Saturday, December 18, 2010

You Are Not a Psychiatrist

... so please stop diagnosing yourself.

I've met entirely too many people with middling to pissy GPAs and/or degrees in nonsense (Medieval History?!) who are fond of placing labels on themselves based on a five minute search on the Internet (or a hasty flip through a psychology manual) and then telling me about their great personal discovery in laborious detail. This isn't a phenomenon exclusive to cocktail parties, soirees, Bar Mitzvahs or community college graduations. It seems to happen to me, personally, more often than I'd care to admit: when I'm at a bar pretending I'm Hemingway, when I'm resting at a Stop sign after an emotionally liberating sprint through the neighborhood, when I'm trying to eat my low-fat, low-sodium, high-sugar lunch in the faculty room and some other teacher decides to have a breakdown in front of my very eyes. I can be inserting money into a soda machine at a bus station and someone will inevitably come up to me, ask me for change and tell me he/she gets turned on by fire drills and once had to have a dime surgically removed from his/her rectum. "I like Mountain Dew too," I might respond, and then I would smile and run the hell away.

The truth is that a little bit of information can go a long way, and that honest face you think I have is judging your weak-minded ass up and down the block. I remember I had to take a rather shady prescription years ago for acne called Accutane. I had heard all about the side effects: the "suicidal ideation," the swelling of the brain, the hair loss, the melting skin. Frankly, the facts of what the drug can do should scare anyone with even a moderate concern for self-preservation. But when I raised my concerns with my dermatologist, he told me quite firmly, "Don't read anything else about this pill, ever. If something bad is happening to you, I'll be the one to tell you." This was actually sagely advice, and not only was I not suicidal, but I was elated by how Accutane cleared up my skin. My doctor was an expert, he told me he was an expert, he told me to shut the fuck up and quit whining like a waifish cunt ... and by damned I did.

Other people are not so, how do you say? Reasonable. They don't seek experts, they skim forums of WebMD or other people's web journals for comparison. A little depression? "I have that every other Tuesday and sometimes on Saturdays!" A smidge of anxiety? "Sure, after a Red Bull and some uppers!" Impulsive behavior? "Three years ago I stole a lighter from Walmart and one time I kicked over a mailbox!" Aggression? "I fantasize about my family being stomped to death by cattle!" Paranoia? "I just know someone's e-stalking me and I know all those Status Updates from my 1,500 friends on Facebook are about me ... that's a sign of schizophrenia! But wait, I also have this weird thing where I use lint remover on my corduroy pants after each and every time I wear them! Whoa, I have schizophrenia and OCD! And once I was at a party and took the candy from the bearded man no one invited over or knew the name of and I woke up in a tent in New Jersey with a dead badger, an empty bottle of Old English in my hand and my panties wrapped around my neck! I'm a nymphomaniac, Mom! This is all your fault!"

No, actually, it's no one's fault except your own (and your wacky, twisted logic). I pity your poor mother for having to squeeze you out of her delicates. Your armchair diagnosis isn't fooling anyone except maybe you. "I can't help that I robbed the elderly couple with a fork! It's my disorder." No, you're an idiot. "I can't help that I didn't score high enough on the aptitude test. I studied, but they didn't write the test for someone with my unique mental abilities. If they wrote the test specifically for me and whatever learning problems I invented for myself a week ago, they'd realize I'm a genius." You are not a genius. You had difficulty with English in Junior High and your score on the SAT was a frowny face. "I cause trouble by starting fights among people ... then I wonder why they all come back and hate me! I only do this to avoid truly examining my own vacant life and confronting personal demons that are obvious to everyone but me!" Frankly, my dear, you're a mess. Crawl out of the cave you shiver inside of, walk in front of a mirror and really take a long, hard look at what you think you are.

