This is not a primer on PLUR. Ok, maybe it’s a primer, but it’s not a user’s manual. The following is about a guy who adopts the tenets of PLUR, literally and practically, into his everyday life for 30 days and gives us a daily play-by-play about it. Please enjoy his ride…
I am one for conflict. For this battle, waged in the dangerous country of MY MIND, I was armed only with what I have come to see as the twin precepts of PLUR: 1) Buddhism Lite: The world is fucked up/chaotic, and 2) The Golden Rule: Do people/neighbors how you’d want to be done. Unfortunately, the Golden Rule hasn’t exactly taken universal hold.
Admittedly, it’s ain’t easy. If you’re going to live PLUR and make it count, you have to be consistent. To successfully and for-real PLUR, “it” must be welcomed into every corner of your life. Every time a decision trots ‘round the bend: PLUR. Anytime conflict shits on your umbrella: PLUR. Life hands you a victory: PLUR. Human beings will test you: PLUR. Like a benevolent bullwhip, you must lash that shit out in all directions, all the time. Only then will others take note. And people noticing counts. Good deeds and good actions are of a viral nature.
TIPS BEFORE YOU BEGIN PLURin’:
- Remember: The universe is a chaotic, fucked up, mysterious place we’re all stumbling through without a belt, wearing very, very loose pants.
- Forget: At least one of your “neighbors” would willingly break into your house and steal your 65″ plasma if they knew they could get away with it.
- A Warning: There is an adjustment or recalibration period when people will think you’ve either gone insane or have had your brain chip swapped out—depending on their own state of mind. This is normal. Push through.
- Addendum to the Golden Rule: Don’t be a chump.
When Insomniac pitched me with the idea of better-living-through-PLUR for a month, I knew that a lot of what I’d be doing would be forced behavior. In tight corners, I would softly whisper, “For the article.” At the beginning? Grand visions: Volunteering at old folks’ homes and food banks, tutoring underprivileged children and getting thank-you letters from the archbishop of Portland. But time is a tricky bitch, and everyday, rent-paying obligations do not bow to good intentions. So. This became an experiment in controlling the small moments, making the right decision when I could. After a while, it became automatic. Being “nice”—or what I came to understand to be “loving and respectful”—made me feel “nice,” which made being “nice” easier. Rinse. Repeat.
I live in Portland. It is considered one of the most socially conscious cities in the US. Whether one lives in a cardboard box or atop a jewel-encrusted bluff in Lake Oswego, Portland is en main a place for folks with, well, a “little gypsy” in their hearts. I have none, but for the next month, I’m a-tryin’. I spent the morning drawing up my “big plan.” Standing over my maps and my growing lists, I was all smiles. I wanted to be fair. I wanted to equally distribute myself—to make sure everyone in Multnomah County got a taste of the sweet, sweet PLUR I was ready to unload. My day climaxed poorly at an afternoon meeting with the social coordinator at an assisted living facility. No dice. They don’t “allow” volunteers, due to insurance ramifications.
PAYOFF: None. This PLUR thing might be more complicated than I’d thought.
Had an interview at a foundation that recruits college grads to tutor underprivileged kids. Seeing two Porsches, a 2017 Mercedes convertible, and a Hummer in the gated parking lot did not surprise me. “The convertible is a bit impractical for Portland weather,” I laughed to myself, “but let’s not fault the wealthy who choose to give of their bounty!” my PLUR side answered back. However, when I walked in and found that an entire floor of a fashionable building contained only one person, skepticism threatened. I had pictured perhaps 50. No. “Jamie,” the one rep behind a ship’s captain-size, cherry wood desk, wanted to make sure I had the $75 fee for the “initial” background check. My brain finished the sentence “No thanks, I’ve got to…” by walking me out the door. Background check: cool. Large-fee background check: bullshit.
PAYOFF: Learning to live and love, knowing that sometimes, you just can’t help those who need it the very most.
I visited my father. In the Midwest. I had not seen him for nearly a decade, and during that time it had bothered me. Seeing him, though, I was able to accept that having a certain isolation had made his life easier. Why doesn’t matter. When it is no longer an adult and a child, but two adults, then each needs to have their own shit umbrella. Besides, who knows how many times any of us on the big blue marble will see one another again in life. I played by his rules for once and just enjoyed the ride.
PAYOFF: Low blood pressure. No hangover.
Got introduced around to a handful of my dad’s friends, with whom I disagree politically. I let them talk without interruption because, well, this may be the last election many of them vote in, due to age, and I’m certainly not changing their minds. PAYOFF: Knowledge and perspectives of inner-circle secrets the illuminati—I mean, my dad’s friends—rarely share. Later on, I visited the site of my boyhood home, which John Hughes (Home Alone) knocked down to enjoy his ideal home—till he croaked.
