Over a few Pints
Once every week, on Thirsty Thursday, Campbell, or Camp as everyone calls him, and I meet for a pint or two at ‘Grandmas’ the local pub, overlooking the picturesque harbor and Keats Island. Campbell is an Alderman, one of five counselors in our small town. It’s a thankless gig with no pay or perks but he likes it. He is also the owner of ‘Coast Books’, the legendary bookstore on the harbor. “The only bookstore accessible by boat,” he likes to point out.
We discuss anything from sports to the weather and the future of mankind. Sometimes we veer off into dubious territory like politics or religion but since we both hold similar convictions and beliefs, we are each other’s most benevolent audience. Clare calls us beer philosophers. She has a point.
Camp was late so I ordered only one pint. I stared out the window and got lost in the large fog, which is my mind.
I pride myself of having read countless books, watched a myriad of movies and continue to watch the ‘daily news’ but hardly remember titles of books, names of flicks and never mind specific characters, actors, authors or quotes. As far as the news go, it’s sound bites and repetitive propaganda that sells itself as news and usually is of no use to form an informed opinion. Not only do I not remember what anybody said but according to Clare, my partner and alter ego, apparently it is usually of no consequence. I wish my memory wasn’t just a personal version of Trivial Pursuit but actually a record of knowledge and information that is relevant and solid, able to be recalled at any time on a whim. Not so much.
I read all the fashionable classics of the time in my pre- and post twenties and became a big fan of Jack London but don’t ask me to remember any of the characters or even quotes. It’s the same with movies. I scarcely remember the content or the actors but as soon as a couple of frames flicker across the screen I know for certain if I’ve seen this flick before or not.
Certain people, like my good friends Bill, Toni and David seem to remember historical data, battle lines and players in multiple wars, anecdotes and facts from a legions of books, articles and various forms of media. They can recall names of books, characters and even quote lines from some obscure book they read ten years ago. These guys also seem to remember how to divide and multiply by hand, how to draw roots, where to find the relevant facts and who is responsible for the global mess we’re in. I can barely remember the restaurant we ate in last week, never mind the name of the waiter who served us.
Maybe it’s my cluttered mind that is at fault, maybe I’ve stuffed too much information into my grey cells, like cramming too many clothes in the washing machine that nothing gets properly cleaned. In other words I should stop adding useless bits of info, give away the TV, and empty my mind of all the rubbish it contains. How to do that? In the old days we had several well known gurus and yogis like Shri Aurobindo or Guru Maharaji, who bamboozled us with the recipes for personal fulfillment and happiness until all that navel gazing spirituality came crashing down in Jonestown. Today we have motivational speakers and learned experts (mostly self proclaimed) TED talks on every subject from [not] eating wheat to how to get rich quick and we have lectures and self-help video clips and books on every subject, readily available on our smart gadgets. Or should I just listen to Clare who has no such existential doubts and insecurities and marches through the days with a purpose and focus that makes my wanderings a bewildered stagger through life’s labyrinth.
We are born selfish and self-centered and some of us never grow out of that infantile self-absorption. Altruism has to be learned and acquired and separates adults from teenagers and children. It requires an inclusive view of the world and other people, not just family and friends but humanity. It’s a constant struggle to not let our egos take over for the important decisions. It requires team work and listening to other’s points of view. Benevolence, altruism and compassion didn’t enter my psyche until my early 30ies; these traits were certainly not evident in my teens and early twenties when my mind was preoccupied by physical concerns. I’ve since come to the conclusion that all our differences, our wars and fights would go away if we would all park our egos in the basement and either throw away the key or give it to our loving and understanding partners for safe keeping.
Here is a good bumper sticker, Clare said to me to other day: “When all else fails, lower your standards.’ Isn’t that just perfect.” I had to admit this was funny but did she tell me this with a hint and a nudge. My own standards couldn’t possible go any lower. I set the bar at eating regularly without bias or prejudice, drinking one or two beers a day, and regular bowel movements. When all that happens without incident then I’m a happy camper. Life is really that simple, and happiness is a full tummy.
