“The Movie Chicago Is Not As Good As You Remember” and 19 Other Things I’ve Learned Over 29 Years

Uncle Paul is turning 29. Pull up a chair, kids. You’re about to get educated.

Who wouldn’t take this man’s advice?

Of the cast of characters who circle around Side Streets, I am the elder — not a mentor or example to follow by any stretch — but literally the oldest in any room we all occupy. You may be fooled into thinking that because I was the boss of some of these rascals in a past life that I’ve played some hand in molding them into the successful young adults they are today. But, aside from forcing Logan to move into the city and somehow fooling Alex and Molly into giving me a spare key to their apartment (lifesavers, all), I lead no one. I’m literally a walking crash course in keeping up appearances and hoping no one notices.

That isn’t to say I haven’t garnered some insights in my 29 years on this planet that are assuredly fact and not just my observation. The nuggets of wisdom in this head-shaped Happy Meal I rest on my shoulders pale only in comparison, I imagine, to the insights not retained over the past decade-or-so of my functional alcoholism.

So, before I dive too headlong into self-deprecation, here are the FACTS — the hard TRUTHS — that have made approaching the end of my third decade such a satisfying journey to date:

  1. Legos need only be delivered by the bucket, not in a toolset prescribed to an outcome. I learned this one today when a friend (the aforementioned Logan-in-the-city) asked me the appropriate set for a 10-year-old secret Santa receiver. Like most things in life, take the tools and the materials and fashion your own outcome. Fill the bucket with bricks of all sizes and enough useless small pieces that you’re afraid to walk barefoot on carpet. Didn’t think I’d get so deep on the first lesson? BUCKLE UP!
  2. Solo cups are fine utensils for any setting if you don’t buy red. I’ve been using a sleeve of orange ones for bowls since Thanksgiving, and as carbon-unfriendly as this practice is, we’ve gotten a nice “re-wash” practice going in my house that has been a boon for keeping things tidy in close quarters… (I may have flown too close to the sun my first time out on giving advice — hang tight for the rebound.)
  3. Everyone looks good in brown. We’re all autumns, whether we know it or not.
  4. Don’t over-invest in shoes. Another environmentally-egregious nugget of wisdom, but let me get real old-man on you for a second: If you buy non-slip crocs that LOOK like dress shoes, and you work in an office by day and wait tables by night, it’s more painful on your dogs to switch it up between gigs than to just not be too precious about that area no one looks at to begin with. Care about the waist up and give your hips the night off.
  5. Be that guy who is always going to the bathroom at work. If you feel self-conscious about how it looks when it seems like every 15 minutes you’re getting up to either refill your water or go pee, do not. If you are bored at work, it’s the work’s fault, and when you can’t be intellectually stimulated, get off your haunches and go for a stroll — or a pee! If my brain and legs are moving too fast for the work, then I take them on a familiar walk to everyone’s fortress of solitude.
  6. Apples are great. Like, really great — if you need a pick me up, go for an apple every time. Everything you’ve been hearing for years is true.
  7. In the same vein of healthy living, don’t chain-drink coffee as you get older. It’s an easy habit to fall into — especially if you are prone to collecting habits — but the negative side effects of are much greater than stained teeth and sweaty armpits. You immediately lose the ability to write concise sentences after cup number three, and you become so testy that God bless any editor tasked with reigning you in. I kick the day off with a “long espresso,” and if I can temper that with water for the rest of the day, I generally don’t feel like my skin is crawling by the time I catch my bus.
  8. Kombucha — also not bad! If you’re afraid to get coffee but also desperately need coffee, do it.
  9. Don’t bother bringing your lunch to work — it won’t make it past 10:30 a.m. and you’ll be running to the store for a snack by 2:30 p.m.. While others might have great enough self control to brown bag it, they miss out on the oh-so-necessary lunchtime stroll that you need to break up the day. Sometimes I don’t even grab lunch, but if I can’t spend at least 10 minutes staring at rotisserie chickens at Roche Bros on a daily basis to cool my jets, I’ll get borderline homicidal by mid-afternoon.
  10. Seek out podcasts with panel discussions. The best podcasts for daytime hours are ones where you can easily lose the thread of the conversation, allowing your mind to wander. I love letting the snarky observations of Slate’s podcast roster wash over me mindlessly, sending my thought process in a completely tangential direction based upon a snippet of conversation I actually tune into. Like, how the review of an episode of Speechless I was casually listening to recently sent my brain back to that cringeworthy science fair project I did in 8th grade for some weird reason… not sure what the benefit was, but impromptu self-reflection is always a good thing.
  11. Episodic or serial podcasts are perfect before bed.
  12. Before advocating for a piece of entertainment, make sure you’ve revisited it yourself within the past year. There is nothing worse than forcing someone to sit through a movie with you only to realize you were looking at the past through rose-colored glasses.
  13. The movie Chicago is NOT a good movie, despite what you recall from your youth. “Midnight in Paris” also has me baffled — I advocated HARD for that one back in the day, and I couldn’t even get through the first half hour when I tried again recently.
  14. “What’s Up” by Four Non Blondes and “Spiderwebs” by No Doubt are the two best songs to do at karaoke, with Alanis Morisette’s “You Oughta Know” and “Killing Me Softly” by The Fugees tied for second.
  15. If you find a dive bar you love, don’t take it for granted. I’ll never get over Ames Plow Tavern closing, but I spent enough time in that sometimes-wonderful place during and after college that I’ll never forget it. Too many similar bars have shuttered over the years, and it’s a travesty. I’m not advocating a life of drinking, but at the very least, be on a first-name basis with at least one bartender at a watering hole that doesn’t have a kitchen before they all disappear. Some drunk person will show up with pizza if you’re really hungry — it’s never not happened.
  16. Walk home from work as often as you can. This is untenable for many folks, I understand, but despite how financially torturous living in the city has been, I’ve been lucky enough to always have an apartment within city limits throughout my adult life. No place in Boston can’t be reached by foot, and learning different routes to cover the miles between Winthrop Square and Lower Allston, for instance, will give you the opportunity to binge all of those podcasts I was talking about earlier.
  17. Your skin is drier in the city. It’s not just a Boston thing, there’s science and stuff supporting this. Use face cream or risk having godawful acne like me circa 2008.
  18. Take care of all of your skin, not just your face. Winter sucks, and with all that walking and podcasting I’ve assigned earlier, you don’t want your hands cracking as you type throughout the entire season.
  19. Don’t lean on sweaters. Even if it’s cold. We’ve all done it — cover up a shirt you love with a sweater “in case” only meaning “the whole time ‘cus I’m self-conscious.” Sweaters cover your collar, which is supportive of your happy meal-head, and make you looks like a piecemeal rather than a person. Own your pieces and keep them independent. #Xoxogossipgirl
  20. Although I’ve never seen Gossip Girl, I just assume it’s something you have to avoid. It’s that trash TV that you just don’t need. That, and One Tree Hill.

There are of course other facts that I haven’t shared with you here, but the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the past year is to assume nothing. A lot of things I accepted as fact prior to 2017 have, for better or worse, unravelled over the past 12 months. But until the tips above are debunked come 12/6/2018, keep these lessons from your Uncle Paul close to your heart.