The Vino and Tostitos Club
To understand the origin of the Obliterati you have to go back to the day the Swami came to town. The guru. The yogi. His name is Iyangar or Ashtangar or Ishtar or something like that, and my wife dragged me along to hear him speak at a local college. He is 87, but with the body of a 16-year-old, and he supposedly can still do a handstand on a single finger. He can swallow a rug and pull it back out. He can make his head do a full 360. He can even stop his heart and shut down his kidneys, and essentially make himself die, but then come back to life. It's all in the muscle control.
After much buildup, the great man came onstage. I kept thinking he would levitate, but he just talked. I got bored. I zoned out. Suddenly something weird happened. My aura left my body and floated to the ceiling. I'm like, damn. This is scary. Down below I saw myself as an empty vessel, a blob, without purpose in the world. I realized what I had become: A man without a hobby.
All these other people had this incredible yoga hobby, and knew how to empty their minds and think with their hearts and tie their feet behind their head and whatnot. The Swami was like the Hobby King, the equivalent of the person in the philately world who has more stamps than anyone -- like, the postmaster general, basically.
Then the night was over, and I snapped to. I vowed to find a hobby, or at least a minor obsession, or even something that might be described as a tic.
Problem is, all the good hobbies are taken by professionals. Like riding a bike: That's called "cycling" now, and you have to ride 300 miles in a single day and wear hideous skintight orange-and-lime-sherbet-looking space-age fabrics. Like to hike? Anything less than an oxygen-free winter ascent of Everest, alone, unguided, literally blind, is considered to be mere walking.
Even quilting has gotten so competitive that you wouldn't dare go to a quilting bee without packing an extra couple of doses of methamphetamine. (And, by the way, I'm glad to know that the scrapbooking community is facing up to its steroid problem.)
So it was discouraging. I was in a hobby-less rut. One night some buddies and I got together to watch the World Series. It was just another dumb Saturday night in the 'hood, a bunch of numbskulls watching a game and washing away the blues with too many inebriating beverages. Someone had the forethought to spend too much money on some kind of fancy-pants Italian wine called borundi or barolli or something. Bruschetti.
Biscotti. It went damn good with a chili dog, I'll say that. About the fourth inning we realized we needed to make a run to the wine store to get reinforcements.
Then it hit me.
We weren't losers.
We were a wine club.
So was born the Obliterati. We are an ecumenical, non-hierarchical club that discriminates against no one, except the pink zinfandel drinkers. We have a strict policy against drinking and driving, so all meetings are held within walking distance of our homes. No quorum is necessary, and I have conducted meetings of the wine club when completely alone.
The wine club has a kind of "brother organization," the chip club. There is nothing more sublime than sinking into the couch, watching a college football game and building a little pile of chips on your belly. Eat one after another. Abandon all sense of time and moderation. Let your mind become empty. Become One With Tostitos.
Since the founding of the Obliterati, I've come to realize that I actually have many hobbies, including Drinking Too Much Coffee (not for the amateur!), Searching for Someone to Praise Me (can sometimes take up the entire day), Staring Slack-Jawed Into Space While Thinking About That Girl in Sixth Grade (why doesn't she show up on Google?) and, finally, the classic male pastime, Falling Asleep While Watching ESPN "SportsCenter."
The point is, you don't need fancy gear, special training or night classes to have a hobby. You just do what you do already -- and keep at it. Practice. Hone your skill. Elevate your commitment. I've done all that and can say with pride that what used to be an idle pastime has become an all-consuming passion. I'm almost ready to go pro.
Read Joel Achenbach weekdays at washingtonpost.com/achenblog.