"But Matt," you say, sipping your Chardonnay out of a plastic cup, "you need to show a little understanding and patience! Sure, some people are delusional and outright crazy and should seek out serious therapy and stop pretending they're fine, but a lot of people over-exaggerate for the sake of drama! There's nothing wrong with a little drama! And so what if some people self-diagnose! They just like thinking they're special and unique and full of deep inner turmoil, when they're actually as shallow as a puddle. Leave them to their delusions." Maybe it's the cheap wine talking, because some of these are really good points, but you seem to forget I have neither patience nor understanding. There's a fine line between having a pitiable problem and another about flaunting the problem like it's a Cub Scout badge. In other words, there's a fine line between the Private and the Public, and some people are unclear about that distinction. If you cut your finger badly, you don't pour gasoline on it. If you are truly depressed, or truly manic, seek a professional's guidance, not your co-worker at Arby's. Your personal issues aren't something to be ashamed of, but they also aren't trophies you place on your mantle. And if an expert tells you you're a deeply troubled person, your duty and obligation to those that care about you and know you isn't to hurt them ... it's to heal yourself.

Now pour me some of that wine before you pass out and let me show you where that tent is again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My Sole Good Deed of the Year

Every year, I try to do at least one good thing for one single person. The idea came to me based on an agonizing "conversation" I had with a blonde retard years ago about Buddhism or some such business. She was yammering on about karma and helping the world and being the change you wish to see and all I was thinking about was tying her to a tree and hurling rocks at her limbs. But this little verbal encounter resonated days later when I was punishing my liver with a cruddy microbrew or three: maybe the tart was onto something. Why not perform some positive acts to counteract all the bad ones I inevitably end up doing? That way when I'm at the pearly gates I can barter with whoever the hell is judging me: okay, it's true that I threw that bucket of cholera down the well and poisoned the town's drinking water for a hundred years, but remember how I gave those urchins begging for money some Canadian coins after I spit on them? Remember how I jump started that car for that old broad when I could have very easily driven off and given her the finger? Remember the lost child that begged for my help in finding his lost parents and how I couldn't find his parents after a five minute search so I gave him to some nice tattooed carnie folk? Heaven will understand.

The way I see it, the One Good Deed Per Year Plan is a sure-fire way for me to get those 72 virgins in the sky without blowing myself up at a farmer's market. And my chance to perform a good deed came a little while ago when a Japanese undergrad who goes by the nickname 'Cherry' - because her real name is like Chang Chong Bing Bong - was clearly Up Against It. She was basically squatting in a third-floor apartment I was (at the time) living in, eating the food I bought and drinking my (delicious, expensive) alcohol without asking. She's friends with one of my (then) roommates, and apparently she guilted my (then) roommate into letting her just hang around the place, only taking the time to leave when she had classes to attend and other people to harass.

A few Fridays ago, I was in-between my nightly ritual of washing down stomach medication with Rolling Rock and swatting at bed bugs with a cardboard tube, when I heard several not-very-kawaii yelps coming from the back patio. Annoyed by this noise, I trudged onto the patio with the cardboard tube in hand in order to swat and kill the creator of the offending sound ... it turns out it was Cherry, covered in a blanket and laying on the deck, crying. All around her were fragments of broken glass that originated from our (then) upstairs neighbor, an undergrad alcoholic whose idea of fun is tossing empty beer bottles out his window (throwing bottles : college students :: Apples 2 Apples : children). I noticed bits of glass were stuck in the bare soles of Cherry's feet and there were other bits dangerously close to her face. Annoyed (and a little dizzy), I decided to console her by screaming at her face.

