Son of What I’ve Learned

About 18 months ago I posted a ripoff of those Esquire “What I’ve Learned” articles. But it was honest and true and came from a real place. I read it again last night and it’s still tight and clean and spot-on. So I’m re-posting it with six new graphs:

All my life I’ve tried to follow the example of Cary Grant, and this has served me well. Always try to be gracious and gentlemanly. Stay as trim as you can. Be a cheapskate. Try to eat less. Enjoy good wine but stay away from the booze. LSD can be good for the soul if you treat it with respect and keep a copy of the Bhagavad Gita nearby. Don’t go bald.

You must have good wifi everywhere, at all times, forever. Even after death.

The more free food and drink you consume, the better you’re doing in life. Free movies, free trips, goodie bags, etc. Paying for things always feels bad.

Newbie #1: You’ve got to start giving your kids a little more space when they hit 13 or 14. That’s when it’s time for them to start living the chaotic life of a teenager, and sooner or later that means taking flight and leaving the nest and telling their parents that they’ll be okay on their own, and that they want to experience stuff on their own and sometimes trip and stumble on their own. Because a kid needs to find his/her footing. At a certain point you’re doing them no favors by holding their hand and wrapping them in their favorite blankie.

Newbie #2: There’s nothing like a disappointing Bluray of an older film (i.e., one that looks no better than a DVD of the same movie that came out 8 or 10 years ago) to make your day feel like shit. If a movie doesn’t look better on Bluray, what’s the point? I’ll tell you what the point is. The point is to satisfy the grain monks.

Newbie #3: If you want to know about aridity and pointlessness and dark fates, just sit in an outdoor cafe on Beverly Drive and watch all the nouveau-riche Middle-Eastern mamas with way too much eye makeup and sparkly glitter sewn into their jeans walk by with their three-year-old daughters, who are already wearing their own Beverly Hills bling. It just gives you the worst feeling to see this.

It’s a good thing to own a baseball mitt, and every so often to have a catch with someone on a big green lawn. Preferably when the later-afternoon light is just starting to mellow down. And it’s okay to groan like John McEnroe when you throw the ball.

Newbie #4: Never, ever wear gray cross-training shoes, and think about disassociating yourself from people who own a pair. Especially guys who have milky hairless legs.

You don’t need an education that will set you back $150,000 and keep you in debt for over 20 years if you have curiosity. That’s what John Huston used to say, and is what Owen Wilson believes right now.

You really do need to know everything about something and something about everything. And if you don’t know something you just have to be curious about it. Easy.

Newbie #5: Whatever you think you want to eat, eat half of that. And everything you ate as a kid is history — meatloaf sandwiches, mashed potatoes with butter and gravy, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, ice cream with chocolate syrup, Nestle’s Quik. Forget all that.

Newbie #6: When I was ten I thought of 21 year-olds as cool studly swaggerers and men of at least some consequence. These days 21 year-olds are commonly regarded as having the character and fortitude of 13 year-olds. “He’s just a 21 year-old kid, don’t expect too much,” etc. And the disease is spreading. In an email I received a few months ago, a 60ish mom referred to her 42 year-old son as a “good kid.”

When all the right things are aligned (talent, tune, purpose, spirit), there are few things in life more transporting than electric guitar and bass and drums. Forget the vocals.

People have an unmistakable gleam in their eye when they’re 18 or 19 and about to start college. A gleam that says, “Holy shit, I can’t wait…all this stuff to savor, all these things to learn, all these places to see.” By the time most people have hit 43, that gleam has been diminished if not snuffed out. That’s what I saw at my 25th high-school reunion. No more adventures, thank you. I’ve got my deal more or less worked out and I love my wife and my kids and my weekend routine, and we go to Mexico or the Caribbean once a year. But about 5% of the people at that reunion still had that gleam. Thank God for that.

People spend way too much time sitting around with friends and blah-blahing about next to nothing in bars and restaurants. It feels good to do this — I get that — but the less time you spend shooting spurious shit with fair-weather friends, the better.

