We come into the world wet and wriggling under cold hospital lights. A doctor slaps us on the ass and then it’s all downhill from there. For the first half of our lives we’re stupid; for the second half we’re sad. And for a particularly lovely period in the middle, we’re both. Truth is an illusion, honor a lie, and happiness a mere word for the passing feeling that nothing particularly terrible is going on. And love—love is the worst of all. Love is a big hormonal trick, a gritted-teeth sublimation of a libidinous urge that’s stoppered by our collective decision to walk around in clothes all day, simply because we can’t bear the sight of our ungainly, misshapen flesh.
When Hamlet, the melancholy Dane, asks aloud, “to be or not to be, which is the better thing to do?” it’s patently clear which the better thing to do is. The better thing to do is to get out while the gettin’s good. But the problem is that we’re all cowards. And so we pause, one limp pathetic hand on our bare bodkins, resigning ourselves with piteous sighs to lives of quiet desperation.
But there is a remedy. We can redeem our useless lives through the cleansing power of pain. Surely we’ve all heard of the medieval flagellants, who fought against the impurity of their bodies through a process called mortification (that means, “extreme and usually hilarious embarrassment”) of the flesh. Or of ancient Indian ascetics, who hung out in woods and ate berries and burned their bras and listened to all the really boring, like, Hobbit-themed tracks on Led Zeppelin IV.
Well newsflash, folks: it’s the XXth century and we don’t have any flagella or ascets anymore. What we do have is Popov.
Popov is the worst Vodka in the world. It comes in plastic bottles because if you put it in glass it would break that glass. If you give Popov to a lab mouse, that lab mouse will die instantly. If you give Popov to a dog, that dog will turn into a really ugly and irritatingly aloof cat. If you put Popov in a car in place of gasoline, that car will drive you straight to the nearest Baby Gap outlet store and then break down in the middle of a crosswalk.
But if you give Popov to a human being, that human being will achieve mortification of the throat.
Nietzche once said “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” And make no mistake, Popov will almost kill you.
It’s like getting punched in the nuts by a gorilla. It’s like being roped to the underside of a truck doing 120 through an Alaskan mountain range. It’s like suckling from the teat of a giant wasp. It’s like doing an Oedipus number on yourself with a spork. It’s like getting an extra-extra-personal appeal from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, if you know what I mean.
I could go on.
But that pain is a gift. It makes the world real, makes your soul a little less heavy, makes the overwhelming pointlessness of the whole human endeavor just 1.5 ounces easier to stomach.
And, in the immortal words of legendary Roman poet Atticus, “that ain’t half bad.”
So drink up, Yalies.
To life, to liberty, to the miserable floundering pursuit of the vanishing specter of happiness.