"At any streetcorner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face."
When Albert Camus wrote those words in his essay "The Myth of Sisyphus," he wasn't referring to all those political campaign signs that have sprung up at the intersection of 14th and Idaho Street. He was referring to the big stuff: The grand, impenetrable indifference of the universe to your individual struggle; the times when the stench of the question "why?" just won't dissipate; the realization that all the knowledge, all the commentary and all the commentary on the commentary are flimsy, temporary constructions that are destined to be forgotten. Sigh.
Maybe you've never dallied in those types of concerns. Maybe you just did for the first time. (If so, sorry.) But what Camus was saying--the gender specificity of his language aside--was that it can happen to anyone, no matter how smart, involved, out or sassy they've gotten over a summer, or over a life. Double sigh.
So, what is there to do if, after following all of Dr. Thônng's tips, you still find yourself bitten by the existential angst-fly this summer? You can keep reading Camus in hopes of finding some version of redemption--except that the only thing more absurd than the universe itself is the price Vintage Books is currently charging for a flimsy Camus paperback. Otherwise, you can insulate yourself from the nothingness of being through booze, porn and work, you can ignore it until it puts you in therapy, or--here's the BW-endorsed candidate--you can take the angst to its logical conclusion, and then use your newfound freedom from moral accountability to make yourself a nuisance to everyone who seems content and comfortable.
In other words, to use a parlance from a few decades back, you can "freak out the squares."
But here's the trouble: Staging an old-fashioned freak-out isn't just as simple as wiggling your fingers and saying, "Yes, indeed I am a freak. Oh, man. Me so frizzity-freaky." If you'd like to let your freak flag fly but don't know where to begin, here are some surefire (and legal!) ways to get under the skin of your uptight contemporaries this summer.
If you went to college--especially in the 1990s or 21st century--you might have gotten the impression that the path to wisdom lies in inclusive cultural dialogue and intellectual collaboration. Don't feel bad if you labor under this common misconception, but make no mistake: It's a bunch of postmodern drivel.
The real path to wisdom (especially if by "wis" you mean "freaking out" and by "dom," you mean "squares") lies in making short, condescending and indefensible statements that discourage conversation, leaving you as the clear victor.
If you're a beginning freak, these catcalls will give you a taste for the wonderful world of hassling complete strangers for no good reason. Initially, for purposes of self-preservation, you might consider simply yelling them from a moving car.
• To hippies: "Get a job!"
• To police officers: "Hatecrimesayswhat?"
• To people in suits: "Get a job!"
• To runners: "Run all you want, you'll never get 'there.'"
• To children: "Get a job!"
• To smokers: "How long have you been doing that?" (Whatever the answer, just roll your eyes).
• To people with tattoos: "Doesn't Kevin Federline have that one?"
• To people who yell stuff at strangers: "Sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of your own irrelevance."
Bear in mind, these are just the warm-ups. Once you're comfortable enough with your own meaninglessness to say anything to anyone in any setting, you'll no doubt want to try out some statements that actually make you sound slightly clever instead of simply like a jackass. In this case, you will find your greatest ally to be the freakiest culture in the history of Western Civilization, the Romans. When they weren't building aqueducts or feeding folks to stuff, the Romans spent plenty of time writing smarmy little proverbs that are as timely and useful today as ever--that is to say, not very.
Say you see a square walking down the street, and you respond by making an appropriate gesture, such as pointing at that person and yelling "Square!" Whatever the square's response, there are a legion of appropriately snide Roman sayings with which to freak them out in reply. For instance:
• If the square ignores you: "For a stupid man, silence is a substitute for wisdom."
• If the square denies being a square and claims to be "cool": "They falsely call miserable slavery 'peace.'"
• If someone else defends the square: "When one dog barks, another dog immediately starts to bark."
• If the square says you are not making any sense: "Unless you are wise yourself, you listen to a wise man in vain."
• If the square beats you up: "Even a sheep, if injured, fights back against someone who threatens it."
