I always told myself I wasn't goofing around. But a part of me thought I was just kidding myself.
I always told myself I wasn't just ignoring real work in favor of mindlessness. But I wasn't sure.
I always told myself there was a point to all this information gathering. But was there?
I've always been obsessed with information. Back when I was a kid there was no internet, so I had to serve my addiction by multi-tasking. Reading books while watching TV while scanning newspapers and magazines while devouring movies. The introduction of the internet was like switching to freebase.
You say, we are all obsessed with information. Yes, we all are obsessed with the truly important things: knowing how the U.S. economy is doing and what's happening in Libya and who is going to win the Eastern Conference and who Jennifer Aniston is currently fucking. But, I've also always been obsessed with the minor minor curios of the world.
Who harbored John Wilkes Booth while he was on the lam? Dr. Samuel Mudd.
Who witnessed the eruption of Vesuvius? Pliny the Younger.
What's the name of the minor league hockey team in Macon, Georgia? Why the Macon Whoopee of course.
I like knowing this stuff. I like stuffing my brain. I like reading random Wikipedia entries for fun. I like being the guy that can dominate Trivial Pursuit, impress his friends when "Jeopardy!" comes on, and be a show-off at parties. I like when someone shouts: "Why do you know that?!"
I sometimes did wonder why I knew that. Why I needed to know that. Was I just a jack of all worthlessness? My manager Craig pointed out otherwise.
We were in Atlantic City on the book tour at a great 24/7 bar called The Irish Pub. There we met a great group of young Air Force airmen about to ship off to Pakistan. We were drinking beers and shooting the shit, when I questioned a shy kid with a thick drawl as to his hometown.
"Ah, you've prolly never heard where I'm from."
"It's a small town in Georgia that ain't got nothing going on: Macon."
"Macon? Sure I've heard of Macon. The Macon Whoopee still play there?"
You should have seen his eyes light up and the smile that appeared across his face. He had an immediate connection with me. After staring at the ground for our entire conversation he finally looked me in the eye. I was now his friend. We went and got some beers. He was soon a book purchaser. And Craig, and the other people around us, still had no fucking idea what the Macon Whoopee is. Or was.
Later, on the car ride to our next tour stop, as I explained to Craig what had happened, how I had referenced an obscure sports team that only a local would know about (or should know about!), Craig explained to me who I was:
A guy who had been spending his entire life learning stuff in order to make the world smaller. To have something to talk about. To make instant connections. To turn strangers into friends. And, now we were learning, strangers into book buyers. It was actually an incredibly useful skill I had been wasting my time acquiring.
And my life flashed before me. All the people I'd ingratiated myself to through my information obsession.
How knowing strange baseball statistics had helped me get friends.
How knowing about education politics had helped me get a girlfriend.
How knowing oddball movies had led to Craig wanting to be my manager.
How knowing obscure Scotches had charmed my publisher.
And on and on and on.
So, perhaps I don't need to know about the Macon Whoopee, but I'm glad I do.
And read HOW TO FAIL to see everything I've ever learned in 32 years crammed into a novel.