Monday, October 18, 2010

Barber's Pole: Salvation For The Lamely Named

A long time ago I took a look at one of the white blue and red poles you see above, and I started asking around: "hey, what's that thing called? It's outside all the barber shops. Sometimes its spinning, sometimes it's not. Maybe they make them in multiple colors?" Ultimately I was always told some combination of "I dunno" or "who cares?" Well guess what, I care, that's who!

For some reason, the idea got planted in my head that it had some kind of clever name. It had to be some old-timey barbershop play on words. Or maybe something about all the colors and the way it spun. Or perhaps it was named after the region it was originally from.

One day, on the cusp of just biting the bullet and looking it up online (it was one of those not-so-rare instances where I cared but no quite enough to not wait around until someone told me what I wanted to know), someone finally offered up: "I think it's like, 'Barber's Pole,' or something. That's all it is." Time and time again I'd hear this, and every time I'd reject it, thinking there's NO WAY it would be called something that boring.

Turns out, I was wrong.

It is actually called a Barber's Pole. Welcome to snooze-ville, folks! What the heck happened? What went wrong? How could something so visually alluring have a less interesting name than the disgusting mush of meat by-products I served to my cat every day?

You'd think, given the name that it has, that the origin of the Barber's Pole was something fairly mundane. Like two brothers, one who dressed mostly in red (like Mario), and one who dressed mostly in blue (like...well, not Luigi, so let's say Ice Mario), took the sleeves of one of their shirts and wrapped it around a white pole one day to promote their new barber shop.

Meh, It's-a close enough.

But no! It's actually a much gorier story than that. From wikipedia:

"The origin of the red and white barber pole is associated with the service of bloodletting and was historically a representation of bloody bandages wrapped around a pole.[2] During medieval times, barbers performed surgery on customers, as well as tooth extractions. The original pole had a brass wash basin at the top (representing the vessel in which leeches were kept) and bottom (representing the basin that received the blood). The pole itself represents the staffthat the patient gripped during the procedure to encourage blood flow."

The red is supposed to be BLOOD! That's awesome! And the blue...well, the blue's apparently just to help us forget about the origin of the red (and to remind us of how much we love our country). But still! Why couldn't the pole's name have something to do with that? Also, check out this business:

"In some parts of Asia, a red, white and blue barber pole is used as a symbol for a brothel. While prostitution is illegal in many parts of Asia, laws against it are often not enforced to the degree that all public solicitations for it are eliminated. The barber's pole is used as a euphemistic way of advertising a brothel, thus reducing the likelihood of police intervention."

Whoa! Now we've got sex in there too! Sex and gore, people! Do I hear Hollywood knocking? 
Finally, there's the MAGIC element:

"The barberpole illusion is a visual illusion that reveals biases in the processing of visual motion in the human brain. When a diagonally-striped pole is rotated around its vertical axis (horizontally), it appears as though the stripes are moving in the direction of its vertical axis (downwards in the case of the animation to the right)."

Illusions! Pretty cool, huh? Those pretty, spinning colors, just spinning all the time...

Ahem. Ok, now stop staring at it and let's get down to business here. I'm officially REJECTING "The Barber's Pole" from this point forward. This incredible but unfortunately named object/device/symbol/metaphor for a penis NEEDS a better name. Luckily, I've spent enough time agonzing over my hero and all his fellow adventurer's names in video games over the years that I've developed a bit of a knack for this sort of thing. I've gone ahead and gotten a list going:

Salvation For The Lamely Named:
"Barber's Pole" 

"Hey, what's that thing over outside the barber shop?"
"That, oh, well that's a..."

Category #1 - Catchy Call Signs
1) Stratego Stick
2) Hypnotist's Halberd
3) Snipper's Sign
4) Cutter's Candy Cane 
5) Twirlybird's Tail

Category #2 - Ode to Dexter
6) Barber's Bloody Oath
7) Gripping Staff...of Death
8) Blood N' Barbicide
9) "It's raining blood! No wait, it's water now...OH GOD NO BLOOD AGAIN!"

