1 September 2014

42 – Foolish Friends and Serious Business

Two things inspired this essay: a wedding, and The Joker.

Knowing I couldn’t attend their wedding, I wrote a letter to my friends, MacBreton and MissBreton, instead. Another good friend, Brazil, agreed to read that letter during their wedding reception. Brazil introduced me to MacBreton and MissBreton ten years ago. Only he could read it.

I’d also recently watched The Dark Knight again. It’s Scorsese-meets-Shakespeare, the gold standard for Superhero film. End of story.

I found myself wondering about a question posed by The Joker. ‘Why so serious?' he’s prone to ask people when explaining his facial scars. It’s a fair question.

The man makes a good point. Up to a point.

Writing that letter got me thinking about the important lessons that epic friends often teach us. And that got me thinking about how those lessons support The Joker’s point.

Life is serious business. No one simply gives you the happiness or things you want. You need to put seriously hard work in to building a good life.

But you can’t take life too seriously. If you do, you become nothing but a joke. 

You need to have some foolish fun. It’s a serious business that everyone should get into. And you need some epic friends to help you along the way.


Night Hoops 

Some people are night owls. Some are early birds. And some burn the candle on both ends. Myself and my friends fell into that last category while working minimum wage jobs and attending university.

We did a lot of activities late at night. We played Hacky Sack on gas station parking lots. We made nightly trips to The Spot. We jammed to Bob Marley at the driving range. And we played Night Hoops.

Night Hoops just happened. One night Myself, Double M and Small Paul decided playing basketball would be better than playing PS2 or watching movies until 4am.

We grabbed our balls and headed off to the local rec centre. Thankfully there was a streetpole light right beside the outdoor court. After shooting jumpers and layups for a few minutes, we started the game that became the hallmark of our Night Hoops sessions: One-on-One-on-One.

It was a simple game. One player on offense tried to score against two defenders. Whoever rebounded or stole the ball became the offensive player. The game started when we were ready. And it ended when we’d had enough. That was it.

And the game always started with a brief exchange like this: 

Boys ye ready? I said. 

Do it up! said Small Paul. 

Let’s go Bigtime! said Double M.

That I remember. How any of those games ended escapes me. We had no real routine. We kept score, but weren’t obsessed with deciding a winner. We probably spent more time talking through all the stuff going on in our lives. How the games ended didn’t really matter.

Night Hoops with Double M and Small Paul taught me that sometimes the best ideas and conversations are shared when the rest of your world is sleeping. It also proved that facing two defenders is a great way to work on creating your own midrange jump shot off the dribble when you have no viable passing options. So we could’ve simply called the game ‘Kobe Bryant,’ I suppose. 

He often feels lonely out there.

Night Hoops also taught me that sometimes it’s fun to just do. On those nights, myself, Double M and Small Paul were like dogs chasing cars. We weren’t interested in catching one. And we wouldn’t have known what to do with one if we did.


Putting a Damper on ‘Mint’ Quality

I lived in a big student apartment building during my first year in Halifax. It was an ugly place. But I made some good friends there. Brazil was one of them. And he still is.

Brazil introduced me to MacBreton. He was a very nice and funny guy who would drop anything and everything to help you out. We became fast friends as well. He’s just ‘a Proper Human,’ as Brazil would say.

MacBreton liked collecting stuff. All kinds of stuff. Evidence: he once came home with a giant potato masher. Why? “Because if we ever need to mash a whole 5lb bag of potatoes, now we can!” he explained. Fair enough. 

This. But the size of a snow shovel.

That didn’t stop me from becoming MacBreton’s roommate when MissBreton left to sail around the world for a year. Brazil lived on the same floor, and he came by often. His entrances tended to resemble this. The 28th floor of that building was an interesting place to be. Especially when pumpkins went sailing out the window.

Brazil made an exceptionally dramatic entrance one Friday night. He’d bought a new Lacoste polo shirt earlier that evening. And, Brazil explained, he’d bought it on sale for a ridiculously low price. I don’t remember how much. But I’m sure Brazil could still present you with the original receipt in a matter of seconds.

