Saturday, February 12, 2011

The pursuit of happiness

We sat there in some nondescript Irish pub in midtown in the middle of a cold January afternoon working on a neon tan, reading the close-captioning on the TV over the bar. Some pale dude wearing a toupee was interviewing our fellow citizens. Funny to see New Yorkers complain about the weather, how Bloomberg had failed to clear the streets. He spends too much time in Bermuda, not enough in City Hall. He should never have been elected for a third term. When was the last time he picked up a shovel? I was drinking a Bushmill's neat, J. nursed a whiskey sour. Neither of us was particularly happy. What the hell was effin happiness anyway?

We should have been back at work, but work was boring. Putting out fires eight hours a day and every two weeks the Corporation deposits a couple of thousand dollars into your checking account. Doing time just like the Bible said we would. In the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat bread. With just enough money left over to buy a little fun.

J. told me how she'd misheard Lucinda Williams sing, "Once you were obsessed with me, you wanted to pay my bills." I guess it's true that good sex is less important than positive cash flow. I sympathized but Hoboken is my town and Sinatra is my man -- "A world without love is a world without life." Cripes, I've heard enough about money these last few years to last a lifetime. Unless the arseholes in DC muster enough votes to return us to the gold standard, money will remain a system of belief, the only one we've got that everyone subscribes to. "I can't afford love," J. said, "Everyone in New York sleeps around. It's worse than fickleness, it's like there's a wall of boredom out there everyone's trying to scale with sex. It's gotten so I hate going out." Maybe resignation is the key to happiness. If you rein in your expectations, you won't be disappointed. Live a small life, poot, and no one will notice you.

Happiness is the shite they sell you when they sign you up for your first tour of duty. After you've been deep-sixed more than once, you learn your lesson, you practice your all-purpose ironic pose, and retreat into the shadow world of scripted reality. You tell yourself, I can do this, I can climb the mountain beyond this mountain. You convince yourself the mountain is real.

J. wanted to know why she'd fallen so far from the world of her parents. "They were happy. Not perfect by any means, but they kept themselves together. They really liked to be with each other. It's funny when I look back -- by our standards, they had so little money then and yet they had everything they wanted." They were showing demonstrators on the TV, somewhere in Africa. Where the hell was Tunisia anyway? I remembered Dizzy's tune and wondered whether or not he had written it there. Those rioters looked a helluva lot happier than the boozers sitting around us. They knew what they wanted. They wanted to get rid of a corrupt tyrant. I bet the ones that had jobs made less in one year than we did in two weeks. What were we complaining about? Snow on the ground.

J. looked at her watch and urged us to go back. "I've got stuff to do." I paid the tab and glanced again at the TV. "You know," I said, "I hate it when somebody else wins the lottery." J. was already out the door fumbling in her bag for a cigarette.

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