OVER the past few years, people have been throwing around the term “bucket list” like we all have one.
As far as I know, this phrase didn’t even exist before the 2007 movie of the same name, starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. I didn’t see The Bucket List, not being a fan of Nicholson or of lighthearted comedies about the terminally ill. Critic Roger Ebert, who famously endured thyroid cancer, said the film “thinks dying of cancer is a laugh-riot followed by a dime-store epiphany.”
The Bucket List is about a road trip two codgers embark on after they find out they’re both going to kick the bucket. Conveniently, Nicholson’s character is a billionaire, so they can afford to do anything their withered hearts desire.
It’s a typical Hollywood movie scenario, where there’s tons of money to throw around at foolhardy antics like skydiving. Apparently the moral of the story is that the most important thing in life is your loved ones, which is pretty much the theme of every modern Hollywood film and is about as painfully obvious as it gets.
Yet the concept of a “bucket list” has taken hold. I guess it’s a way for middle-aged people to get into that “1,000 things to see/hear/do/eat/buy before you die” mindset without appearing to be pitifully ambitious.
I do wonder why we now have such a mania for listing items and then crisply checking them off. I’m obviously not the only person who flips through “1,000…” books and feels smug if something I’ve already done, or seen, appears on the list. But why? What does that prove? Was any truly great achievement ever thus inspired? I don’t think Johannes Gutenberg wrote “Invent printing press” on a scrap of paper one day and then crossed it out with a flourish years later.
Of course, the “bucket list” concept hadn’t been invented in Gutenberg’s time, the mid-1400s, despite the existence of buckets and lists. And most of the things that appear on modern lists don’t require much in the way of smarts. They’re easy to do if you can afford them –- they just demand money, desire and a hint of compulsion. A bit of online research unearths 1001 Buildings You Must See Before You Die, 1001 Wines You Must Taste Before You Die (of chronic liver disease, presumably), and 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, along with lists of songs, books, comics, MAD magazine pages, video games, gardens, natural wonders, foods, beers, digital photos, fly fishing destinations, sailing spots, golf courses, hikes or dives we should all experience, according to professional know-it-alls.
Some suggestions demand a high degree of idiocy. One online list of “1,000 Freaky things to do before you die” includes “Have sex while free falling” and “Walk into Best Buy naked.” There’s also a book by Helen Arnold called 1,001 Escapes to Experience Before You Die, which I had hoped were things like being chased through Venetian canals by a villain on a speedboat, but turn out to be vacation “escapes.”
If, unlike me, you ever feel that you need more failure in your life, I’d recommend the “1,000 Places to See Before You Die Page-a-Day calendar.” What was the concept there? There are 365 days in a year, and you’re not going to see three of the places on this list per day. On Dec. 31st, as you sadly chuck this calendar into the recycle bin, you’ll consider yourself fortunate if you’ve ventured as far as the Polar Bear Safari in Churchill, Manitoba. Say au revoir to 2012, loser.
I prefer the 2010 book 101 Places Not to See Before You Die, by Catherine Price. Price says in her introduction that she wrote this amusing guide as an antidote to all the other advice out there re: primo activities. Number one on her list of what not to see is Missoula, Montana’s Testicle Festival, where 15,000 people gather every year to munch on the bull calf testicles euphemistically known as “Rocky Mountain oysters.” Apparently the event also features a game called Bull---- Bingo, where somebody wins money every time a bull lays a turd down on a giant bingo card. There must be something wrong with me – this actually sounds like a good time.
If being plainly warned away from things doesn’t work for you, there’s always the option of reading 1001 Places You Must Pee Before You Die, written by Mari K. Eder from the point of view of a Miniature Schnauzer. I don’t know if it’s aimed at dogs who’ve decided that learning to read is one of the 10 things they should do before they die, or at humans who gave up on great books when reading them turned into a competitive chore. I just know that tackling this book’s not on my bucket list.
As a matter of fact, my list of things I’ll be sure to do before I die contains just one word: “breathe.”