Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Healthy Denial

Sometimes it's depressing how (relatively) normal and safe my life is.

Take the other day. I get a call from this girl doing a phone survey. It's for a study of the Pennsylvania Health System. Would I mind answering some questions? Now as a general rule I try not to say no to surveys - the way I look at it, sooner or later I'm going to have to start using surveys to collect data for my research, and so it's only fair that I answer them for other people.

At any rate. At first her questions are harmless enough. You know - how many people stay in my house, do I have a phone, what's my household income, etc. But pretty soon they started giving me an inferiority complex. Here's roughly how it went:

Survey person (SP): Do you smoke?
Falstaff: No.

SP: Do you do drugs?
F: No. (Dammit! I knew there was something I missed out on in college)

SP: Do you consume alcohol?
F: (Ah, finally an area I have expertise in!) Yes. Yes!

SP: (Oh ya?) In the last 30 days, how often would you say you have been out drinking: a) 1 to 2 times, b) 3 to 5 times c) 5 to 10 times d) 10 to 15 times and e) more than 15 times?
F: Errr...1 to 2 times.

SP: (I thought so) Every time you went out drinking in the last 30 days, what quantity of alcohol did you consume on each occassion: a) 1 or 2 drinks b) 3 or 4 drinks c) 5 or 6 drinks d) more than 6 drinks?
F: 1 to 2 drinks. (but that's only in the last 30 days. Otherwise I'm practically an alcoholic. Why you should have seen me that night...how long ago was it now...five years? Aaargghh!)

SP: Have you ever driven when you were drunk?
F: No. (I don't drive)

SP: Have you ever had sex with someone when you were drunk?
F: No. (Okay, this is not going well)

SP: (so much for drinking, huh) Have you ever shared needles with other people?
F: No. (Ewww!)

SP: Have you ever had sex with someone for drugs or money?
F: No. (Ya right, like anyone would pay to sleep with me)

SP: Have you at least had unprotected sex with another man? (come on, give me something to work with here)
F: No.

SP: (Okay, okay, maybe it's not that you're a loser, maybe you just have some serious medical condition): Do you have asthma? Diabetes? Haemophilia? AIDS? Osteoporosis?
F: No. No. No. No. No.

SP: How old ARE you? (probably like 80, right?)
F: 28

SP: (Okay that does it, you're definitely a loser) Do you have smoke detectors in every room in your house?
F: Yes (in all of the one room I have)

SP: (You would) Do you always wear seat belts when you're in a car?
F: Yes

SP: (figures) Do you not allow other people to smoke in your house? (why am I even bothering to ask you this, of course you don't)
F: No, not really (no one's ever asked)

SP: (congratulations, you are officially a slug. Let's see if you have the decency to be depressed about it) Do you suffer from mental depression of any kind?
F:(say yes! say yes! she has no way of checking; tell her you can't get through the day without your lithium tablets) No.

SP: (ya, you wouldn't would you? Vanilla Boy!) Would you describe yourself as being generally satisfied with your life?
F: (thoroughly ashamed of myself by now): Yes.

SP: (and a smarmy, self-satisfied slug at that. Some people, I tell you!) Right, that will be all (I need to go find somebody who's ALIVE and survey them).
F: (Sinking speechlessly into the floor).

How did this happen? How could I let it? How did I get from being the wild, hard-drinking half-suicidal poet of my dreams to this salad-eating, occassional-glass-of-wine sipping goody two-shoes? I don't want to be the Good Living Guide's Poster boy of the Month, I want to be Byronic and depraved, I want to be headed for imminent destruction, I want to be my own worst enemy, I want to be Raymond Carver. Dammit, someone come have sex with me and pay me for it now!

The thing is, it's not like she was targeting a certain population (say college students). This was one of those classic Random Digit Dialing surveys. She actually asked me how many children I had. So let's assume that the people who designed these surveys know what they're talking about. Let's assume that they're not going to design a survey where the bulk of the population is going to give them the same answers. That means that there are huge sections of society out there who are merrily swapping needles and driving around with 5+ drinks in their system. Without a seatbelt. More than 15 days a month. What have I been missing out on?

Look, it's not like I want to be James Dean or something. I don't want to live on the edge. But I do want to live an easy two hour's ride from the edge, I want to live where the edge is just a convenient day-trip away. I don't want to live so far in the hinterland that the edge is like this whole other country that I need a visa to get to. When it comes to edginess, I'm living in Idaho here. This is depressing.

Wait! Did I just say depressing? hey, what do you know, I'm depressed! Hear that, Survey Woman, I'm depressed. My overall satisfaction with my life just moved from Highly Satisfied to Somewhat Satisfied. Hell, maybe even Somewhat Dissatisfied. Put that in your pipe and give it to me and I'll smoke it. Yippeee! I'm depressed, I'm depressed. Sylvia Plath here I come.

