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FUNNY WOMEN #99: Modern Vice

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We were tired of being good, so we decided to start sinning. We didn’t want to kill anybody or steal anything, so we stuck to modern vice.

It went well at first. We told unfunny stories that came to no real point. Every third get-together, we neglected to bring beer. We put bumper stickers on our cars: “World’s Best Uncle,” “Elect Doritos,” “This Is a Car.” On public transit or in line at municipal buildings, we didn’t bring anything to occupy ourselves — no headphones or books or Sudoku — opting instead to stare vaguely at the neck of the person in front of us.

When one of our kind objected to a particular modern vice, we shouted him down and called him a poltroon. Our ranks held, and we got more creative.

Here were some of our stances:

“Artisanal foods are bull.”

“9/11 was an inside job.”

“Sadness is a choice.”

We professed absolute indifference to the success of regionally popular sports teams. We forwarded email chain letters. We drank too many alcoholic beverages and had earnest online chats with old flames late at night.

In our cars, we listened only to the worst kinds of music: pre-Beatles pop and current Top 40. This we did at the highest volume, until no one wanted to ride with us. One of us — it was Steve — suggested we “put on Simon and Garfunkel or something.” He said, “I can’t remember why we’re doing this.” We called Steve a poltroon and made him get out of the car.

Around then, we hit our stride. We did long, vociferous monologues about politics and lost our train of thought. We said, “Hear me out: sharks and alligators should go extinct.” We acted abominably at our siblings’ graduation dinners without even meaning to. When someone asked us about our jobs we said “meh.” We said “meh” a lot, actually.

One week, we made online dating profiles that were deliberately opaque and misleading. Under interests, we listed “fields of wheat” and “faxing.” One of us, in an inspired move, even made her profile picture an illustration of a blue cube.

That was when Carol jumped ship. On her profile, she posted a picture of herself in a tank top doing a pouty face. “I don’t know,” she said. “I genuinely want to find someone.” We said, “But that tank top! But that pouty face!” We called Carol a poltroon and sent her packing.

We talked to our clergymen and our Gods about our vices. Our clergymen said, “These aren’t sins, these are just bad manners.” They said, “I’m not even sure I…a blue cube?” We had to beg them for their disapproval. Meanwhile, our Gods said nothing.

We redoubled our efforts. We disparaged our fathers and our educational institutions. We continued to text all through the previews. At our monthly summit, we reversed our position, and insisted on eating only artisanal foods from there on out, and then we embarked on an aggressive supermarket grumbling campaign.

More of us began to falter. We started to catch each other engaging in modern virtue. We discovered Daniel had donated money to NPR. “Why, Daniel?” we asked. “I wanted the free tote bag — ” he said. We cried, “No! Don’t say it.” Daniel hung his head, “ — to bring back produce from the farmers’ market.” Last we heard, Daniel got a job.

Eventually, we got lazy and lapsed. We slipped up and sent out a few thank you notes. Some of our parents got sick, and we moved home to help out. A woman dropped her wallet in the street, and one of us chased her down to give it back. “Thank you,” she said. “You’re a good person.” “No,” our guy insisted, deeply rattled. “Yes,” she said. “You are.”

After that, we disbanded; we were spooked. Our heads were no longer in the game. We were going through the motions. We said to each other, “You can’t run from your true nature.” We scraped the bumper stickers off our cars as best we could. We remembered to bring beer to parties. We stopped worrying so much about modern vice. We didn’t think about it at all, in fact. Except at night, lying in bed alone, after a healthy, balanced dinner and a moderate amount of wine with people who, try as we might, we genuinely cared about.

Only then, in the dark, staring up at the ceiling, gripped with bowel-quivering self-doubt, did we confront what we knew to be the facts: that we were cowards, that we were weak, that we would never, deep down, be truly bad.

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Erin Somers is the editor-in-chief of Barnstorm Literary Journal. She writes fiction and nonfiction, most recently this essay about Atlantic City for Carry On. More from this author →