Friday, December 16, 2011

BABY SHOES

        I believe it was the formerly blacklisted Dalton Trumbo who wrote the words in the film Papillon that the greatest sin is a wasted life. The concept of sin presupposes an accountability, a reckoning, even if only to oneself. I like to imagine my own personal judgment day as one in which a giant glowing version of Phil Mershon looks down upon the frail and trembling (and recently deceased) incarnation of me as the larger form bellows, "What the hell were you thinking?" The ultimate cosmic irony would be that it turns out each person has his or her own personal god connected in spirit to the larger God who only exists as the sum of His parts.
    "What do you mean, oh Lord and other self?"
    The divine Philip would cast a look of profound despair upon the sinful Phil and say, "You were free as a bird! Freer, in fact, because unlike the bird, you had the gift of creativity. And what did you do? You were just like all the others. You stole, you swore, you plotted and schemed. You hit the ground lying and never stopped even until the day you died."
    "That's not true."
    "Liar! Do you forget that I have been watching all these many painful years? You cursed creature! When a rat catches his tail in a trap, he hasn't the capacity to sit there imagining that he is free. He must either chew through his tail or become accustomed to dragging a trap along with him everywhere he goes."
    "I thought we'd settled on birds as the opposing metaphor?"
    "Excuse me? Do you really want to antagonize your own personal judgment day magistrate?"
    "I suppose not."
    "You! You most foul and wretched of life forms. You lived a life of freedom in which you spent most of your time looking for traps to get caught in. So I repeat, what the hell were you thinking?"
    My own unsolicited corollary to the Dalton Trumbo line is "The second most egregious sin is to be bored." It is with that caveat that I hope my soul will be redeemed because I can honestly report that the number of times in my life in which I have been bored for more than a few random seconds can be represented by the number of toes on my left foot. While enduring the tortures of higher education, aridity and disillusionment of the greater good, I cannot even recall the last time I was bored. I must hasten to add that this is not attributable to any clever preparation on my part. I never think to bring a book to the doctor's office, I have never played a computer game and I only use my Blackberry to retrieve information rather than to socialize.
    So, what does this Mister Smarty Pants Never Gets Bored Guy do when he's sitting alone some place waiting for someone to show up or when on a long flight or when home alone without pornography?
    I am a situational introvert just as I am a situational extrovert. Drop me into the bloodstream of a major city wearing nothing but a jock strap and a smile and within a few minutes I will have persuaded ten people to take me shopping for clothes. Lock me away in the deepest dark dungeon on the planet and I will entertain myself with thoughts of climbing mountains, wrestling lions, or composing songs.
    Why is he going on about this?
    I am going on about this because in our unending attempts at constructing a less tragic world, boredom has wasted more lives than starvation and genocide combined.
    "Phoenix is a boring town."
    "What does that mean?"
    "It means there's nothing to do here."
    "Nothing?"
    "Well, nothing interesting."
    "Like what?"
    "I don't know. I can't think of it right now because I'm so bored."
    One of the ugly aspects of modern life is that it is possible to live in a city of five million people and somehow be uninspired. As a matter of fact, the proximity of the people who comprise this arbitrary number seems to magnify the intensity of the boredom, just as watching a soft drink commercial may lead one to suspect that other people are having a disproportionate amount of pleasure at your personal expense. Modern life is fraught with such weighty and pointless forms of obsolescence, brouhaha and balderdash that it is a wonder more people don't escape into an autistic limbo just to take in a little peace and quiet.
    This subject of boredom has been on my mind of late because of the planned monotony of the American political process, an endeavor which I suspect serves a function of converting people who might find the subject mildly interesting into people who find the very mention of politics annoying in the extreme--a state of being which should not be confused with apathy, which is something else entirely.
    The idea of an American election is fascinating. The fact of the process is virtually anesthetizing. Shall we take the progressive route to fascism or the reactionary route to fascism? What is the political affiliation of a celebrity? Where did she get her hair done? Look how he walks. 
    Nothing makes a person easier to exploit than convincing him he is free while boring him to death. We may not be able to break the shackles that bind us, comrades, but we do have something to say about how we respond to those shackles. We have something to say about it because that astral projection of mine on the judgment day was correct about human beings possessing creativity. And creativity is just imagination on steroids. 
    Bored? With all the falsity to wade through and analyze? Bored? With all the memories in the world to distort for my own pleasure? Bored? With a connection to mankind that can never be severed and with all the personal responsibility that awareness entails? Bored? What the hell were you thinking?
    I might possess one advantage in this business of not being bored that eludes some others. I was an only child and for the first eight years of my life my family lived out in the country, as rural an existence as one could fathom, complete with cornstalks, copperheads, abandoned churches, out of tune pianos, sagging bridges, and old men who muttered that the Great Depression had been a good thing because it taught humility. In this environment, with the nearest kids a mile or more away, I spent a lot of time crawling around in my backyard sand pile, or staring at a glove I'd received for Christmas, or listening to the radio, or reading books and imagining things. My mother, my father and Dr. Seuss taught me to read and by the age of seven I had read Robinson Crusoe, Huckleberry Finn, Call of the Wild and The Wizard of Oz. Those wonderful stories prepared me for summer afternoons lying on my back in wet grass, gazing at clouds, listening to distant tractor motors, remembering the gleam of the hair of a girl who had passed by on a bicycle.
    They say life is gone in the blink of an eye. Maybe we better keep our eyes open so we don't miss anything important. Maybe we need to remember a time when we wore baby shoes. 


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