Man’s Greatest Mystery

Throughout the ages, great mysteries have captured the hearts and minds of man and spawned exhaustive and dangerous expeditions, deep scientific debate, wild conspiracy theories and legendary folklore.

Even today, television shows are crowded with wild ideas about how the pyramids or Stonehenge were created, including such outlandish theories as alien intervention.

The Easter Island ‘Men’, the Loch Ness Monster, The Holy Grail, Big Foot, even crop circles keep us intrigued and in search of definitive conclusion.  I suppose it is our natural curiosity that drives us to solve these questions once and for all.

The truly greatest mystery ever faced by man, however, isn’t any of these.  No, the greatest mystery of all, in reality is something so confusing that it has silenced half of the world’s population.  They refuse to discuss it, investigate it or research it, and have resigned themselves to gleeful ignorance.

What’s truly amazing about this mystery, is that the answers are readily available to us, but we refuse to seek the truth.  Why is that?  Even the legendary Knights Templar, carefully guarding secrets of the Holy Grail and the lineage of Jesus of Nazareth dare not tread into these murky waters.

I’m talking, of course, not about life on Mars, or the spoilage-defying lifespan of a fruit cake, but of the one true mystery of mankind:  Purses!

This innocuous little fashion accessory has defied logic, physics and has created paralyzing fear in the bravest of men. In it’s simplest form, the purse is nothing more than a bag with a handle on it, but has launched some into the fashion stratosphere and others into bankruptcy.

Once on the shoulder of any woman, the purse conjures magical powers.  It can make a lady’s knees quiver with its beauty, or make a lady’s knees buckle with its weight.  Girls swoon in high-end fashion boutiques at purses that cost more than a mini-van.

As delicate and beautiful as they may be, given to a man to  hold, they take on the properties of a sack of anthrax.  Men perspire, and use only the extreme ends of their finger-tips, desperately attempting to limit physical contact with the bag.

Just observe the look on any guys face as his wife/girlfriend/mother hands them their purse and says ‘hold this while I try on this dress’.  Sheer panic.  He holds the purse awkwardly, keeping it a good distance from his body as if to try to convince everyone else in the store that it isn’t his.

Hand a purse to a girl, and the reaction is completely different.  They immediately size it up, turn it around and around, check the handle and clasps, then cozy it up close, snugly to their shoulder, and rush over to the nearest mirror to see how it looks on them.

The outward properties of the purse may indeed be a great mystery to most men, but it pales in comparison to the truly enigmatic features of the inside of the hand bag.

What deep secrets lie beneath the zippers, clasps, or snaps is the stuff of legends.  For men, the contents of the average purse are and always will be as taboo as walking in on your parents having sex.  You must never peer into it, or like Medusa’s spell, you’d immediately turn to stone, or worse, uncover a secret about your sweetie that can’t be undone.  Once you know, it’s like trying to put the toothpaste back into the tube.

Even for the owner of the purse, it’s contents are often a puzzlement, and items placed in it seem to disappear into a vast black hole, and can only be recovered with significant effort, and usually in a really inappropriate time and place, like when standing in a rainstorm, locked out of your car or house.

I was at the grocery store the other day, and I watched as woman after woman, knowing that they’d have to find their credit card to pay for the groceries, didn’t start the frantic search until the amount appeared on the little screen.  It’s not like they had other financial means if the amount was less.  I don’t get it.  Then, despite the amount of time they take carefully putting things back in the purse, it takes 10 minutes to retrieve it again. ‘Now, where did I put that debit card?’, while a very long line builds up behind them.

This last puzzlement seems to confuse me the most.  Somehow, when a woman is looking for something in her purse, it gives her universal license to block the way of everyone behind her without any apology.

‘Honey, this person is trying to get past you’.

‘Well, he’ll have to wait.  I’m looking for my shopping list’.

Purses, like the ones Mary Poppins or Hermione Granger have, seem to be able to hold items of far greater mass than the dimensions of the purse itself.  While a deep mystery that defies the laws of nature, they sure do come in handy!

