I hate fun / I like having a bad time
In my last blog entry, I mentioned that sometimes I like having a bad time. However, when it was suggested that I write a longer piece about this idea, I started wondering how much it was actually true. I’m a contrarian, even when I don’t mean to be—it’s like a reflex—but perhaps I was just being quippy, tossing off a claim that sounded provocative to amuse myself.
When I was much younger, I used to go around telling people that I “hated fun,” but it was more the banality of the word fun itself that I objected to, especially in its interrogative form:
“What do you do for fun?”
“I love dancing!”
“I’m really into gaming!”
“I like taking my dog to the park!”
These conversations made me squirm. Why did everyone like dogs so much? I’d rather stay home and write a story about the time I imagined punting a small, soccer-ball-like dog into traffic.
But did I really “hate fun”? It was more like I didn’t like many of the things other people seemed to enjoy. And I especially didn’t like talking about those things.
That was fun.
Telling people I don’t like fun was fun.
But none of this is quite the same thing as liking a bad time.
I suppose what I meant was that sometimes it’s more fun when things go wrong than when they go right, even if you’re doing something you enjoy, like going to the beach.
Sure, “perfect” beach days are great. Eighty-three degrees. Sunny. No clouds. Warm water. Clean sand. Not too many other people. Nine out of 10 times, that’s the ideal scenario. But once in a while, it’s fun—yes, fun—to show up at the beach and find that you can’t get comfortable enough to listen to even 5 minutes of the latest Lexicon Valley podcast because the wind is whipping sand against you so hard that it hurts. You lay there, pretending it’s OK, that maybe it’s not that bad, but eventually you have to look over at your girlfriend and laugh and say, “This sucks! But I’m not ready to leave yet. Let’s see how long we can force ourselves to stay.”
A few years ago when I moved to China with a girl I'd just met but thought I was in love with, I wanted things to go perfectly. I imagined we would travel together and inspire each other and live out some beautiful, bawdy romance in exotic locales across Asia. Something like that. I certainly didn’t go there hoping to fail. But when things went disastrously wrong, when it turned out that it was merely love at first sight and we didn’t actually like each other (which it turns out is even more important than love), and especially when we began to hate each other, well, that was fun too, in a way. Smoking cigarettes and being sad and angry in a foreign country—it’s a bit emo, but it’s also fun in a perverse way. Having extremely strong emotions, good or bad, feels important. Also, our arguments were epic—sometimes very loud, public, and ridiculous; other times very private quite, private, and hateful.
Have I mentioned that I like arguing? My aunt came over the other day, and when the subject of Brexit came up, we got in an argument about politics, and eventually she got so worked up that she stormed out of the house—but not before telling me she couldn’t stand talking to someone with an ego as big as mine. I was stunned. Flattered. I haven’t felt so alive in months. It brought me back to my 20s, when I used to go around antagonizing people all the time, starting arguments just for the thrill of it.
There’s something satisfying about knowing you’re causing someone else's bad time. (Is that sadism?) There’s also something satisfying about having a bad time yourself. (Masochism?) The months I spent in China were some of the worst of my life—certainly a bad time—and yet, in a sense, I liked it.
When things go badly, it can also lead to unexpected good outcomes.
Allison and I were talking about the 4th of July the other day. It's coming up, and she wanted to make plans, of course, and I wanted to appear at least reasonably excited about a day that usually includes crowds of drunken strangers and nonstop loud noises.
“We could go camping,” she said.
“That's what I did last year—in Yellowstone,” I said, before correcting myself: “Wait, I was in Bozeman that night! That’s when I banged that stripper—well, I didn’t know she was a stripper at the time. I was in Yellowstone before that. I never would have stopped in Bozeman if Jolene hadn’t needed repairs.”
I worry constantly about Jolene (my car) breaking down, and with good reason. In the year that I’ve had her, she’s needed repairs in half a dozen cities across the U.S.
In Minneapolis, while Jolene was in the shop, my Airbnb host showed me around town on the metro and then took me to his favorite neighborhood bars.
In Bozeman, I drove that lovely, mysterious stripper to and from the fireworks in her little black car, blasting EDM music.
In Portland, I met Allison, but if Jolene had been in good enough shape to drive to Alaska, as I had originally planned, that might never have happened. As it turned out, I bummed around PDX for three months with Allison before we hit the road together for an adventure in California.
But a bad time doesn’t need to involve extraordinary circumstances to be worthwhile. Even something as ordinary as walking across the parking lot to your car is enhanced by a little adversity. Ninety-five degree heat, for instance. You trudge forward, squinting, barely able to breathe, down one row of yellow lines and shiny steel, then another—where did you park? you can hardly even think—until at last you find your car and climb inside. It’s even hotter in there, but you leave the windows up as you wait for the A/C to kick in. As you fasten your seatbelt, you notice that your sunglasses are folded on the front of your shirt; you could have worn them in the parking lot instead of squinting the whole time. But you aren’t upset. You knew they were there and chose not to put them on. It was all you could do not to stare directly at the sun.