Below is a rough idea of how our conversation went:

ME: What are you doing out here?
CHERRY: [mumbles something through the crying]
CHERRY: [mumbles something through the crying]
CHERRY: [mumbles something through the crying]

Realizing this was a waste of time, I told her I don't understand gibberish and went inside to sit down and watch SportsCenter. Needing an ear, she followed me in with her slightly cut up feet and sat down across from me. She quelled the crying long enough to tell me The Saga of Cherry and the Reasons for Her Sadness, which I didn't ask to hear. Her biological father died when she was nine or so. Her mother's an alcoholic. Her brother's in jail for stealing horses. She missed being home. She liked this one guy in her engineering class and took to chasing him around for a year but he wanted nothing to do with her. She didn't get along with her dorm-mate because, she claimed, she was "weird" and "always watching what I'm doing." She was running out of money for frivolous crap and couldn't ask her mother to send more. It was enough to make a golem crumble from worry.

ME: It's only going to get worse from now on.
CHERRY: [back to crying]
ME: You should probably kill yourself.
CHERRY: [still crying]

I figured out that my attempts to empathize and sympathize were meeting resistance. So I got a lot firmer and a lot louder. I explained how much of a useless bag she was. I told her her father probably killed himself out of disgust with her and her mother. I told her her mother was drinking out of shame and that alcoholism is inherited. I told her her brother was probably stealing the horses in order to rape them. I told her her engineering love interest was chain fucking the entire Korean Club. I told her she was a financial drain on her family and an emotional drain on her friends. I told her she was wasting my precious Xanax / Vicodin / whiskey / SportsCenter time.

CHERRY: You don't understand.
ME: I understand completely.
CHERRY: I don't know what to do.
ME: You should jump off the balcony.

She stopped talking and stopped crying. She got up and went to use the bathroom and hopefully wash the glass out of her size 2 feet. When she came back she told me she was going out. I told her that was a good choice and that she should never return. I figured she was going to buy strychnine or razor blades.

Hours passed, and at this point more people funneled into the apartment, including two Harvard Professors and their Bags of Special Blend Magic. I sat out back with them, smoked and bitched about Harvard ("the comparative literature department is weak compared to The University of Chicago"), the intricacies of the Persian language ("there's no 'she' because women don't exist to us, har har"), America's lack of culture ("oh, Godard, you grouch") and somehow that conversation segued into Brecht, Polish cinema and Cortázar's story about a man who vomits rabbits. Around 3 AM there was a tap on the patio window, startling us. It was Cherry, unfortunately alive and for some reason able to get back into the apartment even though, to my knowledge, no one ever gave her a key. She came over to me and asked me to step inside. I said no. She asked again, guaranteeing it would only be for a minute. I relented.

Once inside, Cherry placed her hand on my arm (uninvited) and thanked me profusely for helping her through a hard time. She was impossibly, incredibly intoxicated. I told her she had no right to ever touch me and that she needed to leave immediately. She said people just don't want to listen nowadays, and that it's refreshing to get some positive advice from someone's who's Been There. I told her she was very welcome and all but pushed her out of the apartment. She thanked me again and told me she owed me, so I closed the door on her. But immediately after I shut the door, hopefully to never see her again or maybe only have to glance at her obituary, I became suddenly alarmed by the power of my own wisdom and guidance. I was reminded that I have the power and ability to help someone when he/she is at his/her worst. It's about caring, and being there, and aiding one's fellow human in a Time of Need. I then locked the door and went back on the patio to re-light.

In other words, 2010's good deed is finished. And, no, I have no idea who set that dumpster on fire. Or who stole that unopened package from sitting in the hallway (seriously, who the hell buys workout videos?). Or who sent the male stripper to the Assistant Dean's office.

(Heaven, you paying attention?)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Tobacco Is Some Goddamn Delicious

(A Follow-up to Raw Oysters Are Some Goddamn Scrumptious)

They always take the best things from us: the right to play grab ass and tell filthy jokes in the work place, the right to refuse women the right to vote, the right to beat our own children in public, the right to murder innocent people because there's nothing else fun to do in town. Recently, the right to sit in a packed restaurant and light up a delicious cigarette and blow the smoke into the faces of our fellow diners was unfortunately stolen from us as well, and now the Powers That Be are taxing the motherfucking shit out of our beloved sin sticks, ostracizing we 'unholy' smokers by encouraging us to quit and using the tax from those $8 packs of wrapped, "filtered" goodness to ... fund universal health care (also known as the first step to kissing Karl Marx right on his Santa Claus beard).

