It takes very little to improve my mood during the dark, uneventful days of winter. Being recognized on social media always does the trick.
I get positively giddy when someone "likes" my column on Facebook; a new LinkedIn request puts a broad smile on my face, even as I prepare to encase it in a scarf and fire up the snow blower for the umpteenth time. I can't help it, and I'm not alone; studies have concluded social media fuels our narcissistic tendencies. If a little ego-boosting will tide me over until the snow melts, so be it.
So, while riding the Chicago "L" one morning, I asked a total stranger to take a photo of me as I read a book. My goal was to get it posted on one of Instagram's most popular boards.
Currently boasting more than 250,000 followers, the board's creator encourages the cyber community to snap pictures of who they think are good looking men digesting the printed word and then send them to a gmail address. The photos, taken on subway cars, subsequently appear on Instagram along with comments that could have easily been lifted from Fifty Shades of Grey.
One comment gushed: "Just caught a glimpse of this elusive beauty reading Moby Dick in the crowded waters of the L train. There may be other fish in the sea but this white whale has me hooked."
And another: "I'm sure he's reading a collection of post-war Russian short stories, but really thinking of how he made love to his French girlfriend this morning and the gluten free toast they shared after."
Oh, what a review like that could do for a guy's self-confidence! Far more than gaining two new Twitter followers, that's for sure.
First I had to select attire. Business suit or a more grunge look? Top coat or bomber jacket? Wear headphones and let the Instagram community ponder what intellectual podcast I'm listening to as I read? Or cover my ears with a stylish Russian wool Astrakhan cap?
Then there was the choice of reading material. A John Grisham novel? Nah, too mainstream. The Economist? Too intellectual. People magazine? Too stupid. The Bible? Too controversial. I wanted the comments to be flattering, not argumentative.
I settled on a black Hugo Boss suit, sans tie, unbuttoned wool coat and a hardcover copy of Jobs, Walter Isaacson's biography of the late Apple CEO. I'd assume the role of business titan Christian Grey, despite having 20 years on him, and hope the comments would reflect my persona.
This corporate hottie holds the key to my iHeart. What I wouldn't do to be the only entry on his playlist.
Hey, it could happen.
Then it was time to assume the reading-while-commuting position, something foreign to me since I rarely read on subway cars and never while standing up. I find myself staring at those who do, wondering how it's possible to concentrate on the written word while the ground lurches underfoot as you stand shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers who sneeze, hack and basically broadcast the fact that they are in various stages of the influenza virus. "Must be a REALLY good book," I think to myself.
I emailed the photo, fired up my iPhone, opened the Instagram app and hit "refresh."
Three days later, I was still refreshing. No photo, no comments, not even a polite "thanks but no thanks" response from the email recipient. Just more snow outside my door. Apparently, I can't compete with the "sexy stud (who) owns the 4 train with the same confidence he probably exudes defending the zone at his pick-up hockey games."
"For Pete's sake, just upload the photo directly to the board if it will make you feel better," my wife said. "I'll even post the first comment."
"And what would you say?" I asked.
How about "Forget Jobs. This middle aged pile of pathos would be better off perusing a self-help tome firmly stating that 'hot' is not a descriptive word for 52 year olds and his train left the station years ago."
"How about you just click 'like' instead?"