The Art and Irony of Trendsetting: Featuring Crocs, Hawaiian Shirts, Voss Water, and WWJD Bracelets

Trends are only truly cool when they’re not quite cool yet.  And by the time they are in style, they’re pretty much going out of style.

Recognizing the hilariousness of how in many offices in America, it is standard that everyone dresses professionally Monday through Thursday, but on Friday, everyone goes casual with jeans and often t-shirts, at the beginning of the summer I decided to start making Thursday a “buffer” day for how I dress in the office, encouraging everyone else to participate.  How do you transition from khakis and dress shirts to jeans and t-shirts?  Hawaiian shirts.

They are button-down shirts with collars.  Perfect, tacky transition.  At first, only one other coworker would join me in Hawaiian Shirt Thursday.  But then, if for no other reason they felt like they were missing out on something cool, one by one, others began joining us.  By the end of the summer, I had half of the office on my side.  Some people dug through their closets to find the shirt; some actually went out and bought one.  And now, even in autumn, many of us are keeping the tradition going.

Of course, this isn’t the first trend I’ve started at work.  In an effort to make sure I was drinking enough water everyday, I went to Whole Foods and bought a glass Voss water bottle that I refill several times throughout the day.  At first, coworkers joked with me, “Isn’t it a little early in the day for vodka?”  By now though, several of them have privately approached me to ask where they could get a water bottle like that.  And sure enough, the glass Voss water bottle is no longer weird in my office, but instead it’s the norm.

But the irony with trendsetting is that by successfully coming up with an original and unpopular idea, it eventually becomes unoriginal and popular.  Prime example: Crocs.  For the last couple of years, I’ve looked on from a distance at the weird plastic rainbow colored Birkenstock rip-offs.  They were so trendy.  You’d see moms and their kids out at the mall, all wearing Crocs.  Even though I wanted some, I refused to buy them.  Because they were too cool at the time.

However, this week I came to a realization.  The Birkenstocks I have been wearing were given to me by my parents Christmas 1999.  I had already paid $35 five years ago to have them resoled.  It was time for me to either have them repaired again, or pay $110 for new ones.  Or… pay $30 for some brown Crocs.

To entertain the idea of buying Crocs, I checked around Cool Springs during my lunch breaks while riding my mountain bike instead of driving (another office trend I’ve been trying to start since April), but sure enough, I had trouble finding any Crocs for sale.  Eventually, some girls behind the counter at a Hallmark told me to check out the Croc stand across from Fossil in the mall.

Needless to say, with yesterday being Thursday, I wore my Hawaiian shirt, with Crocs, while drinking water from a Voss water bottle.  And boy was I cool.  Yet I wouldn’t have been caught wearing Crocs if they were still trendy.  The trend of wearing Crocs is over; which is why it was more difficult than I had imagined to find them.  I’m not saying that Crocs aren’t cool anymore; they’re just no longer a fad.

And so an important rule for a trendsetter is to not get involved in a trend that is overly popular.  But once a trend is over, then it’s “game on” to participate.  Some fads, after their prime, become an outdated, yet timeless classic.  Like Hawaiian shirts.  And Chuck Taylor’s.  And the wondrous Rubik’s Cube.  WWWD bracelets?  Not so much.


Assigned Seats: Many Friendships We Have are “Forced”

It’s a little something I call “forced friendship”.

It was always a bittersweet moment when as an elementary school student, I would walk into the classroom Monday morning and realize that my desk was on the other side of the room.  I would now be sitting next to other kids that I hadn’t necessarily been around much before.  This also meant I would no longer be sitting close to the friends I had made while at my previously assigned seat.

Boy, this is just a life metaphor waiting to happen.  Don’t beat me to the punch…

Do we choose our friends?  Yes.  But so often, by default.  Whether because of proximity through work, school, church, current circles of friends, or even marrying into a family, we find ourselves in what I call “forced friendships”.

And I don’t say that like it’s a bad thing.  It’s good.

I use the word “forced” because the reality of friendship is that we don’t usually go out to places looking for friends.  Friends just happen.  We end up in the same place at the same place, often on a reoccurring basis.  And in each location, the people that have the most in common or whose personalities compliment each other the most, are naturally going to become friends.

It’s not typical for one person to walk up to another person that they barely know and say, “Let’s be friends.”  Because it’s much more natural to let the Assigned Seats of Destiny direct us in our human relationships.

The concept of forced friendship became apparent to me in 2008, the year that my sister got married in January, and I in July, just six months apart.  In the same year, I gained a brother-in-law (my sister’s husband) on one side of the family, then seven brothers-in-law (my wife’s brothers) and two sisters-in-law (my wife’s sisters).  Before 2008, I had no in-laws at all.  In a matter of six months, I acquired plenty of them.

And through that process, the ones I have spent the most time with became the ones I obviously know the best, and therefore, have the strongest friendships with.  We are family by marriage, but that doesn’t take away at all the friendship aspect of it.

Each one brings out different sides of my personality, hobbies, and interests.  As we reflect our similarities and common ties.

For example, my sister’s husband Andrew and I are just a few years apart, having grown up playing the same old school Nintendo games, both having grown up in Alabama, and both obsessed with LOST.  In fact, he’s the reason my sister started watching LOST, which is why I am now obsessed.  Throughout the week, we send each other stupid website links and YouTube videos.  The perfect combination of a brother and a good friend.

On the other end of the brother-in-law spectrum, there is Tom up in Pennsylvania, who is the husband of my wife’s 2nd oldest sister.  We only see each other about twice a year and there is about a 10 year age difference between us.  In fact, he and my wife’s sister got married when I was in Junior High and they had their first kid the year I graduated high school.

