I suppose that besides taxes, the only other certainty in life is the assurance of uncertainty. We may think we really know what’s doing, how the world around us will react to certain stimuli, but there are plenty of places where there is just no certainty. We live, no doubt, in an age of hubris. Some of it is good, certainly, I mean we WANT smart scientists to have the faith of their beliefs, and a desire to test the out in the real world. Otherwise, there would be no medical advances, and things like the catalytic converter, disc drives, and cell fones would still be waiting to be invented. But there are iffy sides to the age of Hubris, and those include such obvious and every day examples as the Wall Street geniuses who continually guess wrong, yet are paid millions for saying so, and of course the Government (and the press following them closely in 2002-03) who all felt that once we disarmed Saddam’s nuclear weapons, we would be greeted with flowers and candy as liberators. Meanwhile the only certainty is that the people whose lives are on the line, your average Iraqi schlepper, and your better than average GI, will continue to live in a world of uncertainty, the kinds that begins nibbling your toes off, and eventually ends up taking big bites.
There was a great piece in this weeks TIMES Science section about a new book whose theory tries to understand how England became the fulcrum of the Industrial age, and eventually the first society where the Malthusian math (which essentially said that populations would expand to meet available resources.. i.e. FOOD, and that therefore there would never be a significant upgrading in the lives of a populace who were unable to produce more food per person, over time) was broken, and let the Industrial age ignite, a time which, for all it’s Dickensian booboos, did create a larger base of wealth for more people. A great piece. Read it. And of course it only emphasizes the fact that living as we do in an age of “Certainty” – food, transport, music, ipods, etc. makes us an anomaly in human history. The “big one” when it hits the West coast, or central Missouri, or Tokyo, will only reinforce that idea that some things not only cannot be avoided, they just can’t even be predicted.
Part of the hubris (I kind of like the word, even if this is a slightly altered meaning) is that set of societal assumptions that we all harbour. Well, depending on who you are, I guess you hold different views, but one of the things which we all take for granted is “how interesting” we all are. Come on, admit it. You DO think you’re somewhat cool. True, I know you feel there are folks above you in some social stratification, but generally speaking, I think if you read blobs, you probably feel kind of special. It’s ok, it’s not a crime yet. Be yourself, imagine the cool things you do at work, at home, with family, on road trips, places you have been which might make you FEEL special. That’s what I’m getting at. It’s particularly strong in the Baby Boomer, and younger generations, and with the exception, I suppose, of the Sumner Redstones of this world, it s less obvious in our parents' generation. They definitely were NOT the “Me” generation.
This IS Your Ridiculous Life
Last Saturday night Iris and I attended a wonderful small show in a little theater on West 42nd st. She belongs to a half dozen Broadway affinity groups (like FACEbook for the theater Discount set) which offer some very cool tickets at unbelievably low prices. Sometimes even for free. We saw “Beyond Glory” a month ago - a great one man play whose dialogue is taken directly from interviews with Cong. Medal of Honor winners. This week, once we saw the promo for “This is Your Ridiculous Life”, we knew we had to go. A half dozen improv actors sit on stage awaiting their cues, and the cues come from one of their own who serves, alternately, as the ‘director’/instigator. At the other end of stage are two chairs, one for a certified Psycho Therapist, and an empty chair for an audience member. Yes, its YOUR Life on stage, opened up for everyone to see. The idea is to get the audience member talking (the Therapist's job) and then at a key moment, the director asks several of the actors to do a riff on what has just been discussed. Iris kept nudging me to go, but at the outset, I demurred, and waited a moment. Nearby, a woman of some 70-plus years, egged on by her friends, took the stage. Elaine was her name. Very poised, very cool. And Very New York. “I was born on West 23rd st. Then we moved to West 98th st. Then West 115th st. Then to Dykman street (also on the West side) and thence to West 73rd street" where she lives today. So,I wonder, in Seventy years, did this woman never ride a crosstown bus, never see a sign for the East Side? Talk about Certainty! When you know every block, the direction of every street, even with the calamity of city life, therein lies a bit of certainty. Better yet, her very elemental discussions of her life, rich, I’m sure, in personal stories, were told in a very simple way: three children (two moved to the coast, the West coast) , one living here; her husband had been a Police man. New York’s finest. With such basic, what we might call not overly complicated stuff, the improv actors made some wonderful, hilarious skits. In the simplicity was the basis for the humor. I was next up, and I then realized how intently they must have been listening. Once they started doing my life as Improv, they ended up with a few funny things (“Wait a minute. You’re Jewish,, AND you’re from UTAH? How did that happen?) but somehow, in just answering the questions (Who is the most interesting person you ever photographed? – a tough one) as straightforwardly as I could, -- the Ayatollah Khomeini – it almost seemed forced on my part. I was just trying to play it straight, but for me, it was always a bit more complicated than just boiling it down to “..the West side.” They asked how I got in to photograph the Ayatollah, and I must have said something like “..I sweetalked my way in… and annoyed then so much that I left then no choice..” Well, the only thing certain was that I didn’t feel it was nearly as rich material as Elaine, and I started to feel bad about that. Not terrible. Just a teeny bit ‘bad.’ Then at the end, three actors gathered to sing a three sided song, one for Elaine, one about me, and one for Brandon the Chinese social worker from San Francisco who followed me on stage. And the best moment as they wrapped it up was “my” player singing “… and he sweetalked the Ayatollah…” Yea, I suppose that was, in part, my Ridiculous Life. Maybe no more Ridiculous to anyone on the outside than it is to me. But in the end, I think the one Certainty we should all be aware of is that our lives, even on the West Side, are just a step away from Ridiculous. We’re just saying… David