As youngsters, we are told there’s an upside to growing older: the acquisition of wisdom. But when does the “being wise” thing begin to kick in? I’m starting to worry because I’ve hit middle age and haven’t yet answered the following questions:
1. Where should I look when I’m standing at a urinal?
I’ve peed dozens of times in my life (rough estimate), so by all rights I should have mastered this. But if anything, I’m starting to over-think it. A monologue runs through my head: “I’m peeing and I’m staring straight ahead. But there’s nothing to look at except the nooks and crannies of this cinder block. So many crannies. Wait, now I’m having a chat with the guy next to me. Should I look at him? If I look at him, will he think I’m trying to, you know, look at him? If I keep staring ahead, will he think I’m a lunatic? Curse you for getting me into yet another mess, beer!”
Gazing stubbornly at a blank wall seems like a curious choice until you consider the alternatives. For instance, no one wants to be Stares Downward the Whole Time Guy. He looks as though he’s trying to remember how to do it right.
These days, a small minority of restrooms feature TV screens to occupy the eye. Even a local advertisement can be a godsend. Wait, Bob’s Marina now sells LIVE BAIT? I find this so fascinating that I am going to reread this ad again just to be certain. Yessiree, live bait! Nice upgrade, Bob.
2. Which sign-off should I use to conclude an email?
I’ve spent way too much time thinking about this. Like many, I used “Cheers” for a while—but frankly that only works for people who can get away with saying “Cheers” in real life, which narrows the field to:
– British people.
– Your friend who went to England for two weeks and, a decade later, still insists on using the word lorry.
– Beyoncé (she can do anything).
I used “Best” for a while, and “All best.” I also tried a lighthearted approach: “Some best,” “Lukewarm regards,” that kind of thing. Inspired by the inventors of TTYL, I guess one option is to create a series of capital letters that others will be fooled into believing is an acronym so cutting-edge that they can’t hope to understand it:
3. How should I end a conversation at a party?
Back in university, it was simple. Most people concluded party chit-chats by employing the surefire tactic of vomiting. Barf is nature’s conversation stopper. Those of us in middle age, however, find ourselves in an awkward place: too old to throw up publicly, but not yet old enough to adopt the technique favoured by the elderly members of my family—the hollering of: “This is boring. I’m bored. YOU’RE BORING ME WITH YOUR FACE HOLE.” (And I’d be, like, “Fine, Grandma, but I thought you’d want to hear about me winning the science fair.”)
There are some who are naturals at this. We’ve all seen them in action, moving freely about the party. When they want to extract themselves, they simply lure in some unsuspecting dope. All of a sudden, it’s “Scott, have you met Derek? Derek collects foil wrappers, suffers the intermittent agony of an inflamed bowel and communicates exclusively using a series of grunts and clicks.” Seconds later, it’s just the two of you.
Me: Um, how about dairy? Can you eat dairy?
Derek: [Two sad clicks.]
For years, I’ve ended such conversations by claiming to need to use the washroom. But people are usually on to me. And even if they’re happy I’m gone, they’re still a bit miffed that I cut out before they did.
This would appear to leave only two options:
1. Smoke bomb!
2. Carry two drinks at all times. This way, I can engage in a brief conversation—then politely excuse myself by saying: “Sorry, I need to bring this drink to my wife/friend/horse” (the latter for saloon conversations only). It seems like a foolproof escape plan. In practice, however, it just means that I have two drinks in my possession, and then one drink, and then I’ve finished both drinks and really need to use the washroom.
And so we meet again, urinal wall.