Category #3 - Not-So-Secret Brothel 
10) The Two Head Special (eh? eh??)
11) "3H-er" - Whores, Haircuts and Hospitaliano
12) Service Pole (You see, the pole is your penis, and we will serve it)

Category #4 - AMERICA!!
13) Liberty Stick
14) America Pole
15) The 'Ol Guts 'N Glory
16) United States of Awesome Thing

Category #5 - Regional
17) Texas Tube
18) Pittsburgh Pole
19) San Diego Spinner

Category #6 - Miscellaneously Awesome
20) Rainbow Screwdriver
21) Mr. Spinny McGee
22) Acapella Group Signal
23) Stripper's Lament*

And finally...

24) "Beanie's Rod," named after the famed "Beanie Rodd, the Angelic Barber of Fleet Street," who for some reason no one ever decided to go to.

It's because I've made some deep CUTS in my pricing!

There ya go. Twenty four solid entries in the bid to rename the barber's pole. One for every hour of every sad day every barber in the country has to clench his fist in bitter regret over this missed opportunity. All of them, I would argue, a fitting replacement. Now then - feel free to vote on your favorite, or add your own, if you feel so inclined. 

As a side note, I personally had no idea I had so much barbershop related knowledge/bit making ability before I started writing this. So you know, minor victory on that front.


*This and the last one are my two personal faves, if anyone's keeping score.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Saving A C-Note: A Story Of Timeshares and Falsified Homosexuality - Part 2

[Part 2 of the story I started last week]

Two days later we found ourselves at the Outrigger Reef Hotel, where we checked in and were brisked away to a complimentary breakfast, which of course we added to our "income" for coming out to this presentation. While I was in the bathroom washing one of my many accidental cuts on my hand that I sustained on the vacation (this latest one I somehow got while riding my moped, but the rest were all from what you might call sloppy swimming, and no that is not a euphemism) Etkin was filling out the necessary paperwork. Right as he was handing everything in to confirm our participation, he was asked by the man at the front desk if we were a couple. This time, he wasn't getting the vibe that we could get away with our little 'roommate' situation, so he told him with the utmost confidence that yes, in fact we were.

He met me at the breakfast buffet at told me we needed to get our ducks in a row as far as our background story. We quickly determined some basic facts: we were not, under any circumstances going to "gay it up," we felt no need to be particularly affectionate towards one another, and our made-up gay history was going to coincide as closely as possible with our real life history to lower the need to flat out lie.

Now, I rarely get any pleasure out of lying. The second I tell a lie to a person I know even a little, a ticking timebomb appears in my head that takes all of my focus, and until the bomb is defused and the lie is "resolved," I'm not entirely comfortable. It's the equivalent to me of telling a joke without ever getting to the punchline. But more than that - it becomes a fact I'll have to continue to keep in the back of my mind - the narrative between the two of us has now changed into something other than what I tell everyone else. Having said all of this, I quickly got on board with this little scheme. We were going to play a silly role, sit through some bullshit, and get paid. Lies that are like contrived sitcom scenarios are apparently ok with my conscience.

After our breakfast brainstorming session, we came back out into the lobby and were soon greeted by Angie, a tall, friendly and attractive brunette who gave us seashell leis and maintained perfect salesperson poise, posture, and eye contact at all times. She loosened up as we walked upstairs, and soon, as expected, the questions started: Where did we meet? How long have we been together? Where do we want to travel in the next few years? We told her we met at an improv class 3 years ago, and have been together since (replace "in a relationship, with "on an improv team" and it was no longer a lie). We hadn't expected the travel question, but I quickly decided that although I wanted to go to Japan at some point, David wasn't so keen on the idea. Oh, did I mentioned I was now referring to him as David, and not Etkin?

It turns out Angie came to Hawaii to be a 5-0, but she's super glad that didn't pan out because she's very happy doing what she's doing now. I mentally rolled my eyes a little as I heard this, but in hindsight I have to say a good salesperson really does get my respect. I could never in my life get someone pumped to spend money. One of my first jobs ever was selling knives for Cutco and that entire summer I made something like $100 commission - having sold a full pity knife set to my mother and a pair of gardening sheers to another friend's mother. Even to this day, I feel guilty harassing friends to spend $5 to come see my shows. Anyways, Angie was adorable in every way, and she quickly started making assumptions about the two of us. At one point video games came up and she quickly surmised that I was really into them, and David, not so much. "Oh wow, Angie...Nail: Right. On. The. Head!" I smiled as I said this, as I gently (but not effeminately!) rubbed David's back for good measure. I imagined it was something we still were able to laugh about, though perhaps down the line it'd become a bigger point of contention.

