1. Get married
I have a distinct image of marriage that is with me to this day. I’m about 25, I have black hair, as does my wife, although our son is blond, which should be suspicious, but somehow isn’t. We’re wearing white bathrobes and toweling our hair vigorously in a predominantly blue and white house that is as spotless as our teeth. We have a blond dog.
If you haven’t guessed, my personal, iconic vision of marriage is based on a soap commercial I saw in 1986. It was easy to latch on to the mental image, as I already pictured myself looking like my dad when I hit middle age, and he has black hair. However, my mother is blond, and we never had a dog. I never even wanted one. Aside from the odd statistical fluke 99% of my dates having been with medium-height brunettes, my actual life has nothing to do with this image: I have no intentions of getting married, having kids, or getting a dog, but this is still the mental image I see in my mind when I hear the phrase “in five years”.
2. Get a great job
I do have a great job, though not what I expected. I guess fifty-third time’s the charm.
3. Be the youngest filmmaker ever
This desire was in cahoots with two of my friends’ identical desires, and until we hit twenty or so, we still thought we could do it. Unfortunately, we spent ten years working on our first screenplay. It will be a groundbreaking artistic achievement when the mini-series finally hits HBO, but we all got too old to achieve our original dream. A popular piece of writing advice is “Kill your babies”, originally a paraphrasing of Jonathan Swift,1 which now means don’t get attached to your favorite creative endeavors; you’ll do better to drop an obsession and start something fresh. We didn’t listen.
4. Write a novel
This took me seven years, but I did get it done. So maybe the killing your babies thing isn’t true.
5. Publish a novel
No luck here. So maybe the killing your babies thing is true.
6. Own a car
I had some hand me down cars during my late teens. I spent a lot of money on gas. Now I live in the city and I spend a lot of money on booze. Soon, gas will be as expensive as beer, but it still won’t get you drunk.
7. Own a house
No dice. Financially, paying a mortgage would be significantly better than continuing to pay rent. In fact, I could buy a six bedroom, three bathroom, three kitchen housing complex in Boston and the monthly payments would be less than what my roommate and I pay for my three room and half kitchen apartment that was built on an angle and has no square corners.
On the downside, I’d be stuck for several years, unless I were lucky and motivated and flipped it for profit.
Also, my credit’s so bad I can’t get a credit card, much less a housing loan. This was already true in 2007. Despite the commercials telling me otherwise, bad credit has failed to ruin my life.
8. Be a narc
Another 1986 commercial. This one was awesome: older kid, maybe fourteen, is selling something to a younger kid, maybe ten. It’s hard to judge age from this perspective. Here’s a rough transcript:
OLDER KID: So what do you tell them?
YOUNGER KID: The first one’s free…
OLDER KID: Right, you got it. That one gets them hooked.
YOUNGER KID: Then I charge them.
OLDER KID: Then you charge them.
I only wish you could see how sweet and innocent both of these kids looked and sounded, especially at the last, wistful, “Then we charge them”. I don’t know if this is how “the first one’s free” made it’s debut in pop culture, but it was the first I’d heard of it.
There was such a feeling of brotherly older kid mentoring sweet little kid, I thought this commercial was an upbeat thing, until it got to the end and the don’t do drugs, everybody’s out to get you, don’t trust friendly 8th graders part of the commercial. It was a little traumatizing. I thought these 8th graders were trying to fuck with my perfect soap commercial future. The young kid looked an awful lot like my suspiciously blond child. So I decided I would go out and find these evil drug dealers and turn them in.
This sentiment died instantly the first time a hot girl handed me a joint. It died such a thorough death, I forgot I’d ever had it, and I spent a good amount of time actually dealing drugs in college.
The moral? 8th graders don’t cause drug use. Girls do.
9. Have sex
Taken care of.
10. Have sex with Mia Clark
You don’t know who this is,2 but I cannot stress how important it was for me to have sex with Mia Clark for about three years. This was my first hardcore, budding hormone crush. At this age, I’m supposed to call it “puppy love”, but I still remember it being “oh my god I didn’t know I could feel like this I FEEL SO AMAZING I’M GOING TO DIE” love.
Since it was cute and perfect for the first nine days I knew her, I thought this was it. She, on the other hand, was about to learn her true powers, and by the time I saw her, next summer, she was thoroughly over it, and I was still GOING TO DIE. I blame this on me living in the woods, because I don’t like blaming things on me being a schmuck, and I was fourteen. Anyway, she called me ugly to my face and gave me a complex for the next four years.
I never had sex with Mia Clark. I discovered later that I could have sex with other people, so I had sex with lots and lots of them, and this cured many of my childhood self-image problems.3 But prior to that, I spent many depressing winter nights on the dock near my house, staring over the ocean, enduring puppy despair, hoping she might, by some freak chance, come out on the dock in the middle of the night and be in love with me. In my late, bitter teens, I thought of nasty things to say to her.
