"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Easy Way Up The Stairway To Paradise–A Matter Of Fair Winds And Smooth Sailing Before You Get There

Evolutionary biology teaches that the most adaptable organisms are those that survive best and longest.  Cockroaches have lived basically unchanged for over 300 million years because they do not care what they eat or where they live.  They survive well in all climates, indoors or out, rain or shine.



Raccoons have been around for only a fraction of that,  perhaps 25 million years, but have survived for the same reason – adaptability.   While not as strong, aggressive, or dominant as other animals, their intelligence, tactile sensitivity, agile paws, and  omnivorous habits have given them an evolutionary leg up.



Fritz Hemmings was an evolutionary marvel, for his adaptability, lack of fixation on any one thing and independence from from all, gave him a Darwinian leg up on all others who scrambled, fought, and hustled their way.

He, however, had always been considered indecisive.  When asked what kind of food he liked, he always said, “Whatever” and meant it.  Pork, lamb, fish, hummus were all the same to him.

It wasn’t that he lacked taste.  On the contrary, he had a fine palate, could always identify the wild berries in the coulis, the earth spices in the truffle sauce, and the back-terroir flintiness of certain Oregon pinots.  It’s just that he didn’t care.  Put more carefully, he placed no particular value on cuisine.  Food had its interesting variations and subtleties, but it was still fodder – basic sustenance.

It was no surprise that it was of little difference to him whether his vegetables were organic, locally-produced, or farm-grown.  He was just as happy with tomatoes and pears grown in Argentina or Chile than those grown around the corner. He was indifferent to the living conditions of poultry, farmed fish, or pigs.  He was happy enough to eat oysters while they were plentiful, but knew that with the increased population pressures on the Bay, their numbers would eventually dwindle.  This was not a matter of concern, only fact.

Image result for images platter of fresh oysters

Mountains or sea? Fritz was indifferent.  Both were pleasant changes of pace from life in the city. Progressive or conservative? Either one.  Politics were cyclical, political movements ebbed and flowed, nothing in the world ever really changed, so ‘conviction’ was irrelevant.

Blonde or brunette? Leggy or full-figured? Aquiline or pert nose? Although I doubt he ever thought of himself in this way, Fritz was a proto-feminist.  He loved all women not because the way they looked but for the unique, special, one-of-a-kind sexual responsiveness which was as stamped and patented as any original.

Fritz was a well-balanced man, perfectly adjusted to the world in a relaxed, happy, and accepting way.   While not unaware of the cares of the world, he certainly did not take them on his shoulders.   He was envied by friends who admired his steady course and wished that they too could have such smooth sailing; but challenged by others who felt he was derelict in his moral duty – too unengaged, diffident, even immoral.

Colleagues and acquaintances were frustrated by his lack of commitment.  He demurred on the most important election of the last two hundred years, said his progressive friends about the Trump rise to power.  How could he have?! He saw both sides on Israel, Iran, Syria, Brexit, immigration and taxes.  He had no religious affiliation, appreciated all religions but was quick to point out their faults.

Fritz, however, saw nothing but hysteria.  It seemed as though there were nothing but belief in America unfortunately expressed as righteousness, moral indignation, anger, and hostility.  It wasn’t only that the most strident and intolerant interest groups had no coherent, rational, evidence-based foundation for their protest, but such collective emotionality was directed at others.  While true belief may be the result of individual search and personal conclusions, it rarely is.  It seems to need resistance to firm up and aggressive push-back to consolidate.

Beliefs alone are not so much the problem; it is the militancy which results from those beliefs that causes trouble.

Not surprisingly Fritz let both envy and criticism roll off his back.  He was happy enough with no particular attachments, special responsibilities or personal accouterments.  He was a man who always allowed a large margin of error for himself and others.

He however, was no dupe or easy mark; and oversaw his personal space with care but not concern. It was just that he had never collected much by the way of emotional bibelots to clutter it, so he was never concerned either about his generosity or the niggardliness of others.

Timon of Athens in Shakespeare’s play of the same name also had a carefree attitude and a generous spirit – so much so that because of his limitless generosity he fell deeply in debt.  When  when his creditors – the same near and dear friends to whom he had lavished gifts – called in their markers, he was enraged, and deceived.  In a moment of existential pique, he gave up everything and became a misanthropic hermit.
Matrons, turn incontinent!
Obedience fail in children! slaves and fools,
Pluck the grave wrinkled senate from the bench,
And minister in their steads! to general filths 1570
Convert o' the instant, green virginity,
Do 't in your parents' eyes! bankrupts, hold fast;
Rather than render back, out with your knives,
And cut your trusters' throats! bound servants, steal!
Large-handed robbers your grave masters are, 1575
And pill by law. Maid, to thy master's bed;
Thy mistress is o' the brothel! Son of sixteen,
pluck the lined crutch from thy old limping sire,
With it beat out his brains! (Act IV, Scene 1)
Image result for timon of athens images

The forest and a solitary life offer him neither solace nor solitude. His regrets can never rest and he is bitter until the end.  Before he dies he makes some concessions to his actions, but still blames Athens, his duplicitous and deceitful friends, and to life itself.
Come not to me again: but say to Athens,
Timon hath made his everlasting mansion
Upon the beached verge of the salt flood;
Who once a day with his embossed froth
The turbulent surge shall cover: thither come,
And let my grave-stone be your oracle.
Lips, let sour words go by and language end:
What is amiss plague and infection mend!
Graves only be men's works and death their gain!
Sun, hide thy beams! Timon hath done his reign (Act V, Scene 1)
Fritz never suffered such anger nor ever subjected himself to such self-recrimination.  He, unlike Timon, had no illusions about the men to whom he loaned money, gave gifts, or did favors.  They were incidental.  He neither expected favors and largesse in return, nor waited for his debts to be repaid.  His genius was his ability to internalize limits to his interactions and engagements; and to accurately judge his worth and the disposability of his income.  These limits were flexible, but never so elastic that discipline would be lost.  Somehow he was never cynical nor suffered from idealism.   No one kept such an even keel nor so uncannily found the sweetest channel, the most favorable winds, or the most charitable currents.

Image result for images smooth sailing in the tropics

Fritz was not a religious man, so neither Calvinist conclusions about predestination nor Catholic assumptions about good works as means to salvation were of any interest.  He had no particular purpose in life – other than dancing to the tunes of the times, following the rhythm of the drummer’s tattoo, and bowing to his partners on the dance floor – and the last thing on his mind was finding and climbing any stairway to Paradise. 

Image result for john calvin images

Yet such easy sailing and graceful dancing prepared him perfectly for the end.  A life with limited regrets and no failed ambitions, unhappy love affairs, or  thankless children made the transition from life to death an elision rather than a traumatic crossing. 

He was as far from Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilyich as could be; and never had Ivan’s frightening death’s door experience when he suddenly realized that his life had been, despite his meticulous efforts, poorly constructed and imperfectly managed, and of no shelter at the final hour.

Fritz’s life had not only been a happy one, but once any life starts off on greased rails, it can only travel smoothly into the station. He was as generous to his family and friends at his deathbed as he had been in the backyard, on the golf course, or at the office. 


Life had indeed been good, and death was no problem at all.

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