Monday, May 26, 2008

On life

Long before anyone outside of Italy ever heard of or cared about Roberto Benigni, he told Tom Waits: "It is a sad and beautiful world."
I am inclined to agree.
See, much like the stuff that leaks out of grandma, life is often nothing more than a thin, brown, horror-filled menagerie of inexplicable cowardice and gruesome, carnavelesque scenes of trauma, occasionally punctuated with gut-stabbing episodes of abrupt terror and/or sorrow.
There are, however, some very beautiful people and events swirling around out there in the dust that just about make it worth sticking around to see what comes next.
This past week has been no different.
Yes, my friend killed herself. No, I still don’t know exactly why, so stop asking me.
A week later, two of my longest-standing friends married each other in a Quaker service that was blessedly short and sweet. And then we danced. Oh, how we danced. (Did I mention it was mostly white people?)
Even as China continued pulling bodies from the rubble Sunday, Passayunk Avenue was awash in a snowstorm of pollen, spring very much in the air. Later, two modern Ford Mustangs randomly side by side at a red light would race down MacDade Boulevard; piloted, I assume, by the kind of people who buy Ford Mustangs and race them in Woodlyn.
Sad and beautiful at every turn. It’s all in the details and, frankly, can all be a bit Zen if you just take the time to balance it out.
Like Friday, I went to see an acquaintance perform at a local rock and roll venue. Sadly, the place wanted $15 for a shot and a beer, and they wouldn’t even serve me between sets. So in a beautiful stroke of rock stardom, I stole their bourbon. Thus, balance was achieved.

There is the lingering problem of existentialism, however. Even witnessing or participating in this balance can crack under prolonged exposure to what Stanhope called "the carnival that starts as soon as you put your head down on that pillow at night" (in the absence of proper medication, of course (read: beer)).
I mean, how do you get past the big-picture problem of nothingness? That creepy-crawly feeling in the back of your mind that death really is the end of all self-consciousness, no matter how many security blankets of religion you apply to the wound?
And if it really all means nothing, in the cosmic sense - if no descision, no matter how grandiose, really effects anything in the end - then what is one to do with the short span one is granted on the planet? The question makes me tired to my very bones, I've asked it so many times.
Most people, I assume, try not to think about it too much. I know I don't want to. So they get married and start spittin’ out rats just as fast as their reproductive organs can handle, which is a kind of immortality, in a sense (see also: biological imperative). But that doesn’t really satisfy for the individual, just the genes that collectively make up that individual.
So what else we got?
Well, you could simply say to hell with the whole thing and go on a killing spree. It happens.
If you are so inclined, you could give up all worldly possessions and work on focusing your chi. People do that, too.
You could move to Hawaii and drink mai-tais on the beach for the rest of your days, which, trust me, I'm working on.
Or you could try to just generally be a good person whenever the opportunity arises, instead of taking the normally easier route of being a total bastard and adding to the bitterness and pain that surrounds so many of us.

Hell, I don't know if life has a purpose. No one does, no matter how fervently they will try to convince you otherwise. Maybe there is no point. Or maybe we're just supposed to learn as much as we can along the way and pass that on to those behind us in line. It is kind of neat to think that at any given moment, you are alive when the sum total of humanity's knowledge is at its zenith. And a moment later, that knowledge has grown.
If you're still alive at that moment, congrabulations! You are again living in a time when humanity is collectively as smart as it has ever been, which admittedly might not always appear to be much to write home about (see previous post) but, you know, it's a work in progress.
And if in one of these moments you should find you aren't still around to help out, well ... good luck, then, I guess. We're all gonna need some one day.
As for me, I think I'll just keep trying to make people laugh while we're stuck together here in what my friend Bill calls "death's waiting room."
What else can you do when everything's so goddamn sad, and so goddamn beautiful?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

On wizardry

Just in case you were ever deluded enough to think we might be living in an enlightened age:
So, can we just cut Florida loose at this point? Or at least go hand out some Harry Potter books?
I would, actually, if I wasn't so sure they'd just wind up on a pyre directly below my bound feet. Seriously, it's like the freakin' "Lottery" down there. And if you think that sounds "elitist," well ... you're right.
I am better than Florida. Hell, even Tennessee's better than Florida.
Deal with it, orange grove.

