Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Neither Big Nor Clever

(This picture was actually one of the first Google image search results for the phrase "neither big nor clever")

One of my favorite sayings or phrases of all time is “neither big nor clever.” I’ve never heard an American use it and it’s a damn shame that there’s not an American equivalent to it. It's almost exclusively used to describe behavior when drinking or the next day. I first heard this phrase when a dear friend of mine in the UK used it to describe his behavior while drinking and the repercussions of said behavior. This friend was the drummer in a band who, for a brief period of time, ruled the world. Well, maybe not quite. But they had sold millions of albums and were on constant MTV rotation and EVERYONE knew their song and they were being transported to venues via helicopter. Then that all kind of went away and my friend was left in the uncomfortable situation of wanting to live every night in some sort of bacchanalian fashion but his appetite for vice quickly overtaking his professional success and fame. He was a mess. In fact, the first time he ever used the phrase “neither big nor clever” was to describe a night which started with some drinks and ended up with him falling face first on a stone floor and paramedics rushing to the scene. That was clearly neither big nor clever.

Let me state something as an absolute fact: I like alcohol. I like a drink. Or more than one, even. I have done embarrassing, violent, illegal and awful things when I have had a few too many. This is not some puritanical rant from a teetotaler. But I feel as if I am reaching my tipping point for celebrating and enabling the destructive behavior of the over-served. It’s, for a lack of a better term, neither big nor clever.

Maybe this whole thing started with my dislike of the movie The Hangover. I really didn’t like that movie. I found it to be incredibly predictable. When people balk at the fact that I didn’t like the movie (seriously, there HAS to be someone besides Tom Gribble who agrees with me!), I try to explain why I didn’t like it. The jokes weren’t that bad but the whole setup is so self-congratulating. I understand that a lot of people dig the movie because of the commiseration they feel with the characters over having to piece a night back together or doing the walk of shame or trying to find out where exactly you are. But if you think that kind of stuff makes you unique, interesting, dangerous or rebellious, you are sadly mistaken or you are under the age of 24.

In a search for old pictures which I feared may have been long lost, I ventured back to the Land Before Time AKA Friendster the other day. I created my Friendster profile when I was 21 (tweaking it occasionally to reflect how hip and ironic I thought I was). Now, I didn’t go to college but I consider my Friendster profile to be a document of my “college years.” One of my first professed interests was “booze” and, rough estimate here, 80% of the comments (sorry, testimonials) had some reference to drinking or something that was brought into our vernacular through drinking. I was screaming to the world about how awesomely badass I was because me and my friends, we were sassy! And we could drink a lot! And it made us do silly/stupid things! Check us out!

I cringed when I read all of that, like how people cringe over the fashion choices of their youth. I reminded myself that I was in my early 20’s, a period of time in everyone’s life in which you were put on the earth solely to drink and make mistakes. If you’re lucky, you retain enough memory from those mistakes to tick them off the Great List of Mistakes that are an initiation rite for all non-Mormons. But then it made me realize that I knew a lot of people who had crossed that threshold and still considered the bruises, sloppily signed receipts and car dings to be badges of honor. If not badges of honor, at least something sort of cute.

Then I started thinking about another friend of mine. He lives here and works at a bar at which we all congregate. He has been sober for nearly a decade. He didn’t go to jail or anything. He just stopped drinking. Again, I’m no fan of the wagon but this guy always manages to be fun and loose and interesting and non-judgmental despite the fact that he’s drinking Sprite. He tells tales often of the kind of things that he used to do when he would drink. I think I remember one story where he slept on a neighbor’s lawn only to be woken up by a water hose as the neighbor watered his lawn on a sunny Saturday morning. And I kind of realized that everyone’s got great “man, I was so drunk…” stories and they’re fun to tell and fun to hear. But there’s some point where the scale tips from “funny” to “sad” or even all the way to “pathetic”. It’s a delicate balance.

I started thinking about the drinking stories that I used to hear when we were younger and the ones I hear now. I’m usually the baby of the group and my social circle have generally all turned the corner to 30. Oh, how we used to regale each other with tales of making out and dancing on apartment roofs or having impromptu swimming parties. And we were young and that seemed fun and harmless and I still generally regard it as such. But now the drinking stories have gotten darker. Someone got hurt, someone had to go to the hospital, someone’s got a DWI and lost their license. Stuff with serious consequences and repercussions. And then it becomes like when a stand-up comedian comes out of the gate with decent material then slowly starts bombing before your eyes and all you can do is let out a nervous laughter of pity and slight disgust.

I don't want to sound as if I am being judgemental and I stress that my list of mistakes and blotto moments is comprehensive. But I guess I just don't wear it as a badge of pride and it bothers me when others over the age of 25 do. It's as if their poor behavior is somehow performance art because they are intoxicated. If I have a few too many and behave poorly (which I am wont to do), I couldn't imagine waking up and wanting to proudly regale others with my tales. I can't imagine being strangely self-satisfied with the sordid details of my behavior.

In a search for a better context or definition of the phrase “neither big nor clever”, I came across this:

It expresses everything I feel about the subject. Britain has allowed some drinking establishments to serve alcohol for 24 hours straight. No last orders. No closing. Luckily, they have regulated who can and can’t stay open indefinitely. Which is why a city like New Orleans repulses me. I sent my friend in New York a postcard from my one and only trip to New Orleans that was a detailed list of why the city of New Orleans should fall off the map and drift far into the Gulf of Mexico, never to be seen again. And this was pre-Katrina! As photographic proof of why I dislike the city so much, I submit to you this. Scroll down to the “after the show” pictures to see exactly what I mean:

And there it is. It’s my closing credits for The Hangover. See? And guess what? It’s truly neither big nor clever.


Josh Campbell said...

so... you're saying that there's a chance you might have liked the hangover a few years ago, but now you have matured and instead of finding the characters funny, you pity them? that's cool i guess. let me know when you and Tom get some more members in your hangover hate club.

next time I see you out, we're gonna get hella polluted!

amandacobra said...

Honestly, maybe that's my problem. I am just old enough to be bored by celebrating getting crazy trashed but young enough to be just barely past that phase. Maybe in a year or two I will be able to appreciate the nuianced anthropological case studies that each character are. For right now, it is just dudes getting ripped and doing dumb shit.

Regardless, let's get sloppy. Bring your camera so we can document all the "zaniness" we get up to. That seems to be the thing these days.

Josh Campbell said...

you know how the summer goes, it's either go zany or watch your first place texas rangers.

that's a modern day scylla and charybdis for you, i guess.

i'll bring a disposable camera for added nostalgia.

Tom said...

Friendster still exists?