Quotes that Say Something

"Please, dad, get down and look. I think there's some kind of monster under my bed."

Life when seen in close-up often seems tragic, but in wide-angle it often seems comic. -- Charlie Chaplin

"And when the cloudbursts thunder in your ear, you shout, but no one's there to hear. And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes, I'll see you on the dark side of the moon." -- Roger Waters, "Brain Damage"

Apr 30, 2012

How Steve (Not Jobs) and TED Changed My Life

I'm really astounded by people who want to 'comprehend' the universe when it's hard enough to just find your way around Chinatown.
                                                                                                         --  Woody Allen

The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.

                                                                                           --  Book of Genesis: 32, 31

It almost always begins with obsessive thoughts, wicked daydreams, about fried chicken, specifically Kentucky Fried Chicken, which also is known as KFC. These thoughts are a cautionary signal. Attention please, something is wrong, perhaps deeply wrong, in you, sir. I have not drunk any alcohol for thirty-one years. I am an alcoholic. I have not taken any controlled medications that were not strictly supervised by doctors for the same length of time. I am an addict. But as things go, today is turning out fine, and it has been a pretty good experience all around. If I am still around to experience another sunrise, I have reason to believe that I will be in a sober state. But those obsessive thoughts about certain foods during rock-em sock-em periods, they just won't let go . . . 

(You're not about to tell me that certain meats or confections are going to be outlawed, are you?) And look, see? I simply don't know yet whether to write this reflection in a freewheeling and serio-comic style that would make the perpetual neurotic Richard Lewis proud, or with a voice that invites you to consider my theme with gravity. So.

When times prove tough, ordinarily it goes like this, in the KFC drive-thru lane. A dinner box of two or three pieces, dark, original please. OMG, two sides? Really? Fine. 'Hey, do I have to take the two sides? Yeah, seriously.' 'Yeah, yeah, okay, I will take that yummy hard as a hardtack homemade Southern biscuit. Lots of napkins too.'  Does this make you think, in any way, about how a deprived and dry booze merchant approaches a sparkling bottle of 100-proof magic elixir after another mythic hard day?

Awww, why so serious?
I have been feeling moribund for four days, or maybe just over-tired physically, and I can  measure this by one simple sign, the one that follows. If I fail to make it out of the restaurant parking lot, then into the flow of traffic life before I root around in the red and white box, grab a hot and slippery clump of disaster, sink my front teeth into it (the dead poultry), then I am deep in something. A big church bell tolls from above. The clouds and sky roll over to a steely and foreboding gray. It is now quarter past the time for your inventory, sir, for you must admit the psychological dry goods that you have been toting around (barely aware) like an over-limit travel case -- for which one will be charged harshly at the airline ticket counter.

This reflection triggers a memory, words I heard from someone talking, rather creepily (but the man had a salient point) on NPR, about the predictable effects of a fried food expedition by the ordinary person. Utilizing a warning, sardonic tone of voice (with none of positivity of protein-intake even mentioned) he said: prepare for a bomb to go off.  Gulp. A big bomb of addictive salt, sugar, and fat is aiming to hit the bottom of and to explode, literally explode in, your stomach. The effects will be disorienting, palpable, as if you have swigged down three ounces of bourbon. Your heart-rate will increase and you may feel flush. Your sense of energy should go up almost immediately. You might even perspire a bit. But, a payoff awaits, for an inevitable downswing of mood and energy will descend upon you surely, like a humid fog rolling in from the bay, as the effects of powerful substances, salt, sugar, fat, and the Colonel's "10 secret spices" at least will begin to wear off. Blah, blah, blah, yakety blah.

I swear to creation that this is what actually happened today: by the time I had downed two manageable bites of a hormone-goosed chicken leg, covered generously by some wrinkly brown spiced and fried flour (the first bite taken in the Colonel's red and white striped parking area, the second bite sucked in precariously while rolling thru rush hour traffic) my sugar level was rising, I was experiencing a flush of energy, my mood was lightening, the moribund pall didn't seem so serious -- and it led to a kind of feel good moment, somehow.

Hours later . . . here am I with you. The Colonel's box holds only bones, a fast food reliquary; the lessons of Morgan Spurlock have been carelessly pushed aside (again); and I wonder if I should or should not feel guilty about not consuming those two nutritious sides and the unbreakable hardtack biscuit, carved and baked into shape as per Mrs. Sanders' timeless recipe.

Morgan Spurlock has eaten my lunch

An empty yawn of discontent and deficit, with a gnawing drive to drink it or food-bomb it away, whatever its cause, is a buzzing constant in my current surroundings. Like a neutron bomb, that yawning space radiates and swells, a salty sweet chicken meal in the stomach barely digested, atomizing the human spirit (like the devilish N-Bomb) but not causing buildings to crumble, incinerate, or disappear. All alcoholics and addicts are familiar with this. Some even admit. Some live through it. Some of us do not make it that long. It's territory that's tricky to describe and rougher to find meaning in. As Woody Allen once said well: 

     I'm astounded by people who want to 'comprehend' the universe when it's hard
     enough to just find your way around Chinatown.

