Friday, August 15, 2008

Life in the flatlands

A couple of years ago I had this horrible job. It wasn't really terrible, It just had certain elements that made it horrible. It wasn't dangerous, I wasn't exposed to harmful chemicals, or forced to perform degrading acts of sexual depravity. It wasn't even a dirty or smelly job. In fact it was such an easy and laid back job, it was kind of ridiculous that they paid me an hourly wage. And I would have been happy except for one thing (yes, that is clearly hyperbole on my part) -- the job required interacting with that unwashed mass of idiot rabble called the general public. To make matters worse, the majority of these brainiacs were students at a private (and of course disgustingly over-priced) party school that has been coasting on its reputation for about twenty years.

So, my expectations were low. Hearing these kids complain about finding a parking space for their Cadillac Escalades, or watching them bounce past my office in their designer sweats and leased tans grated on my nerves. Listening to them talk about philosophy or literature as if they had discovered something no one else had heard about or could understand was simply embarrassing. But I persevered, and found a certain joy in relating some of the more ridiculous episodes to my quickly shrinking circle of friends.

Still, one day I found out what writers mean when they say a person is dumbfounded. "Shocked," "surprised," "astonished," not even "flabbergasted," could describe my amazement to discover someone dumber than the dumbest thundering dunderhead I had ever met.

Perhaps I've oversold this story.

Let me back up and preface this story by saying that I live in a very flat state. The building I worked in does not sit on rolling hills. It does not overlook a lake, or a canyon. In fact, I would bet there is no change in elevation within 20 miles of this site, if you don't count the concrete canyon cut through the middle of the city for the interstate highway.

We are talking about a lot of flat flat farmland. Let me make myself absolutely clear, I want to stress to you, gentle reader, that there is no hill or hummock or steep grade or meandering staircase up which a person must climb to enter the front doors of this building.

On this particular afternoon a student entered the front door of our establishment. He stepped up to the worker at the front desk and asked, "Is this the second floor?"

When he was informed that no, this was not the second floor, and would not be considered the second floor in Britain, or any other backwards culture, he asked, "Where is the second floor?" The stairs behind the worker were, perhaps, too obvious a clue.

I must admit that there is a slight, very slight rise, as one strolls up the Ashley Taylor* Promenade (courtesy of her loving husband, a famous war-criminal) in front of the building. But in no way would a normal person believe he or she was entering a split-level ranch house overlooking the Pacific Ocean, or that perhaps we had a hidden network of terraces dropping down the slope of a dormant volcano on the opposite, hidden, side of the building.

So, no, the worker told him, this is not the second floor.

I sometimes wonder about this poor lost soul and ponder on what kind of world he must live in. It reminds me of my own days in the heady world of academia where I was introduced to the strange and mystical world of certain eastern philosophical schools of thought. Apparently there was a group of Indians, I think they were called Charvaka Materialists (I'm sure that spelling is wrong), who held the odd belief that one cannot make inferences about the world around them. I guess they had to experience anything for it to be considered real. So, for instance, if they were off in the woods collecting mushrooms and saw a giant cloud of smoke rising from the vicinity of the temple, the would simply consider that they were seeing a giant cloud of smoke. Just because every time they saw large billowing clouds of smoke a fire of not inconsiderable size was found under it, a Charvaka Materialist could not infer that a fire was the source of this black cloud, or that every time a fire burned it would produce smoke

So, their answer to some of the more tricky philosophical questions that have plagued liberal arts majors for decades, were actually quite simple. A falling tree does not make a noise in the forest unless they are there to hear it. In fact, how can you know that the tree actually fell? -- Maybe aliens placed it on its side for unknowable aesthetic alien reasons. Just because it's on it's side doesn't mean it fell. Perhaps it got tired. I like to think the Charvaka Materialist, faced with a glass containing water near its midpoint, would simply drink it. It's not a glass of water until it is drunk, is it?

But I wander. Personally, when it's 2:00 AM and I've been imbibing alcoholic beverages for a considerable amount of time, I find myself remembering the stranger who didn't know what floor he was on. Perhaps he was the last surviving member of this confused tribe of people who couldn't understand that sex brings babies any more than a gorilla (and I don't mean to be unkind to gorillas here) can understand quantum physics.

Good luck young man. Good luck.

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