EVERYTHING WE KNOW IS WRONG BY Roy Trakin
Imagine a world in which, even if you’re still lucky enough to hold a job, your workplace is like an episode of Survivor, with every day someone getting eliminated, and no million-dollar payoff at the end, either. The stock market continues to plummet, and the content-based media industries you’ve made a living in for the past 30-plus years start to dry up like a desert… newspapers, music, radio, TV, etc.
Where the N.Y. Times reports that colleges, now strapped themselves, the path your parents always told you would lead to a better life, drastically cut liberal arts programs and become breeding grounds for professionals-lawyers, doctors, scientists, engineers and, god help us all, accountants. A time when that age-old middle-class standby, owning your own home, becomes not a gateway to security, but a rapidly declining in value albatross, with many owing more than it’s worth.
Last week’s L.A. Times had one of the more depressing stories I’ve read recently, about 90-year-old Edwin Schneidman, a man who has written some 20 books about death and suicide, facing his own demise with a mixture of wistfulness and sorrow. He describes the end as follows: “You’re driving down a road in the desert, and the engine suddenly stops, no Pep Boys, no Auto Club to help. Whether the road continues is of no consequence. It has ended for you.” He points out that dying isn’t to be feared, it’s living that’s the hard part, as he puts it, “to weather the sleeplessness and worry, the relinquishing of pride, the dependency upon strangers, the plea for respect and the struggle to remember.”
It’s a somber piece, which you can read here, and on my own recent leapyear birthday of 14 ¼, it gave me something to ponder. How will I be remembered? Have I achieved my goals? What kind of world will my children and grandchildren inhabit? Will we pull out of this rut, or is there just a quickening decline into Mad Max territory? Can I get buried with my flat-screen TV?
Feeling thoroughly bummed out, I pulled up Leonard Cohen‘s recent concert at the Beacon Theatre in New York on www.npr.org, and darn if the 74-year-old poet/songwriter and sometime singer didn’t cheer me up with his funereal, almost sepulchral delivery of some of the songs made famous by others, like “Dance Me to the End of Love,” “The Future,” “Chelsea Hotel,” “Suzanne,” “Hallelujah.” Still humble, and sartorially dapper, the Zen Jew-dhist looks death in the eye and comes to terms with it, even welcomes its spectre. His voice is gravelly, almost too low to hear, a vibrating rumble, but his message is clear. if you’re still breathing, you can make a difference. “First We Take Manhattan,” then “democracy is coming to the U.S.A.”
“It’s coming through a crack in the wall/on a visionary flood of alcohol/from the staggering account/of the Sermon on the Mount/which I don’t pretend to understand at all/It’s coming from the silence/on the dock of the bay/from the brave, the bold, the battered/heart of Chevrolet.” Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
It was only a song, sung by a weathered old gentleman who still believes in dressing up in a formal suit and tie. He’s ready to meet his maker… I hope, one day, I will be, too. Just not yet.