January 1999
s m u g
by Joe Procopio

Out for Self

I still remember my first speeding ticket.

I was sixteen, having obtained my license only six months earlier, and I racing down a snow-covered highway in upstate New York in a red 1977 Plymouth Fury with no rims, cruising speed set at eighty-two miles per hour. I was wearing a black T-shirt, a pair of ripped up jeans, and a denim Unforgettable Fire tour jacket (yes, I was that cool).

I was on my way to an illicit teen beerfest/New-Year's-Eve-party when I got popped by Johnny Law. As he sauntered up to my driver's side window, I didn't even have the sense to turn the stereo down.

"Where are you headed to in such a hurry, son?"
"Uhh... church?"
"Any idea how fast you were going?"
"I don't know. Eighty-two?"

I got slapped with a seventy-five dollar fine and nearly got my license revoked. My 1987 New Year's resolution was to never get a speeding ticket again.

Fast-forward to last week. Twelve years and eleven speeding tickets later, I squeaked out of one.

This time I was screaming down I10 in LA at eighty-two miles per hour in a rented red 1998 Porsche Boxter. Oddly enough, I had been at the Playboy Mansion all day, consulting with Hugh Hefner for his... well, all right, I'll let the bunny out of the bag, for his tres-unlikely vice-presidential bid on the Forbes ticket in 2000. Apparently, Hef and Steve got blasted on cognac and Cubans over the holidays and dreamt up a complex and vaguely palatable "Money and Broads" platform for the 2K vote. Right. Snowball's chance in hell. But they were throwing the bank at polishing this turd and that's where I came in.

I was wearing a suit and tie and I was tired, having been at work for some sixteen hours shooting down loopy slogans like "When you tax the rich, we all suffer," and "Free love. Free guns." I was zipping back to the hotel to get something to eat before crawling into bed, and I saw the cop as soon he lit me up.

"Where are you headed to in such a hurry, son?"
"Back to my hotel to get some sleep, sir. I've been at Hef's all day."
"Really? I just got back from Tahoe with the Rat Pack myself."
"No, really, sir."

So I showed him the Polaroids (Yeah, Polaroids. I mean, come on, I was at the Playboy mansion. Nobody is that hip).

The officer asked me what the models were like and if they were as stupid as they seemed. I answered they were built like goddesses and yes, in fact, even stupider. Turns out this put him in a good mood, so he let me go with a warning.

I allude to the moral of my story in considering the hundreds of millions of ill-advised promises, resolutions, and declarations we will all make this first month of the last year of the old millennium. In twelve years I could never lift my foot off the damn gas-pedal and consequently keep my resolution, no matter how hard I tried. I smashed my promise to bits at a rate of roughly once per year, and each episode was accompanied not only by court appearances and stiff fines, but also the guilt and shame brought on by the failure to uphold my end of the bargain.

Why bother? The lesson learned is that the key isn't keeping the promise at all, but rather skillfully handling it's eventual demise.

A-ha! So. How? Self-importance. Amen.

Self-importance is what you pay for when you purchase that status symbol. It's the gravity that makes a name drop. It comes free with celebrity like the prize in a box of cracker-jacks. It keeps Downey and Slater out of real jail and a mainstay in the lenses of the paparazzi. It guarantees the fat-cats stay fat and the politicians stay polished. It's what makes whitey white.

Achieving an inflated sense of self-importance is beneficial, nay, pivotal, to successfully shrugging off the countless responsibilities that will stifle and suffocate your very existence. Now, I know what you're thinking, "Wait a minute. I don't do anything very important to begin with." Relax. It's not the skill-set that matters, but the shine you put on it.

Self-importance is the fortitude to promise untold phone-calls and visits to friends, relatives, fans and strangers alike, only to boldly spend every free moment chasing the glamour and headiness that comes with being you. Better yet, it's the skill to avoid and screen out only those phone calls you're sure you can't use. It's the great eraser of accountability.

Once an ego has become engorged, care and maintenance are essential for keeping it healthy. Could Michael Jackson really have become Michael Jackson without the "100-Million" sticker he kept on his mirror during the recording of the Bad album? Would he even have had the balls to title the album Bad? I think not.

Daily reminders are a good start, of course, but they can never take the place of actual grandstanding and tantrum-throwing, skills that only blossom with endless practice. My advice is to begin on whomever is close at hand, parents, a roommate, neighbors, co-workers. Get out there and get to ranting.

My personal favorite skill-building technique is to simply ask anyone in earshot, "But what about what I need?" At first it may be difficult to keep a straight face while doing this, but hey, no pain, no gain.

Self-importance slaps a "Limited Edition" sticker on the latest Garth Brooks album. It's the sass in the question "Do you have any idea who I am?" Conscience is, of course, a killer. It's also a quaint notion and has since become obsolete. Forget about it. Self-importance is the money shot on every episode of MTV's Fanatic.

It's what makes Jewel think we'd like to read her poetry.

So when you make your resolutions this year, do what the pretty people do. Go ahead and promise to quit smoking, lose weight, lay off the pipe, become and "avid" reader, be nicer to your sweetie, answer all your e-mail, drink less, stop using the word "scatological," get those things done around the house, appreciate nature and your family, stop spending so much money at nudie-booths, eat more vegetables...

Just remember, when it all blows up, simply shrug and smile, then head down to mall and pick yourself up something nice.

You deserve it.




in the junk drawer:

and such
and such

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