Friday, June 11, 2010

Life As Theater

I wondered, early on, what I was doing in my dysfunctional family which bore no resemblance to radio households or Andy Hardy films. My mother yelled her lines and my father swallowed his. Her mouth seemed to grow in inverse proportion to her height while he hushed the clamor. As a theater piece we would have bombed in New Haven.

If life can be seen as a three act play I don’t mind that the curtain has gone up on the last act. But I’d hate to think of leaving the stage with the world not looking much better than it did with the opening lines. After all, I told them what to do but did they listen? No.

Suckled as I was on FDR, studio films and the good war I had every reason to believe that the trajectory was onward and upward. Evil was doomed, success was meritorious, the meek would get their inheritance and science was giving us better things through chemistry. And then I grew up.

Years later a photo turned up of my mother as a young woman on a tennis court like an elongated, athletic version of herself, rushing the net letting her forehand speak for her. Also uncovered, was a document, dated when I was minus three, of my father arrested for violating Prohibition, as a pharmacist. I’m proud that he dared cross the line and glad also that he was inept at it. I suddenly saw my mother with grace and my father with gumption. I’d had it all wrong. My first act was their second.

And now my third act is my daughters’ second. On a macro level I despair that their generation can fix our mis-steps. We seem to have devolved into a corporate universe. Greed has been redefined as a virtue. Deceit multiplied and amplified passes for truth.

With armies of mercenaries the next war might break out between British Petroleum and Exxon or maybe Toyota will invade General Motors. Multinationals with treasuries in Geneva and the Caymans reign over governments. Elected officials move laterally as lobbyists and C.E.Os take office as senators and governors.

Is it just my jaundiced eye that witnesses xenophobic and religious walls continuing to divide people. I see no sign that the heated rhetoric of orthodoxy is their last gasp? Nor do I have a vision of universality gaining any ground.

Our president is caretaker of an immense complex of corporations whose reach far exceeds any sovereign nation. Their culture is their own. Their sophisticated practices baffle any outside regulator and the risks they take ransom the planet.

Tell me that Democracy hasn’t been subverted into Oligarchy; that out-sourced jobs and off-shore money hasn’t consigned millions of workers into a marginal existence while the abstraction of government itself receives their wrath.

As a bit player in this historical drama I look back and wonder how this downward spiral occurred under my nose. Before I’m booed off the stage I can only hope the play will be re-written before Broadway, that mankind gets a glimpse of a happier denouement.

Maybe I have it all wrong in the same way I misjudged my parents. That the organism is self-correcting with even more grace and vigor than I recognize in my cynical haze.

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