Life is nothing without travel to exotic places that other Americans don’t go to because the hotels aren’t swanky enough.

Woody Allen and Rod Stewart were right. Some people are just lucky and don’t have to sweat it that much. Their genes and heritage have paved a path. Life is unfair. But if things go too easily or too well for anyone too early, they always seem to suffer on some level. It’s best to come into the really good stuff when you get a bit older.

Don Corleone had the parenting thing all figured out. He said that “a man who doesn’t spend time with his children can never be a real man.” You also have to be able to roll around and laugh and play dopey kid games, especially with toddlers. If you can’t let that side of yourself out, or if you can’t find it, then you’re a kind of prisoner.

Women always let you know within seconds if you’re “in” — i.e., if they like you enough to go to bed with you. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. At all. There are 117 different things you can do or say that will change their mind, and if you can think of 75 of these things in advance you’re a genius. But women always flash that initial green light within seconds of meeting you. Not minutes. Seconds.

Sports-watching is obviously about spiritual nourishment, a ritual that feeds you with feelings and values that you believe are good for your soul. But guys who watch sports in a weekly regimented way are living in a secular and, to some extent, prohibitive realm. I’m not saying that realm isn’t a good place to dwell in many respects, but it does shut stuff out. Remember how Ray Liotta talked in Goodfellas about how he and Robert De Niro and their wives always hung out and shared Sunday dinners and went on vacations together, year after year? That’s what sports guys are like. A sports guy hasn’t really turned the key in the lock of life until he can say to himself, “Yeah, I used to be an ESPN guy but now I [fill in the blank].”

“Bad luck. That’s all it is. I pray in your life you will never find it runs in streaks. Streaks. I pray it misses you. That’s all I want to say.”

People I knew who partied hard in their late teens and into their early to mid 20s — the real animals, I mean — have all tended to end up in bad and depleted places. Some of them are dead or close to it. You have to rein that shit in or it’ll take you down. I almost succumbed to it myself.

A computer is like a person. You have to turn it off two or three times a week and let it rest. I knew that instinctually when I first starting working with them, but then I talked to a tech guy who told me it’s better to just leave them on and let them “sleep.” Jerk.

People who are still hanging out with a posse by the time they hit 35 are emotional infants. And posse people who throw their heads back and laugh loudly in restaurants and bars to the point of obnoxious shrieking, over and over while others are sitting near them and having to listen to them bust a gut like jackals, are truly repellent.

Friends will not save you. Girlfriends and wives will not save you. Your mother and/or your father will not save you. You have to save you. I’ve known an awful lot of guys (myself included) who’ve spent their 20s looking for some form of salvation from some combination of the above.

But life without a few supportive friends (i.e., those who’ve decided to embrace and accept you, asshole-ish tendencies and all, and have never changed their minds) and quality-level girlfriends or wives isn’t much of a life. Dogs and cats also tend to round things out.

Oh, to live in a world without stupidity and ignorance and religions. I don’t believe that right-wing Christians (who constitute the vast majority of the flock) should be thrown to the lions, but I certainly understand the thinking of the Romans who felt that way.

Woody Allen was also right about unstable kamikaze women being the best in bed. But nine times out of ten you’ll go crazy yourself if you settle down with them to any degree, so you have to be practical and choose someone sane and stable with good partnership qualities, and that, sad to say, tends to mean (and I truly wish it were otherwise) that sex with long-term partners never compares to insanity sex with nutty women in parking lots and closets and bathrooms and parks.

You have to be able to know and sing all the harmonic parts in all the Beatles songs. You have to know them cold. If someone wakes you up at 4 am, you have to be able to sing the low-harmony stuff without thinking about it. “Some day when I’m lonely, wishing you weren’t so far away” and “we’ll go all night long,” etc.

