Saturday, September 17, 2016

Is Sheba Cool or Lame?

We lay in bed, talking.  Her more than me, but we lay in bed talking, as she is wont to do.  She bounces from one topic to another, laughing and annoying me to no end, and I calculate that it will be at least another twenty minutes before she’ll show me mercy and let me go to sleep.

She asks a question and I reply, insufficiently to her liking, which invariably elicits four or five follow-up questions.  I’m walking a fine line here – how to answer comprehensively enough that follow up questions decrease while remaining brief and terse enough to keep her level of enthusiasm from rising – I negotiate it as best as I can.  The flame of her social mind flickers, the embers wane.  Another question, another answer – her need to talk is nearly quenched, now almost extinguished.

And then, she, my wife, does as she always does.  What perhaps she alone can do.

She surprises me.

“Babe, am I cool?”

Five syllables waft through the air from where she sits to where my head lay, bouncing from atom to atom, vibrating atmosphere before doing the same to my eardrum.  Action potentials, the movement of ions, the brief percolation of the syllables made into words, then finally into ideas, over my brain, percolating like water through coffee grounds. 

And just like the caffeine in those coffee grounds would, her question has me wide awake.  Awake as I’ve ever been.

“Are you cool?”  I repeat carefully.  I’ve never heard anyone say these words to me, in this order, before.  The novelty has my faculties returning full blast, the nearness of sleep is not so near anymore.

“Yeah.  Am I cool?  What do you think?”

I half-smile to her and half-smile to myself.  “That’s…a loaded question, doll.”

“Well, tell me…”

The very idea of trying to get into it now, here, at this hour, off-the-cuff without cue cards or charts or presentation slides makes my stomach turn.  It would be an affront to intellectualism itself – equivalent to trying to launch a Saturn V rocket by eyeballing it.  But the challenge has been made.  I have to write to have any hope of coming to an answer.  And even then I’m not sure what conclusion I’ll find.  Heck I don’t even know if I’ll like the answer.

Is Sheba cool or lame?

Let’s do it!


I suppose first we have to establish some definitions, some criteria, some guideposts to the inquiry. ‘Cool’ is obviously a nebulous kind of term, immediately suggestive of social power dynamics, in-group vs out-group theory, self and othering, and then into economic theory like Veblen goods and utility diagrams.  And after having spent years or even a lifetime trying to account for and capture ‘coolness’ in all the objective, quantifiable ways possible, we peer into the bucket only to find that we’ve gathered none of it at all – the bucket had a hole in the bottom.  Every notion we ever had of ‘being cool’ that we stored away drained out the bottom of the bucket.  It is the ultimate emergent property, the ultimate eye-of-the-beholder attribute.  It is the diamond of subjectivity – the flawless gem of qualitativeness.  Like water in the hand, the harder you try to grasp coolness, the easier it escapes.  Like the Dao, or the Do of Karate-do, the moment that you think that you have it is the moment that it eludes you.

(I’m typing this next to a girl watching ‘The Notebook’ on her phone.  How gross…!  Needless to say the next few paragraphs will be garbage that you can skip…)

So our first acknowledgement is that zero upon zero percent of humans actually know what cool is.   Go too far into aloofness and you’re just cruel and a jerk.  Be too accessible and you’re too eager and desperate.  Moody and mysterious on one side of the line becomes emo and pathetic on the other. Charming and happy without fail – you’re naïve and a sheep.  No one ‘cool’ could ever be naïve, a sheep, emo, pathetic, desperate, eager, cruel or a jerk.

If you’re a player, reducing women to objects and getting your belt notches into the high double or triple digits, chances are you have a STI for your troubles.  As much as girls are a game of numbers to such men, viruses and bacteria are just a game of numbers to our genitals.  To envy such a person is to envy the dude playing musical chairs so long that he might be the last man standing.  It was fun while it lasted, I guess.

If you’re a good girl, who only had sex with one man your whole life, knock on wood, you won’t get an STI.  You also won’t really experience to any meaningful degree one of the four fundamental joys of life (sex…along with sleeping, eating and shitting – dancing being, to my mind, just an extension of fucking and masturbation).  To say that a person that’s only had one sexual partner could ever really be cool would be like saying a person that’s only slept in one bed, or eaten from the same cook their whole life, or never taken a shit in someone else’s house is cool – its about as cool as someone who literally has no clue what they are missing. ‘Cool’ obviously has to be an appeal to someone who has something that others don’t, something that others want; not someone in desperate need of what others’ take for granted.

