don’t). The construction of a watch is also important. A jewel encrusted golden monstrosity identifies you as a cheesy used car salesman or some other similar over-compensator trying desperately to impress when you bring nothing of value to the table. A plastic digital watch is practical and frugal- but as a man of some means you get some leeway here- a stainless or titanium watch is always a good move and appropriate everywhere in all situations. A good watch is an investment, spend some of that hard earned money and you only need one. (Ladies, a nice classic watch is the perfect gift).

4.     Jewelry. Unless we’re talking a wedding band, don’t. Class rings, frat rings, etc. are a nice memento but have no place in an adult wardrobe. In a similar vein, bracelets, chains, pinky rings, etc. make you look like a complete douche. A man’s jewelry is a wedding band and a watch. Period. And speaking of wedding bands- an appropriate wedding band is plain. A woman’s engagement ring and wedding band is a sign of prowess and status. A man’s wedding band is your wife marking her territory, no need for flash here. Metal type isn’t particularly important; gold is traditional, platinum is really too soft for a man’s ring and titanium and other exotic materials are just fine and perhaps more practical. The newer “action bands” made of plastic or silicon are tacky. If you’re engaged in high risk activities like sky diving, MMA fighting or running a machine mill where a ring presents a hazard…just take it off. Tattooed wedding bands? Just no.

5.     Pocket knife- carry a dang knife…you are not a child. Unless you’re on a plane then you should have a knife in your pocket. There is no need to go wild here. A knife is man’s first tool and contrary to all the shrinking violets out there- a knife is a terrible weapon. As a grown man you will undoubtedly have to open mail, open a box, cut a rope or some other similar task that requires a blade. A giant knife is generally not required, after all I’ve butchered a bull moose with a 3” folding knife and bigger would have been a hindrance rather than a help. Multi-tools can be handy but on most folks they look as nerdy as packing a shortwave radio. A good quality knife says a lot about the man carrying it and the world is chock full of perfectly acceptable ones. Oh, it should be sharp, a dull knife carries a message too… a bad one.

6.     Key ring- as a grown up you likely have some keys. You’re probably in a senior enough position to warrant a key to the office or other workplace. You should have a key to the house or apartment. Despite the proclivity of automakers to drift toward keyless cars, most of you will need an automotive key, depending on locale- you’ll have a post office box key. A simple key ring is fine. They’re keys, not a fashion statement. Needless to say, you should avoid nonsense key fobs like fart noise makers and what not. A functional key fob like an LED button light is totally ok. If your key ring looks like you work at the county jail, you might need to rethink what you’re packing around. Needless to say, a beer bottle opener on your key ring identifies you as a juvenile who lacks either an imagination or a rudimentary understanding of physics.

7.     Phone- adult life will almost certainly require you to carry a phone in the modern era. Consider it a necessary evil or a minor inconvenience at best. The zombie hordes run around all day staring into their phones oblivious to everything around them. That’s stupid- while rare, if you walk around in Condition White all the time someone might cut off your head and put it on a stick. Be present where you are and for God’s sake, don’t look at your stupid phone while being addressed by your superiors. It’s rude, and they won’t forget it.

      As an aside on the phone: Texting. Texts are for limited communications… like “Can you pick up a gallon of milk?” with the response of ”Will do.” That’s texting appropriately. If you need to carry on a long discourse with several decision points just call them- you have a phone in your hand after all. The younger generation seems to have forgotten that phones are for talking. I’m in the minority here, but I hate texting. It’s the lowest echelon of human communication.

The maybe….
8.     A pistol- lots of fluff on this one. Some folks habitually carry a firearm and others do so vocationally. I’ve got no issue with either provided it’s kept within the limits of reasonable. I’ve seen a number of folks packing heat in the open; it’s legal here but it still makes you look like a mouth breather man-boy playing livestock movement technicians and indigenous peoples (unless you also happen to be wearing a uniform). A gun is not a fashion or political statement, and anyone who tries to make one either needs a serious butt kicking.

Packing heat should be a serious and discreet activity for a lot of good reasons and that means concealed. That would favor smaller weapons and given the popularity of concealed carry in the modern era, makers produce a whole host of suitable pieces. A look at someone’s daily carry gives you a good idea of their occupation, their level of paranoia, or more likely their proclivity to fantasies about zombies and foreign invasions. Most of the opinion on knives and watches translates here- too big is bad, too gadgety is bad, too tiny is bad. If you find it required to pack a service pistol, a reload and a smaller revolver on top of that I would suggest either a new job, a shrink or a new zip code.

The “Just say no”….

There is a never ending list of paraphernalia that folks carry around. I’ve seen tactical flashlights on a lot of lists- could be handy in a given situation but most likely not in everyday life. I’ve seen some pretty esoteric stuff too- like a 6” long titanium prybar. I have to wonder how often a guy might suddenly need a prybar without warning and if you did how well a 6” version would work. I’ve also seen a whole host of miniaturized tools. As a guy who’s done a lot of mechanical work, substitutions for actual tools usually just spell disaster in the form of busted knuckles and stripped bolts. I know the appeal is that you’ll suddenly need a 10mm wrench and your savvy preparations will save the day when you effect whatever repair with a mini tool you just happened to have in your pocket. Truth be told, you’ll spend $50 for a worthless titanium piece of stock with a 10mm EDM hole in it that you’ll forget about every single time you need a 10mm wrench. It will then live in the bottom of a drawer or your glove box forever.

