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

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Life As A Side Show–Without Freaks, Innuendo, And Untruths Life Would Be Very Tedious Indeed

Few of Donald Trump’s supporters really care whether he is telling the truth or even whether his entire campaign and presidency are ones of confabulation.  They cheer his vaudevillian trickery and love every minute of being suckered rubes.  Who wants the way things really are while inside big tent there are trapezes, magicians who saw women in half, lion-tamers, clowns, and rings of fire.

Why listen to half-truths when no-truths are far more exciting.  Bearded ladies, babies with two heads, midgets, conjoined goats; armless, legless dwarfs, deformed giants, and cats with fish gills are worth triple the price of admission.  The freak show is fires, crashes, horrible deformities and disease, misfortune, and God’s irony all rolled up into one.   Life without it would be intolerable.

Image result for images bearded lady circus

Every city has its own toned-down version of the weird and unexplainable – its hermits, its morbidly obese; its dumb, clueless, and ugly; and its flashers.  They are nothing, however, compared to those imaginary deformed, those ordinary neighbors transformed by gossip, innuendo, rumor, and one unfortunate miscue into fantastical freaks.  Emma Sandstrom’s suicide which had only been rumored had become a ghoulish affair where she had hanged herself with lamp cord in the basement or turned a mottled reddish blue from asphyxiation in her gas range or cut her wrists in the bathtub which she had filled with bubbles and lavender scent or eaten rat poison, and consumed with thirst was found head first in the toilet bowl.

The ‘truth’ never came out.   None of the suspicions had any real merit or foundation.  She could have died peacefully in her bed or felled by a stroke; but the rumors of suicide persisted because of her eccentric behavior.  No one in New Brighton ever dressed in funereal veils and Victorian shoes when shopping downtown or drove like she did  around the block three times before pulling the car into the driveway.

Her bedroom lights were often on at 3am, shouts and cries could be heard after dinner coming from the basement well, and no one ever came to visit. 

Put all together her untimely death at age 45 could only add up to suicide, a combination of a deranged mind, a wayward husband, and a ne’er-do-well son. 

The obituary in the New Brighton Examiner provided no clues.
Emma Sandstrom, beloved wife of Herbert R. Sandstrom, Chief Accountant and Deputy Financial Officer of New Brighton Savings and Loan, mother of Bertrand S. Sandstrom, and daughter of Mrs. and Mrs. Per Carlson of Bayonne, New Jersey, died yesterday peaceful at home. Flowers and condolences may be sent to Pederson Funeral Home in New Brighton.
Poor Mr. Barnes, Headmaster of the Lefferts School where most of the well-to-do children of the West End attended, was rumored to have a dog’s jaw.  The story was that he had been badly wounded in the war by a mortar shell that had torn off the lower half of his face; and quick-thinking field medical officers had fitted him with the jaw of a German Shepherd guard dog which miraculously was not rejected by the immune system of the Headmaster.

Nonsense of course, but no one in New Brighton who attended school functions or met the Headmaster at social functions in Farmington and West Hartford could ever look at him without thinking of his dog’s jaw.   Had anyone looked at his ancestral photographs, they would have seen that  the under-slung, weak jaw had persisted through over five generations.

The residents of New Brighton, no different from those in any other town,  imagined the most unlikely paramours.  There was no way that the local haberdasher could possibly fallen for the X-Ray technician at the clinic, but the many innocent but tell-tale signs were too much to ignore.  Too much idle time together, too many shared rides, standing too close in the elevator – it all had to mean something.

A guest at any dinner party on Lincoln Street would have heard the most improbable stories of doctors gone bad, lawyers covering up malfeasance, questionable sexuality, terminal disease, unreliable war record, and premature dismissal from service. 
None of this is surprising, for life on the straight-and-narrow, especially one of fact, truth, and objectivity would be very tedious indeed.

In The Devil – Ivan’s Nightmare Dostoevsky’s Devil says as much:
For all their indisputable intelligence, men take this farce as something serious, and that is their tragedy. They suffer, of course ... but then they live, they live a real life, not a fantastic one, for suffering is life. Without suffering what would be the pleasure of it? It would be transformed into an endless church service; it would be holy, but tedious.
Image result for the devil brothers karamazov

Logic is not our strong suit nor ever has been.  The irony of history is that each generation tries to get purchase on the truth, but is proven wrong by each successive one.  Every individual is convinced that what he sees is the absolute truth, and yet both scientists and poets know that this is impossible.  Eyewitness testimony is routinely discredited, and artists like Browning, Kurosawa, and Durrell (The Ring and the Book; Rashomon; The Alexandria Quartet) all write of multiple perceptions of the same event.

The rigorous, disciplined, airtight logic of Aristotle, Plato, Kant or any of the Fathers of the Early Church is far beyond most of us; and before we get very far in trying to apply reason to matters of life, death, suffering, or the existence of God, our minds wander.  Taking stories at face value is so much easier.

The history of the Early Church is a good example.  While Irenaeus, Origen, Augustine, Clement, and Aquinas parsed every line of the New Testament to extract an explanation of Scripture, those attending the first home-church services were concerned only with miracles, mystery, ritual, ceremony, and liturgy.   We may have hard-headed intellectuals in our midst, but we choose to ignore them at every turn.

Americans are especially given to the third race of the Trifecta – image.  Not only are our perceptions already distorted by an inability to see what is right there in front of us; and not only are we unable to make sense out of observable pattern or rationally assess risk and probability, we are children of fantasy.  We prefer to believe Hollywood, Las Vegas, reality and daytime television than Harvard scholars. 

The recent election (2016) is particularly noteworthy because one candidate – Donald Trump – exemplifies if not embodies this fantastical side of American culture.  He plays fast and loose with the ‘truth’, inventing as he goes, raising speculation to the level of fact, positioning everything within his own vaudevillian circus tent.  He is one of us; and yet there are many critics who still don’t get it.  They demand facts, issue papers, detailed programs, thoughtful analysis; and fear that the Republic has been turned on its head by a buffoon.

Trump supporters on the other hand dismiss these critics out of hand.  They are neither stupid nor ignorant, but joyfully riding a political circus train where the distorted, the absurd, the eccentric, and the ridiculous are the only reality.  Finally a candidate and the American populace have come together as one.

We pretend to make sense, but we are happiest reading People and E! We want gossip, innuendo, and suggestion.  Once the truth is out, we stop reading. 

All this is for the good.  The purposeful, determined, committed, and devout have far less fun than the rest of us.  Progressives are perhaps the least happy of all because not only do they have a belief in progress – the world can indeed be a better place if only we try harder – but a conviction that the world is tangle of problems.  There is no room nor no time to be devil-may-care.

So, stop worrying about the truth, the facts, issues, or insoluble problems.  They are only relative, made-up, or at best transitory concerns which will be of no consequence in 100 years.   Vegas and Hollywood are no accidents.  They are us.

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