Thursday, July 15, 2010

Dirtbag Love

Dirtbags. I love 'em, even though they freak me out. There's something so intensely appealing about the I-don't-give-a-shit ethos of a true hipster dirtbag, something that can't be explained away. At the same time, there's something almost comically off-putting about dirtbags. The collision of the attraction and the repulsion? I can only conclude that hipster dirtbags are like magnets. Gross, dirty, awesome magnets.

I blame Vice magazine for the rise of the hipster dirtbag in the first place. Vice, with its influential "Dos and Don'ts" street fashion section, fronted this minigeneration of hipsters an aesthetic that celebrated street fighting, tank tops on men, scraggly hair, cheap beer, girls who shoplift, dancing all night in dingy bars, smoking cigarettes instead of eating food (food! It's delicious!), sleeping on a dirty mattress with no sheets, and rustbucket bikes. The vibe is a mishmash of DIY punk, lines of cheap coke, 7" vinyl, and binge drinking. Vice was a huge promoter of this party-til-you-puke way of living, which, to someone in their early 20s with no money and no real handle on how concepts like "jobs" and "bosses" work, is totally sexy.

To be honest, it's still kind of sexy. The appeal lies in the Peter Pan-ish qualities of the dudes and broads who eschew the corporate grind and treat their flophouse apartments like a clubhouse. The downside is, those folks often develop a crushing drug habit, a police record for petty offenses, or, more likely, just never throw away the crusty clothes. What's charming and hilarious at 22 is dodgy at 32 and downright icky at 52.

Caught in an in-between phase, I'm both attracted to the filthy hedonism and and put off by it. The hipster dirtbag has always been good for a fling, either romantic or criminal, but as I get a little bit older, I find myself questioning my motives re: dirtbaggery. Am I seriously attracted to dudes with drinking problems and bad haircuts? Or is this just a romancing of the stoned: these guys always seem to have an encyclopedic knowledge of early punk music, Danish bicycles, druggy memoirs from the 1960s, and whose nerdiness is patinaed with glamour. Plus, they don't seem to give a shit either way if people like them or not: self-confidence bordering on lunatic hubris can be very appealing.

But as I get older, I'm realizing the dirtbag is not a sustainable crush. For one, they seem to change addresses every few months, as the rent money gets spent on pitchers of beer and cigarettes. They rarely hold down jobs that pay actual paychecks, instead preferring to focus on their imaginary careers as "photographers" and working as dishwashers in restaurants. They make terrible boyfriends, since they have drug-fueled rages or crying jags that are prompted by their father's fourth marriage. It's impossible to take them anywhere - they want to clean up, but it's tough when all you have are Felix the Cat tee-shirts from 1979. And parents hate them, because the dirtbags have the kind of black-eye sex that makes parents lie away in the dark at night, worrying.

I love them: I want to cradle them in my arms, smooth their wretched hair, and whisper sweet nothings into their ears. "You'll be the next Ryan McGuinley, darling. You'll be the next Dov Charney." But I'm also so over them. I want to shake their skinny shoulders, beg them to get a steady paycheck, stop sleeping with the psychopathic Berliner who set fire to the photo of them with Joe Strummer, and just get with the program. Stop giving each other neck tattoos. Stop living off burritos - I know they're delicious, but eat a vegetable! You're going to get scurvy, and I'm going to laugh at you! Take your knowledge of the dirtbag years - all the cut corners and smart-ass charm - and apply it to your lives as grownups. Dirtbags, you can parlay your special skills and delights into a huge variety of lifestyles that don't require you to fall down the stairs drunk on a Monday. And then I can love you even more.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bored Of Directors

Allegedly, boredom is good for you - some sort of mental palate cleanser to help folks keep on their track of splitting atoms and designing wearable birdcages - but long stretches of it makes me want to put my head in the oven. Granted, my oven is electric, so it would just be me, mushing my face against the cheese stalagmites from a decade's worth of pizza prep, but at least it would be something to do.

