Saturday, January 31, 2009

Chapter 3: Don't Be a Neidermeyer

You now know you're not alone, and you've learned to treasure your friends and loved ones. You're ready to begin the hard work of becoming the new you.

But where to start?

That's easy: Start by stating what you don't want to be, so your course ahead will be clear, like a highway under construction with Jersey barriers on either side of your lane. Sure, no one enjoys driving on such a road, but those barriers do make it very obvious what you shouldn't do. Now, you may not be sure exactly which boundaries to place on your own future, but fortunately our guiding film, Animal House, is ready to help: what you don't want to be is Doug Neidermeyer, one of the film's most awful characters.

Dean Wormer provides an early clue when he refers to Neidermeyer as "a sneaky little shit," but as the movie wears on we learn that being a Neidermeyer is both a bad choice and an ultimately expensive one.

Sure, Doug is rich, fit, an Omega, and probably scores more sex in a month then you do in a decade, but as Animal House teaches us, if you turn to the Neidermeyer way, you will pay.

Karma, in the form of Otter's golf ball, knocks Neidermeyer off his horse, which then drags him along the ground and leaves him with a neck injury. Later, that same horse, probably from the stress of carrying around Neidermeyer's evil ass, dies and, in an ultimate indignity, must be carved up with a chainsaw.

Neidermeyer himself comes to a tragic end, as the movie tells us: shot and killed by his own troops in Viet Nam.

You wouldn't want your horse (or cat or dog or froglet or whatever pet you have or might like to have) to die the way Neidermeyer's did, now would you? You don't want those you're leading to shoot you, do you?

Of course not.

So don't be a Neidermeyer.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Chapter 2: Embrace those close to you

It's easy to judge others. You look at your friends, and you see more losers who look uncomfortably like you: overweight, prone to acting without thought, depressed, beaten down by life. You wonder: Why am I hanging with these losers?

They're your friends. As Animal House teaches us, not only do you need the dues--the psychic support these people provide--you also can't judge too much lest you be judged. Consider these pearls of wisdom from the pledge party:

Okay, this guy is a real zero. That's true.
Think back to when you were freshmen.
Boon, you had a face like a pepperoni pizza, right?
And Stork here. Everybody thought that Stork was brain damaged.
I myself was so obnoxious the seniors beat me up once a week.
So this guy is a total loser?
Apply that same spirit of charity to the human loaves around you, and you, too, will realize that you should accept them, even embrace them.

Having realized you're not alone (ref. Chapter 1) and learned to value your friends, you're now ready to begin the hard work of self improvement.

Exciting, isn't it?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

It's never too late to change

Regular readers, please note: This is not the next chapter in The Animal House Life. I'll return tomorrow to my self-help book in progress.

Today, I'm being serious.

January 29 is the date on which my stepfather, Edmund D. Livingston, Sr., was born. Ed died several years ago. I watched him die. We were all at the beach house for our summer extended family vacation, and he was walking down our informal buffet line, putting food on his plate. He'd just returned from a day driving around alone, visiting his beloved Marines and seeing the area. He dropped his plate, said my mother's name, and fell. We all tried to keep him alive, but he was DOA at the hospital, and I think he was gone when he fell. He died fast and among people who loved him, and that's probably about as much as any of us can ask when that time comes.

Ed was not an educated man. He dropped out of school early--elementary school, I think--to help support his family. He worked hard his whole life. He joined the United States Marine Corps early in World War II as a young man--illegally young, I believe--because serving your country was what a man did. His country certainly didn't treat him particularly well: rather than fix his teeth, military dentists pulled them all; he earned two Purple Hearts but got only one due to paperwork mess-ups in the field; and most of all he paid the big price soldiers in combat always pay: he saw and did things humans should not have to do. He went ashore at Okinawa in a landing with 100% casualties. He was among the first in the occupation of Japan. He served, and he paid.

Ed was never really my father. My mother, who was his second wife, married him when I was about 17, so it was too late for him to be my father. As I said at his funeral, though, I would have been proud to have him as a father. (At his funeral, people turned up whom no one in the family had met. It turns out that all over St. Petersburg he had been doing small kindnesses for people: delivering old food, helping out some folks older than he, and so on. He never told anyone. He just did those things. That was Ed.)

Not long before he died, Ed and my mom went into a Japanese restaurant and ate a nice dinner. He even spoke a little Japanese to the hostess and the server. Afterward, he said, "The healing has begun."

Up to that point, Ed had refused to even walk near any Japanese business of any sort.

Dave and I disagree on this point, but I believe people can change. Most don't, but we all can. Ed, in his seventies and with the horrible weight of war's psychic and physical damage a constant companion, changed. He made himself a bit better.

So don't whine if you think you're stuck. Make peace with where you are, or make a change. Don't tell me, though, that you can't change. You can. Ed did.

I was a Young Marine. The experience taught me a lot, most of it bad, but it gave me a small inkling of what it might mean to be a Marine, and it gave me a lifetime appreciation of the Marines. Ed and I were never really close, but we shared that, and we shared a love of my family, and I learned more from him than he ever knew.

Semper Fi, Ed. I miss you. I always will.

Chapter 1: You are not alone

As Animal House teaches us, the first step on the path to self healing is the recognition that you are not alone. No matter how big a loser you think you are, no matter how hopeless your past has been, no matter how much extra tonnage you're currently lugging around, there are others like you, facing the same struggle. From that knowledge--and from those others--you can draw strength (as well, sometimes, as donuts).

