Thoughts on Turning 21 From Me at Age 20

My girlfriend and her sister, Emily (left), who turns 21 today. I wanted to use a photo of myself on my 21st birthday, but they didn't allow photo albums on Facebook back then.

Today marks my girlfriend’s little sister’s 21st birthday. Happy birthday, Emily.

After years (four and counting) of being of-age, I felt compelled to offer advice for this momentous occasion and the many nights out to follow. Six years at the same college and two years behind the same bar in the same college town informed me a-plenty on 21st birthdays and how things can go awry.

However, I don’t want to dull the jubilation and revelry with words of warning. So, I figured I’d let my 20-year-old self do that.

No, really.

Here’s a commentary I wrote on the eve of my 21st birthday for my college newspaper. Emily, I hope you’re able to extract some lesson from it:

I turn 21 this Saturday and I’m scared as hell because I know what this entails. Beyond that threshold lies years of adulthood and responsibility, including a full-time job, a wife or five and hopefully a kid or two. That realization is the driving force behind anyone’s power hour, I think. They call it power hour because that’s the last time you really have any.

Mass amounts of debauchery abound, though, as I will be spending this landmark transition with my good friend Fat Jake at the University of Minnesota’s homecoming. (I figure it should be a good primer for MSU’s next week.)

I’d be robbing you all if I didn’t describe Jacob. We’ve called him “Fat Jake” for years, even though he’s not. He’s very Kirby Puckett meets Teen Wolf, but in a good way. Jake spent the summer working an internship at SmithBarney in the Cities, which is funny, because that means the same guy whose bound to be a highly successful broker was once known for possessing the power to eat a 16-ounce steak and turn it into a plate full of chislic when given enough Jack Daniels; the same guy whose favorite drinking outfit is naked.

I digress.

I won’t be experiencing any power hour of my own. I don’t believe turning 21 necessitates the execution of one’s liver via Goldschlager.

Plus, I was already advised by one aunt this past spring that if I didn’t die from my power hour, she’d be the one to kill me for even trying. So condescending.

See, the whole drinking ritual to me is baseless. The point of it becoming legal is now you get to drink, not you have to drink. This isn’t like the day you get your driver’s license or the day you learn how to walk, which most people of legal age probably realize, because on those days you were actually able to drive and walk. This is just a privilege that has been handed over that you can enjoy the rest of your life, not just the rest of the night.

And the bar scene. The bar scene. I grew up in our family-owned bar and saw what winners a tavern can churn out. Life isn’t the show Cheers; you don’t want to become a regular at a bar anymore than you want to become a regular at a tetherball support group.

Many say bars are a great way for people to meet people and hook up. As someone who does neither of those things, I have to say I still oppose. Basically, it’s conceding to the fact that you’re not good-enough-looking or funny-enough until that second Long Island iced tea kicks in. And most of the girls I’d want to take home couldn’t make it through the necessary amount of booze to make that possible, anyway.

But I’m glad to be handed this privilege, to not have to pick out a clever hiding spot when the cops come to break up a party or have to worry about keeping the shades drawn when I wanna booze in my own garsh darn apartment. In Mankato, you’d think underage drinking could land you on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. I respected the law enough – notice, I didn’t say obeyed – to understand the necessity of a legal drinking age.

Gotta say though: I’m pretty damn happy to be past it. The thrill of drinking as a minor is almost as thrilling as waking up with someone else’s underwear on. But now, when I need a drink to calm my stress, I won’t have to stress about drinking.

That’s a good enough birthday present for me.

For the record, I never went out on my 21st birthday. By the time I returned to Mankato from the Minnesota-Purdue homecoming football game, it was raining like the 40-year flood. My college town was adamant about drinking, yet on my 21st birthday — a Saturday night, just three weeks into the school year — no one would go downtown. No one was even willing to hang out. It was simply too rainy. And I was OK with that.

