Doing Things – The Van Damme Way™!

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Ironing a Shirt The Van Damme Way!

Any real man knows that there is no shame in helping out around the house. If you live alone then you have no choice (until someone magically creates a service wherein a person, or persons, comes to your home to take care of light housekeeping duties for an agreed upon fee, but let’s restrict ourselves to the real world, OK?). In either instance, you need to know how to perform a few rudimentary tasks to keep your place and person in presentable shape, i.e. to attract a potential partner, or keep the one you’ve already snared. These are the only reasons to keep a tidy home, so if you are single and have no intention of coupling, pull on one of your wrinkly shirts, put your feet up on your almost certainly fast food container-strewn coffee table, and watch Universal Soldier: The Return for the nineteenth goddamn time.

For everyone else, special skills are required (unless a forward-thinking entrepreneur invents a business where you take shirts and pants to a specifically designated building and leave them to be cleaned, starched and pressed but, again, this isn’t science fiction). Approaching such a task may prove daunting to those not stout of heart, but assuming those are exactly the kind of people who would buy this book, I suggest three stages to vanquish this chore The Van Damme Way!

Ironing Board

Much like eating your waxed beans before tucking into your chicken Kiev, this is the tough work before digging into the sweet, buttery center of the task at hand. Folding out an ironing board without incident takes years of practice. Like any other strenuous undertaking, I recommend stretching. Now your first impulse may be to work your hamstrings for the inevitable performance of the Van Damme splits, but I suggest that your time is better spent working the upper body. In particular, dislocating one shoulder until your fingers are numb—this way, when you pinch your fingers between the board and the legs (and this will happen), you will feel no pain. However, do be careful to note any bleeding on the ironing board: this could indicate the escape of blood from an open wound, and that is no surface upon which to iron a clean shirt.

Warming the Iron

If you have purchased your iron wisely, it has temperature settings based on material. This is very important as improper heat-to-fabric calibration may lead to:  a) under-ironing, a side-effect subtly noticed in the lack of wrinkle banishment (in this event, check that to see if you have the iron set for a multi-fabric blend, if you are in a humidity-rich environment or, failing all other options, see if the iron is plugged in); b) over-ironing, which will make the garment appear pressed only to revert to a wrinkled state by the time you put it on; or c) iron-shaped burn marks on the back of your shirt (while perfectly calibrated for comic effect, this does not suit our purposes as this is not a book called Be a Man—The Larry the Cable Guy Way).

Wait for your iron to warm up. This is an excellent time to stretch for the splits, if you are so inclined.

Many test an iron’s state of readiness by spitting on the element to see if their saliva sputters. This is grotesque and inelegant, completely unbecoming The Van Damme Way! Use the tip of your tongue.

 

 

The Garment

You are now ready to attack and don’t fool yourself—this is warfare. Do not pity your opponent, but do not underestimate him either. Bow before your collared foe, but do not take your eyes off it.

Flatten the shirt on the board so the sleeves dangle on each side like a face-plant victim carried by stretcher from the Kumite circle. Smooth the shirt and then apply steady arcs across the back with strength but also with grace. Be of the shirt but not in the shirt. (Note: do not attempt to iron a shirt while wearing it not matter how late you are.)

Flip the shirt on the left front panel: the buttons are tricky, but you must move in and around them like one dodging pools of blood in the Kumite circle. Repeat for the right front panel, which is now a breeze because, if you have purchased your shirt correctly, there should be no buttons on that side.

Iron each sleeve. Make sure that the fabric is not bunched up on the underside of the sleeve you are ironing as this will lead to your ironing wrinkles into your shirt which, you will agree, is counter-productive.

Run the iron over the collar to ensure proper rigidity, and then hang on a plastic or wooden hanger. Collapse your ironing board, suck on your pinched fingers, and rejoice! Realize that you did not unplug the iron or remove it from the board before collapsing it. Stop celebrating. Retrieve iron (handle first if you can) and unplug. Decide how you will explain burnt parquet flooring to landlord. Find comfort that, if called before a judge in small claims court, at least you have a decent shirt to wear. The Van Damme Way!

Negotiating a Raise The Van Damme Way!