While Clare was reading a book about the morals of death and dying I was heavily involved in a thriller by Deon Meyer, my new found author from South Africa. Should I feel bad about indulging in fantasy when I could improve my mind by studying a language or finding out about ocean acidification or the latest theory on nuclear fusion? Life can be so darn complicated. I hardly know where to start and certainly don’t have any idea where to stop. And should I feel guilty if I laze about and do nothing all day but eat, nap, read and watch some mindless TV? Is wasting time a cardinal sin or a luxury? The banality of everyday life continues to baffle and mystify me. Being a non-religious, non-believer in any sort of higher power I tackle every day as a newfound opportunity. If I wake up healthy, refreshed and hungry in my comfy bed with a fridge full of food and beer I have nothing to complain about. The world might be spinning out of control, humanity might be just a blip on the horizon of eternity but I’m feeling fine and it’s a privilege to be alive. I live, eat, drink and travel like a king, even though I’m just an average working stiff. It’s fantastic and I have nothing to complain about. “Keep that in mind,” Clare reminds me regularly.
I used to have ambition. As a boy I wanted to either be a clown because I liked to make others laugh; a priest because they only worked on Sundays or a pilot because he gets to fly around. As a teen I aspired to be a gymnast, then a rock star and then a playboy and even a super hero but all my ambitions were thwarted by the mundane curse of having to go to school. I was taught by mean, short sighted, ex-Nazis and my only motivation was to get out of school as fast as possible.
During those formative years I graduated to class clown and goaded on by my mates I was constantly in the teacher’s crosshairs, vilified as a trouble-maker. In their eyes I was most certainly bound for a life of a petty criminal or an anarchist or a politician, maybe even all three. Despite their dire predictions I evaded jail, dabbled briefly in hippie anarchy and I avoided politics because of my inability to hide emotions. Also the fact that I always babbled on about anything or as my friend Paul would say: “Loose lips sink ships.” I have been known to say the wrong thing at the wrong time like when I was stopped for speeding by a police woman and I called her Sir, mistaking the moustache for masculinity or when I asked Clare’s boss at the Christmas party if he knew the difference between a bottom feeding sucker and a lawyer. “There isn’t any,” I quipped, “except one of them is a fish.” “I’m a lawyer,” he said, looking at Clare with a raised eyebrow.
It occurred to me that maybe life is a chain, a series of events on a time line, events that sometimes repeat themselves and therefore become predictable. In order to understand some of life’s puzzles I decided to group issues, queries and findings in variable sized baskets, not boxes but baskets because you can always add more or take out something from a basket. I’ve labeled these baskets and placed and grouped them in a round space, representing a finite life. There are no corners in a round room, no right angles, nor beginning or end. I think these rooms need to be three dimensional, bubbles or spheres with the baskets floating in a vacuum, sort of like stars and planets in our universe. There are different sizes of bubbles, for each their own. Sometimes two spheres are attached like Siamese twins. Some bubbles are large, other’s tiny, some are empty, others crammed. In some rooms the baskets spill over into each other creating chaos and need to be cleaned up and sorted out, one by one. My own space is reasonably well organized. There is always room for more with plenty of empty space. Many of my baskets are full of common facts, shared experiences and mundane insights. Some of them are filled with odd stories; others with speculative opinions. There are little groups or pods of baskets that are related like love and sex or health and diet or money, investments and debts. There are other baskets like events and anecdotes. By this method I hoped tcome to terms with the ambivalent meaning of life and the elusive nature of humanity: why we fight and love, aspire and despair, hope and prevail and how fools and wise man co-exist in a world full of wonder and mystery.
Just at that moment Campbell walked in. “Sorry, had to listen to somebody bitch about water meters. I told her it’s a good way to discover leaks and actually save water. I see you’re already down a pint. What’s on your mind ?”
“Baskets,” I said and then I told him my theory.
“You really need to get a life,” Camp said.