Now, I know that you're probably asking yourself, How do I know the difference between my nemesis and my archenemy? Here is the short answer: You kind of like your nemesis, despite the fact that you despise him. If your nemesis invited you out for cocktails, you would accept the offer. If he died, you would attend his funeral and—privately—you might shed a tear over his passing. But you would never have drinks with your archenemy, unless you were attempting to spike his gin with hemlock. If you were to perish, your archenemy would dance on your grave, and then he'd burn down your house and molest your children. You hate your archenemy so much that you try to keep your hatred secret, because you don't want your archenemy to have the satisfaction of being hated.
If this distinction seems confusing, just ask your girlfriend to explain it in detail; women have always intuitively grasped the nemesis/archenemy dichotomy. Every woman I've ever known has had at least one close friend whose only purpose in life is to criticize her actions, compete for the attention of men, and drive her insane; very often, this is a woman's best friend . Every woman also has a former friend (usually someone from high school with large breasts) whom she has loathed for years (and whom she will continue to loath with the intensity of a thousand suns, even if she sees her only once every ten years). This is her archenemy. Women intrinsically understand human dynamics, and this makes them unstoppable. Unfortunately, the average man is less adroit at fostering such rivalries, which is why most men remain average. Males are better at hating things that can't hate them back (e.g., lawn mowers, cats, the 1986 Denver Broncos, et cetera). Most men fail to see a world beyond themselves; if given the choice, they would connect themselves to nothing. But greatness cannot be achieved in a vacuum, and great people know that.
In the 1980s, Larry Bird's nemesis was Magic Johnson, and it was always beautiful when they tangled. But Bird's archenemy wasn't Magic; it was Isiah Thomas. When the Celtics played the Pistons, it was a train wreck, and it went deeper than basketball: In 1987, Isiah supported Dennis "Rush" Rodman when he claimed Bird was famous only because he was white. Larry forgave Isiah in public, but he still iced him in the end; the first thing Bird did after becoming president of the Pacers was fire Zeke as head coach. Steve Jobs is Bill Gates's nemesis, but if Gates had only one bullet in his revolver, he'd shoot David Boies. J. R. Ewing was at war with nemesis/brother Bobby for twelve seasons (thirteen if you count the year Victoria Principal dreamed he was dead), but Cliff Barnes was the true Minotaur of Southfork. Jack White turned Von Bondies singer Jason Stollsteimer's face into a speed bag, but Stollsteimer barely even deserves nemesis stature; White's archenemy is Ryan Adams (although he'd be better off if it were Julian Casablancas of the Strokes). The Joker was Batman's nemesis, but—ironically—his archenemy was Superman, since Superman made Batman seem entirely mortal and generally nonessential. Nobody likes to admit this, but Batman hated Superman; Superman is the reason Batman became an alcoholic. **
This fall, George W. Bush will seek reelection, and whoever the Democrats end up nominating will become Bush's "nemesis by default" (although not his true nemesis; that will always be John McCain). But none of the candidates has a shot at becoming Bush's archenemy; that designation is inflexible. W's archenemy is Bill Clinton (mostly because Bill beat up his dad in '92). George W. Bush will never face the man he hates most; this is why George W. Bush will never achieve greatness. However, when we get to 2008—when Clinton's wife faces the little brother of her husband's archenemy—it will be a bloodbath. When the families of archenemies collide, skulls get pounded into pulp. Jeb–Hillary will be like Frazier–Ali III.
I was sitting in the passenger seat of my nemesis's Buick Skylark when he punched me in 1992; I jacked his jaw at a keg party in '94. These days I mostly just read his blog, although we did have a pressure-packed lunch at the Fargo Olive Garden over Christmas. Meanwhile, I've had the same archenemy since eighth grade: He's a guy named Rick Helling, and he grew up in Lakota, North Dakota. Last year, Helling pitched a few innings for the Marlins in the World Series; in 1998, he won twenty games for the Rangers. I went to basketball camp with Rick Helling in 1985, and he was the single worst person I'd ever met. Every summer, I constantly scan the sports section of USA Today , always hoping that he got shelled. This is what drives me. I cannot live in a world where Helling's career ERA hovers below 5.00, yet all I do for a living is type . As long as Rick Helling walks this earth, I shall never sleep soundly.
I realize there are those who don't think it's necessary (or even wise) to consciously create adversaries; Will Rogers claimed that he never met a man he didn't like. But what is Will Rogers famous for, really? For telling jokes that don't have punch lines? For wearing a bandanna like an ascot? Who wants that for a legacy? There is a reason they say, "Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer." Granted, "they" usually don't know what they're talking about, but sometimes "they" get lucky, you know?
HOW TO MAKE ENEMIES
*The exceptions being Dale Peck, MTV on-air personalities who aren't Kurt Loder, Al Franken, and myself.
**This is speculative.
As the accompanying essay makes clear, you'll need a nemesis and an archenemy if you wish to be successful in this world. The good news is, it's entirely possible that you already have each of these entities in your life; perhaps you just don't realize it (or maybe you can't tell them apart). As a public service, here are a few signs.
RECOGNIZING YOUR NEMESIS
•At some point in the past, this person was (arguably) your best friend.
•You have punched this person in the face.
•If invited, you would go to this person's wedding and give him a spice rack, but you would secretly hope that his marriage ends in a bitter, public divorce.
•People who barely know both of you assume you are close friends; people who know both of you intimately suspect that you profoundly dislike each other.
•If your archenemy tried to kill you, this person would attempt to stop him.
RECOGNIZING YOUR ARCHENEMY
•Every time you talk to this person, you lie.
•If you meet someone who has the same first name as this person, you immediately like him less.
•The satisfaction you feel from your own success pales in comparison to the despair you feel at this person's triumphs, even if those triumphs are completely unrelated to your life.
•If this person slept with your girlfriend, she would never be attractive to you again.
•Even if this person's girlfriend was a hateful bitch, you would sleep with her out of spite.