So, we already see that ‘cool’ is dynamic.  It isn’t as simple as being the person that has a lot of something or someone living so simply that they seem to be missing out.  ‘Coolness’ is somewhere in the middle, something unique, something rare, but at the same time something that isn’t ‘obvious’ and ‘simple’.

So is ‘cool’ middle-ground?  Well, there seems to be a quality of balance to a person who is thought of as cool.  But objects that are thought of as ‘cool’ are usually new, original, exciting, things that challenge the imagination.  And maybe the notion of a ‘balanced’ person or an ‘original’ person also tickles the imagination – the idea that someone could be put together and well adjusted in a world constantly pulling us between selfish thoughts of ourselves and sacrifice for the good of others – a world that is constantly challenging our sense of self-worth, our purpose and rarely offers certainty as to what we should be doing and who we should be.

Yet middle-ground sometimes equates to middling.  And while some part of ‘cool’ may flow from ‘well-adjustedness’, ‘put-togetherness’, and self-assuredness, middling and average things are pretty much never cool.  People who never pick sides, indecisive people, people who always want things both ways, ambivalent people with no strong feelings or opinions – no one like that could be cool.

That would lead us to the opposite of the middle-ground people.  The trail-blazers.  The risk-takers. The outsiders.  The pioneers.  The grain-go-against-ers.  The rebels.   Judd Nelson in the Breakfast Club. Indecisive they are not.  They stand for no bullshit, they challenge authority and they don’t suffer others silently.  Injustice puts them on red alert – they aren’t afraid for a second to make a scene and take the initiative.  Most leaders will have some of these qualities and it’s hard to deny that leaders are often a lot ‘cooler’ than ‘followers’.

And yet, how much of being a leader is being seen to be a leader?  How much of it is about flash and pomp instead of substance and inspiring others by example?  Too often being a leader is just being a marketing guy – telling people that things are okay, giving people the sense of your importance or making people feel good about themselves.  When the shift from substance to semblance is complete – when looking good matters more than doing good – it’s very easy for the leader to tumble from being cool to being lame.  People who are a little too quick to mention their accomplishments, who are a little too quick to talk about things done in the past instead of their plans for the future – the boastful, the braggarts, the blowhards – you could be the leader of the world and still not be cool because the need to be your own hype man isn’t cool.  If you’re cool, other people do your hyping.

So where does that leave us?  ‘Cool’ isn’t a follower, but leaders without followers are pretty lame. Cool isn’t average, but extremists get old quick.  Cool is often novel or new, but originality is usually just ‘new to you’, not ‘new to the world’.  Very few things are actually new and when people think that something new to them is actually new, they can seem lame pretty fast.  ‘Cool’ is appeal and appealing – kindness is appealing, but sometimes so is aloofness and mystery.  So ‘cool’ is contextual, subjective.  Therefore, while sentiment can carry us away and give us an instinctual sense of what is appealing and cool, so long as what is cool is subjective and contextual, there will always be room for people to make the case as to why a thing or being is ‘cool’ or ‘lame’.


The arguments for why Sheba is cool are strong and articulated by others far better than by me:

The Insisted writes:
Hmm. Is Sheba cool or lame. To answer this one must first determine what is cool and what is lame RIGHT NOW. Because cool things are very of the moment, and only the moment. For example, hover boards are cool right now, butttt I find them super lame. Like obesity here I come! What else is very 2016. Oh! I know! Painting in your eyebrows: VERY cool right now, you can't go on Instagram without seeing ten women with the same crayola brushstroke above their eye got these little white girls looking like Khal Drogo.... ya, no, that's pretty lame to me too. Kylie Jenner is cool, that guy that wears white vans, the Housewives of Atlanta...all classifiably cool, and yet I find all of them unbelievably lame. And then there's Sheba! Now Sheba may not be cool to the untrained eye. She doesn't paint on her eyebrows (it would be like painting a bush on a bush), she doesn't keep up with which cleansing tea Kylie drinks to help her shit herself skinny, etc. She's terrible at taking selfies. She lets her chin hairs grow in ARGUABLY longer than she should (I'm talking billy goat here, people, you could cut it off and use it as twine). She wears this weird Aztec poncho all winter and I'm not going to say she doesn't get mistaken for the yeti. She's fond of belly rubs and chocolate cake (never leave the whole cake out on the counter, make a point of cutting her a piece and putting it away). And yet, somehow, I'm convinced Sheba is very very cool. She knows herself and doesn't question what she loves or does or says. She stands up for herself and other people. She wears what she wants, and rocks risky haircuts, and has her own untouchable style. She's unafraid to be goofy at an age (89) where most of her peers are too busy playing Mah Jong to be goofy. Kidding. If you're cool to one person, you're cool. And Sheba is cool to me. Bonus: I'm extremely cool and well known for being cool so that makes her even cooler. -Simone, younger sister (22), professional cool guy

