60 Things Worth Shortening Your Life For
The following risky activities, decadent foods, and otherwise foolhardy indulgences are detrimental to your health. You will, however, not perish in vain.
1. Danger dogs.
The Tijuana delicacy -- a hot dog wrapped in bacon, fried, and topped with mayo -- has made its way to San Diego and Los Angeles, sold from carts outside stadiums, clubs, and wherever hungry drunks congregate. See also:
2. Jersey breakfast dogs.
An East Coast derivative with scrambled eggs and melted cheese.
3. Surfing Teahupoo, Tahiti.
Unbelievable swells that roll over a shallow coral reef. Catch a wave and you're flying; bail and you're bleeding.
4. Giving a buddy a kidney.
You only need one. Hopefully.
5. Black Cat espresso from Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea.
A triple. Note the exceedingly heavy body, with chocolate, caramel, and dried-fruit notes. Also note that you're vibrating. That means it's working. intelligentsiacoffee.com.
6. Lyle Sankey's "Vision Quest" Bull Riding Adventure Experience, Branson, Missouri.
The Website says it well: "We work hard to match the livestock with your abilities, but we can't make you an athlete, change your mental or physical condition, or help you lose weight in a three or four day session. Come into this realizing that Rodeo is NOT tee ball." Of course, if the bull really pisses you off, you can seek revenge on his kind at the...
7. Bullfighting school at the California Academy of Tauromaquia.
One of the only (legal) bullfighting schools in the country. Someone's getting wounded in this battle. Hopefully, it's the bull. (Visit the Website for more information.)
10. Cream puffs.
The best are available at the Wisconsin State Fair for two weeks every August.
11. Blowhole diving.
Jump in and get sucked by the current through tunnels forged over thousands of years of erosion. Timing is everything. It should feel like being flushed down a toilet, not like smashing your face on rock. Hone your skills at the "easy one" in Laguna Beach. (Ask a local.)
12. Punching Barry Bonds in the face.
13. A Little Downhill
Hard: Corbet's Couloir, Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Congratulate yourself for nailing that 15-foot mandatory air at the top, but try not to slam your skull into the soaring rock wall if you fail to wrench an immediate, impossibly sharp left turn.
Harder: Silverton Mountain, Colorado.
The owners of this one-lift wonder hurl bombs to avoid avalanches, but that's the extent of the pampering: no signs marking the claustrophobic glades and chutes as narrow as coffins. Avalanche beacons and shovels required -- for real.
Downright nuts: Helicopter skiing the Chugach Range, Alaska.
Staring down the descents would terrify you -- if they didn't fall away in concave pitches so steep you can't see them. Riders who wipe out tend to cartwheel a long way because they're mostly falling in space, reconnecting with snow every 40 feet or so.
14. Chopped Liver
I was not raised by daring Jews. Nor were they brainy and accomplished. This Junior of Zion was saddled with no family legacy of piety, wisdom, or Talmudic scholarship. My people were chosen for bubkes, peasants in both countries, Old and New.
I’ll tell you what we had: We had chopped liver. Hankering to defy death? Try schmaltz, hard-boiled eggs, organ meat, and onions, all ground to a coarse pâté, thumbed up from the bowl on thick heels of seeded rye. Add salt. Then we’ll speak of risky feats and cardiologic derring-do.
Its earthy serf-feed roots are blatant -- no one ever kvetched, "What am I, beluga?" -- and yet chopped liver lives on as a great delicacy savored wherever Jews gather to fress like chozzerim -- which is, quite frankly, how Jews love to eat. The last platter I devoured -- airy, creamy, nothing that my thick-fingered Bubbe would have recognized -- was floating on a bed of lettuce in a poyer-free deli in Beverly Hills. It certainly wasn’t bad -- gehakteh leber simply can’t be bad -- but it wasn’t Gram’s.
Bad for you? Hell is yonder, full of hungry, heart-healthy bastards; heaven’s hither, beaming from that laminated menu in your hands. Quick! Before that white-smocked cossack comes to pump up the blood-pressure cuff.
