Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Ten Best Existential Crises of 2010

Everyone’s a critic. And every critic, at this time of year, has to publish a best-of-the-year list. So here is a list of the ten most profound existential crises I experienced in 2010.

(Check back tomorrow for “The Ten Best Sandwiches I Made in 2010.”)

1. Running through the train station to catch the 4:16 Northwest Line express, I find myself unable to choose between the stairs and the escalator. At midnight, when the building closes, I am removed by Security. Is there no consolation?

2. I wake one morning in August to find only decaffeinated coffee in the house. Why do we go on trying?

3. An email invoice sent to a publisher in Minneapolis is returned as “undeliverable.” Absurdity is an open hand that strikes one repeatedly about the head.

4. Attempting to order a cocktail, I am unable to make the bartender understand what I mean by a “Gibson.” We live alone and die alone and our cries go unheeded.

5. I make a cheese omelet, but forget to include the cheese. Beauty mocks us by offering fleeting glimpses of the joy that we would have last for all eternity.

6. Unable to choose between a purple crewneck sweater and an orange cardigan, I spend the morning in bed watching “The Price is Right.” Nietzche: Our destiny exercises its influence over us even when, as yet, we do not know its nature.

7. Entering K-Mart, I step aside and hold open a door for an elderly couple, but receive no acknowledgment or thanks. Can there be any greater proof that the universe is a cold and pitiless place?

8. When, after months of effort, I at last birdie the fifth hole in Wii Golf, I find the triumph not as satisfying as I had hoped. Ah, life.

9. A Facebook status update about my stamp collection is “liked” by only six people. The world is an enigma made more terrible by our own mad attempt to grasp it.

10. Unable to sleep, I walk outside in the remorseless quiet just before dawn. Gazing at the stars and considering my mortality, I am overcome by what I assume is a sensation of utter dread, but which turns out to be a raccoon urinating on my foot. Ma pensee, c’est moi.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Scanning the Skies

I grew up the youngest of four children, and my role in the family was to be credulous. On Christmas Eve we would pile into my father’s Dodge and drive to an uncle’s house in some distant suburb. In the backseat, my brothers and sisters would scan the sky and try to spot Santa Claus. “Over there,” they’d say, pointing. But by the time I looked he was always gone.

I’ve written before about the so-called War on Christmas, but I don’t entirely get the distinction between the secular and religious versions of the holiday. Both are about scanning the skies, and waiting, and finally the arrival.

My son, who is nine, tracks Santa Claus online now. It is hard to know exactly how credulous he is, or if he is as eager a believer as I was. I think he is shrewd enough to understand that as long as the gifts keep coming, there is no need to ask too many questions. He believes in acquisition and in unwrapping things and in piles of consumer goods reaching to the ceiling. Today, Christmas Eve, he came home from his best friend’s house with a Christmas present. The boys have never exchanged gifts before and AJ didn’t have anything for his friend. He was taken by surprise. So he went up to his room and for the next half-hour or so, I could hear him digging through the mess of his closet, looking for something that could be re-purposed into a last-minute gift. He finally settled on a bit of leftover Halloween party swag. His buddy loved it.

Tonight we’ll be driving to another Christmas Eve party and scanning the skies again. I don't know if my son believes or disbelieves. But on Christmas Eve, you have to look. It is our job, for this night at least, to be credulous.