Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Year of Being Crazy

With memoirs suffering from an image problem, what’s left for non-fiction writers whose name isn’t Doris Kearns Goodwin?

Enter the I’ll-do-anything-for-a-year-if-it-means-I’ll-get-a-book-deal genre.

Danny Wallace said “yes” to everything for a year, and tells us all about it in “Yes Man.” Judith Levine has just come out with “Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping,” in which she gives up all but necessities (leading to a discussion on whether one can live without Q-tips).

It should be easy to locate this category in your local bookstore—just look for the longest titles on the shelf. Witness A.J. Jacobs “The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World” (he read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica) or Julie Powell’s “Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes,1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen.” If it takes a colon to explain your high concept, you’ve found your calling.

Because I lean toward the obsessive-compulsive myself, I’m intrigued by the discipline and rigid rules required to pull off a year of anything. Because I’m also looking for that One Big Idea that will justify quitting my job last year, I’m starting to seriously ponder my options. Since imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, as well as the lazy person’s way out, a few ideas immediately spring to mind.

There’s “Just Say No,” my year of turning down everything. Because I’m oppositional by nature, this won’t be that big of a stretch. The possible scenarios are endless.

At a restaurant:
“Are you ready to order?”
“Shall I give you a few more minutes?”

It’ll be the new “Who’s on first?” Leno and Letterman will both come calling, although of course I’ll have to turn them down.

Or I could take my cue from Jacobs and become the dumbest person in the world.

I would limit my reading to James Patterson and US Weekly and my movie viewing to the oeuvre of David Spade. I would listen to nothing but Country music. (Seriously, try to top this lyric: “I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.”) I would get all my news from “Regis & Kelly.” I would spend alternate weekends with Anna Nicole Smith and Paris Hilton. I would stop believing in evolution, and perhaps science and modern medicine altogether.

I’m not sure I want to inflict that sort of pain on myself, but I wouldn’t mind riffing on Julie Powell, who went through every recipe in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

I will master the art of the grilled cheese. Or perhaps the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. There are dozens, nay, hundreds of varieties of bread out there, scores of different cheeses and the whole chunky vs. creamy and jelly vs. jam debates to explore. If I can’t eke out 365 different permutations, I’ll expand my repertoire to include any recipe with Cream of Mushroom Soup as an ingredient.

But I think my favorite idea is “The Year of Living Irresponsibly,” in which Dave and I spend beyond our means. We will swap out our home décor every season, just like they show in the catalogs, and have all new furniture, drapes, area rugs, shower curtains and kitchenware to match the varying moods of winter, spring, summer and fall. We will max out the thread count on our sheets and just make the minimum payment on our credit cards. In fact, we will apply for every card that sends us a form in the mail. We will stop putting money in our 401(k). We will stop going to matinees. We’ll get cable TV, heck, let’s even throw in the premium channels. We will cut up our Costco card and refuse to buy anything on “special.” We will book expensive direct flights during peak travel times. We will never wear the same article of clothing twice, including underwear, socks and sports bras—all labels must be designer and preferably Made in Italy as opposed to Made in Thailand. I will have a closet full of nothing but handbags. We will luxuriate in every spa and cosmetic treatment short of surgery. If we’re looking a little pale, we won’t spray on our coloring, we’ll get our tan the old-fashioned way, on a beach in the Bahamas. We will eat out three meals a day, boycotting all restaurants that qualify as “cheap chow,” and order the most expensive items on the menu. Water that hasn’t been bottled will never cross our lips. We will lose our fully-loaded public transit fare cards—we won’t need them anyway because we’ll take cabs everywhere. We will insist upon paying full price for prescription medications and all health care procedures, and will visit doctors out of network whenever we feel like it.

We will buy, buy, buy. Spend, spend, spend. We will have the best of everything.

The book practically writes itself. And so does the sequel, “Our Year of Debt Consolidation.”


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