An essay about feeling better (or worse) in a 24-hour news cycle. Don’t take two aspirin and get a good night’s sleep; stay up and take something stronger—TV.
I was at the café nursing a dual case of self-pity and jet lag after my fifteen-hour return trip from Hong Kong to San Diego the other day. I made the trip this time with a raging cold and sore throat that the pressurized cabin jammed mucus into my ears so that I didn’t even hear it when Chuck nearly made the TSA guy fill his shorts.
“Unzip that compartment, sir!” he repeated more loudly. I was going through the security check at SFO before boarding the last leg down to San Diego and the TSA guy had just relieved me of the nearly full bottle of Tazo tea I had forgotten and left in my bag. So I was happy when Chuck scared the crap out of him when he reached into my carry-on bag. His discomfort made me feel better. “ I said, un-zip that compartment, sir!” He repeated, pointing to it with a threatening, body cavity searching, rubber-gloved finger. (More about Chuck at the end.)
It was a mispronunciation by a guy I met at the café that got me thinking about it. “What’s that German good feelin’ ya get when ya see somebody else havin’ a bad time of it—ya know, that shootin’ freud feelin’?” Actually, it made sense in a twisted sort of way. Schadenfreudecould be like shooting Freud—if Freudian psychology depresses you, well, you just shoot Freud—shootin’freud. Get it? Well, it makes sense to me; what’s your problem?*
It was in that boarding lounge at SFO that this essay started to form in my mucus-muddled brain. The monitor playing CNN or some other crapola American broadcast pseudo journalism had just voyeuristically played and re-played the images of the unrecognizable debris of the fatal air crash of the Polish government officials in Russia, moved on to the earthquake in Western China (body count at the time around 500), and would get to the American miners that didn’t make it out of the mining disaster, and just before boarding, something about the Icelandic volcanic ash that was shutting down flights from Europe because, as some guy was explaining, the ash can clog up a jet engine the way a Swiss steak from an airport restaurant can clog your intestines. I didn’t hear any of the audio, but the video repetition and the crawls and split-screens with location stand-ups conveyed the message quite well—a lot of people have it a lot worse than you do, Mr. Clogged-Ears. If I wasn’t getting on an airliner all this suffering and death by others would have given me shootin’freud
But I was coming home to America, and that in itself can be a depressing experience. Our airports look down at the heels, our planes are dirty, the cabin crews surly and wiseass. Coming from parvenu China I have to wonder when they will pass us. Sure, there is a lot of poverty and discontent there that we don’t see; but there is a lot more in America that is becoming visible. We are still the “promised land” to many Asians, but for more of them the promise looks alluring in China these days. When one gets asked why America can’t seem to provide health care for all its people, it’s embarrassing. When you can’t give a sane answer to why our new president has adopted the crazy Bush wars, it’s embarrassing. But they understand that Wall Street has its way with Washington because both Hong Kong government and the PRC do it even better and without any pretense that government isn’t much more than an extension of capitalism.
What is easier to bear for me when I am abroad is not that their “civilization” is any better than are ours, or vice versa; it’s that they both are so wanting. But I don’t have to answer for the mess they are making of things. The formula is the same: money=power=more money=more power.
Unfortunately, it is the poor and powerless who live in the structures that collapse from earthquakes, are the miners that suffocate in the bowls of the earth, and are those who die of curable diseases, are abused by priests and others, or as sold into slavery to sate the desires of the greedy. The TV monitor in the boarding lounge offers little more that schadenfreude, or if that doesn’t bring relief the commercials will advise you what you can “ask your doctor” to take.
When you have to go shootin’freud on the TV to feel better you’re in trouble.
The other comfort is Chuck.
I bought Chuck in Kowloon’s Temple Street market the day before I left. He’s a rubber chicken (I love rubber chickens) and he has a great squawk if you touch his belly, just touch his belly. He was cheap, too; about US$3.25. I should mention that Chuck was hanging there at the stall beside another rubber creation, a small blow-up sex doll that has a gaping mouth like Chuck’s and emits the same squawk. I was tempted, but I liked Chuck better. The problem I realized later was how to get Chuck home to San Diego. Chuck kept squawking in my day bag on the way back to Hong Kong side on the bus. People noticed (the two that weren’t on their cell phones). If I put chuck in my check-on luggage he would no doubt squawk and TSA would open my bag to see of he was Mohammad el Chuck and had a vest of C-4 wrapped around him. They might even submit him to a body cavity search and remove his squawker.
No way; Chuck would have to go “carry-on.” And that’s when it happened. TSA wanted to see what was in the bag and Chuck let out a squawk as the TSA guy nearly filled his drawers. “Unzip that compartment, sir!”
“I have grandchildren,” I said. “They love chickens.” He held Chuck up by his neck and then roughly shoved him back in my bag with a squawk. But Chuck and I had the last laugh when I zipped up the compartment and caught the tip of security guy’s rubber glove in the zipper. The TSA guy yanked at it, but it wouldn’t come loose. Each yank produced a muffled squawk. I imagined Chuck in there holding onto the glove. Finally it tore loose with a snapping sound and he waved Chuck and me on our way. Welcome to America, Chuck. Let’s go do some squawkin’; it’s better than that shootin’freud.
Listen to Chuck: Im Squakin Here
© 2010, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 4.17.2010)
*Oh, you always thought that’s what shadenfreude meant. You must be from one of those hoity-toity, cafes full of those Obama elitist types the Tea Party airheads are always bitchin’ about.