Ideas To Live Without

Posted on March 9, 2011


There are some things that just aren’t a good idea. Alligator wrestling, for example, would be near the top of my list. Iceberg climbing also comes to mind, as does cliff diving and running with the bulls. Jumping the fence at the zoo to get some close-up shots of gorillas picking flies off each other may not be a smart move. Eating wild mushrooms because of their pretty colors could prove regrettable. And leave to the professionals anything that involves plumbing, wallpaper, or “the world’s hottest peppers.”

The truth is, I’ve been making less-than-ideal choices for most of my life. When I was little, we lived in a three-story brick house, with a similar building right next-door; between them was a gap about eight inches wide. One day the ball I was playing with bounced into that gap. If I could travel back in time and do things differently, I would leave the ball there and go find something else to play with. That isn’t what I did. Fortunately I got stuck with my head turned to the left, so I was facing the street and people walking by could hear my screams. A few years later, I found myself rolling down a steep hill in a steel barrel. It was something my older cousins, had they been wiser, would have dissuaded me from attempting.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I tried horseback riding. This seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but as it turned out, it was not. Even now, decades later, I still discover an occasional pebble or bit of tree bark in some unexpected place while showering.

I found out the hard way that ironing in the nude is a terrible idea. It may save you a minute or two, but the time you gain will not make up for the unsightly scorch marks you’ll suffer in the process. I don’t really want to go into any more detail about this, but believe me, if you must iron while naked, do not press that steam button.

Sometimes we’re told that we just need to “bite the bullet.” I don’t know a lot about bullets, but I do know that I cracked a tooth on a raw carrot once, and they’re not even that hard. Carrots are almost never used in assassinations or mob-related slayings. If there’s really a situation in which I would be required to bite a bullet, I hope I can continue to avoid it. Keeping my nose to the grindstone also seems like a pretty uncomfortable thing to do, and at least somewhat pointless.

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When I’m in one of my insomnia periods, I have a Celine Dion album that will usually put me to sleep. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the last three songs on that CD. And if the radio plays My Heart Will Go On while I’m driving, I have to pull over until it’s finished. This is a lesson I learned long ago. I had gone to a hypnotist to help me relax, and she recorded the session so I could practice self-hypnosis before bed. After leaving her office, which was about twenty miles away, I listened to the tape in the car as I was driving on I-95 in Connecticut; it took me eleven hours to get home.

Once in a while we can come to understand that something may be a bad idea without having to learn a painful lesson. For example, Saturday morning cartoons taught me that it’s never advisable to take a saw and cut a circle around yourself in the floor. Admittedly, that situation has come up no more than two or three times in my life, but still, I made the right decision each time.

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These experiences have given me a stronger insight into activities that simply may not be a good idea. A few weeks ago at the bookstore, I spotted a book called Robot Building for Dummies. I had an immediate reaction: Do we want dummies building robots? I’m not sure I even want dummies building dummies. What kind of robots would they build? Dumb ones, I’d imagine. What if the dumb robots started reproducing, building clones of themselves? Each generation would get less and less intelligent. Eventually, we’d have to teach the robots how to tie their shoes and do long division. Human factory workers would be back to filling ketchup bottles and hot-gluing car bumpers together by hand. And that would not be progress.

I guess the point is, we all have to be smarter. We need to identify bad ideas and avoid them, before they turn into problems. Here’s a little advice for any man who’s getting married in the near future: Remember that brides in the middle of wedding plans have no sense of humor whatsoever. If you’re the groom and you have any intention of making jokes — pretty much about anything but especially about the wedding — you may want to consider saving yourself a lot of pain and just staple your mouth closed right now. Or you could try cliff diving, or biting the bullet. Even climbing in with the gorillas would be considerably safer.

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One more thing. If you don’t like pumpkin pie (in other words, if you’re a normal, clear-thinking adult), it isn’t a good idea to go around telling everyone about it. Apparently, there’s a chemical in pumpkin that builds up gradually in the body and causes people to become argumentative and irrational. This is just one more reason to not eat pumpkin pie (in addition to the fact that it has the consistency of wet plaster and tastes like body lotion). But really, it may be wise to let all of that go unsaid. Take my word for it.