LESSON #57: READ FOR FUN
Well, I should probably start today’s lesson with a slight disclaimer – I’m having an undeniably strange day. Last night, I woke up screaming from a nightmare where Michael Dukakis, no joke, was trying to kill me. Now, I haven’t had a nightmare since 1999, and I haven’t given Michael Dukakis much serious thought since George Bush the Elder was sworn into office ten years earlier than that – but that’s not all. This morning, I started crying in the gym while I was lifting weights because I got all choked up with happiness about a random episode of the incredibly geeky Battlestar Galactica that I happened to watch earlier in the day while I was eating breakfast – and I had to go hide for a few minutes in the locker room! Literally, and it might have something to do with the incredibly intense Jeopardy study sessions that I’ve been undertaking for the last few weeks, my emotions are cycling faster than Charlie’s during the scene in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia where he’s eating the steak in preparation for his underground street-fight. Now, I suppose this phenomenon could be a case of the normal spring fever I always feel as spring break approaches, or I suppose it’s also possible that some evil hobbit has switched out my multi-vitamins with Sweet Dee’s fictional steroid, “Mucho Macho.” Regardless, it feels like my cerebellum is on Batman, The Ride! at Six-Flags.
So, maybe I’m hallucinating – and because I don’t want to embarrass anybody, I’ll leave this anonymous – but I just read two business school admissions essays from a couple of GMAT students (I have a couple dozen in my total stack – so again, this is anonymous) that I swear were written by fourth-graders. I mean, they were terrible, and full of the misspelled words, incomplete sentences, and horribly illogical phrasings that most of my classmates left behind when they graduated from Mrs. Butler’s class at Bennett Elementary school – and these essays were supposed to represent the polished writing of college graduates. Keeping that in mind, forget everything else I’ve ever claimed was the number one problem with the college students of today (granted, the fact that college students don’t date and get wildly inebriated are still troublesome) – and focus on this truth: as undergraduates, you have got to start reading more – because it’s clear that that’s where the problem lies with these future business leaders of America whose essays I just completed grading.
Listen to me when I say that there is absolutely no substitute for what reading can do for you intellectually and emotionally. And despite my occupation as a teacher of classic literary fiction, I’m not talking about just reading Faulkner or Melville for class – or, as my good friend Matt advocated in his post a few weeks ago, James Joyce. I’m saying that you need to crack open books in your spare time – I hear good things about Harry Potter and Twilight – and you need to read them, maybe even in lieu of doing your homework – because you’ve got to get into something where you begin concentrating on the story, where you find yourself losing track of time because of the pleasure you’re experiencing, and where you can allow your subconscious mind to process the way that the words in the English language are supposed to be put together. Unless you read seriously (and by this I mean read things that are fun), and enjoy the process, you will never be able to write well. And why is this important? Well, despite the advancement of technology and the growing need in our country for science and math related laborers, in every profession you can possibly undertake, you need to be able to write down your findings clearly and logically – and you will never succeed very well in any profession unless you can do so. Hell, even Jose Canseco was able to write a pretty good book – and his primary job was to take “Mucho Macho” and bash a baseball.
Now, anybody who has read Dr. Wizard’s Advice to this point knows that I love television – and I think that the small screen is a wonderful venue for storytelling – but as Aristotle argues in the Nichomachean Ethics, “all things in moderation.” There’s something about being forced to construct your own mental images that raises your ability to creatively problem solve and imagine new ways of processing information, and reading definitely is the one and only way to heighten your powers of lengthy concentration in a world where you are constantly bombarded with images meant to splinter your attention span. In order for your brain to undergo this transformation back to its more powerful state, however, you’ve got to crack open the books – John Grisham, Michael Crichton, Stephen King – whatever works for you. If you do this, I promise that you will be rewarded – on both the personal and professional scales of gratification. Also, it will probably make you a better viewer of television, in that you’ll make more powerful and lasting associations with the story arcs of each series you watch.
Last year, the Scholastic Corporation released a study citing the fact that only 21 percent of students 17 and older thought that reading for fun was important. This probably explains the fact that only 21 percent of Americans can write a simple business letter. The problem is that people don’t think they like to read – which is mainly a by-product of teachers in my position quizzing them over Faulkner and James Joyce. But there are a whole lot of reading options out there, and everybody can find something that will help them. Still, as Hilary Clinton said, “it takes a village,” because as John Donne said, “no man is an island.” You’ve got to help me in the revolution to reverse this non-reading trend. So, your assignment for spring break is as follows: bring a few books with you to the beach. Read one yourself, and pass the rest out to your friends. There will still be plenty of time left over at the end of the day to drink margaritas and meet new co-eds at Club La Vila– in moderation.
LESSON #56: A REAL DOPE WRAPPER
In my hometown of Mattoon, Illinois, there used to be this restaurant called D & W. It was one of those home-style sit-down-to-eat places, kind of like a local version of a Perkins, where the kitchen served Biscuits and Gravy, and Chicken and Dumplings, and Beef Manhattans. Unfortunately, D & W went out of business two years ago, but, up until that moment, D & W was a virtual hot-spot for the 65-and-over crowd. Every day of the week, regardless of the season, hundreds of these blue-haired old widows and widowers would roll into the D & W parking lot at 5:30 in the morning in their Buick Park Avenues and Cadillac Sevilles, and they’d perform a ritualistic eight-hour mating and gossip ritual that involved copious amounts of coffee, dozens of hands of bridge, and chicken salad sandwiches. Believe me when I say that what Prey is to the 20-something Los Angeles night-club scene, D & W replicated for the geriatric corn-belt crew.