How is it that a purse barely big enough to hold a super-model’s lunch, can actually house a full set of keys, wallet, makeup bag, lip gloss, change purse, cell phone, kleenex, Tylenol, nasal spray, sticky notes and pen, address book, baby wipes, sewing kit, scarf, pocket calendar, extra panties, and crackers?  Then, when you get to the store, you hand her your wallet and keys, and she finds room for them!

Yes, the common purse is likely the greatest, and scariest mystery that any man will face, and it’s best that we simply accept the unknown magical powers that lie within these handy fashion accessories and leave well enough alone.

Like the curious cat, it may end badly if we were to dig within the silky walls of the purse and attempt to do any more than appreciate it’s special properties from afar….so next time you ask for something and your better half says ‘It’s in my purse’.  Don’t dare try to retrieve it yourself.  Gingerly and with great reverence, pass it to them to reach in and pull that rabbit out the the proverbial hat.

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The humility of being humbled

There’s few things more gratifying than watching some loudmouth get put in his place.  You know the guy – usually drunk and obnoxious, bullying everyone else until he gets clocked by someone half his size, or his pants fall down, showing off his Buzz Lightyear underwear…or no underwear at all!

Mortified, he runs for cover while everyone laughs at him.  At least, that’s what you hope for.

There’s gotta be a million You Tube videos out there of karmic revenge on the annoying or stupid.  We love the modern telling of David and Goliath.  Rooting for the underdog against a jerk-faced foe is something we can all relate to.

In Hollywood movies, it’s the villain who is the most annoying, hated person and ends up with the most spectacular death scene, not only getting shot 100 times in slow motion, but falling into a pit of molten metal, while being eaten by zombies or something.

But, have you ever been that guy (or girl) who is the unwelcome star of these little vignettes?  C’mon, sure you have.

I was retelling a story the other day about something that happened to me a long time ago that kind of fits this scenario.

For the record, I wasn’t drunk, and I was just doing my job.  I’m sure, though, that the other characters in this little scene were just as pleased as those watching the bully run away with his pants down.

I had a job once where part of my duties included making sure that my customers followed some expected level of quality, since they represented our products to the world.  This could make things a bit tricky at times, seeing as I needed these customers to buy stuff from me, but I also had to act like a Mom telling her kid to clean his room….without the folded hands and tapping of the foot….you know the look.

I used to wear a suit.  Not because I had to, but because I thought it was important to look professional….what a jerk!

Anyway, I had to meet a customer who’s business was in desperate need of the ‘angry Mom’ look.  The owner was very casual and would always tease me about wearing a suit all the time, ‘Geez!  Even the Mayor doesn’t dress like that’.

Fully suited up, just to make a point, I parked a block away from the store, again making a point about giving the best parking to the paying customers, and walked into the rear entrance of the store.  Very smug and probably abusing my power, I’m quite sure they were not happy about this visit.

As I walked the store with the owner’s wife, pointing out how bad the business was, I started to notice a foul smell.

I said, ‘Another thing.  Do not smell that?  It smells like dung in here.’

She acknowledged that she too smelt it, then motioned at my shiny dress shoes.  I looked down at the same time, and saw where the smell was coming from. I guess somewhere on my pretentious strut to the store, I stepped in a steaming pile of doo-doo.

I glanced back to see the owner on his hands and knees, scrubbing the disgusting footsteps I had taken all through the place.

I turned as red as the goal light at a Leafs game!

Mortified, I carefully took off my shoe, and hopped out the back door to find a stick.  I think I just went home after that.  Any sense of superiority or authority was left on the stained carpet behind me.

Of course, I had no way of making an elegant exit from that train wreck.  I think I mumbled something about why there would be horse poop on the sidewalk outside the store in the first place, then quickly got in my car, and drove home with one shoe on.

I stopped wearing a suit after that.

Toronto Fashion Week – a guide for middle-aged men

When people stop me on the street and ask for autographs or pictures, the ladies will often ask me when I’m going to write about Men’s fashion, given my impeccable, age-appropriate style and looks.  It seems that their fellas are having some difficulty transitioning into middle-aged fashion-wear.

Although I do my best to steer clear from offering advice most of the time, I too have noticed the struggle many men have when it comes to their wardrobes.  So, in order to encourage and support my fellow mature male counterparts, I will walk you through some helpful hints, ideas, and logic that should make dressing yourself appropriately simple, easy, and comfortable.

