Ode to My 40th Reunion
by Cliff Mazer, Ph.D.
Sure, there is alot going on in the world. There are possible nuclear meltdowns in Japan, major earthquakes, tsunamis, widespread devastation, a new war in Libya, an old war in Iraq. Dont even get me started about healthcare and the economy. But what do most people really spend their time thinking about in private? The answer is themselves. We think about ourself partially to avoid contemplating the world events that we cannot fathom let alone hope to solve. It may seem selfish, but most people when not busy working or raising children are busy fantasizing. Have you ever sat around thinking what it would be like after 40 years to see your old high school friends and other assorted peers you used to hate? Daydreaming about showing up at ones reunion all buff and dripping in worldly success is a perfectly normal psychological phenomena reflecting our common need to create satisfying fantasies and express normal narcissistic needs, even if they are mostly self-justifying, or in my case, somewhat delusional. As a Clinical Psychologist I am often called upon to represent a mature and balanced viewpoint. I encourage my clients to avoid extreme thinking and behavior and take deep breaths while contemplating the realistic “middle way”. Denial, another prevalent psychological defense mechanism has allowed me to engage in these quasi-satisfying reunion fantasies for nearly 40 years without considering the actual passage of time. Two weeks ago I realized that this August is my actual 40th class reunion in Highland Park, Illinois, and I had to accept the fact that I now more closely resemble an aging bald man with sleep apnea than a muscled Adonis with an Armani wardrobe and warlock fangs. Once again, it appears my personal life has conspired to reveal my tendency towards too much….of a bad thing.
Not only do I fantasize too much about what I am not, but I currently live a lifestyle that is not exactly conducive to healthy living or even to an ego gratifying high school reunion in four months. Like everyone else in Atlanta in the springtime, I enjoy being outdoors, but mostly just to grill the heck out of my meat-laden meals and then quickly scamper back inside to wolf it all down. Healthy moderation seems to be only a theoretical concept, sort of like black holes and anti-matter. Last week, after hearing my laundry list of physical, mental and emotional complaints and general kvetching, my family doctor, a very healthy, fit looking man around my age, told me I need to “generally cut back”. I know what he means. Too much salt, too much sugar, too many carbs and calories, too few push-ups, and most dreadful of all (especially for a therapist and self proclaimed writer) too many words. Having been told by friends and foe alike, I cannot seem to keep what goes in or out of my mouth lean, brief, or “to the bone” as real writers like to say. In fact, usually I like to eat the bones too, crunching down on them and enthusiastically sucking out the fatty marrow, whether it is a T-bone steak, rack of ribs, or juicy rottiserie chicken. Usually the next day I make an appointment to see my dentist to fix the gold filling I broke in the process. So, the reasonably priced $8 chicken dinner ends up really costing me $268. My mouth has more tinsel colored fillings than the Christmas cannoli I saw on Cake Boss.
Too much seems to be my hidden vice in life. I try to hide it all in isolated instances of understatement. For example, my cars are usually clean and my home is tastefully decorated. Look closer and you’ll see my home is a virtual museum and living shrine to architectural excess. My TV show would be called, Not Ever Gonna Flip a House for Profit. The farther down one goes on the never ending home remodeling tour, the more “Winchester Castle” it all gets. By the time you get to the basement it’s almost Freddy Krugeresque….or at least a good future episode of Hoarders. I actually had a dream that my sons called up the Hoarders producer and that a busload of camera men, OCD specialists and “organizational consultants” came out to film the dramatic finale to be shown nationwide…….on the same weekend as my high school reunion…
Whether it is parsimony or parsley, I cant seem to “Let it Be” as the Beatles put it in 1970, just a short year before I graduated high school. My main mantra must have somehow become over time, “While less is more, way too much is even better”. Even when cooking “healthy”, I feel the ghostly presence of other epic purveyors of excess, (eg. Julia Child, Emeril, etc.) who unexpectedly inhabit my body and urge me to add “more spice”, throw in a little lard, or just “take it up a notch”…. The phrase “everything but the kitchen sink” is perceived by my hypomanic mind to be a kind of rare complement, rather than what it really is, a euphemism for intemperance.
It’s not that I dont appreciate the idea of Zen like simplicity or the spartan aesthetic of Japanese minimalism. It’s just that some other part of me sneaks in like a stealthy Samurai to throw in some presumed “added value”, or further accessorize the setting, the sandwich or the sentence. How normal is it of me to stay in an expensive hotel room on vacation and still be thinking about going shopping to replace the cheap looking art on the walls? Look, I know the problem and the feelings that accompany it. I’m a Psychologist dammit!! I watch Hoarders. Everybody, including myself is clearly thinking, “Come on you crazy fool! Get rid of all that worthless crap!! Why in God’s Name are you sitting there sifting through dirty kitty litter for measly grains of still useable product??!! Let’s face it…those people dont need just another pill or set of pillowcases from TJ Maxx. They need alot of love, support and thick leather restraints to hold them down while a caravan of 1-800-JUNK trucks come to load up all their piles and piles of dreck.
They say every solution begins by first acknowledging the problem. I’m not yet ready to do the whole “admitting to ones powerlessness” thing, at least not completely when it comes to my calories, consonants, grams of fat or grammar. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be ready to go where no Sheen has gone before and hand over my engorged Ego to my Higher Power. Right now, I just want to make a simple omelet for lunch-brunch. Just a nice healthy organic turkey bacon omelet with a little avocado and Monterrey Jack cheese…and maybe a dash of Mrs. Dash and black pepper..and a dollop of fat free sour cream…. I guess I’ll hold on the bad sodium nitrates, curb the carbs, nix the artificial sweeteners like my good doctor said to, and refrain from unwarranted shopping sprees and garage sales until further notice. Maybe I’ll even go for a springtime walk or two and take deep cleansing breaths. I will attempt to meditate silently on world peace and try to see myself more realistically, regardless of how much money my high school classmates make selling Pork futures and Soybeans at the Chicago Board of Trade. Still, I doubt anybody at the reunion is going to get me to shut up or successfully take a vow of silence. I realize I’m still way more Wizard of Oz than Dr. Oz, but I’m gonna give it my best shot. May Julia Child and Open Pit Barbecue Sauce forgive me…..
Cliff Mazer, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist in Private Practice. He specializes in sex therapy and eating disorders. He resides in Atlanta, Georgia and has a thing for Pirates. He plans to attend his 40th high school reunion in Highland Park, Ill. in August, 2011 Contact 404-932-7193