If you haven’t been keeping up with the news, allow me to sum up. The government shut down because of Reasons, everyone hates everyone else more than usual, and Rebel Wilson is being forced to do an American accent.
The future as we know it is up for grabs. Things might work out fine, and before you know it, this last month will disappear into the cultural ether, never to be thought of again, like it was so many copies of Edie Brickell’s sophomore album.
On the other hand, things could get even worse, and before you know it, we’ll all be wearing animal skins, and fighting to the death over the last remaining Jello Snack Packs.
There are a few ways people usually deal with this sort of uncertainty. Let’s refresh our memories on what they are:
Hiding in your closet with a rifle, only emerging occasionally to check for intruders and watch “MasterChef Junior.”
Pretending absolutely nothing is wrong, and when people ask you how you’re doing, shouting at the top of your lungs, “OH, MAN, EVERYTHING IS SO GREAT, I’M MAKING THINGS HAPPEN AND LIVING A DYNAMIC LIFESTYLE, AND I’M DEFINITELY NOT FREAKING OUT ABOUT ANYTHING, I ALWAYS CRY AND VOMIT UNCONTROLLABLY, NO YOU SHUT UP.”
Moving to the woods, living in a crude lean-to, and subsisting on twigs, leaves, and whatever you can forage from Amazon Prime.
As you can see, these aren’t exactly the best options. No, what America needs right now is something that is always going to be there for them. Something they can look at, and say to themselves, “Sure, the world is completely hosed. Sure, I’m peeing into a device that turns pee into drinking water, and I only have a few minutes before the Smokers hunt me down like an animal. But I have this one thing, and as long as I have it, life can keep handing me lemons, and I will keep peeing lemonade.”
So what is this immutable thing that will survive the test of time, a possible apocalypse, and hacky, outdated WATERWORLD references?
Believe me, I’m just as surprised as you. But I did the research. I crunched the numbers, made a bunch of spreadsheets, did round after round of focus groups, double-blind studies, and for reasons that escape me for the moment, taste-tests.
The results came out the same. I am never going to change. No matter what happens to America, no matter what happens to the world, and no matter what happens to the world’s supply of Jello Snack Packs, I will always remain Josh A. Cagan. And you can take that to the bank.
(What you do with it once you take it to the bank is between you and your financial institution. I make no claims that my unyielding Josh A. Caganess has any monetary value. Yet.)
Maybe you’re not convinced. People change all the time. In LOST HIGHWAY, Bill Pullman changed into Balthazar Getty. What guarantee do you have that I’m not going to change into Balthazar Getty?
All we can do is look at the facts. Here’s a random sampling:
FACT: I live in a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment. It is not grand or expansive by any means. There are a limited number of surfaces to put things. And yet, day in and day out, I manage to lose my keys, my wallet, my glasses, and my phone.
Now, you would think I’d eventually get tired of going through this every single day of my life. Tired of frantically running around my apartment 9000 times a day, rending my garment, and screaming, “OH GOD IF YOU TELL ME WHERE THESE FOUR VERY IMPORTANT THINGS ARE, YOU CAN HAVE ANYTHING YOU WANT. YOU WANT THE DOG? TAKE THE DOG.”
You might also think that at some point, I would earmark a designated spot to put these four things. You would be laughably wrong. Apparently, I love a challenge. And apparently, life is not challenging enough. And so I give myself a little mystery to solve every day. It’s what keeps my relationship with myself fresh, I guess. But regardless of the reasoning behind it, it is never going to change.
FACT: Since the age of 17, my wardrobe has essentially consisted of these three pieces: T-shirts, flannel shirts, and jeans. Now, it would stand to reason that at some point, I would try and spice that up a little. Maybe a turtleneck and cardigan. Maybe a sharp blazer. Perhaps some slacks would be what the doctor ordered. A dashiki and a Utilikilt. Anything, anything besides the holy trinity of cotton, flannel and denim.
I have come to the conclusion, however, that these are the only things that look good on my oddly shaped body mass. I have narrow shoulders, long arms, a, shall we say, generous midsection, and stumpy legs. I was basically born to dress like the platonic ideal of an uncle, and I am living that out to the fullest.