Gentlemen – let me be clear about this.  Middle-aged fashion is ALL about comfort.  If it doesn’t feel comfortable, toss it.  You’ve complied with tight, itchy, bunchy and downright annoying clothes all your life – it’s time to liberate your body.  You deserve nothing less.

Lets begin by reviewing some of the common issues men often face when it comes to choosing and wearing clothing.

COLOUR BLINDNESS

If you’re like me, you either play golf, talk about golf or watch golf on T.V.  What do you notice most about golf attire?  Colour!  Multi-coloured pants that do not match the shirt.  White shoes no matter what the rest of the outfit looks like.  There’s a good reason for this.  You see, in nature, it is the male of the species, not the female, that has all the style and colour and pizzazz. This is natures way of creating a visual distraction that temporarily blinds or confuses other males, allowing one to ‘swoop in’ and take its rightful mate.

In golf, although there aren’t a lot of ‘mates’ out there with the guys, the basic principal is the same – you want to create a distraction with your wardrobe so that the other players can’t focus on their game.

I get a chuckle when I’m leaving the house to go golfing and my wife questions my wardrobe choices.  She’s so cute!  She doesn’t understand that the colour choice of the golf outfit is almost as important as the club choice.  In fact, if you golf like I do, its a more important choice.

When it comes to colour, gentlemen, you need to dock the dockers, burn the beige, grind up the gray, and put on the loudest, mismatched outfit you can get your hands on.  Nothing will tell the world you’re over 50 and ready to take it on, more than a bold colour pallet on your back.

WHERE DO I WEAR MY PANTS?

The debate over belt height is a contentious one, to be sure.  Because of a wardrobe malfunction on a ‘gang-banger’ in East L.A. back in the ’80’s’, kids all over the world, in an attempt to stay young, have abandoned their belts.  This has allowed their pants to continually droop down to the point where they not only look like they’ve messed themselves, they can barely walk at all.  Ironically, that’s exactly the same look you’d find in a senior’s home.

Most pants these days don’t allow for much freedom when it comes to where the waist sits on your body.  Many men with ample, trophy-sized mid sections, tend to hunker their pants below the waist, since getting them any higher would mean buying their clothes from a tent maker rather than a good men’s store.

Others are unnaturally slim, probably from a vegan lifestyle.  These people only wear clothing that has drawstrings or are made of spandex, and they ride bicycles.  Fashion is irrelevant to them.

There are some men, due to no fault of their own, perhaps due to a terrible illness or a meat allergy, have grotesquely small waists, and tend to wear their pants as high up as possible.  I assume that this is to hide an embarrassingly small mid-section.  I don’t blame them for doing this, but it isn’t a good look.

Either way, there is only one solution for all of these body types – do not tuck in your shirt.  Tucked in shirts are for uptight corporate types and people under 40.  What do you need to prove, anyway? Let it hang, gentlemen.  This negates any further conversation of where on your waist you should wear your pants – it doesn’t matter, as  long as it’s covered up.

SHIRTS

This is a real struggle for most men.  Bottom line is, wear a shirt at all times.  There are hairy, lumpy bits that the rest of the world doesn’t want to see (I’m really hoping the guy at the end of my street reads this before he works in his yard again).

Okay, so now you have to decide what kind of shirt to wear, depending on the event.  Here are some basic ground rules:

  • If you’re wearing a t-shirt you got in a case of beer, or at a concert or NASCAR event, you should only wear it to flea markets, rib eating contests, doing chores around the house, or to your mother-in-law’s home.
  • Golf shirts are the ultimate fashion ‘must-have’ for men – casual as a t-shirt, classy enough for the office.  Because of the collar, it can be worn with shorts, jeans, or even dress pants.  It’s our version of the little black dress.
  • Long-sleeve button up shirts are for serious business only, or funerals and weddings.  They don’t go with shorts, unless you’re at a really hot wedding…

Again, be sure it fits comfortably, and isn’t too short – nothing is worse than a good old beer t-shirt that doesn’t cover the beer holder gut you worked so hard on. This will also take care of the whole pant height thing too.