By some freak chance, sixteen years later, she came out on the dock in the middle of the night when I was there. We met like childhood friends do, making small talk and nutshelling our life stories for a few minutes and trying to seem comfortable even though we were now total strangers.
I felt absolutely nothing except mild surprise. It was one of the subtler pivotal moments in my life: I had empirical proof that I was over something I definitely should have been over.
11. Sleep with Uma Thurman
This is still very important to me, and also has not happened.
12. Sleep with Lucy Liu
Same as above. It’s not an asian thing; it’s an asian in skimpy black leather whipping people thing. Coincidentally, wanting to sleep with Lucy Liu is one of the many personality traits I share with Fry from Futurama.
13. See Uma Thurman fight Lucy Liu
I thought of this long before it was filmed, and it’s why when the chips are down, Quentin Tarantino will always be my favorite director, if not my favorite person.
14. Have kids
The older I get, the worse this idea sounds. My last rationale for having kids was that I wanted something in my life more important to me than me. I eventually realized this wouldn’t work, and I would be a frustrated and inattentive father.
I read an article that suggested people without kids are generally happier than people with kids, but that people with kids have more meaning in their lives. Since I stopped believing in meaning, I can’t come up with a single unselfish reason to have kids.
15. Never start smoking
16. Stop smoking
Depending on how you interpret this, I’ve done it nineteen times, tens of thousands of times, or not at all.
17. Have a big comfortable chair
This comes from two places. The first was a clip from Father Knows Best I saw when I was eight or nine. It looked comfortable, and I thought having a big chair was how you became a man.
The second place was when I was couch surfing, having just left my apartment in disgrace after a bad breakup. I spent most of that summer playing video games and getting high at my friend Max’s apartment. Max’s roommate, Scott, had a medium-sized, piss-yellow recliner that appeared to have been raped by a lawnmower early in life, but it was the most comfortable sitting experience of my life to date. I sat in it as much as I could, but it was Scott’s chair, and you had to vacate the moment he got home.
The first time I saw it was one of the weirder nights of my life. I wasn’t homeless yet, but I was pretty much a broken, stoned mess. I had tried going to a party, but staring at people having fun just made me more depressed, so I snuck out and sat on the curb and just tried not to cry. That’s when Max came by. I had met Max a few weeks before in a extremely rare moment of trying to get my life together, when I decided to find something to do besides sit in my apartment and cry. Max seemed the most laid back person in town, so I struck up conversation and we started hanging out occasionally.
Max did not look laid back when he found me on the corner. He looked like he was trying to stop a murder but didn’t know where to start. This was almost true.
“Uh… hey Pete.”
“Not really. What’s up?”
“Umm… I’m not sure yet. Listen, do you want to wander back to my place?”
“There’s kind of a situation.”
The situation was that the couch surfer who preceded me was a drunk kleptomaniac, and had robbed a bunch of cars and stolen several thousand dollars worth of personal belongings. This would have been fine, except one of the people thus robbed had tracked him down, and entered the apartment about two minutes after Max and I got there to warn him and tell him to get the fuck out.
What followed was the most thorough humiliation of another human being I have ever seen. The wronged girl burst into an apartment full of drugged up guys and reduced us all to mute kindergarten students trying not to get in the way as she screamed surprisingly lucid and well-spoken rage at the thief. I’m sorry I didn’t have a way to record it, but here’s a sample of what I remember:
“Where are they?”
“Don’t even try that with me you little fuck!”
“You dunno? You dunno? I bet you dunno a lot of shit because you’re a fucking cretinous leech on society. You’re the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever seen, but you know where my goddamn CDs are, you fuck.”
“Where are they?”
“I dunno… I was drunk…”
“Of course you were drunk you fucking worthless drugged out fuckup. Where are they?”
“I think they might…”
“Where the fuck are they?”
“Where the fuck are they?”
“WHERE THE FUCK ARE THEY?”
“In the closet.”
As I watched this for the next hour, I realized my life would probably never be or feel as bad as this kid’s did at the moment. The only person unfazed, merely annoyed, by the events, was Scott. Scott was sitting in his chair. I saw that chair, and thought, “I could be unfazed by stuff if I had a chair like that.”
I still don’t have a chair like that. But I intend to.
18. Hustle pool for money
Even after watching the hustler, this seemed like a cool idea. I bought books on pool, and with the help of a couple of friends, bought a pool table.
I was reading Chuck Klosterman recently, who said a peculiar talent at pool is a sign of a wasted life, but I don’t think any particular action in life has any more or less value than any other, and if I wasn’t as ADD as I’ve become, I probably could have found some happiness on a pool table or in front of a chess board.
On the other hand, the most amazing pool player I’ve ever met in person abruptly stopped playing, and the last thing he said to me was, “I think I’ll stop. You know, pool is not life.”
19. Balance my checkbook
Not once have I done this.