Lastly, my girlfriend and I went to a concert last night in Portland (more on that tomorrow) where Tyler Hilton was an opening act. We thought it would be funny to have a moderately famous celebrity offer Emily some birthday advice:

Check back tomorrow for a write-up on the greatest band to ever emerge from Sioux Falls, SD.

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We’re Moving Back to Minnesota (Finally)

It’s official: We’re moving home.

By “home” I mean Minneapolis, Minnesota, a city in which neither my girlfriend nor I have ever lived. We both grew up in eastern South Dakota and went to school at Minnesota State University, Mankato — which is about 70 miles south of the Twin Cities — but for all intents and purposes, this is a return home. We’d been considering the move for months now, but only this past weekend did it become official.

This should come as no surprise to loyal TMT readers, but I’ve maintained a love/hate relationship with Portland since the moment we got here last August. That’s to say I’ve really loved hating Portland.

A loyal reader recently asked what brought us here in the first place. In short, I decided after spending the first 24 years of my life living in or within a few hours of my hometown that it was time for a change of scenery. We certainly got the change we were looking for out here, but the change meant putting nearly 1,800 miles between ourselves and the people we love most. The longer we were here, the greater urgency we felt to move home. You can only call, text and Skype with family and friends so much.

Why Portland, specifically? I had always been interested in living the Pacific Northwest because of the climate, terrain and politics. My initial thought was Seattle, but Portland was more practical based on cost and job opportunities. (Not saying the job market is better in Portland, but Seattle is a too tech-oriented for this English graduate.) There’s a lot of things I’ve loved about Portland: the mild winter, the coffee shops, the Willamette Week, the library system, the parks. What it lacks, though, time and time again, is our family and friends.

Growing up, I never intended on being someone who needed to live near their family. Aside from aunts and cousins in Indianapolis, the vast majority of my family is in the South Dakota-Minnesota area. I’d always been jealous of families that spread across the country, popping in major cities like Ikea stores. Now, I can’t wait to get back home. I can’t live close enough to my family as far as I’m concerned.

The same people who made moving away so hard helped make the decision to move back so easy.

Here’s another piece of truth: We left behind some great friends. My whole life, I’ve cycled through small groups of friends, allowing time and space to cut friendships short. The friends I had when we moved were the best friends I’ve ever had. The people we’re returning home to are people I want my kids to know. They’re people I want to look at old college photos with when our grandchildren can look at us and say, “What’s a digital camera?”

The Midwest is by no means a hip area of the country, but I’ve had my fill of hip. I miss the hokey Northern dialect, the deep devotion to beer and football, several dozen conversations each day about the weather. I miss guys who wear Carhartt without irony, pride themselves on their Buffalo wing eating ability and can sing every word to “Skol Vikings.” I miss girls who wear hooded sweatshirts, pride themselves on their Buffalo wing eating ability and don’t mind smiling for no apparent reason.

When you live in a place where it rains for months on end, you need a good umbrella. When you live in a place where (-26) degrees outside isn’t rare, you need a good sense of humor. That’s something Portland is lacking.

My girlfriend and I don’t move until late July, so in the meantime, we plan on giving Portland our full attention. Much has been made of bucket lists since the Jack Nicholson—Morgan Freeman buddy flick was released a few years ago. We’ve agreed to something similar — a f*ck-it list. As in, I don’t really want to go to the Japanese Rose Garden, but we’re moving soon, so f*ck it! We’re cobbling together a list of things we want to do or see before making our move. (No. 1 on the list is going to Seattle for Memorial Weekend to catch a Minnesota Twins-Seattle Mariners game at Safeco Field.)

This post might just catch someone on the verge of a cross-country move, so let me part with those people in mind: I understand full well the urge to get away and try something new. There’s no better learning process than throwing yourself into a place that’s unfamiliar, surrounded by people you don’t know. However, think about the people you get to have in your life every day. Is where you live so intolerable that you would settle on seeing them just once or twice per year just to live in a different time zone?

If yes, I wish you the best of luck. If no, well, there’s no shame in that. I’m hesitant to call it one for the appreciation it’s given us, but you can learn from our mistake.