Brazil told myself and MacBreton everything we needed to know within the first thirty seconds after barging through the door. But he wasn’t finished. He took several minutes to explain how ‘mint’ his shirt was, and how ‘quality’ the fabric was. He even insisted that we touch the fabric with our own hands to understand both the ‘quality’ and ‘mint’ nature of this garment. Brazil then proclaimed his intentions of hitting the nightclubs in his new Lacoste shirt. He concluded that his night out would be much more incredible simply due to his wearing a new ‘mint and quality’ Lacoste shirt.

Brazil left abruptly, having forgotten something back at his apartment. He'd come and gone in less than five minutes. Myself and MacBreton had barely gotten a word in.

We started talking once Brazil left. That exchange went something like this: 

Oh my God! Was he ever gonna shut up about that shirt? said MacBreton. 

Holy fuck man, I know! I said. 

Jesus, it’s only a fucking shirt. Big deal! 

I know. I don’t give a fuck how ‘mint’ or cheap it was on sale. 

Me neither! 

Myself and MacBreton went silent for a few moments. I now suspect we were both deep in mischievous thought. The ensuing conversation and actions affirm this belief. 

I think we need to put him in his place, said MacBreton. 

Yeah. I agree! I said. 

You know what? We need to fuck his shit up! 

Yep! Definitely! 

We went silent again. And then a light twinkled in MacBreton’s devilish eyes. 

I know! When he comes back we’ll throw a bucket of water over his head! said MacBreton. 

Yes! That’ll be fuckin’ wicked! I said.

Our plan for ruining Brazil’s big plans came together pretty quickly. I suggested we deadbolt the door which would provide MacBreton ample time to fill our mop bucket with water. Once Brazil started pounding on the door, I’d do a silent hand countdown from three while MacBreton made ready with the bucket. Then I’d open the door, MacBreton would soak Brazil, and I'd slam and lock the door in his face.

This seemed a fantastic idea. And suddenly we couldn’t wait for Brazil to come back.

We didn’t wait long. Brazil began pounding on the locked door a few moments later. Myself and MacBreton got into position and executed exactly as we’d planned. And MacBreton added a nice little exclamation point after I'd slammed and locked the door: 

Yeah! Fuck you and your fucking Lacoste shirt, Brazil! Yeah! he yelled.

Myself and MacBreton cheered and congratulated ourselves on a job well done. Brazil swore loudly and pounded on the door several times before marching back down the hall to his apartment. Victory was ours.

Brazil came back a few minutes later. The door was unlocked. He was wearing a different shirt. And he wasn’t bragging about it. The world made sense again.

Sometimes you need to show the planners how feeble their little attempts to plan and control everything are. Sometimes you need to burst their bubble with a little needle of chaos. Sometimes you need to greet your friend, their ‘mint’ shirt, and fancy plans at the door with a bucket of water over the head.

Brazil had it coming. He’d called something ‘mint’ and ‘quality’ once too often.

Oh, and he had stabbed our walls with a samurai sword a few nights earlier. 


Good Trips and Poor Attendance 

I attended several academic conferences in a previous work life. Most of them were terribly boring. Exploring the city hosting the event was always the real prize.

The trip to a conference in Ottawa with my friend Clay stands out. We didn’t learn much at the conference itself. But we did learn that brownies make for a better trip than a good attendance record.

For this conference, Clay suggested we rent a car and drive instead of booking flights. It was more expensive and involved a 17 hour drive rather than a 2 hour flight. But driving made sense to us for three reasons:

1) We’d get fully reimbursed for our travel expenses no matter what, 2) myself and Clay believed in taking advantage of the academic financing system at every turn (universities bleed money out of students, so the words of Lt.-Col. Frank Slade seem fitting), and 3) we could stop at a Super 8 Motel and ride the big yellow water slide (note: this was the deciding factor).

We hit the road for Ottawa at 5am. We reached Trois Rivieres, Quebec around 730pm. We checked into the Super 8, got settled into the room, and changed into our swimsuits.

Then Clay suggested we have a snack before going swimming. Clay’s friend had recently baked a fresh batch of brownies. And she’d given gave Clay several for our road trip. I agreed, and we split half a brownie.

The brownie hit the spot after a long day of driving. It was delicious, and instantly lifted our spirits. Within moments, myself and Clay were laughing uncontrollably. After mustering the focus to write a formal, yet mildly mocking, email to our friend, The Dickhead, myself and Clay set out for the pool.

