Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Dying Art of Common Sense

As I walked into the gas station, I saw a young man peering at the instructions on the pump with a blank expression as he repeatedly poked the same button. Each jab at the panel produced a loud beep, but no actual gasoline. Finally he gave up and headed into the station with a look of frustrated dejection. The attendant inside repeated the instructions, which sounded pretty basic to me: “Press the credit button; insert your card; and then enter your billing zip code.” Yet after hearing the instructions (twice) the customer went back outside and still couldn’t gas up his Honda. As the attendant headed outside to help the clueless customer, I heard him mutter under his breath, “I coulda sworn they told me when I was a kid that reading is FUNdamental…” After about three seconds, the attendant was coming back into the store shaking his head. He looked at me and said, “You should write something about that: the dying art of common sense.” Okay, Abdullah. Here you go.

I laughed off the comment at first, but the phrase stuck in my head the rest of the day. The eloquence of it belied a more glaring truth: common sense really is a dying art. We’ve become a society that needs a warning on coffee cups that the contents may be hot. I certainly hope the contents are hot--that’s kind of what I’m paying for.

My favorite warning was on a box containing a new toaster. In three languages it warned that the toaster inside was not intended for use in or under water. Which is a shame, since I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the midst of a bath and had a sudden craving for some fresh, crisp toast.

I think part of the decline in common sense is the increase in lawsuits. Corporations became afraid of finding themselves on the receiving end of class action lawsuits, so they began catering to the consumer public as if they were dealing with especially dim-witted five-year olds. There’s a difference between warning someone about an unknown danger, and pointing out what should be common damn sense. As a result, we’ve lost our ability to think for ourselves.

The only way to save the dying art of common sense is to think for ourselves. Consider the consequences of your actions, and respond accordingly. Take the time to read the instructions fully before deciding you’re smarter than the engineers and professionals that designed whatever IKEA piece of crap you’re putting together. And for crying out loud, use your turn signal—we’re not mind readers.

Monday, November 1, 2010

New "Ask Uncle Trey Pound" questions for November!

Dear Uncle Trey Pound:

My best friend is madly in love with a man that everyone is convinced is gay. We don’t have any hard proof (no pun intended) but he’s made some comments that struck us all as odd, plus there are all kinds of rumors about his late-night activities. Uncle Trey Pound, I don’t care one way or another who this guy is sleeping with, but I don’t want my friend to get hurt. What should I do?

Signed,

Friend of a Closet Case

Dear Friend:

Unless you’ve got solid evidence you need to keep your mouth shut. It’s all fine to have your friend’s back, but if you’re just going on rumor and speculation, you run the risk of starting something over nothing. It’s possible that her boyfriend is just the highly sensitive type who’s very in touch with his feminine side. Or he could be a flaming queen who’s waiting for just the right time to come out of the proverbial closet. Either way, it’s really none of your business. If you want to be a good friend, just be prepared to be supportive, no matter how this shakes out.

Dear Uncle Trey Pound:

I just found out that my best friend has been keeping a secret from me. It was nothing to do with me—it’s about a secret relationship she’s been having for several months. At first it didn’t bother me much that she didn’t tell me, but after I thought it over all I could think about is why she wouldn’t have told me. I know it’s petty, but I tell her everything. I share things with her that no one else knows, and I thought our friendship was at a place where we could tell each other anything. Now I find out that apparently she doesn’t trust me enough to tell me things. I find myself questioning our friendship and wondering if we’re really friends at all. What should I do?

Signed,

Out in the Cold

Dear Cold:

Before you take anything too personally, keep in mind that different friends play different roles in our lives. Sometimes you feel more comfortable spilling embarrassing secrets to one particular friend. It doesn’t mean you love the rest of your friends any less. Whatever her reason, you have to respect the fact that it’s her life and her decision who she turns to for help with that life. If she’s been open and honest with you in all over regards (as far as you know) then there’s no reason to doubt the quality of your friendship. Think of it this way: yeah you share your problems with her, but does she know every aspect of your life? I highly doubt it. Just continue to be a good friend to her, because that’s really all you can do anyway.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

It Gets Better

Normally I try to keep my personal life (at least the heavy stuff) out of my column. But the recent spate of suicides and bullying incidents compels me to tell a rather personal story in an effort to change the way people think.