How to Avoid Buying a Man Purse

My pursuit of the perfect man bag really began last October. Standing outside the elevator in the lobby of my apartment, two blonde coeds began chatting about Halloween plans. When the door opened and we each stepped on, one of the girls turned and asked me, “Where do you go?”

“Four, please.”

She laughed, then clarified.

“No, where do you go to school?” she asked. “I see your backpack. PSU? UP?”

I was two weeks into my first big boy job. Between the lax dress code and my unfortunate backpack, these girls had assumed I was still a college student. Someday, I’ll take that as a compliment, but not at 25. I knew the black Titleist backpack I’d been using since sophomore year would no longer suffice. I needed something a little more grown-up.

A little movie called The Hangover brought the European man purse phenomenon to the public conscience, so now more than ever, it’s critical to know the fine line between an acceptable man bag and something your girlfriend might buy. It took me a solid three months to find the right bag, but before I explain my strategy, here’s why I felt a man bag was necessary.

  1. Jeans are tighter than ever and pocket space is at a premium. You might be able to carry a car key and  stick of gum, but that’s about it.
  2. Mobile devices are all the rage. Whether hauling your laptop, a netbook or your new iPad, you need the right bag to get that stuff around.
  3. I read Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried in high school. I’ve been a pack rat ever since.
  4. A backpack is just as debasing as a man purse. It was time.

When looking for a proper man bag, there are are several things to keep in mind. I want to take you threw the logic I applied, but know that these are just recommendations. We’re not talking about prescriptions drugs or life insurance here. You can disobey rules when necessary, but here’s what led to my purchase:

Go Long with Shoulder Straps. By “man bag,” I really mean “messenger bag.” A man purse will have feeble little straps that might make it over your shoulder if you gave up protein when you were 11. A man bag should be worn across the body, so you can wear it at your side or flip it behind you. (Tom Brady struggles with this key distinction, and it’s his job to go long.) Think of it this way: If you were cornered by ninjas and all you had was your man bag, you’d be able to swing your bag 360 degrees to knock out every ninja within five feet.

Wider is Better. It’s critical your man bag have a rectangular shape, not square. This is to ensure you can haul a laptop or important documents, but also a hammer, a ratchet set, roughly 12 bottles of Miller High Life or a semi-automatic weapon if need be. The discerning eye will notice a square bag always looks more dubious than a rectangular bag. On another note, a square bag will make you look fat. Wait! No! Moving along…

Perfectly Disorganized. The general rule of thumb here is the fewer designated pockets, the better. You’re essentially looking for a durable bag into which you can chuck a number of items simply to know they’re there. You don’t need a pencil pocket, a valuables pocket, a cell phone pocket, a cord slot, a key ring and a hidden pocket. Anything beyond a few pockets and it looks like your an EMT ready for triage. (That’s bad ass in it’s own right, but not what we’re looking for here.)

Lose the Leather. Your man bag shouldn’t cost more than $50. That should rule out leather and just about every designer brand. Your man bag needs to have the same sentiment as that old beat-up baseball cap you’ve been wearing for years. The reality is your man bag, like that baseball cap, will probably look distressed on purchase. That’s good! Canvas bags are the best, because within a few weeks and a few washes, it looks like something you may have used to carry fossils, a wounded raccoon or expended rounds from the Civil War.

I’m packing my man bag for a Sunday at Powell’s World of Books on Burnside. I will carry with me: my MacBook, my MacBook charger, my iPhone, my Flip camcorder, a pack of Trident gum, the AP Stylebook, my wallet, my keys, a spool of floss, two sets of earbuds, an umbrella and a chocolate Powerbar. Of course, I don’t need all of these items, but that’s not the point of a man bag. It’s the fact you can bring all of these things.

It’s so liberating.

In Portland, Every Day is Casual

Anywhere else in the country, this man is labeled a hippie. In Portland, he could be labeled a certified public accountant.

