It shouldn’t surprise you that I was a kind of weird kid. Sure, I loved playing games and watching movies along with all of my other friends. I was even in the Cub Scouts. (NOTE: I didn’t make it further than the bear badge, because I got really bored of knots and racing wooden blocks–and I think my Dad was getting weirded out by having to take me to a church immediately after Hebrew lessons every week.)
But there was one thing that made me different from the rest of my friends: my ambitions later in life.
See, the normal kids among us wanted to be police officers, firefighters, soldiers, or murderers–like every well-balanced fie year old. They’d talk about it all, discussing the pros and cons of each profession. “I get to have a gun!” said one. “Yeah, well I get to play with fire!” another would respond. “Yeah?” said the weird kid who sniffed only black markers, “Well, I get to bathe in the warm blood of those who cross me.”
We’d laugh, then ostracise him by not letting him play hide-and-seek or foursquare with us. Truly, those were the halcyon days, there in the frozen tundra of Canton, Ohio. We knew not what life had in store for us, and the worst dilemmas we had to face were rushing home from school to get back in time for Power Rangers.
But I was different. Where all of my friends wanted to be something that would allow them to act out their innate, childhood fantasies of firing a gun or playing with fire when their parents had spent years telling them not to, I wanted to be a psychiatrist. And no, before you ask, it wasn’t because I knew it would make me a lot of money.
I wanted to help people. I didn’t know why, but I felt that everyone around me was flawed in some way, and that I could help make them feel better. Now, with the power of hindsight, I look back and I know why I wanted to be a psychiatrist: Bob Newhart.
Surely, it wasn’t because of the man’s stellar good looks. And I sure as hell didn’t know that he was a comedian in real life. This was, after all, before I realized that TV was fake–in my mind, the only fake things were in books (especially Goosebumps), and the real things flew by my eyes in vivid color. (Of course, there was an exception for cartoons. I knew Rocko was fake, because nothing that cool could’ve existed without its parents telling it to go to sleep.)
I figured that the best way to go about my compulsion to help people–woah, you just went “What the hell?” and I heard it from here. Let me explain.
Until I moved to Tennessee and was introduced to a friend of mine, I was a Good Human Being. I was very polite, I had a wide range of friends, and whenever someone talked sternly to me, I broke down in tears because I knew I had failed them in some horrible, world-ending way. And then I started hanging out with that certain friend, who introduced me to things like not reading, video games, and the Internet. I started swearing at the TV set when my character’s starfighter didn’t pull off a barrel roll, and it was pretty much downhill from there.
Included in that Good Human Being stage was trying to rectify bad situations in the most diplomatic situation possible. My brother would be shouted at by my Mom and Dad for something, and I’d hobble over (I was two in this instance) and offer my pacifier. (Once again: Then I had empathy; now, I have schadenfreude.)
So, I suppose, it was perfectly natural that I’d want to be a part of a tradition that had helping people as its cornerstone. (This, of course, was before I’d seen What About Bob? or, indeed, knew about greed and stupidity.) Now, I look back at it and think that this sort of aspiration is the sign of a neurotic in the making, or that I’m overly serious by nature, and this whole front of joking and humor and satire is nothing but a facade, behind which lurks something deep and–God help me–Literary.
Then again, I consider some cliches like “laughter is the best medicine,” or Mel Brooks’s quote about humor being a defense against the universe, and I have to wonder if, perhaps, I, like Patch Adams, could heal through chuckles. Or, hell, if nothing else, I could get a movie deal out of endangering peoples’ lives when they need serious medical attention.