For many years, my goal has been to get myself together and do a better job juggling the responsibilities of home and work. You know: clean and tidy house, well-behaved children, crossed-off to-do list. Recently I’ve decided to forget all that. My new goal: eccentricity.
This came to me after watching the Frank Capra movie, You Can’t Take It with You. A beautiful stenographer (Jean Arthur) falls in love with the boss’s son (Jimmy Stewart), and hilarity ensues when she introduces her family to his.
His folks are stuffy, uptight, snobby capitalists. She lives with a kooky mix of relatives and unexplained other residents in the home belonging to her wise grandfather (Lionel Barrymore). Explosions go off, a guy pops up from the basement in a walrus mask, Ann Miller pirouettes through the living room in a tutu, and some guy’s always playing a xylophone.
I thought, I want to live with them. I want to stick it to the stuffy banker and have fun! (The grandfather explains that he started to go to his job one day and decided he doesn’t want to live like that and quit on the spot. He does not say how he replaces this income, however.)
But then it occurred to me that we’re not that far from eccentric already. We have three rats and a hermit crab, my son is marching around the house honking on his dad’s old baritone, my daughter spent the day body-clipping a horse, and my husband just went to the grocery for something called amchoor.
A tweak here, an adjustment there, and we will seem charming, zany, madcap, instead of just disorganized and haphazard. After all, what’s the difference between eccentric and flaky? A certain touch of whimsy, perhaps? A sense of purpose? A willingness to embrace the peculiar?
A friend once told me the difference between erotic and kinky was this: it’s erotic if you use a feather; it’s kinky if you use the whole bird. Along these lines, I started to think about shifts we could make in our lives.
For example, if you have dog hair on the sofa, that’s flaky. Monkey hair on the sofa? That’s eccentric. Unkempt grass in the yard? Flaky. Wheat in the yard? Eccentric. Bikes thrown in the driveway? Flaky. Unicycles in the driveway? Eccentric. Dog loose in the neighborhood? Flaky. Chickens loose in the neighborhood? Eccentric.
We could make other changes as well. Take up skydiving—and Dumpster-diving. Legally change our children’s names to numerals. Replace the stereo (we’re already verging on eccentric here already) with a Victrola.
Insist that croquet be played at all parties. Refuse to eat anything except oysters in months that have an r in them. Teach my son knife-throwing. Have my daughter perfect magic tricks with lit cigarettes. Affect a pince-nez. My husband will wear a tuxedo at all times.
Of course, you can’t let it go too far. Fun’s fun, but I can’t devote myself full-time to the xylophone just yet. Somebody’s got to pay for the monkey chow.
By Sally Owen for Burbia