Bracketology is an overused tool, but there may be a bold new frontier to explore using America's favorite structure for competition: valuable journeys into self-discovery. To test this I volunteered myself and attempted to remember the stupidest things I had ever done. The results were terrifying and painful, but science does not care about your feelings. It only wants answers.
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A few notes before we start. This is an incomplete summary of the stupid things I have done in life by necessity. Once I got started, the list grew to an unmanageable size, and what you see here is merely a sample. I have excluded things that happened naked involving other people to protect their identities, because no one needs that association spoiling their image. There are several illegal acts here because if you're not cheating you're not trying in life.
There is no numerical seeding because once I started I realized that all of these are fairly stupid to some degree, and well past the border of total objective evaluation. Seeding is random, with acts being loosely grouped into four categories: Misadventure, Consumption, Judgment, and Taste. These, too, are fairly arbitrary, and have been used mostly as a convenience.
The first-round matchups are described below:
FENCES vs. BATTERY FIASCO. Childhood stupidity of trying to jump every fence I saw, often resulting in grievous injury. Opponent: the time I confused the colors red and black while jumping a battery. Expensive electrical error is a powerful favorite here, but a large-headed, clumsy child eating dirt in slow-motion is a dangerous underdog.
CHILDREN OF MEN ALONE vs. HOT DOGS. Watching Children of Men alone in a post-Katrina New Orleans in a sketchy hotel with wire-meshed glass in the windows is a harrowing experience. Then again, so is eating 10 hot dogs in 10 minutes after eating a bacon-wrapped hot dog topped with avocado prior to the competition, something I did because "you don't wanna have too much room down there."
10K DISASTER vs. COLLEGE APPLICATION. This memory may not be accurate, but I don't think I applied for college until a month before deadlines, and thus turned in SAT scores and a fistful of McDonald's Monopoly pieces as my resume. I asked my dad for my taxes and he panicked. "WHY? WHY? ARE YOU WITH THE FEDS?" I also once ran a 10K in Target shoes I bought the night before without doing any sort of training, and finished behind a fat shirtless man sweating pure butter.
STAIRWELL FALL vs. WRESTLING A TURTLE. Went to work with the flu; passed out at the top of a concrete stairwell. Woke up at the bottom to the sound of ambulances. The turtle wrestling didn't start as wrestling, but when you try to ride a sea turtle you're going to end up slapfighting a turtle. (Spoiler: you lose.)
CARBONATION INCIDENT vs. DOGFIGHT. Tried to carbonate an already carbonated beverage because "it wasn't bubbly enough." Ruined a ceiling in the process. Dogfight was partially from necessity, but even if it's your dog in trouble, the idea of jumping into a dogfight and punching a half-German Shepherd, half-Boxer is a very stupid one and a very good way to get free holes in your hand.
ROCK CLIMBING vs. SUNBURNS. I was really bad at it and almost got killed by a piece of falling rock on Whitesides in North Carolina, but there was a time in American history where everyone rock climbed, kayaked, or mountain biked. You had to choose one or you didn't graduate or something. On the other side, sunburns are literally the stupidest thing in the world because getting a sunburn means you have forgotten that there is a giant ball of burning gas in the sky for half the day of every day of your life. I have done this multiple times.
MOTORCYCLE vs. CHINESE BUS. Rode a motorcycle for a year and ran broadside into the side of a car one night, then drove to work with one good handlebar insisting I was okay because shock helps you make excellent, clear decisions. Rode a rural Chinese bus line once voluntarily. Bus drivers routinely turn the lights off at night going over mountain passes "to save gas," because that is how cars and physics really work.
SKATEBOARD vs. PISSING CONTEST. A toss-up between eight-year-old me beginning a skateboard career by going down a hill shoeless in a sleeveless T-shirt and shorts and the time in Boy Scouts when we decided to test the veracity of the timeworn phrase "pissing in the wind." Making a cliche about a scenario should forbid the need for testing, but stupid is reckless and never sleeps. P.S. the skateboard incident ended with me breaking my arm with my head flying off the skateboard. It's the leader by collateral damage.