While my childhood was a good one, it wasn’t always an easy one. I wasn’t the most masculine kid, and being the son of a super-macho Army officer made me feel even more awkward. As is the case with bullies everywhere, there were always kids that could sniff out my insecurities and I got bullied--a lot. Somewhere out there, there’s a kid like the one I used to be: scared, feeling isolated and alone, and more than a little confused. I was one of those kids afraid I’d never find my place in this world, but things eventually got better. I eventually realized that I, too, am a child of God and that I deserve respect and happiness. When I look back at that difficult time, that’s what I want for others going through it too: to realize their own worth.

Don’t make a permanent decision based on temporary pain. Give yourself time to become the person you were meant to be; give the world time to understand just what an incredible person you are. But most important is staying true to who you are. No one has the right to make you feel like a lesser person because of superficial characteristics. And they can only do that when you give them permission to make you feel bad about who you are.

To all the geeks, outcasts, nerds, fems, and outsiders: hold your head high, stay strong, and remember that it gets better.

p.s., click on the title of this blog post to be connected to The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention site aimed at helping teens realize that it gets better.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

au revoir...

I’ve never been especially good at saying goodbyes. You would think I’d be better, having been raised an Army brat. I spent most of my childhood being the New Kid in one school or other, and that meant saying goodbye to the kids at the previous school. So you would think that by this stage of my life I’d have it down to a science.

Still, I found myself struggling when it came time to say goodbye to JT. We met about almost a year and a half ago when a friend brought her to my birthday dinner at Chico’s. In her I immediately found a kindred spirit: we laughed at the same jokes, finished our sentences the same way, even sharing certain “beverage preferences.”

When I was hired on the front desk of the hotel where she was front office manager, the bond only grew stronger as we spent most of our time on the clock together. Eventually, a bunch of us started spending our free time together, and our status as mutual besties was sealed.

Recently JT reconnected with someone from her past, and she decided to move to Florida to be with him. As happy as I am for her, I’m going to miss the shit out of her. I know that I’ll get to see her again (I’m planning on flying down in October for her birthday), but it still sucks knowing she’s not on the other side of town. It was a comfort knowing that I could stop by her job and say hey, or we could meet up after work for a Sea Of Sangria at Chico’s.

Since she left Greenville early this morning, she stopped by the hotel last night to say goodbye to me. As I hugged her, I could feel the telltale lump forming in my throat. My eyes started to prickle, and I knew I was seconds away from a good healthy, heart-broken cry. But we’d promised each other “no tears” so I had to man up and dig my nails into the palms of my hands. I was actually doing okay at keeping the tears at bay until we walked away from each other. I made the crucial error of looking back over my shoulder in time to see JT walking out the door. The sight of her red curls bouncing behind her as she walked out was just too much. I choked out something about “needing a minute” to my coworker, and found a quiet corner to cry into.

Eventually I got myself under control, but it all reminded me of when I was a kid moving around all the time. All over again, I felt myself being separated from something familiar and it hurt like hell. There are two comforts that I have that I didn’t when I was a kid. For one thing, we didn’t have Facebook back then. Thanks to the wonders of the interweb, I can keep up with her in a way that I never could with my childhood friends. Second, I’ll be seeing her again in less than two months. I think I can manage without her physical presence for that long. I just don’t want to have to.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Dying Art of Common Sense

As I walked into the gas station, I saw a young man peering at the instructions on the pump with a blank expression as he repeatedly poked the same button. Each jab at the panel produced a loud beep, but no actual gasoline. Finally he gave up and headed into the station with a look of frustrated dejection. The attendant inside repeated the instructions, which sounded pretty basic to me: “Press the credit button; insert your card; and then enter your billing zip code.” Yet after hearing the instructions (twice) the customer went back outside and still couldn’t gas up his Honda. As the attendant headed outside to help the clueless customer, I heard him mutter under his breath, “I coulda sworn they told me when I was a kid that reading is FUNdamental…” After about three seconds, the attendant was coming back into the store shaking his head. He looked at me and said, “You should write something about that: the dying art of common sense.” Okay, Abdullah. Here you go.