I was trading messages on Facebook a few weeks back with my friend and former colleague Drew Lyon, who I first met writing for my college’s newspaper. Drew wanted to let me know he was coming to Portland to visit family and see some of his old stomping grounds from the five months he lived here a few years back.

Drew had rightfully assumed I hadn’t become a hipster from my many denouncements of the culture on this here blog. He wrote,

“OK, so you’re not a hipster. I figured. They love their tight jeans, huh? Question is: have you grown the requisite beard yet? I like to call Portland the facial hair capital of America, one of the few places where you can grow a beard and not be labeled a hippie. Plenty of hippies there too, of course.”

It dawned on me I haven’t shaved my face down to the flesh in a good eight months. Not since my last job interview, at least. And what a good eight months it’s been. I’m good for a weekly trim, but it’s true that Portland pays no mind to a little scruff. In a city that’s usually cloudy, no one gives a damn about a 5 o’clock shadow.

This is a city without a dress code. I work on the eighth floor of One World Trade Center downtown, yet I get to wear jeans to work every day. We still honor casual Friday, but it’s hard to get more casual than the status quo. I guess I know Friday as the day I get to wear running shoes to work.

I talk a lot of smack about Portland — which is sometimes deserving — but this city’s attitude regarding appearance is flat-out awesome. And mature, I might add.

When I was 14, I started bagging groceries. Back then, the dress code required I wear a white button-up shirt, a tie, dress pants and dress shoes. Earrings were unacceptable and facial hair needed to be approved by a manager. No visible tattoos were allowed. So, as a 14-year-old, I had to dress like a lawyer just to ask paper or plastic.

Now, I’m a working professional and I’m dressing the same way I did in college.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — look good, feel good, play good. OK, at times, I’m sure I look a little haggard strolling into work wearing an old pair of jeans, a flannel button-up and a pair of Patagonia slip-ons. But I look comfortable, I feel comfortable and I produce results on the job.

Take that, establishment!

So, what’s your dress code at work? What do you do to bend the rules?

It’s April, Fools

For a simple, harmless joke, I recommend dressing and acting like a co-worker on April Fools Day.

For a guy who hates campy, arbitrary holidays, you’d think April Fools Day would be high on my list of perfect topics to rant about.

Except I love April Fools Day. Why? Because I love elaborate pranks, though I’ve never really executed one myself. My girlfriend and I agreed to mess with our relationship status last night just to see who’d take the bait. Since turning my status to “single,” I’ve had several replies:

  • “beth was dragging you down”
  • “Good, she’s all mine now.”
  • “I guess I’ll be the first to say sorry about the change in status? Take care, buddy.”
  • “we are getting coffee first thing in the morning. deal? deal.”

Of course, one friend picked it up, but she went to law school. Only a couple friends took it hook, line and sinker. The reality is April Fools Day doesn’t necessarily catch the vulnerable, the oblivious and the gullible, but most commonly those who lose track of the date. It’s not like there’s any seasonal indicators or big build up for April 1. Out of nowhere, wacky shit starts happening, but it’s only a matter of time before you think Ooooooh. Dammit.

Social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, etc.) have opened up a million-and-one opportunities for viral April Fools campaigns. Now, you can go BIG. Clown a friend and catch it on video, you can broadcast it around the world. Get just one credible media source to retweet some made-up story and you’ve duped thousands. Facebook — well, that’s just too easy. You’re pregnant. You’re engaged. You’re single. There’s a lot of cruel directions you can go. But today, that’s OK.

April Fools Day is good for national morale. Anything that breaks up the monotony of day-to-day life with a little humor is fine by me.

What say you? Have you been duped yet today? Duped anyone else? What’s the greatest April Fool Day rip you’ve ever witnessed?

The Huffington Post is updating a best-of list all day here.

Happy pranking!


My Snob-Free Citizen Playlist

The last thing I ever want to be thought of as — well, maybe not the last thing — one of the worst things I could be thought of as is a music snob. (See the above picture for my definition of a music snob.)

