Monday, October 20, 2008

The World Is a Lonely Place

I love that part in the movie Fargo where Mike Yanagita and Margie are having that totally awkward lunch at the Radisson and Mike goes, "You were such a super lady, and I'm...I'm so lonely." Because he's such a sad little man, and I secretly want to poke him with a stick and make him cry.

And yet, there's something really heartbreaking about someone admitting that he or she is lonely. It's almost more upsetting than someone saying, "I have cancer." Because admitting that you have cancer shows an enormous strength and almost implies, "I intend to fight this thing." It makes a person admire you even more. Admitting you're lonely is 1) far less newsworthy and 2) easily equated to saying, "Well, I have no friends."

I always think of Mike Yanagita when I realize I've just spent a weekend holed up in my apartment writing, taking naps, and forcing my cat to spoon with me. And I think to myself, "Is this normal behavior? Should I be enjoying solitude to the point where I don't notice that I haven't had a conversation with another human being for almost 48 hours? Am I weird?"

I've always been this way. When I was a baby, apparently I hated it when my mom tried to snuggle me up in the rocking chair. I wanted my crib, I wanted my pacifier, and I wanted the big-headed hairy people to fuck off.

Luckily, this means I hardly ever feel lonely. Which would come in handy were I ever the lone survivor of a global holocaust. I would probably amuse myself by quoting that part in Strange Brew where Bob says, "I was the last one left on the planet after the holocaust, eh. The earth had been like desvastated by nucular war. Like Russia blew up the U.S., and U.S. blew up Russia, eh. Lucky for me, I had been off planet on vacation at the time of the war, eh. There wasn't much to do. All the bowling alleys had been wrecked. So's I spent most of my time looking for beer." Then, I would giggle for fifteen minutes before setting off to find a library where I could reenact that scene from that episode of The Twilight Zone where Burgess Meredith breaks his glasses.

Unluckily, when I do feel lonely, it drags me down and makes me feel sorry for myself. It starts with a dull bitterness and grows into a general dislike of everyone. Inevitably, that is when I see couples on the subway making out or holding hands and I secretly fantasize about throwing rocks at them. Because, mentally, I'm five years old when the lonelies hit. The feeling always subsides, sometimes the next day, sometimes a week later. And I realize that if people saw this wicked, hateful side of me, they might not want to be my friends at all. And so I draw further into my unhappiness and away from the one thing that could make the lonelies go away: other people.

So, after one of these weekends of loneliness and cat spooning, sometimes one of my other favorite movies comes to mind. It's called The Lonely Guy, and it stars Steve Martin in one of his lesser-known roles. Steve Martin's character, Larry, gets dumped by his girlfriend and suddenly discovers that, for the first time in his life, he's becoming a "lonely guy." Lonely guys buy dogs and take up jogging in an attempt to meet women. They rent cardboard celebrity cutouts and throw parties with them as the guests. When the loneliness becomes too much, lonely guys throw themselves off the Manhattan Bridge in despair. And while this movie is, in fact, terrible, it is also a very brilliant depiction of loneliness at its most pathetic. At one point in the movie, Larry's friend Warren, played by Charles Grodin, convinces Larry to go with him to buy a fern. They dub the ferns their "guys" and depart when Warren says, "Does your guy want to say goodbye to my guy?"

I don't have ferns but I do have philadendrons that I named after Harry Potter characters.

So, how about it? Does your guy want to say goodbye to my guy?


Andrea said...

I really liked this piece. The weird part is, I am strangely jealous of your solitary weekend. I forced myself to go "be social" (that is, go out on dates) and then was exhausted and bummed out about having no "me time." I wondered why I make myself go out at all, since I'm pretty darn happy by myself. And then I worry that that is not normal. And that I will die alone.

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@andrea: I just wanted an excuse to quote Fargo, which is in my top 5 favorite movies of all time.

How did the dates go? Anything promising?

It is nice to spend some time alone once in a while. And, actually, I think everyone needs to in order to maintain their individuality.

You will not die alone. I won't let you die alone. If we both end up unmarried forever, let's go to the movies every Saturday and throw popcorn at the teenagers.

Jen said...

Wanna be lonely together? And therefore not be lonely?

I go through stages where I want to hide away from everyone (hermit mode) and I'm happy alone. Other times, not so much. The worst is when you do have people around and you still feel lonely. Suxor.

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@jen: I know that feeling well.

We definitely need to do something soon.

Andrea said...

I like your idea! Yes, snacking, movies, AND torturing children. Love it.

Andrea said...

Oh about the dates- I guess I could have made out on one of them, but then I was just like, nah, it's too much trouble. I'm not even kidding.

I think I need an alias.

sigourneyfever said...

Oh dude, once again you have described a feeling that I know all too well. I like to be by myself, too, though I think it ties in with a general fear of people, in that if I'm by myself, I can't screw up, people can't make fun of me, or I can't feel stupid for not being a x,y, or z as everyone else. But you're right, when the lonelies kick in, it's the absolute worst, and I have the same reaction as you, which is to withdraw even further. I think the only thing that works is just forcing myself to do things, and then, when I do, I realize how much I'm missing.

Also, I have never named a plant after a Harry Potter character, but my Wii is named The Hemulen, after the Moomintroll character, so I'm right there with you.

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@andrea: Oh, I know that feeling well. Do you have dating burnout?

@sigourneyfever: My computer is named She-ra, Princess of Power.

King of New York Hacks said...

only 29 and you SAW Strange Brew ...I am impressed. I made my 13 year old niece watch it last year and she loved it...Not too many people have seen that classic (as I sip some MeisterBrau). Sooo what can I say except..." You're such a Sooooooper Ladddyyy" . LOL Made her watch Fargo too.

Jenn said...