When I was approaching 30 I remember feeling unnerved when I read this statement: “Whatever you are at 30, you’re going to be a lot more of.” Whoa. But the guy who said that was presuming that most 30 year-olds have come into themselves by tasting a certain amount of success and failure, and have more or less decided what they really want and how to play it, and that the remaining 40 or 50 or 60 years will involve occasional dips and turns and rainstorms but will basically be a matter of “steady as she goes.” Well, it’s not like that. Sometimes you don’t hear the perfect music until you’re 40-plus. Certainly the new threshold for maturity is 40 these days. That’s when you really have to stop living off your weekly poker game with your homies (not to mention video games and skiing trips and Sunday football parties) and start exploring other realms.

Very few straight-male friendships last for more than a couple of decades. Sooner or later paths diverge. Guys don’t break up with each other. They just gradually diverge and call less and less and then stop calling except for special occasions, and then that starts to fritter away. Actually, I take that back. I’ve known one straight guy who actually broke up with me.

People never tell the truth about themselves at parties.

  • Ray

    If you want to know about aridity and pointlessness and dark fates, just sit in an outdoor cafe on Jade Maiwand and watch all the dirt-poor Middle-Eastern mamas with way too long burkas and dust on their feet walk by with their three-year-old sons, who are already wearing makeup to impress their pederast tribal elders. It just gives you the worst feeling to see this.

  • joe banks

    i have so missed Larry King’s USA Today column

  • JLC

    Newbie #7 (prompted by the next thread): Stop caring about the Academy Awards. They mean as much to the overall scheme of things as the NFL draft, and generate almost as much pointless hand-wringing.

  • Stewart Klein

    A lot of what you sayi s true. A lot of what you say is false. Some of what you say is true for one person and false for another. Some of what you say is false for one person and true for another. ( not the same thing). The one constant is that learning doesn’t stop until death. Not even Shakespeare had all the answers.

    Ps. wasn’t Mia Farrow ever right about anything?

  • Jeffrey Wells

    Welsl to Joe Banks: That’s one of the laziest and and most moronic non-observations I’ve ever read from any HE commenter, bar none. Larry King was about being glib and lightweight. The piece I wrote above is one of the best “What I’ve Learned” pieces I’ve ever read, and I’ve read several dozen. So fuck you and try actually reading the thing you’re commenting on next time…asshole.

  • berg

    There are 117 different things you can do or say that will change their mind, and if you can think of 75 of these things in advance you’re a genius.

    a tip o the hat to Body Heat

  • Jesse Crall

    This is great stuff Jeff, advice that I either agree with or had never considered and thought “Oh yeah, good way of looking at it…”

  • Zach

    Never, EVER stop eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

  • Smedley

    Thanks Jeffrey,

    I am made especially happy by your Beatles note, but it would be WAY more effective if you had the correct lyric (“Someday when I’m lonely, wishing you weren’t so far away, “). Or would it? Maybe singing without worrying about getting things right is a better way to live. I have much work to do…

  • JLC

    Newbie #8 (prompted by comment #5): Practice humili…..sorry, I couldn’t finish without laughing.

  • scooterzz

    ‘The more free food and drink you consume, the better you’re doing in life. Free movies, free trips, goodie bags, etc. Paying for things always feels bad’

    unless you’re a ‘junket freeloader’ going to see ‘the dark knight rises’

  • Ray

    “That’s one of the laziest and and most moronic non-observations I’ve ever read from any HE commenter, bar none.”

    AHA! Proof that Jeff never read anything DZ or Lex wrote.

  • MarkVH

    Agree with Zach. PB&J sandwiches are amazing, and always will be. As long as you go for a run every now and then you’re fine.

  • raygo

    Ira Parks say …

    LARRY KING says …

    They don’t make them like Cary Grant anymore.

    I wish I knew at age 13 what I know now.

    Barbara Stanwyck looks terrific in the new Double Indemnity Bluray.

    I could watch Goodfellas every week.

  • JLC

    Newbie #9 (prompted by zach and Mark VH): When making PB&J sandwiches, use grape jam instead of grape jelly. It tastes the same and is much easier to spread.