FACT: It is currently 2:00 Friday morning. I knew this post was due Thursday night, because these posts have been due every Thursday night for the last 11 weeks. I spent today, and in fact, the last week, doing absolutely everything but writing this post. And now I am locked in my bedroom, basically hitting my head against the keyboard like that songwriter on Sesame Street who Kermit always interviewed. Now, maybe this is a behavior unique to writing these posts. Perhaps I have a very specific block when it comes to online essays inspired by a single word provided by my editor. That would be a fascinating anomaly to be sure, but in fact, that is not the case.
No, the fact is, I have procrastinated on every writing project I have ever had for as long as I can remember. Luckily, I have compensated for this by becoming pretty good at churning out competent work at the last minute. But it is incredibly stressful and draining when it doesn’t have to be.
Could I fix this? I’m sure I could. Have I made any effort to do so? I sure haven’t. Am I going to be 70, and staying up until 6am writing an article for AARP Magazine about adult diapers? On that, you can depend.
The list goes on and on. I’ve been watching the same MST3K episodes for 20 years, now. I’ve been quoting “Goodfellas” and “Road House” for longer. I listen to the same playlist of about 300 songs over and over again. I have all of the same neuroses and anxieties at 40 that I did at 10, and I’m deathly, deathly afraid of sharing this with all of you, because I’m afraid that you’re going to all realize that I am LITERALLY THE MOST BORING PERSON IN THE WORLD, and you are going to HATE ME.
Which is THE SAME FEAR I have had my ENTIRE LIFE.
But now I understand that it is of national importance that I stay exactly the same. Let the stock market collapse. Let the banks fail. Let the government remain closed forever. Let this whole country turn itself inside out with rage and frustration.
Let all of this happen, but know this, America. I will always be a procrastinating, deeply neurotic guy in a flannel, t-shirt and jeans, running around his apartment like a lunatic, looking for his keys.
And I will never change, no matter what.
Even though I am tired. Even though I am frustrated. Even though when I fall asleep I wish I would wake up as Balthazar Getty, or anyone, anybody else besides this tightly wound bundle of bad habits, and learned behaviors, and...
And you know what, America? This deal stinks for me. Yes, I know I’m the one who proposed it. But I’m reading through all of this now, and I am not digging it. I want to change. I want to be better. And I know I can. Damn it.
But I don’t want to leave you in the lurch, folks. I promised you an immutable, unchanging thing called Josh A. Cagan, and I am going to give it to you. Sort of.
So, Plan B. And I think you’re going to like this, America, because if there’s one thing we all enjoy, it’s a Tall Tale. (Stay with me here, it’s late.) Let’s all, myself included, imagine this rigid, freaked-out mess of a Josh A. Cagan. But let’s imagine the Paul Bunyan version of him.
I mean, in reality, Paul Bunyan was probably some dude named Paulie Baumberger who was maybe a little taller than the average lumberjack, and saw an ox once. But America needed him to be a giant mutant of a man with some humongous, oxygen-deprived beast of burden, and that’s what he became.
So, let us imagine Unchanging Josh A. Cagan as a scrap metal statue by the side of a lonely stretch of highway, 50 feet tall, dressed in a giant Shirt.Woot t-shirt, a huge Old Navy flannel, and a massive pair of Wranglers.
On his face is a bewildered expression. One hand is turning his pocket inside out where his keys should be. The other hand is hammering away at his laptop, and time on the laptop is 3:00am. It’s always 3:00am for Unchanging Josh A. Cagan.
When times are confusing, when the world is spiraling out of control, when we can’t be sure of anything, let’s think of this giant metal sap. Let’s think about him stuck in his ways. Let’s think about how he’s terrified of doing anything different from what he knows.
And then, let’s do every goddamn thing in our power to not be that.
Tomorrow, or rather, later today, I am going to mark off a tiny surface of my apartment with tape, and that is where my phone, keys, wallet and glasses will go. It’s not a massive paradigm shift, but it’s a start.
Maybe next month, I will change something else. Maybe every month, I will try to change something about myself. Maybe in a year, I will bear little to no resemblance to Unchanging Josh A. Cagan. And that will be just dandy. May he rust in peace.
Unless that whole deal with the animal skins and the Jello Snack Packs happens. Then all bets are off. As a side note, does anyone know if Wrangler makes loincloths?