Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 132: August 2010)
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Techniques for balance
It's unusual to see a photo of my wife or me as children on the rides at the seashore, or playing outside, or on first and last days of school. There are posed photos at holidays, and a few rare vacation shots. There are no movies at all.
Our kids have been well-documented since birth, through graduations, and into adulthood—in hard copy, digitally, in "clouds," and forms I can't even understand. And our grandchildren, of course, are rarely undocumented these days.
When you combine all this with the ability of anyone to express their most mundane thoughts and banal actions publicly on social media platforms, I wonder if we’re not creating a generation (or two or three) or subliminal narcissists, young people who believe that every utterance is of equal importance and must be both acknowledged and reacted to. My daughter, an executive producer at MTV, tells me that interns react with astonishment when asked to make photocopies.
"That's a menial job," they point out.
When your every move is documented and broadcast by yourself or others, do you have an unreasonably heightened sense of importance, of privileges, of expectations? When anyone can produce an "ebook," or publish a video on YouTube, or for that matter appear on a reality show, it seems like a vast lowest common denominator is formed, one that makes Andy Warhol seem like an optimist. (Some day, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.) I don't know that I've ever witnessed a human being as deliberately vacant as Snookie of "Jersey Shore" fame. She admits to having read two books in her entire life.
The network news leads with a piece on Lindsay Lohan's latest legal infraction and her being sent to jail for 90 days. Then we see an advertisement for America's Got Talent (apparently less talent than I had imagined if these acts are representative) and a game show where you can win a million dollars by balancing nickels on your nose.
Have we become a society that craves so much individual limelight that the quality of the attention is subordinated to its quantity, and the constant documentation of our shrugs and moans from childhood create a sense of special privilege and entitlement?
I'll probably have to give this some more thought. But for now, I need to finish writing my personal newsletter.
The human condition: Fustidiousness
Fustidiousness is one of my neologisms (like "obviousity"). I've created it to indicate those who are fussy to a fault; as an art form; focused on inanity and not sanity.
Our condo manager in Cape May is a nice enough guy, but very officious. When I asked him if I might pay for an extra parking space for my daughter's car when she visited us for five nights—and I observed that every night there were at least ten vacant spaces in a light rental year—he turned me down cold. It's just not done, there is one space for every condo, and that's that. This means that her car would have to be parked on a non-metered street overnight, which can involve a six-block walk.
I solved this dilemma by driving one block to the Congress Inn, under the same ownership as our condo but a huge hotel, and gave their valet $10, who promptly handed me a magic pass and asked if I wouldn't mind parking in the back lot. I would not mind at all.
The condo superintendent, a different manager, meanwhile, trades his space with my car every year, so that I can park unmolested with no cars near me. I provide a generous lagniappe for this courtesy.
Fustidiousness goes beyond the mere fussy, or particular, or even anal-retentive. It is the army colonel who told his corporal that he should not have initialed a receipt at his rank, and that he should erase his initials and then initial the erasure. (True story, you can't make this up.) It's the Broadway theater house manager who attentively watches her sweep second hand to open the doors at precisely 7:30, even though they can be opened earlier, it's raining, and other shows have let people in. It's the immigration officer who sends you to the back of the line because you didn't check off three boxes and he won’t let you do it at his window.
People are fustidious when they lack power. They make up and/or enforce menial rules in order to provide themselves with some psychological solace for their perceptions of powerlessness. (Power does NOT corrupt, by the way, powerlessness corrupts.) This knows no economic or hierarchical bounds. We were once "entertained" at a wealthy person's home with a small group of people, and we were allowed one cocktail each with solely one ice cube, and men could not remove their jackets even though it was 80 degrees since our host did not turn on the air conditioner short of 90.
I felt as if I were in a zoo. As one of the animals. Though they have some rights.
Almost every customs official I’ve ever met is fustidious.
But, then again, that's an obviousity.
Approaching Developmental Events
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Desperately trying to make small talk (which I'm dreadful at under any circumstances) with a dinner host in his home who was so wealthy he could have bought and sold me ten times, I finally said, gazing out over his 40 acres on Greenwich Bay and rambling home, "How did you come to live in this place?"
He said, "It was right after the war that my family built here."
I figured I could carry on with this, estimated his age, and so I ventured, "Were prices very good after World War II?"
"What? NO!" he said, moving away, "this was a land grant from King George. You know, the Revolutionary War...."
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