Too Much Self-Esteem

The Whole Package for Guys Who Believe They’re Special

The worst thing about living in Southern California is that there are too many people—particularly males—who have been told all their lives that they are special. The result is a population that thinks they deserve all the good things in life without having to work for them. One sees on the road all the BMWs, Lexuses, Mercedes Benzes, Maseratis, Bentleys, Jags, and other high-priced vehicles that are the trademark for guys with tiny weenies who at the same time are big dicks … and who have to prove it several times each mile.

At the time I was sent to school at the tender age of five, I was not told I was special. My friend András and I were considered as little freaks who attacked our teacher because she refused to understand our Hungarian, which, after all, was the prevalent language of the Buckeye Road neighborhood in Cleveland where we lived. My teacher, Mrs. Idell, retaliated by sending me home with a note pinned to my shirt asking what language I was speaking. From that point until the fifth grade, when I finally knew enough English to get good grades, I was thought to be something of a retard. In Second Grade, Sister Frances Martin, the Dominican nun who was our teacher at Saint Henry, would come up to me, pull my nears hard, and call me “cabbagehead.”

When I came to Los Angeles in 1966, I encountered a widespread plague of high self-esteem. Everybody had to pretend to be richer, more handsome, and more of a stud than they in actuality were. I think that one result of all this is that many of my fellow students put themselves in debt up to their ears. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them are living on the streets in homeless encampments.

It reminds me in so many ways of many Honoré de Balzac novels, such as Lost Illusions, in which a whole society tried to live beyond its means. Some managed to do it; others fell hard by the wayside.

 

The Slippers of Abu Kasem

A Great Tale About a Miser During the Abbasid Caliphate

To begin with, Abu Kasem was a notorious miser, and his slippers were a disgrace. At the same time, these slippers came back to haunt him. Just when he made a particularly astute business deal, buying a huge consignment of little crystal bottles as well as a large amount of attar of roses with which to fill them. It was time to do something for himself, so he decided to show up at the public baths. In Heinrich Zimmer’s The King and the Corpse: Tales of the Soul’s Conquest of Evil, the following paragraph appears:

In the anteroom, where the clothes and shoes are left, he met an acquaintance, who took him aside and delivered him a lecture on the state of his slippers. He had just set these down, and everyone could see how impossible they were. His friend spoke with great concern about making himself the laughingstock of the town; such a clever businessman should be able to afford a pair of decent slippers.

When he returned from his bath, Abu Kasem could not find his disgraceful slippers. Instead he found a new pair that looked quite classy. They were, because they belonged to the Cadi of Baghdad, who had arrived at the baths a few minutes after Abu Kasem. Thinking they were a gift from his friend who read him the riot act over his old slippers, he appropriated them for himself. When the Cadi returned for his slippers, he found only Abu Kasem’s old, disgraceful pair.

Naturally, everyone knew who those belonged to. Abu Kasem was sent for and was found with the incriminating property on his feet. He was imprisoned and heavily fined, but he was given his old slippers back.

Here begins a series of attempts by Abu Kasem to throw out the old slippers, but they always kept coming back. And at each step of the way, Abu Kasem wound up paying heavily for damages of various kinds. At the last of these episodes, Zimmer writes:

Before he tottered home from the court, a broken man, he raised the unlucky slippers solemnly aloft, and cried with an earnestness that all but reduced the judges to hysterics: “My lord, these slippers are the fateful cause of all my sufferings. These cursed things have reduced me to beggary. Deign to command that I shall never again be held responsible for the evils they will most certainly continue to bring upon my head.” And the Oriental narrator closes with the following moral: The Cadi could not reject the plea, and Abu Kasem had learned, at enormous cost, the evil that can come of not changing one’s slippers often enough.

 

The Next Stage of Human Evolution

You Can Bet a Lot of Gamers and Smartphone Junkies Are Looking Forward to This

I am not looking forward to this, but the younger generation is, I firmly believe. I am referring to the merging of human beings with implanted electronics to create a new supposedly super race of human beings. You can see it in the mass acceptance of such dorky millenialia as e-scooters and Uber. This generation is so wedded to the smartphone that I believe it is inevitable that what today is a device carried in the hand will eventually be an implant. Then one will not have to worry about dropping your invaluable device in the toilet or gutter, leaving one completely at a loss on what to do and how to communicate with one’s fellow beings.