FOOTWEAR

I know – sandals and socks, right?  Well, it’s more complicated than that.  As a rule, if you’re wearing sandals, it’s because you’re wearing shorts, or God forbid, a Speedo, which means it’s too warm to wear socks. However, due to horrible foot fungus disfigurements or toe-nail removals, there are times when socks are not only a good idea, but a necessity in order to keep the general public from loosing their lunch as you stroll around town.

For all other purposes, slip-on shoes are the way to go.  You’ve bowed to the lace gods for far too long.  Stand up straight and slide those dogs into something that doesn’t ask anything in return.  Velcro straps are also a stylish and practical option as well, but they require bending over.  No one wants to see that.

I’ve heard that some people claim the shoes should match the belt, but I think that’s a sexual reference that I don’t understand.  Do what feels right.  If you only have a black belt, any kind of footwear is fine – please refer back to my comments on pants and shirts.

UNDERGARMENTS

It used to be simple – boxers or briefs.  For the sake of any squeamish readers or the very young, I won’t post an image on undergarments. Today, there are any number of hybrid underwear styles, shapes, materials, and colours.  This is typical fashion industry propaganda, foisted upon an unsuspecting public who are just trying to keep the ‘boys’ from going where they shouldn’t go.  Let me make it simple:

  1. In warm weather, briefs will keep things from sticking to other things, if you know what I mean
  2. In cold weather, boxers are a comfortable, breathable vacation to your buddies, who have been crammed together all summer

If you’re wondering about thongs, you’re on the wrong blog page.

With these basic principals cleared up, there is always one question that remains for the fashion-challenged mature man;  How do I know I’m dressed appropriately?

Interestingly, the rule of thumb for men is diametrically opposed to the strategy of the fairer sex.  If a lady enters a party in a beautiful dress, the most embarrassing thing that could happen, other than toilet paper stuck to her shoe, is seeing another lady in exactly the same dress.  Horrors!

For men, if you enter a party and some other man,or even better, a group of men, are dressed in exactly the same outfit, it’s a very good thing.  This confirms that you dressed correctly. Since there’s safety in numbers, you now have a brotherhood of like-minded peers in which to discuss the game, the toilet paper on that woman’s shoe, or what to do with those little shrimp tails from the buffet.

There’s also another important rule of thumb to follow when it comes to dressing for the occasion.  I call it the rule of ‘wife’.  When you’re waiting at the front door for 20 minutes with the keys and a bottle of wine in your hand, you don’t want her to come down and tell you to go and change.  This will make you the reason you’re late.

When you’re dressed and ready to go, you should give your better half a ‘once-over’ twirl on your wardrobe selection.  This accomplishes two things:

1 – it tells her that you are ready to leave, and the clock is officially ticking.

2 – it gives her a chance to review your outfit.  If she says anything along the lines of “Are you wearing that?”, you better drop the keys and dig through the closet for a new outfit.

If she asks you to do some random job around the house, like water the tropical fish, she’s stalling for time.  This is okay, because it’ll keep you busy, and it tells you that your clothing choice will not embarrass her.

I think you’ll find this blog a handy and insightful guide when it comes to the problematic world of dressing oneself.  You might want to print this off and attach it to your dresser, so you can reference it when you’re standing there in your bedroom in your underwear and socks, scratching your head about what to put on.

Oh, one last thing. If your better half scoffs at this guide, be patient.  It’s only because she has spent decades being brain-washed by the fashion establishment, with those glossy magazines and impossible to walk in clothes.  Eventually, she’ll be dressing exactly the same way as you.

Oh Service, Where Art Thou?

Because I’ve been the ‘stay at home’ Dad lately, I’ve been doing a lot of the day to day shopping, and as a result, inspiration for my rants blogs have had a common theme.  Sorry about that.  This one had been rolling around in the ‘draft’ bucket for some time, since it keeps coming across as really preachy and not ‘light’, breaking my first rule of blogging.

Anyway, with all that rambling and apologizing, here goes…

We all have horror stories about lousy customer service.

I spent some time in the Customer Service world, initially in the hotel business, then in sales and working with retail stores.  I don’t know if this qualifies me as an expert; in fact, anyone who ever sat in a restaurant or bought something at a store is as much an expert on the topic.