I’m a wilderness guy and have a whole kit of goods that I take there. On a lot of folk’s lists I saw a lot of fire-making kits, compasses, small axes, and one guy claimed to EDC a breakdown spear point. Given that most of these folks are straight up urban cube rats, I find it hard to believe that on the way to the office they’ll suddenly need a friction fire, a fresh cut sapling to make a fish spear and to navigate cross country out of the blue. There’s prepared and then there’s out of touch with reality.

To end my rant, I get that modern life has stripped a lot out of masculinity. Being a man who makes his living staring into an illuminated rectangle all day certainly doesn’t have a satisfying snap like gunning down big game and roasting its flesh over an open flame does. I even get that in today’s precarious times that the downward tug of a pound and a half of stainless steel .45 automatic on your hip sure does ease the apprehension about driving through certain parts of town. We’re men, it is part of our ethos to be the prepared, to be the fixer, the problem solver. For many of us, that’s a part of life that is sorely lacking. But buying a whole bunch of bespoke gadgets to fill your pockets with won’t fill the void, for that you need confidence and you earn that with callouses. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Snowmachines...more Dangerous than a Loaded Gun.

An interesting few days in the news regarding snow machines (snowmobiles for you Canadians and other illiterate types)...just kidding, snow machine is a fixed part of the Alaska lexicon, other places? Not so much.
But I digress-

In a widely circulated story- an intoxicated man hit two Iditarod teams in two seperate incidents over the weekend killing a dog and injuring three more. In another breaking story, husband of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, Todd Palin, is in intensive care after being mangled by a snow machine over the weekend as well.
But those are just a couple of stories that achieved circulation due to the notoriety of those involved. Just about every week some anonymous Alaskan will strain a machine through the trees at high speed or ride one through a hole in the ice or simply get stranded out in the toolies..some of the worst off will trigger an avalanche. Some get rescued, some get medi-vaced, and some get buried. Some just never get found. The really stupid add booze to an already precarious situation. 
Bottom line, snow machines as a mechanism of injury know few peers. Be careful out there folks.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Archery as Therapy for the Malaise of Middle Age

I'll say at the outset that this is pretty different for me. I've recently taken up archery and have been enjoying it...well, the point of this piece is that it is more than enjoyment. It's therapy.

Between my professional life as a project manager/planner, an organizational restructuring project, technical writing, a pretty well received op-ed, academic concerns and venting my spleen on political matters in print- it's left my nerves frayed.

While I'll not bore the reader with an exhaustive discussion of my work life; being the H.M.I.C. of dramatic change is not easy. People resist even positive change and are deeply suspicious of even the purest motives that come with evidence. Change that doesn't come wrapped in such gilded bona fides- well, you can guess. The end of the work day usually ends with a long sigh. On top of that, there is the usual technical writing that accompanies that sort of work. I like it. Sort of.  It's writing, but it's dry and devoid of character by design. I've previously compared it to working in a dusty barn- try as you might you can't help but choke on it. It makes me yearn for the days I worked in construction- at the end of the day my body was tired but my mind was clear. My current effort entails sitting on my ass for ten hours and leaving too tired to think.

While I'll not go into a political discussion (it's neither the intent nor scope of this blog) I will say that the current contentious environment is taxing on the mind. I'm much too old to resign the political arena to my elders and much too young to resign myself to death before I feel the effects of the decision making of the political class. I've written, briefly about it here and there, but I've had to take on the role of outside observer lest it make me absolutely crazy. I did write an opinion piece about the current public land debacle that got picked up by the Anchorage paper and was pretty well received. It was widely circulated on conservation list servers and I felt pretty good about that. Still, in politics it seems like I worry excessively about tempests I can do little about.

Which brings me to archery.

Coming home with a bunch of conflicting thoughts bouncing around inside my head isn't really the best way to end the day. When I pick up the bow, those thoughts get quiet. The less contentious get forgotten. Pretty soon I'm not focusing on rate of return or earned value management or delegate assignments or state house bills or much of anything else of that ilk.  I'm focusing on compressing 70 pounds of draw weight energy and concentrating it onto the tip of a 30" long carbon fiber arrow. Then unleashing that energy into an equation that is both relatively simple and damnably complex with the hope of driving an arrow into a spot the size of a tennis ball some 30 yards away. And I do it over, and over, and over.

While I know nothing about "zen", I do know a little about fly-fishing. The physics are there in plain sight but do the slightest thing wrong and the whole system collapses. With the bow, drop your string arm elbow and your point of impact radically changes. Change your anchor and you may not even hit the target. Forget to open your grip and you might sail an arrow into the ethereal beyond. Shooting well requires a complete focus on what you're doing. As I've learned, if you're shooting the bow and thinking about something back at the office you'll soon be thinking about where your $12 arrow just went.

When you're at full draw you had better be all in the here and now. Unlike rifle shooting, the bow requires a presence. With the rifle, everything except my breath, the trigger and the crosshairs goes away. With the bow I have to be acutely aware of my feet, my back, my arms, my neck, the angles of my legs, the pressure of the release against the back wall. I can break a rifle down into pure math- feet per second, ballistic drop, foot-pounds of energy, time of flight. I can't do that with a bow. That's why bow ads and reviews are so full of subjective language. Non-sensical words like "shootability", "smooth" and "forgiving". Even the mathematical standard for how fast a bow will shoot, IBO speed, has almost zero bearing on how fast it will shoot in the real word. It is delightfully frustrating.

My job as a planner requires that I spend a lot of my day in the future and my endeavors as a writer usually entails a substantial dwelling on the past. As an archer however- the discipline demands being in the present.

And that's just what I needed.