#fridayreads

There should be a point in every too-smart young man’s life when he realizes he is more man than young man–this realization, ideally, pairing up nicely with the seventeenth or eighteenth birthday–and ought to, therefore, stop being mouthy, or immature, or petty, and instead start giving fellow man the benefit of the doubt. This would be for the broad benefit of society. Additionally, it should also benefit the man himself, as being a mouthy, immature, or petty grown-up renders this man eligible to the sort of societal punishment doled out for such on-the-grand-scale-small-but-insufferable-in-real-life meanderings: a real ass-kicking.

I’m an idiot. And I tend to act as though I’m still somewhere between thirteen and fifteen, those landlocked years that featured only one benefit: being able to say pretty much whatever I wanted to non-psychopathic folks, those who wouldn’t dare punch a thirteen- or fourteen- or fifteen-year-old kid in the face because, really, that’d be kind of stupid.

So I spent these years sitting in the bleachers section at Wrigley Field during Cubs-White Sox games, extolling the Southside in victory or just occasional run-scoring, without fear that any of the drunken adults around me would stoop to commit the crime of assaulting a minor. Because, at the end of the day, I’m just a kid!

If my son or sons turn out remotely like this, I’ll send them to military school.

Anyways, so I’m saying all of this because–in my darkest times–I reveal a frightening weakness: I never crossed this bridge from the stage of too-smart impishness to full-scale, mature adulthood. I’m in asshole purgatory, more or less.

Working the traditional 8:30-5:00 requires some unremarkable schedule managing, especially since I prefer getting my haircut at one of those traditional, been-in-Somerville-since-before-1988 barber shops. The kind that have old guys sitting there–not even talking to anyone!–just reading the paper, passing the time, perhaps waiting for their favorite bar to open. Those places tend to have hours that more resemble your average workday, maybe open ’til about 5:30 or 6:00.

So on the days I want my haircut, it’s crucial that I duck out of work at 4:30, and have no hiccups (!!!) on my half-hour commute there. Because I’m a lame white Midwesterner, I’m hyper-respectful (or neurotic) of others’ schedules, and consider it rude to waltz in at 5:30 when the place closes at 6:00. What if I’m third in line?! What if they hurry the job or resent me for a) not making an appointment or b) seeming like a thoughtless turd?!

This week: hiccups abound. The T was running at its dependably miserable stop-go slowly pace. I forgot to grab cash from an ATM at lunch. (Crucial aspect of old-school barber shops: cash only.)

Scene: ATM vestibule. There are two ATMs. One in use, one not in use. There are two people in line behind the one ATM in use. Thinking (without looking, stupidly) that the folks are not queuing up behind the unoccupied ATM because it was merely cash only — while the other one was for deposits and such — I make my way up to it. The following:

LAST GUY IN LINE: (In sneering, heroic tone) Hey, there’s a line here.

ME: (Look at line behind other ATM, look at the ATM I’m standing in front of, look back at LAST GUY IN LINE)

LAST GUY IN LINE: (In sneering, heroic tone) We’re in line here. (Points to HELPLESS OLD LADY in front of him, who is either fumbling with her wallet or just farting around in general while looking at the ground.)

HELPLESS OLD LADY: (Shrug) (inaudible).

LAST GUY IN LINE is eventually waived forward to use the other ATM by HELPLESS OLD LADY. While I wait in line, I’m fuming, for no good reason whatsoever. Still, angry. When he gets his cash and exits–again, for no reason whatsoever–I give him a light, sarcastic applause. He turns around at the door and gives me the well-deserved, fucking really, guy?

So when I pop across the street to get my haircut, who else is there? LAST GUY IN LINE. Having probably done the exact same thing: duck out early from work, run to the ATM only to be greeted by HELPLESS OLD LADY, got combative with a guy in a too-sarcastic way. I escalated it with the completely immature applause–which wasn’t even clever. It’s clear that I’ve gone from too-smart to not-clever, which is a saddening realization. (In fact, my general immaturity–looking back–seems not unlike a certain old lady I saw on YouTube this week.)

Anyway, we laughed it off, got old-school shaves, had a sidecar after, and are now connected on LinkedIn®.

OK, so we laughed it off.

What are you guys reading this week?

Kwasi Kwarteng’s Ghosts of Empire: Britain’s Legacies in the Modern World
I’ve been dying to read some good history since I’ve been reviewing almost nothing but fiction of late. Kwarteng’s sophisticated, surprisingly easy-to-read chronicle of Britain’s colonial infrastructures–and their effect on the modern political landscapes of Nigeria, Iraq, and Kashmir (among other countries the Empire mangled)–fits the bill. Though he labors with the prose at times, Kwarteng (himself a Tory MP since 2010) approaches some ugly history with appropriate (but not Niall Ferguson-like) pragmatism: willing to call a spade a spade, but understanding the context of each situation. Full of revealing character sketches, Kwarteng’s work is part-academic (he did receive a PhD in economic history from Cambridge) and part-pop; enough of each to satisfy most folks interested in British history of the twentieth century.

You’ll see the review Tuesday!

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