15. Smoking Cubans (in Cuba)
Until night, it's Guilt City, Havana. Especially from the top of the Parque Central hotel, rising high and new out of the nearruins, with its rooftop pool and bar and rich Germans browning in the last of the sun that's been cooking the poor streetbounds since morning. After dark, it's easier to forget what surrounds you, because you can't see the poverty; only the hotels stand out, like stars against the night, foreign currency having trumped the day's electricity rations. In the distance: the historic Hotel Nacional, where you wandered this afternoon on the lazy hunt for cigars. Not Cohibas -- every fat-fuck turista down here smokes Cohibas -- but a box of Sancho Panzas, cheap and creamy and drawing enough heady smoke to begin choking out the last strains of ill feeling. The rum assists -- in mojitos, drunk through straws stuck in a pile of wet sugar at the bottom -- as do the cheeseburgers, grind-house bloody, because there are no surgeons general to mind your store in Cuba. Nobody cares if you die down here. And at last, just now, spitting out the end of your night's fourth cigar, ordering another rummy drink, your belly full and warm with still-kicking meat, you don't care, either.
16. A night on the town with Kiefer Sutherland.
17. Deep-fried Twinkies.
18. The schmaltz at Sammy's Roumanian, New York.
One tablespoon of pure rendered chicken fat contains nearly 13 grams of fat, 11 grams of cholesterol, and 115 calories. Delicious on steak or drizzled over bread.
19. The Ramos ginfizz.
In a cocktail shaker, dissolve 1 tbsp sugar in 1 tbsp water. Add:
• 1 1/2 ounce Tanqueray gin
• 1/2 ounce lemon juice
• 1/2 ounce lime juice
• 1 ounce heavy cream
• white of 1 fresh egg
• 3 drops -- not dashes -- of orange flower water
Fill with cracked ice and shake lustily for a long, long time, and then strain into a tall glass. Add 1 oz chilled seltzer, stir briefly, and then smile.
20. Paragliding Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wyoming.
Dangerously close to that wall we call the Grand Tetons. Especially if you lack knowledge of tricky thermal currents.
22. Oysters Mosca at Mosca's in Avondale, Louisiana.
A baked casserole brimming with two dozen oysters in garlic and butter with a breaded topping. A night ender.
23. Mountain biking in Moab, Utah.
Possible dehydration, heatstroke, and disorientation. Probably the most inspiring panorama you'll ever see.
24. The Fat Darrell at the R. U. Grill & Pizza in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Considering his namesake sandwich is made up of chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, and french fries, it's a wonder that Darrell is still with us (and trim).
25. Testing your cold-weather driving skills in Arjeplog, Sweden.
Where auto engineers converge to drive at high speeds on frozen lakes. They seek automotive innovation; you seek 75-mile-per-hour doughnuts. Beginners should first try the Porsche Camp4 Colorado Winter Driving School -- ice slaloms in a 911 Carrera.
26. Combo No. 4 at the Varsity in Athens, Georgia.
For $6.90, you get a tray of Americana and grease: a chili cheese dog, a chili cheeseburger, french fries or onion rings, and a medium drink. Upgrade to the Frosted Orange for 30 cents more.
27. The dark-chocolate-and-peanut-butter gelato from Il Laboratorio del Gelato in New York.
28. The fugu (poisonous blowfish) tasting menu at Morimoto in New York and Philadelphia.
29. Playing tackle football past the age of 25.
30. Narco Diving
The Bahamian island of Andros is a sheer-walled skyscraper, lapped by the six-thousand-foot-deep Tongue of the Ocean, where a diver can kick out a few yards and fall right off the continental shelf. While the abyss is free to all, Small Hope Bay Lodge offers a guided dive called Over the Edge of the Wall, down to 185 feet. It's not for the impulse-control challenged; at that depth you will be thoroughly narced, as in nitrogen narcosis, the dreaded Rapture of the Deep.
Why one gas should produce euphoria and another mere unconsciousness is not easily explained. But at about a hundred feet, a strange sea change begins to come over your brain, thanks to the increased partial pressure of nitrogen at depth. The muted colors of dangling sponges and the melancholy shapes of massive plate corals leap out at you, laughing. All at once, you're in on the cosmic joke. Truly, you are tiny, so freaking tiny, yet oceanic in your newfound wisdom. All is one -- and then some! Cap'n of the Good Skull Lollipop, you soar in space as you slowly fall, blessing basses and wrasses and intoxicating gases. At last you touch down on a little sandy ledge, a catwalk worthy of the north face of the Eiger, overlooking blue-black inner space. You may ask yourself, referencing the Talking Heads, How did I get here? And you may experience the profound confusion of an honest philosopher, which some people do not enjoy. But Jerko -- it's just scuba diving. You're only high, frying your synapses on pressurized dope. Confusion and death await those who linger too long.
So don't. Head for the surface and you'll come down as you go up, into the brilliant Bahamian light, no longer such a smarty-pants, perhaps, but still on vacation.
31. Getting a Road Job
Sometime before you die, and potentially right before, you must enjoy a blow job while driving a car in excess of eighty miles per hour. Everything about a blow job is better at high speed: the power, the thrill, the feeling you're about to lose control and leave a memorable obituary. A few caveats: The interior design of automobiles has changed since my road-job days, and it seems like it would be impractical in these newfangled models with their obstructive cupholders. It won't work in a Prius, for example, which is a damn shame, because imagine the self-satisfaction of zero-population-growth sex with low carbon emissions. It would probably work in a Hummer. Other considerations: It works best in the Great Plains, where the highways are long and straight; it's safer, and more fun, in broad daylight, particularly if you slow down as you pass a truck; and most important, drinking and driving and dunking don't mix. I can't recall exactly how you talk a woman into going down on you in a speeding car, though. I think it's mostly hand gestures.
32. Carousing with the Mob
It happened one night in a bar near the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. I was researching a novel and found myself deep in conversation with a number of ballet dancers. Don't laugh. Dancers drink. Dancers smoke. Dancers believe in the short life.
Two in the morning. We had all been overserved. It was time for one last song. I closed my eyes and belted it out. The bartender grabbed me by the shoulder. "Shut up," he said. I've heard the complaints before. "Shut the fuck up," he said. "Look."
I turned and saw a number of impeccably dressed men walking into the bar. They were packing guns. One of them stopped and stared at me. It was as if all the oxygen was gone from the air. They cased the bar and abruptly left. I started singing again. The bartender grabbed my arm. Seconds later the real mob -- without their well-dressed bodyguards -- walked in: fat and unshaven and scruffy. Each had a bouquet of beautiful women on his arm.
"Leave," my ballet friends whispered. "Leave now -- and quietly."
I walked across the room. I picked out the meanest fucker of them all and hunkered down beside him. He looked as if he'd just strangled Vladimir Putin's mistress. There are times in life when we must throw out the anchor, even when it's unattached to a rope. "You want to hear an Irish song?" I asked him. He stared at me, his mouth quivering. I was suddenly quite sober. He took me by the collar. I could feel my heart beating in my cheap white shirt. He said nothing but slowly broke into a grin.
The drunk man often navigates by the stars beyond the ceiling. Still to this day I cannot remember what song it was I sang, but I do recall that fifteen minutes later I was party to the spectacular sight of three great Kirov ballerinas dancing on the long wooden table of the Shamrock Irish Bar on Dekabristov Street, performing ballet moves with three very large Russian mafiosi, shots of vodka thrown back and forth, and the dancers outlasting them, and outcharming them, with ease.
As they left the bar -- it was five in the morning -- the Mafia leader put his arm around me and said that he would help me if ever I was in trouble. "What do you do?" I asked, trying hard to be naive. He turned and looked me straight in the eye. "I am . . ." he said, stumbling toward the door, "...I am a Russian baby-sitter."
33. Drinking Alone
I know that everything I'm about to say has already been said better by George Thorogood. And listen, I aced health class back at Sedgwick Middle School, and so I know that drinking alone means you're an alcoholic. I know too that being an alcoholic is bad, that alcoholism turns you toothless and yellow and moaning in the dark.
Until I was thirty, my biggest fear was that I'd end up drinking alone. Like every day. Like full-time. But now I'm thirty-five. I've got a nearly regular job. I'm married, and I've got a daughter. This means I'm almost never alone. And that's great. That's the best thing that's ever happened to an idiot like me. And yet...and yet...I miss drinking alone. I miss walking into a bar early and without intent. I miss sitting there talking to no one. I miss ordering a Harvey Wallbanger only because I've never had a Harvey Wallbanger and because I might never summon the courage to order a Harvey Wallbanger in the company of others.
The more I think about it, my mistake was worrying too much about drinking alone. I should've drunk alone more often. All the stupid things I've done...and no one to see me do them. All the stupid things I've said...and no one to hear me say them. Yeah, the drinking alone might end you early, but sometimes it sounds like heaven.
34. Refried doughnuts.
When and where can one sample the unholy union of Krispy Kreme and hot bacon fat? In your kitchen, whenever you make one.
35. Duck-fat potatoes.
• 1 pound small red new potatoes (about 16), with strip peeled around center
• 4 tablespoons duck fat ($3 for 7 ounces; specialty supermarket or dartagnan.com)
Over low heat, melt duck fat in deep skillet with tightly fitting lid. Raise temperature to get hot. Run potatoes under water, letting excess drain through colander. Transfer to skillet (water and hot fat create splatter but also cooking steam; potatoes must be in one layer with enough room to roll around) and quickly cover. Shake pan slightly to coat potatoes and cook until deep golden and tender, about 18 minutes. Season abundantly with coarse salt and ground black pepper and serve.
36. Bodysurfing the Wedge, Newport Beach, California.
When the Army Corps of Engineers installed a jetty on the north side of Newport Harbor, it created a massive freak wave that peaks only a few times a year (primarily summer). A blessing or a curse, depending on your skill level.
37. Speaking truth to power.
Thomas Becket. William Wallace. You.
38. The Carpetbagger steak topped with blue cheese, a fried oyster, hollandaise, and caramelized onions at Jacques-Imo's in New Orleans, washed down with:
39. A "three-bagger" of Sazeracs at Tujague's.
Three strong rye-whiskey cocktails in a row at a bar with the perfect seedy charm.
40. Attending a Glasgow Rangers versus Glasgow Celtic soccer match.
Preferably in the Scottish Cup final. Imagine: Red Sox versus Yankees, if the ALCS involved sectarian hatred, hooligan rioting, and the occasional death threat.
41. Fried dill pickles at Cock of the Walk in Natchez, Mississippi.
42. Secondhand smoking.
The smoker has the best stories, tells the best jokes, and laughs the hearty, hacking laugh of someone wise beyond his dwindling years. If black lung by proxy is the price we must pay for staying close to this dying breed, so be it.
43. A Home Firearm
My entire life is a series of hedged bets. As the fifty-four-year-old dad of a seven-year-old, I take no uncalculated risks. I don't let the gas-gauge needle fall below the quarter-tank mark. I set the ADT alarm every night. You could not pay me to travel outside the northern half of the Western Hemisphere. Everywhere lurks doom; I acknowledge its inevitability by avoiding all danger at every turn. When I can, I avoid turns.
I spent a long time living dangerously. I was the guy they sent into the pharmacy with the forged quaalude prescription. The guy who sold weed by the pound to the outlaw bikers. The guy who ate ham-and-cheese sandwiches on Yom Kippur. Now I'm the guy who insists that his wife clean the dryer vent twice a year so the lint doesn't catch fire.
Still, a few feet from where I now sit typing on the third floor of our home in a Garden State suburb of leafy calm sits my shotgun. The safety's on, but it is loaded. I don't hunt. And though my penis would win no bar bets, the shotgun doesn't make me feel larger. It is what it is: the most fearsome, effective, legal home-protection device around. Is it a danger to me and mine as well? Many studies say so, but I haven't seen a study yet that helps me get to sleep at night.
Call me crazy. Call me an ugly American. But don't expect me to call 911 if you break into my house -- not till I've blown your head and neck clean off your shoulders.
