My Week of No


Sunday morning was warm, bright, and full of promise, and when the man behind the counter at the bagel store asked if I’d like milk and sugar in my large coffee, I said, “No, thank you,” kicking off my weeklong experiment in harnessing the power of negativity. My coffee was terrible but my mood was still quite good!

In the afternoon, I passed on the opportunity to join a friend for a movie, even though I’d been talking about seeing that movie for months. I stayed in and watched a movie I’ve seen dozens of times already, but I still enjoyed myself, more or less!

That evening, I turned down a free subscription to a sports magazine I’d never even heard of. I’m not a sports fan, so that was a no-brainer. I slept well on Sunday night.


On Monday morning, my boss asked if my presentation — due to be given to the company’s executives on Tuesday — was complete yet. It was indeed, but I felt compelled to say no. Would it be complete by the end of the day? No. Was there a problem? Did I need help? Additional resources? No, no, and once again no. In that case, was I interested in keeping my job? Absolutely not, I said, so I was summarily dismissed, given fifteen minutes to clean out my desk, and escorted from the building by a security guard. In retrospect, I regret answering that final question so vehemently. A simple “no” would have sufficed.

I spent that afternoon in a park, thinking about what I would do moving forward to earn money. A young man offered to sell me drugs, but I said no, although I would have done so even if I hadn’t been concerned about being able to afford the things I need in the months to come.

After the park, I popped into a bar to drink away some of my anxiety about the future. I found myself on a trivia team — I guess no one had asked me point-blank if I wanted to play — and the match came down to a single tie-breaking question: “What traditional Japanese masked drama featuring dance and song evolved from Shinto rites?” With complete conviction, I held up my hand to silence the debate among my teammates and to indicate I’ve got this, then I answered unilaterally for the group: “Kabuki.” The answer, unfortunately, is Noh, and we did not win free drinks for a year. I went home alone.


While driving to work — before remembering that I’d been fired the previous day — I was pulled over. “Do you know why I stopped you?” the cop asked me. “No, officer,” I said. “Do you know how fast you were going?” “No, officer, I do not.” (This initial exchange was not inspired by my experiment; rather, I was once advised by a paralegal friend that you should never admit to anything when questioned by the police.) The officer asked to see my driver license and vehicle registration. I politely refused to produce them. “Please step out of the vehicle, sir.” I respectfully declined to do so. Later, at the station house, when asked if I understood my rights to remain silent, consult an attorney, etc., I stated that I didn’t. Tuesday was a very long day.


Said no to the following, among other questions:

“Do you want fries with that?”

“Hot enough for ya?”

“Can you hear me now?”

“If a pig loses its voice, is it disgruntled?”

“Did you paint a picture of Venus rising?”

“Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party of the United States?”

“Got milk?”


In the interest of efficiency, on Thursday I didn’t get out of bed at all.


I was awakened early Friday morning by the sound of my phone ringing insistently. Caller ID revealed that it was the Democratic Party Headquarters bothering me, which actually pleased me, because it would give me an opportunity to say no to something and take some satisfaction from it. No, I would not donate money! No, I would not volunteer at the polls! But they were calling to ask if I would be the party’s presidential candidate in the next election. “Um,” I stalled. “Could you call back next week? Monday, maybe?” But they said no, they couldn’t wait, they needed my answer right away. “I want to say yes,” I told the man on the other end of the line, but he didn’t get my drift, so for better or worse I will not be running for President, which is really too bad because that job pays pretty well, I understand.


At the deli, getting something simple for lunch, I was asked by the woman making my sandwich if I wanted onions. I demurred. I have a rare but severe allergy to a chemical compound called thiosulphate, which is found in onions and is usually toxic only to cats and dogs. Ingestion of thiosulphate causes me to suffer hemolytic anemia, the symptoms of which include breathlessness, lethargy, diarrhea, and vomiting, all of which can last for several days. Ultimately, eventually, I would die. My entire experiment thus decisively justified by this single instance, I drew myself up to my full height, looked the woman in the eye, and told her, “No.”

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Like this piece? Check out Matthew’s novel Taking Ivy Seriously.