A quick checklist:

  • You’ve worked there a long time
  • You are underappreciated
  • You’ve figured out the ultimate time-saving route to the office, shaving precious minutes off your commute and, as such, are reluctant to find another job
  • Boss still calls you “Skip”

That sounds like one bullshit workplace environment. You have but two choices: find another job or get yourself a raise. Otherwise you’ll resent every second you spend crunching numbers or making deals or whatever the hell it is you do. Plus, nothing dries up a vagina quite like a low annual wage (other than a cigarette habit or approaching menopause). You don’t want to spend the rest of your life in a crappy bachelor apartment. Do you?

Assuming the answer is “no” (and assuming that you are straight because, seriously, what self-respecting gay man would live in a bachelor apartment?), an increased salary not only improves your bottom-line but will do wonders for your self-worth and your value in the dating market. You’ve put in your time, and you’re hardly ever late on consecutive middle-of-the-week days. Goddammit, you deserve this!

Hold on there, pal. You don’t just kick in your boss’ office door and make demands. What, do you think you’re some guy named “Skip”? You have to consider your approach, and that is determined by many factors such as on-the-job performance, personal comfort zone and kicking ability.

The Ninja Way

You are a quiet performer, content to put your nose to the corporate grindstone and get shit done without tooting your own horn (or keeping track of your metaphors). Essentially, calling you a “ninja” is a nice way of saying you’re a wimp, a complete train wreck of masculinity. That’s OK. You’ve still got options and I’ll talk you through them, ensuring that I don’t make any sudden movements that might startle and cause you to pee in your pants. You disgust me, you pathetic, supine, wormy little wastrel.

First, you have to believe in yourself! Make a list of your accomplishments and be ready to present yourself as the hero of any anecdote. Remember that time you screwed up the courage to ask out that girl with all the piercings in the mailroom? She didn’t laugh and make you lick glue off the floor—you took her out and totally banged her.

Think tales of conquest have no place in the workforce? You need to show your boss that you’re a guy who gets results, and if that means bragging about fictional yet meaningless sex, then so be it.

Who am I kidding? You’ll just rewrite an email thirty times asking for a raise and never send it, so I’m wasting my time on you. Jesus, you make me want to puke.

The Kumite Way

This is for the employee who makes the effort to play the game: knowing the boss’ middle name, his wife’s favorite dish, what sports his kids play. You see yourself as a player, but everyone else thinks you are the world’s biggest brown noser. So what? They don’t have to pay your phone-tapping and spy camera bills.

You know asking for a raise is a battle and like any warrior stepping into the ring, you know that preparation is the key. Before you step into this corporate Circle of Death prepare by arming yourself with the ordnance of information:

  • Is the company financially healthy enough to pay for a raise? Best times to ask are after the announcement of record quarterly earnings, post cash infusion from outside investors, or when the boss is drunk
  • Stay alert to unannounced signs of liquidity, such as office renovations: use this as an ice-breaker for your request, i.e. “Who the hell chooses pastels and beads of neon—a set designer from Miami Vice? Since we’re throwing money away…”
  • Understand how you are perceived in the office: has that nasty public indecency rap from the Christmas party blown over yet? Underline the substantive difference between “moral turpitude” and “acquitted due to flood in evidence room”

One of the cornerstones of successful negotiation is possessing information that your opponent does not. Knowing your own style of underwear is not sufficient and points out a recurring flaw with this tactic. I say that more important is the possession of information that your opponent does not know you have. You’ve spent enough time hacking your boss’ email and having him shadowed by a private detective. Ask for your raise and slide a lurid snapshot of his affair with that dreadlocked white guy at the pet food store. Given enough time, you should be able to write your own cheques.

However, if your boss is stronger than all that or in an open relationship with his wife, you can always rely on persistence: if you do not receive your pay increase, refuse to leave the office. The discussion isn’t over until you get what you want or get dragged from the room like a beaten man pulled from the Kumite. In this case it will likely be in the form of a security guard and not a crooked Asian corner man. Also, instead of it happening after a bloody beating, this will probably end with one in the company parking lot. Try not to get blood on the guard’s pant leg: he makes a pitiful wage and is responsible for his own uniform.

The Van Damme Way!

Kick the door in and make demands. If you don’t get a pay raise, consider negotiating for perks such as an extra week of vacation or a company cell phone. There’s no shame in that.


Be a Man—The Van Damme Way™! An Entirely Unauthorized Guide to the Films and Virility of Jean-Claude Van Damme

Here’s a book proposal of mine that never went anywhere. It’s a shame, but no so much of a shame that I wouldn’t put it up here.

