Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Waiting for David Copperfield

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers." -- Mr. Rogers

I recently overheard people trying to figure out where to eat. They didn't want chains, they didn't want obvious big names, they prefer "ethnic" and need something really great. Geez, if only there were a leading expert nearby!

I broke in shyly and offered to advise. I didn't reveal myself with suave confidence; I certainly didn't start with "This must be your lucky day!" As their eyes focused on me, I saw them mentally scanning and assessing some random dude who doesn't look like anyone they'd normally socialize with. Is he hitting on us? Is he nuts? Is this a marketing come-on? What does he want? The scanning ended - the assessment unflattering - and they excused themselves with quasi-politeness and walked off.

This happens reasonably often, with food and other topics where I might have more to offer than anyone they'll likely meet. I suppose I could have summoned my polished TV voice and bowled them over with self-confidence, boasting of my accomplishments, and signaling via sparkly eyes that, hoo, boy, you've really found That Person! Your lucky day! Yes, I'm exactly the guy you need, the one with answers, here for you and asking nothing in return. That magical person with the million dollar smile and impeccable tuxedo. It's happening! It's really happening!

But no. Seeing is believing, and one sees only a random, tuxedo-less nobody.

I understand how they feel, because I spent years hoping for aid and answers, myself. I can't begin to count the many zillions I missed while waiting. I certainly never imagined it might come from uncomposed randos. On the contrary, when the answerer shows up, his feet probably ache and his mouth may twitch and he looks like maybe he might have been crying a little. Low bravado and low gravitas, he’s gun-shy from people telling him to fuck off because he doesn't seem worth taking seriously.

People who work on "seeming" are a very different breed from people who work on "knowing", though absolutely no one seems to realize this. While awaiting Seemers, we grind out our cigarettes on the Knowers. You can recognize them from the countless burn marks.

After many burnings, your Knower treads lightly; so lightly that he's easily disregarded (the truth is always delivered quietly, and never repeats itself). He's there to help, but not for his own agenda, which means he's dismayingly unaffected; the opposite of impressive. We're easily impressed by shiny narcissists who cultivate impeccably masked faces. We expect bringers of magic to look shiny, like David Copperfield, when, actually, magic's messy.

I constantly find myself among people so habitually bored that all my interestingness congeals, and I become one with their boredom (it feels like being shrink-wrapped in Kryptonite). How can I be interesting if you’ve made yourself utterly numb and unresponsive to surprise? And I have passed like a ghost among thousands of people gaping at vast supermarket beer selections or straining to formulate takeout orders - or to unravel the tendrils of their depression or to dislodge a frozen perspective. If I pipe up, they'll most often focus, scan, assess, and, finally, harden their faces, clutch their children's hands, and move away.

I suppose I have two options: 1. blanket everyone with cartoonish obnoxious spiel, like Richard Simmons grabbing fattening foods out of strangers' shopping carts, or 2. retract and choose my moments, chiming in only in the rare event where someone seems the least bit receptive. Option 2 means constantly registering their sadly lost opportunity - and remembering how much I myself once overlooked; how I neutralized interestingness with my boredom and allowed shallow preconceptions to inhibit my receptivity to the answers and the help I sought.

Understand what you’re reading here. This is a guy with answers (beer, pizza, and more!), blown in by Dylan's wind. One of Mrs. Rogers' helpers. Out of 180 quadrillion web pages, this may be the only first-hand word you'll hear on this. I'm explaining why help seldom seems to arrive; why you often feel left high and dry; why the heavens appear to have forsaken you. It's because you insulate yourself from your desired result. You actively repel surprise via your boredom. You overlook serendipitous opportunity while obsessing over your sad stories. And you are absolutely rotten at spotting the magicians delivered in response to your hopes and prayers.

None of this leaves me embittered. I've recognized a great big critical fact: god (or whatever you prefer to call the deepest frame of awareness; I certainly don't mean some supernatural guy up on a cloud) gets exactly the same treatment, so why would I expect better?

We humans shuffle through our blinkered existence, lost in mental drama, amid this gorgeous paradise planet, a miraculously lush sanctuary in a coldly inhospitable universe, blessed with trees (if trees had never existed and sprung up overnight, people would be driven insane by the beauty) and life-giving oxygen and sunshine and delicious food and refreshing water and all the immersive storylines we could dream of, all of it tailored to our every need (including our need for challenge, violence, and heartbreak) and permeated with heartbreaking love. Yet we scarcely notice. We're jaded, bored, and impatiently awaiting Something Better. We live in eternal anticipation - of our next big win, of momentary gratification, and of the arrival, finally, of "The Answer". We pray for help and then spurn the responders. We even actually have the gall to demand a messiah.

Yet not once have I heard a voice blasting down from the skies: "Attention ungrateful shitheads! How about taking a look at those trees for just like two seconds?" There's never a trace of whining about our endlessly oblivious lack of appreciation. God (or whatever) is like a stoic silent grandmother perpetually serving insanely delicious soup to ungrateful family members lost in fake mental drama who distractedly trudge out of the kitchen with nary a word or smile....yet she quietly feels deeply satisfied knowing that, at some level, they've been nourished.

At some level they've been nourished.

See this postscript. Also see “Angels From Both Perspectives” and "Why God Lets Bad Things Happen".

I have an ingeniously viable business plan for a means of uninhibiting ourselves and engaging with the help and expertise immediately around us; for channeling pent-up latent human generosity. But since I can’t seem to interest people in what I consider the most uniquely useful food resource ever created for a mobile device (even being the guy who’s previously done the same for the early Internet), I doubt I could persuade anyone to give this a try, either, so the idea’s been mothballed for now. Hey...folks don’t even notice the trees! Why would they recognize my creations? How could I complain if god never does?


Brendan said...

With food media as popular as ever, and the social currency of food being as valued as it is, I am also disappointed and surprised that the app isn't getting more recognition.

But then, it was like pulling teeth trying to get my (very close) friend to download it.

He was asking me for cute anecdotes about food, or general food knowledge for when in "ethnic" restaurants.

Specifically, he asked for "what items to get, and little cute facts about the dish and culture" for particular restaurants.

I told him there's an exact resource for that, the app.

"I don't want just any information that anyone can have."

I kept repeating.. you trust my opinion on food, right?
Then download this app. It's the best resource.
"I don't want some app, I want your own personal experiences in restaurants."
"Download the app."
I don't think he ended up downloading it.

Jim Leff said...

Thanks for trying, Brendan. I have a lot of equally maddening stories. I can’t account for it, but I can’t complain. Again, the trees, which practically no one ever notices, are way way better than anything I could possibly create.

Display Name said...

Groan. Sorry about the mothballing dang it. Does the new endeavor also require a smart phone? If I had a smart phone I would download your app but I'm still sitting here on my clunky desktop with a feisty elderly chichaha rescue dog snoring on my lap. And carrots of many colors from tjs slow roasting in my beloved breville. My four black walnut trees are standing guard.

PZ said...

This made no sense to me whatsoever until I remembered that there were two David Copperfields.

PZ said...

This made no sense at all to me until I remembered that there are two David Copperfields.

Jim Leff said...

Leave your erudition at the door.

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