When I was about 13, my best friend Carolyn Bryan and I wanted more than anything in the world to be Popular. We wanted it so much that we even started a Popular notebook. We hung around the older girls and recorded clues for Popularity that we picked up.
Mary Shannon wore a New Look ankle-length red flared skirt, a red-checked Gibson Girl blouse, and red ballet slippers. Tish Flanagan shaved her shapely legs till they glowed like alabaster between the hem of her pleated plaid skirt and her bobby socks. When she crossed her legs sparks flew. Patsy Johnson rolled her jeans to the knees and topped them with her father’s white dress shirt, hanging loose. They all jitterbugged to “King Size Papa”:
I wanta man that’s more than eight feet tall
He’s four feet shoulders and that ain’t all
He’s a king size papa
and slow-danced to “Golden Earrings”:
There’s a story
The gypsies know is true
That if you wear those golden earrings Love will come to you
with a final sweeping dip on the last “youuuu.”
For a while Carolyn and I worked pretty hard at Popularity, talking our mothers into New Looks and our fathers out of white shirts. We shaved our legs tor-turously with a dry razor, and rubbed them down with Jergen’s Lotion. We practiced jitterbugging for hours, our brows furrowed in concentration. We perfected our slow dance till in our dip chubby Carolyn, who led, lifted skinny me completely off the floor like Margot Fonteyn and held me suspended for the count of ten. It was gorgeous.
After six months or so we took stock. I had Doyle James’ senior class ring swinging around my neck, but Doyle wore glasses and couldn’t drive. Carolyn got to ride around town with Rob Hannaford in an old red pick-up whose door flew open rounding corners, but Rob had pimples. Lots of pimples. Since neither Doyle nor Rob could dance, Carolyn and I still had to jitterbug and slow dance with each other. The promise of king size papas and golden earrings seemed as remote as ever. Were we Popular? We flat didn’t know.
The whole silly thing taught me something about the futility of programs for success. Or so I thought until a rainy day a few weeks ago when I unexpectedly found myself shelling out $9.95 plus tax for Dr. Joyce Brothers’ How to Get Whatever You Want Out of Life. I still don’t know what made me do it. It may have been the sheer audacity and une-quivocableness of the title: How to Get. Whatever You Want. Out of Life. No hedging, no limits. Or it may have been the 30-day guarantee, complete satisfaction or your money cheerfully refunded.
The book jacket had a lot to do with my buying it, too. There sits Dr. Joyce herself, the picture of success. Her bouffant golden hair softly frames her face, her sincere blue eyes look directly into yours, her lips, moistened like a beauty queen’s, smile invitingly. She wears a diamond-studded platinum wedding ring and an Accutron watch on a leather band, and clutches a gold Cross pen in her thin elegant fingers. This baby can deliver, her accoutrements say. So I bought the book.
I don’t mean to bad mouth Dr. Joyce, who describes herself as a very successful short blonde woman psychologist and expert on boxing, but I don’t think it’s going to work. Maybe I’m too tall, or too dark, or too stupid. Whatever, I have a feeling that come the end of the month I’m going to be over at Taylor’s shamefacedly asking for my money back. Here’s how things have been going so far.
Feb. 24. Rainy Saturday. Buy How to Get Whatever You Want Out of Life, come home, and settle down. Am really edified by Dr. Joyce’s story (Chapter Two: “All I Wanted Was a Cadillac”) of how she became a boxing expert and won “The $64,000 Question” with her expertise. At a moment’s notice, she had rushed down to Rockefeller Center, her wet hair tied up in a kerchief, her cranky, sleepy three-year-old daughter in her arms, and had gone on to win! And I can do it too. Dr. Joyce says so:
1 have come to the conclusion that the person who truly knows what he or she wants out of life and who is willing to work for it will achieve that goal. The first – and most important – step is to find out what you really want. Not what you think you should or what someone else thinks you should, but what you, the inner you, really wants out of life.
What the inner me really wants. That will take some thought. Right now all I know is what I don’t much want: to win a Cadillac by learning a lot of boxing statistics.
Feb. 28. Home late today after an interminable committee meeting. Too trashed to. cook dinner. Get a Coors Light, kick off my shoes, sink down on the bed to try Dr. Joyce’s Quick List Technique. I’ve got to find out what the inner me really wants. “Write down the three things you want most in the world at this very moment. Don’t stop to think. Just scribble your wishes down.”
