March 4, 1999
Having Fun Is No Picnic
It is Saturday night, and I'm determined to have a good time.
Realizing that I never have fun and thinking that it would probably be a good idea, I decide to go out to a bar with some friends. One shows up at my house, and since she's "out of gas," I offer to drive. On the way, she needs to be taken to the Burger King drive-thru and the ATM. All of a sudden, I'm a soccer mom and it's car-pool night.
When we get to The Frolic Room, a funky old bar in Hollywood, I think: "Now I'm going to have fun. If you can't enjoy yourself in a place with 'frolic' in it's name, you've got problems."
Getting my drink was an experience I can only compare to being in a bread line in Communist Russia. Finally, I get my overpriced martini and end up crammed in a corner, where I clutch my purse and yell over the unconscionably loud music. Everywhere I look, people seem to be enjoying themselves. My inner monologue is all of a sudden in the voice of my Aunt Ida: "This is fun? Better I should have stayed home."
There are some things that come easily to me -- parallel parking, for example. But as long as I can remember, I've never been much good at having fun.
I remember my mom's last words every time I, as a teen-ager, went out to a party: "Have a good time," she'd yell down the stairs, almost pleadingly, the way some mothers would yell, "Be home by midnight." Looking back, I realize that she verbalized what for most people would have been a given, because "having a good time" isn't something that comes naturally to either of us. It's something we have to try at.
Like my mother, I worry and stew more than I let go. Getting swept up in some sort of euphoric good time is something that rarely happens. Sure, from time to time, factors collude to provide me a momentary feeling of abandon, but it's not something I've ever been able to plan, which is why amusement parks and birthdays are among my least favorite things. Fun for me always comes as a surprise eruption, an unexpectedly great talk over breakfast and six cups of coffee at a diner, the perfect song on the radio while I'm driving the last stretch of a long road trip, a giggle fit with a friend over something silly.
According to the old Funk & Wagnalls, fun is a "pleasant diversion or amusement; lighthearted playfulness." This definition is followed by the phrase, "Picnics are fun."
If only it were that simple. My definition of fun looks more like the equation for photosynthesis. For fun to occur, all my emotional ducks have to be in a row. There has to be a clean mental slate, meaning no calls to return, no problems looming, no personal relationships in distress, no column due on Monday morning, the planets in perfect alignment. So, theoretically, a picnic could be fun, but only about one day a year.
This may be a gender difference. I think men, in general, are better at the kind of abandon that requires repressing or ignoring mental background noise. My dad, for example, could have fun just hiking with his dog and spotting a rabbit, or biting into a particularly shiny, red apple. That man could have fun at an IRS audit. I've actually seen him enjoy himself at a funeral.
It's also possible that some people, male or female, might just have a keener ability to enjoy a "pleasant diversion," the way some people have good hand-eye coordination or double-jointed thumbs.
Anyway, I think there are things more fun than "fun." There's involvement in a difficult task, fulfillment, striving, achieving a sense of peace, self-expression. I seem to be OK at some of those things, so maybe I shouldn't feel so bad that I can't cut loose in a crowded bar. And don't even get me started on picnics.
Teresa Strasser is a twenty something contributing writer for The Jewish Journal.