My rejected entry into last fall’s THE WASHINGTON POST’s Humorous Memoir contest:

I grew up in a small town that was situated between a medium-sized city and the sticks.  It thus functioned as a buffer between a region where one’s entertainment options exceeded going to the drive-in or the bar and one where some undoubtedly went bonkers and into their bunkers when a nonwhite was elected prez.  It therefore seemed apt that I was the product of a marriage between a father descended from rednecks and a mother who came from a family of successful professionals.  It’s like Larry the Cable Guy marrying Hillary Rodham.  It’s a wonder their marriage lasted 16 years.  My mom liked to point out that the divorce was finalized on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks.  Yet in their case, it was “A day        that will live in         ‘well no surprises there’.”

When I decided to become a pothead as a teen, it seemed most reasonable, not to mention fun, to get high and drunk while cruising the many backroads that snaked around our half-horse town. Atrocious in terms of driver and legal safety, but it was the surest way to avoid parents, teachers, and bosses.  Oh, the wisdom of one’s salad days.

On one such outing, my friend began singing along with the golden oldie playing on the radio. “Those were the days my friend/ We thought they’d never end…”  He punched me in the arm, as in “They sure are!”  I thought, “If so, just crash this damn truck into a tree right now and let’s end it.”  As it turns out, he did in fact crash into a tree months later, and those were indeed the days.  Well, those and the next eight years or so.  The scholar in me is inclined to Google the song to find out the title, artist, and year.  I’m just too lazy to do so.  As we shall see, that attitude is a problem.

At college, I was torn between studying philosophy and engineering.   Believe it or not, I learned that there was more money to be made in the latter than the former.  Or, as an ethical call, I could say that there ought to be more moolah earned in philosophy.

“What?!” you’re asking.  What do engineers do?  They build crap.  News flash:  There’s too much crap out there as it is. “I want my MTV!”  Well you got it.  We should’ve stopped there, wearing legwarmers, playing Pac Man, and jamming to Tom Petty for the rest of days.  Even regarding medical technology, there’s seven billion (!) of us and counting.  Let some of us die off already.  I can’t imagine justifiably spending more than a couple hundred bucks to extend someone’s life for a couple months.  Of course, if my life is at stake, the sky’s the limit.  I’m a special case, after all.  My Luddite leanings are no doubt revealing themselves here.  As is my hypocrisy.

Upon ultimately completing my MA in philosophy, I landed adjunct teaching gigs at several colleges and universities, stints I continued for 2.79 years.  Professing is indeed lucrative for full-timers, but most of us remain mired in the adjunct trenches.  I loved teaching for a variety of reasons.  For one thing, I did most of my work from home, where I could prepare lectures with a beer at my side, or grade papers in my underwear.  (If any of my former students are reading this, allow that horrifying mental image to soak in.)

I grew cynical as I learned that I could make more money waiting tables.  I did that for several years, then drifted through a slew of diverse jobs.  For all of them, my ability to lift heavy things was more relevant than, say, the academic paper I (co-)published about American Buddhism, or even speak English.  These blue-collar jobs are actually a good fit for me.  My strengths are in communication and brute force.  I am an intellectual caveman and cannot see myself in a conventional office setting.  If I can’t talk about Plato or wear a hat and fart at will, I’m ill at ease.  I also get stressed out about being lectured concerning my BAC at work, so much so that I find myself needing a drink.

What else happened?  Oh yeah, I became a progressively worse and unrepentant drunk.  Virtually everyone says I’ll be lucky to reach 50.  In my completely rational defense, I point out that I share my birthday with Keith Richards.  As a mild believer in astrology, I expect to partake of such indestructability.  That freaking Stone will still be rolling when he’s 150 without losing his coherence. But then again, how could he lose any more?

This inexorably led to homelessness.  Currently, I’m trying to climb out of this rut by getting a book published (and finishing another one).  It’s a humorous account of my pathetic travails.  I’m sure that most people can relate to jokes about everyday experiences like sleeping in port-a-potties.  No luck so far, but I’m in talks with Delusional Pipe Dream Publishing, yet remain pessimistic nonetheless.

Like any brilliant writer, I eschew explicit explanation and prefer subtle suggestion.  My book commences with me getting cheated out of an honest tennis win when my opponent smashes his racket.  I almost got into that prestigious school; I almost got that job; I almost made it to the bathroom on time.  On the other hand, I almost took a bad wipeout on my skateboard; I almost got arrested; I almost slept with that chick with the clap.

I guess such “almost“s illustrate my ideal Buddhist and Stoic philosophy of acceptance of whatever happens, be it good or bad.  If it weren’t so irrelevant to me, I’d invoke the AA dictum of “Life on life’s terms.”  My life is one of “Oh well.”  Since God is in charge of the show, “Oh well” seems the most reasonable ethos.

Scholar Brian cannot resist:  The song was “Those Were the Days,” by Mary Hopkin in 1968. Perhaps there’s help for me after all.

One thousand words.


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