Sometimes, when you write something, you reveal more about yourself than you consciously intended. This may be one of those times.
Stop salivating, it’s not about that. And by the way, when I refer to “that”, I have no idea what I’m talking about. Though, apparently, if you were salivating, you do. Knock it off!
It’s not that, it’s this. Which, who knows, if you probe beneath the surface, may actually be “that.” This is considerably less embarrassing. Which is probably why I’m writing about this and not that.
Okay. Enough of that.
My cousin Herschel used to joke, “There are two kinds of bald people – those with hair and those without hair.” Inside cousin Herschel’s silliness lies an insightful observation. In any category you choose to mention – except for specifically defined categories, like baldness – there always appears to be two kinds of people.
There are two kinds of people: those who lavish themselves with treats and those who don’t. This choice of behavior is not necessarily connected to whether or not you have money. Not having money does not preclude you from lavishing yourself with treats. They just have to be cheap treats, like a lovely walk, or a deep, refreshing breath of air, or a stimulating peek at an attractive person of the opposite sex, or the same sex, if that’s where your eye goes.
My focus here is this: Are you the kind of person who overloads themselves with treats, or do you consciously modulate your treats?
I imagine I’ve given my hand away – as I inevitably do everywhere – by my choice of descriptives. When you choose the word “overload” to apply to people who lavish themselves with treats, you’re pretty much saying, “Those guys are pigs!” Conversely, “consciously modulating” your treats screams “discipline.”
I never promised I’d be objective.
I ration my treats. I just sighed after writing that. So it must have been a relief to get that off my chest. I’ll say it again. Maybe I’ll feel even better. I ration my treats.
I do feel better. I’d repeat it a third time, but there’s only so “good” I allow myself to feel. As I said, I ration my treats.
This division of people into those two categories is hardly unique to our times. I remember learning that in ancient Greece, there were the Stoics and the Epicureans. When it came to volume in treat allocation, the Epicureans said, “Everything, please. And then, more.” The Stoics said – not “No treats at all, ever!” – at the very least they enjoyed the, for some people – including me – the underrated pleasure of regulating their treats. Stoics simply believed in sensible limits.
I also have the vague remembrance of which camp you find yourself in having something to do with early toilet training, though it’s hard to see that could apply to the ancient Greeks – those guys didn’t have toilets. It’s possible, however, that you don’t actually need toilets for the principle to apply.
For me, limiting my treats has nothing to do with aligning myself with a bunch of tight-assed Greek philosophers. It just feels better. To me. To people like the Epicureans, “Everything, please, and then, more” feels better, and what I’m doing feels like those religious people who enjoyed whipping themselves.
It’s not at all like whipping myself.
I like great cigars. But I smoke them, maybe three times a year. That’s not because I’m cheap and it’s not because I have money problems. I mean, it’s not like we’re talking about buying a private jet. Great cigars are expensive, but they’re not out of my league. Especially if I only buy one three times a year.
Maybe you’re thinking right now, “If it’s not a money issue, Earl, why not spring for a great cigar, say, four times a year? Good point. I could do that. And I am not at all troubled by the “slippery slope” problem. You know, you start buying a great cigar four times a year and before you know it, it’s once a month, then it’s once every two weeks, then once a week, and blah! – you’re smoking ten cigars a day. I’m not concerned about that.
Except in this sense.
The way I see it, if you turn your three-times-a-year treat into “whenever I want it”, the specialness that makes a treat a treat inevitably disappears, the joyfully-looked-forward-to excitement unavoidably downgrading to “everyday routine.”
The exceptional becomes ordinary. It’s brushing your teeth. An emotional deflation from “Yahoo!” to “eh.”
I don’t usually feel sorry for fabulously wealthy people. That’s just my prejudice. In this case, however, I have to admit to a trickle of sympathy. Imagine being so rich – Bill Gates rich, though as rich as he is, he still doesn’t seem to be able to get a decent haircut – imagine you’re so incredibly wealthy that you could have as much as you want of whatever you want whenever you want it.
You get where I’m going here?
If “treats” devalues to “everyday occurrence”, what happens to “magnificently special?” I know a couple of really rich people, but they don’t discuss these things, possibly to spare me the envy
“You have no idea how out of your reach our spectacular treats are.”
I’m grateful for their thoughtfulness, but, you know, how exceptional can these treats really be?
“We have a personal chef who prepares us dishes nobody’s ever tasted before. And then we kill him.”
“We have season’s tickets to the Dodgers on first base. Not on the first base line. On first base!”
“On my way to work, instead of listening to the radio, I have the actual Rolling Stones entertaining me from the back seat. They sit in the car all day, and then they sing for me on the way home.”
[PLACE YOUR IDEA OF AN OPULENT TREAT HERE]
All those things are great. But they can’t stay great if you get them every day.
I never want “the special” to become ordinary. Maybe I’m too careful in this regard – I may actually be miles from the line – but it’s important for me to protect those treats’ power to delight me. It’s a conscious choice. I allow myself less treats, not because I don’t like treats, but because I value them so highly.
And there’s also that toilet training issue.
On Monday, I’ll be publishing my 100th post. That happened fast, didn’t it? People have informed me they can’t keep up with my posts, suggesting – or maybe I simply inferred – that I’m wasting material by writing too many posts too closely together. I don’t know what to do about that. I’m just happy to have stories (and ideas and opinions) I’m excited to tell you about.
If you have any general comments about this blog, or just want to, I don’t know, express an acknowledging “Way to go” or “Stop doing this” or something, I’d be honored if you’d take the time to pass your responses along. A cake will not be necessary. I’m trying not to eat sugar. And I don’t think my Hewlett Packard has a feature for printing cake.
Anyway, thanks a lot for reading.