Archive for November, 2012
Yesterday, I went to the zoo, hoping to see the bipolar bear. What a waste of time. It hid in the corner, moping. The educators at the zoo said it was sad, because climate change is destroying the polar ice caps. Sure, but that’s not why the bipolar bear’s depressed. The truth is the bipolar bear has its own, internal issues. Anyhow, I wasn’t surprised. Disappointed? Yes. But not surprised. Tomorrow it could be the exact opposite. The bipolar bear will dive into the water, swim laps, and jump out- enraptured- pacing back-and-forth talking nonstop about a Radical New Insight about Ice and Fish- just listen will you listen to me, this changes everything (!!!!).
That’s just the nature of the bipolar bear. One minute it’s on top of the world, the next it’s in Antarctica feeling like shit. A lot of other bears, grizzlies especially, have no pity for the bipolar bear. They say, You should be more equatorial. They say, We have medicine for that, you know. But those of us who love the bipolar bear love it for its erratic mood, unbridled personality, and disparity (may I say, despair-ity?).
If Goldilocks walked into a bipolar bear’s house there wouldn’t be porridge that was ‘just right’. There would be hot porridge and there would be cold porridge. And depending on which way the wind was blowing, bipolar bear would have one or the other. There is no middle way. There is no lukewarm porridge. The Goldilocks and grizzly bears of the world cry foul saying, You must choose between one or the other! But bipolar bears retort that plain porridge and nice people and okay days are as good as zero.
I find bipolar bears to have a lot in common with bi polar bears. That is, bisexual polar bears. They, too, have a taste for irreconcilable opposites. Bi polar bears can go either way. They also get a lot of flak, not from grizzlies but from their own kind: middle-of-the-road polar bears concerned with their status as an endangered species, who criticize bi polar bears for not doing everything they can to procreate. But bi polar bears, like bipolar bears, are defined by their refusal of anything practical and moderate.
Eighth grade. Honors Math. Mrs. Rawls gave us a take home test. She didn’t even tell us not to cheat. Maybe in-passing she said you gotta work alone. Of course, we cheated. Or a lot of us did. And were caught. Because we all got the same problem wrong, in the exact same way.
Mrs. Rawls was crestfallen. She sobbed, asking us: why? We were intelligent, why would we resort to cheating? We were honors students, why would we betray her trust and debase ourselves? To her, it was inexplicable. To us, she was naive.
The thing is, Mrs. Rawls taught for decades, retired, and then came out of retirement because our school was in dire need of a math teacher. During her retirement, a lot had changed. This was Will County, the fastest growing county in the country. The old Will County- the one she knew- was rural, traditional, simple. During the nineties it became suburban and the population multiplied exponentially. When she came out of retirement she was teaching in the same school, but she was teaching complete strangers. We weren’t farm folk weaned on the Ten Commandments. We were the sons and daughters of investors and technocrats, whose only notion of righteousness was being the best.
We craved it. Success. Out-performing the rest of the school and each other. Scoring high on tests. Being called gifted. Special. Honors Class. A bright future where we’ll excel in high school then get into a good college in order to have a terrific career that will allow us to live in our own suburb- an even better one. No roots. Roots are the last thing you need when you’re flying toward the sun.
Mrs. Rawls thought that because we were good students, we were good people. Bad kids, she thought, are the ones who cheat and lie. That might’ve been the case, years ago. But we weren’t good students because we were good, we were good students because we were ambitious. We cared enough to cheat. The “bad” kids didn’t give a shit about doing well- they were the ones who had no need to cheat.
One way to interpret it is that we reflected public education’s own moral vacuity right back at itself. A system that determines merit through quantifiable standardized tests has no room for inner qualities like integrity, wisdom, and honesty. All that matters is how many bubbles you correctly fill with graphite.
