8/02/2005

Ointment for your disappointment

Have you ever noticed that life is disappointing? It can, of course, be wonderful and fulfilling and worthwhile -- sometimes. But in totality, life is disappointing. Our expectations go unfulfilled. Ask yourself whether your occupation, spouse, social life, home, bank account or waistline are what you hoped for. I rest my case.

I've meditated on this for years. I‘ve considered why life is so disappointing and what, if anything, I can do about it. Why is life such a disappointment?

That's an awfully big question and it requires a big answer. But I believe I know part of it. And I’d like to express it on this post. I hope I don’t disappoint you.

Life’s disappointments stem from our childhood. Our parents, schools and communities conspired against us. They set us up. How? They implanted unreasonably high expectations in our little, fertile brains, and we nurtured these expectations into blossoming disappointments.

We were supposed to have it all: career, family, fulfillment, health, happiness, meaning. Naturally, we would succeed at work and at home, live in perfect health, keep our hair and our figures and our teeth, and steer clear of all the evil stuff like drugs, alcohol, divorce and public defecation.

That’s what the brochure advertised. Remember? But like so much advertisement, it was a best-possible-scenario.

These unrealistic expectations compose the foundation of our disappointment. But there's another, bigger reason: Cracker Jack. You read correctly -- the popcorn and peanut-based snack. Cracker Jack duped us. Think about it. Every kid ate Cracker Jack. I ate Cracker Jack. I didn't like it. But I ate it -- because it was junk food, in the academic sense; it had sugar, corn syrup and nuts, so it was my childhood duty to eat the nasty shit. How could something with so much unhealthy stuff taste so nasty? Anyway, what lesson do you learn from Cracker Jack? Eat all the sugary crap you want and you'll be rewarded with a toy prize.

That's not real life. Is it? The people at Cracker Jack misrepresent the real consequences of routinely eating boxes of junk food -- obesity, adult-onset diabetes, cardiovascular disease diverticulitis and tooth decay. Those aren't toy prizes! They suck.

McDonald’s got in on the act, too, with those Happy Meals. “Happy!” They put a toy prize in the box and then invite you play in their “playland.” Just keep woofing down burgers and fries. Then go play. Isn’t life grand?

In adulthood, nobody rewards you for your vices. If I gulp down a dozen chicken wings and a 12 pack at my local dive bar every night, nobody's going to give me a time-share in Boca Raton. If I knock over a liquor store for hooker money and smoke crack until Noam Chomsky makes sense, the mayor isn't going to give me the key to the city. Unless that mayor is Marion Barry. But what are the odds of that?

Yet that's what they teach you as a child: indulge and then get a prize. That's all childhood is: eating all the junk food you can get your hands on and waiting for the next toy prize. Santa Claus, birthdays, Easter, Halloween, the freggin' Tooth Fairy.

I liked what I saw as a kid. All you had to do is keep eating junk food and somebody would eventually reward you for it. I once forced down 4 bowls of Capin' Crunch and there was a toy waiting for me at the bottom of the box. So I figured that as an adult, I'd do more of what I love and somebody would give me more toy prizes. I remember wondering what my reward would be should I read and commit to memory the pages of a Playboy magazine, once I reached the age of interest. Or when I drank my first bottle of whiskey while recklessly trifling with a firearm. The future had such promise.

But the adult rules are in direct opposition to those we learned as children. Sometime during adolescence somebody “flipped the script.” Every childhood pleasure has an adult consequence. So, thanks largely to the assholes at the Cracker Jack factory, we're doomed to lives of disappointment.

I'd like to kick that little cartoon sailor in the crotch.

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