1. Not to cook dinner.
2. Not to go to committee meetings.
3. A Hershey bar, the old big kind withalmonds.
The inner me is lazy, surly, and greedy. “The names of the three people you admire most.”
1. Mickey Rooney.
2. Carl Thomas.
I am not being serious. I try again.
My son drifts into the room, wielding his tennis racquet like a baseball bat.
“What’re you doing?” he asks.
“Making a list.”
“Yeah? That’s nice.” He looks at me accusingly. “Hey, Mom, where were you? I thought you were coming to see me and Michael play doubles. You said you were.” He sights down his racquet as if it were a .22. “Mrs. Carney was there. She always comes to watch Michael play, even when it’s just practice.”
1. Mrs. Carney.
With a blast Ted Nugent invades my daughter’s room, and “Cat Scratch Fever” livens up the place. My son ambles out. In a minute the hysterically pitched tones of Steve Martin come from his room. Sibling rivalry has taken to the airwaves.
“The names of the three people you would most like to be.”
1. Howard Hughes.
2. Helen Keller.
The puppy leaps from my side and does her barking thing. “Emily, damn it, shut up!” I yell. She barks shrilly, bristling at the closed door. The door opens and my husband comes in. The fickle puppy prostrates herself and licks his shoe sole foolishly, while he scratches her ear.
“The three nicest things anyone ever said about you.”
1. My mother said the back of my neckwas pretty.
“You look like hell,” my husband says. “Want me to go to Al’s and pick up a pizza for supper? But first, you look like you could use a real drink.”
3. And that.
March 3. As if I haven’t had enough decisions to make since Dr. Joyce came into my life, now I’ve got to decide if I’m a lark or an owl, “depending on inborn body rhythms.” Must monitor my temperature for a week. If it’s highest in the morning, I’m a lark. Can get up at 5 a.m. “to absorb management procedures” or “to cast a horoscope.” Owls peak in the evening and can “study the feasibility of heating with solar energy” or “the ins and outs of a proposed tax shelter” after midnight. I don’t want to do any of these things.
Anyway, I already know I’d have to sleep from 12 to 6 if I were writing Beethoven’s Fifth. Could be I’m a sparrow? Ah, well, it’s hard to argue with science and win. Am going to take my avian rating just as soon as I can find the thermometer.
March 8. Nearly a third of the way through the month and hardly any progress toward getting whatever I want out of life. (Though I did find the thermometer.)
Decide I must get serious and turn to Chapter Seven, which looks serious: “How to Use Your Halo to Get What You Want.” News to me that I have one but apparently everybody has a halo, good or bad (bad halo?). Halo is first impression you make on somebody; can be negative or positive.
Dr. Joyce cites lots of cases of good and bad halos. Lynda Mae (bad), Hobart (good), Robard (bad), Paul (from bad to good) – all out to impress Jackson, the new office manager, or Chet, “head of his own electronics firm, which he started from scratch nearly twenty-five years ago.” Find I am beginning to hate Jackson and Chet, not to mention Mr. Malon-ey, Mrs. Samuels, and Mr. Greene. Am supposed to say things like, “I will never forget how impressed I was when I learned you were an Eagle Scout, Mr. Maloney,” or “How is your daughter, the CPA, doing these days, Mrs. Samuels?” or “What do you think about the Chinese border situation, Mr. Greene?” Will die first.
March 13. Keep thinking about Paul. Paul’s case inspires me. Paul had a crummy halo – zits at the age of 27, a nothing job in a discount record store, no money. And just like that, Paul reinvented himself. With a couple of visits to a good zit man, a new haircut, and an expensive dark blue pinstriped suit, Paul acquired a really terrific halo. Now when Paul walks into a department store, salespeople swarm around him, whereas before, he practically had to shoplift to get waited on.
I check my halo effect, as Dr. Joyce instructs. Do I look like the kind of person I would like to know? Would like to do business with? Would like to have on my side in a negotiation? Decide to call dermatologist first thing tomorrow morning.
March 17. Saturday, St. Patrick’s Day, and I’m trying to flow. Don’t know if I can flow on command, but thought I’d try when I read Dr. Joyce’s Chapter Eight: “The Seduction of Total Commitment.” One of the pioneering studies on flow came about because a researcher wanted to know why some people play so hard . . . Plato asked this question centuries ago – and never came up with a satisfactory answer. Freud asked the same question – and never came up with an answer either. But Dr. Mihaly Czikazent-mihalyiof the University of Chicago . . . questioned 30 rock climbers, 30 basketball players, 30 modern dancers, 30 male chess players, 25 female chess players, 30 composers of modern music. What was it, he asked, that they enjoyed so much about composing music or playing chess or climbing steep rock faces? Was it the prestige? The glamour? The prospect of winning?
