We have a problem in America. It’s probably not what you think it is but is likely derivative of what I think it is, which is that people don’t read. Not that people can’t read, which is a different issue, but that people don’t read. They are no engaged with or inspired by words and language and ideas.
A preponderance of America lacks the intelligence, empathy, and curiosity to learn, explore and sympathize, through the simple act of reading. They lack the desire to travel and explore because they don’t imagine a world bigger than their own. They lack the empathy it takes to read someone else’s story and understand what it must be like to be that person. They do not believe that there are people smarter than themselves, thinking about things beyond their comprehension because they have no evidence before them.
Which is why we have such problems with people willing to follow a cartoon character because they saw him on television once. Why so many people are regularly taken in by charlatans, evangelists, and conspiracy theorists because they don’t know how anything works, and simple, absurd answers are easier to understand than complex, true ones.
America is not stupid, but we are profoundly dumb.
It is strange being in my fifties, to me, because despite my protestations, I am not yet old, though I am decidedly not young. I don’t know what constitutes old these days, but I feel like it’s somewhat binary. You’re either young or you are old. People in their forties are on their way out but they’re not there yet. They might actually still make something of themselves, but they’re running out of time.
Being in your fifties is a bit like the seventh-inning stretch. There are only two innings left in regulation, and while some games have been known to go into extra innings, most don’t. Stand up, stretch your legs. The game is almost over.
In a few weeks, I turn fifty-three. Not a milestone, but a year closer to death. No one expects you to die in your fifties but we’re on the side of things where shit goes sideways.
If you’re 25 and you die of a heart attack, that’s tragic and decidedly rare. If you die of a heart attack at 55, it’s tragic, and arguably an early out, but it’s not uncommon. Shit happens. Cancer. Catastrophic injury. Heart attack. Overdose. It’s pretty much just borrowed time at this point. You sort of start to walk carefully like a racehorse near the finish line. Break your leg and it’s the end of the ride. Make it through the day and maybe they’ll let you out to stud.
Flirting With Church
Church has never held much interest for me because I don’t like religious people, rules, bad music, hypocrisy, small talk, forced pleasantness, or arranged seating. Let’s be honest, I don’t really like people all that much. I do, however, tend to be endlessly fascinated and painfully curious about individuals, and I think deep within whatever amounts to my soul, that we are here to help one another. I don’t know why, but that is the basis of my faith.
I am not interested in much of what most people would constitute as a real friendship, and certainly not one that requires any effort on my part. That seems like real love, an actual commitment of one’s self, and the desire to share your life. It’s all I can do to try to be present for my family and I’m not even very good at that.
I am a flirt by nature. I have no real interest in a long term relationship with most people, and while I find the idea of a dalliance quite exhilarating, I have no interest in the aftermath. I’m not speaking about this in a romantic sense, heavens no. That is far beyond my capacity to comprehend, let alone reason with. I am speaking of the intellectual exercise of connecting with the mind of another.
I am an intellectual flirt. Content to tease and play with your mind, to give my mind something to occupy itself with, and then when I have had enough, I’m done. I got what I needed.
This all sounds horrible and shallow and cravenly selfish. I know.
So, it’s made me think of finding a church. Not just any church, but possibly one that contained other dark souls like myself. People who weren’t overly happy to see me either, but maybe who wished me well nonetheless. There was a time when I thought Alcoholics Anonymous was like that, but they’re just another religion with a different set of loons. It’s not for me. Don’t be offended if that works for you, I’m not keen on the Catholics either, and there are a boatload of them.
Like many things in life, the idea of it is often better than the reality, at least for me. My fantasy is almost always better than the real thing. But I’m old and wise enough to realize that whatever I think I want, is rarely whatever I’m looking for.
This is adventure and discovery. The surprise of life. The only way to find is to go wandering off in the dark and get lost. Of nothing else, you end up with a good story.
I was in London once on a warm, sunny day in June and I was hungover. This was unusual. It’s never sunny and warm in June in London. My business partner and I decided to go to Knotting Hill and track down Hugh Grant. The crowds were intolerable and we were just being moved along by a crush of bodies, stupidly bleating.
I made a break for an exit and we found ourselves standing in front of a pub named after some king or other lost royal. It was on the corner and there were tables and chairs and pasty Englishmen sitting at them. I spied a pair of gentlemen getting up from a table that was still, unfortunately, housing two other gentlemen but being American and me, I sauntered over and gracelessly asked if we might join them. I offered to buy them drinks. They obliged.
We sat there and drank pints and smoked hand-rolled cigarettes all day, to the extent that we were all of us sunburned by the end of it. We laughed and told jokes and made fun of everyone else walking by. I can’t think of a better time in my life.
One of the fellas was named Joe. He still lives there. Just around the corner from the pub. I still talk to him now and then. I went back once a few years later and met up with him, but the magic wasn’t there. He was already drunk and we were not, and it was night.
It was a romantic day there in the sun with Joe and his mate and I’ll probably remember it forever. All because I asked to sit down and join them.
They might have said no.