Take it or leave it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

THERE COMES A TIME

My favorite cinematic line is from the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off, a John Hughes film (but of course) in which the titular character, played by Matthew Broderick, decides on a whim to ditch school and instead of slogging through tedious lessons and submitting to the dictates of pedantic professors, devote the day to the sublime and oft-neglected pursuit of diversion, aka enjoyment aka amusement aka merriment or mirth. Or if you prefer the whole brevity thing, then fun.

Bueller convinces his best friend and girlfriend to be his partners in delight and they join him on a series of impromptu adventures, which include attending a Cubs baseball game, driving his friend's father's Ferrari (how's that for a tongue twister?), and taking part in a parade. Who can forget when Bueller belts out the Beatles' "Twist and Shout" for legions of soon-to-be adoring fans? The entire city of Chicago stops to watch. Construction workers leave their wooden planks, proletariat and bourgeoisie alike step away from their mundane duties and make like Michael Jackson. Toddlers get jiggy. Even Bueller's businessman father, unaware that it is his truant son leading the charge, remembers the glory days of his own teens as he busts a move from his skyscraper office perch far above the festivities.



Why risk getting caught by the obnoxious principal and his overbearing parents? Why not be like the rest of the adolescent student body and just behave? Because that would be boring, trite, commonplace, serious, tiresome, sensible and sad. In other words, the antonym of fun. Even in Bueller's day, good times were in short shrift. Glee was a hot commodity. Recreation was at a premium. Long before there was The Matrix or Office Space (both films came out, not coincidentally, in 1999) with their respective tragi-comic takes on the office cubicle age (which, since we're dating stuff, began in the 1960s), Metallica sang, "New blood joins this earth, and quickly he's subdued." That was 1991. Not our protagonist, no sir. Bueller would not be subdued, for he is indomitable. His raison d'etre, his modus operandi, is encapsulated in that most memorable line, when addressing the camera in his customary way, he says, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." 

That is all.

The film, which my mother took my brothers and me to see over the summer when I was thirteen, hit theaters in 1986 and these words of wisdom apply even more in today's harried age than they did 30 years ago. If you were around in the 80s, you'll remember there was no smart technology, no Internet. Most people wrote things longhand, and when the occasion called for formality, used a typewriter. I was considered ahead of the times in typing my grade school term papers on my father's computer. In the days before social media you had to meet and interact the age-old way, face to face. Which has now become nearly obsolete. To live in the non-digital age was in many ways to be truly alive. But nostalgia, which literally means "home pain," is sad, and sad is an antonym of fun. Lest I dishonor the memory of Ferris, my mentor, let's move on.

During my second year in college I got the asinine idea to pledge a fraternity. I wanted to become more involved in school, and not playing sports nor interested in chess nor eligible to enter the Chinese society (I was at UCLA) I decided the Greek system was my ticket to collegiate hurray. My pledge term with Sigma Chi lasted about six weeks and ended in a volatile fashion. Why, because being mistreated and made to do grunt work by a bunch of nerds who would never be my friends all the while paying thousands in quarterly dues was as I saw it the very antithesis of fun. I was going to nightclubs and drinking forties on the Vegas strip when I was in my mid-teens. I didn't need to hang out with suppressed and overgrown mama's boys to do more of the same stuff I had left behind at high school graduation. But during my stint as pledge bro I was tasked with going door to door along sorority row and inviting our "sisters" to a social engagement our house happened to be throwing. The idea of addressing roomfuls of lovely young coeds at their dining tables made me nervous as hell. And when I am nervous I need to pee. 

On the way to Delta Gamma I stopped at a restaurant to relieve my full bladder. On my way out I happened to see Chris Monroe. A few things about this curious chap. Monroe was a senior member of Sigma Chi who never came around the house except for the parties. He was also purportedly hung like a horse, a fact I never verified personally. And, moreover, the other "bros" judged Monroe for being chronically besotted, that is to say perpetually inebriated. Always sloshed. A more pedestrian synonym of which is drunk. There Monroe was, seated alone in a corner booth treating himself to sake bombs and sushi, and on a school day (it was Monday afternoon). Ruddy with drink, his ear to ear grin was plastered on his visage. Recognizing me from a party, he beckoned me over and insisted I toss a couple back with him. Conditioned to obey the brothers, I did as told. Over a pint of Sapporo I unburdened myself of my anxieties. Monroe listened to me and gave me his two cents for free. Go in there, he said, and admit how nervous you are. You are speechless because you have never been surrounded by so many of the world's most beautiful women. The pep talk emboldened me. My spirits uplifted in more ways than one, I got up from the booth and did as I was told. And the night went as smoothly as the beer went down my throat. I'm sure my buzz helped. I got back to the house and told the bros all about my experience. They shook their heads in disappointment and judgement about that "good for nothing" Monroe. But that good for nothing was living the Bueller life. Taking a moment to celebrate his existence, with a couple pints of imported lager, it's true. But isn't enjoying oneself all that matters? In a backwards world, to be good-for-nothing is to be good for all that really counts.

After college, as a part of the 9 to 5 world, I got into the habit of taking what I liked to call "strategic days off." School teachers are given sick days that don't always accrue, so use 'em or lose 'em. I'd mysteriously be visited by flu-like symptoms every other Friday. I was like the kleptomaniac or pathological liar. Sufferers of these impulse control disorders are "unable to resist powerful urges" to in my case take a holiday I didn't technically need, "feeling increased tension, anxiety, even arousal leading up to" the deed (in my case a Thursday night phone call to the school's answering machine), and "pleasure, relief or gratification" during the behavior, which for me meant taking it easy. Obviously!! But I never felt the trichotillomaniac's guilt and self-loathing afterwards. Because come Monday I still had my hair, and who the hell doesn't love a long weekend? As a med student if I didn't have any patients on our service I didn't see a reason for being in the hospital, so I'd stay at home to do nothing more constructive with my time than eat pizza and guzzle beer. And I returned to work with an added spring in my step (and a head that felt like lead, no less). 


So on this day before Thanksgiving, when the earnest employers of the world are making you work a full day or even a half, and without twice the pay that you should be entitled to all week, live the holiday spirit and give thanks to life. Make like Bueller and take a day off. Or be like Cruise, when in Risky Business he learns not to care so much, not to go with the establishment, not to be a drone-like pawn, a cog in the machine of a society with which he doesn't agree, which is to say he learns to say "What the fuck" and to live his life accordingly. Unplug from the matrix of social conditioning and systematic indoctrination. Because you only live once, that you can remember. And if you don't stop to look around once in a while, your life may pass you by. You know what they say about all work no play. It makes Jack, or Joel, or Jill, a very dull boy or girl.



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