No Holds Barred: Getting back to where we once belonged …

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A detail from Caravaggio's Conversion on the Way to Damascus, 1601, Saint Mary of the People, Rome. (Public Domain)

It kinda feels like we are in a new year. September does that.  I always loved Rosh Hashanah more than New Year’s Day. The Fall timing feels better. The light turns golden, and it isn’t the dead of winter.  The promise of hope is more available.

But this year … is it really all that “new” or are we on “pause.” Putin didn’t die of Parkinson’s, the epidemic is waning, though a booster shot is around the corner. Nobody is running for that appointment.   Monkey Pox feels like a tired punchline and Polio is a has been. Our at-home testing kits are stacked in the back of our kitchen shelves. And all seem past the expiration dates. Some of us actually survived the summer’s weddings and family gatherings without a mask.

It is time to get back to where we once belonged (Beatles lyric from “Get Back”). But what place is that exactly?  Many of us have lost our place in line. After all, it has been three years and a lot has changed. A LOT! Forget the lockdowns and smash and grabs — we all got and feel a lot older. Who are we?

Let’s not look to fashion which is now hyping “new normal” style to replace “Covid Couture.” Apparently, it is goodbye to chunky sneakers, hello to suede loafers ($695); goodbye to pull-on sweatpants, hello to denim wide-legged bell bottoms ($400). Dump the tie dye t-shirts for the subtle patterned knit cardigans ($300). One thing is for sure — in the midst of an economic slide, you still have to be rich to even dress “normal.” Like it or leave it, I still think the pandemic uniform of sneakers, t-shirts, and sweats is here to stay. Call it “luxe leisure” or slob schlubbery, people discovered comfort on Zoom and that’s life!

So, what did we actually learn in 3 years?  Lately, I wonder. Some behaviors have accelerated. Now we have Biden calling Trump a “destroyer of American Democracy” while Trump retorts by calling Biden “an enemy of the state.” The professional wrestling mania still goes on. Now the smackdowns are at a higher volume for even higher stakes. Are we better off with all this shouting? More importantly – are our leaders the “best and brightest.” Remember that caliber of character?? Now it all looks and sounds so embarrassing.

Meanwhile our CEOs like Jeff Bezos, video game executive Strauss Zelnick, and talent executive Scooter Braun are constantly being photographed in their tight workout spandex on their yachts; flashing Popeye biceps and baring steroidal pecs. Apparently, the pandemic allowed these middle-aged execs to work out and show off their new “Insta” physiques. Their company bottom lines may be sagging but they want to show off their tight and taut torsos. Their twice a day workouts have resulted in them all looking like powerhouse Marvel characters. Some divorce attorneys call the buff biz bod trend “revenge bods” — newly reworked middle-aged-crisis physiques. Divorced women have been doing this for years.

Strauss Zelnick showing off his biking bod.

But is all of this really a sign of physical well-being or another level of self-aggrandizing in our photo shopped world. Is the message; your portfolio may be tanking, but at least your 6-pack abs look shredded.

On the female side of executive “reinvention” moment is Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow who marked her 48th birthday 2 years ago by posing nude on Instagram (who hasn’t). Now she is turning 50 and decided to create a “Goop Cruise” with anyone who wants to cough up $7 to $15 thousand for six days in the Mediterranean.  It will be “a celebration of clean living and alternative healing.” You can float along with Gwyneth who will teach you a more “open minded approach to self-optimism.” I am sure there will be plenty of Goop vaginal eggs, viva la vulva vibrators, and Goop scented “this smells like your vagina” candles.  Remember, “self-comfort” is now a Big Business. Who cares about “wellness” — now we have Paltrow to sail us through aging and self-love.

 A little goop’ll do ya.

And speaking of aging and love – at least Serena Williams said her tennis career goodbye at the US Open with a twirl of her black chiffon tennis skirt and a kick from her black hightops. She announced her retirement at 41 and got the three-day sendoff of a lifetime. Tributes from Oprah, Gayle King, and stadium waves from Bill Clinton and Tiger Woods and 25,000 adoring fans.

She tried her best, and though strong she tired out in her final match against 29-year-old Ajla Tomljanovic.  Clearly Serena fought the battle and gave the crowd a show on “aging out” of a high-powered career. She announced in Vogue magazine she will “evolve” out of tennis (that is “upspeak” for retire).

But the real story of Serena’s last stand was how Tomljanovic could withstand the crowd’s bipartisan boos against her. Serena owned the entire stadium down to the “we love you Serena” digital flashing billboards at every serve.

At the end of the match, the media swarmed around Serena and left winner Ajla to clean up her racquet and gear on the side lines … ALONE!!

And the cheese stands alone.

When Ajla was finally interviewed (to a half empty stadium since “Serena left the building”), she raved about Serena being her idol and what she did for the game of tennis. It was an awkward moment for sportsmanship. Shouldn’t Serena have at least made a photo op gesture by posing with the new winner, a passing of the baton? I get that nobody wants to really admit defeat especially after three days of solid career accolades, but where is the rise above the material?  Celebrating the end of an era? Why is everyone so combative and competitive to the end (politics anyone?). Sure, fight the good fight and all that, but let’s MOVE ON with some feeling of unified acceptance — or just GRACE.

Good night Serena!

I get everyone wants to go the distance and look good and win – even Bed Bath & Beyond’s chief financial executive, 52-year-old Gustavo Arnal went his distance when he jumped to his death from his 18th floor deluxe apartment last week. This was after his announcing numerous store closings, layoffs, and huge loss of company value.  I guess his taut torso couldn’t save him in the end.

So, have we learned nothing in three years but disruption? And now we have the announcement of an Indie horror movie Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey coming to a theatre near you.  Imagine Pooh and Piglet as murderous slashing monsters roaming the landscape looking to kill.  I’m exhausted.

Now I ask you – is nothing sacred in this new “pause” movement.

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