RUNNING ON EMPTY
The answers are everywhere. Last week there was PALMS POP UP ALL OVER S.F, the big banner front page headline in the San Francisco Chronicle. Below in small print you discovered that $1.9 million has been spent planting these alien trees around this chillingly foggy town as “towering symbols of tropical paradise in an effort to lure tourists… .” Although palm trees are expensive and serve no useful function (they do not provide oxygen as an antidote to traffic gases or provide shade or cover from the wind), “palms are,” one official explained, “associated with upscale places like Miami Beach.” So according to plan, while you’re bending to avoid the July wind and huddling knock kneed in your fleece on a downtown skid row corner, if you look up and see a Canary Palm right there beside you, you are going to thank the heavens and your fabulous travel agent that you’ve finally arrived in the dazzling elite beach resort of your dreams and go home happily fulfilled, raring to return.
Of course, the tree itself doesn’t know anything about this. It’s not putting out Miami vibe, crescent beaches, Hollywood hipness, spells or anything at all in its pillar trunk or fan leaves; just atoms and molecules doing their thing to form a tree. That Canary palm does not possess the significance your sucker’s mind has attached to it. The illusion is all yours. There is, you might say, no there there.
Snake oil salesmen, those touchstones of the American landscape, are alive and very well. Like Peter Pan urging Wendy to believe, the advertising industry is sweating its brains out every day to sell “experience.” They pump gas to fill up an empty space and get us going on the power of suggestion. What do you see when welded steel on rubber rings comes in sight: how orgasmic you’re going to feel stepping out of a Mercedes onto red carpet? How invincible you will be inside a Hummer so nobody will mess with you? Or just welded steel on rubber rings that can roll you down the road to where you want to go? (Actually a true definition of emptiness would require deconstructing the rubber and steel down to a mere accidental and temporary accumulation of sub-atomic particles but let’s not go there right now.)
We all know that in a darkened room someone cleverly moves their fingers as a shadow in light on a wall and someone else sees a live puppet with a whole story going on when in fact nothing is happening except two fingers are moving through light. And remember that wizard of Oz? Imagination is a magical reality stuffed with mirage, chimera, charade, illusion and delusion that in our world hopefully cause not necessarily heart or brains but shopping. The entire consumer culture runs on Rorschach. What do you see in the ink blot although there is absolutely nothing there but ink? Not nothingness because there IS ink, but emptiness because there is ONLY ink and not what you projected onto it.
But project we do and we so like our projects that even without LSD, we live in a world of hallucination. Two days ago I received a Washington Post snippet about a mutual "friend" who after an obsessive campaign of relentless pestering succeeded in getting a picture of her current poodle hung at The Palm. The hanging at this particular restaurant apparently signifies her importance to the scene which, like a magnet, supposedly makes her more attractive and thus more important. All that significance ascribed to the restaurant, its wall display and the individual human bodies who are going to react to it, does it exist or not? Is it projection beyond the big screen? There is only a dog picture on a restaurant wall and look at the scenario now framing it. It truly is a mad mad world but where would the GNP be without us chasing our own tales?
On another hand, I myself got up close and personal with emptiness through a reality check that came in the male. Relationships are the very essence of the two fuels that drive us: hope and fear, bringing them up in a steady stream—s/he loves me, s/he loves me not—that gets us endlessly acting out. Wanting it to be so, I read the simple wave of a hand as a come on to connection, a brief phone call from the road as fidelity: “He’s thinking of me!” But in the end there was no connection, no fidelity, just me and the whole narrative I in having gone gaga had spun out to sustain that, excusing him along the way for not crossing the bar of my expectations—not that he knew what they were. I was living in a fantasy of my own spinning. As Miranda pointedly finds out on Sex and the City, if he doesn’t call, you don’t make an excuse and keep waiting. You don’t keep creating scenarios because all you are doing is filling an empty space with your own panicky delusions.
Overhearing two anonymous younger women trying to decipher as secret code the non-responsive behavior of one’s boyfriend, the newly liberated Miranda brazenly interrupts to announce: “Forget it! He’s just not into you!” And the women spit anger at her. It is painful to get real. It is really hard to see things for what they are. We all want to believe we can be happy, feel good, have what we desire. So we don’t need all the graduates of MIT to engineer desire and we don’t need Lexus either. We’re all doing a very good job all by ourselves. Something, even delusion, seems to feel better than the non story that is emptiness, that plain truth, as my friend Tommy always says with a shrug: it is what it is.
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