I laughed off the comment at first, but the phrase stuck in my head the rest of the day. The eloquence of it belied a more glaring truth: common sense really is a dying art. We’ve become a society that needs a warning on coffee cups that the contents may be hot. Well, let’s hope the contents are hot--that’s kind of what I’m paying for.

My favorite warning was on a box containing a new toaster. In three languages it warned that the toaster inside was not intended for use in or under water. Which is a shame, since I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the midst of a bath and had a sudden hankering for some fresh, crispy toast.

I think part of the decline in common sense is the increase in lawsuits. Corporations became afraid of finding themselves on the receiving end of class action lawsuits, so they began catering to the consumer public as if they were dealing with especially dim-witted five-year olds. There’s a difference between warning someone about an unknown danger, and pointing out what should be common damn sense. As a result, we’ve lost our ability to think for ourselves.

The only way to save the dying art of common sense is to think for yourself. Consider the consequences of your actions, and respond accordingly. Take the time to read the instructions fully before deciding you’re smarter than the engineers and professionals that designed whatever IKEA piece of crap you’re putting together. And for Godsake, use your turn signal—we’re not mind readers.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Project Exodus

Sometimes the clues are all around you, all you have to do is act on them. All day, I’ve been feeling especially optimistic. Maybe the glowing mood had to do with money actually being in my pocket, or maybe it was due to the gorgeous weather. No matter the inspiration, I was in fine spirits as I walked through downtown Greenville.

I was sitting in Sup Dogs (one of my favorite places to eat and chill), idly screwing around online, when the manager Derek came up to speak to me. Last week, he’d come in to the restaurant where I work on a date and sat in my section. The meal went fine and he was very complimentary about my server skills. This afternoon, he mentioned again how good a server he’d found me to be. As if he’d been reading my mind, he said that I should consider moving to a larger city to pursue the money someone with my personality could make. While I doubt I’d ever relocate to follow a food service job (not really my passion, ya dig?) the idea of moving to pursue my writing career has been haunting my mind a lot lately. Every once in a while I’ll casually look into the idea—researching job opportunities, checking out public transportation, etc.—then get caught up in living my life and forget about it for a while.

But this time it feels different. I was skyping with a friend who lives in Durham the other night and the subject came up. Every time Mark says something about me moving to the Raleigh/Durham area, it’s like the seed grows just a little bit larger in my mind. I’ve talked it over with him before, not to mention with my best friend from high school. Knowing I’d be living in close proximity to Sheon and Mark would give me something of an advantage. I’d have friends already in place, so while I may be the New Kid in Town, I doubt I’d be alone and lonely.

It seems a bit ironic to speak of safety nets, since that’s why I moved back to Greenville in the first place. I was living in Florida, and having a truly rough time of things. So I packed my proverbial bags and headed home to Carolina. But I’ve allowed that safety net to engulf me, and I’ve become stuck.

Today was the day I became unstuck. After talking to Derek (and killing 1½ Western Dogs, fries, and a couple of dollar beers) I mulled over the idea of leaving this place that’s become my home. I looked around 5th Street, wondering what it would be like to call another place home. I let my fingers trace over the brick fa├žade of 5th Street Annex and questioned whether I could say goodbye to everything I’ve known for the past six years. As I wiped the slight traces of grit off my fingers, the answer came to me in the form of the bumper sticker on a passing car: “Yes We Can!” Whoa.

