Tradition

Turkey Rickshaw

 

I am tired of ham.  I am tired of turkey.  They are not bad foods.  They are just worn out.

 

I have eaten, without pause, turkey and ham every Thanksgiving and Christmas for the past 100 years.  And don’t forget the dressing, mashed potatoes, and deviled eggs.  Sure, they’re only sides you might say.  Guilty by association I say.  It wasn’t until lately that I began to ask myself, why?  Why am I eating the exact same bird every single year?  Why do I cook the exact same sides every single time?  I’ll tell you why.  Tradition.

 

But is that all tradition means?  Repeating the same things over and over again.  In that case, I have a tradition of showering and brushing my teeth every day.  I have a tradition of showing up for work every day.  It’s traditional for me to fill my car with gas twice a week.  Ok.  So tradition is not just repetition.  Maybe there is a little nostalgia attached to the process.  And it is a process, isn’t it?  I mean, it’s not just a noun.  It’s more of a verb if you think about it.  Traditions take place.  They’re events.  They consist of actions and remembrances.  They are familial, local, and personal.  Every corner of the globe has them.  They fill the nook and crannies of our existence, whether it’s a couple of tulips placed on a grave or an entire village coming together in the town square to catch things thrown from a window. 

 

And these events usually evoke a certain comfort.  They take childhood memories of laughing, aromatic delights, and full bellies, and weave a strand of culture and comfort that holds strings of families together generation after generation.  Like bedtime stories.  They teach us.  How to make giblet gravy.  That you have family you’ll never talk to the other 364 days of the year, but that you can share the gravy with today.  That your progeny won’t forget the things passed down to you through the years thanks to a simple repetition of events.  A cultural chain of custody.  And preservation of ideas and ethnic heritage isn’t a bad thing, right?

 

Maybe not for the first forty years.  Maybe I’m having a mid-life-culinary crisis.  I have some good memories that go along with end of the year get-togethers.  I also have memories of lying on my side like a bloated and beached whale for a few hours on the couch, praying to the God of Gastronomy to lighten my load as soon as possible, and to please give me at least a thirty second warning prior.  I have memories of enjoying company and memories of wondering why it’s necessary to be nice to people just because it’s a certain day of the year.  I have memories of learning just how mom makes the dressing and memories of the stove blinking an error signal Thanksgiving morning a few scant hours before everyone was supposed to show up to eat.  It’s a mixed bag is all I’m saying.

 

Might there not be another way to celebrate, though?  Would it be so bad to not eat the same thing next year?  What are the consequences of being non-traditional?  I think we know now why we adhere to the robotic cycle every year: comfort.  So why forego comfort and break bad?  How about growth. 

 

Surely there is a way to preserve what mom and dad consider holy while engaging the process in a creative and forward manner.  Preparing lunch or dinner a little differently isn’t going to erase anyone’s childhood.  Maybe it’s because I equate comfort with a lack of progression.  Get too comfortable with your job, for instance, and you might find yourself in a stagnant career twenty years later with no discernible method of increasing your pay, or for that matter developing a skill set that will allow you to raise your quality of life.  Sure, it’s easy to slip into a comfort zone.  Too easy. 

 

That must be what causes me to stare impassively at those dripping juices surrounded with a heavenly crust.  To levy an imperceptible sneer at the beautiful lake of gravy nestled carefully in the middle of the hand-mashed potatoes.  To plate my dressing, which my mother prepared with love (I know this because she hates the smell of boiling chicken, but does it anyway), with a cold indifference. 

 

I know, I know.  But I can’t help it.  And don’t say you haven’t thought about it at least once.  I know you have.  I know someone has taken to their turkey and thought, “Man, I could so go for some BBQ right now.  Or pork chops.  Or maybe even Pad Thai.  Don’t feel guilty.  It’s your natural yearning to move forward and expand your horizons.  Embrace it.  Stop fixing that casserole that never has so much as a divot in it when the meal’s over and flip through that cookbook that’s in your… well, who knows where you put it years ago?  But you can find it if you try.