Sohayla Smith contends:
Sheba is definitely cool. Her personal style makes her cool. Her forward nature makes her cool. Her confidence in the things she loves makes her cool. Her curly hair makes her indisputably cool. Her talents in voice & music make her über cool. Her organization and business strengths make her corporately cool. I would go on, but I'm running out of cool ways to describe how cool she actually is... It's almost like there aren't enough ways to communicate her coolness… "Cool" ain't cool enough to describe Sheba. Sheba IS cool. ;) <3 big="" i="" late="" lol="" sister.="" your="">

Mandelabursa adds:
Is Sheba cool or lame? I knew Sheba a long time ago and I've been getting to know her again. Its funny: what made her cool then is what makes her cool now. But, I don't think she sees it that way. When Sheba talks about the time we were and Denlow and St. Andrews, she tends to quite self-deprecating. But, I really don't understand why. I remember a girl who was fearless. While I was trying to meet some standard of cool that demanded a forced apathy, I observed someone who lived loudly. She laughed, cried, said strange and unexpected things, pursued her crush, annoyed his friends, expressed jealousy, worried, hoped, dreamed, got teased and fought back. All the while being genuine in every moment. Sheba was willing to risk heartache by being herself. That is a mark of courage. That’s what makes her cool then and that’s what makes her cool now. 

Now obviously, there is to be expected a fair amount of rose-coloured eyewear when being assessed outwardly by friends and loved ones – no one wants to admit to being friends with someone who is lame for fear of their lameness being a reflection on the question of their own coolness.  And I suppose that my coolness too, will be determined by my conclusion, being married to the person being assessed in this way.  However, I’m not content to simply rubberstamp my Sheba’s coolness.  Any real conclusion in her favor must come face to face with the advocacy of the other side – that is, the myriad of considerations suggestive of my beloved wife’s profound lameness.  But again, for the sake of honesty, it is important for us to remove from the fact of coolness or lameness the judgements of good or bad.  There are lame things like disco, that lighten our spirits and make us laugh.  And cool things, like being cynical and astute, that aren’t really a long term platform for our mental health and well being.  So it is entirely possible that my wife might simultaneously be, on balance, quite lame and yet still the best thing that has or will ever happen to me.  So allow me to play devil’s advocate…


And let us not beat around the bush.  With just a cursory look at my wife there are some things that come quickly to mind that are often considered uncool.  Let’s just summarize the biggest ones:

Floral print –

Bruce Lee writes that the ultimate style of fighting is to have ‘no-style’, that is, the style that takes the best elements of all styles and incorporates them to be something that is all of them yet none of them at all.  Well, Bruce may well have been talking about my Sheba, because she either rocks every style or has no style at all.  Her go-to, interest-piqued fashion favorites are floral prints, embroidered fabrics, clashing colours, and earth-tones.  She (thankfully) stops short of leopard prints (seriously, thank God) but she has the capacity to put on some combinations that are eye-catching for literally each and every individual wrong reason.

Now obviously, fashions are fads and not necessarily indicative of coolness.  Oscar Wilde famously said that fashions were so awful that we get rid of them wholescale every year and try again.  And just as obviously what a person wears or thinks is visually appealing is a poor arbiter of who that person is or what they represent in thought and spirit.  But again we aren’t taking about the beauty of my wife’s spirit, we are talking about whether she is cool or lame, and people who actively seek to dress like 70’s era grandmas tend to tilt to one side and not the other, no matter how confidently they may rock 70’s grandma clothes.