 

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Hey men—tired of not knowing how to be a man?

Hey ladies—frustrated with men who don’t know how to be    manly?

Would you read a book that sorts out all these confusions and makes for a more fulfilling life? Of course–what a stupid question!

Introducing Be a Man—The Van Damme Way™! (in no way officially affiliated, endorsed or medically recommended by the greatest action hero actor of all cinema, Jean-Claude Van Damme). This book and, by proxy, its author (me), strive to achieve the impossible: review the entire canon of JCVD’s work, film by film, and reveal the Rosetta Stone of masculinity that exists therein. Hard to believe? Which part, the “masculinity” part or the “entire canon” part?  Seriously, not a stupid question: dude has made almost fifty films.

You can point to your Schwarzeneggers, your Stallones, your Seagals, your Willises, both Bruce and Todd Bridges (Willis of Diff’rent Strokes, who did appear in the Insane Clown Posse opus Big Money Rustlas as Scruffy Scrub #3 so, I appreciate the chance for confusion), but they all embodied a hollow form of manliness that is best summed up as Macho Regan-Era Ass-Kickers: a whole lot of  1980’s “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” plus “trickle-down economics” with a dash of “sado-masochistic homoeroticism”. Pre-heat the oven at four hundred degrees and bake. For how long? As long as it takes for that fucker to kick the door open and dispatch your sous chef with an Uzi and a “witty” yet monosyllabic one-liner, that’s how long. And in today’s hectic, dog-eat-dog, drive-thru culture, who’s got the time?

Now God knows we need good ass-kickings now and again. But if fine classical musicianship is as much about the notes not played as the ones played, then true masculinity is in the eyes not gouged. Correspondingly, if showing vulnerability is the true sign of strength, then doing so while performing the splits on two edges of a kitchen counter to avoid an electrocuted floor, then that person is so much the stronger (see Timecop).

We need absolutes in times like these. When women make up a greater percentage of the work force but men are still expected to pick up the cost of the abortion, we require a magnetic north to cross such treacherous waters. I suggest that Jean-Claude Van Damme is just such a geomagnetic verging of magnetic declinations.

After years of cinematic study and manliness failure, I have determined that the entire spectrum of positive male traits is prevalent in the films of Mr. Van Damme. One might suggest that my failures in masculinity are directly linked to my years of Van Damme investigation, but these are people who miss the greater point, i.e. my ex-girlfriends.

The proof in JCVD’s films and his finely wrought performances are endless: whether peeling back the layers of a widowed cop confronted with the ethical choice of using a time traveling device to save his late wife or just to apprehend bad guys in Timecop (Why couldn’t he just do both? A good question…); a cyborg programmed for warfare coming to grips with an emerging humanity and the virtues of pacifism in Universal Soldier; a hard-working father deciding whether to save his son from a hockey arena held hostage by terrorists before or after suiting up as goalie to win the Stanley Cup for the Pittsburgh Penguins in Sudden Death; to a cyborg genetically-engineered to track down a serial killer who comes to terms with his emerging humanity in Replicant. Even his stunning debut as “Gay Karate Man” in Monaco Forever shows a bravery in portraying every color across the masculinity rainbow.

Those leery of my thesis would benefit from regarding the totality of Van Damme’s work in the same way one should view Proust’s A la recherché du temps perdu: if you watch Street Fighter the same way you read In the Shadow of Young Girls Flower, well you’re just not getting the whole picture.

Gentle reader and seeker of masculine wisdom, I am here to help. For not only do I intend to look at each of JCVD’s films in detail, with special attention paid to lessons learned by men at any pivotal stage in their lives (loss of innocence—see Kickboxer, sins of the father—see The Order, the moral quandary of a clothing counterfeiter drafted by the CIA to break an international producer of forged designer jeans that conceal “microbombs”, as opposed to genuine designer jeans which almost never explode—see Knock Off), I will provide many handy examples of how these modes of masculine behavior can be applied to your everyday life—The Van Damme Way™!

