Saturday, February 13, 2016

How to be cool...?

 © 2016 Joshua Stark

I'm going to need some help from cool people.  You see, I may have just discovered that I am, in fact, cool.  Hip.  With it.

I am a hep cat. And I don't know what to do with it.

Two recent experiences took place to lead me to this inevitable conclusion, and now I am at a loss as to what, exactly, I am supposed to do with this power.

The first experience involved a gigantic bicycle, Amtrak, a West German Army surplus jacket, and the city of Oakland (see?  Even that sentence is just so dripping with cool).
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A couple of months ago, I had to get to my organization's headquarters in downtown Oakland for a strategy session for 2016.  Since we are a nonprofit focusing on sustainable and equitable transportation, I'm encouraged to take the train, and this time I thought I'd take my new cargo bike and ride the last two miles.

In typical fashion (for me), my humongous bicycle didn't quite fit, but I forced it.  I got an evil stare from a conductor as I worked at it, but she let me on.  Of course, I spent the trip wondering how I could possibly get home if they didn't let me on the return ride, but I was in it for the long haul.
The cargo bike, in its natural defensive posture

Once I got off the train, I hopped on my bike.  Mind you, when I say my bike is humongous, I mean it.  It's a cargo bike, a Yuba Mundo to be precise, over seven feet long and 50+lbs.; built to haul up to 440 lbs. plus the rider.  I have dreams of hauling out decoys to a local marsh with this beast, but I mostly use it to haul the kids to and from school, and then bike to work.  Bonus: it's bright orange.

It being a chilly day (in the mid-40's), I donned my weather jacket -- a drab green, 25+ year old West German Army surplus jacket that has made it through the years looking really good.  It's one of those coats that is pretty heavy, but when you put it on, you feel like you are wearing a sleeping bag, and the weight distributes perfectly. 

So here I was, pedaling through Oakland -- a city with blocks spontaneously gentrifying in such short order that they should have ribbon-cutting ceremonies or dry ice and light shows -- on a cargo bike, with a four day-old beard (if I shave regularly, I look like I've been attacked by wasps), wearing a German Army surplus coat.

I wanted to yell, "I'm not a hipster!  I'm not paying $2300 a month to live here in a flat above my micro-brewery!  I promise I'm not delivering crates of kombucha!"  I wanted people to know that I was a small-town California Okie, raised in a little Chinatown; that I went to community college in Stockton, where I'd bought this actual coat over twenty years ago at an honest-to-God army surplus store...

I felt helpless.

The second experience took place outside my local library, as I passed the time waiting for my daughter's dance class, and it came with a horrible epiphany concerning the extent of my hip-ness.

I was sitting there, and one of those Facebook memes popped into my head.  You know the one about how "you" may be cool, but you'll never be as cool as blah blah blah?  Well, I chuckled to myself as I wrote out my own version.  It started out innocently enough:

"You may be cool, but you'll never be sitting in your Prius, waiting for your daughter's urban jazz class to finish..." I chuckled; some people do realize that it is pretty cool... "hand stitching a man-purse for..." flashes of fully-bearded, wavy-haired hipst-hipst- "... your Vogue-published writer-friend."

At that instant, I knew that there were entire communities who thought that was cool.

Damned cool.

Images of me, bowhunting with my recurve, hunting with my cheapie double-gun and a rescue spaniel.  Pokepoling for pricklebacks. Tying flies from birds I'd shot.  Videotaping a "how-to" on acorn processing.  Working for an environmental nonprofit.

Raising ducks.

Teaching archery.

Knowing what, "pokepoling for pricklebacks" means.

Making nocino and walnut ketchup.

Hand-carving leather arm guards.

I heard the voice of Sewer Urchin, a super-hero from one of my all-time favorite cartoons, echo in my head:  "Down here, I'm the apotheosis of cool!"

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Now, I know I'm not cool.  In my heart, I'm not cool; by my age, I cannot be cool (because I'm not a musician).  I've never minded coolness, or being cool -- shoot, I've seen some really cool cats in my time, and I've never begrudged them their cool.  But, I've never envied it, either.

All I've ever done, in all honesty, has been without a care about looking cool. (my continued willingness to go hunting with other people, despite my track record, attests to this fact).  I've not tried to be cool or uncool or different.  I've just liked what I've liked and haven't thought much about it.

Part of this probably has to do with being painfully shy as a kid, and growing up in a small California town.  Since I only interacted with a couple of people, and they sure didn't represent any one clique (you get who you get in a small town), I just pretty much kept to myself, developed my own interests, and had the blessing of a very diverse group of friends and family.

But, lately, I'm getting the sense that people have been following me around, and taken up what I've done for years as a goofy guy, as a set of cool things to do. 

If this is true, here are some other things you can expect to be cool pretty soon:

-Pulling an abdominal muscle as a result of the extra exertions of the flu will be all the rage really soon;

-Stock up on Buffalo Bills merchandise, because it'll be flying off the shelves in no time;

-According to my wife, it'll be a hit to let the recycling pile up in the kitchen, rather than taking it out;

-So will waiting six months to fix the running toilet;

But back to my original question: for all my cool friends out there -- what should I do with this power?  What can one do with coolness?  MallardSBW? Phillip? Chanell? Hank?

Not ever having had it before, I don't know where to start.

Oh, and I have an Etsy Shop. (Facepalm):

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