 

I’ll leave you with a clipped story I heard once upon a time.  There are five monkeys in a cage.  There are some steps in the middle of the cage.  A banana is hung at the top of the stairs one day and when the monkeys try to climb and reach it, they are all sprayed with a hose.  Soon, the monkeys don’t even bother with the banana.  Then, one of the monkeys is replaced by a new monkey.  The new monkey heads for the banana and is immediately pummeled by the others, with no idea why.  No one has been sprayed in some time.  Soon, that monkey gives up on the banana too.  One by one, the monkeys are replaced, each one learning from the others not to try for the banana.  After a while, all the original monkeys are gone and the new monkeys never attempt to take the banana.  Even though they could.  And why don’t they do things differently, even though they could?  Because that’s the way it’s always been done.  Tradition.

 

I’m just saying, I would eat that fucking banana.

 

 

 

Jang Scissorhands

I grew up a 5 dollar haircut kind of guy.  For a long time, that’s all I would pay for haircuts.  Then when I got a little older, I began to go to the more upscale boutiques.  The kind that charge 17 bucks for a regular cut.  Why?  For the same reason that every other guy does.  They always have those 20 something hot chicks.  Some with big boobs.  Young, hot, and big boobs.  And if you are lucky, maybe they have to lean over on you a little to get that one piece of hair.  And I don’t know of any other legal way, non-divorce causing way, to have a young, hot girl lay one of her boobs on your shoulder for a second while she plays with your hair.  And it’s much, much cheaper than the strip clubs.

 

I know what you’re thinking.  Dirty old man.  And you’re absolutely correct.  But there is something that transcends the 5 bucks and the shoulder boob.  Every barber shop and boutique I’ve ever been in operates the same way.  Time is money.  Like the old time scribes, they get paid per job.  And so like the old time scribes, they rush you through the process and end up with some misprints or lopsided bangs.  If you’ve ever crawled out of a Wal-Mart shop looking like Scotty Don’t, then you understand the prolonged mental agony of having to watch your mangled hair slowly repair itself over a couple months.  You have to say goodbye to first impressions and deal with people who try to not stare at the side of your head while they talk to you.  You become another casualty of this manic, impersonal production-like process.  Suddenly that 17 bucks doesn’t sound so wonderful.  Of course, you can get your hair mangled for less, and I have.  But it’s much less humiliating to get hair-raped for 5 bucks instead of 17.  It’s barberism.  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

 

So when you finally find someone who gets it right, you stick with that person.  After I lost my job last year and had to move home, I drove all the way here to get my hair cut.  People who have had their follicles violated understand.  That’s why, even though I am happily married, I have established a relationship with another woman.  Her name is Jang.

 

Jang has two degrees.  Literature and Art.  She has gone to school, but says she really learned how to cut hair by applying her artistic skills to the process.  And she is a good artist.  This makes her, in my mind, the Ms. Miyagi of barbering.  It’s like something you would see in a Jackie Chan or Jet Li movie.  Like when they read their adversary’s calligraphy to deduce what their fighting style will be.  I’ve never really thought about it, but I like the philosophy here.  Instead of someone blowing through beauty school and then working their production line process in the same stale pattern as everyone else, Jang has taken the foundational knowledge necessary and then applied her artistic philosophy.  It works.

 

For starters, there’s no rushing you out of the seat.  It takes as long as it takes.  At some of her older jobs, when she was working for the Man, that presented a problem.  The Man wanted to maximize profits.  Jang wanted a happy customer.  Those two don’t usually go together.  But Jang has her own place now.  No rushing.  As a result, I am automatically calmer as soon as I walk in the door.  There is classical music playing, but it’s not the pretentious kind or the kitschy elevator jingles.  It’s just soothing.  There are smiles and she asks how the kids are doing.  But she actually wants to know.  It’s not just banter.  It’s sincerity.  Then she begins.

 

It’s here where things get fuzzy.  Time slows and folds in on itself and there is happiness all around me.  It’s very Zen.  I am calm like a glassy lake in the early morning.  I can hear the ocean.  I open my eyes and my wife is staring at me with a knowing smile.  She recognizes my barbershop bliss.  It’s funny, but wonderful.

 

When I leave the Lily Flagg Barber Shop, I know I have cheated on my wife.  At least it feels like it.  And I will do it again and again in the coming months.  And it won’t cost me 17 bucks.  And I can do without the boob on my shoulder.