There is an old computer joke about people who die being escorted by Satan to Hell and finding it to be a refreshing place with green trees, splashing fountains, and unending sex. Naturally, they agree with enthusiasm to be admitted. Imagine their dismay when, instead of all the promised perquisites, they find fire, sulfurous fumes, and brimstone—not to mention fierce demons armed with spears and pitchforks.

“Why is this so different from what you showed us at first?” one of them asks with dismay.

“Oh, well,” winks Satan. “That was the demo.”

As one who has been involved in computing for over half a century, I can foresee with crystalline clarity what will happen. Naturally, there will be bugs. And you will wait endlessly to speak to a tech rep named Chip with a thick Gujarati accent when the software has malfunctioned. And it will. Why? Because we are not perfect. Ever since the beginning, technology gives with one hand and takes away with the other.

Looking for the advancement of the human race? No, but welcome to Malfunction Junction.

Incidentally, the illustration above comes from an interesting article from GizmoSnack entitled “Human Cyborgs—The Fusion of Organic Beings with Machines.”

 

 

Simulacrum

IRL Streamer Ice Poseidon, Alias Paul Denino

As I predicted, the heat wave I described a couple of days ago has persisted, despite the lies and blandishments of several so-called weathermen. To escape the heat, I spent time reading and lunching at the Westfield Mall in Culver City, followed by movies at the Cinemark at the nearby Howard Hughes Center. Yesterday, it was Whitney, which I described in yesterday’s post. Today, I saw Ant-Man and the Wasp. (Meh!)

Being in the midst of so many people, I was appalled to see that people escaping the heat at the air-conditioned mall depended on their smart phones for entertainment. I was probably the only one of hundreds of people at the mall who had a book. Two or three old men were reading newspapers. And hoards of others were playing games on their smartphones, checking their social media, and other utterly useless tasks. Children were using electronic devices that emitted the usual treacly bibblety-bobbledy-boop sounds of programs oriented for the young.

In addition to my book, I read an article in the July 9 and 16 issue of The New Yorker Magazine entitled “No More Secrets” by Adrian Chen. It was about an IRL (“In Real Life”) streamer named Paul Denino, who styles himself as Ice Poseidon. Imagine living your life hooked up to video equipment that captures your life from minute to minute. On YouTube, I saw a number of video clips from Ice Poseidon’s oeuvre and was thrown for a loss. Ice Poseidon’s life was not really life, but a series of situations in which the Streamer (or Screamer?) and his retinue got into various boring scrapes and liberally dropped f-bombs along the way. If that were my life, I would set about ending it in some dark corner far from the nearest video camera.

All these video devices were intended to enhance life. Instead, they have created a kind of empty simulacrum of life. I keep thinking of the little boy I saw yesterday staring into space while the video game on his tablet kept emitting nonsensical noises to which no one paid any heed.

Two Worlds

Koi in Mulberry Pond, Descanso Gardens

This post originally appeared in November 2008 when I was posting—briefly—on Blog.Com.

I loved this picture I shot at Descanso Gardens a couple of weeks ago. On one hand, the camera is looking at a koi in a shallow pond swimming among the rocks. A scant inch or so above his fins is an entirely different world of air and trees and birds. In one world, you need gills; in the other, either a lung or photosynthesis. Standing by the side of the pond, we can look at the fish. But does the fish look at us? Or are we some distorted image that lies on an irrelevant plane above the surface of the water? Somewhere in that world I am standing with my Nikon Coolpix camera waiting for the right moment to bring both worlds together.

As I look at the koi swimming in Mulberry Pond, I cannot help but think that the patterns they form with respect to one another as they glide by is a form of handwriting employed by the Creator. To communicate with whom? I do not understand this script, though I think it is beautiful in a fluid way. If I could understand it, would I  reach enlightenment? The camera would go back into its case on my belt, and I would reel with a weightless feeling as I was one with everything I saw and felt.

