“Those who live on vanity must, not unreasonably, expect to die of mortification” – Alice Thomas Ellis

Lately, when people smile, I automatically reach for my Ray-Bans. Teeth whitening used to make cloudy teeth whiter, but it’s evolved into a procedure that makes teeth brighter than those annoying Xenon headlights. Soon dentists will be installing tongue-controlled dimmer switches on the roof of your mouth so you can set the mood with your choppers – anywhere from “soft romance” to “signal the rescue party.”

The tattoo craze blows me away, too. Tattoos used to be reserved to serviceman and shop teachers, but now every librarian and soccer mom sports a barbed wire bicep, a papillon on her buttock, or “I Love My Twins” across her chest. I have a friend named Dennis who did time in America’s baddest prison – Angola. While there, a fellow inmate gave him a jailhouse tat that simply reads – D. I asked him, “Why D? Was it short for Death, or Dread, or Distress, or Disturbed, or–”

“No,” He interrupted. “It was going to be Dennis.”

“What stopped you?” I asked.

He looked at me with his tough-man, steely eyes. “It hurt!”

Males are just as fashion-conscious as women. Look at the goatee fad. I remember when the only people with goatees were Maynard G. Krebs and Polish nuns. Goatees are goofy looking. They look like someone stapled an armpit on your chin. Some of you are thinking, doesn’t Jim Alexander have a goatee? Well, yes I do, but I had mine before goatees were cool. Nobody’s ever seen me without a goatee. I had one in my second grade class picture.

Besides, I have a medical reason. I have what’s known in the medical field as a Puni-mus Jay Lenoius (weak chin).

Americans will do practically anything for fashion and vanity. We’ll cook ourselves in tanning booths. Inject Botox into our body. Women wear underwear co-designed by Dr. D. Floss and the Marquis de Sade (thank you very much J). We pierce areas that I wouldn’t let a doctor with a sterile swab examine, never mind some spiked-haired, spiked lipped, Vespa-riding geek with a needle. And, we’re always on one diet or another.

I’m on another diet.

What caused me to go on another diet was Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. Keith and I used to share a similar lifestyle. No, I was never in a world-famous rock and roll band. Nor have I been described as, “the English dude who looks like road kill with a hangover.” But, in the ‘70s we both put things into our bodies that might be considered unhealthy – and I’m not talking about trans fats. While Mr. Richards continued his abusive ways, I chose (if you look up “chose” in the Alexander dictionary it says: Lora made me) to give it up. To my chagrin, it was recently reported that Keith Richards climbed a tree while in Fiji. He fell out of the tree onto his coconut, but the point is, he climbed it first. Though 10 years younger than Keith, I can’t climb a coconut tree. I can barely lift my leg high enough to pee on a coconut tree.

My body has gone to seed – actually, an avocado pit. I don’t necessarily have to be as thin as Kate Moss or even Randy Moss (or even Peat Moss). I just want to be able to get off the floor without a block and tackle, or walk down the aisle of an airplane without passengers shooting me that “Oh, please, God, don’t sit here” look. Actually, I’d settle for being able to climb a coconut tree.

Subsequently, I’m trying NutriSystem. I like it about as much as Mel Gibson likes Kosher. But, I have lost 18 pounds. So far nobody’s noticed. It’s the old dieter’s proverb – if a tree lost 18 pounds in the forest and nobody was there to see the scale, would anybody notice? The answer – not if it’s a really fat tree.

So, I guess I’m as vain as the next guy. Besides my diet, and the goatee I’ve already mentioned, I’m even thinking about joining the pack and having my teeth whitened. Not lighthouse beacon bright, but maybe a mellow “Moon Glow.”

Good, God! I can’t believe what I just wrote. What’s gotten into me? Teeth whitening, goatee, diet? What’s so great about climbing a coconut tree anyway? Perhaps I should forget about my glowing smile and NutriSystem and be satisfied with a vanity license plate – Fat4Lif. But the goatee stays.