“When a man becomes preeminent, he is expected to have enthusiasms…enthusiasms…enthusiasms."
- Al Capone (Robert DeNiro) in The Untouchables.
I am not one of those people that can single out life-changing experiences, describe myself in pithy phrases, or point to specific pieces of advice I have received that have shaped who I am. But I will always remember two things my father told me shortly before I left for college. Not necessarily because they changed me, but because he pinpointed a character trait I had never given much thought to before.
The first was: "There is going to be a lot of three things at college, son. Alcohol, drugs, and sex."
I have been out of college for sometime now, and I have realized that those three things are everywhere, and are as prevalent in the real world as well as on campus. Except, of course, for the sex.
The next thing he said was: "Be careful. You have an addictive personality."
I didn't think too much of that when he said it, I was too busy organizing the collection of Rush albums I bought at a frenzied pace over the length of a year or so in high school.
[I can't really explain that, except to say that one day I was talking to a friend about garbled lyrics, the next day he had me trying to help him decipher some songs about trees and their fight for equality (If you don't know, don't ask), and suddenly, about six months later, I woke up surrounded with liner notes, t-shirts and magazine articles about some Canadian prog-rock band with a lightning-fast drummer and a singer only dogs can hear.]
After some reflection, I came to understand what my father meant. And it turns out that he was right on. Once I sink my teeth into something that strikes my fancy, I have a tendency to hang onto it until goes limp and drops to the ground. When I think back on my life and search for examples of such fanaticism, I find several.
For much of my adolescent life, I collected and devoured any and all material related to everyone's favorite wiseacre feline, Garfield. I remember being on vacation with my family in New Hampshire and discovering the long sought after first Garfield book (a collections of daily strip, each in the series covering a specific time period), entitled “Garfield’s Living Large,” or "Garfield is a Fat Ass," or something like that. It was a tough book to find, believe me.
By the end of my run, I had 18 of his books, not including 9 treasuries (Sunday comic collections, in COLOR!), 7 or 8 TV-special books, a few stuffed animals (including Garfield on a sled wearing a Santa cap, Garfield on a surf board - huh? - and Garfield masturbating), and even a poster that showed Garfield in party attire with the words "PARDY HARDY" written in bold letters.
I don't understand how I lived through elementary school without getting pummeled to death. My only assumption is that my classmates were too worried about contracting dreaded Glinter-germs from perpetually harassed misfit Mike Glinter to bother with my odd hobby. Thank God.
What is even more baffling to me is why I liked those comics so much! I mean, getting a kick out of a few lasagna jokes in the comics section of the daily paper is one thing, but how many times can you read jokes about Odie being stupid, Jon being a loser and Garfield being obnoxious? Apparently a lot, because Mr. Davis has seemingly been running the same 4 strips in the newspaper for the last 20-plus years, and he's still going strong.
Regardless, the history of my passionate immersion into curious subject matter continued when I became a voracious reader, delving into several different types of novels. I ripped through at least 50 authored by Piers Anthony, a sci-fi/fantasy novelist; I suffocated on 1000 page horror tomes by Stephen King; and I immersed myself in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles , to name a few.
Fortunately for my parents, and perhaps legions of unarmed elementary school students, my interest in violent and gory subject matter was short-lived. I never got into the topic seriously enough to parlay my normal adolescent insecurity into a Goth fixation, either because the trend had yet to truly materialize or my parents had somehow managed to raise me on a steady foundation of sanity, but I sometimes shudder to think what might have happened had Marilyn Manson been around when I was in the 7th grade.
Speaking of Manson, I also developed a borderline-unhealthy interest in serial killers and religious cults. I even wrote a few questionable short stories that had little to offer but some oddly brutal and intense moments of violence. But hey, I was only 12. And thank heavens my generation was a little too early to capitalize on the Internet's cornucopia of information on guns, destruction and anarchy. Or else I might have been placed under surveillance for Columbine-type potential several times during my youth.
[Before you start getting nervous, I have lived past all of these phases to evolve into a relatively well-adjusted 24 year-old. By which I mean that I haven't killed any animals in years (at least 10), and I am besieged by odd voices in my head only once every 6 months or so now. I have a job, kind of, and I'm not into body-piercing. I'm perfectly non-combustible. But the more I think about these mostly fleeting yet intense obsessions of mine, the lacking of the sex part of my life is coming into focus.]
I have discovered that even as I have matured and graduated and updated and elevated and whatever, I still have some very passionate interests.
There continue to be books and movies and TV shows and albums and NFL franchises that incite my fervor, and while such specific attachments might have been cause for concern with a more fragile, less developed teenage psyche, I don't think there's a problem with them now. In fact, I might argue that they are beneficial. The arguments are flimsy, but hey, what can ya do?
Instead of spending my money on such staples of the self-absorption circuit as therapy and drugs (well, maybe I spend just a little on drugs...), or using my free time to start cliquey militia groups or exclusionary, jingoistic clubs, I attach myself to more harmless pursuits. I am quite comfortable with the fact that if I might not have everything I want in my life, I can at least find a way to pretend I do.
Whether I am living vicariously through a fictional character, screaming my ass off at an athlete, or obsessing over the latest Japanese import/B-side, I am able to strike a balance between the extremism and fanaticism that runs rampant in my personality, and the limiting, sometimes claustrophobic everyday reality of life on earth.
In other words, rather than stalking the girl who works across the hall, I just stalk the image of the girl that lives only in my television set. Rather than use the Internet to gather information on the layout of my office and what weapons work best in a cubed environment, I use the Internet to find out what the next plot twist will be, or what the working title of Star Wars: Episode 2 is, or when the next Pearl Jam single will be released.
Sure, there's room for unhealthy obsession everywhere, and there is always the possibility that I will try and kill Eddie Vedder for not returning my phone calls, but I'm not in junior high anymore, I understand that he needs time. I give him another 2 weeks, or else I'm coming for his self-immolating ass.
Everybody needs an escape, and God knows I have extra energy I don't always know what to do with, so rather than bottle it up and allow it to explode at inopportune times, I pick and choose what to get excited about, and pour as much energy as I can into it.
Most times the fanatacism just up and dies after a few intense months, and the subject is dropped completely. Other times, the subject endures a period of contemptous backlash. And, every once in a while, the feeling stabilizes into true, loyal admiration and fanship (what?). Either way, something new springs up in its place, is enveloped in a tidal wave of obsession, and plugs the gap.
Because there's always something.
It's all about knowing myself, and realizing what I'm doing. Don't be ashamed of it. Revel in it (Because, really, if you have to hide it, it just might be illegal). And always keep it in perspective.
I don't get confused that a lyric is about me or that if I whack enough people I can join the Soprano family. I might have thought Santa Claus wanted to kill me, but that was a long time ago!
Like I said, I'm relatively well adjusted now. I am aware enough to know the difference between reality and fantasy, and I have attributes that put me in a good position to succeed in the world.
I mean, if we ever need another cult leader to bring down over-population, or a nationalistic demagogue to lead some country out of its dark, self-loathing depression, I might be the one man with the exact qualifications needed to assume such a position. And to thrive at it. Keep your fingers crossed. And count your stars...
Let's get real here. You don't want to know about me. You want to know about "me".
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