You’d think that given the poor economy, businesses would make a special effort at trying to improve the customer experience.  You’d think.  The economic slow down has not only not improved customer service, but it’s also made the average shopper a lot less patient.

We, the almighty discretionary spenders, have short fuses, expect more for our dollars, and demand a better interaction with staff.  We’re not looking for perfection – even mediocre service is often considered acceptable, so it shouldn’t be that hard to please us.

So, why is it that  we’re regularly met with apathetic, un-knowledgeable, and downright stupid retail and service experiences?

I had an awful experience at a major retail store which is now closed, not surprisingly.

It was just before Christmas, and I was out shopping with my wife and 2 kids who were young, but school-aged.  While in the store, I saw some small gift items that I decided to purchase for my staff as Christmas gifts.  I’m such as swell guy!

this particular store was in a mall, but was one of those large anchor stores that had multiple floors – quite large.

I needed a number of these gifts – too many to carry, so along with the stuff we were already buying and towing two kids behind, I needed to get a shopping cart or basket of some kind.  I headed over to one of the entrances where they corralled the carts.  Keep in mind that this was a fully enclosed store, and shopping carts would not fit through the exit barricades.

When I got to the shopping cart area, I found that they required money to ‘unlock’ them. 

The idea behind forcing customers to ‘rent’ shopping carts so we can buy things in a store, just so they can ensure the carts are put back is a whole other blog, and one of the stupidest things ever invented.  The really ridiculous thing about this was that the carts in this particular store couldn’t physically be taken out in the first place, so why would they need a quarter for me to get one?

I reached into my pocket and found out that I only had 3 dimes.  My wife didn’t have any change either.  In fact, we had no other cash with us at all, planning to use debit cards for our purchases.

Now I had to stand in line at the only cashier aisle that was open – there were 4 aisles, but only one cashier on duty, another issue with lousy service.  By this time my patience was wearing thin, my wife had this look like ‘please don’t make a scene’, and the kids were starting to get fidgety.  Fidgety kids are bad!

Finally, I got to the cashier, and told her that I needed to exchange 3 dimes for a quarter (and an nickel) for the shopping carts that shouldn’t require any money in the first place.

Oh, our carts require a Looney“.

For those of you not from Canada, a Looney is our $1 coin, which replaced the $1 bill a while ago.  It’s called the ‘Looney’ because it has the image of a Loon on it.

Exasperated, I gave her a look like I was about to go postal.  The elderly couple who had just made their purchase and were picking up their parcels offered me a Looney.

No, thank you“, I politely said.  “I want the store to get me a shopping cart, so I can buy things from them“, loudly enough for everyone within a 100 yard radius to hear.

The young lady at the cash register was starting to look nervous.

I turned my attention back to her. I don’t have a dollar.  I want you to give me a shopping cart so I can put things in it.  That’s not too much to ask, is it?”

I did feel for her – it wasn’t her fault, and I was trying hard not to blame her.

Customer Service can unlock them for you, if you like.  Okay, then.  Now we’re getting somewhere.

Good.  Get Customer Service to unlock one for me, then.

You’ll have to go and ask them to do it for you“.

I have to go ask them?”  I was furious by this point.  Normal people would have just walked out of the store, but  as you probably know by now, I’m not normal.  I had an axe to grind.Where is Customer Service, then?

The Customer Service desk is up on the second floor, at the far end of the store“.

Insert an appropriate expletive here.

Let me summarize;  I went to the store to buy things.  I needed a cart, but the store had them locked up, and were charging money for me to ‘borrow’ one – one that could not possibly leave the store anyway.  Then, after having to stand in line to get change, finding out that I was lacking the cash on hand, I was then forced to leave everything, go up the escalator to the complete opposite side of the store just to ask for a cart.

What would you do?

There’s an old marketing rule that explains the economics of customers;  It costs 7 times more to get a new customer than it does to keep the customers you already have.  That means that losing a customer costs you big time.  Keeping a customer is dirt cheap.