BOUGHT NEW CAR vs. PIZZA. Bought an item that lost half its value the minute it left the lot, and that makes it a clear favorite over anything ever involving pizza, the stupidest food ever for its a) total lack of nutrients, b) inability of the body to regulate intake, and c) being made of sawdust and horsemeat in many instances. I will eat too much of it sometime during this stupid, stupid weekend because this happens every weekend.
GOLDENEYE (SLAPPERS) vs. CANDY. Another stupid food eaten in horrendous quantities makes the Big Dance, mostly for the time we ate nothing on a hungover New Year's Day but a bag of LemonHeads and a 12-pack of Newcastle. The sensation of its aftermath is best described as pure electric sorrow. Goldeneye with "Slappers only!" has the lowest spot on my "time wasted/pleasure derived" scale, since it was both stupid, frustrating, and dammit I'm playing it again right now.
EATING WEED vs. OYSTER SOUP. The one time I ate marijuana resulted in a lengthy concert hallucination that I was a bug being pinned to the seat by a solid needle of sound, then realizing I was crying uncontrollably and out loud. In the other corner we have "eating oyster soup to cure nausea," a piece of advice that did work because heavy vomiting, in certain amounts, does in fact cure itself.
GOLDSCHLAGER vs. VALDOSTA. The liquor that is a poor man's idea of a top-shelf liquor -- "It's got gold in it and it tastes like candy! It's practically an investment in fun!" -- never, ever resulted in good things, ever. Valdosta is here because I once drove there at 11 p.m. on a dare, broke down on something called "Snake Nation Road" without cell phone service, and was eaten by coyotes.
SNORTED X vs. MIKE 'N IKES. The favorite here feels like someone stabbing a shrimp fork into your sinuses and leaves you blind and crying for five minutes. Mike 'n Ikes are on here because I have no control over the amount I eat despite them just being sugared horse hoof with chemical flavoring, and having no ability to make anything about your life better in any way.
WHIPPITS vs. EAST ST. LOUIS. There is no reason to do whippits ever, no matter how bored you may be. East St. Louis is on here because a band trip in high school stayed there, and who wouldn't think a group of teenagers couldn't find fun, love, and companionship in the bombed out basement of America's hidden Memphis walking around at 10 p.m.?
SHAMPOO FOR LOVE vs. PADDLED. One of the more ill-advised moments of adolescent decision-making resulted in the use of a particular shampoo for a particular moment that caused a SPECTACULAR AND PAINFUL ALLERGIC REACTION IN A VERY PERSONAL AND INTIMATE WAY. Choosing paddling in an elementary school discipline scenario is going to get blown out here, but someone has to face The Great Shampoo Mistake in this tournament.
BETEL NUT OD vs. DAYS OF OUR LIVES. I did drop "Physics for ADD Kids" because it conflicted with the gripping season of Days of Our Lives where Marlena was possessed by the devil. This was stupid, but will likely lose to the supreme stupidity of chewing a betel nut loaded with some kind of amphetamine at a Taiwanese bowling alley. Days of Our Lives never made me pass out and seize in front of a horrified group of friends.
GRAD SCHOOL vs. DROVE FLOODED CAR. Grad school is never a great idea, but it does pale in comparison to driving a car left in a flooded parking lot in Florida around because you are very, very stupid. The standing water and smell were nice accents, but the black mold that flew out of the air conditioner made the experience exquisite.
DRUNK COAT BUYING vs. CIA. A drunken holiday shopping trip. A coat that looked fine. You, handing your wife a coat that it turns out is a XXXXXXXXXXL, and can cover a piano with ease. Your wife, crying because you were shopping drunk. This probably ties with, "I wanted to be in the CIA and actively pursued this with no other options, because who doesn't want to be an Amway agent for freedom abroad, and attempt to get strangers to betray their country for $400 a month."
SOCKLESS INTERVIEW vs. JOUSTING. Went to a real job interview without putting on socks as an unemployed adult. (Got job.) Jousting was a game in middle school involving two kids jousting with sticks on a rail tie placed over a deep drainage ditch. Concussions. Just, lots and lots of concussions.