I was invited out to meet an old friend. To accommodate the change in schedule, I tacked an extra day onto my rental car and cancelled bingo at the Lion’s Club—which is considered the equivalent of bungee jumping in the Midwest. This “friend” blew me off. I sucked it up and let it ride. Really, what good would it do to hunt them down, rivet fragments of their own hipbone into their skull, and tattoo “assholeà” vertically down their back with a surgical needle and pig’s blood? T’would have gotten me assault charges, that’s what. And aside from permanently crippling another human being, it would have hurt my wallet more than the car rental.
PAYOFF: Both my wallet and Hertz like me just a little more. Or they would if I bragged to them like I am to you.
Traveling puts me in “The Irritation Zone.” There I remained until my arrival home, when I spoke with my neighbor, the lost bongo player for the Black Crowes. He’s tall, slightly stooped, with long, well-conditioned hair and a beard that seems to sit up and say, “Hey, smile at me!” I sent off a small gift to my brother with the hope that it would enhance my standing in the family. PAYOFF: Being viewed as “jerkish,” as opposed to “a prick,” has its advantages. Is that the American Express slogan?
Chose to throw away the violent, blasphemy-filled letter of complaint I had written to an online laptop vendor. Instead I called, spoke calmly to the owner, and was given the choice between four different laptop models—all better than the one I’d originally purchased.
Sunday. Tonight I went with my friend to his church. My mother always told me that if you are in a new community and want to meet nice people, go to a church service. Mind you, I’m not, and she’s not particularly religious. But in listening to the (Catholic) priest, I found that I did not disagree with anything he said.
PAYOFF: Happy friend, no hangover.
Today I set myself up to help lil’ old ladies cross the street. In my mind it was heroic, not cliché: Don’t miss the next episode—WARRIORS OF PLUR: Crosswalk Hunters, PORTLAND. My anchor point was across the street from a major halfway house for the deranged and criminally questionable. In less than an hour, I’d given away all my money—paper and coin—and began to offer plastic. I was accused of stealing by the Sith version of Barbie, thanked twice, cursed twice (once with real imagination), and given advice once. “Keep on smiling,” she said. Well, this certainly wasn’t cliché.
PAYOFF: Still analyzing.
I suppose the idea of “Respect” references not only how you act toward other people, but also toward doctrines or what humans call “laws”—which, by simply being there, you and everyone else in your community have agreed to live under. If it isn’t life- or liberty-threatening, this means everything. So, today I went down to the DMV and dealt with something I would normally have put off a while longer: I bought new tags for my car.
PAYOFF: Able to park my car front-facing-out. This joy will make sense to those who’ve ever let their tags expire.
My barista at the Rocking Frog holds a spicy/red pepper bagel for me everyday, as they order two, and there is some asshole out there who thinks he has the right to buy both. Today I prepared a PowerPoint that illustrated how much I appreciate his loyal vigilance. He was happy. We laughed. He invited me to impregnate his sister. Joke.
PAYPOFF: He was happy. I was happy. This happened. For real. I swear.
Let my buddy use my ski pass for the day. And my ID to go with it. And my car. And my snowboard… basically everything good in my life. He brought them back entirely intact, and with a few good anecdotes. Then we hit an excellent warehouse party. All that garbage about conforming? Yeah. It just makes breaking the rules once in a while all the more entertaining.
PAYOFF: Mutual trust built. Also, the Burger King takeout, while enjoying a stranded-in-apartment Star Trek and comic-book-convention-video marathon. Guilt-free.
Nothing special, really. It is a fact that the skin of my face naturally settles into something closer to a scowl than a grin. Mayhaps my skull was molded purposely by some mischievous demigod to test me. So? I forced myself to smile in public for an hour.
PAYOFF: All the surrealism of a Timothy Leary–inspired night out. None of the comedown.
Stopped my car to help a female change a tire. Yeah, I went there. I let her sit inside my Subaru while I did it. In less time than it would take an evil sorcerer to wave his magic wand and say the words, “You slaphead, you’re trusting people a little too much,” this gal had gotten back in her orange ice cream van and motored—with my iPhone riding shotgun. Alas, she was tech-illiterate, and I was able to iCloud-track her down. The sweet lil’ gal was a great excuse-maker, and we were able to part amicably under the pretense that it was all a big misunderstanding.
PAYOFF: Got to experience a micro-karmic loop firsthand.
Told my parents I didn’t want a Christmas present, and instead, they could give $100 to UNICEF. Drove to the coast. Caught and released some crab, going along with my friend’s desire that we not eat them—all but one. Also did not shoot and eat deer which itself ate most of our food whilst we slept at camp.
