I operate purely on dares and spite.
Gracious people refer to this as being “spirited” or “independently minded” or something. All I know is, if you tell me to do something, I won’t. If you tell me I can’t, I will die trying, and if you challenge me to do something stupid, I will feel compelled to rise to the occasion.
This has always been the case. (And it’s great insight for anyone who’d like to manipulate me. Because even though I can acknowledge that I am an irrational, spite-fueled bucket of mistakes, there’s hardly anything I can do about it.)
At age three, I hated not being in charge of my own wardrobe. So I bugged my cousin for days to teach me how to pick out my own clothes. She told me, “The color in the top has to also be in the bottoms.” That advice + the 70s made me look like this until Kindergarten:
No one could convince me this wasn’t an acceptable way to dress. It took the invention of Garanimals to make me publicly presentable again.
At 21 I took a job on the graveyard shift at a UPS warehouse. It required both upper body strength and punctuality—two things I have never possessed. My friend Chris, who had worked there for nine months told me, “You won’t last a week.” I quit after nine months + 1 week. And while Chris forgot his casual remark the moment it left his lips, I am still telling people (you) about how I really showed some guy (Chris) who will (me) and who won’t (not me) last more than one week at UPS!
And now I’m 39 and until very (very) recently, I smoked cigarettes. Nothing my friends say, no warnings from doctors, no FACTS could convince me not to. I know they’re terrible. They’re expensive. They smell bad. They will eventually give me cancer and also I JUST FINISHED BEATING CANCER AND IT WAS GROSS AND I DON’T WANT TO DO IT AGAIN. I know there is no reason to keep smoking.
Nevertheless, I want cigarettes. I don’t want to want them, but I want them. And until very (very) recently, my policy was to give myself whatever I wanted, whenever possible.
I think it’s because there are so many things I want that are out of my control. There are restrictions to where I can go, what I can wear, what I can say and what I can do. It doesn’t matter that I want to skip work, sleep in and watch Real Genius three times in a row. It doesn’t make any difference how much I want this cab driver to stop farting and roll down his window. If wanting it was enough to get Paul Rudd to make out with me, making out with me he would be, right fucking now.
But a cigarette is something I want that I also can have. I have the power to obtain them and the ability to smoke them. I CAN DO THIS! And in NYC, it sort of feels like an accomplishment. With a pack of cigarettes costing upwards of $13 —lighting up in public is the equivalent of wearing a top hat and a monocle. It says to the world, “I have so much money, I spend it on things that will most definitely kill me!! MONEY MAKES ME IMMORTAL!!!”
I realized the other day that this is what being Michael Jackson must have been like – except for a thousand times more, and about everything.
Michael had no one to tell him “no”. He had the money and power to do whatever, whenever—and it made him crazy. For Michael Jackson, “shopping” meant pointing at stuff and saying “yes.” He could tell a surgeon to give him Voldemort’s nose without objection—from anyone. His house was an amusement park and his best friends were monkeys! This is what happens when wealth erodes boundaries.
And I’m not judging him—I’d be the President of Bad Decisions if I were in his shoes. I mean, can you imagine if I lived a life without consequences how motherfucking crazy I would be? If I had unlimited power with no legal authority, financial barrier or moral code keeping me in check, I would:
- Turn former bullies into a human centipede
- Commission Mount Rushmore II, featuring Ghost Busters
- Hire a team of giraffe security guards/best friends.
- Criminalize putting ketchup on hot dogs (death penalty!)
And that’s just for starters. What if I had the power to make people punch themselves in their own dicks for eternity—do you think that I wouldn’t take advantage of that on a regular basis? Everyone from Rick Perry to the guy that THINKS he’s cutting in line at Starbucks (but he really isn’t because he’s about to be sidetracked by an infinite series of self-inflicted dick punches) would be punching themselves in the dicks forever.
I need boundaries. I wouldn’t last long while surrounded by “yes men.” It’s clear that with the very little power I do have, I’m already making pretty stupid decisions.
I need a “no man”, and since I don’t listen to anyone else, that “no man” is going to have to be me.
Nancy Reagan taught us to “just say no” to pushers and peddlers and peer pressure-ers, but no one really schooled us on saying “no” to ourselves. Growing up in the 80s, we had this idea that the world is filled with people trying to give you free drugs and alcohol and that you simply had to decline. (If only!)
No one told us that “your brain on drugs” was actually a pretty alright time—that the problem would not be pressure to conform, the problem would be how to get pot without having to hang out with potheads all night. The problem would be deciding which one of us is going to drive. The problem would be figuring out how long this acid high is going to last, and whether taking more of it so I can stay awake (but tripping) through my morning classes is better or worse than skipping class altogether.
And now the problem is remembering that college is over, and that I’m almost 40 and it’s time to grow up and make healthy choices. Drugs and alcohol and cigarettes are for children.
So no more “yessing” myself to death. When that little voice inside tells me, “I want a cigarette,” I will think of Michael Jackson and answer, “TOO BAD, SO SAD, YOUR DAD!” (It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it rhymes, and I find it useful.)
Because I know it’s not about what I want. I’m sure Michael Jackson would still want Voldemort’s nose, just like I will always want to smoke cigarettes and eat donuts and buy illegal Ambien off the Internet. My challenge is to stop letting myself indulge in those bad habits, regardless of what I want–to be the voice of reason and to crack the whip of sane choices. I’m going to have to be the “no man” that I need, to answer the pusher and peddler and peer-pressure-er that I also am.
You know, if you guys would just tell me that quitting smoking is impossible, and that I would be crazy to try, I’d be happy (and forced) to prove you wrong.