Stupid Tuesday questions, Neil Patrick Harris edition

“Hey! You look like Doogie Howser!”

This delightful little bon mot was, for many years, a source of seemingly-constant amusement to a great many of my patients/their parents.  For those of you who weren’t watching television between 1989 and 1993, this clever witticism was a reference to the title character of a show about a boy genius who graduated from medical school and became a practicing physician at age 14, played by a very young Neil Patrick Harris.

It was a silly show.

As you might have surmised, the reasons I was treated to this droll observation on a repeated basis were: 1) I was a doctor, and 2) I was very young, and looked even younger.  I went to a combined six-year BA/MD program right out of high school, and was one of the youngest members of my class.  And I’ve always looked young for my age.  Hence, the Doogie Howser references, over and over and over.

At first, they were mildly amusing.  Then they got irritating.  And then they got really really irritating.

Snappishness not being a highly-prized quality in a pediatrician, I coped with this annoying phenomenon by smiling a tight little smile and saying something like “The first Doogie Howser reference is free.  I add a dollar to your copay for any others.”  (I would totally have done it, too, if I thought I could have gotten away with it.)  And life moved on.

As time has gone by and my knuckles have whitened with their grip on the waning years of my thirties, the references have dropped off.  But I still get the occasional question from a parent meeting me for the first time — “How old are you?”  I now find the question rather charming, like when I get carded to buy beer.  I usually ask how old they think I am, and anyone who shaves five years or more off my actual age gets a pre-signed blank prescription slip with my compliments.  (Confidential to my friends at the DEA: I jest.)

But still!  Having a somewhat elfin appearance has been an impediment of sorts to being taken seriously on occasion.  When the frivolous complaint was filed against my license several years back, the angry parent described me at one point as “this KID!”  This is, in part, why I use my title when introducing myself to parents I’m meeting for the first time in my office.  And it has affected the way I present myself a little bit, too.

Back in the day, I got my ear pierced.  And then I got it pierced again.  That was about as transgressive as I got re: challenging heterosexist gender norms, other than slapping a rainbow sticker on my car for about six months after I came out.  I wore the earrings through medical school, residency and my fellowship.

And then it was time for me to be a real-live pediatrician in a real-live office, with slightly different expectations.  Furthermore, I had moved from New York City (where a double-pierced ear is roughly as transgressive as rainbow sprinkles on one’s soft-serve vanilla ice cream cone) to join a practice in rural-ish Maine.  Presuming (correctly) that families there might skew more conservative than in Manhattan, I stopped wearing the earrings.

Every so often I still wear them, just for fun.  On one occasion I wore them to an informal office party for my new job, at which point the office manager remarked on them and asked why I didn’t wear them at the office.  I mulled the question.  After all, my current practice is in the Boston metro area, and I’m the Adolescent Specialist here.  Maybe the earrings would say “Yes, Young People.  I may be over 30, but I am still hip and free-thinking and worthy of your confidence!”

The earrings have stayed out.  Partly because the Better Half makes no bones about his feelings that they are a little bit juvenile and attention-seeking.  (He may be right about that, but don’t tell him I said so.)  But mainly, I asked myself why I would want to make my job just a little bit harder for the sake of some little frippery in my ear.  Given how important being taken seriously is in my profession, why would I give skeptical parents a reason to take me a little less seriously?

So that’s week’s question — what could you get away with, but don’t?  What teensy indiscretions have you done without because prudence advised it?  What giddiness have you put on the shelf, perhaps to look at from time to time but not to really indulge in any longer?

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97 thoughts on “Stupid Tuesday questions, Neil Patrick Harris edition

  1. I like the torn jeans look, and I could wear them to work, but I don’t because I’m an almost-forty manager of world-class engineers. I would like to, though, and I keep my favorite pair from high school, which I can still barely squeeze into (if I haven’t eaten recently), just so I can occasionally squeeze into them and pretend I’m younger.

    I do, however, indulge in occasionally wearing clothes to work that really ought to be on someone 15-20 years my junior, because there will come a day when I will have to stop doing that, too.