Back then, I looked down upon the “bad kids”. They weren’t as smart as me, I thought. But in retrospect, I think they were the ones with moral fiber. They had values: music, play, being relaxed for chrissakes. But these values, while certainly honorable, go unhonored by the system.
Of course, some of the kids who didn’t care about school, also didn’t care about anything else. They possessed neither the values of society, nor any of their own. Nihilism. Cynicism. Pessimism. This is where the ambitious end up, too, when we realize our ideals are hollow.
Hollow’s good. You can fill it with something. With what? Who knows. Maybe just hold it up to your ear, and listen to the sound of the ocean.
A god is that which stops people in their tracks. Causes them to wait. For waiting is the most sacred thing. What is a god, thus defined? An ambulance. We worship the Ambulance. We offer it sacrifices: the broken, dead and dying. We give it our loved ones and- one day- even ourselves. But most importantly, we move to the side of the Road. And wait.
The Ambulance is not Mr. Nice Guy like Jesus. Nor is the Ambulance petty and jealous like Yahweh. The Ambulance is an altogether neutral god. Always ready to accept our gifts but never asking for more. Besides, we give the Ambulance plenty. But human sacrifices matter little to the Ambulance compared to our response to its presence: getting off the Road in an instant, and waiting. At least that’s my opinion, a modest and moderate believer…
But then there are the fanatics, the Ambullites, who are convinced we are not sacrificing enough. They say to move to the side of the road only every once in a while is not enough for us to maintain conscious contact with the Ambulance. They say not moving to the side of the road and stopping but just kind of slowing down and letting the Ambulance pass is utter sacrilege.
At first they tried renting ambulances and running them 24/7. But drivers became privy to their scheme and kept driving on the Road anyway. The Ambullites, discouraged but not defeated, concluded the only way people will stop in their tracks is if the Ambulance is really carrying a human sacrifice. So… they concluded… we just need more sacrifices.
Thus, the Great Maiming has commenced under the name of the Ambulance. The Ambullites shoot their victims or cut off an arm and a leg and then leave their victims with a cell phone already on the line with 911. The result: ambulances everywhere. Now, nobody can drive at all, there’re so many Ambulances. All we can do is wait, wait… and wait.
I have started a resistance against the Ambullites. You can’t fight them in the traditional sense. Because if you wound or kill them, it just brings another Ambulance into the mix. No. You’ve got to wage war on the Ambulance itself. Dismantle and destroy all of its manifestations. Shatter its lights and break its horn. Slash its tires and pour oatmeal down its gas tank. In a twisted way, I’ve been led to go to war against God. I know one day I will pay for my hubris. But we have to sacrifice the Ambulance, in order to save us all.
The northern border of Chicago is sharply drawn. Most distinctly by the streetlights. Evanston’s are white and far apart. Chicago’s are smoker’s teeth yellow and occur- without fail- every thirty feet.
The streets of Chicago are also neatly perpendicular. You can’t get lost, because you’re always oriented in one of four directions. In contrast, Evanston’s streets bend and curl until you think you’re headed in one direction but really you’re headed the other.
Another sharp difference is the bats. Chicago has millions of bats that rise out of Lake Michigan every night at dusk. They’re called “bats” because they use sonar- a type so loud even us humans can sense where they are in the dark- but really they’re a species of clams from southeast Asia. They were brought here to eradicate the invasive ‘Asian carp’, which they did, all-too-successfully. Now they’re the problem.
The only reason they haven’t gone north of Chicago is because they are drawn to the bright-white lights of Evanston like moths. The first couple generations of flying clams died swarming these lamps. Then, being highly intelligent invertebrate, they taught themselves to avoid their bane.
November Seventh will be the twelfth annual Clam Bat Fest, in which Chicagoans everywhere will don paper machete wings, row into Lake Michigan, jump into the water, and emerge fake-flying at dusk, eating Asian Carp at fish and sushi joints all night all across the city before re-entering the water at dawn. A good way to unwind after what should be a tense election.