I will never forget buying my first house. It was a suburban rancher set in the bucolic splendor of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Bucks County, for those who don’t know, was home to William Penn. It is bordered on the east by the Delaware River, indeed, the famous incident depicted in a painting familiar to all schoolchildren - General George Washington recklessly standing up in a moving boat at winter as he and his intrepid soldiers cross the Delaware – happened there. Bucks County is also where one finds New Hope (and who among us isn’t looking for New Hope?) a quaint tourist town dating back to colonial days that flourished because the ferry located there facilitated trade. Two centuries later New Hope would gain a different kind of celebrity as the summer residence of New York’s smart artistic set including painters, playwrights, composers, humorists, actors, fops, poseurs, and social butterflies. My wife and I were able to afford it because it was a disaster area – the real estate agent described it as “tenant abused” – the victim of a “hot divorce”. This was an understatement, like saying that Dresden in 1945 “needed some TLC”. But the setting was remote and lovely. Our next door neighbor was a large dairy farm, our neighbor across the street was a horse farm where racehorses were bred and raised, and our down the street neighbor was a big-time cocaine dealer who lived in a massive geodesic dome and flew everywhere in his private helicopter.
Popular animals have long been associated with products, institutions and causes to draw attention, increase likeability, and help fix key ideas in the public imagination. One need only mention Smokey The Bear to make the case convincingly. Sporting a broad-brimmed ranger hat and gazing with unblinking, unforgiving eyes, Smokey warned us that we were the only ones capable of preventing forest fires. One had the sense that Smokey was not a bear to be trifled with, and yet, showing his vulnerable side he revealed that – as tough as he was – without our cooperation he, and his forest companions – deer, moles, ticks, woodchucks, badgers, marmosets, Thompson’s gazelles, beavers, polecats, and salamanders – and moose – were in serious trouble. This concept, that an enormous, fierce bear was depending on little old us, had currency – and the campaign lasted not just for years but for decades. We liked Smokey, and we wanted to help him.
This is the season of vacations, and let’s be honest, no matter who you are or what you do, a break from the demands of your daily existence would be welcome. Interestingly, no matter how glamorous your day job might be, research indicates that when you vacation you want to get as far away from it as you can. For example, a recent study by psychologists at The University Of Basingstoke revealed that 77% percent of NFL quarterbacks said scrapbooking is their favorite leisure activity, with interpretive dance running a distant second. Pickpockets, not surprisingly, take a break from the rigors of their job by vacationing in nudist colonies. Without a scrap of temptation to be found they are safe from themselves and can unwind, secure in the knowledge that work is not even an option. Voyeurs, by contrast, go Polar to relax – North and South – in search of climate so ferociously cold that inhabitants must stay clothed 24/7. Freed from the prison of their pathology they take up residence in the safe, warm expanse of imagination – like the rest of us.
Passive/Aggressive Behavior (PAB) plays an integral role in various kinds of mental illness. Historically referred to as Obnoxious Behavior (OB) or just plain Irritating Behavior (IB), Passive/Aggressive Behavior has been identified as both symptom and cause of a dizzying assortment of psychological maladies including, but not limited to, paranoia, paranormia, pareschewed, and Chumley Standpipe Syndrome (CSS). Early psychiatrists, realizing PAB to be a very sneaky and elusive foe, adapted an innovative approach to treatment. They reasoned that, rather than causing patients to feel guilt about passive aggressive behavior, long-term recovery goals would be much better served by luring PAB out of its lair with promises of rewards, praise, and lucrative commercial endorsements. Far easier to treat a condition after it’s ventured into the open, they reasoned.
Younger readers may be astounded to learn that physical fitness was not always admired in America, universally acknowledged as the planet’s fattest nation. Oh no! Not so long ago, smoking cigarettes was the very height of chic, pizza was considered a health food, and the ability to drink into oblivion was widely viewed as proof of character. (Extra points were awarded if you woke up in a Tijuana brothel sporting an armadillo tattoo.) Back then, there were two places where you could find exercise equipment, the YMCA and the weight rooms of prosperous academic institutions. Men who paid attention to their physiques were thought to be fabulously unintelligent, gender-ambivalent, or professional wrestlers; or all three. Women did not engage in any exercise at all other than pushing vacuum cleaners and lifting chubby infants.
I’ve been getting my mail in Cookoopantsatopolis for a very long time now, and the fact of the matter is, I like it here. The people are nice, you laugh a lot, it’s never boring, and, frankly, you have experiences unavailable elsewhere. Another thing. My fellow Cookoopantsatopolis-dwellers are special, they have been through astounding trials and voyages which have given them depth, soul, and character. Now, I don’t mean to suggest that Cookootoplians are better than square white bread eating mayonnaise-loving Johnny and Jane Lunchbuckets; but I wouldn’t stop you from saying so. I guess my point, assuming I have one, is that we all must struggle to know who we are, accept who we are, love who we are and enjoy being who we are. This goes double for Cookoolians who have had to endure harsh judgment not merely for what they do, but for their very being. I Just Want To Be Normal As you move through the various levels of recovery, you may begin to identify with “normal” people, you may even start to believe there is something desirable about being one of them. If left unchecked, this slippery slope will dump you on the doorstep of Squaresville, man – in peril of losing your identity altogether. Don’t let this happen to you! Be on the lookout for these warning signs.
If you’re “funny in the head” like me, you’ve had to learn how to self-regulate – that is – evaluate your own behavior to determine whether you’re merely “in a mood” or riding the downtown express to Cookoopantsatopolis. Outsiders cannot understand, to them the answer will always be obvious. We know better. Frequently the dividing line between eccentric and incarcerated is only a few shades of gray, and one doesn’t even notice the point at which fun has turned into funkachunkabagooboo. To help all of you out there cursed with the responsibility of being one’s own strictest supervisor, I have devised this simple quiz which can be self-administered whenever needed. If you answer “B” to more than 5 of these questions, you’ve been boodoogelized and should get help as soon as you retrieve your clothes from the dishwasher.
"Why raise the bridge when you can lower your expectations of the river?" Taz Mopula You may be surprised to learn that even the irrational, off-kilter, cattywhumpus and – yes, I’ll say it – whackadoomius among us gaze upon the vast, blank canvas of an unused year and think to ourselves – how can I do better? Of course, in our case this means – how can I be an even shinier wing nut, a more twisted slinky? Way back when, Mark Twain reminded us, “It isn’t easy being eccentric.” This observation is as true today as it was when he said it – which is why I’ve had a good long look my own shortcomings and failures in 2011 and put together a list of resolutions which – with luck – will make my humble blog even funnier in the weeks and months to come.
As 2011 slinks silently towards the exit sign, like a kleptomaniac at a bridal shower clutching a bag from Neiman Marcus, I must take time out from my busy schedule to pen, yet again, the Funny In The Head Family Letter. Naturally, both of us would much rather speak with all of you individually but, between making Halloween costumes for the homeless, managing our halfway house for wayward squirrels, and building awareness for The Hugh Manatee Memorial Foundation, there simply isn’t enough time. (By the way, our new slogan, “Oh The Hugh Manatee Foundation” has been very well received.)
It has been said that - an expectation is a preplanned resentment – and since the holiday season is built upon wave after wave of rosy, grandiose expectations it is reasonable to imagine that an avalanche of resentments ready to sleigh you cannot be far behind. This is particularly true for those of us who every day unwrap that most bizarre of all gifts, commonly referred to as mental illness. As ever, your friends at Funny In The Head are here to help.