Dope’s law

History is full of people whose lives were changed by sudden insights. A famous one is Saul on the Road to Damascus, who was so overwhelmed he not only got knocked off his ass, but fell on it as well.

That said, for most of us, the opposite seems the rule: We learn incrementally, in dribs and drabs. Certainly, that’s true with me — except for one noticeable exception.

I was 18, a recent college flunkout, living in Gotham and digging La Vie Boheme. I was cut loose, foot loose, and hopelessly abstruse. I was sitting in a tres hip Greenwich Village cafe, drinking burnt coffee and doing what I’ve always done best — eavesdropping.

It was no challenge, because the two characters at the next table were talking to loud they could’ve been heard in Canarsie.

They were pieces of work. One had a long ratty goatee and was wearing a corduroy sport coat that’d seen better decades. The other guy, a cadaver in a leather jacket and dingy T-shirt, had five days stubble and a constant snarl. Both of them were smoking cigarettes as if they were major shareholders in R.J. Reynold’s.

“Well,” said Goatee Guy, “I just finished the third chapter.”

The other guy nodded.

“And I can tell you right now,” GG said, “when it gets published it’s gonna change the way the world thinks of existentialism.”

Leather Lad did a French inhale and nodded again, clearly not actually following what GG was saying.

“Yeah,” said GG, “It’ll make Camus’ stuff look like it came outta a high school term paper.”

Oh God, spare me, I thought. Another wannabe philosopher babbling about existentialism. As if I hadn’t heard enough of that crap in the student union.

I immediately changed his name to Jean Paul Farter.

Leather Lad lit another cigarette from the butt of his last one, took a monster hit, and inhaled. When his cumulonimbus had cleared a bit, he spoke.

“The freakin’ world,” he said, shaking his head. “All I do is go to casting call after casting call after casting call. It’s a drag. All anyone wants is Brando. Doesn’t matter how talented or macho you are. If you’re not Brando himself, you’re screwed.”

I snuck a long glance at him. If he was as hunky as Brando, I could win a Wilt Chamberlain lookalike contest.

And on and on they babbled. Jean Paul’s opus would knock contemporary philosophy on its ear; Leather Lad, if he only had the chance, would make Brando’s Stanley Kowalski look like Liberace. But before either of those things happened, JP would’ve written reams of unreadable philosobabble, and LL would be praying for a summer theater Gig in Churubusco. And all the while they’d both be whining about how what a bunch of Philistines the schmucks running the literary and theater industry were.

Outtasite insight

Finally, unable to tolerate their bumpf and smoke anymore, I left. And once I got out in the refreshing diesel-scented air, I started thinking about why those guys and their convo bugged me so much.

One thing, of course, was their pomposity: That the people running the arts had the audacity to ignore LL and JP’s vital contributions to humankind, was proof of how hopelessly stupid everyone was, but them.

Second, their speaking in a small cafe at the decibel level of an F-16 on takeoff told me they weren’t just self-absorbed whiners, but inconsiderate self-absorbed whiners.

Finally, not only did they not give a damn about the other people in the cafe, they didn’t give a damn about each other either. By listening to them and looking at them, it was obvious neither was actually listening to the other. Instead of a conversation, they had a two-man vent-o-logue.

And then I wondered how many conversations I’d had that were pretty much as ridiculous as theirs. How many times had I listened to people telling me things I couldn’t have cared less about? How many times had I smiled and nodded at someone carping about their pet peeve, or their pet poodle, and not given a tiddly-doo about either? How many times had I suffered through some ignoramus expounding his theories on alternate education or alternate universes? While I didn’t know an exact number, I did know there’d been too many.

As I processed that, another thought came to me — Life was short. I didn’t think I was gonna die young, but I realized (as much as my adolescent brain could realize such things) that if I lived to a ripe old age (which to me then would’ve been 45 or so), the time would fly by. Certainly, that’s what all the old peeps I knew said. But while thirty years seemed an infinity then, I sensed it really wasn’t. Some part of me, buried somewhere in my psyche, had accepted the vague notion that time was irreversible, fleeting and precious.

And then, right there on the pigeon-and-dog-poop-strewn NYC sidewalk, my epiphany nailed me like a direct hit between my running lights. I’ve named it Dope’s Law. Simply stated, I vowed never to hang out with people I didn’t like and I’d never waste time in stupid conversations.

Through the course of my life, starting as a little kid, I’ve made lots of promises to myself. And as might be expected, I kept almost none of them. But this one was one I did keep.

Yeah, sure, the definitions of “stupid conversations” and “waste of time” are subjective. Something I might think is fascinating, or at least interesting, you might find hopelessly boring, irrelevant, or even, yes, stupid. And ditto for wastes of time. And you might be right — at least as far as you’re concerned. But therein lies the beauty of Dope’s Law: I define those labels only by my terms.

And good thing I do, because I know my definitions — which are fluid at best — might never fit anyone else’s. Last Sunday was a perfect example.

Way gone chat-a-thon

Bro. Bruce Young and I had agreed to get together at Nori’s at 1:00 for a gabfest. I’d also made plans to meet Johnny Jarvis, the Silver Fox, at Nori’s at 3:00 for another chinwag. While I figured each one would last an hour, I figured wrong. Bruce and I chatted on till Johnny showed up. And then, after I introduced those two, we all rapped for another two hours, and then went our separate ways.

On Sunday morning, I’d promised I’d help Jack Drury edit his column, which was due by early Monday morning. He and I played phone tag throughout the day. till I finally got over there about 8:45 that night. Here’s the thing about me going over his column with him: The actual editing lasts about a half hour … but there’s no telling how long the visit’ll last. In last Sunday’s case, Jack, Phyllis and I shmoozed till a quarter past the witching hour.

Sooooo … if ya do the math, you’ll see I spent a grand total of seven and a half hours talking with my pals. And what did we talk about? At this point, I have no idea. Actually, I probably didn’t remember any of the specifics of any of the conversations.

So would any of those convos have been considered “stupid?” Would those seven-plus hours have been considered a waste?

Who knows?

And more important, who cares? For sure, not me.

All I know is I had a helluva lot of fun rappin with my buds. And if there’s a better or smarter way to spend my time, I’ve no idea what it is.


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