I spent a couple of hours in the library, writing and using the city’s free wifi. When I realized how late it had gotten, I headed through the lobby to wait for the bus. I figured I had a few minutes, so I just lingered in the AC and read the public announcements board in the lobby. It was littered with ads for pitbull puppies, and translation services. Then, in a corner of the board I saw it. It was plain, almost covered by the plastic cover of the thermostat someone had carelessly left open. When I read the words across the top I flinched as if I’d been shocked by a mild electrical charge. My face felt hot and the skin on the back of my neck prickled with awareness. Okay, Lord, I get it. Message received. Ten-four, Lord.

So, what you’re reading now represents a new beginning. This blog represents the genesis of Project Exodus. I’m giving myself six months to save money, plan, and eventually move to Raleigh. Hell, maybe I’ll consider a different city altogether. All I do know is that this is the only life we get, and if I’m going to advise people to follow their passions, I’d better be doing it myself.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

An Open Letter to Freshmen: Don't Forget to Live.

Usually when I write a column, I approach it with a mission: to make a point. There’s always one central message to my columns that I want to convey with each word. This message is for the incoming freshman, not to mention a reminder to those returning students at America’s institutions of higher learning. It sounds simple, but don’t forget to live.

While this is an undeniably significant time in your life, don’t let yourself become overwhelmed by the seriousness of it all. Don’t forget to take time to find joy--make the time for joy. Whether it’s intramural athletics, the theater department, or volunteering with kids, find something that makes you happy. One of the worst feelings is to come to the end of an experience only to look back and realize there’s so much more you could have gotten out of it.

Just as important as the activities are the friends you’ll make during this time of your life. Lifelong friends, romantic partners—you never know who will play which role until you take a chance and get to know others. More importantly, you have to give them a chance to get to know you. Share your gifts and your personality because you’ve got a role to play in their lives too.

So go to football games, go to that party next door, ask out the cute redhead in your Econ class that keeps making eyes at you. But whatever you do, don’t forget to live.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Why I'm My Own Biggest Fan

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend who’d looked through the list of “fans” of the Ask Uncle Trey Pound column on the Facebook fan page. After noticing that my own profile picture was among the fans, he joked with me, “I see as usual you’re your own biggest fan!” I laughed along, until I had some time to think about it. I came to the realization that, indeed, I am my own biggest fan. And I can’t imagine life any other way.

My parents raised me to believe in myself and in my abilities. And what is a fan other than someone who believes in those things? So, yes, I am my own biggest fan, and I think everyone else should be as well. Think how many conflicts would resolve themselves if people just had the courage to cheer for themselves. If self-esteem issues weren’t a consideration, how much healthier would the collective populace be?

I was once described as being “stuck on” myself, which I took to mean I was overly impressed with myself. Shouldn’t we all be impressed with ourselves? If nothing else, we’ve survived another year/month/day on this planet, and that’s no easy feat. Just think of the mechanics that go into keeping the human body alive in the course of a day. It’s a thing of wonder, and worthy of admiration.

So, if you’re reading these words, consider this your official permission to love yourself. I give you absolute permission to acknowledge your faults and love your strengths. I am giving you the “okay” to fall in love with the person you are and the person you can become. Just don’t talk to yourself. That shit’s nuts.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New "Ask Uncle Trey Pound" questions!

Dear Uncle Trey Pound:

My good friend has a habit that is none-too-endearing. She has the habit of, while talking to someone, pulling out her phone and sending or responding to texts. I get that some things can’t wait, but I’m getting really tired of talking to the top of her head all the time. How can I remind her that I’m standing right in front of her?

Signed,

Put On Hold

Dear On-Hold:

Increases in technology (as well as our dependence on it) mean that more and more people are showing an appalling lack of manners when it comes to social interactions. While it seems impossible to change how everyone with a cell phone behaves, you can at least offer your friend some clues that she’s being rude. Chances are she’s not even aware of how her actions are coming across. I’d suggest a casual approach: when she whips out her phone to check her texts, try sending her a text that reads, “top of ur head is nice, but id rather c ur face.” That should get her attention… at least until the next text comes through on her phone.