As time went on we realized it was going to be tougher and tougher to give a quick "thanks, but no thanks" and be on our way, which I'm sure is the point. She broke down our supposed yearly travel plans by its current value, then adjusted for inflation, and somehow the next thing we knew we were looking at over $500,000 in vacation expenses for the rest of our expected lives (for the record, I gave myself until my early 70's, and boy is that an interesting thought to suddenly contemplate). Timeshares, as they currently stand, naturally alleviate this in the long run, but they require a bigger commitment up front. Once you own your timeshare there's a deed that you get, are now points attached with your property. Those points can be at the location you "own" or elsewhere in the world, and since you own property in one of the most popular vacation destinations, those points carry more weight and thus a week in your timeshare in Hawaii could instead be used for 2 weeks in say, Mexico, or the Carribbean. As far as we could both tell, this was actually a pretty damn good deal. This was another great side note to the event - every time we retold the story, we'd end it by saying just that - showing that had we both been in there in the exact scenario we were claiming we were, they might have actually had us.

Angie took us on a full tour of the property, showing us all the luxury rooms we could be making sweet, sweet love in, were we actually at all sexually attracted to one another. We broke away from her briefly to talk out on a lanai, at which point Etkin exhaled deeply, and looked at his watch. We were quickly closing in on 3 hours with her, which was really hurting our dollars-per-hour justification for doing this. Or maybe he just couldn't stand the thought of looking affectionately at me any longer. Either way, he wanted out, and so did I. Soon enough we went back to the office to finally settle the matter at hand.

It broke both our hearts a little to say no to each of Angie's ever more financially accommodating offers ($15K? Hey, I have that much credit to spare!), and there was an especially awkward moment when, just as I started to say: "I'm sorry, but..." a cork popped as another salesperson had just sealed the deal. In the end, I quickly - and might I add, cleverly - ended the negotiations, telling her we weren't married and thus couldn't commit to something this big. Yes, I played that card, as well as the "we don't know if we want children" one as well, which I threw in, probably unnecessarily, for good measure. Naturally Angie kept her smile and wished us both the best.

My biggest fear was that our experience - the more than three hours of her life that she had to pitch to us - would sour her opinion on the viability of future gay couples. The very idea of it made me feel like shit, however improbable (frankly, she'd have to have already been teetering on the edge of that bias for us to tip her all the way over). Future interested gay couples deserve to be offered an incentive based presentation just as much as anyone else, and I'd march to the streets of Washington DC to protest this, should those particular rights ever be denied. Anyways, we were brisked away to fill out a survey about how we felt about the offer, about Angie, and reminded that it cost the company something like $300 to get us in there for what we were paid, plus marketing, and our breakfast, and this sad, sad meeting we're having right now. Naturally we wouldn't be allowed to get the deal ever again, which I'm sure was fine for all involved.

It was quite a morning (two mornings, technically), and my takeaway from it was I now know how utterly believable the two of us (I'd say just me, but I have yet to experiment on my own) can quickly become as a gay couple with just the tiniest changes in our behavior. I was convinced by the end that she may have questioned our income, our desire to travel, and heck, even our talent as improvisers - but if we had handed her her own survey once we were on our way out the door, with questions about each of these categories, she would have checked the box that indicated she believed were gay and in love with 100% certainty. And I'm comfortable enough in my masculinity to say I'm ok with that.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Saving A C-Note: A Story Of Timeshares and Falsified Homosexuality - Part 1

I was fortunate enough to go to Hawaii for a vacation/improv festival last week, and while I have lots of stories about snorkeling in beautiful, crystal clear water, swimming with dolphins, riding mopeds, watching gorgeous sunsets, and enjoying some of Hawaii's finest cuisine, I'm opting instead to share what was perhaps the most painful (though in hindsight, incredibly amusing) 3 hours I spent while on the island of Oahu.