PAYOFF: A right good belly laugh for all.
Regardless of whom I voted for, tonight I resisted the urge to run over the super-geniuses who were jumping over the containment walls and run/walk/skipping their way across the Portland freeways at night. I’m all for a good protest. It purges the limbic system of negative vibrations; it lets the opposition know you’re a stout, vigilant, ankle-biting watchdog; and in the end, it burns calories. And that’s a good thing—unless the protestors choose a stupid stage or reckless action. When used in conjunction with a protest, the nouns “highway” and “night” shift the focus from whatever point you’re trying to make to “injury,” “mental” and “retardation.”
PAYOFF: Avoided picking up another vehicular manslaughter charge.
I may have spoken about the fact that each morning, I get the same thing at my daily coffee shop: a spicy bagel from Blackheart Bagels in Portland. Unfortunately, the owner of “my” shop orders only two each day, and lately there has been another fellow with whom I am in daily competition to claim ‘em. Today, we came in at the same time—I from the back door, he from the front. I smilingly let him get in line first, as I’ve always found that IF you’re GOING to do something you MIGHT as WELL do it with a smile. Unless it’s an idiot move. Like this.
PAYOFF: Nothing. Zip. Nada. Zilch.
Helped move my “buddy.” This dude? Not one to pay back favors. No. Not one to help others, period. I knew this going in. In fact, he wouldn’t lift a finger if his own mother had accidentally stepped on a rusty, poison-coated spike, grabbing a bare electrical wire for support as she fell into a vat of hydrochloric acid. But together, we did the move in half the time it would have taken him alone. Sheer righteousness can be its own reward. And his new roommate? Yeah, she’s hot.
I shop daily for my food. Not monthly, not weekly. Daily. I think of it as a social call. Today at my deli, dealing with a new hire, I asked that my turkey be sliced “just don’t cut your finger off” thin. Instead, he gifted me with quarter-inch-thick, standing-upright-on-their-own slabs. I didn’t realize it till I got home, but I decided not to seek vengeance. It would mean more grief for that sidesaddle meat-slinger than he’d intended me. Hey, this matters—especially for a recovering vegetarian.
“Psychedelic gypsy music is my major.”
“Oh, I like that.”
“I love that.”
“Well I… Yeah, I love that, too.”
“I went to a Rainbow [Gathering, I assume] every couple of weeks. I hung out there—in the area, in the forest. Everyone was nice. Everyone was wonderful. Touched by an angel. We went on an angel walk.”
So went a conversation I would normally avoid, and it was obvious these people needed my help. Posing as Jean-Michael—pottery major at the super-liberal, academically questionable Portland State University—I agreed with and encouraged their lines of thought on many things. Our talk culminated in the power of unicorns, the existence of which was taken as “a given.” I wish I could say I walked out feeling closer to transforming into a being of pure energy. It was more of a low-blood-sugar giddiness with slight nausea. I was halfway to the unicorn saddle shop when I felt the burning shame of being duped. “Have I just wasted my time?” I wondered. Then I had a revelation.
PAYOFF: Just taking the time to talk to someone is a thing one can take righteousness in. And it’s okay. It’s a baby step, but it is a good thing. It has made them happy—especially if you’ve agreed with and believed their insane premise. Just make certain that whomever you’ve tried to make happy is in fact happy, and they’re not waiting outside the house, thinking about you as condescending prick (you are). Also, avoid the unicorn-verse at all costs.
I got into the meat of this thing by volunteering to help unemployed folks with their resumes at one of the many private organizations in Portland that attend to such things. You know what? I hate writing my own resume. Writing them for other people is worse.
PAYOFF: I was able to “fulcrum my synergies in a bilaterally strategic manner, creating opened-ended opportunities for potential participants in capitalistic gain structures.” Yuck.
Getting close to the end here. Cracks are beginning to show. Realizing that loving, unity-promoting, respect-giving can sometimes be taxing. Bitched out my fish because he was non-responsive to the new type of food I’d bought him. Hey. It has antioxidants.
PAYOFF: Healthy (self-absorbed) fish.
Thanksgiving. Fixed my neighbor’s kids’ bicycles (as I’ve promised to for months). Three of them. Luckily, they were kids’ bikes and were relatively simple.
PAYOFF: Tray of the best home-cooked turkey enchiladas I’ve ever had. Probably the first, as well. And early to bed.
Hot potato’d away my spot and +1 on DJ ILL Camino show list.
PAYOFF: Sanity retention.