Oh, wait. I'm not depressed any more. Darn.

Categories: ,


pointblank said...

Needless to say, it makes for an amazing read.
But take a moment, and look at it from someone else's perspective (read mine). At least you live in a neighbourhood where something exciting happens. You probably know (or have heard of) someone who is at least a fraction of what you mentioned toward the end of the post; where there exists a government which never ceases to entertain. The fact that there ARE such surveys should suffice for an evidence, per se.
I live in a place(Sg) where a survey like this in itself would be looked upon suspiciously; where you have to think twice (or even more) before you 'Jay walk' in the middle of the night even if there are no cars for as far as your eyes can see; where people are scared to even utter a word against the pseudo democratic regime, let alone vote against them. Where people either go 'clubbing' or wander around the one famous street they have (Orchard); where owning a car is equivalent to being a millionnaire; where shopping is considered a 'sport' and football is what the nation moves on. No, they don't play at the international level, they are just crazy about other countries/clubs. Cricket is ridiculed and looked down upon, as if it were an alien sport.
Considering all this, I'd say you lead a rather exciting, unpredictable and sort of a 'wild' life, no?

Jabberwock said...

It would appear I'm your only-marginally-more-evil twin - yes to the questions about driving and having sex while drunk (never all at the same time though), otherwise with you all the way.

Inkblot said...


a.they had the questionnaire all wrong (:))

b. it was meant for me (:P)

c. time to make your own and answer it (:D)

note: 'none of the above' is not an option here.

bet you hate smileys too!

Dexter said...

sounded like prospective in-laws spying on you ;)

manasi said...

@pointblank-sigh...agree completely... can't wait to get out of this country (SG)

(p.s: isn't it enough to drive you to depression and/or taking to alcohol and/or consider having sex with any one of the transvestites walking abt orchard thus giving you an edge over falstaff?)

csm said...

this was on may 2nd newspaper (DNA page 11)... unable to post the link so here goes the main highlights.

SC comes down hard on drinking --We dont need an indolent nation, says apex court

The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre and all the state governments to consider imposing prohibition as it observed, “We dont need an indolent nation.”
“It is a notorious fact, of which we can take judicial notice, that more and more of the younger generation in this country are getting addicted to liquor. It has not only become a fashion to consume it (liquor) but it has also become an obsession with many,” said a Bench of Justices S B. Sinha and P K Balasubramanyan.
“We do not need an indolent nation,” observed the Bench while allowing a Maharashtra governments appeal against a Bombay High Court (Nagpur Bench) order that had stayed levy of license fee ( Rs.2 per litre) for rectified spirit and (Rs.3 per litre) extra neutral alcohol obtained to manufacture Indian whiskies.
--end of article--

but really, we are never far from the edge, ever. you may think so based on your geography and demography, but that is never a limitation to get onto the edge. in an instant...

the saint said...

well written..

Arthur Quiller Couch said...

Did they ask if you've ever blogged while drinking? I mean, you have to score SOMEwhere.

drifting leaf said...

hey Falstaff...many more like you out there...but none that can put it down quite like you do!

Falstaff said...

Pointblank: No, no. I mean yes, I agree Singapore is duller than ditchwater, but the point is it's duller because of ditchwater because of the government. See if I lived in Singapore right now I could blame my complete lack of a wild existence on the authorities. I wouldn't just be this guy who sits at home and surfs the web a lot, I would be a brooding dissident.

Jabberwock: So not so much to be beware of then? The driving thing isn't fair because I don't own a car and don't drive - I've been in cars with people who were drunk - I think that should count.

The having sex while you're drunk bit I just don't get. I can see why you might want to do that if you were married and getting drunk 15 days a month. But for me, both getting truly drunk and having sex are rare enough occurences that I wouldn't want to combine them in a single night.

inkblot: ya, I thought about C. It went something like: "have you ever mixed darjeeling and green tea in the same cup?" "how often in a given week do you read Neruda?" "Each time you read Neruda, how many poems of his do you read?". See what I mean.

dexter: you mean I'm going to end up married to the Pennsylvania Health system? oh, yaay!

csm: ya, right. Sure alcoholism is something the new generation's just discovered. Nobody'd ever heard of alcohol in the 19th century, let alone thought of celebrating it. Ghalib, for instance, had never heard of the stuff.

And wait, their master plan to rid the country of this evil is to levy a fee of Rs. 2 / litre? Like I'm suddenly going to stop drinking because a pint of whisky costs me, oh, 45 paise more? How are these people getting to these numbers? Counting in annas, I presume.

Saint: Thanks

AQC: Ah, but to get there I would have to tell them how much time a day I spend blogging. That would more than have destroyed any coolness effect of drinking and blogging (I mean where's the danger there anyway - what you going to do, hit the enter key and run?).

leaf: Oh, I know that - but the whole point is all those many more are precisely the sort of smug-married zombies I make fun of - I want to laugh at them, not be one of them.

confused said...