20. Be a poet
The last poem I wrote was so full of self-pity I couldn’t bring myself to read it an hour later. So I gave up. At some point, I also stopped reading poetry, but that might just be because most of the poetry I’m exposed to is from the New Yorker, and all the non-journalistic content in the New Yorker suffers from an extreme case of having an antique gentlemen’s cane shoved up its ass.
21. Have a Dungeons and Dragons group
It seemed so cool. The first gaming group I was exposed to was through my cousin. I was about nine, and they seemed cool, laid back, had real jobs, didn’t obsess too much, and there were pretty girls around all the time.
I never saw the intense weirdness of much of the rest of the gaming world. The editorials in Dragon magazine are thoughtful and well written. It seemed like a way to bone up on math, probability, reading, organization, and mapmaking, and these were all things I did, almost to exclusion, since I never really found anyone else to play with.
Long after I had given up and moved on to more lucrative geek pursuits, I did find a couple of groups, but none of them were thrilling. I never again found the mix of relaxation and engagement; everyone was either too relaxed, and the game wasn’t very interesting, or too engaged, and it was scary.
22. Drink a lot of milk
Milk was once my favorite drink, so I did technically drink a lot of it. Then I discovered I have a mild case of lactose intolerance, and can’t drink it anymore. There are pills for this I haven’t tried yet, so I may yet be able to continue this passion. This is also one of the reasons I think “Lactic Hero” would be a great name for a band.
23. Play guitar
24. Still be into dinosaurs, Legos, and Sesame Street
For a significant period in early college, it was considered really important to still be into these things. Late teen hormone thrashing has this strange component to it that involves thinking you’re getting old too quickly, assuming everybody else actually wants this, and thinking it’s cool to hold on to your vanishing childhood. Realizing that maturity is a myth cures these delusions, but too late to save the average undergrad.
So it was important to proclaim that you still play with Legos, are into dinosaurs, and watch Sesame Street religiously, because you’re not like the rest of these people trying to grow up and you still have that rare kid power energy and that means people should totally sleep with you to stop the aging process.
The fact is I had stopped being into these things even before I got to college. I did think they were cool back then, and dinosaurs still kind of are, but I don’t obsess over knowing five hundred species names, and don’t want to dust bones with a paintbrush for a living. I have cooler toys than Legos. And, c’mon, Sesame Street is a kids’ show. I require sex and/or death in my entertainment now, and in Sesame Street people only die of AIDS and cancer off screen, and that’s not cool at all.
25. Live in the suburbs
I lived in suburbs for a long time, the most vivid memories being of Silver Spring, Maryland. Again: Black hair, suspiciously blond kid, dog, now add an always smiling real estate agent hanging up a SOLD sign in a low angle camera shot that swoops up to twisting rows of houses with perfectly green lawns.
This wasn’t even where I really wanted to live, I just assumed I would.
I live in a tiny apartment next to a freeway in one of the most polluted places on Earth. I win.
26. Eat cereal whenever I want
I did this for a fair spell, but, again, lactose intolerance.
27. Own a cat
I have two, and like all other cats, they are the cutest cats in the whole world.
28. Have a Nintendo
I grew up around a lot of moderately to obscenely rich people during my time in an upper middle class family. All their kids had moderately to obscenely fun toys. I got Legos, which were cool at the time, but I never got a game console: no Atari, no Nintendo, no Sega, nothing. I didn’t even have a TV for five solid years, which many of my friends didn’t believe, even after searching the house, so I missed most of pop culture between 1988 and 1993. I didn’t care about that, but I really wanted a Nintendo.
This year, I bought a Playstation 3.
Suck on that.
29. Solve all philosophical conflict
I actually thought I could do this. A lot of this belief came from strong acid, but I kept most of the theory together while sober. I credit this obsessive pursuit with being part of why I had a psychotic episode at twenty. It’s not the only reason, but it was definitely on the stage prep list.
I think the theory had something to do with “mobius logic” as opposed to “circular logic”, quantum indeterminacy, and recursive breakdown of meaning and science when you try to get to root causes, how creating reality in the mind over matter sense isn’t much different from creating a symbolic system to cope with an immutable universe, and I was trying to figure out how physical algorithms can be extrapolated all the way up to metaphysics. Writing those words now makes it sound even nuttier than it probably was, but I was grilling philosophy, linguistics, and science professors, and all of them said it was pretty cool and I should run with it.
After “the episode”, I burned all my notes. I still make a point of not thinking about it, and warn freshmen not to take too many -ology classes at the same time. Even thinking about it now gives me a creepy sensation in the back of my head.
30. Buy a sword
Because any man who doesn’t want to own a fucking sword isn’t a man. Guns wish they were as perfect a phallic symbol of oppression and personal, up close, in your spleen violence. I bought a long, hard sword at a renaissance fair, and I spent the rest of the day with a firm grip on its pommel, making jokes about how I was three feet more masculine. Next year, I’m going to do exactly the same thing, except I’m going to get the turkey leg instead of the pizza at lunch. The pizza was terrible.