Tuesday, August 17, 2010

One on Zero

The chart above shows that this post has a serious, quasi-academic quality

Way back in 1984, in the Pleistocene era, there was a movie called "The Lonely Guy." I always remember it as an Albert Brooks movie, but it was Charles Grodin who actually played the title character. Sometimes hard to separate one sad sack from another I guess. This was in Grodin's BBSBWCTS (Before Becoming a Smug Bore With a Cable Talk Show) period, when he was funny on screen, and I remember having some laughs and feeling the pathos of the story. Steve Martin was in it, too, so there's that.

Grodin plays Warren Evans, a man who finds his wife in flagrante with another man, gets divorced, becomes lonely and despondent, chokes on a toothpaste tube cap and dies, and is eaten by his cats before his body is discovered. Wait a minute, that's not right - this is a comedy with a Neil Simon screenplay - I think I was imagining it as a Coen Brothers movie or something. Sorry. The actual story has Warren rallying from his loss, becoming rich and famous, and getting a new girl in the end. (Not getting her in the end, literally - I mean, it's PG-13 or something - but you know what I mean.)

Anyway, I haven't seen this movie since it came out, but I remember the cute scenes of Warren sitting alone in the park with a hangdog look and it all being mildly amusing, but knowing the Hollywood ending would make it all right before the ninety minutes ran out. And watching it then, having no real grip on what it's like to be lonely.

After almost two years of living on my own, the last eight months fully alone, I've gained new perspective on the whole thing. Some observations:

  • When you live alone you can get away with all kinds of slobbiness - leaving hairs in the sink, dishes in the sink, (maybe the same sink), sleeping in your clothes with the TV on, sleeping in the sink with the dishes - the world is your oyster.
  • When you live alone you can turn your music up as loud as you want until the Police come, talk back to the radio when they play a stupid song, hang any fucking thing you want on the wall even if it's crooked, sing in the shower at the top of your lungs.
  • When you live alone you can have a brilliant exchange with yourself about how "Star Trek: The Next Generation" is now just as fakey and laughable 20 years later as the original "Star Trek" was 20 years after it came out, and all the while no one knows you've been thinking about "Star Trek" unless you slip up and write about it on your blog. Ooops.
  • When you live alone, you can come home at the end of the day knowing there are no surprises waiting for you. On the other hand, you can come home at the end of the day knowing there are no surprises waiting for you.

More people live alone these days. According to the Berkeley Blog:

Around 1900, a few percent of Americans lived by themselves; in 1960, 6% did; and now about 15% do.

These statistics tell us that the incidence of people living alone has risen 250% in 50 years. At this rate, in another 150 years 1,000% of people will be living alone, and at that point I think it will be really hard to find an apartment.

Most of the people who live alone are old, widows and widowers. Younger people waiting longer to get married are another group living alone. And then there are divorced men living alone - but the stats show those lonely guys tend to co-habitate again within a couple of years, due to the guilt they feel for leaving hairs in the sink and needing to be punished.

And so you ask, what have you learned from this experience of living alone? Do you have the insights of a silent monk? An ascetic? Of Thoreau? Sadly, no. The main things I've learned is I've got to like myself more if I'm going to be my roommate, and never buy a really big loaf of bread because the Goddamn thing will be moldy before you can eat half of it.

Another 150 years, I'll have it all figured out.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Atheists at happy hour and other thoughts

If you're young, smart, have a little money and don't believe in God, chances are you're looking forward to the start of your weekend and knocking back a few. In fact, chances are you don't wait for the weekend - according to the latest Gallup survey on drinking habits. Now, you could just follow that link and read the thing for yourself, but I recommend you pour yourself a fresh one and let me lay it all out for you, along with my sparkling observations of the meaning behind the data. Unlike Gallup, I have no science to back up my claims, but that's never stopped me before.

First, let's qualify that first sentence:
  • "Young" in this case means 54 or less (I like that definition of young) because the numbers are the same 18 to 54. In the 55+ range there are fewer drinkers, and I take that to mean at a certain age you either (a) lose your taste for the stuff, or (b) lose you ability to find your car keys so you can't get to the liquor store, or (c) lose your ability to have any aspirations that are then dashed, leading to the drowning of sorrows.
  • "Smart" in this case actually means "educated." The survey shows about 8 of 10 college graduates drink booze compared to about 6 of 10 who have a high-school-or-less education.Kind of counter-intuitive if you tend to think in stereotypes (and come on now, who doesn't?) but perhaps there is a direct relationship between going to college and becoming a drinker. Unless you're at BYU or some Bible College, social life during your higher education floats on rivers of beer and shots and beer and just shots of things you would have spit out if your mom gave it to you for a cold.
  • "Have a little money" means the more you make the more likely you are to drink. Less than half of people with incomes under $20,000 a year use alcohol, while 8 of 10 who make more than $75,000 do, and all the people in between fit neatly on the line between the two. The quick conclusion might be that you have disposable income, and habits require money, so poor people just don't have the money. But the opposite is true of other unnecessary behaviors like smoking and playing the lottery and buying "People" magazine and "Reader's Digest."
  • "Atheist" here means - well, people who don't believe in God. That category in the survey also wraps in agnostics (people who are afraid to say they're atheists, just in case there is a God and he/she is listening) and people who have "no religious identity" (people who are too drunk to care whether there's a God or not.) 8 of 10 non-believers drink, compared to less than 6 of 10 who fit the "Protestant/other non-Catholic Christian" moniker. Catholics hit the bottle at the same rate as atheists, by the way. (Which reminds me of a statement my mother made one time when I was a child, to the effect that "Catholics can do anything they want because they just go in and get forgiven now and then," which sent me a lasting message that our family religion came with permanent judgement. THAT really made me want to go to church.And speaking of going to church, if you do a lot of that you are much less likely to drink, because the only thing worse than sitting through a sermon sober is sitting through a sermon hungover.)
I come to this conclusion - free advice for people in the booze biz:
If you own a bar you should be targeting this "young, smart, affluent, atheist" demographic. Maybe instead of beer signs and sports heroes on the walls there should be shelves of the great books and portraits of Madeline Murray O'Hair. If your place if filling up at 5pm with people who think we're just soulless meat sacks and there is no God, it should be called "Hopeless Hour" instead of "Happy Hour."