Obsession: The Animotion Story! by Dan Ronan

Shortly after Dan moved to Los Angeles with us, he sent out a work compilation/summary to a management company that was interested in him. (For the record, they snatched him up immediately.) This included things like his bio, resume, headshot, a list of monologue jokes, his original pilot script, a clip of a stand-up set, and the Skunky Funkybuns video.

I was already intimately aware of all of this material, except for one other thing he included. It was a very funny and highly personal comedic article about his obsessive compulsive disorder. I had completely forgotten about it until now, and then it occurred to me that almost no one had ever read it. I honestly believe Dan wanted people to read this, but just had no place to put it. I'm excited to share this with everyone, both for people who knew and loved him and for people who never got the chance.

-Joe Kwaczala

OBSESSION: THE ANIMOTION STORY!

(JUST KIDDING, IT’S A STORY ABOUT ME AND HOW I’M OBSESSIVE AND CRAZY)

I obsess.

I am an obsessive person.

That means that if I find something or someone that I like, or am afraid of, or that produces any strong emotional reaction in me at all, I will think about it. Then I will think about it some more. Then I will go to sleep. Then I will dream about it.

Do you understand?

My friend Ethan once joked with me about this. He said, “It’s like you obsess about things. Compulsively. To the point where it’s a disorder.”

The implication is probably true. I have never been formally diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but anyone who has ever seen me knock on wood nine times in a row (that’s three sets of three!) would tell you that I have it.

“That’s entirely possible,” I once thought during the second run through of my hand washing routine, after feeling uneasy due to my poor execution of the first. You see, while doing my seven alternating single hand rinses, the second part of the three part routine, I had accidentally started on my left hand, meaning the end of my alternating had me landing on the left hand, when I’m supposed to land on the right! We all know the rules of hand washing, correct?

My brain’s latest fixation has been on the direction in which I move through my house. You see, all the major rooms on the first floor (of which there are three) are connected to each other by a series of open doorways. The living room has a doorway to the kitchen and dining room, the dining room has a doorway to the living room and kitchen, and the kitchen has a doorway to the dining room and living room, like so:

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This allows an ease of movement throughout the house, yes? No! You see, if you are looking at the layout from a birds eye view, I always have to travel from room to room in the counterclockwise direction. This means that if I am standing in the living room right next to the doorway from the kitchen to the living room, and I want to go to the kitchen, I have to walk through the living room to the dining room, walk through the dining room (always around the outside of the dining room table to avoid demons), then into the kitchen, like so:

Seem inefficient? It is! I often worry that on my deathbed, the only thing I’ll be able to reflect on is how many minutes I wasted moving from room to room “correctly.”

(Note: In the preceding passage, I listed all rooms and doorways in their counterclockwise order for extra crazy points!)

But this is not only limited to my house. New houses and apartments bring about an entirely new dilemma:

It’s not even limited to indoors:

I refer to this affectionately as “weaving”, and I feel compelled to do it most of the time. If I am walking with a person who is newer in my life, I will hold off on doing this for as long as possible, until I can’t take it anymore, at which point I weave around something and pretend that I am casually trying to get a closer look at something down the street. So many poor taxi drivers have slowed down, thinking they were getting a fare, only to discover that some lanky large haired boy was circling around a light pole to avoid nothing.

This first weave after a long stretch of holding out is like a mental breath of fresh air. It bestows the greatest sense of relief upon my neuroses addled brain. I am very embarrassed when I have to explain it. Sometimes I’ll get out beyond the light pole during that first little sneak weave, and think “Just keep walking out into traffic. You’ll feel silly for a second, but then you’ll get hit by a bus!”

But I don’t. I swing back onto the sidewalk, and am prodded into explaining my ridiculous little quirk. Once in a while, to avoid embarrassment, I will say that I am a slalom skier practicing for the Olympics, and then run away forever.

The reward for moving that certain way and performing these bizarre rituals is a sense of correctness. Things are right. Life is a series of points in a connect-­the-­dots pictures and I am moving fluidly from one to the next, no pauses, no mistakes.

The penalty for failing to walk the correct route is a sense of dread. Wrongness. I’ll feel certain that my misstep was the first part in a butterfly effect sequence of events that will lead to terrible tragedy.

“You will never make it in comedy, and your family will die in a car crash, all because you didn’t walk around the RedEye box, you monster!” my brain yells.

I have other rules and rituals. When sitting in a restaurant, I never sit with my back to the door. Why? Because a murderer could walk right through the door and slit my throat, that’s why. But if I sit facing the door, I will see the murderer (re: any man wearing a cape or looking like Gary Busey) enter and I will have enough time to fashion a weapon out of a dinner roll. So it’s not crazy. It’s logical.