I have done drunken driving but not in this country(don't drive), Sex while drunk? Hear hear! No one is ready to sleep with me when I am sober...

Please Falstaff, when you find someone who is ready to pay you to have sex , send her over the bridge, will ya?

yeye, I mean the Ben Franklin.


ozymandiaz said...

I find phone surveys a great way for me to escape reality. I simply give the most creative (and subsequently false) answer I can fabricate at the moment. Not only does this give me short term amusement, but it allows me to escape the implications of statistics, whatever they may be. I simply tell myself when reading some supposed empirical evidence supported by statistics gleaned from a survey or two that many other people lie also, skewing the outcome. Why would I do this? Well...
I'm me.

MockTurtle said...

Preoccupied with similar thoughts recently.
Great minds etc...

Heh Heh said...

sad is a life without depression..

Lakshmi said...

:-) Keep dipping into your blogs now and then and frankly speaking, your writing is amazing (guess you've heard that before!). So much so that I was too intimdated to even comment...:-)
Funnily enough, now that I know you're 28 (not too far from me there), I feel like I can put in a comment once in a while...:-)

Keep writing... you are gifted.


Patrix said...

Coincidentally, I'll be soon helping out some ppl who are working on the exact same dataset except it is for Texas and it is targetted toward college students. So I bet, I'll be reading lot of Yes answers to the questions you just answered No to.

But don't you think the Hawthorne effect is applicable here i.e. people will tend to give PC answers when questioned about drugs and sex and especially when it involves both at the same time? But then, I am new to such data and may be missing something.

Falstaff said...

confused: no worries. Anyone who pays to have sex with me (presumably because he / she is drunk) is pretty much guaranteed to send themselves over the bridge the next morning. The Brooklyn one.

Oz: Yes, I used to do that too. But for the same reasons that I actually answer the surveys I like to believe they're accurate. It's important to me that the people who review my work believe in surveys.

mt: Yes.

heh heh: Ya, I figured you'd see that.

lakshmi: thanks. Just curious - how old did you think I was?

patrix: Nice. Just don't tell me how everyone has a more exciting life than me.

Seriously, I think that is an issue with self-reports on stuff like this, though I would think the bigger problem is non-response - I suspect a lot of people will simply refuse to answer rather than give PC responses. Notice also that I altered the questions a little - the way it's actually asked all the needles, unprotected sex, drugs, prostitution questions come in a single question, and you just need to say yes if you've ever done any of those things without specifying which one or how many of them.

It did occur to me, btw, that maybe the extreme values on the survey were put in place precisely to make people feel better about sharing their own less radical experiences. You may be more willing to say you go out drinking every fourth night, if you think there are people out there who do it 15 days a month. At least that's what i've been telling myself to make myself feel better.

mockturtle soup said...

Great minds etc...

Oh, reaaaaallly? How cool is THAT!

dazedandconfused said...

You know falstaff, even I presumed that you were older than 28 (like Lakshmi) when I first came across your blog. You know, you should probably remove that old man photo that you have on your blog (sorry if its some really famous painting by some really famous painter)

Y? said...

But I do want to live an easy two hour's ride from the edge, I want to live where the edge is just a convenient day-trip away. I don't want to live so far in the hinterland that the edge is like this whole other country that I need a visa to get to. When it comes to edginess, I'm living in Idaho here. This is depressing.

Hilarious. Love this post.
(just found your blog through the blank noise blogathon)

Lakshmi said...

Well, I'd assumed that you would be in your early thirties. Guess the calm confidence with which you slash people and opinions all around you made me think so. Let me rephrase, I feel like an extremely young 27-yr old when I read your writings...:-)


Falstaff said...

d&c: Ah, but you're assuming I don't want people thinking I'm older than I actually am. Not at all. I'm quite happy to have people think I'm 50 if they want to, I just like to know.

y: thanks.

lakshmi: Okay. I think you're wrong about that, you know - the older I get, the less certain I become about things, the less likely to slash other people's opinions and ideas down with calm confidence. It's only the young who can afford that kind of inflexibility. You should have seen me when I was 21. I knew everything there was to know about the world.

Lakshmi said...

I understand what you mean. However, not everyone grows older to give up their rigid beliefs and ideas. In fact, most folks get even more attached to them, I'd think.

I was that 21-yr old myself. But as I grew older, I found myself abandoning many beliefs simply because I found myself changing so rapidly - how could I not grant the benefit of that doubt to others?

These days, I find that the truest thing I can ever say is, 'I don't know' and it is quite liberating to accept that. For one, it doesn't bind you to what you think is right and wrong. Secondly, it leaves you in a frame of mind, ever willing to learn, accept, stay young!

My thoughts entirely... Sorry for hogging your space!


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