Here’s some free advice for business owners and managers that will easily and inexpensively help you keep your customers, and grow your business – take it or leave it.  I’m sure you all have many more ideas:

  • Train your staff.  We shouldn’t have to track down a store employee to ask a question, only to find out that they don’t work in that department, don’t have a key for that locked up display case, or don’t know enough about the products they sell.  I had a business owner once tell me that they didn’t spend time training their staff because the turn-over rate was too high.  So, in essence, he was saying he didn’t train his staff because they might leave.  What if he never trained them but they stayed?
  • Empower your staff.  Make each employee the manager of the moment.  Give them the power to make things right with the customer if there’s a complaint.  Don’t make us wait for the manager all the time.
  • Hire the attitude, train the skill. Almost everyone can learn how to run a cash register.  That’s a trainable skill.  What you can’t train is the attitude of the employee.  Find people who want to work with people, who have an upbeat attitude and have a passion for their work.  You can train everything else they need for the job.
  • Make it easy to shop.  Hand out baskets or carts when customers arrive.  Why do you think Walmart is so successful?  They hand you a shopping cart as soon as you walk through the doors.  Make your staff park away from the store front – give the premium spots to the customers.
  • Improve your image.  Keep aisles open and uncluttered, replace burned out bulbs, keep the business clean.  By the way – vacuuming at the end of the day, while customers are still shopping is just rude.  Stop it! Enforce appropriate, consistent attire for your staff, and for Pete’s sake, don’t let them stand outside the front doors on their smoke break!
  • Stock and Price your products.  Few things are more frustrating than finding an item, but having no idea how much it costs, or not finding an advertized item at all.  A major US grocer did a study on abandoned shopping carts – carts that had items in them but the shopper left the store.  They looked at where the carts were abandoned in the store. There were 2 main reasons people walked out;  1- the item they were looking for was out of stock, and 2 – the items were not priced.
  • Be a gracious host. Think of every shopper as a guest in your own home.  Say ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’.  Offer a welcoming environment.  In restaurants, offer water or coffee, give them the menus and ask if they would like anything to start while they’re deciding.  When they’re finished, thank them for their business.
  • Hurry up!  Don’t ever make people wait to give you money.  Speed up the cash lines, or get back to the table in a restaurant to pick up the check payment – once people have made their purchase decision, or have eaten their meals, they want to leave.  Don’t make them wait.
  • Follow up.  If you sell big ticket items like furniture or appliances, send a thank you note to your customer. They sell thank you cards in bulk at the dollar store.  We purchased custom made furniture for our house that cost thousands of dollars – no follow up, no thank you note, no anything.  At the same time, we bought an inexpensive coffee table from another place and got a nice letter in the mail thanking us, and a discount coupon for our next visit.

I think you’d agree that these are simple enough to do.

Now that I’ve had my little rant about service personnel (mostly management), I have to point out how poorly we, the customers, treat the front-line workers.  We too often treat these hard working people as ‘non-humans’ with angry rants, rude conduct, and complete disrespect.

At what point did it become okay to treat other human beings like pieces of garbage?

I was waiting in a service center, where they rented vehicles.  A man and his wife came in from the pouring rain, to be greeted by a nice, young, very pregnant woman behind the counter.  Turns out, the man booked a rental, but at the wrong location, and had to now drive about 20 miles to the other location.  It was completely his fault, but he was so angry, that he threatened to kill the lady behind the counter if he drove all that way and his rental wasn’t available. She handled the situation like a pro, though.

Anyone who calls themselves a good person, then treats a service worker like a piece of trash is a hypocrite, and needs to have their moral compass realigned.  I’m sure there’s a lot of you out there who would like to do the realigning.

How about we all treat each other a little better.  Your waiter, server, customer service rep, cashier, or whatever, has their own share of junk going on in their lives.  Let’s give them a break if they forget to bring the glass of water you ordered, for Pete’s sake – it’s not the apocalypse.

For the service staff, and in particular, the service management, think from the perspective of the customer more often.  Make notes of what bugs you when you are being served less than professionally, then adopt the fix in your own work environment.  Conduct business with the focus on the 98% of the great customers, and not on the 2% that will rip you off.

Maybe then we’d all relax and enjoy work and play a bit more. We could all use a huge dose of that, right?

Sorry about the rant – sometimes you just can’t avoid it.

Oh, by the way, I did end up buying the Christmas items, but I wrote a very direct note to the executive of the company.  I never did hear back from them, though.