The mush of the year, which is dished out frequently on television, in magazines and in sermons delivered by assorted con men and fools, is simple enough:
You are what you make yourself. You are happy or unhappy depending on your attitude. It is within your power to take charge of your life, etc., zub, zub, zub.
It is, of course, a fairly cruel philosophy, which is my main objection to it, and if other objections are sought, I might add that it is patently false, disgustingly complacent and substantially opposed to the core of morality, which is fellow-feeling for other humans.
Of course, redneck preachers, rich peddlers of all sorts, and inheritors of sufficient wealth not to worry about America now all tend to congratulate themselves on their acumen, prudence, sound outlook and general success. But I am not sure, to begin with, how to achieve happiness if one is born with substandard intelligence, crippled legs and so on. I am not sure, either, how one achieves happiness at Dachau.
Those who put their faith in positive thinking and right attitudes, apart from having escaped the slightest comprehension of man's place in the cosmos, are merely living in a dream world of maximum restriction. For them, paradise is not having mumps at the moment, and possessing a television set that beams a steady message to them that they're pretty damn okay; and on this quivering foundation they set up their plastic castles, trumpeting that all that exists ought to exist and (in particular) that if anything is wrong somewhere, temporarily, (as at the morgue) it is hardly to be taken into account, in comparison with the general rule that the righteous prosper.
I have no beef myself. I am at the moment healthy, plump, sassy, without more trauma from wife and kids than is the mortal lot, and moreover I find the world fairly enchanting even to look at, and I have a good hound and an amazing terrier and a house I like better than other houses and a piece of land on which I waddle about contentedly. As one of my betters said,
What wondrous life is this I lead?
Ripe apples drop about my head.
These beautiful lines, gleaned from the harvest fields of English literature, once puzzled a dazzling woman I know about: she never could figure out what the "rye pappels" were that fell about the head.
But to get on--my own lines have fallen in pleasant places and for the time being I am, as these things go, a happy man. But this has less to do with my sound attitudes, and even less to do with my virtues, than with sheer luck.
It can change, of course. That admirable king of Lydia, captive before Cyrus, warned the Persian emperor not to congratulate himself too soon on his happiness or his power. Wait till you die.
I know one thing that none of these preachy asses seem to know:
Most that passes for happiness and almost all that passes for virtue is luck.
We are not so insulated from the world as we think. Can one be quite happy being held up by a thug? Is happiness independent of such inconveniences as having three deformed children who society thinks are priceless gifts of God but whom nobody chips in a dime to pay the bills for?
Descending from grand sorrows, I shall mention a handful of the griefs I have endured the past few days, not with the idea that you must drop the coffeepot and begin to weep for me, but merely to point out that all of these things have cost me time or money or both, and thus have impinged forcibly on my life through no particular fault of my own.
* The Riggs National Bank, doubtless unafraid of inflation and blessed with a most sanguine merry outlook, raised the rent on my safe deposit box from $45 to
00 a year. It takes time to clear out the box and find another bank, but this little chore is necessary unless one has a taste for being gouged.
* The Diamond Cab Co., which purports to take advance orders for cabs to the airport and Union Station, accepted my call at 11 a.m. for a cab to the station at 4:30. Everything was still great when they were checked about 4 p.m. When the cab did not come and I missed the train, the dispatcher said he could sure see why I was disappointed but that was because it had started to rain. "If it hadn't rained, the cab would have been there," he said.
Now I have a pretty cheerful outlook, and a missed train (there is only one a day, needless to say, to where I was going) is not going to ruin my life. I dismiss these little mishaps with a cheerful hope that Diamond Cab will arrive on time in hell and (there being no rain there, it is said) roam back and forth in that eternal warmth.
* A registration certificate for an automobile arrived saying its expiration date was March 31, 1983. In fact, the expiration date is March 31, 1984. If you persist, you eventually get them on the phone and once you go over it about 14 times, they get the point, that a clerical error has been made. Well, my sweet Lord, pay no attention to that. It's a valid registration certificate, it just has the wrong expiration date on it.
Which is fine, until you try to explain that to a cop at 9 p.m. some rainy November.
* Arriving at the subway stop for Cleveland Park, I proposed to ride the agreeable machine downtown and dropped coins for my ticket into the farecard maw. It registered my donation, but declined to give me either my farecard or to return my coins, though God knows I know how to punch every button Metro has got and then some. The attendant, as it happened, was not in his little house, nor on the platform below. If he had gone to the john, he had a real problem, since I waited a spell, not being one to throw money away. But in the end, I dropped in another set of coins, in another machine, and got my farecard. The ride only cost double what it should have. This may be the place to say that when executives of Metro retire in a shower of praise, I am always delighted to see them gone, since sooner or later we are bound to get a management under which this sort of continuing annoyance (though the chief annoyance is buses that do not show up at all) does not occur.
And so on and on. On the plus side, I am not adding a new room to my house, nor do I deal with laundries (my shirts are expertly washed by human hands and I learned early that a primary aim of a man's life is to get shirts washed without tickets) nor do I buy things from department stores, so I have none of those common vexations that thousands do.
* I have four new tires, one of which developed a sort of egg on the tire wall, suggesting the inner wall had broken and that the tire might burst. I took it back and they said gee, and are giving me a new tire absolutely free, only it has to come from New York, of course, and will take 10 days, and I have to drive roughly to the Canary Islands to pick it up.
To those at the end of the line these are thought minor woes. They do, however, make me less than radiantly joyful, since I am not one of your bright loons.
But suppose things equally beyond my control had happened: cancer of the bone marrow; a fire burning down the house and my personal hound in it; a bomb on this blessed city, zub, zub, zub.
I like to think that even then I would figure, well, you gotta go when you gotta go, and not waste undue energy on the matter. I hope there would be time to bellow at the top of my voice a series of truly select cuss words I have never had occasion to use. Life sooner or later affords occasions for them.
A good brisk obscene roar is sometimes the therapy of choice, far better esthetically and morally than the advice of Happy Yappy to get rid of your brain.
The average expert on Getting It Together Right can probably be reduced to a decent heart and a civil tongue if given a fine intolerable itch for 42 days, a therapy (since so much free advice is floating around America nowadays) I not only commend to them but actively pray for. The truth is no man has power and any stray wind can shut him up nicely. If we're too greedy or too weak to help the helpless, we might at least stop telling them to take charge of their lives and be dandy boys like us.