Existentialists Explore Extreme Tedium

Russian Base Jumping

The word “extreme” is overused today; like “awesome” it has been drained of its raw glory by thoughtless abuse. Being manic-depressive – or “bipolar” – I have spent most of my life in extremes, natural habitat of the mad. I chased kicks obsessively, certain I was having fun. But fun, I discovered late in life, occurs when you know who you are and enjoy who you are; you don’t find fun somewhere else, you bring it with you. What I actually chased was adrenaline.

“Until you’ve had nothing you haven’t yet had everything.” Taz Mopula

We attempt to make mundane activities sound less mundane by applying the word “extreme” to them, for example – “extreme makeover” – not to be confused with “extreme snoring” or “extreme shoe polishing”. But the dirty little secret about life in extremes is that over time they blend together and lose their scary, “cool” edge. So many of these adventures are flights away, not towards.

“There are two kinds of people, those who believe there are only two kinds of people and those who dislike oversimplification.” Taz Mopula

Mental hospitals and prisons are all basically identical, bland food, linoleum, and well-appointed recreational facilities. Teheran opium den, Rio de Janeiro brothel, raging forest fires in Alaska, battered urban wastelands of Philadelphia; after peeling off layers of veneer I realized they were all essentially the same place. Ultimately it wasn’t where I was that mattered so much as what I was doing there, and why.

“People are always finding God in prisons and mental hospitals; but try finding a gift shop.” Taz Mopula

Whether by design or, as in my case, fate, it is exhilarating to close your eyes and sail off the edge of a cliff – crash – break into a heap of ragged fragments – and do it all again once you’ve mended. The thrill is all consuming and luscious. Doing what most people spend their entire life fearing and avoiding accelerates the process of spiritual growth, but, like anything else, there are limits to what it can offer. Crashing one’s car into a wall at 100 mph twice is not twice as instructive as doing it once.

“Everything and Nothing are identical twins; completely unrelated to Enough.” Taz Mopula

The shocking revelation about spending a life exclusively in extremes is that it actually stunts growth and ultimately is, (gasp), boring. The middle lane is not only the safest, it is the most richly complex, challenging, and satisfying; it’s where the real action is.

A Life Of Crime Begins Inauspiciously

The World Is Not Fair For Most Of Us That's Good

I have failed in many ways, which helps explain my success. One of my most notable is crime. I’m not exactly certain which element of the criminal character I lack, perhaps if I’d thought about it first I could have studied. Certainly I have the sloth, entitlement, lack of ambition, and contempt for authority needed to excel, but for some reason life on the wrong side of the law never worked out for me.

Like many before me I dabbled in drug smuggling, which seems ideally suited to unimaginative slackers. A brief, and ill-fated, career began in Izmir, a Turkish city on the Mediterranean. My traveling companion and I secured a kilogram of hashish, neatly wrapped in transparent wax paper and ready to travel. We were on our way back into Greece.

Drug buys tend to be anxiety-ridden events, especially when they involve strangers; being in a foreign country just made it that much worse. So we were naturally relieved after the exchange was complete to be on our way back up the coast. Giddy with the elation of “getting away with it” we purchased a bottle of unbelievably nasty wine from a roadside vendor. Our route to Athens was a winding road that hugged the seashore and offered spectacular views as it did.

The two of us relished our gangster lifestyle, smoking hash, drinking wine, and enjoying the scenery. It got dark and we discussed pulling over for a while but, with signature manic intensity, I insisted on going until we were back in Athens where I believed we would be safer. We continued, my buddy drifted off to sleep and I struggled to keep my eyelids from drooping. Black night, black sea, no sound or lights to poke me awake, only the waving pair of parallel white lines.

Blubadubablubadubadub. The car was at rest in the furrows of a plowed field. We checked to see if it still moved and it did. We checked ourselves for cuts and broken bones; there were none. And so, we finally went to sleep properly, it seemed like the thing to do.

The next morning I surveyed the scene properly. We were only a few feet off the road. On the other side of the road was a long, sheer drop to the sea, certainly 70 feet. I looked at the waves slapping against the stony beach and realized – this was only the toss of a coin. My stomach tightened like a fist, I fell to my knees right in the middle of the road and kissed the pavement.