JCVD_2Much like a Shakespearean tragedy (but only if Shakespeare had the stones to finish his off on an “upbeat” note), we shall review Van Damme’s films in five parts:

  1. The Rise Begins: from uncredited yet head-turning roles such as Car Driver in Missing in Action to Spectator in First Dance Sequence in Breakin’, we detect a sensibility that will become readily apparent when Van Damme blade kicks his way into the spotlight.
  2. A Star Is Forged (alternately known as The Cannon Years): From Bloodsport, where JCVD takes the title, center stage, and pummels the shit out of our hearts, to Hard Target, where he introduces John Woo and flocks of slow-motion doves to North America. Boys and inebriated men the world over try to mimic his famous ability to do the “Atomic splits”. Hamstrings are snapped, testicles are ruptured, cases are settled out of court.
  3. Superstar: Timecop sees Van Damme headline a major studio picture (and tame his mullet from Hard Target), play a member of the elite foreign legion in Legionnaire (note to filmmakers: do not title your film after a disease and expect anything but box-office poison: also, don’t release theatrically and to DVD at the same time), and live out every boy’s dream of embodying a video game hero to destroy an apparently AIDS-ravaged boss villain in Street Fighter: The Movie (poor Raul Julia). The pressure of being all men to all mankind wears on JCVD and the cracks start to show. The ballooning cocaine addiction doesn’t help.
  4. The DTV Slide: We see what is, by now, an all-too familiar trajectory—a series of direct-to-video cheapies shot in Eastern Europe for quick name-recognition cash. This is not a surprise for more one-dimensional action heroes such as Wesley Snipes and Steven Seagal (with a hotel room in Prague reserved for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, presumably), but a shocking decline for our hero. From Inferno to The Shepherd (a film notable as much for its critical stance on America’s War on Drugs as it is for being Van Damme’s sixth time playing a character whose surname ends with the letter ‘X’), Van Damme puts in his time, cleans up his act, and finds his kin geri (stomach kick) is no match in his battle against rapid cycling bipolar disorder or most divorce lawyers.
  5. Redemption: JCVD is made, a quasi-autobiographical account of an aging action film star holed-up in a botched post office robbery. This film presents the entirety of Van Damme’s artistry, both martial and acting. It plays at film festivals around the world and he is suddenly a hot commodity once again. He uses his most valuable instrument, his voice, to appear in Kung Fu Panda 2 and achieves a circle-of-life moment by playing hard to get for Stallone before finally signing to appear in The Expendables 2: Of Course We Cast Chuck Norris.

Think it can’t get any better? Well go back to your thinking spot and think some more! Edifying and life-changing essays will sparkle throughout, including a winsome, yet rib-crunching piece on the Death of the Action Star: nowadays it takes a $200 million budget and twice that in publicity to launch an actor-proof franchise like Batman, whereas in 1985 even a charisma-challenged mannequin like Kurt Thomas could open a dud like Gymkata (a fine form of martial arts, provided villains don’t know enough to stay away from back alley appearances of  a pommel horse or the uneven bars); a true-life event that actually happened that I just thought up, Meetin’ J.L.G. (JCVD vs. JLG), a one-act play depicting directors Van Damme and Jean-Luc Godard nervously awaiting the debut of their films, The Quest and For Ever Mozart respectively, at a prestigious film festival in Albany; and a definitive assessment of Van Damme’s signature move in The Splits: A Useful Tool In Your Martial Arts Arsenal Or Just A Waste Of Warm-Up Time?

Whew!  That’s a lot of book. Maybe too much? Bullshit!

The book is called Be a Man—The Van Damme Way™! It must include a system for living your life in a balanced, well-rounded masculine manner (if not to justify the title, then at least the trademark).

Included in The Van Damme Way™!

  • Defuse a situation without violence and possibly through dance—The VDW™!
  • Kicking crazy amounts of ass—The VDW™!
  • Ironing a shirt—The VDW™!
  • Negotiating a raise—The VDW™!
  • Marital bliss—The VDW™!
  • Beating Van Damme in a fight—The VDW™!
  • International diplomacy—The VDW™!
  • Romance your lady—The VDW™!
  • Self-awareness—The VDW™!
  • Talk about yourself in the third person—The VDW™!
  • Defending yourself in nature specifically by punching animals—The VDW™!

In the end, there is no book like it in the world (see exceptions below).  This makes it difficult to encapsulate for the average writer, but I’m made of sterner stuff, so here goes: this book is part off-beat film analysis, part sociological study and part self-help book—but all man.

The Van Damme Way™!