I frequently think that everything around us is a form of writing which we, alas, are too dim to understand. Perhaps, in time….

 

I Don’t Feel at Home Here, Either

No Brie and Chablis for Me, Thanks … I’ll Just Have a Coke

“Here” is a part of town not far from me, but that I haven’t visited for several years. I decided to take a walk down Main Street in Santa Monica, hopefully ending up at Small World Books in Venice—but I never got that far today. I noticed that a lot of my favorite places, like Röckenwagner’s, were gone. The whole street was thronged with young Liberals. Now, I consider myself a Liberal, but without the cachet that usually comes from belonging to an in group.

For lunch, I stopped in at he Samosa House, a newish Indian Vegetarian place that was quite good. With my masala dosa and Indian tea, I sat at a counter that faced the line of customers coming in. Almost all of them were younger than me, and started flashing smiles of approval at the decrepit old man who was eating the approved Liberal vegetarian diet. After a while, I not only did not seek their approval but wished I had been gnawing on a pig’s knuckle instead.

I walked a little further on to a Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. Now some of my contrary feeling was still with me, because I ordered their Kale and Quinoa Ice Cream topped with fish eggs. The guy who took my order laughed heartily with me, and made me feel good about it. I settled for a scoop of Chunky Monkey in a dish instead.

It seems funny to me to feel neither part of the Conservative scene (which I have always abhorred) nor now the Santa Monica Brie and Chablis Liberals. Oh, well, I guess I am marching to what Thoreau called a different drummer.

Just to drive home the point, the bus I took back was full of retarded kids attending some institutional sporting event.

 

Xu’tan

The Term Means, Literally, “The End of the World”

The contradiction goes all the way back to 1562, when Spanish Bishop Diego de Landa ordered some 5,000 Maya cult images and a number of codices in Mayan to be burned in the city of Mani in Yucatán (see illustration below).  Yet, four years later, this same Diego de Landa preserved an incredible amount of Maya culture in his book Relación de las Cosas de Yucatán, without which it is doubtful we would have learned to read the Mayan language. So what is the verdict on de Landa? Only history will tell.

In his book Mornings in Mexico, D. H. Lawrence wrote:

The Indian way of consciousness is different from and fatal to our own way of consciousness. Our way of consciousness is different from and fatal to the Indian. The two ways, the two streams are never to be united. They are not even to be reconciled. There is no bridge, no canal of connection…. The sooner we realize, and accept this, the better, and leave off trying, with fulsome sentimentalism, to render the Indian in our own terms.

Yet we cannot seem to ever “leave off trying.” I certainly can’t. In my reading and in my travels I revisit this primitive world. I have been numerous times to the Hopi and Navajo Reservations, and visited many of the Pueblos of New Mexico, from Acoma to Zuñi. I have eaten their food, purchased their crafts, even given rides to their hitchhikers.

Diego de Landa Burning Maya Codices

I have just finished reading Victor Perera and Robert D. Bruce’s The Last Lords of Palenque: The Lacandon Mayas of the Mexican Rain Forest, which tells of the doom in store for the Lacandon Maya of Chiapas. The doom begins with visits from foreigners, continues with ecological disaster (building roads, cutting down or burning forests), and ends with the end of a culture which has survived for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.

The old spiritual leader of the Lacandons, the now deceased Chan K’in, predicted this xu’tan, or end of the world:

“The world is going to die,” he said, with the bright obsessive gaze that overtakes the younger Lacandones when they speak of the world’s end. “It is too old already. The flesh is also old. It is exhausted. The world will burn up soon. The sun will stop, not move in the sky, and it will burn everything down. It will burn everything until the world is naked. It will burn for three weeks. Then it will rain. It will rain for three weeks without stopping, until everything is flooded. Then, above, in the upper heaven of the minor gods all will be dark, and they will cut off the heads of the people and Ts’ibatnah [the god of the graphic arts] will paint the houses with the blood of the good people. Their blood is bright red and smells very good, like nthe tuberose. But the celestial jaguars will eat the people with dark blood, which will be spilled on the ground….”

The details become ever more bizarre and remote from the experience of people like me, however much we like to study primitive civilizations.