The hysterical seriousness of life

We got the Camry.


Because I told Peggy I would go along with whatever she wanted, and she said she wanted the car enough to ignore the arbitration clause.

“Why were you willing to go along with what Peggy wanted?”

Peggy used to walk to work. Last August, the hospital at which she works moved nine miles away. She tried taking the bus—too long. She tried biking—too far and too dangerous (the streets are busy and she often commutes in the rain and the darkness). When busing and biking didn’t work, she started driving our 3/4-ton van (see photo) but was intimidated by its size. Getting a car was my idea because she works hard at a stressful job (L&D nurse), and I wanted her commute to be happy and relaxing. The bottom-line about getting the Camry is that I value Peggy more than I value standing on principal.

I received four calls from three people from the dealership the day after I walked out of the paper signing. One said that Kendall’s could force me to buy the car. They all said that no one else ever had a problem with the arbitration clause, so I shouldn’t either. They all said that my reluctance to sign implied that I didn’t trust them. They all said that the arbiter wasn’t one they chose but one that was assigned to them by the State of Oregon. I doubted that the State of Oregon assigns arbiters to car dealers, but I called the Department of Justice anyway and verified that I was right.

I will bike to the dealer’s on Monday with a bank check, put my bike in the trunk of our Camry, and drive home. Peggy will be out of town with a friend that day. Taking care of our business affairs is my job. Otherwise, I would have to go earn a paycheck. We’ve lived that way for many years—she makes the money, and I do everything else. The only time it gets awkward is when people ask what I do. Peggy has a title, but what could I possibly offer as my title? Now that I’m old enough to look like I’m retired, I just tell people I’m retired. It’s not true, but it’s easy. Not only do I value Peggy above principal; I value convenience above principal, at least sometimes.

Now for some late night miscellany.

Things—like this whole weird car-buying experience—go easier when I can think of life as a game because thinking of life as a game takes the edge off. When the stakes are lowered, the outcome doesn’t seem so deathly serious.

If I could go through life on a three drink high, that would be about right. The trouble is that a three drink high doesn’t last long. I’ve often wondered why, if after three drinks, I feel like I would like to feel all the time, I can’t hang onto that feeling when I’m not drinking. It’s like the old hippie belief that psychedelics can lift you to a higher level of consciousness. That might be true, but then they drop you back to where you were. I learned this when I came to the realization that people who did a lot of psychedelics (or a lot of liquor) were as messed up as everyone else, often more so.

I’ve always been flexible about principals. For example, if a store clerk gives me too much change, I might keep it or I might not. It depends upon how I feel about the store. If I respect the store, I’ll return it; if I don’t, I won’t. Whether I was given one dollar too much or a million dollars too much would make no difference (if the amount was a million dollars, I would really hope I was in a store that I didn't respect). Sometimes, I’ve gone to the wall over principals that other people didn’t think were important. Other times, I’ve been okay with doing things that other people thought were wrong.

Today is my birthday. I am sixty. March 1 is the best possible birthday. If you tell someone that you were born on September 23 or January 11, they just nod and look bored. If you tell them you were born on March 1, they say, “RAAAR! RAAAR!” They do this because the sounds in March 1 flow like martial music. Some people will even stomp their feet and drum their hands. One man got so excited that he couldn’t bear the agony of his ecstasy, so he jumped in front of a freight truck (the truck wasn’t actually moving, but he didn’t know that). After this happened, I started being careful about where people were when I told them it was my birthday.

Just as March 1 is the best possible birthday, 1949 is the best possible birth year. I’ve already gotten to live in three half centuries, and that’s the same as being 150 years old. When I was a kid, I felt sorry for people who weren’t born until 1950 because they always seemed so childish. Peggy wasn’t born until 1951, but that’s okay because it means that she will always be a nymphet and men are really into nymphets, in a manner of speaking. Sometimes, I lord it over Peggy because I was born in the half century that preceded hers. I’ll say, “Peggy, I was born in the same half century as two world wars. Your half century just had a lot of piddling little wars; how embarrassing that must be for you.” Peggy never seems much impressed by this line of thinking, which is why I have to keep presenting it to her. I figure that someday, she will get it and say, “Ooooooh, you’re my big, strong man. I don’t think I would have been tough enough to have survived two big wars the way you did.”

I care some that I am getting old, but I wouldn’t be keen on going back either. It’s like everybody says, “I wouldn’t mind being young again if I could take everything I’ve learned with me.”

Now, if old people think they’ve learned a great deal, why do young people hold their wisdom in such low esteem, sometimes even dismissing their opinions simply because they are old? Maybe it’s because old people have also lost a lot, things like the ability to play and to be spontaneous…also the ability to remember quickly…and to see and hear well…and to move fluidly; the list just goes on and on.

This means that young people are right in thinking that old people are an irredeemable mess, but then young people are too, come to think of it. That’s just how people are. You’ve got old and doddery, and you’ve got young and dumb, and you can’t even choose your poison. It would be enough to turn Joan of Arc into an atheist if she had lived long enough. The advantage of dying young is that you get to avoid a lot of aggravation.

Such bummer thoughts are why it’s important to think of life as a game, as something like checkers, say, so that you can enjoy playing it without getting overwrought about whether you’re winning or losing. Life is also like a conveyer belt. We all fall off sooner or later, so why clench your teeth about something that is about to end anyway?

I know why. The reason is that time seems drawn out when you’re suffering. All this stuff about life being a game sounds hollow when you’re lying awake in pain at three a.m., and you have no hope for feeling better the next night, or the night after, or any night in the future. In fact, you worry that you might feel even worse, and you don’t know how you can bear it if you do. Happiness is over in a heartbeat while misery just keeps on keeping on, and misery makes it damn hard to say that life is a game.

But what’s the option? Some might argue that God ordained it all, and so it all has a purpose. Okay, fine. If you can believe that, it might do you a lot of good, but it doesn’t mean squat to me. I don’t think life means anything more or anything less that what any of us thinks it means. Life is not serious unless we think it is, and life is not a game unless we think it is. There is life and then there are our thoughts about life, and we cannot know how closely the two coincide. Even so, we can't not think, and my thought is that the meaning of life, and therefore the worth of life, is entirely subjective. My worth comes from Peggy, nature, my dogs, my friends, my writing, and from those moments when I feel happy or when something touches me so that my heart melts. But all of these things are transitory; I don’t believe in anything that is lasting. Could I be wrong? Yes. Any of us could be wrong about pretty much anything. There’s always room for humility.