Of course not. Where Plato and Freud were uncertain, Czikazentmihalyi is sure: It was “the altered state of being they enjoyed while being involved in chess or basketball or whatever” – in short, the flow.
I figure what Czikazentmihalyi can discover, and 35 rock climbers, 30 basketball players, 30 modern dancers, 55 chess players (30 male, 25 female), and 30 composers of modern music can do, I can do.
So, following the examples of Margaret, Joe, Beth, Trudy, Erich, and the rest of Dr. Joyce’s gang, I’ve been trying to flow.
Tried to flow grading papers. Tried to flow driving to Samuell Grand Tennis Center. Tried to flow grocery shopping. At three o’clock this afternoon, scrubbing the bathtub, suddenly find myself singing “King Size Papa,” at one with the bathtub and the Comet and the scrub brush. It’s the closest thing to flow I’ve hit all day, but I can’t see it’s going to get me anywhere.
March 18. Encouraged by brief flow of yesterday, start my Human Nature Handbook. Handbook will contain my own observations about the dynamics of human relationships. Keeping HNH will help me learn to manipulate other people through fear, guilt, hope, or vanity. Note: watch eyes. Dr. Joyce says eyes are (the windows of the soul. Well, yes. “If someone agrees with what you are saying, his pupils expand. If you say something that rubs him the wrong way, they contract.”
Daughter comes into my bedroom, sloshes my Opium on her neck and arms, deftly extracts my gold Anne Klein belt from bureau drawer, and opens my closet door. Observe her pupils are wide open.
Watching her closely I remark, “Don’t you think you’re wearing too much mascara? I mean, you look like you’ve got spiders on your eyes.” Her pupils con-tract rapidly. “And keep your hands off my new silk shirt.” Her eyes become slits.
“I don’t want your old shirt,” she says indignantly. “And you don’t know a thing about make-up – you just don’t understand fashion.”
“I understand I don’t want my daughter looking like a Hustler centerfold,” I say preachily.
Quickly she glances at herself in the mirror. Her pupils are wide open and very bright. “Oh, Mother,” she says, smiling sexily.
Entry in HNH: Must retrieve Anne Klein belt and buy UltraLash mascara.
March 24. I feel like Cinderella at 12:02. For a while there I thought I could get whatever I want out of life. But last night showed me the folly of such aspirations for one such as I. Such as me. I measured my Success Potential and found it wanting. On the success scale I’m right up there with Warren G. Harding and Mary Queen of Scots.
Night started okay. Invited Jay, Sam, Elly, John, Jan, and Kathy over to rate our Success Potentials. Husband has read ahead to page 285 (I’m forbidden to) and knows the rules, so he is to be judge.
Decide I can’t ask people over without offering food, so do a simple little dinner of crab bisque, squab with wild rice, and crepes Normande. First part of evening I feel successful just from getting dinner ready for eight people. Am lured into false security.
After dinner, at Dr. Joyce’s orders, we push the furniture back against the walls and make a “large uncluttered space”.in the living room. We could have gone to the school playground but decided the ambience was wrong.
Then we get at it, taking the Success Potential Test developed by Harvard psychologist David McLelland over a period of “years and years” and “used all over the world with positive results.”
Executives in large American corporations have taken it; businessmen in Bombay; high school students in Mexico; merchants in Hong Kong.
Not to mention employees and executives at General Electric, Coca-Cola, and Monsanto.
And Jo Brans. But I failed. I failed miserably. I won’t go into the bloody details, because you might want to test your Success Potential and I shouldn’t tip you off. Just let me say I am one of the shocked and shattered few – Dr. Joyce’s words – who have no Success Potential. Zilch.
Oh, she throws us nurds a sop. We can “energize ourselves.” We can “arrange for accomplishment feedback.” Or if that doesn’t work – Dr. Joyce is a bit grim at this point – we can console ourselves that
Individuals who rate low on success motivation are noncompetitive and place a high value on creating a life rich in human relationships. And this is another kind of success.
Oh, sure. The hell with that.
I’m going to take this fool book back, get my $9.95 plus tax, and buy myself a pair of golden earrings.
If you wear those golden earrings Love will come to you.
Might as well sucker out in style.