We have a saying in the United States traceable to football coach Leo Durocher: “Nice guys finish last.” In case any of you readers are too young to have figured this one out yet, suffice it to say that it’s true. Regardless of your nationality, you may have heard people from my humble homeland intone the following mantra: “America is the greatest country in the world.” I used to say so myself, before my first trip overseas to live in Europe for a year. Decades later, and homesick as a chronic, permanent, guaranteed outcast, no matter where I go, a fate I guess I share with everybody else, I still feel that the U. S. is a great country, although not for the reasons usually advertised. You could even say that it’s great in spite of itself, but then again, what nation isn’t?
After all, that’s sort of like Jesus describing himself as “the greatest guy in the world” (for those of you devout Christians not born in the U. S. A. on blasphemy-alert, I’m not deliberately comparing my country to Jesus; John Lennon did something similar, and look where it got him–in case you think I’m joking, if you do some research on Lennon’s murderer, Mark David Chapman, you’ll find that he was crazy about Jesus at the time he took the poor Beatle out; I don’t know if he still is now. Who gives a damn? When you’re a homicidal schmuck, all it takes is once to act on your reptilian impulses and you’ve forfeited everyone else’s affection, unless you go a hell of a long way to compensate for your crime(s), as many Vietnam vets have done. Of course, you could also say that they’ve been egregiously mistreated by the self-centered system that forced them to go to war in the first place, greeted those who survived with a welcome-home parade, and then refused to give a lot of them jobs so they ended up homeless. Thanks for nothing, Uncle Satan).
Or Miss Universe calling herself “the most beautiful woman in the universe.” Hmmm, what’s that thing that’s in the eye of the beholder again? I forget what it’s called. . . (Or maybe she’s called Miss Universe to emphasize the possibility that Cupid’s aim is so bad that he couldn’t even hit the target he’s shooting for if the bull’s eye were the size of the universe, a terrifying thought that suggests that true love is an accident, which would go a long way towards explaining why it hardly ever lasts, except in the mind of the bereft party–pardon the oxymoron; the same phrase could be used to allude to those parades for veterans mentioned above–it occurs to me that the initial description is flawed, since the soldiers would be the same people marching in the parade, while the civilians would be the happy-go-lucky war-lovers who’d only seen Hollywood versions of combat cheering them on with hearty, blissfully oblivious complicity.)
In the Talking Heads song “Crosseyed and Painless” (?) on the album Remain in Light [produced, I believe, by Brian Eno–no relation to Philip “Half-Empty” (of lyrics, that is) Glass, or Philip Eno], David Byrne says, “I feel like an accident.” Hey, guess what, Dave? Sometimes I do too! As the youngest of four children, I might very well be one, although I keep forgetting to ask my parents. I’d actually be flattered if they told me I was, considering how much they’ve given me over the course of my life (which reminds me: Mom? Dad? If you’re reading this, send money, please–just kidding; I should be the one sending you money), except for life itself, which I could do without. (Sorry–I can’t stop kidding. Nothing my doctor prescribes can correct the tendency.)
So far, this whole entry has been written in parentheses (have you ever noticed how parentheses look a little like earphones? Or is it the other way around?). (That reminds me, once while I was riding my bicycle on a country road in Belgium with a few beers under my belt, escaping early from an event thrown by the gratuitously rigid exchange program, I had Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces album cranked and the lyrics and music flooding my head through the orange foam of a Walkman’s earphones; “What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding?” A truck barreling past me whose blaring horn I could barely hear promptly answered my question by damned near running me over.* Apparently, our species has hardly evolved since then, considering how many pedestrians I see these days hunched over the screens of their smart phones like lurching zombies in the street. The other day I was running late for work and had to bark at a dude in a crowded subway stairwell who was actually reading a fucking newspaper! “Bali, bali!” I said (it means, “Hurry up!”). Some of us lemmings have things to do and places to go!)
(It’s nice for the reader to have the whole sentence in parentheses so you don’t have to go up and re-read what the interrupted sentence was about. Or else the writer can put the whole paragraph in parentheses, like this one. You might even say that the parentheses are the paragraph’s parents.)
Speaking of interrupted sentences, recently I’ve been feeling almost depressed enough to commit suicide. Rather than deliberately truncate my conspicuously disappointing (or at least disappointed) life, “I think I’ll give it a miss,” as my old English friend Jeremy would say–“it” meaning “suicide,” not “life,” not that I can tell the difference between the two words anymore. It’s not that I’m determined to prove myself by hanging in there for some masochistically macho endurance contest; I just know how devastating suicide can be for surviving loved ones (and how delightfully refreshing to your enemies–just ask Hitler). Nonetheless, it is handy to contemplate sometimes, especially if you’re too much of a chicken-shit to ever “take the bull by the horns” and employ “Do-It-Yourself-Destiny” as my witty older brother would say; he also said that suicide is “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
Though jumping off a building, setting your own head on fire with a flamethrower, or running blindfolded into a sharp knife mounted in a vise in your tool shed might be just what the doctor ordered for some people, and I don’t agree with pious prudes who think people who take their own lives are going to hell (I’m talking to you, Hamlet–if it’s the only thing that will shut your shiftless, overly-eloquent ass up, bury the bare bodkin and venom to thy work, already), but I also agree with my old, late professor of Modern British Literature, Phil Church (a most ironic name for him considering he was a heartfelt atheist; if anything, the only church he filled was his sacred classroom, a great place to sit and learn after having some mushrooms for lunch). In referring to the plight of the two protagonists in Samuel Beckett’s overrated masterpiece Waiting for Godot, Church pointed out that, while one of the characters moans, “I can’t go on!”, no–“You can go on”–addressing the captive audience of us students, and that the older you get, the more you realize that life just isn’t worth killing yourself over.