DROVE WITH BROKEN BONES vs. PNEUMONIA. Fell off a pull-up bar and landed on a weight left on the floor, breaking a bone in my lower back but driving home by myself because of total stupidity. Pneumonia is a dark horse here because of the official, doctor-certified nature of the stupidity. (The doctor straight up told me I was stupid for ignoring it, so it was confirmed by science.)
INSURANCE vs. DRUNK ON A MOTORCYCLE. Scary stupidity -- driving a motorcycle drunk in a foreign country -- meets an inability to ever really get insurance totally right. My twenties were a cavalcade of legal follies trying to get and keep it while simultaneously having a driver's license; my thirties are just admitting I have no idea how insurance works, and writing checks to cover the ignorance.
CHINESE COP FIGHT vs. NASCAR. I nearly got into a fight with a cop in China when I lost my ticket on a train. I would have DIED. The possible fatality pales in comparison to the mismatch of driving a NASCAR machine without a driver's license. (Not street legal anyway, closed track, but no paperwork in Alabama does risk deportation and jail no matter who you are.)
9 YEARS WITHOUT THE DENTIST vs. ORANGE PAINT. It would be more understandable if fear were involved, but simply forgetting to go to the dentist for over two presidential terms is just first-rate stupidity at work. Painting a rented room a brilliant shade of orange in winter is stiff competition, however.
GOT MARRIED AT 21 vs. JOBS. It worked, but that doesn't mean getting married at 21 isn't a very stupid idea. Jobs just covers every attempt to get a job ever, all of which were unsuccessful and stupid and resulted in surrender and then accidentally falling into real, non-stupid jobs.
YELLING AT BLOGGER vs. POETRY. Yelling at a blogger at a conference when drunk is a terrible idea. Writing poetry and taking three -- THREE -- undergrad classes in it is worse, particularly the section with all the 20th century spoiled white guys who throw themselves off bridges because they made the very stupid decision to be poets for a living.
BLACKJACK SWITCH vs. GOATEE. Playing two hands of blackjack with stupid rules that don't really improve your odds? OH SIGN ME UP, CASINO ROYALE YOU CRUEL MISTRESS. The goatee was a terrible, awful decision, but it was 1998 and Stone Cold was okay with it.
SPIN DOCTORS vs. PIPE. I went to a Spin Doctors show, but it is its own punishment. Trying to smoke a pipe as a 21-year-old, however, is an unpardonable sin. Put that down, 21-year-old me, you're not in a goddamn Wes Anderson movie and never will be.
SWING DANCING vs. GIN. I wasn't into swing dancing, I just went once and it was so bad I feel like confessing it before anyone finds out about it. Gin is on here for the night in DC when I drank two giant solo cups full of it with a Navy underwater demolitions man. Never drink with people who have the words "demolition" in their job title.
LAW SCHOOL vs. BOAT SHOES. These are the same thing, but boat shoes probably advances thanks to me having worn them for years without thinking about it, while only entertaining the idea of law school. I was born in Tennessee. This isn't to ask forgiveness, but to merely explain how bad things happen to stupid people.
BASEBALL vs. BILL HICKS. Being a former baseball fan is bad, since it means you found it interesting at one point, and there he is, trapped in time, uselessly wasting hours possibly spent doing anything else than just staring at a Chicago Cubs baseball game, burning the precious oil of life without a thought. I also loved Bill Hicks when I was 12 because I hadn't had a really terrible untenured and recently divorced professor yell at a class for an hour about unfunny things yet.
DRUNK PING-PONG vs. MULLET. Playing a real ping-pong tournament in a terrible drunken state was a terrible idea. So was the accidental mullet we had when we were 16 and said, "No, don't give us a mullet, but keep it short on the top and long in the back."
BAND NAMES vs. BANDED COLLAR. Every band name I thought of at the age of 13 or so is a screaming chunk of astronomical stupidity. I also owned a shirt with a banded collar once, a purchase that automatically qualifies you as a sexual predator in 18 states.