Saturday, September 20, 2008

Things I Will Never Do

And so, despite all of the excellent arguments against it, I’m starting a blog.

There will be challenges of course. For starters, I don’t have much useful knowledge to impart, so the content here will be very thin. And like most people with kids and jobs and diabetic cats bent on their owners’ financial ruin, I don’t actually have time to blog. But we could all make excuses not to do our parts, so I won’t play that game.

What I will do—and what I think would be healthy for all of us—is to acknowledge that, as a result of this important new undertaking, certain things just aren’t going to get done, ever. I bet we all have things on our To Do lists that, deep down, we suspect we’re really never going to do anyway. Wouldn’t we be happier if we could just let these things go once and for all?

In that spirit, here are three* things that I will never do:

#1. I will never be fluent in French, Portuguese, or any other foreign language.
I’m awed by people who can speak more than one language, even poorly, but I think it’s time to accept that I will never be one of them. I studied French in high school and Portuguese in college, and when it was all over, I discovered that they’d somehow canceled each other out, leaving me with a useless smattering of each. (So far, my English seems undamaged.)

My Portuguese is particularly embarrassing. Beyond the standard hello/goodbye/thank-you stuff, this is what I’m left with:

“Eu falo português,” which means “I speak Portuguese.” This is obviously just a lie at this point—not a good way to begin any conversation.

“Isto es uma janela,” which means “This is a window.” This phrase actually proved useful when we had our house painted recently, not because our Brazilian painters needed help identifying the windows, but because I think my feeble attempts at Portuguese made them feel better about their command of English. With their morale soaring, they did an excellent job on the house.

And “Os meus pneus são muito bem,” which means, “My tires are very good.” My guess is that no native speaker has ever uttered this exact sentence—it was something I made up early in my studies purely because it sounded funny (to me anyway) when pronounced with the shushing European accent. Give it a try: “Oszh mayoszh panayoszh sow moyeento baym!” Isn’t that fun? And now you can fend off overzealous tire salesmen from Porto to Lisboa.

I’ve always thought that, someday, I’d renew my language studies and build up a useful command of either French or Portuguese. I’m guessing that Portuguese would be more useful, given the number of Brazilian immigrants in Massachusetts. But I’ve also wondered if I might be more successful at resurrecting my French, given the junior-high slow-bake method by which I acquired it, versus the college language-microwave treatment Portuguese got.

Plus, if my wife Alex and I ever do return to Paris, I’d love to be ready with phrases like, “Please leave the huge disgusting hunks of liver off my green salad,” or at least to be clued-in enough to order an organ-free entrée in the first place. But I’ve got a blog now, so I’m officially giving up on these daydreams of multilingualism. I will stick with English, and no matter what the waiter brings me, I will say “Merci” or “Obrigado” and choke it down with a smile.

#2. I’m never going to kick caffeine.
I drink an unholy amount of caffeinated diet soda, and I blame it all on Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Ten years ago, I hated diet anything—Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, it didn’t matter…they all just tasted foul to me. Then Pepsi One arrived, ushered onto the market by commercials featuring Cuba Gooding Jr. jumping on desks and doing his hyper-happy Jerry Maguire thing, and I thought to myself—“Hey, I like Cuba—I should try that drink he’s so excited about.”

So I bought a Pepsi One and after the first sip, I was like, “Hey, he’s right—this doesn’t taste quite as rancid as most diet sodas.” Then an hour after that, I was like, “Hey, I feel goooood…like, really happy and awake and happy and talkative and excited….JUST LIKE CUBA!!!”

Because I’d also never developed a taste for coffee, my body was almost totally caffeine-naïve. And although I didn’t realize it at the time, Pepsi One has as much caffeine in it as Mountain Dew.

What I did realize was that Pepsi One was AWESOME. I knew, in a theoretical sense, what the benefits of caffeine were, but I’d never experienced them directly before. “Hey, if I have a Pepsi One, it doesn’t take me a full hour to wake up in the morning!” And then “Hey, if I have a Pepsi One at work, I’m wayyy more productive.” And best of all, “If I drink enough Pepsi One, I can stay up as late as I want!” Within a few weeks, I was completely addicted.

Since then, diet soda has become the one real constant in my life (well, that and all the trips to the bathroom). As the supply of Pepsi One has become unreliable, I’ve even branched into the previously unthinkable territory of Diet Coke, and lately, Coke Zero. (Sorry…Diet Pepsi is still just nasty.)

Part of me would like to kick caffeine completely, and I’ve done it a few times—two or three week periods where I walk into walls and snap at everyone who crosses my path—but at this point, I give. Not only do I not have time to quit, but I predict that increased caffeine consumption will be an integral part of producing this blog.

#3. I will never see Matt again.
I met Matt in elementary school. In the thirty-odd years since, I’ve come to love him like a brother, but I think we both know that it’s time to say it’s over.

This is not easy, given everything that Matt and I have shared. We played on the same baseball team, which is to say that we sat next to each other on the bench, snacking on the Dunkin’ Munchkins that his parents brought for the team. In high school, we ate lunch together every day—me with my cheeseburger, and Matt always searching for the slice of pizza so overcooked that it looked “like a scab.” We tried to start several different rock bands together, and if we’d ever been able to agree upon a really cool name, I’m sure we would’ve been HUGE. We kept in touch throughout college, and after graduation, we searched for jobs together (an activity that always devolved into CD shopping in Harvard Square). Later, when we stumbled into gainful employment, we ended up working at the same company, and Matt even sang at my wedding.

But in the last few years, Matt and I have hardly seen each other. He’s got this great job managing a music club in Cambridge, and I work at my tremendously fulfilling office job, removing viruses and porn from people’s computers. He spends all of his time hanging out with musicians…and I don’t. We’ve been talking about getting together for ages—and by talking, I mean, sending messages through Faceboook—but it just hasn’t happened.

I’m not worried about Matt. Last I checked, he had 819 friends on Facebook, so I know that he will land on his feet. I only have 18 Facebook friends…well, 17 without Matt…so things could be a little touch-and-go here for a while. But I’ll be okay…I have my blog now, and that’s really all I need.**

*One more item for the list: I’ll never write another post quite this long.

**Of course, seeing all of this written out makes me wonder if there isn’t a way to do the blog thing AND still squeeze in some of this other stuff. I mean, not the caffeine-kicking, but maybe I could take some sort of online language classes to save time...maybe even WITH MATT. If you run into him, tell him to give me a call.


  1. Who says you have no useful knowledge to impart? Next time I’m in Brazil and broke, I’ll just stand in the middle of the street, point at my head, and yell “Isto es uma janela!” until they take me to a nice warm cell.

    Also, Balzac would be just like Cuba, too.

  2. Wow...I did not know that about Balzac...20-40 cups of coffee per day? It's almost like he just held down the fast-forward button on his life until he got to the part where he died.

    And in unrelated news, Matt now has 2,048 Facebook friends.