A famous poet once said 'the struggle itself is enough to fill a man's soul.'  Well, with confidence, I can say that that poet was not Colonel Harlan Sanders. Yep, the noble struggle and a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken, original recipe, make it, living life, seem worthwhile. But, the honest people know that real life and a rich and fatty diet engenders cavities in your teeth, dries up one's soul at times, brings on insensibly wide, yawning lonely days to mark out mere existence. As a dry drinker and planetary journeyor who has somehow escaped a for-sure death sentence (for the time being), who has drunk enough scotch and vodka to make my liver want to leap clear out of me and run for its cirrohtic life, I figure if it's not illegal or dangerous to one's self and others or against your church's hallowed teachings, give it a chance. Bite down, hold on, and try to enjoy the struggle. Like when you're getting a circular x-ray of your teeth at the dentist's office. The picture you will see when it's done is a freaking living mystery, and in any other age of humanity it would have baffled and inspired the bejesus out of the ordinary person, even driven some of them to their knees in a crush of superstition or spiritual glory. Depth-level change and meaning go just like that. Carpe seizum, as some cynics say.

A kind of strange friend from college, named Steve, and I reconnected on Facebook a while back. He started it. It was kind of interesting. What I especially remembered about him was that often he tried too hard with others (a self-esteem deficit, I suppose) and he loved to tell jokes, hear bluegrass music, and laugh at life's quirky details. He probably loved, just ate up, Richard Lewis' angst heavy comedy. After several months and sporadic contacts, Steve fell radio silent. I tried to message him but got nothing back. I did not make a lot of this. It happens. But as his abrupt disassociation got longer, I found it mildly troubling. Weeks later I got a message on FB from Steve about dawn on a Saturday morning.

To my surprise, it said:

      Hello, you are reading this because you were probably a friend of Steve ________.
      My name is Lawrence. I am sorry to have to tell you that Steve died suddenly of a
      heart attack about four weeks ago. His wife and I realize that he had a Facebook
      account and you were one of his friends. We will miss him, like you. Please join us in
      praying that his soul rests in peace and that the sun will always rise on him.

And that the sun will always rise on him? When I picked myself up off the floor, I thought for some insensible reason about Jacob and that struggle itself is enough poem. A pain began radiating outward, rolling fog again, from the core of my stomach, as if I had downed a few bites of Thai cuisine too quickly. Send not for whom the bell tolls, sir, for it tolls for thee. Some people: they're lucky enough, on some days burdened enough, to stick it out. Some people just don't have the heart for it. Explain that, somebody.

This blogpost occurred to me as I clicked on a couple of TED talks this afternoon on my PC, while was feeling especially tender from a cloudbank of resentful boredom that's been angling in from my left coast for a few days. Moribundity. So watching some TEDs?: research, I'll call it. One short piece was about innovation. One was about open-sourcing (my particular favorite of the day). One was a pioneer blogger's story. A final TED talk was about a collaborative array of ways to newly look at collaboration, a digital mindbender. Surely something stuck with me. I felt mildly inspired and like a better person, and I drove immediately to a KFC. This will lead to something, I was convinced. Like the cavity in a tooth burgeons. Like the clump of plaque inside one's carotid artery takes on new particles and congeals. Like the dull pain that radiates out and throughout, but does not blow away the body. Or maybe this experience will radiate in a different more positive vein, if you can pardon the pun.

Another high school and college friend of mine was named Tim. For several years, he was the (young!) manager of an award-winning KFC outlet. We would go out drinking each night once he got off work about 11:00 PM. I would enter in the fry room as he finished up for the day. There was free leftover original recipe to be consumed, and Tim and I had only drinking money. He would caution me about stepping about carelessly. He was afraid I would slide and fall. The flooring was so ice rink slick and slippery what with a whole day's assault of spattery cooking grease, and peppered all-around with the fried-out particles of the Colonel's secret spices, that it was hazardous. What depths of struggle one will dive into just to fill up a yawning hole in the middle.

When I think about Steve's slide into his last thoughts and feelings, I wonder what contours they took, and I wonder if he even knew that this was it. Did he appreciate that his twenty minutes for his TED talk had expired? I wonder if my thoughts will be pleasant, meaningful, ponderous, painful, irrational, perhaps scared witless when it's my time for the Big Sunset. So, here it is. With a slight limp, a bottleful of Rolaids extra, and trying to work around the slippery patches on my  life's floor, time moves on and I turn to the legendary comic Henny Youngman for the insight that only human folly and weakness can provide:

     A man walks into his doctor's office. He says, 'Doctor, help me. It hurts when I do
     that.' The doctor looks at him and says: 'Hey, don't do that.'


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