Ran into an old friend the other day, hadn’t seen him in a while. I knew he’d been on hard times so I asked him how his job-search was going.
Here’s what he had to say, “OK, here’s what’s goin’ on with the whole jobs thing. ” He took me by the shoulders and squared up.
“That old bargain with the Devil, trade your life away for filthy lucre and fun times! Just don’t add up anymore. It don’t even pay-off the way it’s supposed to, let alone trading away what you could be for a pile of trinkets. It used to be harder to see through-it, you doubted yourself cause all the bright ones, the sharp ones, the clever ones were livin’ large. Ain’t happenin’ anymore is it?” He said, scratching himself.
“That the best part of it, recognizin’ ya’ don’t have t’a beat yourself up over y’a so-called failures! Not bein’ good at puttin’ y’a neck in a noose don’t look like such a bad thing anymore!” We walked on down the street, it seemed we were headed in the same direction.
“Use to be it was hard not to think you was crazy! They all marchin’ along, gettin’ in line and makin’ the big bucks! Must have been you just wasn’t smart enough, not put-together enough t’a do what’s gotta’ be done!” He said, looking over at me as we strolled along. It was a cold day, but not too bad, unseasonably warm is what they call it now.
“Don’t look that way any more, does it?” He poked me in the ribs with a gnarled finger.
“Still, it ain’t easy livin’ in the world of the clueless. Remember how the soviets would put people into mental hospitals ’cause they didn’t believe? They had to be crazy! Sure it was the expedient thing to do, put you’re opponents away, discredit ’em. But there was more to it. In the land of the true believers…”
He paused, then continued, “Even when that true belief is crumbling around their knees! The heretic must be crazy.”
He changed his tone, playing an old soviet apparatchik, “Sure, I know system corrupt, whole premise gone rocky! Not pay off no more? But I don’t keep doin’ it, what happen to me?”
In his regular voice he said, “Anybody gets in the way of that, they’re crazy!” before going back to the mock Russian, “Put-dem away!'”
“Here, it’s the same thing, only different.” He pulled me in close and went on in low tones watching to see if anyone was listening. “We got rid of the mental hospitals, needed the room for prisons and ‘schools,’ so now we medicate ’em to keep’em in line.”
He pushed me aside and in a loud voice said, “Hell, we’re all sick! Let’s have some compassion for the bast-ards! I feel sorry for myself! Might as well have somebody worse-off than me to cheer me up!” This set him off laughing.
Once he calmed down he went on, “Thing is, over there, one day they all woke up and just stepped away from it.”
“Step away from the car!'” He said in a sharp tone of voice, acting out the role of a cop with his hand on his holster.
“That’s what they did, just woke up and wandered off. There was a moment there, kind of like on the vomit comet, when they all just felt weightless, then most everybody came crashing down, but at least they’d taken off the load of one big lie. It takes a lot to carry that shit around with y’a!” He looked me straight in the eye as he said that.
“Course, over here, everybody read it wrong, ‘Yippee! The bad guys lost! We Won!'” He jumped about from foot to foot, his spindly arms over his head in a little jig.
He said, “I thought, not so fast! Everybody all congratulatin’ themselves, gettin’ in-line behind that buffoon Reagan to take credit for it! Wonderin’ what to do with all the Winnings!“
“Wasn’t a question of winnings, they just beat us to it, got to the bottom first. Ahead of us anyway, I’d say the Cubans got there first and did the most with it. Come a day when they’ll look like the friggin’ Irish Monks of Yore, off on their little island holding together the Remains of the Day! Anyway, enough history lesson.”
He scowled and settled down again. “The point is, it’s gettin’ easier to see that the set-up’s crazy not us. Well, we’re crazy too, can’t help it, born & raised in this happy-horseshit dreamin’-of-the stars! Hollywood or Rigel III, all part of the same Fundamentalist Belief System.” He said, as if I should recognize this last bit of jargon.
“So, how do we get on with it? Kind of like the sound of one hand clappin’! Once you start lookin’ into it, it’s deep!” He’d made a gesture, slapping his fingertips against his palm as he said this. “Could get lost in that one!”
“Course there’s plenty more time for that now, not worrying ’bout makin’ the quarterly quota! ” He laughed.
Still chuckling, he said, “That’s one of my favorites! Those solemn SOB’s, those practical boys-and-girls, played that hand right off the edge of the cliff!” He mimed this with one hand over the other, then dropping off and reaching down to his knees like he dropped something and bent over to catch it.