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    • at a lab I worked at, that was standard attire for researchers.
      AKA “research participant is coming, throw on the coat!”
      I used it a few times while wiring people up — figured it helped
      when they were not more than two years younger than me.

      “Yes, I do really know what I’m doing, with these potentially
      lethal electrodes.” (Note: in practice, they’re no more lethal than water).

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  2. I…used to have my eyebrow pierced.

    That’s not the shameful part…the shameful part is, I STILL think it looked kinda cool.

    I could do it again; I had it years ago when I still went into an office, and now I work from home.

    But…nah.

    Plus, kids pulling out a fistful of beard is painful enough.

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    • R (the girlfriend) has her nose, lip, and tongue pierced, along with a dermal above her lip. She regularly takes them out for an extended period of time, because she decides she’s too old for them, then on a whim gets them re-pierced. I’ve come to accept that on any given day, I might come home and find her with or without the piercings. I admit it’s weird feeling like I’m the mature one in a relationship.

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      • I work in a pretty conservative industry (not always politically, but generally in terms of appearance/lifestyle). When I first came in after getting it, an old Italian New Yorker who’d been with the company since approximately the beginning of time looked at me, waited a beat, then asked “What…didja lose a bet?”

        I also briefly covered it with a band-aid the first time I visited my grandma afterwards; some lame excuse about a cut.

        She wasn’t fooled.

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      • I’ve only ever had my ears pierced, and though the holes are still very visible, it’s been more than a decade since I last took them out (3 in one ear, one in the other). I could easily get away with them and any facial piercings I wanted, though. It’s just not the life I lead anymore, as a friend of mine likes to say.

        For R, on the other hand, the piercings may actually be encouraged in her industry, and she is going to lead whatever the hell life she wants at the moment, so piercings on, piercings off.

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  3. First off, I’m pretty sure earrings as sign of hipness ceased to be a while ago. But I’ll let you dream a little more.

    Second, if I may go on a tangent…

    I’m on record as saying that I bristle about the way in which we judge people based on clothing choices. I understand that some of this is unavoidable and/or happens on a subconscious level, but much of it seems quite conscious and deliberate. I also understand this might put me at odds with you and others here, a position I am comfortable taking.

    But…

    I have a new superior at work. She was formerly a colleague but has advanced to the head of our division. She is a pretty good friend of mine… as close as I am with anyone I work with… and we are of the same age (both having turned 30 this past summer). She looks very young for her age.

    But she also does the whole manic-pixie-girl thing. Or whatever that is called. When we hold meetings, she’ll sometimes sit cross-legged and barefoot on the floor while her subordinates, most of them older (if not significantly older) sit in chairs. When giving us deadlines for our reports, she’ll say that we need our “Practically perfect Mary Poppins-style” reports by a given day, instead of just saying, “I need final drafts.” She seems to have a never ending supply of sun dresses which she wears year-round, complimenting them with contrasting leggings for the winter months. All-in-all, she seems to go out of her way to act like a child at times. This isn’t unique to her assuming the role she is currently in, but seems to be a broader MO. Now, she is fully competent and an otherwise well-put-together person.

    But I find it hard to take her seriously when she’s sitting barefoot and talking about Mary Poppins.

    Is this wrong of me? Am I being unfair to her in much the same way I consider it unfair to consider someone as less serious because they are wearing an earring? Or is this something different than just clothing?

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    • Has she ever been mistaken for being under 12?
      (This happened to me once, while browsing for samples at Costco.
      “Excuse me, are you with someone?” The sample lady asked.
      “Yes, my husband.” I responded drolly. Only later did I realize
      that she was unsure she was allowed to be giving me samples).

      I think the use of “Mary Poppins” is kinda… eh. But sitting on the floor
      is a deliberate rule-reconstruction (if a very odd one, because everyone
      else sits on chairs — were I an employee, I’d probably also sit on the floor,
      with a clipboard to write on.)

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    • I think you and I are of slightly different opinions about the appearance thing, if somewhat resignedly so on my part. I agree with your ideals, but as one of the partners of a small business that has to consider the face we present to our patients (read: customers), sometimes it’s a consideration that cannot be totally excluded.