On stink.

I have no idea what I smell like anymore, and it’s got nothing to do with my nose getting sheared off some time back.
No, the problem is that my various powders, gels, simonizers and other assorted “product” are no longer firmly rooted in the tangible, or indeed representative of anything more than the vaguest of concepts.
My roommate, for example, smells like Swiss vanilla. I know this, because she uses a shower gel that says right on it: “Swiss Vanilla.” It’s not clear what makes it Swiss, but vanilla is nonetheless a very real thing that one can smell like.
I, on the other hand, smell like an “Arctic Blast.”
That is not a thing. You cannot grasp and hold a blast the way you can a vanilla bean. I might as well be washing with “Slipstream” or “Philosophy" before getting dressed in clothes that stink of "Sunlight."
And even if it were a thing, I’d never know if I was being lied to about its scent. I don’t live anywhere near the arctic, so when am I ever going to be able to go experience an actual arctic blast?
Worse yet, Axe says my armpits are supposed to smell like a “Tsunami,” but I can’t detect even a hint of bloated bodies or malaria. (What, too soon?)
Most of these products nowadays, with names like “Midnight Cool” and “Siberian Snowstorm,” seem to be marketed to those who like violently cold things; things that would turn your fingers into blackened stumps if you ever actually encountered them. Even Gatorade’s gotten into the game, with flavors like “Frost” and “Ice Punch.”
Maybe there’s a strong wendigo demographic everyone's trying to capture before global warming catches up to us. Who knows? I just wish they'd make the effort to coordinate these things. I mean, my "Lifeless Tundra" gum tastes nothing like my foot powder of the same name smells.
And just for the record, Coors, "cold" is not a flavor. So, sorry, you cannot have the world's "coldest-tasting beer" until you invent a new flavor and call it "cold," but I'd really rather you just go back to peddling your swill on that side of the Rockies. I prefer my beer to be the "longest-sounding," thanks. (While I'm at it, don't think I haven't been lining you up in my sights, Budweiser, with your little "drinkability" thing.)
But riddle me this, Gatorade: Why the hell would I ever want to drink something called “Riptide Rush?” You might as well just call it “Seaweed and Jellyfish.” Maybe they’re saving that one for the ever-growing Chinese market, though.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

On motherhood

I met an oddity the other day: The mother of a child whose development was not extraordinarily accelerated as an infant.
You almost never encounter this. In fact, I didn’t even know it existed. Every mom I’ve ever met had children that were walking in the womb and reading at a fifth grade level by the time they got home from the hospital.
But apparently, this woman’s son sat up when he was supposed to, rolled over when he was supposed to, started walking and talking and stealing and slashing tires exactly in accordance with the schedule peddled to all first-time mothers-to-be by their gynos for as long as people have been depositing these mewling cabbages on the surface of this godforsaken mudball.
I always figured that timeline was a little white lie, to be honest – a vast gynecological conspiracy to bolster new mothers’ self esteem by skewing the numbers. If the kid’s supposed to pick his nose at 3 to 4 months, tell them 4 to 5 months, that sort of thing, which would explain why every breeder I’ve ever met produced some wunderkind capable of doing things far ahead of his or her peers.
Or maybe I just know people with superior DNA. Equal chance to each, I think.
In any case, it was a short-lived oddity. She quickly shattered the illusion by describing her daughter’s development, who was a preemie but nonetheless began walking far ahead of schedule in order to get the hell away from her older brother, who apparently has an arm like Randy Johnson and a temper like Dick Cheney on a Senate floor.