Do I want my wife’s fashion sense to change?  Hell, goddamn no!  And an everlasting fuck-you to anyone that would dare try to make her feel bad about how she looks or what she wears – I have a punch to the gut waiting for you!  But do I think that I want to dress that way?  Or does anyone else think that for that matter?  That she has a fashion sense and style worthy of envy and an eye for items and combinations that others would want to emulate?

I don’t.  I don’t think she’s on a subway or a bus or walking down the street and someone looks at her and says to themselves ‘She’s dressed cool!  I want to rock stuff like that!”  I could be massively wrong, but I don’t.  I think if anyone looks at her for a second or longer, they’d eventually say to themselves: what an ‘interesting’ combination.  They wouldn’t be mean or petty. They’d be perfectly polite in their head because her fashion sense would inspire simple curiosity as to why she thought those things went together.  Then they’d characterize her as eclectic and move on to the next thing in their heads.

Again, this isn’t a good thing or a bad thing.  It’s just a thing.  If someone asked me whether my wife, love of my life, dressed cool, I’d say not really.  She’s more interested in having fun with what she wears than ‘making a statement’.  She dresses in a way that makes her happy and that’s always going to be more of a priority than whether it met any standard of ‘cool’.

Thrifting –

This one can go either way, considering even now what was considered thrifting is now being rebranded as ‘repurposing’, ‘recycling’ and the like.  And I’m not enough of a rube to be blind to the idea that retail clothes, made overseas using cheap and oftentimes poorly treated labour and sold at criminally absurd markups, is an incredible racket that is one step above pay-day loans in my estimation of businesses that add good to the world.

But – there’s something a little, off, about wearing someone else’s shit.  Or at least above the age of getting hand me downs from your older siblings.  I mean, if someone has way too much clothes and wants to downsize, clearly they would do well to give it away, either to charity or to a thrift store.  It’s certainly more reasonable than keeping it or throwing it away.  However, I’ve been in any number of thrift stores and that is rarely the impression that I get from them.  Often do I get the impression that this item on this hanger meant a great deal to someone and some bad turn or circumstance forced them to sell it, just to make ends meet.  If a retail store in a mall – that altar & place of worship to the god of retail commerce, indoctrinating people from young to the virtues of spending money on things they don’t need – is actually a symbol of failure, a failure of society to understand the actual value of things, then a thrift store reeks of a failure of a different kind: a failure of people to manage themselves and their affairs forcing their hand into a situation where they had to sell things that they actually value just to get by.  Each item is potentially a tale of heartbreak.

Without doubt, being cool is about meeting standards – having standards.  People without standards or people with low standards are hard to justify as cool.  And thrifting immediately has connotations of low standards.  Things that other people don’t want.  Things that they do want or can’t afford any more.  Things that were considered quality by people poor enough that they straddled the line between keeping their own shit and selling their shit.  None of these things smack of high standards, and as my wife will tell anyone, while you can find some good things in a thrift store (some great things in thrift stores), you will also find a lot of bad crap, just as you’d find a lot of crap in a Gap or H&M or American Eagle.  The only difference is that while you’ll find crap in both, the crap in the mall is new & expensive and the crap at the thrift store is old & cheap.

It’s a balancing act, finding the treasures amidst the trash, finding the diamond in the rough.  Done correctly its probably the smartest form of shopping in the world, and my Sheba has an incredible eye.  And yet, now and again she’ll select something from her adventures and explorations through the racks and aisles of a Value Village or the like that is not old, cheap and good but rather old, cheap and bad – a thrifted item that looks like it was thrifted, something that was thrown away for the best reason of all: it just isn’t worth keeping; and in those moments, thrifting – spending time sorting through piles of other people’s garbage just to buy something that after being marked down 90% still isn’t worth what you end up paying for it – is a preposterously lame exercise.

An exercise that my beloved wife adores.

E-bikes –

My wife can tell you far better than I what people think of e-bikes.  E-bike riders are probably lower than pay-day loansharks on the scale of people who add value to the world to most motorists and the notion that anyone could get angry enough at my angelic wife – my nerdy, joyful wife – to pre-emptively cuss at her on the street like she was some crass, common human, is telling in and of itself. Only the rarest most awful form of degenerate could spend time talking to my Sheba and not find themselves fighting the urge to like her.