      Your description of your colleague TOTALLY reminds me of one of my best friends from medical school, a friend I really loved and whose friendship I miss now that we’ve drifted apart over the years. She absolutely developed a very similar kind of manic-pixie-girl thing, with kind of a tomboy spin. Despite her having now trained at some incredibly competitive, elite programs for residency and beyond, I still have a hard time picturing her in a professional capacity because of how persistently she presented that persona to the world. [Confidential to RW: three guesses who I’m talking about here.] And yes, I think it is fair to make judgments about a person based upon the way they deliberately present themselves.

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      • The tougher question vis-a-vis my friend/superior is about our other colleagues. She is already seen as suspect among them for a number of reasons, some legitimate, some not so. And I don’t think she has any clue about how she presents. Should I offer her the feedback? As a friend? As a subordinate? Leave well enough alone?

        I mean, I would want to know, but I generally take criticism fairly well.

        I also know enough about her past to think that her present personality is not some flight-of-fancy but rather the manifestation of an atypical path she has and continues to walk.

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      • Kaz,
        god, I would really want to know.
        And I’m the type who doesn’t take criticism well.

        If nothing else, the feedback (just as
        importantly “some people don’t trust you” as
        “you’re being a bit more informal than folks expect”)
        may allow her to recalibrate. May not change her
        responses in groups, but she might try to be a
        bit more formal in one-on-ones.

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      • If it’s who I think it is, I saw rather more of her than I bargained for at your wedding.

        Clothes are a way one chooses to present oneself to the world. Why shouldn’t you judge based on them? It’s not like you’re talking about, say, a visible disability. Clothes are a form of social communication. As is certain behavior in one’s professional life. I find child-like behavior in an adult annoying, especially in the workplace.

        Which relates to my answer to this question. I could wear pretty much whatever I want to teach. But I do not wear jeans, and generally wear somewhere between business casual and business. I do think that communicates to students an attitude I take toward the class.

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      • who decides what anything that communicates communicates? There are agreed-upon norms.

        If you wear jeans, it shows me that you value comfort. If you wear them in a situation where people normally don’t wear jeans, it shows me that you value comfort more than following social norms.

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      • That is a rather difficult question and it is probably based a lot on “tradition”/”respect”
        and a whole lot of other factors.

        Jeans started out as clothing for miners and gold prospectors. They started getting fashionable in the 1920s or 30s but the depression gave them a strong association with convicts and the worst victims of the depression/Dust Bowl. It really wasn’t until fairly recently that they became the democratic and every day clothing item that they are today.

        The West Coast has a more relaxed business atmosphere than the East Coast. Most places have “jeans Friday”, many places might allow jeans to be worn all the time. But there are still some old-school firms and organizations that demand a suit and tie or the female equivalent be worn at all times, Monday-Friday. Is this the right of the business owners or not?

        There is also an issue of respect. Suppose a couple has a wedding and they want it to be semi-formal. Men in suits and ties and women in the equivalent. If someone shows up in jeans and says he is just “not comfortable” in a suit. Is he in his right? What does it say that he can’t put up with just a few hours of discomfort?

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      • I understand that we will get judged on what we wear. Sometimes, I will even dress because I don’t feel like getting judged or giving an unintended impression (most times, work aside, I don’t care a whole lot). However, the cavalier attitude there seems to be on this thread (and more generally) to judging people does not sit well with me.

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      • “There is also an issue of respect. Suppose a couple has a wedding and they want it to be semi-formal. Men in suits and ties and women in the equivalent. If someone shows up in jeans and says he is just “not comfortable” in a suit. Is he in his right? What does it say that he can’t put up with just a few hours of discomfort?”

        I think this is somewhat different. If someone explicitly and specifically requests something on a very important day for them in order to make it how they want it to be, ignoring that is kind of douchey.

        But work isn’t a wedding. And assumed social norms are not an explicit dress code.