Dear Uncle Trey Pound:

A friend of mine recently came out to his parents. Unfortunately they didn’t react quite as well as he’d have liked. They basically cut him off and refuse to speak to him or even say his name. While he’s glad to no longer be “living a lie,” he’s heart-broken that two of the most important people in his life won’t speak to him. I’m trying to be a supportive friend, but I have no idea of what to tell him. A little help here, Uncle Trey Pound?

Signed,

Straight Ally

Dear Ally:

Tell your friend that there’s good news: he’s already done the hard part by coming out. That first baby-step out of the closet can be the most difficult one to take. So he should be proud of himself for being honest with himself and with the world. As for your friend’s parents, try looking at things from their point of view for a moment. Even if they had some clue as to your boy’s true orientation, they still have to deal with a hard truth. They no longer have the luxury of ignorance and denial. Now that they know their idea of their little boy isn’t an accurate one, they have to sort of mourn it. They’re going to have to let go of their preconceived ideas of who their son will be and what his life will look like. And the hard truth is that they may never get to that point. There may never come a time when they embrace their son openly and without reservation. But tell him not to let that stop him. While it might be hard to believe, there’s a whole world out there waiting to accept him for who he is. And you’re being a good friend to him. Good luck to the both of you.

Last Call with Uncle Trey Pound

There’s a fine line between a hobby and a habit. In the case of drinking, that line is usually the one a cop asks you walk to prove your sobriety. Thankfully, that’s never been an issue for me, but recent events have caused me to rethink a major part of my life. In April, I turned 33 and I began planning the birthday celebrations like any other year. Little did I know that this year would mark a turning point in my drinking career.

Everything was going fine at first—if you can call five shots of Jager in twenty minutes “fine.” Before long I was having difficulty navigating the trip to the bathroom, and my words seemed to have a lot of trouble coming out of my mouth in an understandable fashion. After copious amounts of alcohol, we made our move from Chico’s to 5th Street Distillery. About that time that things began to get a little…..hazy. And by “hazy,” I mean strange drinks I hadn’t ordered kept appearing in my hand. Thinking only of the sober children in China, I made every effort to finish each drink. Finally, I got to a point where the only acceptable answer to the question “Hey Trey Pound! Want another shot??” was “Hell no.”

I clearly remember the exact moment when things took a turn. My stomach began to make this odd, threatening gurgle, and I knew that I would very soon be returning all that alcohol to the bar. I made a half-assed attempt to stem the flow of vomit, but when Jager, vodka, beer, and something that tastes like Mike’s Hard Lemonade are all determined to exit at once, there’s no stopping it. I’m told that I managed to limit my vomit to my friend’s boots, but then he knew what he was getting into when he kept handing me drinks.

I finally emptied the tank and started trying to figure out what the next plan should be. There’s the old Puke-n-Rally: you get it out of your system, then you’re back for more. But at the (newly minted) age of 33, I had a major revelation. As I flicked a chunk of vomit from my cheek, it occurred to me that I’ve become That Guy. There I was, belligerently drunk, surrounded by people who were fetuses when I drank my first sip of beer. Talk about depressing.

Thankfully, I was surrounded by friends who’d been there before and knew how to handle the situation. They quickly moved me away from the crime scene—I was coherent enough to respond, “Hell if I know…” when one of the bouncers asked me who puked on the deck. I managed to make it out of there without getting caught/embarrassed/photographed, but the lesson was learned.

I could pontificate on how moderation is the key to safe enjoyment; I could also mention the healthy side effects that come from cutting back on one’s drinking. But anyone who knows me knows what a load of bull that would be. Instead I’ll say this: if you happen to encounter me and I’m not my usual ebullient, out-going (possibly naked) self, I’m probably not depressed or suicidal. I’m probably just sober. This might take some getting used to.