Saturday, March 20, 2010

Girls' Guide to Being Jack Bauer

Recently, I started carrying a 4-gig USB drive in my purse. For what reason, I know not. It isn’t for work or school, but perhaps for something larger. Perhaps it will come in handy should I be called upon to save the world.

But other than my ability to quickly download data from a terrorist’s hard drive, I’m woefully unprepared. And if my experience organizing potlucks and bake sales and office Christmas parties is any indication, saving the world will best be accomplished as a team. So, my fellow women (or at least the half dozen who choose to skim this blog entry): Let’s acknowledge that it was fun shopping for shoes we didn’t need, it was fun spending Christmas Day in our PJs watching Keira Knightley movies, and it was fun amassing throw pillows in shades of avocado and dark avocado. But it’s time now to leave all that behind, and embrace the Jack Bauer in each of us. Consider this a primer.

Jack is prepared for anything. He speaks four languages. He pilots planes and helicopters. He’s well versed in military strategy, current events, history, psychology, culture, politics, and protocol. He can hotwire a car, treat a sucking chest wound, and decrypt your encrypted files. To get up to speed, you’ll need a carefully selected reading list, a dozen college classes, and a few hundred hours of professional instruction. More importantly, though, Jack adapts quickly to changing situations. And so do you! As a woman—and perhaps as a wife and mother—adaptation is your strength. Remember when your mom left her entire estate to The Mormons, because a couple of bored missionaries offered to mow her front lawn one autumn afternoon? Remember when your first husband announced he was gay, then straight, then gay again? Remember when your eldest daughter dropped out of medical school to pursue her dream of playing the didgeridoo professionally? You adapted!

Next, Jack is physically robust, with muscles aplenty and a low body-fat percentage. As women, we probably can’t match that. As middle-aged women, we’d look silly trying. However, we each have a personal best, and there’s no good reason not to achieve it, and soon. When Katrina hit, perhaps you felt inclined to join other civilians rescuing abandoned pets; when the earthquake ravaged Haiti, perhaps you imagined yourself donning a Kevlar vest, strapping on an AK-47, and protecting much-needed food supplies from looters. So did I! But those dreams were soon quashed by the realization that my overweight, hypertensive self would merely get in the way. Also, I have only the vaguest idea what an AK-47 is. So, there’s much work to be done on this front. There’s a slightly smaller gap between fantasy and reality as we examine his third essential attribute…

Jack is emotionally robust. He doesn’t whine, burst into tears, or crawl into bed when things fail to go his way. He might want to, but—always the soldier, always the stoic—he refrains. He doesn’t have a never-quite-satisfied need for praise or reassurance. He doesn’t need others to agree with him or validate him. He’s the opposite of needy; he’s self-contained and interior. Next time you find yourself complaining about the raise that should have been yours, the son or daughter who didn’t call on your half-birthday, or the diminishing space between your bust line and your waistline, ask yourself WWJBD, and then spend an afternoon at the shooting range. Speaking of the shooting range…

Jack is dangerous. Like James Bond without the lame jokes, or Jason Bourne without the pesky memory loss, Jack is formidable. Granted, he has trained as a Special Forces soldier, and has worked for the CIA, FBI, and Counter-Terrorist Unit. I have not. It’s never too late, though…not for any of us. Self-defense is offered as a community ed class, and shooting ranges often advertise Women’s Night. The very earnest can seek out professional instruction in hand-to-hand combat and evasive driving techniques. Consider it an exciting alternative to spa day. And don’t worry for an instant about losing The Cute, and being mistaken for Rosa Klebb in “From Russia With Love.” Because…

Jack always looks terrific. Sure…he’s dressed for a particular brand of sexless action, in sturdy shoes, boot-cut jeans, a leather belt, a long-sleeved T-shirt, a hooded sweatshirt, and a canvas jacket. But he’s handsome, comfy, and protected from the elements. He has plenty of pockets. Most importantly, he’s not hampered by his fashion choices: His clothes increase—rather than decrease— his ability to respond effectively in an emergency. Add a little color/pattern/texture/shine to his outfit, and you, too, can be ready for anything. And unless you’re about to go through airport security, consider the ultimate accessory: a knife strapped to your calf. And jettison that most nonsensical accessory: the clutch. Instead, opt for something that leaves both hands free (see below).

Jack wears a canvas cross-body, chockfull of world-saving gizmos. It contains a laptop, a USB drive, an extra cell-phone battery, a monocular, a knife, a gun, and extra ammunition. In all likelihood, it also contains sunglasses, leather gloves, phone chargers, cable ties, waterproof matches, first-aid basics, a flashlight, several hundred dollars, and a couple of energy bars. Just imagine how powerful you’ll feel—how powerful you’ll be!--when equipped thus. You’ll never miss your Great Lash mascara or your Arby’s coupons.

Next, Jack keeps his word. Like other characters of the same ilk (Robert Crais’s Joe Pike, Robert Parker’s Spenser and Hawk), Jack does what he says he’ll do. He doesn’t agree to anything frivolously or casually, whether he’s talking to a girlfriend, a terrorist, or a Commander-in-Chief. He values the truth; he has no time for bullshit. How refreshing! How freeing! Let us commit to be trustworthy, to be true. Let us allow no exceptions.

And finally, Jack doesn’t engage in small talk or gossip. He’s comfortable with silence, with an unexpressed thought. It bothers him not at all that friends or strangers might perceive him as cold, unfriendly, or too intense. He’s not exactly humorless, but he doesn’t attempt to amuse by quoting lines from sitcoms, SNL sketches, or standup comedy routines. He avoids distractions; he doesn’t embrace them (despite ever-increasing encouragement to do so, especially among middle-class and affluent Americans). We can make these fairly easy changes, and we can make them today. We can take a break from the chatty, outgoing, beguiling, pleasing self we perfected in high school, and find a quiet place—a slightly menacing place—inside.

Perhaps you’re wondering why I didn’t choose a female role model. I mean, Peta Wilson portrayed TV’s deadly Nikita, and it seems that Angelina scores a new ass-kicking role every year. However, both women routinely squeeze into size-zero black leather pants. That seems more difficult, really, than learning to disarm a nuclear device.

And perhaps you think I’m attempting to diminish the importance of traditional feminine strengths such as nurturing, peacemaking, multi-tasking, and ovulating. I am not. Women—now more than ever—are an efficient lot. We can embrace both ways of being.

There’s much to be done, so let us begin. And since luck favors those with mental agility and sufficient bone density, let’s make significant progress before menopause looms large. Master one area and then move quickly to the next. And it won’t hurt to occasionally yell “Drop your weapon!”—to the postal carrier, the receptionist at work, the cat. Embrace the spirit of being Jack Bauer, and the rest will follow.

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