        We see this with naming conventions. Some people are fine with children calling adults by first names. Some insist on Mr. and Mrs. I met a woman once who preferred to be called by her first name with children but was told she had to have the children call her Mrs. So-and-so because of “Respect!” Her response: “Wouldn’t the best way to teach respect is for them to call me what I prefer for myself?”

        That did not go over well.

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      • I tend to agree. Though I also fully concede that I can be very judgmental at times. I make my peace with this largely by thinking what I think in my head and doing my best to not let it impact how I interact with someone. I may look at your skinny jeans and think you’re a douche, but I’ll still treat you the same as the person who dressed like he has more than three working brain cells.

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      • Kazzy,
        ND is posing a different hypothetical than me.
        if you attend a funeral, a wedding, the default is
        to dress “respectfully” (and that’s not jeans!).
        I know people who have attended church in
        baseball uniforms (because that was the
        most formal clothes they had — point was,
        they were trying).

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      • Being judgmental does not mean a negative judgment, necessarily. If I judge that Kazzy is more comfortable in jeans than conforming to a social norm, that is not necessarily a negative impression. For example, I was glad when I saw people dressing down in my parents’ synagogue, because I thought the dress requirements were too stiff. It should be a place where people are more comfortable.

        The “who gets to say what X means” came up in the thread on the Washington football team. I don’t know who gets to say. But the way people dress does connote attitudes toward an event/place/other people. I try very hard not to assume anything based on race, gender, physical attractiveness, apparent economic class – anything over which someone has little control. But dress is one of those things over which people have control (except the part that is due to social class, which I do try not to judge on), like their behavior or speech. I do judge people by behavior and speech. As we should- it’s part of our moral being.

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    • “I’m on record as saying that I bristle about the way in which we judge people based on clothing choices. I understand that some of this is unavoidable and/or happens on a subconscious level, but much of it seems quite conscious and deliberate. I also understand this might put me at odds with you and others here, a position I am comfortable taking.”

      Ya know, that kind of made me think of this.

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    • Honestly? I’d ask her.
      Assuming this is a reasonably deliberate tact,
      it probably means “hey guys, I trust you to do your jobs”
      and “I’m trying not to be the grinch”.

      A certain level of “not being taken seriously” may be
      exactly what she wants.

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    • How much of this could be because she does not want to be known as being too tough or the ball-buster for being direct and saying “I need final drafts by Thursday”

      She could be dealing with sexist assumptions.

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    • Also you work in early childhood education. This could just be her personality type. Maybe she is around kids all day that she has a hard time switching it off or she is just the type that treats everyone like kids.

      When I was in college, I knew someone who had a mother hen personality type and basically treated everyone like they were 5 or 6 years old and in need of cookies and milk and a cuddle.

      Most people seemed to appreciate this deeply. It drove me up the wall.

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      • It is definitely not new to her role, so I think it is deeper than that. However, I have batted around how sexism may be a factor, including in my own response.

        And it tends to permeate more through her life. She simply is a manic-pixie-girl. Which is totally cool if that’s her thing. If she needs to do a full twirl when someone calls her from behind instead of just looking back on her shoulder, power to her.

        But it feels unprofessional. Yet, I bristle at the one saying that because I do struggle more broadly with social norms. So I’m a bit flummoxed as to what my response ought to be, both internally and externally.

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      • Does she also speak with a “girl”ish voice? In that she deliberately ups the tone of her voice or refrains from letting it come out that way?

        I’ve noticed a trend of some women speaking in higher pitches even in professional settings, which strikes me as a bit odd.

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    • Yes, you are wrong.
      As a complete fucko, you should stick your head in the toilet and flush, immediately.

      I worked for a guy that liked to sit on a table in the lotus position. A young cat, too.
      He was very intelligent (and, presumably, still is), and I have a lot of respect for him.
      He knew more about vodka than any person I have ever met. Which is sort of odd for someone who prefers a lotus position for sitting, come to think of it.

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      • Agreed. And I regret it. I should have read the whole thread before responding.
        Actually, the whole jeans thing upthread reminds me of wearing shorts in coastal areas.
        I went to a job interview inland wearing shorts one time. At the end of the interview, the guy asked me why I came to a job interview wearing shorts. It was only then that I noticed that people inland weren’t wearing shorts.

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  4. Everytime someone pulls out in front of me on the road causing me to break hard. No, they couldn’t wait until the road is clear, after I pass. Hell, it’s not my fault, I have right of way. I could totally not brake. The airbags would deploy and I’d live and maybe they’d be taught a lesson.

    Why I don’t? If they are that stupid to do it, they probably wouldn’t learn.

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  5. A few observations that don’t really answer the question:

    1. My first job out of college, my nickname was Doogie. I was thinner then. But I was young and younger-looking for my age. I had blond hair and I was white and (presumably) nerd-smart.

    2. In Vegas, I noticed the twin earrings one evening and actually asked myself “Did he have those on before? I don’t think he had those on before” and wondered if there was a backstory there. (Maybe you did have them on there before and I hadn’t noticed.)

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    • 1) I realized as I was writing this that it totally dovetailed with your “Dressing My Station” post, which I was then going to link to and couldn’t find. But I intended to, man!

      2) Yeah, I thought “what the hell!” in Vegas and actually bought earrings to wear the second night of Leaguefest. (I hadn’t even packed any.) I figured, y’know… wearing them seemed a little more Vegas-y.

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      • A bit of a coincidence, sort of: Much of what I had to say on that post was from a previously aborted post on the subject of dress, respectability, and age.

        The title of that post was: Taking Out The Earring

        The post opened with a story of a guy my parents knew who had become a CEO of a chemical company. He decided to put an earring in his ear to find out how long it would take for someone to say something to him about it. He was relieved when it took less than a couple of hours (relieved because it meant he was surrounded by people who were straight with him that such things were not appropriate for a 50-something CEO of a chemical company in the south).

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  6. “Maybe the earrings would say “Yes, Young People. I may be over 30, but I am still hip and free-thinking and worthy of your confidence!”

    No statement of any kind made by an adult to teenagers to let them know they are hip and cool ever goes well for the adult.

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  7. But to answer your question, back in the pre-retirement days, I used to buy ties that went with my suits, shirts and sports coats … and then almost never wore them, because this is Portland, Oregon after all. Which makes me perhaps the only person answering this question that will use a case of wanting to dress more formally than less as an example.

    What can I say. I like a good tie.

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    • I feel your pain, Tod. In my field and location (medical electronics design – Orange County CA) to wear a tie to work on more than the rarest occasions would probably elicit more raised eyebrows than a low key earring. I’m 55, white, and hetero – you would think a tie would simply (re)present as premature/accelerated fogeyness, versus the earring’s denial of time’s winged chariot hurrying near, but no.

      And we won’t even go into the hopelessness of wearing French cuffs, which I quite like, without a tie. I was happy when I occasionally got to go to NYC or Washington for business, because I could actually dress decently.

      Then again, my boss, two years younger than I, makes a point of sometimes wearing shorts and flipflops. At the very least he could wear a belt that matched the flipflops.

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      • I think I also would get a lot of stares if I wore a tie.
        (sidenote: yes I do own a tie.
        Yes, I have worn said tie to a wedding (matched with my husband).
        Yes, I was not informed it was a “stripper tie” until we got to the wedding.
        ….
        remember what I said above about maturity?)

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      • My father, who is also a pediatrician, has always worn ties to work, usually with bright colors of children’s characters on them. Due to certain… hazards associated with working with sick children, he’s tended to go through ties pretty quickly, so that’s often all he will ask for for birthdays and Christmas. I remember, years ago, going to a department store every year and just asking the guy in the men’s department, “Where are your Mickey Mouse ties?”

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      • [This is really for Dr. Saunders’ comment below Chris’ – for some reason I have no reply button at this nesting]

        Infectious disease specialists in hospitals hate it when medical professionals wear ties in the hospital, which most do of course: the ties almost never get cleaned (or so I am told), and thus develop quite an accumulation of potentially pathogenic organisms.