Today, I decided NOT to tell my friend what a piece of crap his new car is (along with the shoes I secretly found in his closet). Sainthood, here I come. Of course, he’ll see himself at about 150,000 miles when the head gasket goes. Then, when his engine melts, he’ll call on me. I’ll swoop in on my magic do-gooder carpet (you get this after day 10), picking him up at the mechanic and treating him to a little treasure I like to call the pick-me-up meal, at the Burger King. I know there is some flaw in this whole equation, but I have not figured it out yet. Hmm. That doesn’t sound like much of a reward.
PAYOFF: Smile. Keep smiling. Just not for an hour at a time.
Donated 50 books to my local library. I was hoping they might see themselves clear to dropping my… let’s call them “hefty” fines. No dice. But should I really be going into something expecting rewards? No. This sounds sarcastic, but lowered expectations? It’s not just for parents anymore.
PAYOFF: The knowledge that some poor sap out there is going to be “bettered” by all my very special thoughts-on-text (and to-do lists) in the margins of my donated books. Cue sinister laughter.
Tried to volunteer at the Humane Society. They let me clean the poop out of the kennels, but they didn’t have anything permanent. It certainly cemented my feelings toward people getting pets without having both the time and space to do it proper.
PAYOFF: Learned a few things about the modern dog’s diet. Manager girl was cute. BINGO? Not yet… I’ll check back next week.
Decided to give out 10 random compliments. As I didn’t run into anyone I knew the entire day, acting on my plan got a lil’ awkward. I’m fairly certain the dude with the “nice melons” isn’t the same guy who was/is lingering in the shadows outside my front door.
PAYOFF: I’ll give this another go and see.
I know that my daily commute Uber driver is insecure about her skillz. If the cueball-size eyeballs whip-snapping from side- to rear-view mirror and back again continually didn’t give it up, her incessant self-narration sure as shit did: “Oh, there’s a new sign! Construction! Here we go around a turn; it’s a good one. Whoop!” Today, I imagine what would happen if I slipped her a compliment here and there. Can being nice directly endanger a person? In truth, she does suck the big one as a wheelwoman. But as the great communist Karl Marx once said, “We ARE our work.” I knew it would help her and probably not relax her enough to kill us. I must have learned her name three or four times, and each time I purposefully forgot it. It somehow pleased me to think of her as “Gary.” She very much looked like a Gary, despite factual evidence to the contrary. It was during one of the more dangerous stretches of my ride into Portland—the trip over the Marquam Bridge—that I sat back and imagined what my few words could do… could do… do… (wavy lines obscure view).
Gary goes home and, over dinner, tells of the day she had, the praise she garnered. The kids know this is a good time to ask if they can borrow the car for the night. “Yes. YES!” she replies happily, proud to be in such a good mood. It is rare for her. “And while they’re out,” she thinks, “I’ll have myself a little treat. Just one.” Well. The boy drops his sister over at the movie theater to meet her Brittany Spears–worshipping, Twitter-enslaved friends, while he wheels his way over to his girlfriend Peggy’s house. “This is the big night,” he thinks. “I’ve waited so long,” he whispers faintly to himself before she sweeps into the car, the scent of flower petals and freshly mowed grass trailing in after her. He drives them—with artful mastery that he now knows was inherited from his mother, whom he has very recently come to respect—to “the Point,” where they hump like donkeys, without limit and without reason.
In nine months, Peggy comes to term. One morning, crossing the very bridge where I once remarked on her excellent driving, Gary tells me of her son Billy’s engagement and of the newest addition to their family, Jasmine. Jasmine’s favorite color seems to be pink, and she has blue eyes. Just like Gary. I’m invited to their wedding—a private affair, friends and family only. The reception is bigger—huge, in fact—a drop-down, hammer-smash of a massive held at the Portland Event Center, with Doc Martin winging it on out from Los Angeles to man the decks. At the very height of the set, when Doc is really putting the BOOM to the ROOM, I glance across the floor, and there she is. After years of searching, finally, my mystery girl. And everything is cool. PAYOFF: BINGO.
Has this whole forced experiment been enough to change me profoundly and forever? I cannot say. Only another piece, “30 Days Just Being ME,” will answer that question. I tend not to overly scrutinize or compare my levels of happiness. If things were better in the past, I’ll only piss and tremble about how I can replicate the situation. If they were worse, I’ll only lament the lost and the never-to-be-recaptured time wasted. So? What to do? Buddhism Lite: Accept the Universe is a fucked-up place, and everyone living in it deals with it on a daily basis. Everyone. Golden Rule: Be nice to people—it ups the chance of them being nice to you. Twist them up together, and you’re PLURing it up, my friends.
As Mohammad Ali said during a speech at Harvard University: “There’s one way to cultivate the heart quality, and that is to become more and more self-less. What prevents men from living in the loving manner is thoughts of the self.” We hear this more directly through the excellent, single line of his famous poem: