By Anthony Deyal
I gave up drinking, smoking, gambling, and wild women. It was the worst five minutes of my life. Then, just over a month ago, I stopped biting my nails, a habit I could not break for more than seventy years. Unfortunately, there was absolutely no way to celebrate it. The dramatist, Alexander Woolcott, ten years before his death, lamented, “All the things I really like to do are either illegal, immoral or fattening.” I believe that there are a lot of men, not just those of us from the Caribbean, who have at some time in our lives indulged in all four bad habits and some additional ones and are happy to be able to boast about our distant pasts when asked.
George Burns, the comedian who lived to a hundred, made the point, “It’s hard for me to get used to these changing times. I can remember when the air was clean and sex was dirty.” He also said, “Sex at age 90 is like trying to shoot pool with a rope” and “happiness? A good cigar, a good meal, a good cigar and a good woman – or a bad woman; it depends on how much happiness you can handle.” I thought of my elation at having stopped nail-biting and littering around me with fragments of nails and yet the only thing I could think of telling my wife when she admonished me for it was to say, “At least I don’t bite my toenails.” Fortunately, she is not like the man whose wife left him because he is a compulsive gambler. Crying in the bar after his third scotch, he confessed, “I would do anything to win her back.”
We West Indian men, especially those in the area where I grew up, remind me of the story of a woman who walked up to a little old man rocking in a chair on his porch. “I couldn’t help noticing how happy you look,” she said. “What’s your secret for a long happy life?” “I smoke three packs of cigarettes a day,” he said. “I also drink a case of whiskey a week, eat fatty foods, and never exercise.” “That’s amazing,” the woman said. “How old are you?’ “Twenty-six,” he said. What I know is that like so many of the young men in the Caribbean, I was there and could have been that person.
Jamaicans have an expression for “bad habit” that I love. It is “a dat wid dem”. An example of its application is, “Dem pickney yah never like guh a skool, a dat wid them.” (These kids never liked going to school, that’s the problem with them.) What in Trinidad is called “breaking biche”, or leaving home as if you were going to school or leaving school as if you were on your way home, is not the only bad habit that can be found in that country.
A recent release, “Bad Habits” by Jamaican dancehall artiste, Shenseea, makes it very clear that there are others that cannot be included without incurring severe sanctions from the newspaper editor. In fact, the only quotable part of the song is the chorus, “Have a bad habit, have it/ Have a bad habit, me know me/ Have a bad habit, have it/ Have a bad habit (gyal bruk out).”
Shenseea is right. I know me and we know us, but what about those bad habits that are hard to give up? In fact, money, fame, and even the risk of being censured or ostracised are not enough for some people. It is like the man who was addicted to brake fluid but kept telling his family, “I can stop any time I want.” In fact, ever so often, someone without a single bad habit gets caught. For example, Brad Pitt, superstar of many box-office hits, doesn’t like bathing.
He allegedly goes for weeks at a time and uses wet-wipes instead of a shower. It is also said that Megan Fox forgets to flush, Christina Aguilera doesn’t wash her hands even after using the toilet, and Jessica Simpson rarely brushes her teeth. The only one of the bunch that most West Indians can relate to, especially those of us with mothers who cared enough to beat the excrement out of us if we failed to shower or clean up, is Olivia Wilde star of “Thirteen” and “The Lazarus Effect”, and author of “Do’s and Don’t’s of Turning 30.” She bites her nails. Her real name is Olivia Jack Cockburn but I wouldn’t go there.
Mariah Carey eats exclusively purple food for three days of the week, Simon Cowell has his own X-Factor, he climbs trees every day. Tom Cruise follows Victoria Beckham in using a Japanese beauty facial call Uguisu made from bird faeces, in this case, nightingales. Most people, when they found out about this, said they would prefer night-in-jails. Stephen King fans would like the fact that his best known “bad” habit is eating a slice of cheesecake every day before he starts writing.
Business Insider does not include cheesecake as a bad habit that is good for you but recommends skipping breakfast because fasting or occasionally giving up meals may actually help some people lose weight. It also says coffee is not as bad as its reputation since it protects you against diabetes and heart problems. The Insider also says that using social media, grabbing an energy drink, drinking one or two glasses of wine a day, and eating gluten are not the bad habits some people think they are.
On some of the lists of bad habits that are surprisingly and absolutely good for you are “passing gas” which, regardless of the stench, relieves bloating symptoms; chewing gum which improves concentration and memory as well as relieves ear pain during flights; urinating in the shower because the uric acid and ammonia can help you prevent fungal infections on your toes; being messy, burping, spitting, fidgeting, gossiping (releases feel-good hormones), complaining, losing your temper, and, believe it or not, biting your nails.
It is supposedly good for you because it introduces germs directly into your orifices and that is not a bad thing because small-scale exposure to germs helps you build up your immunities and makes you less likely to get sick in the long run. This is something you should chew on but don’t go overboard. When it comes to bad habits like biting nails, you have to toe the line.
*Tony Deyal was last seen saying that as you get older you develop a habit of dropping things. Then it gets out of hand.