Yet mounted on her e-bike, in her lane, wearing her little helmut, puttering about at 30 km/h, minding her own business and bothering no one – she is public enemy no. 1.  She’s the end of civilization. She should be harassed and bullied off of the road.

I found this amusing at first, then I found it troubling.  So I did my token research to get to the bottom of the entitled motorists view.  Obviously the road belongs to them and its their God given right to have short commutes, smooth roads, care-free drives, where the pleasantness of the ride allows them to enter into a near Zen-like state of euphoria in which driver and vehicle become one and they transcend the base concerns of this corporeal human condition.  Reality however, goes differently. Everyone wants that bliss of driving, everyone rushes to get a car and everyone is fighting for their piece of the road.  And into this fragile peace, this fragile coexistence – enter the bicycle that can move fast, but not that fast; that can accelerate quickly adding uncertainty to other drivers; that straddles usage between a road vehicle and a pedestrian; and is clearly, (if perhaps, unfairly) associated with those drivers bad enough to lose their license and have their ‘big-boy’ driving privileges taken away.

This stereotypical e-bike user is not my Sheba.  And my Sheba has the best reason of all in easing back onto the road: SHE SURVIVED A FUCKING CAR ROLLING OVER OFF OF A HIGHWAY thereby making her tougher than 99.999999999% of humanity and 100% of dumb fucks cussing at her from a car window as they go by.  Sheba is a considerate and responsible motorist, doing her part to give e-bike riders a good name.

But there is such a thing as guilt by association and for every one Sheba out there on an e-bike there are 10 shitheads on e-bikes, driving between lanes and cars at a red light.  Or riding on the road only to see traffic and then zoom onto the sidewalk to bypass.  I’ve actually seen a guy, bottle in a paper bag in hand, riding down the street.  HE WAS DRINKING WHILE DRIVING!  And you have to figure that the motorist seeing this thinks of e-bike riders the same way city-dwellers think of pigeons – a pestilence of creatures that acts as though they can go anywhere and do whatever it likes, that no one would miss if they were driven to extinction.

Mandelabursa, one of the advocates for my Sheba’s coolness was forced to admit to me the fundamental trouble of e-bikes in the uneasy road peace among motorists.  Where there are cars, bicycles, pedestrians and e-bikes, the e-bikes confuse everyone’s expectations.  If they are in a bike lane, they are wider than bikes and the motor makes it easier to pass.  So now they look to pass more often which causes them to encroach on the driving lane causing the cars to decrease the speed of traffic.  The e-bike user becomes this bright flash bulb everybody that uses the road has to be on guard for – they are slow enough that you can rear end them, fast enough that if the collision was bad chances are someone could die.  They are quiet so you can’t hear them coming, and they find blindspots causing a motorist’s blood pressure to rise.

As we mentioned earlier in the discussion, cool is balance but cool is not middling or ambivalent. The e-bike represents the ultimate form of middling – the motorist that isn’t quite, the driver that dips their toe in rather than jumping in.  No one needs to be told about how driving is cool – the auto industry has spent more money in the last ten minutes than we’ll make in a lifetime telling us so.  No one would deny that biking and getting places while strengthening your heart and getting in shape is cool…it’s the highest form of cool – environmentally healthy & a lifestyle choice to be made with pride.

By those standards, the e-bike, as not equivalent to either driving (which is cool?) or biking (which is cool!) would kinda by definition be lame.  I’m sure you see it differently, doll, but its simple math.

Mug collecting –

Oh, boy…She doesn’t even drink that much coffee.  She has at most two or three cups a day.  So???

She tells me that it’s an experience – having her morning cuppa.  And the mug is part of that experience.  And I’m all for experiences…

But collecting things that you might not use?  That’s called hoarding and it most definitely is not cool.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call my wife a ‘mug-hoarder’.  She has standards – she has limits.  She is a ‘mug-collector’: an archeologist of pottery and ceramics made for the purpose of holding hot beverages.  And even my brother is learning to appreciate the value of a good mug for a morning drink (though he may be doing so just to annoy his sister-in-law).  I suppose mug-collecting/hoarding is just as lame or cool as any other collection of things that have passing sentimental value.  For me, the very act of collecting things is the act of accumulating stuff more for the sake of having it than any intention to use it.  Someone else could be using and enjoying it but instead, you’ve ‘collected’ it, so it can sit somewhere gathering dust, and that to me is quite lame.  But that could just be me.

