I always wanted to try a free association. To just get one word out and talk about immediately what comes to mind, and then what comes to mind from that, and so on. But I can never think about the starting point. Like what’s the first word going to be? I guess I could just pick anything, but it wouldn’t really be a free association, it would be forced, somewhat planned.
I’ll just say anything. Cars. Cars make me think of going fast. Of speeding. I’m thinking about my poor driving record. One time I got four speeding tickets in a month. It was terrible. I went to the court date for the first ticket to try and weasel my way out of the fine. I waited in the courthouse for a while until the prosecutor offered me a plea bargain: half the points, half the fine. No way, I told him. I wanted to argue this one out. The judge heard my case and then banged his gavel. Full points, full fine. “Hey wait a second, is it too late for that plea bargain?” “Yes.” Another gavel bang. “Do you really have to bang that gavel every time you finish a sentence?”
He didn’t really bang it after every sentence, but that would’ve been funny. If I were a judge that’s what I would do. I’d bang it constantly. I’d interrupt constantly. A judge’s power is totally unchecked, right? All of the groveling, all of the pleading, “Your honor,” this, “Your excellency,” that. Here you go your honor, a special judge costume and a special judge hammer. No go ahead and feel free to serve as long as you like your honor, nobody else wants to be judge. You take as much time as you want.
I remember one time I drove to Canada and I stopped right before the border to grab a sandwich or something. In a used car lot right next to the sandwich shop there was this old American muscle car for sale called “The Judge.” I knew it was called the judge because it was labeled on the back, “The Judge.” I wanted it so bad, right then and there. If I had the money at that moment there wouldn’t have been anything that could’ve stopped me. That’s why I always worry about my impulses and my decision making processes. Because even though ninety percent of the time I might have a pretty level head on my shoulders, every once in a while I’ll see something like The Judge and the next thing I know I’ll be in this random car dealership in Canada, asking them if they’d take my 2002 Hyundai Accent for an even trade, not thinking at all about insurance, not thinking at all about gas. All I’d think about is feeling fantastic.
My grandmother is a Canadian. I always felt like I’m a kindred spirit with our neighbors to the north. What is national identity? What does it mean to be American or Canadian? Canada is a different country, but what does that even mean? I live closer to the Canadian border than I do to Texas, and I definitely feel like I have a lot more in common with someone living in Montreal than someone who lives in Dallas. One part of me says it’s crazy to have a country as big as the United States, that there’s no way we can really share a national identity, that there’s too much keeping us apart, cultures, food, religion. But then another part of me argues that shouldn’t all of humanity be able to unite behind some sort of universal identity? Like we’re all human, we’re all going through the same life, let’s unite behind that.
But even though there’s me in New York, Canadians up North, and people far away in Texas, collectively, we all have tons more in common than people living in Afghanistan, drone strikes and jihad and deserts and tribes. But it can’t just be geography. There are people right here in New York, homeless people and rich people that are living wildly different experiences than mine.
One time in college I had this idea to dress up like a homeless person, beg for change for a whole day and then write an article about it for the newspaper. So I grew out a ridiculous beard and got ready, but I never followed through. Part of it was people telling me that I was crazy. Another part of it was stories I heard about the NYPD just picking up homeless people and dropping them off in homeless shelters. I also got a weird idea in my head that I might accidentally beg on some more established homeless person’s turf, and they might get confrontational. And also I get really lazy, and I wasn’t the most dedicated college student, and so I probably thought about sitting outside for the whole day and got discouraged by how bored I’d get. So I shaved my beard and walked around with a crazy mustache for a week or so, getting laughs, taking stupid pictures of myself.
I always think to myself that if I were in college now I’d take it much more seriously. But I’d probably do it the same, spending way too much time hanging out with my friends and not enough time in the library. College is this weird place where you’re supposed to study and learn stuff, but you’re only in class like twelve hours a week. I thought that college was much easier than high school. I put a fraction of the work and effort in and I got about the same grades that I did four years earlier. I mean, I’m not running my own company or anything, but I did fine. Good enough. Gave it the old college try.
We’d play this game called Edward Forty-Hands. I wrote about this already I think, but the idea was to tape two forty-ounce beers to your hands and drink them both before you could ask to have the bottles removed, so you could pee, because that’s a lot of liquid, and it’s really just you vs. your bladder with the clock as a referee. We also played this game called Power Hour where you’d set a timer and everybody drank a shot of beer every sixty seconds for an hour. It doesn’t sound like a lot but, think about it, you’d wind up drinking like six beers in an hour. In college I also drank whole beers out of a funnel.
I think it’s so funny that the drinking age is twenty-one yet parents across the country send their kids to go live away at schools where all they do is drink. It’s a big joke. Somebody thought, “I know, we’ll just up the drinking age. That’ll stop them. Those idiot kids.” But you can still buy a gun. Or smoke cigarettes. Or vote. Just no drinking. Yeah. Great idea leaders of society.
So how are you supposed to stop a free association? I feel like I could go on forever. Getting started was hard, sure, but I think shutting myself up is going to prove to be even harder. Where did I start, cars? That’s crazy. I don’t know how to end it. Oh man, I’m looking back and I just realized that I missed a perfect opportunity to wrap things up, full circle, when I was talking about drinking age and smoking age. I could have mentioned driving age, and it would have connected with cars. And I could’ve concluded that I let my mind wander and not only did I bring it right back to where I started, but I did it in exactly the amount of words that I usually use to write a blog post. That would’ve been a good ending.