Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11/01, Watertown, NY

Like everyone else I remember where I was when the Towers fell.
I was going out for a bike ride, and I stopped by a local sporting goods store in Watertown, NY for an energy bar, because I had the day off and planned to do a longer ride. When I got to the shop, they weren't open yet, in spite of it being a bit past nine, so I knocked on the door.
The owner came to the door and said sorry, they'd been listening to the news, because an airplane hit one of the Twin Towers. At the time, we assumed it was an accident and we were waiting to hear more, so I set off on my ride and was gone for a couple hours.
When I got back home I checked online to see what happened, only to hear that both towers had fallen.
The next 24 hours were pretty surreal. I was a New Jersey boy living way upstate because of my then-estranged wife's job with the military. The first thing I did was try to call my folks back home to make sure they were alright. I had friends who worked in the Trade Center neighborhood. After a nervous few hours of overloaded phone lines, I found out everybody in my crowd was OK, if pretty shaken in a few cases.
But Watertown was a ghost town. The bike shop I worked in was in the mall, which was deserted that day except for the employees. A lot of the families there were associated, like me, with Fort Drum, and I found out from a few of the Army wives that their husbands had all been called on to the post and told to be ready for travel (the 10th Mountain would be one of the first and longest-serving units in the Afghanistan campaign).
It was scary, and it was weird to be so far from home, from where the attack had hit, and still be somehow in the middle of the storm.

The other thing I remember was the support from the rest of the world. Canadian families took in New Yorkers whose planes had been grounded in Toronto, world leaders made speeches of support and people everywhere kept vigil.

And New Yorkers... well, they were amazing. Yes, they were scared, shocked, traumatized, but they refused to be broken. In typical New York fashion, the people who rubbed elbows every day, who blared horns, swore at each other and cut in line, stood up and watched out for each other.

As that day rolls around once again, how do we remember? Do we honor the innocent dead? Do we remember the courage shown that day, by the NYPD, NYFD and the regular people of Flight 93, the ones who fought back? Do we remember the time when the entire world stood with us as brothers? Or do we descend into xenophobia and fear-mongering?

It's up to us. Not to politicians or talk show hosts. 9/11 wasn't an attack on talk show hosts, it was an attack on the average American. And it's up to the average American to show what's best in us, on this day, as he has so many times in the past.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Art of Manliness - separating the men from the guys

While there are a lot of men's interest Web sites out there, a lot of them only touch on the very superficial aspects of manhood. A lot of them are simply about "stuff" - cars, clothes, big-screen TVs, gadgets, etc., or about how to pick up women (who are written about as another category of "stuff"). If they're not writing about things to buy, then they're talking about the quickest way to get six-pack abs or a promotion.

Basically, a lot of men's web sites are about how to GET things, but Brett McKay's The Art of Manliness is about how to BE things. Specifically, how to be a good man.

The site has a distinctly retro sense of style, which suits its mission of finding the best qualities of traditional manhood and adapting them to the modern era. Brett's belief is that a lot of young men are stuck in a perpetual boyhood, forever being "guys" rather than true "men." The site's aim is to promote old-fashioned manly virtues such as responsibility, self-confidence, pride in appearance, manners, respectfulness and a get-things-done attitude while also embracing the progress we've made in the modern era in terms of tolerance and women's equality. It also avoids the "drums in the woods" flakiness of the pop-psychology based men's movement books. The site is less about getting in touch with your inner whatever than working your butt off to be a better man, plain and simple.

AoM updates pretty much daily and features essays by Brett and other contributors on all sorts of ways to be a better husband, father, brother son, or man in general. There are pieces on historical role models, manly skills, style, careers and - unlike many other men's sites - family and morality.

The Art of Manliness stands out as a sincere effort to find a better, more satisfying life and definition of manhood which is not defined by how big your television set is.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What's in your pocket?

Do you ever wonder about where everyday objects come from? I was talking about pocket notebooks yesterday, which got me to thinking about all the other things I tend to keep in my pockets - pen, money, pocket knife, phone - all of which have their own story.

Then I got to thinking even more about the pockets themselves. Do you realize that even though a folding pocket knife, like the one I was just using to slice up an apple, has its origin before the age of the Vikings, the pocket itself, at least as we know it today, is younger than the United States?

Back in the day people used to carry everything in bags. Then eventually they started carrying things in bags inside their clothes, with slits in the outer garments for access (putting your coin pouch inside your jacket or trousers made it a lot harder to steal). Eventually, probably around the 1780s, some genius hit on the idea of sewing those little pouches right into the clothes, and the pocket was born.

As natural as it may seem to stand there with your hands in your pockets, just think, for hundreds of thousands of years, humankind had no pockets to put their hands in. It's only in the last couple hundred years we've even had the option.

My Little Black Book

There are a few things I don't quite feel right leaving home without. My wallet, my keys, my Swiss-army knife, a pen and my pocket notebook. (Also, pants. You'd be amazed the looks you get from the neighbors).
The notebook helps me keep track of all the things my organizationally-challenged brain would otherwise forget, lets me jot down half-formed thoughts and record new contact information faster than I could otherwise type it into a cell phone.

My usual instrument of choice has been the Moleskine Cahiers little black notebook. These little cardboard-covered companions are extremely pocketable and sturdy enough to come along on my daily adventures. Being the size they are I can even carry a few of them to organize different things, I simply label the covers to differentiate categories. Also, the back pages are perforated to allow you to easily share a note or jot down your phone number.

These work fine, are relatively affordable and I'm used to them. But I'm always willing to experiment when the cost is low enough, and in all honesty I just like notebooks (it's a writer thing, ok?).

The first couple of alternatives I'm going to try are a pack of Moleskine look-alikes from Target, which run about $4.50 a three-pack, and the Rhodia No. 11 pads which run a bit less than $2 each.

I'll carry each one around for a bit, write in it with a few different implements and, if I'm feeling really destructive, run each of 'em though the wash in a pants pocket to see how they hold up. Then I'll report my findings back here over the next few weeks.

I welcome your suggestions for others I might want to try. My requirements are as follows:
1. They cost less than $5 per a notebook (or $15 a three-pack, in other words).
2. They fit in a typical shirt pocket.
3. They're available at brick-and-mortar locations in Central New Jersey.
4. They can be written on with regular pen or pencil.