Keeping me awake at night –

Admittedly the weakest of the considerations, but one near and dear to my heart.

I like to sleep.  I don’t like to be awake.  She likes keeping me awake.

It isn’t rocket science.  I think she’s lame when she keeps me up.  Sue me!!

Dancing –

So, predictably the best was saved for last.  Elaine from Seinfeld.  Pee-wee Herman.  Drake in Hotline Bling.  There are only two types of dancing: people dancing and people trying to figure out dancing.  People who do what the music tells them to and people trying to figure out what the music is saying to their bodies.  The first type is cool and the second type is lame.  I want it to be more complicated than that but it isn’t.  It’s easy.  A child can hear a beat and move naturally and effortlessly, lifting their heart and the hearts of onlookers.  If an adult can’t, they are lame.  This is one of the easiest ways of telling whether someone is cool or lame and its right there for anyone to see.

And we’ve all seen my Sheba dance…

Now my Sheba does have a magic power.  She has a gift.  For all her profound lack of coordination of physical grace, she makes it incredibly difficult to rag on her for her dancing.  Because she’s having a fair amount of fun.  Her arms go out at weird angles.  She loses the beat with regularity and moves out of sync.  She has a tendency to not take herself seriously enough causing her to seem like she’s having an epileptic seizure…

But her smile…Her smile wins over the crowd.  Her smile makes her adorable.  When she dances and smiles, she could be the most uncoordinated person in the world but she’s still one of the most beautiful.

So despite the fact that she has little to no rhythm, her lame-ness is still a little cool.


So where does that leave us?  Is there a verdict?  In the final analysis, I think I’m going to come at the question from two angles.  From the first angle the question “Am I cool?” is a question in search of some sort of objective perspective – whether Sheba is cool with regards to the world.  But from the second angle, my wife is asking my opinion of her, not what I think the world might think of her, but what I make of her.  So take this for what its worth…

From angle one: I think the verdict is very clear.  I must grudgingly admit that my wife, Sheba Devonish nee Mojtahedi, is, in fact, cool.  The points raised in favor of her lameness, while significant, are dramatically overpowered by the points raised by her advocates, namely that she is confident in her own skin as befitting someone her age, a comfort borne of actual hardship that she’s emerged from on the otherside.  She has seen some shit in her life.  And she’s still smiling.  As The Insisted mentions, to the untrained eye, she is perhaps not overtly cool.  But then of course, the rube, the vulgate, those armed only with the common untrained eye are not cool and have never been cool and cannot be an accurate judge of cool; the untrained eye is too busy trying to be cool.  Sheba isn’t trying to be anything but herself, her best self.  She tries to be the best leader that she can at work, and to hear her employees tell it, she is succeeding.  She tries to be the best wife she can, and she’d clear that bar in a comatose state.  She tries to be the best daughter and daughter-in-law she can be – again high marks.  She tries to be the best sister and aunt and friend and woman that she can be and even if she wasn’t succeeding she’d just wake up tomorrow and try some more.  This inhibition – this profound lack of self-consciousness coupled with an abiding sense of self-awareness - this is something that she share in spades with those people who are very clearly cool.  The bright light that leaves people a little happier from her presence and a little sadder from her absence.  That quality of the spirit – she who has ‘confidence in the things she loves’ as Sohayla Smith states, she who ‘lives life loudly, risking heartache to be herself’ as Mandelabursa writes – that quality of spirit must surely trump mere facts and details like riding an e-bike or dancing like a cripple-on-crack.

But I’m sorry to say that from angle two: the verdict is equally clear: doll, YOU ARE LAME!  I know that you are lame because I am lame and if you were cool and I was lame, you wouldn’t have chosen me.  You would’ve found someone rich, someone tall, someone buff, someone funny, someone who was consistently all the things that I am only occasionally.  And that would suck.

And this is why whenever you do something particularly lame…like that time that you asked me whether or not you’re cool…I smile.  I smile and shake my head in wonder at how lucky I was to convince you that I was somehow cool enough for you.  My darling wife, on the occasion of our second m-irthday, however lame or cool as we may be, let’s be that.  Let’s be whatever we are together.

Is that cool with you?

- K