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Wednesday, 26 July
Thanks For Nothing

I was walking with the wife earlier today to the upscale Half-Priced Books after work. I picked up the newish Beatles biography, and noticed that it was priced to move at $12.98. HEY! I took it up with the manager. "This is not half price," I said indignantly. "This is much less." The book is a three pound brick of a thing. She looked at me warily and replied, "Right . . . it's like one third off." I just don't need this shit. "I come here for half price, and that's what I expect. Fix this. NOW." I clamped a steely gaze onto her face. She adopted a strange cow-eyed look in return, and whitely replied, "I could charge you five more dollars."

"I think you should. Thank you," I graciously said. There's no need to rub it in. You've got to stand up for yourself in our retail society.

Anyway. The wife and I were savoring my consumer victory, and my thoughts turned to the upcoming weekend. I asked my girl, "Do we have anything going on this weekend?" She thought a moment and said, "No." "That's awesome," I said.

I love a weekend of nothing. It's a lost art, as far as I'm concerned. There's a Zen-ness of a weekend of nothing, unless you're really into Zen, in which case there's koans or some such nonsense, and koans sound like a lot of bother to me. The sound of one hand clapping? I don't know. Fuck that. That sounds dangerously close to "something." Fuck you, something.

There's something alchemical about doing nothing; it's turning a lot of little seeming somethings into a larger, more absorbant nothing. Nothing is like a giant paper towel that soaks up somethings. Nothing is an art.

For example, on a good nothing weekend, I might watch three or four baseball games. "But Skot!" you might say. "Watching four baseball games isn't much, but surely it's something!" Oh, you silly goose. You have obviously never watched a baseball game. Baseball is the very essence of nothing. It is inconsequential. It is tedious. And it is--much like my two previous examples--the embodiment of life itself. You watch a baseball game, a game where getting a hit one third of the time at bat is considered pretty good, where players may call time out at any time for no reason, and where "pitcher's duels"--that is, games where hardly anyone if anyone at all ever scores--are breathlessly described as "exciting"--then you start to see how the something of baseball is really a concrete nothing. Baseball, again, is life: a walk-off home run is so rare and so unexpected and so thrilling. Sort of like that one time you got that blow job in a coat closet from a half-drunk bridesmaid. It made you forget, even if only for a few minutes, that the rest of your life was more or less stuffed from front to back with moments of not receiving illicit blow jobs, and was in fact filled with tedium, mundanity and woe. "This is living!" you think. But it's not. Walk-off homers and unexpected blow jobs are those strange particles that, thanks to quantum physics, get to wink into existence for unimaginably brief moments before diving out of the universe again before anyone notices. They're not real. They're nothing, not on any human scale. Baseball games--and, I'm sorry, so were those evanescent blow jobs--they're nothing.

There are other somethings that still add up, paradoxically, to nothings. Bad movies, for example. Watching bad movies, some might argue, constitute a willful act, or "doing something." But this is not true. Let me cite another seemingly unrelated parallel, the mathematical concept of a "zero divide." In common everyday mathematics, one cannot divide a number by zero; the result is, as they say, "undefined." Dividing a real number by zero can easily yield any result at all, and so there is no answer: a zero divide is a great big nothing.

(It's important to realize that "zero" is not the same as "nothing." "Zero" is a mathematical concept; "nothing" is that blow job you're still not getting while watching baseball. Though I do allow for the depressing idea that, somewhere, there are men who are watching baseball who have never received a blow job, but they have never been found in the wild, and represent a suspected 58% of all suicides.)

Shockingly horrible horror movies are an acknowleged form of the zero divide, and therefore count as nothing. Watching Driving Miss Daisy? That is surely something, even if it makes you want to take a can opener to your hard palate. Watching Piledriving Bitch Crazy? That is totally nothing. Sure, you sat there and stared at the thing unspooling before you, but did you do anything quantifiable? Were you able to say, at the end, "The result of that experience was a definable X"? I submit that you did not. You did nothing in the sense of the zero divide: you could say, "I just saw my own death." You could also say, "I just saw how I'm going to kill all my friends." And you could say, "I just saw the face of God, and He looks like Bronson Pinchot." They are all valid statements, and as such, are all meaningless in terms of determining a concrete, definable experience. You may have felt that you did something, but you have actually done nothing. You have tried to divide Alien Vs. Predator by zero, and instead of cracking the universe open, you have actually just made it more pointless and unanswerable, just as if you'd stared at a wall or a hoe for two hours.

And, sort of, you have. Which you must agree is pretty much the definition of doing nothing.

It's an old question: Why is there something instead of nothing? It's totally backwards. More properly: Why is there all this fucking something getting in the way of my nothing? Answer me that. And while you're at it, ask yourself this as well. How many times have you had this phone conversation?

"What are you doing?"

"Nothing."

And how about this one?

"What are you doing?"

"Something."

I thought so. Have a good weekend.


Note: Comments are closed on old entries.

Comments

Forever more I will answer "something" whilst stubbornly refusing to elaborate. Thanks, Skot.

Comment number: 007852   Posted by: Steve on July 28, 2006 08:12 PM from IP: 68.253.202.206

How about sitting around all afternoon reading blogs and drinking cheap vodka premixes? Mmm, nothing.

Comment number: 007853   Posted by: Erin on July 28, 2006 10:53 PM from IP: 58.179.129.237

I believe you've mentioned your disdain for watching golf on TV. However, it is the ultimate in nothing. Dog snoring gently beside me, cat snoozing on my lap, beverage in hand as I root disinterestedly for all the golfers who aren't right-handed white guys. Look at all the nice sunshine outside. Bah! I am busy worshiping at the altar of nothing.

Comment number: 007857   Posted by: Andrew on July 29, 2006 11:02 AM from IP: 70.98.247.89

One of my math profs was often heard saying, "One can say anything one wants about nothing and be absolutely correct."

It has become one of my deep seeded philosophies.

Comment number: 007860   Posted by: Scott aka SRH on July 29, 2006 05:51 PM from IP: 65.24.124.55

Oddly enough, this is the best philosophical essay I've read in ten years.

I have no comment as to how many philosophical essays I've read in ten years.

Comment number: 007878   Posted by: norm on August 3, 2006 07:15 AM from IP: 208.42.129.30

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