Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Keeping Your Eyes Open

When I was not much younger, I thought of the world as being divided between interesting people and not-interesting people. And I spent most of my time trying to make sure I was interesting.

How do you do that?

If you are young and shallow, like I was (now I am no longer young but still quite shallow), you start externally. You study the ways interesting people dress and try to adopt their styles. Unfortunately, I was never bold enough -- unlike my little sister -- to completely give myself to dressing like an interesting person. "My hair won't do anything interesting," I would say. Or, "Who can afford to dress like that?"

In the latter, I was correct. I could not afford to dress like that, but it had nothing to do with money. This from a person who, everytime he wore shorts to school in junior high, was absolutely convinced that the entire school had chosen that day to not wear shorts as part of a school-wide conspiratorial practical joke, played on me.

To go from that to, say, wearing Chuck Taylors in 1981, would have been unthinkable. I did have earrings for awhile, but that was in 1985, and by then it was very acceptable to have earrings. But I kept getting them caught on my fraternity sweatshirt, so I got rid of them.

It was about that time that I decided, well, maybe I'm just not the kind of guy who can appear interesting. I don't have the guts. So I should begin a campaign where I go on and on about how it's what's INSIDE your head that makes you interesting.

Seventeen years later, I think I finally believe that. Whew.

I was talking about this with my neighbor, the poet with the 40-inch vertical, the other day. Now that I have a job, I am sympatico with the ills of the working man. Oh yes, I feel the poet's pain -- the waking up early, riding BART to work. The endless stream of people, rushing toward what? Toward jobs that make the world a better place? No! They are just killing time, waiting to die.

Right?

Oops! I forgot that I'm 42, not 24.

Regardless, the poet and I stole a moment of calm at 8:30 in the morning in front of our overpriced homes. We'd just teamed up to catch a wayward Shack, who decided that, rather than follow me up the front stairs post-walk, he'd pause, look at me as if I were crazy for assuming that he'd leashlessly follow me up the stairs even though he'd done it the previous 100 times I'd walked him, then slowly back down the stairs, look at me again, and dash down the street.

It took me, the poet, and the new girl down the street to catch him. Finally, we cornered him under a car and I grabbed him by the back leg. Bad dog!

Satisfied with a job well done, the poet and I paused to reflect on our lives. The poet is, if anything, even more tortured than me, though he does a much better job of keeping it to himself. By many standards he is a success. He has a well-paying job, owns his own home, has about 2.4% body fat, and a nice girlfriend. But he, too sometimes wonders what it's all about.

"If you'd told me this was what 40 looks like, I'd have said you were crazy," he told me.

"Yeah. Remember the whole 'no way, man, I'm never going to get some job and waste my life!' thing?" I said.

He chuckled. "Yeah." The poet once taught at Seattle University, at precisely the same time I was a graduate student there. Different departments. He was English, I was, oddly enough, not English but Education. "I get up every morning, drive to work, come back twelve hours later," he said. "All I'm missing is the suburbs."

"And from where I sit, the suburbs don't sound all that bad," I said.

The point is not that we are two typical guys entering middle age, full of disappointment and regret. We're not. The point is that the poet is a guy who goes to work, wears the latest non-risky fashions and plays (or used to play, until he ripped up his knee for the umpteenth time, thus reducing his vetical to something like 35 inches, still higher than most people can jump even while wearing spring-loaded shoes) plenty of basketball. And yet, if you had a few minutes to engage the guy in conversation, or even to look at his life (or at his books, which I did once while the Jawa was watering his plants), you'd come to find that the poet is an interesting person.

And you might find out, under further review, that far more than half of the people in the world are interesting, and most of them just look like regular schmoes as they walk from place to place.

I have this argument with the Ex-Mormon New Yorker all the time. She is unimpressed by the unimpressive, while I'm obsessed with the unimpressive. She has set parameters not on whom she will talk to, but on whom she will think about. In a way, I sort of admire her ability to use her time only for things she finds worthy. I mean, I've spent literally hours wondering about the guy standing next to me waiting for the crosswalk light to change, and generally find that my conclusions about this person -- while fascinating to me -- are usually of no interest to anyone else and in fact it is generally considered weird and rude to pay such close attention to perfect strangers.

Maybe I'm easily impressed. Maybe I've listened to way too many country music. Maybe I'm just really, really naive.

Whatever. I've got to say that, having spent so much of my life thinking that people were uninteresting, I'm pretty proud to now consider them all interesting. If that's because I'm gullible or naive, I'll cop to it.

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