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    • One of my pet hats is people who wear business shirts without a tie. Business shirts are cut so as to be worn with a tie, if you don’t want to wear a tie then wear a more casual shirt. A formal shirt with no tie doesn’t make you look laid back, it makes you look indecisive and sloppy.

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      • People who don’t wear a tie, fine, whatever.

        People who make a point of not wearing a tie, such as by wearing suits or shirts buttoned up all the way, in order to advertise that they are boldly and courageously refusing to wear a tie, look like dorks. Hey people, I’m not judging, I’m just telling you how you look.

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      • I love wearing ties and envy the folks who are capable of mixing it up with different knots (my attempts at getting freaky with my tie knots always result in people asking me if my dad died before he could teach me how to tie a knot proper… which, you know, pretty regularly ruins my day). I just hate wearing slacks/khakis. Let me wear jeans and a tie every day, and I will wear jeans and a tie every day.

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      • Here is a statement that makes me glad to be alive:

        “This dinner suit gets a lot of use in Moonraker. Not only does he wear it out in the evening, but he’s still wearing it the next morning. Obviously Bond didn’t make it back to his hotel suite that night, and that’s the only reason someone should wear a dinner suit during the day. But by the morning he has discarded his bow tie and is wearing the collar open, with the points outside of the jacket. Wearing collar points outside the jacket was a popular trend in the 1970s, but not a very attractive one.”

        http://thesuitsofjamesbond.com/?p=3414

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  8. Almost any time I feel like getting away with something, I do it. I feel it rarely enough that this doesn’t really qualify as a sign of maturity. When I do feel it, it’s usually because a moment of levity is indicated as highly necessary.

    In a way, this makes me a clown.

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  9. For about a month now, I’ve been at a new job, working with people I didn’t know before, so I’ve more or less eliminated bad puns and relating everything to baseball.

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  10. I rocked the royal blue shirt with the white tie in court one day under my charcoal suit and I’ve noticed two other attorneys have since then copied that look, so be assured that I’m quite the fashion plate in my courthouse.

    And I have square-toed dress shoes, which should make the Doc quite happy. According to the girl who sold them to me at DSW, square toes are making a comeback. She was half my age and had a tiny-tiny-tiny gold stud in her left nostril, so she must be right.

    Sadly, attorneys oft labor under a strict and judicially-enforced dress code. So my subversiveness must perforce be behavioral rather than sartorial:

    Defendant: “Your Honor, the place is a dump! The hot water heater barely works. The air conditioner is broken and leaks. There’s dangerous black mold growing under the sink!”
    Me: “So, of course, she wants to stay.”

    That’s about as edgy as I get.

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  11. I had long hair throughout most of high school (even when I was in 4H and showing pigs at the county fair). I cut my hair during my junior year, after breaking up with the girl I had been dating since my freshman year. It was part of my attempts to find my own identity. My breakups tend to lead to a period of personal assessment and improvement.

    I am in my early 30s now, and I work as a chemist. In theory, I could probably get away with growing my hair back out. In practice, I think it would be a hindrance to my career opportunities. Maybe in a decade or so, I will be the crazy genius who can do whatever he wants, but that is not my position right now.

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  12. Low cut shirts/dresses. I could wear them to work, but I don’t. I’m already younger than all other members of management and all but one of my employees. I dress my age, but I try to keep a high collar.

    And my belly button ring. No one would know if/when I have it in, but I stay away from it just the same.

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  13. I was all “I wear what I want!” but then I saw Miss Mary’s comment and realized, yeah, actually, I do stay away from anything low-cut (also flirty sundresses and the like), even if I would otherwise be in the mood to wear them, and I wear plenty of things that are even more informal (snappy t-shirts, anyone?) and they are within socially-appropriate bounds for my work environment….

    …. because most of the work peers who wear them also don’t work directly with a bevy of 18-22 year olds.

    I notice, also, that the librarians don’t dress cute either.

    Boundaries, we can haz dem.

    Except in the summer when it’s like 100 degrees outside, then all our clothing sensibilities go out the window.

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