Consider this opening clip from the film that is our guide. You might not fit into the Omega houses of the world. You might have often found yourself on the sofa with Mohammet, Jugdish, Sidney, and Clayton while the popular people dance away their nights. So what? Maybe your sofa mates are your people! Maybe you and Jugdish will hit it off, or perhaps you share the misfortune of poor Clayton. If so, embrace the sofa, and enjoy it for what it is--a place they will let you rest a while.

Of course, you might fit with the Omegas after all. If you do, you really need this book's help; ref. the later "Don't Be a Neidermeyer" chapter.

Maybe, though, you need to stop trying to get into the Omegas of life. Maybe it's time for you to see those fancy houses for the bloated dens of shallow materialism that they truly are.

If you've reached that point, gather with you your Dorfmans, Jugdish, Mohammet, Sidney, and even Clayton friends, and find the home you deserve, the place where others like you can help you advance your personal growth and reach your full potential.

That's right: When you're ready, take the trip to Delta.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Animal House Life

You probably think Animal House is only a movie, a simple, frat-boy comedy artifact of the late 70's, when National Lampoon still mattered to the college crowd and John Belushi hadn't yet offed himself.

You probably think that, and so do your friends.

You're all wrong.

Sure, Animal House may have appeared to be only a film, but it's actually much, much more.

It's a guide to life, a slightly encrypted handbook, a hidden-in-plain-sight map that shows the path to happiness and prosperity. It contains the answers to the questions that have plagued you for your entire adult life, that even now hold you back and stop you from realizing your full potential, the big questions, such as

Why does my life suck so much?

How can I stop being depressed?

Why does no one like me? (Some probably pretend they do, but you know better.)

Why does my boss give me all the shit jobs?

Who's to blame for making me so fat?

Why can HBO make so many good series when the networks can't?
Whatever the forces that are keeping you down, making you poor, putting all that blubber on your gut and ass, keeping your diet to discount mac and cheese while those rich jerks eat fancy Japanese beef--no matter what's hurting you, Animal House has the answers.

The trick, of course, is knowing how to decrypt the film.

That's why you need this book. In it, over the course of a few simple chapters I'll reveal these secrets. Armed with them, you'll be able to
Dig out of your depression!

Make real friends--and with people you actually like!

Tell off your boss and get a better job!

Lose those extra pounds!

And even learn the secret's behind HBO's series successes!
All you have to do is turn the page, read on, and put into action the astonishing lessons of this fine film.

All you have to do is live the Animal House Life.

Let's get to it!

NOTE: If the above makes no sense to you, go read yesterday's post.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My self-help book

I have a huge distrust of self-help books. I know some good ones must exist, but in general they seem to me to follow a fundamentally weak model:

* Offer one pithy observation.
* Create as many variants of it as you need chapters.
* Fill those chapters with vaguely related blather and a lot of anecdotes.

Once I saw self-help books in this light, I experienced exactly the reaction you'd expect from me: I felt the urge to write one.

I do, however, have another Jon & Lobo book under contract, and I'm madly working on it, so taking on a self-help book seems like a bad idea.

Which is why I'm going to write mine in miniature, with just the main observation and the intros to the chapters.

Tomorrow: We begin.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Fedor is awesome

If you don't know the person to whom I'm referring, you're not a serious MMA fan.

Fedor Emelianenko is the best heavyweight MMA fighter in the world, as he proved again last night in his fight against Andrei Arlovski. I'm going to watch the fight again in a few minutes, because it's interesting to see Fedor actually thrown off his game for a few minutes--until he knocks out Arlovski with a single punch. He doesn't have a ripped body, and if you're not watching closely he often doesn't appear to be all that fast, but of course he's deadly quick and insanely powerful, as his opponents usually learn the hard way.

He's won 26 consecutive MMA bouts, which is an amazing streak made all the more astonishing by the fact that many of those fights have been against some of the best in the world.

Like many, I was wondering if Fedor's time off had left him rusty, and then in his previous fight he beat Tim Sylvia in no time at all. Last night, he polished off Arlovski in less than four minutes.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Wrestler

It's easy to take this movie as entirely depressing, a slow spiral down an obvious and inevitable drain. The film certainly offers plenty of reasons one could interpret it that way.

I didn't, however. I certainly found it generally bleak, but at the end I felt that the main character, Randy "The Ram" Robinson, had for a moment actually overcome his physical limitations and still had a tiny shot at overcoming his character flaws. You wouldn't want to bet that he would, but I felt he might.

Rourke could have attacked this role with scene-chewing gusto and probably still earned accolades, but to my surprise he gave a generally nuanced performance, turning broad only when in his wrestler persona (or reverting to it, as in an inevitable blow-up in a store).

When some people want to attack broad topics, they paint with broad strokes. Another approach is to keep the strokes so fine and the focus so tight that only over time do you realize that the work in front of you applies way beyond its surface topic. Darren Aronofsky, the director of this movie, chose the latter path here, and for me it worked superbly. I saw echoes here of many lives, including my own, and I'll ponder the film for some time to come.

I definitely recommend this one, but with the warning that most people who go to see it will probably not emerge with as favorable an opinion of it as mine.


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