That may sound cynical to you, as well as inconsistent, especially coming from a man who smoked his way to an early grave, but I’m inclined to agree, much as I’m also at times inclined to recline in my casket and throw in the towel a little early, not that I’m quite cruel or narcissistic enough to deprive my loved ones of my scintillating company until Nature pulls the trigger.
When it comes to my wife Jina, that’s another matter altogether. This is a woman who in some ways tricked me into committing myself to her–and, to paraphrase an old joke, the institution of marriage–via her own threats to commit suicide if I broke up with her. I did and do love her, but there’s love and there’s Love, and the latter boarded the freight train en route to nowhere a long time ago. A troublesome marriage isn’t black and white (for someone who ought to be more sensitive about such matters, it just occurred to me how racist that idiom could implicitly be): as Tolstoy said, plot isn’t good versus evil, but good versus good. Much as I demonize her, Jina is in some ways a better person than I am. I’m just afraid that if we stay together much longer, I might be forced to murder her.
Before you go calling me Mark David Chapman, Jr., allow me to say that what most people think of as “evil” is not something outside themselves; it’s a built-in fly in the ointment, a fatal flaw, an Achilles heel or a sprained ankle that rankles the victimized perpetrator, both host and parasite at once (there’s a great line from Moby-Dick I’d include for you, but I’ll have to add it later, as I can’t recall it exactly off the top of my head), so that each one of us who yields to hostility and acquiesces to a helpless celebration of aggression by attacking the ones we’re with (or those who are far away if we can afford Predator or Reaper drones), ultimately hurt ourselves, since we’re all one and we’re interconnected, in accordance with the intricate Buddhist concept of Dependent Origination.
Like Sam Kinison, I don’t think a man should ever raise a hand to his wife (“not that I’d like to be the deciding member on a fucking jury or anything!” He starts out the bit by saying: “I don’t support wife-beating. I understand it!” For those of you who think Sam was being a little unduly harsh, please realize that he ended up being happily married for a short time before he died at thirty-seven in a head-on collision. My wife would probably write it off as God’s will since Kinison left a career the church for a far more lucrative, resounding, and arguably more fun one in stand-up comedy. To any grammatical purists for whom the use of the word “fun” as an adjective instead of a noun grates, I commiserate; it hurts my ears as much as yours, but what good are rules if you can’t occasionally break them, a few of the Ten Commandments, the Geneva Conventions, habeas corpus, Posse Comitatus, Marcus Aurelius, and the Golden Rule itself notwithstanding?).
But I don’t think a woman should raise a hand to her husband either, or raise her voice at him as a matter of course, and nag him persistently until his ears shrivel up like dried apricots and he’s bent over like a crushed prisoner awaiting his daily rape by someone who also used to be (relatively) innocent, or at least not guilty of the crime he got locked up for. Hey, not everyone can afford lucky lawyers.
Chris Hedges distinguishes between the terms “killing” and “murder” by saying that the first involves the taking of the life of an opponent of equal lethality, while the second entails the dispatching of a helpless victim. He goes on to say that the hijinks sponsored by the U. S. government in Afghanistan and (more or less formerly) Iraq, along with the ostensibly covert wars in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan, are mainly not about killing, but murder. As a person who has eaten way too much meat in his life, I know the uneasiness of a tainted conscience, but I also know how cognitive dissonance enables us to perpetuate the destructive patterns that keep America going on its downward imperial spiral (following in the former Soviet Union’s blood-drunk, staggering footsteps into the “Graveyard of Empires,” Afghanistan’s catchy and appropriate nickname).
And as someone who grew up in a state of privilege and who’s reaped the benefits of empire (at least until I came to Korea to die, basically–falling prey to my main weakness), I’ve got far too much blood on my hands to participate in either murder or suicide (or, for those intent on both, in that order, please). I know that divorcing my wife will be tantamount to murdering her in some ways, and it may take years to forgive myself, even if forgiveness remains beyond her, despite her exposure to Jesus and Co.’s handy list of tips on how to exonerate your trespassers. Come to think of it, J. C. doesn’t say how to do it; he says, “Just do it,” in Aramaic, of course, approved by Mel Gibson, the Pope, and Rick Santorum–wait a second, those guys aren’t Christians, are they? I’ll have to ask Jesus and let you know later.
To wrap up, here’s a quote from the They Might Be Giants jingle, “Shoehorn with Teeth” (complete with glockenspiel): “What’s the sense in ever thinking ’bout the tomb when you’re much too busy returning to the womb?“ That’s a good question, although I can’t say as I’m busy enough returning to the womb; otherwise, I wouldn’t be eyeing the tomb with such hungry, eager eyes, eyes like mouths with fangs, mouths slavering to devour the earth itself in the greedy need to feed the bottomless asshole of the heart.
(To end on a less desperate note, allow me to add a little sentimental clap-trap for you to add to the crapper. As Elmer Fudd would say in a simultaneous impersonation of both E. M. Forester and Virginia Woolf, “Everybody needs a womb with a view and a womb of one’s own.” Sorry we can’t accommodate your first request, Elmer, although don’t be too dismayed, as scientists are working on it.)
* Coincidentally, the truck driver who nearly made road pizza out of me was listening to the same Elvis Costello album, although a different song:
“Accidents will happen/We’re only hit and run./You’re used to being the victim/Now, you’re not the only one.”
It’s a good thing he didn’t back up and finish the job.