The other day I was engaged in one of the most important activities a man can pursue, digesting a Red Robin Bleu Ribbon burger, when the conversation mysteriously turned to the topic of doing things to excess. With few exceptions, if you can have more than one of anything, there will come a point when you have entirely too many to be realistically considered sane. As we mulled over the various examples, it became steadily clear that four seemed to be the magic number for most of them. I’m not sure why, but society has made it fairly clear; if you have four of something, think long and hard about adding a fifth.
The most obvious instance of the Rule of Four is man’s best acquaintance, the feline. We’re all familiar with the crazy cat lady. You know who I’m talking about. The old woman who has more cats than she has years left on this earth. Well, chances are pretty good she didn’t spontaneously head on down to the pet shelter and pick up a baker’s dozen of tabbies. She probably started off with one or two, and one by one she crept past the point of reason. My personal opinion is that on the day she decided that four cats wasn’t enough, she attained cat lady status. What few people think about, though, is the fact that the same rule really applies to almost all pets. Four dogs is a lot, even if they are the small yapper type. You can get away with 4+ fish or gerbils and the like, but that’s just because they stay in a cage or aquarium, which is pretty much a single appliance rather than multiple pets. Having fish is like having a microwave you have to feed. And for those of you who think that it is okay to have five or six cats, fine, you are entitled to your opinion, so I have a secondary criteria. If you have so many pets that you haven’t named them all, you should probably think about slowing down. And if when asked how many pets you have you can only give an educated guess, seek help.
I’m not a huge fan of bumper stickers overall. There are some good ones, to be sure, but I really don’t feel that the rear end of your car is the best place to be expressing yourself. That said, one or two would not be out of place. Maybe your kid got the honor roll, or perhaps you are genuinely interested in conducting audio polls regarding whether or not your fellow drivers are horny. You’ll notice, tough, that the bumper pretty much only has enough real estate to properly display four bumper stickers. That is because four is once again your recommended allowance. Every sticker beyond that number is another notch in the “crazy” column. It might be just a regional thing, but around here it seems like, almost without fail, if someone has got tailgate literature numbering in the double digits, there is a pronounced religious theme to them. If these folks were simply interested in letting me know what faith they are, one of those little Jesus fish would have done the job. Once you’ve got half of the book of Psalms up on your car, along with the oh-so-helpful “Why did I forsake God? -Someone In Hell” sticker, it becomes clear that you’re looking to convert any heathens stuck in the same traffic jam as you. Considering the state of mind your average traffic sufferer is in, maybe a little religion is called for, but I’d like to think that someone who can be convinced to switch philosophies based upon a wordy piece of ambulatory adhesive isn’t the sort of person you’d want joining the flock.
As before, I won’t rule out legitimately sane people exceeding the four sticker threshold, so secondary criteria are as follows: If you have so many bumper stickers that you have to start putting them on your rear window, you have enough. If you have to start putting them on your windshield, hand over your license and start taking your medication again.
Tattoos are neat. I don’t have any, but it has nothing to do with philosophy. It just so happens that I haven’t found something I feel strongly enough about to endure the equivalent of several thousand bee stings in order to emblazon it on my person. Likewise, I’m not proud enough of any part of my anatomy to feel as though the only way it could be improved would be with an ornamental flourish. A tattoo here or there, if well selected, draws the eye. Whether or not it makes you look any better is in the eye of the beholder, but it almost always makes you more interesting. One or two tattoos wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow these days. Three or four will make an impression, but once again, once you hit five you begin trending quickly toward lunatic territory. This one can get tricky, though, because of the tendency for people to add elements onto existing tattoos, and the possibility for one or more of your tattoos to be hidden from view in normal attire. So we’ll say that if you’ve got 4+ tattoos on any one part of your body, or more than 20% of your body covered with tattoos, it is time to think long and hard about any additional pieces of epidermal illustration you are considering. Also, if even a single one of your tattoos was applied in order to “correct” a prior one, it is definitely time to reign in the impulsiveness.
As the title would imply, my list of examples for the Rule of Four was longer than my attention span, so I called it quits, ironically, after three. Don’t worry, though. I’ll have the second batch up for you to enjoy at some point in the indistinct future. Until then, feel free to leave comments with your own suggestions of things that belong on the list. Maybe they’ll make the cut for the second round.