Hmm, seems us writers in general need to have our alone time and savor it for that's where our inspiration gathers and gets ciphered out on the page!

I admit there are times when I think I'd be lonely if I hadn't gotten married and instead chose to travel the world and settle down later own. But then I consider that me having my alone time in a familiar place is comforting and having it elsewhere would be too much solitude.

I do love being alone or at least drowning out everything around me to work in a room in solitude. Perhaps too much as you mentioned. And agree that surrounding yourself with good friends can be a good antidote. That and some meaningless sex on occasion. (On occasion!)

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@king of new york hacks: Imma take you to the looney bin.

Fargo is a work of genius. I love a movie that is horrific and yet somehow very funny.

The other guy was a little older. He looked like the Marlboro man. But maybe I just think that because he smoked a lot of Marlboros. You know, like a subconscious type thing?

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@jenn: Meaningless sex requires too much effort. I would have to put on pants.

Jen said...

@Mayor: Generally pants are REMOVED for sex, not put on.

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@jen: Yeah, if you're going to do some boring missionary like the missionaries did back in the mission with their bibles.

laia. said...

hi. you are me.
i am you.
except i dont have any plants.

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@laia: Do you want a plant? I can root a cutting from Gilderoy Lockhart.

Jen said...

@Beth: Hehe. I am unduly amused by your plant names. Maybe I should name my plants. Right now they are just freshman plant and graduation plant.

@Laia: Freshman plant is trying to take over my apartment, so if you ever want some cuttings, you are more than welcome to them.

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@jen: jody! calls Lucy "Snape" because she killed Albus Dumbledore. Aberforth, luckily, still lives.

She also likes to munch on Filius Flitwick, so I have to keep him on a high shelf.

msdirector said...

I know that loneliness funk well. I just get in these moods where if I pass happy couples or happy groups on the street, I want to hiss at them and throw things. Instead I pull my headphones tighter to my ears and glower as I shove past their sidewalk-hogging asses. It's not pretty.

We can haz lunch soon?

Oh, and I have decided you should write the "Shouts and Murmurs" column for the New Yorker. Your pieces sometimes have the same tone and you're funnier than almost all their writers, except David Sedaris. He's funny too.

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@msdirector: Let's definitely have lunch very, very soon. What days of the week are you in my neighborhood again?

I love Shouts and Murmurs (which I originally abbreviated S&M and thought it might confuse you), but I am intimidated by it. One of these days I will. I promise.

margo channing said...

This was a grand piece, great movie references. Fargo, Strange Brew sure but frickin' Lonely Guy!, I haven't even seen this movie but my parents use to quote it all the time so I feel like I have.
I, too, wrestle with feeling like I should be more socially active. At the same time, I'm old enough to know that the best club is always my house. The best music, the best booze.
Maybe we could start an international junior curmudgeon club.

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@margo: I know, right? Wine, pizza, Dr. House whenever I want him. Best club ever.

I love the Lonely Guy. I like it when Larry is writing greeting cards.

Hi there, Grandpa. Happy birthday to you. And if you live until next year, happy birthday then too.

Will you be my valentine? Think about it a bit. If you will, that's okay. If not, who gives a shit?

angiesyounglover said...

ah, so yah married norm son-of-a-gunderson!

first, my sister and i always quote that line from fargo whenever we can, really stretch out and exaggerate the way he says it, "SUPAH LADEE, such a SUPAH LADEE," so, nice opener!

secondly, you know what makes me feel very, very lonely? when a group of my friends will schedule an outing or do something and not ask me to go. it makes me feel expendable and lonely and hateful. and then i hole up (almost to punish them, though i know they have no idea that i'm angry) and become reclusive. i don't have shitty friends or anything, but you know that inevitably happens, someone's left out once and a while, and when it's my turn, oh god i feel so lonely.

anyway, self-inflicted loneliness, i can get on board with, too. no people means no let downs, and tons of time to self-indulge and be blissfully selfish with your time. as long as you don't go telling people your wife died of leukemia...!!

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@ayl: My mom always walks around saying, "Noooooorm, Prowler needs a jump," and "I made you some eggs, Margie," and "It's my deal here."

My mom is weird. But entertaining weird.

Oh, lordy. Do I ever know that being left out feeling. It's even worse when they come back and tell you about it and you say, "Oh, that's weird that I wasn't invited," and they say, "We didn't think you would want to come," or "We could only fit three people in the car." Fine. Don't tell me about it. Jerk.

Jen said...

@AYL: Dude, being left out of outings is the WORST. Lonely and bitter is a bad combination.

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@jen: Ironically, I'm a terribly perpetrator of doing that. Which I suspect you maaaaay have noticed by now.



angiesyounglover said...

@mayor: right! we didn't think you'd want to come...SO WHAT MAKES YOU THINK I WANNA HEAR ABOUT IT.

@jen: bartender, i'd like a glass of i hate the world, and a double shot of i hate my fuckin friends


The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@ayl: Do you need me to break into the Bridget Jones pajama pants-wearing version of "All By Myself"? Because I can.

I really should throw an emo pajama party. We could watch movies like Girl, Interrupted and read excerpts from The Bell Jar.

Jen said...

@Mayor: So this party will be recreating my high school experience? Awesome!

I've watched "Girl, Interrupted" once. Alone. In a basement. There was sobbing involved.

Go on, just try to out-emo me!

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@jen: I saw it on a double date with this guy who I'm quite certain thought I was insane.

I will not out emo you. But I can defeat you in a whore off.

angiesyounglover said...

@mayor: i love that movie. i also loved the book a lot a lot.

The Honorable Mayor of Bethville said...

@ayl: It strikes me as one of those books I should fight against like, "Not all single women are like that!" But, it is still really entertaining.