  • Kate88

    Good read.

    The only two sayings I’ve held dear since I first heard them are:

    Keep your own counsel.

    Hell is other people.

  • Jesse Crall

    ^^Yup.

  • Breedlove

    Enjoyed reading this very much. Good piece Jeff. The Larry King crack gave me a chuckle, though. Relax. No biggie. Good piece.

  • FlashDust

    Ira Parks says:

    “The comment I wrote above is one of the best Hollywood Elsewhere comments I’ve ever read, and I’ve read several dozen. So fuck you and try actually reading the thing you’re commenting on next time…asshole.”

  • mizerock

    Lots of good ones in there.

    But the one that jumped out as me as feeling wrong? “Be a cheapskate.” I can get behind something like, “live within your means”, or “don’t be extravagent with your money”, but cheap people (espeically bad tippers) rub me the wrong way. Too many times I’ve seen the one cheap member of a group ruin the fun for everyone else because they refuse to eat at a certain place, or to go too far away, or to go out at all, because they are cheap. Not broke, but cheap.

    I’m going to assume you didn’t mean cheapskate in the way I pictured it. Scamming free meals / drinks / swag / benefits? Not my style, but I don’t have a problem with it. Finding ways to do amazing things at discount prices, by being flexible and patient? Now that is totally my style.

  • Betterman

    Thank you for this Jeff. That’s all.

  • MarkJ

    Amen brother Wells. Here endeth the lesson.

  • Krillian

    “Don’t go bald.” Count your blessings.

  • C.C. Baxter

    “Always try to be gracious and gentlemanly.”

    One hour later…

    “That’s one of the laziest and and most moronic non-observations I’ve ever read from any HE commenter, bar none. Larry King was about being glib and lightweight. The piece I wrote above is one of the best “What I’ve Learned” pieces I’ve ever read, and I’ve read several dozen. So fuck you and try actually reading the thing you’re commenting on next time…asshole.”

  • Ira Parks

    JEFFREY WELLS SAYS…

    Some of you neg-heads need to attain a higher style of living, like John Robie in the french hills, cultivating flowers, evading police, running a game on the swells.

    I’m seriously thinking of closing comments.

  • MDOC

    Don’t go Bald?

    What do you suggest? Isn’t that like saying “Don’t get Cancer”?

    And don’t give me wigs and 35K hair transplants, you can’t go from a shaved head for 10 years to showing up with hair.

  • Ghost of Kazan

    In the immortal words of Reverend Maclean…”Now again, but half as long.”

    Repeat 8x.

  • Eddie Mars Attacks!

    As I sit here in the hospital attached to a bunch of machines and hoping the doctors find a heart donor in time. I read through your “lessons” more than once.

    While it’s true that people really don’t tell the truth about themselves at parties, I don’t think much of the rest of it matters at all. My first night here, I flatlined several times. All my thoughts during those horrible hours focused on the friends I’d known and how I wished I’d been nicer to them. That’s it.

    Finally, I don’t have the energy for this anymore. It will be a long time before I comment again. Thanks, Lex and Ira and Milkman and Kenny and all the rest of you for all the laughs.

    I’m out. (drops mic)

  • Breedlove

    Damn, Eddie, get better soon. Best wishes.

  • Ira Parks

    I wish you well, Eddie.

  • cricket

    “Don’t go bald.”

    Also, be tall, and have a big dick.

    (Do you understand what “advice” is, Jeff?)

  • nakedman

    Good luck, Eddie. Wish you the best.

  • scooterzz

    credit where due: great outro eddie…best of luck on this side or that side…

  • Glenn Kenny

    Hoping that things work out and you can make a full recovery, Eddie. All best and thank you too.

  • JR

    Hang in there, Eddie.

  • MarkVH

    That Eddie Mars Attacks riff was a perfect Woody Allen/Marshall McLuhan “You know nothing of my work!” moment.

    Be well Eddie.