All roads led to the big yellow water slide. But first we climbed into the hot tub to ready ourselves. The brownie made that feel even warmer and cozier than it already was.

And then it was time. I’m quite certain I’d never been so excited to go down a water slide before in my life. Some childhood thrills don’t kick in until you’re almost 30, I guess.

I went down the big yellow water slide first. Clay followed. It was an absolute rush. It was utterly thrilling. And we did it just once. We agreed that anything more would’ve been all too much. So we splashed around in the pool for a while, relaxed in the hot tub once more, and then returned to our hotel room for the night. Thus far, the conference road trip had been a roaring success.

Things got even better once we arrived in Ottawa the next morning. Myself and Clay made plans to spend time with friends we had in the area. Then we visited the university to register our attendance at the conference.

We didn’t see much of the conference beyond that. I gave a presentation. So did Clay. That forced both of us to stick around for a couple of hours. Then we left.   

It was a big conference. There were plenty of seminars to attend and people to meet. But myself and Clay had better things to do. And we had another brownie to eat.

The following morning I asked Clay if we were heading back to the conference. That exchange went something like this: 

We poppin’ back into the conference today now, or wha? I said. 

What? Conference? Fuck that! Let’s eat that other brownie and go to the Museum of Civilization! said Clay. 

Good enough, I said.

We ate the brownie and set out for the day. The museum was only a 10 minute drive away. We were giddier than school kids before hitting the parking lot. It’s a good thing there was no big yellow water slide in the place.

Our visit to the Museum of Civilization was an absolute mindblow. We watched an IMAX documentary about mummies, walked through centuries of the past, and looked at towering totem poles. It was close to supper time before we ended our fantastic voyage.

Our attendance at the conference, on the other hand, was terrible. But we didn’t care about that. Sometimes the best thing about a work conference is everything but the conference. Sometimes eating is a great thing to do before swimming. Especially if it involves a brownie and a big yellow water slide. And seeing history in a museum after eating a brownie is far more exciting than listening to history at a conference.

Sometimes you’re better off letting the planners plan and the talkers talk. Sometimes running with the crowd ain’t where it’s at. Sometimes it’s best to be ahead of the curve.

************

That’s enough foolish tales from me. You’ve probably got a few of your own. And they probably involve good friends too.

And that’s what happens when epic people enter your life. They help you in ways you often don’t realize until years later. They simply make us better by walking the same road with us for a time.

I certainly can’t imagine a life without the likes of Double M, Small Paul, Brazil, MacBreton, or Clay. I can’t imagine learning how important the serious business of having foolish fun is from anybody else. Nor would I want to.

And if there’s anyone who can find the absurdity in a serious situation, it’s The Joker. He’s insane, and has a habit of presenting horrified people with dire choices to make.

But The Joker sees The World for what it really is. And I think about this whenever I hear him ask “Why so serious?” I’m not sure I’d ever encourage someone to become an agent of chaos. But taking things less seriously than The World recommends will always have favour with me. 

And he’s been right all along. To a degree.

Be serious when you have to. Especially when you feel the need for some foolish fun. Let the planners and schemers fret over being serious all the time.

The joke’s on them really. So you may as well be the one laughing.  





 

2 comments:

  1. Nothing but net Bob! The best laid plans are where they should be...laid. Life is too short for every moment to be planned, and a splash in the face is good once in the while to remember what's important or not so. I enjoy these times in life and though it may seem harder to find them as we get a little older it's only a matter of perception. It's really not that hard to take a few off-ramps on the road to life to get a little "serious" and get right back on. And when we do it funny how the world around us just seems a little easier to be in. " Time is a jet plane, we move to fast, ah but what a shame all we shared can't last..." One of only a few Dylan lines I disagree with. I think time is commodity we have an opportunity to invest in. And it's a rare commodity that the return really depends on what we do with that investment. That's why we say "spend" some time because we are wasting it. Why don't we "invest some time". Perception is a mirror between the chaos and the control. Thanks again Bob for getting the wheels turning.

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    Replies
    1. Hey Dave. Thanks for your comment. That's a threeball from way beyond the arc, man! I like what you said about time as a commodity, and the fine line between chaos and control. Just because we're getting older don't mean we gotta stop acting young every now and again!

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