‘Loneliness is Starting Clubs’ by Chris Rojas

soft cartel april 2018

When I was in high school my mother told me it was important to participate in extracurricular activities. Doing so would help me get into college, and had the added perk of potentially socializing me. Sports were pretty much out of the question given my meager frame and limited stamina. My tone-deafness and complete inability to act further limited the field. In surveying my options, I had a brilliant idea: start your own extracurricular.

The first plan was a Monopoly Club—as in the board game. This was right when hipsterdom was burgeoning and board games of all sorts were experiencing a resurgence. “Board game brunch” was becoming a thing in big cities across the country, and in my own neighborhood, an old diner had just closed and been replaced by a bar where you could play Battleship and Stratego as you drank. I counted on that trend to serve as wind in my sails. Moreover, people who love Monopoly are always in search of kindred spirits. While board games are generally meant to be played at family gatherings, nearly every family has at least one, and usually more, diehard Monopoly hater. Very few people casually dislike Monopoly: if you don’t like it, you hate it, and find any other board game superior to it. While this trend is on the whole depressing, it makes Monopoly a great basis for a club. Clubs, I believe, are best borne out of an interest or activity that your immediate family cannot ably meet.

Or so I thought. That high school had around 4,500 students and only two wrote their names down on my sign-up sheet. Three people was not enough for the school to officially sanction the group. Nor is it a good number of Monopoly players. While not having a Monopoly club would have been fine, having tried to start one and failed was considerably less than fine. Discovering that pure nothingness feels less bad than the nothingness that follows failure is a terrible realization. Once you know that, your motivation to take risks and try new things plummets, which is a good way to live a static life, which is a good way to feel unhappy. The cliché that only by taking risks and trying new things can happiness be achieved is completely true. When you prioritize not failing over succeeding, you have made the choice to descend into an emotional coma. But fail enough times, and you will get there. The stillbirth of my Monopoly club did not get me there, but it was a start.

My next attempted club was, unsurprisingly, a film club. People like movies, so this group actually got off the ground and was something of a success for a few months. Its primary trouble was my insistence on keeping the showings eclectic. One month I managed to alienate nearly every attendee by showing Gypsy 83 one week, Hostage the next, and Casablanca after that. I stuck to more standard crowd pleasers for sometime thereafter, mainly with classic episodes of Freaks and Geeks and the original Twilight Zone. The club was not meant to be though. We got a stern warning from the administration after the wrong teacher walked in on our showing of 28 Days Later. Not long after that we showed some episodes of Wildboyz and were shut down.

In an adolescent attempt to spite the powers that be, a few of the regular attendees and I vowed to soldier on off-campus—and to only watch extremely offensive movies. This got off to a strong start with Cannibal Holocaust and Faces of Death. Unfortunately, these gatherings soon disintegrated into clouds of marijuana smoke. This surprised me, as I find that an excellent reason to stay sober is so that you can better appreciate complex and interesting films. Most people do not feel the same, as it turns out. In fact, drugs and alcohol, I have found, are a very powerful enemy of any gathering intended to focus on something else.

The next year I switched schools, started another film club, and like most teenagers, I demonstrated a complete inability to learn a recent lesson. The second movie I showed was Larry Clark’s Kids. It is a great movie, but the administration frowned upon its very stark portrayals of juvenile delinquency, teen sex, drug addiction, and rape. The club was shut down and boy oh boy did I get into a lot of trouble. Once again, I defiantly took the club off-campus promising to only show films more intense and excessive than the one that had gotten me shut down in the first place. And again, this worked well at first. I recall attendees were particularly disturbed by Combat Shock and particularly disgusted by both the John Waters movies I showed. Tragically, like its predecessor, after a month or two, this club evolved from a film club to a stoner club.

That summer I decided to switch gears and start a book club. I figured drugs would have a harder time sinking the ship since while getting high before a movie is normal, getting high before reading a book is not. Another motivating factor was my desire to prove that teenagers did not need any sort of formal institution to pursue intellectual interests—that we were capable of doing it on our own. The first book we read, for reasons I can no longer remember, was Franz Kafka’s The Trial. There was no second book that we read because the second book was Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. That novel put enough members to sleep that the group stopped meeting after the second discussion of it. At the risk of being overly explicit: this book club did not fulfill my desire to prove to the world that teenagers did not need formal institutions to pursue intellectual interests. When my senior year of high school began, I admitted defeat and started no clubs.

If you are reading this and thinking of the lyrics to Radiohead’s Just that go:

You do it to yourself, you do

And that’s what really hurts

Is you do it to yourself, just you

You and no-one else

You do it to yourself

You do it to yourself

—you are correct. In looking them over, the failures of my various clubs are my own doing. Showing extremely different films back-to-back and thereby ensuring that no single person regularly enjoyed themselves was a stupid decision on my part. Compounding that issue by showing incredibly inappropriate films inside a high school building was also definitely, undeniably, my fault. Trying to get 17-year-olds to enjoy Moby Dick was dumb of me. Nobody would have predicted that that would work. Also: nobody likes Monopoly. Why everybody knows about that game is beyond me, since nobody plays it with any kind of regularity.

But, this admission does not resolve the issue, it only helps explain it. If your interests and tastes are weird, you’re motivated to find a way of discovering others who share those interests and tastes. One obvious method is to start a club focused on them. The trouble is, since the interest/taste is specialized, it’s going to be hard to get a club about it started…

However, as noted tangentially earlier, it is a mistake to simply stop taking risks because you find the resulting failures crushing—one must persevere. Adjustments must me made though, I am older and wiser now and can learn from my past mistakes. My next club will preempt its own decline into a drug den by starting out as one. I take this moment to formally announce the creation of my Lonely Americans For Fentanyl Club, or just “The LAFF Club” for short. This time, I know my club will be a success.  

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