Our story begins before I even left for Hawaii. As a single guy looking to save a few bucks, I booked my trip to Hawaii through a lovely travel agency called Pleasant Holidays with my friend and fellow performer David Etkin. Mr. Etkin and I booked our flight and hotel together for a very reasonable price, and by booking with Pleasant Holidays, on top of the savings they provided, we were greeted at the airport with leis and the offer of a complimentary breakfast the following morning. The tale continue at this breakfast, where we were being treated to some light entertainment followed by a lengthy powerpoint presentation on all the many tours offered in, on, under, on top of, and around the island.

All of the guests in the room were given a checklist with a listing of each packaged tour, with pricing, times, discounts offered and a total to be tabulated at the bottom. Like my yearly girl scout cookie purchases, it was clearly expected that you'd be buying more than one item on the list. This was an important moment in everyone's trip: Should we go on a helicopter tour of some of the other islands, or should we go see some of the locations where they shot Lost? (side note: I'm amazed I somehow didn't do this) Should we go check out Pearl Harbor, or go see a traditional Hawaiian luau? I'll once again defer to my girl scout cookie simile, and say that like many of the delicious offerings on that menu, everything I saw sounded like a tasty time. My decision making process was shortened about halfway through the presentation when it was announced that I had won a lottery drawing for a free trip to a watersports site that offered jet-skiing, para-sailing, and several other things that were far lamer than jet-skiing and para-sailing, like banana boating.

I'd won some minor lotteries in the past - an early chance at a kick-ass dorm my junior year of college, the opportunity to go first in a game of Jenga - but this one was the most valuable one by far. There's a funny moment, just before a name is called in something like this - where you're hoping you'll win, almost positive you won't, but at the same time, you secretly can't see how the universe would reward anyone else besides you, based on everything you know you deserve. At least, that's how it goes in my head.

The host reads and mispronounces my incredibly easy to pronounce last name (two e's make a different sound than one people, why do so many of you abandon that rule so quickly?), and following that error in judgment, I quickly and unnecessarily sprang to my feet and started approaching the stage (we were warned beforehand that we had 3 repetitions of our name to claim our prize or else it'd go to another person, though I merely had to raise my hand), realize my error and then sat back down, attempting to keep my shit-eating grin as minimized as possible. To counteract the amazing feeling of getting something no one else was getting, I ruminated for a minute thinking about the next dozen better lotteries I'd play that I now of course wouldn't be winning.

Finally after the presentation was over, several local Hawaiian women in mu'umu'us* came around and went to each table to assist all the couples with their package decisions. I say couples here because this is a key component to the story: by and large, with the exception of a woman and her elderly mother, Etkin and I were the only non-male-female, non-married, under-40-years-old pairing. I may have also been the only darker skinned non-Hawaiian there, but that's such a common occurrence in my daily life - both in and out of vacation-related presentations - that I barely notice it anymore.

Had the coming interaction not occurred, this of course would be a minor detail: something Etkin nudges and points out to me (which he did) before we settle our business and scram. But alas, fate had more in store for us that day. And it started with the promise of savings:

"Would you two like to save $100 on one of your tours?"

Looking at the $175 price tag alone just to swim with the dolphins, Etkin and I knew the answer right away:

"Tell us more..."

The $100 was an offer on the table for anyone willing to sit through a timeshare presentation for 2 hours. Etkin quickly did the math, and rationalized that it was if we were opting to work for $50 an hour during our vacation, tax free. The agent asked if we made the appropriate salary ($75,000 combined), and technically we did, but this led to an awkward question, and the beginning of a lie that would quickly snowball out of control. Well, no, that's not true. Let me not exaggerate the situation. The lie certainly snowballed, but I'd like to think it never grew larger than the size of a small boulder. Difficult to maintain, but certainly not impossible. It might knock you out if it hit you with enough force, but you know, you'd live.

She asked if we were a couple, and we quickly decided to say we lived together as roommates but we weren't a gay couple - a white lie that we figured would still qualify us. I could see by the look in her eyes that our situation it wasn't necessarily a dealbreaker. She checked with someone more in the know, and came back and told us "it should be fine." You guys can tell where this is going.

--Next time: A Deal With The Time Share Devil-- 
(Actually a really good deal, when you think about it!)

*pronounced: "moo-oo-moo-oo", we were told emphatically, along with: "MUMU'S are what comes from cows," though I'd argue that end-phrase was already taken by milk, meat, and a large amount of the world's methane.