He looked up at me from down there and said, “Now who looks like a dreamer!”
“Can’t plan out the whole thing.” He said, shaking his head.
“Hell! That’s the whole problem with the old way, everything planned out with one happy-horse-shit-projection propped off the end of the last one! What universe do you live in where the graphs all have hockey-sticks on the right side pointing to the sky?” He went down and swooped up, bending his knees for the take-off with his arm reaching way out and over his head. he spun half way around in his follow through.
He said, “That’s not how it works here.” He stopped and grew pensive, a finger on his chin.
“So, no plans…” He began, then hesitated.
Finding his thought he said, “Immersion, how about immersion? Let’s soak in what’s goin’-on and keep an eye on what it means and where its goin’. Y’a don’t get good at surfin’ by makin’ plans! You get out there and you soak in it! Soak in it, till you can feel it in you’re bones, and you find yourself doin’ the right thing without even thinkin’ about it!”
“How do we do that y’a ask?” I hadn’t said anything since asking how he was! But that didn’t stop him from answering anyway.
“Well, first thing is to stop distrustin’ yourself! Every time y’a swallow that crap and give the bullshit a second chance – Hell, how many chances is that!” He started counting on his fingers, all in a rush, looking around as if a crowd was waiting anxiously for the results of his sums. “Everytime y’a do that, you kill off part of yourself and these days, y’a don’t even get good toys in return! So cut that shit out!” He yelled.
“When you see bullshit call bullshit! See a line, walk around it! Somebody trin’ to sell y’a something? Tell ’em to Fuck-Off!” He caught himself, covered his mouth sheepishly looking side to side to see who might have heard him.
Satisfied life went on despite his swearing, he got serious and said, “Only thing is be clear. All the biggest smiles and most welcoming arms out there belong to the ones who want to use you the most! Keep fallin’ for that shit and you’ll end up not believin’ in love or anything good.” This last part he said in a rush, half whispered.
“Heard of King Lear?” He asked me. Before I could answer he said in seeming protest to a resistance I hadn’t provided, “Yea, there’s something to be learned from that old shit, back before everything was all fun and games.”
I raised my hand in protest, I wanted to say, “I’ve read the Classics!”
He ignored me and went on. “He was a king, that’s kind of like what every mall-rat thinks of himself these days.” He pointed at some kids walking past, “hiding” his finger behind his other hand, bending around a lowered shoulder as if he cared if they noticed.
“The world was his oyster! He even liked oysters, not weaned on MacShitBurgers!” He thought that was funny too. It took him a minute to settle down before he went on.
“So, he’s a king, an old king, has three daughters, they have husbands, Dukes and the like. So, like any King, he wants to know who loves him the most, cause when you got everything, that’s what you worry about; as if it’s another prize to add to y’a list. So, two daughters and their husbands go all like, ‘You’re so wonderful!'” He said in falsetto, waving his hands.
“And the third one calls him a fool for not seeing what’s in front of his face! Guess what, he throws her out and gives his kingdom to the other two, for safe-keeping, so he can retire. Such a modern fool, even believed in retirement!”
Laughing, he said in a broad imitation of the local dialect, “He was goin’ off to Flarida!”
“Guess what happened? Same’s what we have now! Only now everybody’s a king and everybody’s gotta find their own fool to lead ’em out of the mess they got themselves into.” He staggered around me in a circle in an uncanny mimicry of Derek Jacoby, whether playing Lear or Claudius, I’m not quite sure.
He straightened up and exclaimed, “Ain’t gonna’ be pretty! Time to start learnin’ t’ appreciate Tragedy!” That set him off again into a long laughing jag.
He settled down finally and went on, “It’s always been about the basics. It was true even before KISS became the name of a glam-rock band, but the thing is, what’s simple is usually hidden, and there’s usually some con-artist ready to talk you int’a how standing on your head and spinning to the left or right is the simplest, most wonderful thing to do; while they collect everything that falls out of your pockets and figure out how to make money off whatever’s left of y’a in the end!” He turned his head over to the side, acting out the thing like some little kid in a pageant. He stopped, his pockets turned inside out, the once white fabric looking like little tongues sticking out on either side of him.
And said, “So, simple is hard.”
“Can’t be outsourced, can’t be leveraged, can’t be gamed. Can’t be put on a credit card!” He said this last part talking over his shoulder as he walked away, grinning from ear to ear.