This year, because English 101 students are insane with youth, I gifted my students with morsels of sane advice on the last day of class. These were morsels I desperately needed back when it was my turn to suffer the wonderful brain fever of youth.
At the raving age of 18, I lived in a foolish fantasy world.
I imagined accidentally bumping into supermodels in college hallways, both our stacks of books falling charmingly to the floor, and then me carrying all the books, and her being a gigantic Eastern European gymnast who thanks me daily by handspringing and aerial cartwheeling toward me and sticking the landing every time, the landing of her face on my face.
Chemistry: very 10
Raw Hotness: very very 10
There Can Be Miracles When You Believe: 11
I thought, I shall be a blacksmith. I imagined living in a huge stone cottage, getting ripped, wearing rawhide, and forging swords and sexy armor for the gymnast.
I also imagined working in a toy factory, designing monsters. I would build terrifying ones for myself and cute ones for my handstanding, split-leaping super-bride.
After watching Gladiator fifty times, I declared myself a history major, though only because my university didn’t have a gladiatorum or a combat-training program.
I rode around with a homemade dummy named Mr. Beef.
His full name was Mr. Mebuddy Beef. I named him after the “My Buddy” doll line from Hasbro, dolls designed to teach boys “about caring for their friends.” I owned one of these Buddies when I was a boy (I shaved his head and made him earn his clothes by feats of suffering: starvation; outside-sleeping; wiffle-bat scourging), and when I was a newly-legal adult, I joked that Hasbro should make jumbo dolls for grownups. The next day, the joke became a reality in my Mr. Beef.
I know what you’re thinking: A My Buddy doll for grownups is a sex doll. But it was never like that between me and Mr. Beef. In our derangement, we were far too alike to be lovers.
With Mr. Beef safely buckled in, I cruised the roads, removing him only when someone else needed a lift. He came apart in three pieces: head, torso, and legs. The head rolled around in the back of my truck. When I hit the gas, Mr. Beef’s head thumped the tailgate. When I stomped on the breaks, his head boomed against the cab. This was his way of gently saying, “Please remember to reassemble your buddy.”
I always did. Until one day, I forgot.
Mr. Mebuddy Beef remained in the back too long and caught a nasty case of the mildew, and I, like a Jedi at a dad-burning, was forced to commit my buddy to the flames.
There you have it. Now you know how I lived my life back then. I lived at the whims of dreams. Anything could have happened to me. If a hot army recruiter had said, “Join,” I would have joined. If a smoking hot missionary had said, “How do you feel about foreign missions?” I would have said, “You had me at foreign missions.” If a gorgeous cop had said, “One more mistake, you’re going to prison,” I would have said, “Will you be there?” If a lovely one-legged sea captain had said, “Wanna kill one-of-a-kind animals?” I would have said, “Marry me.”
And now, here is the wisdom list I delivered to my English 101 students, a list designed to give them luck on the long and mazy backroad of life:
ONE: You could die today. Eat a doughnut.
TWO: If you get married, wait until you’re 35. Your twenties approacheth. Those years will be a wasteland of violent identity mutation. Beware. Do not make promises during this decade.
THREE: If you do get married, elope. The people who are long-term angry over your elopement are people you don’t want in your life anyway. Elopement is a bargain, and it beautifully prunes the family tree.
FOUR: Pick one thing to be very good at. Focus.
FIVE: Play a musical instrument. Specifically, the harmonica. You’ll need it for prison. Imagine having five to ten years of practicing under your belt by the time you’re convicted. Of all the new fish, you’ll be the most popular.
SIX: If your sense of self-worth is based on anything this life is going to take away (body, talent, brain), you must base your worth on something else. Something lasting. Before it’s too late. Hurry.
SEVEN: Love animals. But remember, animals are animals. For example, horses might cave your face in with a good kick. Horses might bite off your biceps and genitals. Yes, people do these things too, and much more often, but…
I’ve forgotten the point I was making.
EIGHT: Do not define yourself by something you haven’t done. Within reason. Yes, define yourself by not doing meth. What I mean is, don’t be proud of the fact that you haven’t tried sushi or watched Star Wars.
NINE: Eat sushi, you squeamish loser, and watch Star Wars.
TEN: Be very careful which hills you choose to die on. Most of them are better for picnics.
ELEVEN (which is related to EIGHT): Don’t ever avoid something because it’s popular. Again, within reason. Meth is very popular. It is a remarkably successful drug. I’m talking about movies, music, food, countries, etc.
TWELVE: Love others.
THIRTEEN: Care for your friends. And when, after many years of glorious living, they mildew, honor them with fire.
Though my students didn’t understand this last one, I know that in time, they will.