Yet we have a whole lot in common.  When our wives are together, we let them catch up.  And we just do our own thing.  Whether it’s playing cards, shooting pool, watching movies, or playing with the kids.  We live the laid-back life together.

Being around him is like that seeing my life ten years into the future.  What little recent experience I have being around kids is from his two daughters.  I watch carefully how he talks and interacts with them.  His calm-assertiveness gives them the direction they need while still keeping the environment positive and loving.

Having the ability to choose isn’t everything.  Sometimes it’s better for someone or something else to make our decisions and life plans for us.  The funny thing is, the friendships I have sought out after never seem to last, like a trend or a fad.  If anything, those friendships are the ones that actually ended up feeling forced.

Whereas the forced friendships have always seemed natural.  So there we have it, friendship is a force.  And with all there is to gain from forced friendships, I can’t help but be thankful for assigned seats.

Similar post from the same author: The Invisible Touch, Yeah (The 2nd Installment)

Manspeak, Volume 7: Bromance

It’s not simply a fad. It’s much more complex than that. It’s not simply a gimmick to make more money in the theatres. It’s a clue that we as Americans have missing been out on something. The newfound popularity and acceptance of bromance is simply a realization that men were meant love each other, not just women.

America is good at teaching men masculinity: Rocky, Rambo, The Terminator, He-Man, GI Joe. It’s been ingrained in us our whole lives. We don’t have a problem accepting the fact that men are meant to be tough. Men are born to protect and defend. I think we do that pretty well. But while the bald eagle holds 13 arrows in one claw, he also holds 13 olive branches in the other.

Living overseas in Asia taught me a lot about American men. Though I was told that there were a lot of transvestites in Thailand, it wasn’t until my second summer over there that I was able to recognize them. I then came to the conclusion that the reason there are so many men living their lives as women there is because it is not culturally acceptable to be gay in Thailand, at all.

So when it’s not acceptable in a country at all to be gay (as compared to America where it’s not popular but there’s a growing level of acceptance), to take out the possibly of any men around being gay, it affects the cultural behavior of a nation. Men can be close without any possible thought of the other thinking he is sexually attracted to him. And even more relevant, there is not so much a possibly of awkwardness because of that. In the Philippine’s, it is common for men show their friendship publicly by holding hands.

But before there was Jackie Chan & Chris Tucker, before there was Owen Wilson & Ben Stiller, before there was Joey & Chandler, there was a time when men truly weren’t afraid to hug and be close. It simply symbolized their friendship but was nothing more.

My eyes were opened when I read Moby Dick in college. The 1851 novel was written in the American-Romanticism period, and while the theme of Christianity is more obvious than Season 5 of LOST, something else that really captured my attention and even became the topic of my final paper for that class was the bromantic relationship between the protagonist Ishmael (a 5’ 9” New England native) and his ship mate Queequeg (a 6’ 7” South Seas tribesman of mixed race).

The two men quickly become best friends and the narrator, Ishmael, is not reluctant to elaborate regarding his friendship. They simply slept in the same quarters and were close friends, but reading it with today’s mindset can make it easily be interpreted differently:

“How it is I know not; but there is no place like a bed for confidential disclosures between friends. Man and wife, they say, there open the very bottom of their souls to each other; and some old couples often lie and chat over old times till nearly morning. Thus, then, in our hearts’ honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg—a cosy, loving pair.”  -Herman Melville (Moby Dick)

Something else that really opened by eyes to bromance was when I started paying close attention to Jesus and His disciples in the New Testament. They were not hesitant to show physical affection for each other. At the Last Supper, look at Peter’s physical closeness to Jesus during dinner.

“Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, Peter said to Him, “Lord, who is it?”  -John 13:25

Imagine 12 dudes eating dinner in today’s society and one leans back on the other’s chest to ask him a question. Completely not acceptable.

Even this week I ran across something odd in the Old Testament as I was finishing up Genesis. This is where Jacob is blessing his sons before he dies:

“He called his son Joseph and said to him, ‘Now if I have found favor in your sight, please put your hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me. Please do not bury me in Egypt.”  -Genesis 47:29

In their culture, a son could make a vow to his father by placing his hand under his father’s thigh, or as my Bible’s study notes explain, it was a gentler way of saying his “procreative organ”. Think of how not acceptable that is today.

We’ve obviously come a long way since Biblical times regarding same-sex friendship and closeness. But even the culture that was present 158 years ago in Moby Dick paints a completely different picture compared to what is acceptable in American same-sex friendship today. The title of Moby Dick itself serves a perfect example of how far we’ve come. Add to that the fact that the story involves the close friendship of shipmates. That’s a lot of joke material for a 15 year-old boy to work with.

In fact, in recent decades there have been critics of Moby Dick claim that the book has homosexual undertones. Key phrase: “in recent decades”. For its time, the behavior found in the novel was not seen at all as a curious thing. It was normal back then.

I say it’s no wonder that today’s culture loves bromance. Men were made for close friendship with other men but are taught to hide their feelings because it’s not masculine to show them. When I think about it, several of my top favorite movies of all time have a heavy dose of bromance: Rocky 3, Plains Trains and Automobiles, Zoolander, Pineapple Express, Band of Brothers. And Hollywood knows it’s a winning formula.

The truth is, compare the box office sales of pretty much any Judd Apatow and/or Seth Rogan movie (bromantic comedies) to any romantic comedy made since 2005. Bromance wins every time. Romance, on the other hand, can be an unpredictable thing.

The best 3 minutes of recorded bromance, courtesy of 1982:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0qVUn4797g

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

bert-and-ernie

Originally posted in April 2009 on facebook as “The History of Bromance”, which helped inspire the Manspeak series.