I will also never drink out of a glass that I have not first rinsed three times. Why? Have you ever heard of a little thing called dust? Dust could have settled in any glass sitting in a cabinet. For those of you not familiar with what dust does to the body, allow me to fill you in:

“That’s probably what would happen,” I say to myself as I rinse a clean glass for the third time while parts of the world experience drought. I am certain that none of the world’s droughts are being caused by me alone, but just in case I make a note to myself never to mention my ritual to anyone in Egypt.

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By now you may have noticed a trend in my thought patterns (or maybe you haven’t, you low watt bulb, you!). They always stray towards the tragic (sorry about the “low watt bulb” thing). No matter what I am thinking about, even if it is me imagining some exciting new possibility, like say I’m on my way to a job interview (remember, this is fantasy), and I’m trying to be positive, I might imagine something like:

That’s right. What starts as me imagining getting a job ends with another 9/11. (Note: For those of you not old enough to remember, 9/11 is that day people keep trying to make movies about even though it’s way too soon) ((double note: the author recognizes the hypocrisy of saying that 9/11 movies were made too soon when he spent an entire afternoon making a World Trade Center picture in Microsoft paint to service a joke)) (((triple note: three parentheses is too many. Moving on.)))

One of my most important rituals, and the hardest to quit, is knocking on wood. I mentioned it briefly earlier. Knocking on wood is one of the most direct ways to prevent 9/11: Part II. There are many rules to knocking on wood. They are as follows:

1. After uttering a jinx line, you must do at least one set of three knocks on wood.

2. A jinx line is anything you want to happen that you say will happen, or anything you never want to happen that you say won’t happen. Example: “I will definitely get into (insert name of university where people wear nice sweaters here)!” or “I will never watch Jingle All the Way more than once in one sitting!”

3. You must knock on actual wood. If you are currently a member of a suburban family in the 90s, the wood patterned paint on the side of your station wagon will not suffice.

4. When you utter the jinx line, you must not say anything else until you have knocked on wood, lest the jinx be set in stone. This means that if you jinx yourself while onboard a spaceship (we’ve all been there), you must keep your lips sealed and nod politely at everything for the rest of your mission until you have returned safely to earth and made your way to a log cabin.

5. If you write a jinx via text, you must knock on wood after the punctuation mark at the end of the jinx, before you hit send, or the jinx will be set in stone.

6. If someone else jinxes you, they must knock on wood to repel the jinx. This means you will have to explain all of these rules to them very quickly, and convince them to knock on wood before they say anything else. This will make you very popular at parties.

7. The bigger the jinx, the more sets of three knocks it gets (number of sets of three must also be divisible by three). For example, “I have never been in a serious car crash,” would get three sets of three knocks, while, “We’re going to meet Tony Danza!” would probably only get one (Sorry, Tony). The higher the stakes, the more sets of knocks.

8. You cannot say “Knocking on wood does not mean anything,” and then knock three times to solidify this as a fact. Believe me, we’ve all tried.

9. When you tell someone to knock on wood, and they reference a boner, they should be removed from your life immediately.

10. Thinking a jinx is the same as saying a jinx. You still have to knock. No cutting corners.

Those are the rules that I abide by daily. Some of you might be wondering: Why? Others of you may have set this book down and gone to wash dishes. Still others of you may have passed away while reading the last passage. To you: I hope my gentle wit made your final moments easier. To the still living and reading, I will address the question: Why? Why do you knock on wood at all?

I used to be like you. I didn’t knock. I would strut around town, brazenly spouting lines such as, “Wood? Ha! Who needs it?” to the confusion of many. I did not believe, because I had no need to. You see, I was a child, and I had not yet realized that the entire fate of the universe is decided by small series of knocks on a material likely found only on one planet. Then, one day, that all changed.

We sat at the lunch table. I was in fifth grade. We exchanged pleasantries on highbrow topics such as “What’s your favorite flavor gusher?” and “What are vaginas?”. Then, someone asked the question that would change my life:

“Have you ever broken a bone?”

We went around the table, each of my peers regaling us with tales of trampoline injuries, tree climbing mishaps, and swing set foibles. Everyone had broken a bone. Finally, the story telling line got to me, a dainty boy whose most rigorous physical activities included putting together dinosaur puzzles, and sneezing.

“I have never broken a bone,” I said proudly. 

“Really?” said one of the boys. 

“Yep. Never.”

“You should knock on wood,” said another boy.

“Nah, I don’t believe in that stuff,” I said coolly, like a young James Dean. Knocking on wood was something my mom did, not something for a snazzy young dino puzzle doer, hot on the sneeze scene.

“You jinxed yourself,” the boy reiterated. Everyone seemed concerned now. “You have to knock on wood.”

“I have never broken a bone, and I will never knock on wood,” I declared.

The boys looked impressed. 

I was living on the edge. 

The next day, while trying to swing over my swing set, I broke my arm. 

I have knocked on wood ever since.

-Dan Ronan