I usually love being bored. I mean, "love" is kind of a strong word - but I sometimes sort of relish boredom. Tonight, I was at work, doling out an epic lean on the bar. I had served three customers and had already scrubbed the whole damned place from top to bottom. That restaurant is clean, yo. And as I was leaning, watching uninterested people bypass the heavy Italian food we serve in favour of menus that include exotic ingredients like vegetables, my mind was wandering. Thinking about if I should invest in more comic books and if so, which ones; how I'm going to decorate my new room in the fall; and what I would say if I ran into my ex-boyfriend (the fantasy usually involves me being much taller and leggier, while he's gone completely bald, developed a hunchback and has basically morphed into Richard III. In reality, what I usually say is "Guh," with a blush that makes me look like I'm having a coronary); how I can incorporate plants into my new room without having to water them; whether or not my head is too small for my body; and various places I'd like to make out with someone.

There's no rhyme or reason to a good boredom session. It's usually forced upon you, stranding you with nothing to do while you wait for the good people of Service Ontario to take your health card picture. Or at work, waiting for the customers, the orders, the system to come back online, or the photocopier to stop barfing toner all over the floor. These are moments devoid of tasks, so your brain stops paying attention to what it should be doing. Instead, your mind tells itself breathless little stories about things you might conceivably do one day, and for a split second, you've convinced yourself that you're the next Mags Atwood. Then your neurons snap back into place and you resume the nit-picky but tedious job of arranging the clip-art on the biweekly company updates. Atwood remains safe as the queen of Canlit and one of my personal enemies.

But boredom, day in and day out, is a major mental drain. I like the occasional boredom jag because usually my job, and life, is interesting enough that a little bit of dazed staring is a mini-vacation, not a permanent mode of existence.

Waitressing is considered "unskilled labour" in a lot of job markets, but I would love to see the government official who described it like that handling a full section on a busy night when everyone wants separate checks, the kitchen staff has gone nuclear, and the dishwasher is sobbing. Unskilled, my ass. It's fast. But it's also tedious. Serving tables has the same basic to-do list each time a new customer is seated - which works - but it's also relatively easy to forget yourself in the sheer physicality of hauling hot food to people and wiping up condensation rings on the table. It's challenging, but serving tables doesn't exactly hot-wire the creative, problem-solving side of your brain. It is, in a nutshell, boring.

While I wouldn't return to the dreary reading lists of my university life, I'm craving a job that asks me to make thoughts. I'm not interested in mindless file-'n'-fax office jobs, or any job that requires a script, be it telemarketing or just starting every interaction with, "Can I start you folks off with a drink?" That kind of boredom is not good. That's when people start dressing their pets up like food products and experimenting with hallucinogenics on the clock.

Our minds are supposed to wander. It's good for us, it allows creativity to flow and outside-the-box thinking to happen. I applaud boredom, daydreaming, imaginary conversations, sexual fantasies, planning outfits, reminiscing, reconstructions, and reimaginings. If bored, I can easily amuse myself by thinking about the last person I kissed (or the first - hi Jordan!), the pros and cons of terrariums as a solution to the waterless plants I so desire, and how much my feet hurt in my stupid Payless shoes.

But too much boredom just pins you against the wall. Too much boredom and I start worrying about things, silly things, things that, in the context of my insanely bored mind, start looming and growing horns and teeth and generally freaking me right the fuck out. Thoughts about food and haircuts start taking over the easily annexed parts of my brain. My bored brain is like Poland in 1939. I like a little boredom, the same way I like a little dairy. Too much of either and I start sweating and feeling nauseous. So I need a balance. Folks are loathe to admit that boredom is necessary for us. Setting our brainpans on screensaver mode while we wait for the doctor to see us is a great thing. I like daydreaming, letting my mind wander and then come back to the task at hand. As, I suspect, do most people.