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Saturday, March 2, 2013
“Are we having fun yet?”
I can still hear some or other joker asking this through the years, in the cold pouring rain of a backpacking trip, or stuck on the road in a blizzard, or camping at the beach in a biting March wind, with gritty sand in the biscuits and iron in the spigot water and daylight winking out early with un-balmy starkness.
In fact, back in those primeval days of non-digital doings, I remember people having huge amounts of fun — despite the rusty water and rainstorms, backfiring cars, bad shoes, lead paint and other imperfections of molecule land.
It even seems that, when mixing up some true fun, a base of imperfection, some “making-do” substitutions, and the creativity those evoked, all composed the best recipe. No batch turned out the same.
This has recurred to me many times in recent years, as I walk around wondering about the planet, the future and past, people young and old, and why human unhappiness would coincide with material excess.
Of course, because walking around confused is my notion of a good time (right up there with singing train-wreck songs, doing the foot-clompy polka, swimming laps and scrubbing a floor), I’m not the most qualified person to analyze fun.
But because we Americans pour so much energy, money and time into what is packaged as fun, and because humans through history have never been so flanked by entertainment, shows, games, casinos, big-money sports, ads featuring fun-having people selling something required for fun — it seems like a useful question.
ARE we having fun yet?
I wondered it again last week, hearing a news story about Penn State’s pre-St.-Patrick’s-Day bash.
Students created “State Patrick’s Day” in 2007, as they realized their spring break would bracket the saint’s day that year and deprive them of campus-area fun.
Again, the word “fun” is used loosely here, kind of like the term “saint’s day.”
Tom King, State College police chief, described this religiously attended fun through ground-level, secular — and sober — eyes.
“It’s our busiest 36 hours of the year … busy with the fights, physical assaults, sexual assaults, drunk driving, vandalism, people throwing up and urinating in people’s yards.”
Fun! Masses of partiers would also drive in from other colleges, eager for a reason to binge-drink and adding more crowds and traffic snags to the intentional melee.
The college was setting out to curb these problems this year by paying local bars and food joints $5,000 each to decline serving alcohol last weekend. Later reports indicated that this expensive, temporary prohibition helped, though drinking continued unabated in dorms and apartments.
The story left me with a dispirited hangover that dogged me all day.
Maybe that’s because I’ve never had an actual hangover, nor any understanding of how drinking brings anyone joy rather than anesthetizing it.
When people already are in pain or grief, on some battlefield having a leg sawed-off, or attending an all-night wake for somebody sorely missed, rounds of whiskey seem like a great idea.
But pain-killing and fun aren’t necessarily the same — even if our society increasingly confuses the two, or resorts to the first for lack of the second.
Nothing to do
Drinking-equated-with-good-times is just one symbol of a larger trend. But it was the first example of ruined fun I noticed during my own college days.
These took place on a heavenly, summer-camp-like landscape — a bell-gonging, vast-wooded, pond-splashed, wildflower-sprinkled, pine-fragrant mountain plateau in Tennessee.
It was an hour by car to “anyplace” (meaning either Nashville or Chattanooga, Tenn.). So the school, though academically rigorous, had acquired a reputation for much weekend-drinking, because there was “nothing else to do.”
This assessment stumped me, the way it does when various people have looked at Mill Mountain in Roanoke and decided that lack of a cocktail lounge left “nothing to do” there — no fun.
In fact, everywhere on that old mountain campus was fun — music jams and Frisbee, night swims and canoeing, plays and skits and swing-band dances where professors taught us their jitterbugs and fox trot.
Everywhere were fields and woods to camp in under the stars. We skated on ponds, went sledding and ran for miles on old forestry roads.
Yet amid this paradise, frat parties occurred mechanically each weekend, drenched stickily with alcohol, too crowded for dancing and too amplifier-deafened for dialogue. It frequently occurred to me, mashed into one sour setting or another, that the people there weren’t sure how to have a good time.
“That’s why we drink,” one drunken friend told me.
But here, I’ve reached my limit. Of words, that is! And I’m sobered to realize that the attempt to write about “fun” has possibly produced a kill-joy column.
We’ll address the topic from a happier angle, next time. Feel free, meanwhile, to contribute your thoughts on it, for fun.
Liza Field’s column runs every other Saturday in Extra.
Weather JournalEarly mix, then ice storm Sunday