If you came of age in the 1980s, you might associate the idea of square-freak-outing with a specific image--probably a sullen teen holding a ghetto-blaster, blaring either a shrill political punk band like the Dead Kennedys or hardcore rap like 2 Live Crew. That insolent churl had it half-right. He or she knew that providing a frightening soundtrack to the machinery of modern life is a great way to raise the gray hairs on the backs of wrinkled necks. But where the punks and gangstas got it wrong is that people eventually get comfortable with even the most astonishing words.
Case in point: The c-word, the n-word the f-word and the other c-word are only worth a PG-13 rating at best anymore. The lesson here is if you really want to freak someone out on an historic scale--i.e., give them a feeling of dread that they'll take home and lose sleep over for years to come--you've got to go nonverbal.
Next time you're sitting with your boombox in front of the mall, pop the classics into your deck--the classical classics. Start with something dissonant and urgent, like Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. From there, move to a grand, throbbing eruption like Richard Strauss's Also Spracht Zarathustra (aka, the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey). End your program with a clamorous chase-tune like Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from Peer Gynt. When any squares within a block radius hear the tunes and realize how un-urgent, un-grand and not-worth-chasing their own lives are in comparison ... freak-out achieved.
If you're a child of the 1970s, you're a square. Sorry to be the one to break it to you, but when your generation's most popular version of the archetypal hero's quest was John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever ... 'nuff said.
But there's hope even for you, meathead. This summer, forget the Travolta strut. Try running instead. Sprint from your car to the office, from the office to the coffee shop, from your desk to the bathroom--anywhere you'd usually walk. Aside from the obvious health benefits, this method will allow you to freak out a maximum number of squares per square-mile, so to speak, and in just a few minutes' time.
Sure, you'll have to learn to carry a spare shirt and some extra deodorant, but it'll be worth it as soon as you see how everyone--skater-boys, hausfraus, indie shoe-gazers, uppity lawyers, truck-drivers, dogs and cats, politicians, you name it--simply stops what they're doing and watches you uneasily. Feed off of their discomfort, young freak. Nobody wants to see someone running in work clothes. They can only imagine what tragedy would make you roll along like that, but that's only because they can't roll at all. They're squares.
And finally, let's address one of the most odious fabrications that still lingers from the 1960s--namely, that a "freak-out" is something inflicted by someone who is inebriated upon someone who is sober. Lies! A crucial lesson to any aspiring freaker-outer is that drunks, potheads and loadies are just squares who don't know they're squares. Consider this: Currently, the typical 20- or 30-something partygoer's brain is being chemically drawn and quartered by at least four of the following:
• Sleep deprivation
• Bovine growth hormones from fast food
• Improperly prescribed antidepressants, sleeping pills, ADD medications or painkillers
• Properly prescribed medications taken in highly improper doses
• At least a decade of neurological radiation from cellular phones
Does that sound fun? It shouldn't. Stay sober next weekend for long enough to listen to a single conversation between your loaded friends, and you'll immediately realize that they're squarer than Amish waffles. But what is fun is using your well-honed freak-faculty to take advantage of that subtle interplay of squarifying elements. Bring your arsenal of Grieg and Cicero to a local intoxication station, and you will either be worshiped as a god or thrown through the front window, western-movie style. Either way, that's some mighty fine freaking. And when someone asks the next morning, "Damn ... what were you on last night?" the appropriate course of action is to smugly reply, "What ever do you mean?"
(Note: The above recommendations do not apply to any parties where people are smoking crystal meth. Meth-squares have their own version of a "freak-out," and you should immediately notify the police if you have the misfortune of witnessing one.)
So remember: stay clean, fast, symphonic and proverbial this summer, and you can wander the world with your head held high, confident that you've transcended the last 40 years worth of squaredom. If that doesn't cure your existential angst, try video games.
To hear free audio of Nicholas Collias butchering Latin proverbs, visit the BW Summer Guide online at www.boiseweekly.com.