44-48. The Five Most Decadent Burgers in the United States of America:
The cheeseburger at Shady Glen Dairy Stores in Manchester, Connecticut.
Four carefully arranged pieces of cheese extending far beyond the border of the patty melt directly on the grill, creating a chewy crust that is as difficult to describe as it is to digest. $4.95.
The original DB burger at DB Bistro Moderne in New York.
A sirloin burger filled with braised short ribs, foie gras, and black truffles. $32.
Denny's Beer Barrel Belly Buster at Denny's Beer Barrel Pub in Clearfield, Pennsylvania.
The world's biggest burger: 11 pounds of beef, 22 slices of cheese, three whole tomatoes, and a jar's worth of pickles. No one person has ever finished it. $49.95.
The Krispy Kreme burger at the Gateway Grizzlies ballpark concession stand in St. Louis.
A bacon cheeseburger with glazed doughnuts in place of a bun. A thousand-plus calories. Minor league gimmick; major league angina. $4.50.
The deep-fried hamburger at Dyer's Burgers in Memphis.
Instead of a grill, Dyer's uses a cast-iron skillet filled with grease. Old grease. They've been using the same batch since they opened -- in 1912. $3.
Click the print button up there and take this with you the next time you're in Sin City.
49-59. The 18-Hour Vegas Vacation
For each activity, multiply the time spent by 100 and subtract the total from your life expectancy. Repeat twice annually until death.
Sunning (sans sunscreen) to a robust burn while marinating in premium tequila after dozing off at the pool: 1 hour
Chain-smoking unfiltered Kamel Reds to intimidate fellow poker players: 2 1/2 hours
Agonizing over minor scoring fluctuations in a meaningless NBA game: 2 1/2 hours
Devouring hare stuffed with duck confit and foie-gras-and-blood sauce at Guy Savoy, not to mention the 12 other courses: 4 hours
Watching Cirque du Soleil's Love, at the Mirage. (No life sacrificed, just dignity): 1 1/2 hours
Impersonating Nick Nolte with a bottle of Grey Goose at Tryst at the Wynn: 1 hour
Wandering downtown in search of the Four Queens, one of only two Vegas casinos that still offer single-deck, 3-2 payoff, dealer-stays-soft-17 blackjack: 1/2 hour
Talking shit to strangers with unplaceable accents at the table while alternating caffeinated and alcoholic drinks in ten-minute intervals: 3 1/4 hours
Threatening to exact bloody revenge on the firstborn child of a stingy dealer: 1/2 hour
Touching Brandie when it "feels rights" at Crazy Horse Too: 1 hour (ten songs)
"Date" with suspiciously underdressed woman sitting alone at the hotel bar: 1 hour (okay, 15 minutes)
A year ago, my twelve-year-old daughter, Chloe, was acting in my film RV. After a long day, I said, "You know, Chloe, you're painfully opinionated and you boss everyone around. You should be a director."
"No offense, Dad, but I'll stick to being a movie star," she said. "Directing looks too stressful."
On the first movie I directed, The Addams Family, I ended up fainting when, after a sleepless night, I thought I could maintain some sense of awareness the next day by drinking nine straight espressos. When the head of Paramount Studios said that it was unreleasable, I spent the night weeping on Sweetie's (the wife's) lap. During Men in Black II, I was raced to the hospital with what I thought was a heart attack. After spending the night in the emergency room next to a woman whining, "I need quinine," I was given an echocardiogram and told that I was simply suffering from stress and that I should get into a program of meditation. (I didn't tell the doctor that I was meditating when the chest pain started.) On Wild Wild West, I broke my hand in five places when I punched Will Smith's arm.
So why direct? It's the closest a guy like me will ever come to being a general. I have a thought, and suddenly manly men are building gigantic sets. Plus, being forced to make thousands of decisions a week on topics that you didn't know you were ever going to need to have an opinion about (Lara Flynn Boyle's girdle comes to mind) is exhilarating. I also get to send back cappuccinos because the foam looks too much like a latte and work with people smarter than me, who make me look good. If every couple of years I have a psychological breakdown, well, at least I've got a thick head of foam on my cappuccino.