I’ve always been self-aware of my musical taste, but that’s only because I grew up around cooler older kids and their super cool older brothers. Music, more so than my limited athletic ability and sheepish personality (at the time), gave me a chance to communicate with kids way higher on the cool hierarchy. That’s the thing about music — it doesn’t define who you are, and frankly, it doesn’t give a shit who you are.

That’s where music snobs get lost.

Around last summer, Apple screwed the pooch and eliminated their celebrity playlists section from the iTunes Store. That was my very favorite feature on the Internet, if only because it made me appreciate the way we come to music and how, with all the songs in the world, we gravitate toward certain genres, albums, songs and artists.

The celebrity playlists have been replaced by celebrity playlist podcasts where someone like Quentin Tarantino will attempt to make you feel like an idiot because you’ve never heard of some obscurbe Russian jazz-infusion quartet from the 1980s. That’s not my thing.

There was a good three years where I wanted to be a celebrity just so I could drop knowledge with my own celebrity playlist. My taste is hardly unique. It borders on “poppy.” It’s not quite revelatory to who I am as a person because the gangster rap-song-to-times-I’ve-acted-gangster ratio is way too disproportionate.

Still, I’m not letting my lack of fame stop me. Here’s some chestnuts that help me keep my chin up, my citizen playlist, if you will:

Rose Parks – OutKast – No rap group has managed to transcend age and race like OutKast. This is the type of song you wouldn’t be that shocked to learn your white grandma likes. It’s just as cool now as it was 16 years ago. That’s saying something.

Lost – Michael Bublé – The one knock on this Canadian crooner is he’s essentially a cover act. This is an original song, though. I think he got bored and thought, How can I disintegrate any woman’s pants in less than forty seconds? Wa-la. Done and done. Michael Bublé 1, Naysayers 0.

Electric Feel – MGMT – I was really late to this one, but this song has one of the most digusting beats I’ve ever heard and the whole thing is sung in falsetto. It really brings out my inner-hipster. It makes me do that awkward head-bob-and-lip-curl thing we white men are justifiably ridiculed over.

Nothing Ever Hurt Like You – James Morrison Morrison is the Smokey Robinson to Ray LaMontagne’s Otis Redding. If I could change one thing, I’d bring in the B3 organ, but still, Morrison’s one of the best voices out of England since Coldplay’s Chris Martin.

Rich Girl – Hall & Oates – H&O is widely considered kitsch now as we peer back at the ’80s, but something about this beat is so Kanye West. Pretty racy chorus, too: It’s a bitch girl/ And it’s gone too far/ ‘Cause you know it don’t matter anyway. It’s a monster hit in 2:26. Time well spent.

Water and a Flame – Daniel Merriweather feat. Adele The rare modern duet where two unique voices work better together than apart. If their agents really liked money, they would call for a merger.

Pass Out – Chris Brown feat. Esther Dean – If you’ve pleaded guilty for domestic violence, probably not the best choice to sing Can’t wait ’til you pass out. Thankfully, the lyric is actually Do it ’til you pass out, but you’ll be duped at first listen. Infectious beat, ridiculous vocal effects but some hard-to-interpret lyrics. Regardless, it’s the ass-shaker of the year.

Fresh Air – Brother Ali This one proves you can be an Albino Muslim from Minnesota and make bragging about your kids, watching cartoons and making pancakes all seem cool. Ali effortlessly flows over a whirling, soulful beat.

Buster Voodoo – Rodrigo y Gabriela – Careful listening to this song while walking in public. Either the world around you will ease into slow motion or you’ll start walking like a bandito on his way to a gunfight.

Beast of Burden – The Rolling Stones – By far, the most vulnerable rock song ever. Mick Jagger bleeds on this all-time karaoke classic. This is the Muddy Waters influence at its best.

Sour Patch Kids – Asher Roth – The once-though novelty rapper for his corny debut single I Love College shows flexibility on this politically charged track. There’s no beat he can’t handle with his dexterous flow.