I am automatically suspicious of anyone who doesn’t have at least one good, solid vice.
As far as I’m concerned, there’s little virtue in living a one-hundred-percent straight-and-narrow life, at least beyond the Golden Rule. If I were Moses, I would have had only one commandment that would have covered all the bases: “Just be cool, and don’t be a douche.”
People go overboard with vices, sure, which isn’t cool (thereby violating the part of Katrina’s Commandment that says “be cool”). But other people (here in the South, especially) tend to go overboard with virtues too. So what if your spouse is the only person you’ve ever slept with. Yay for you if you never wear low-cut blouses. Who cares if you never say “f*ck” or even “f*ck ho balls” or “f*ck f*ck f*ck Mayor McCheese.” And never missing church? Not impressed. We can probably not be friends, which would most likely be a-okay with both of us.
Who, exactly, are these super-virtuous folks trying to please? That’s my qualm.
I know a chick who does all kind of things that make her miserable, justifying her actions with, “I’ve got to be the good wife [or the good hostess, or the good daughter].” WHOA. Why? Howzabout just being yourself? My bet is that her husband would probably rather have a happy wife who holds her own rather than an unhappy one who never speaks up. Coincidentally, she barbs me about pretty much anything I do: going to happy hour when I have a family waiting at home for me, harmlessly flirting with strangers, listening to hip-hop, wearing anything that shows skin, whacking off as often as a dude. I am pretty much the devil.
Which, if you could see me today—a wide-eyed blond with my hair in a ponytail, dressed in a smart Ann Taylor suit and sensible ballet flats, shutting my bright green raincoat in the door of my station wagon—would probably not add up in your head. Or at least it doesn’t for me. I am not my vices.
The thing is that vices make people interesting and comfortable for me to be around. I can loosen up around someone who’s not so hard on herself, because I know she probably won’t make any rash judgments about me. I once refused a second date with an adorable Vanderbilt professor because he didn’t drink alcohol or coffee, and he had no discernible flaws. Our levels of “looseness” weren’t compatible. I’m more the type where if you mention to me over lunch that you bought X, X, and Y at Hustler, it will be the same as you saying what you got at the grocery store for dinner (unless you’re a legitimately creepy dude). But if you look around first to see if anyone is listening, and then whisper your “sin,” I’m going to raise an eyebrow.
Say it, dude. Own it. Being quiet about it doesn’t make it any less true. It comes down to honesty. It’s okay to have desires, needs, wants. Acting like they’re not there is just…weird.
This is precisely why I love the character of Uncle Skillet in Baker Lawley’s “Uncle Skillet Rides Again”: if anyone owns his vices, it’s Skillet. Repugnant as he was, I rooted for him as he injected the narrator of the story with a little vavoom, rescuing him the tiniest bit from his overbearing religious household. Skillet doesn’t hide anything, and that was really refreshing to me as a reader, especially considering the keen way Lawley set up his arrival in the story.
Kurt Mueller’s “God Loves a Good Winner” reads like a confessional of a moderate offender, and plays with the stark contrast between the narrator’s transgressions and problems halfway around the world. A seed of vice is exposed: feeling something deeply can lead to desperation, which, if helplessness is injected, must be tamed, numbed.
“Partition” by Bridget Gage-Dixon exposes the downside to vice, how one person’s coping mechanism stems from another person’s reckless behavior, and how the pain keeps trickling down and never stops.
Yes, I see that side too. Most definitely. I grew up with alcoholics. My brother has received multiple DUIs, and has done and said some despicable things to me when he was drunk. (Apparently, if I were as pretty as my sister, he would love me more. And also I need to be more subservient to men. I was a mistake and should have never been born. My boobs are too big for my body, too.) I understand how that kind of pain never, ever goes away, and how some people can’t handle certain vices in their lives because the balance of having fun and hurting other people is thrown way, way off. And I tell you what: if a drunk driver ever harmed me, my husband, or my son, I would freaking come unglued.
And yet—even though I’ve been deeply hurt by people who couldn’t hold their liquor—a fundamental intolerance for sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll is somehow more repulsive to me. As Billy Joel said, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.”
The funny sinners are who I follow on Twitter (I’m looking at you, @jennyjoneshi5, @jennyandteets, and @robdelaney). The sinners aren’t out to win some arbitrary rule-following contest, and they don’t give a crap that my top two buttons are undone or that I cringe when I hear the phrase “family-friendly.” The sinners are my peeps. But hell, I don’t even want to call us sinners; I’d like to just call us normal.
I had a hard time narrowing down the playlist this week to only thirty songs. It originally hovered around sixty, which was just obnoxious. Even thirty is obnoxious, but somehow appropriate: there are a lot of good songs out there about people doing unsavory stuff. And that makes me want to salute the gods and goddesses of rock-and-roll.