Anyway, back in early 2006, my sister was home from St. Louis for the weekend, and I drove over from Charleston to meet my folks and grandparents at D & W for lunch. I probably had chicken-fried steak, or something equally awesome – but I can’t exactly remember. What I can remember, however, is becoming fascinated, as I filled myself with gravy, by the conversation of the two old guys at the table behind us. It turns out that one of them had gone the previous night on a date to go see Brokeback Mountain – but he had no idea what the movie was about before he got there. Evidently, he just thought it was going to be a cowboy movie, and he picked the film (on his turn in the dating rotation), because he liked Westerns. Oh God – I wish I could recreate the awkwardness of that conversation for you; it was one of the wildest things I’ve ever heard! The man wanted to leave the movie, but somehow couldn’t, because his girlfriend really liked it, and he decided to be a gentleman – and just the confusion in his voice the next morning was incredible. “It was a fag movie, Walter! About these two fag cowboys! But…it was kind of good…once you got past all the gross stuff.” I’m sure I haven’t done the moment justice – but just try to picture it. It was surreal.
Now, what’s my point with this introductory story? Well, certainly it’s not to deride old people for being homophobic. They grew up in a different era, and this man’s confusion, and his decision to stay throughout the entire picture, was actually kind of open-minded when you stop to think about the context. Rather, my point is that sometimes in life you just have to accept the fact that you can’t know everything in advance, and in those situations you have to roll with the punches. Believe it or not, this post today represents that exact situation for many of the site’s readers.
You see, ever since I released the full list of lessons back in October with the “Real Dope Rapper” / “Real Dope Wrapper” wordplay, my friends have been hassling me about the topic of this specific piece of advice. And I guess this makes sense, because when you look at the full list, it’s a little difficult to tell exactly what this post is going to be about. Mostly, I blame this confusion on the general ambiguity of the English language, where so many words double as multiple parts of speech. Is “dope” a noun or an adjective? Is “wrapper” a verb or a noun? Well, now it’s time for the grand unveiling of what lies behind the pearl-studded shirt, spurs, and cowboy boots. So…today’s post has absolutely nothing to do with a magical elf who explains the proper method of Christmas present wrapping. Unlike Pam Beesly’s advice to Roy in Season 3 of The Office, I have no interest in telling you that if you’re using more than 3 pieces of tape when wrapping a present then you’re doing something wrong. Nor is today’s post about zig-zags. Obviously, Dr. Wizard can make no official endorsement regarding the choice between clear and white papers. Instead, the “real dope wrapper” referred to in the title of this lesson is the Jimmy – and the lesson is about why you should use one if you’re going to have irresponsible sex with multiple partners – like Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Now, my agenda here isn’t to insult your intelligence. I know that most of you, in your moments of rational thought, are completely aware of the reasons that having unprotected sex is a bad idea. For one thing, unless you have Magic Johnson money, or a magic Johnson, AIDS is still a terminal, not a chronic, disease. For another, the average human being urinates eight times a day – which is eight more times a day than I would want to feel a burning sensation in my lower extremities. And finally, babies are a terrifying responsibility. I have plenty of friends who have waited until they were married for half-a-dozen years, with stable high-paying jobs and strong equity in their homes, to have their first child – and just watching them struggle with the burdens of parenthood (late night crying, constant feeding, the inability to stay out past 7:00) is enough to convince me that raising a human infant must be nearly impossible for a 20-year-old single parent who is simultaneously enrolled in college and working a $12 an hour part-time job. You’re just short-changing both the future of your progeny and your own future if you think this is something you can handle.
Nevertheless, millions of college students, who in their sober moments of reflection know better, will choose to have unprotected sex this year – because all responsible thoughts aside, the argument against wearing a condom is one of the most persuasive imaginable – that is, “it just feels better without one.” But trust me when I say that this sneaky devil of an argument is one that you must fight against vigilantly. Why trade nine minutes of drunken bliss for nine months of pregnancy if you’re not ready? I promise you, if you do this, you’ll live to regret it as being one of the worst trades of all time. AIDS for a midnight romp with a random girl from the bar? That’s like the trade between Charlotte and Los Angeles in the 1996 NBA draft that sent Kobe Bryant to the Lakers for a washed-up Vlade Divac.
So what’s my argument? Well, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have sex – because I don’t really believe that, and I think the “wait until marriage” argument is naïve at best. I do think, however, you’d be best served by at least waiting for awhile, by only having monogamous sex with one partner to whom you are committed at a time, by taking birth control seriously, and by being regularly tested for STDs before each new sexual encounter. But if you’re not going to do this, at least wear a condom so you don’t jeopardize your future. Sure, occasionally life will throw you an unexpected wild pitch, and you’ve got to roll with the punches – but it doesn’t mean you have to step into the batter’s box every night with Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn. That’s just asking to be beaned in the head by a 100 mile an hour fastball. So, use protection: a batting helmet if you’re crazy enough to be playing a baseball game against the fictional Major League Cleveland Indians, and a condom if you’re crazy enough to dip your wick into some unknown waxy candle. Just like Pam Beesly, the condom is a “real dope wrapper,” and when it’s not busy messing with Dwight, at least it does some secretarial work.