In other words, they're using the smoker's desire for the Sweet Release of Death to try to heal those among us that are actually trying to ... live.

It's appalling.

We speak, as a Nation, so lovingly of the Great Farmer, with mud and cow dung beneath his or her fingernails, the baggy overalls covering his or her unkempt frame, the John Deere hat adorning his or her graying head. When driving through the Great Farm Country, we as Americans roll down the windows of our gas-guzzling monster machines to take deep breaths of relief, nodding to ourselves that the beauteous methane consistently emitted from the anuses of those American cows is, indeed, the True Air of America. It's not the fragrance of hot apple pie, raw denim, a freshly mowed lawn or even tacos smuggled in by robbers and cowards. It is there, in the fields, with Ma and Pa Kettle.

By taxing cigarettes and reallocating the funds to help people with horrible afflictions like acne or scabies, this country is encouraging - nay, coercing - people to actually ... stop smoking. And they're not just raising the prices and hurting the farmers who specialize in tobacco, they're putting warning labels on packs, they're putting scare commercials on television from those obnoxious goody-goodies from and they're protesting - yes, protesting! - the use of charming cartoon figures and other clever marketing ploys to sell our Great National Product to dumb teenagers. Don't they realize that dumb teenagers have anxiety issues, and not only are cigarettes perfect for curing anxiety issues but - and here's a bonus! - the 11 minutes removed from their lives from each and every cigarette they inhale will actually prevent them from becoming boring, useless senior citizens?

If people in America stopped smoking, what would happen to the farmers in Virginia? Who would plow the fields and bring us that sweet, burnable, God-given glory that so many of us cherish? Why, lungs would be free of contaminates! Cancer would start making frowny faces and pouting (and my word does Cancer like to pout)! We've turned smokers into lepers, keeping them locked far away from the rest of mankind! Of course, we've encouraged people to stop eating so much and no one really listened - the American Waistline has been expanding like the cosmos - and yet the smoking thing has actually been a little effective.

It's troubling and terrifying.

Why, some years ago I traveled to Europe and while I was there I reveled in the amount of smoking done by our Brethren Across the Pond. Sure, their government people and medical folk tried all the anti-smoking tricks, but many over there brazenly resist advice that will improve their physical well-being. In the Frankfurt Airport, there are kiosks where smokers are permitted to just sit around and exhale and relight and inhale and relight and exhale! I'm pretty sure it's illegal to not smoke in France if you're under the age of 75. Cuban kids indulge in perfectly rolled cigars when they're not starving. In Amsterdam, if you aren't smoking something, people wonder what is wrong with you and immediately fill your personal space with their exhaust - it's enough to give you a headache, but what a glorious headache it truly is! I was told by an Italian guy that in the Middle East some parents give their kids hookahs as presents. I was told by an Irish dude that his father gave him a pipe for his 18th birthday and the two of them would have long, silent conversations whilst struggling to keep their bowls lit. Smoking is about family and togetherness. And yellowing teeth and bad breath ... but we have cures for those things, thank you Crest.

We, as a World, lose so very much in trying to keep people from enjoying the products of the earth. You don't see people trying to quit peaches do you? Or mint tea? What's next, taking salt out of our over-salted foods or removing factory-made corn syrup from food stuff that has no real need for factory-made corn syrup? The next thing you're going to tell me is that it's possible to disarm the world and effectively promote peace and harmony, free from prejudice and fear! Poppycock, you knave! So just deal with it: go to your local drug store, pick up your overpriced asthma medications, and then wheeze your way over to the front counter and nab some Parliaments for the road.

Your culture is counting on you.