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Down and Out, Up and About. Rinse. Repeat
“Huh, huh, huh! Cough! Huh!” The enormous woman sitting at the diner is in the loud throes of ecstasy or pain, her face contorted, eyes squinted, mouth agape. I look at the server and ask, “Does she need help?” not knowing whether tragedy has announced itself through the electronic device she is holding in her palm. The clerk glances to the side, sighs, and says, “No, she’s just laughing at something on the internet.” Turns out, she’s an employee on break and he is accustomed to her public uninhibited outbursts.
This day is like that–one moment I’m apprehensive, the next moment, I’m relieved. Each instant can turn from happy to sad to hopeful to depressing at the snap of a kismet or two.
At the shop, Peter Blackstock, senior editor at Grove Press in New York, tells me his assigned author, Viet Thanh Nguyen, has just this week won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. He’s elated and I’m thrilled to meet such a literary personage. Moments later, I’m informed via terse memo that I can no longer park my car in the store’s adjacent parking lot because the new owner just doesn’t want to lease space to merchants. One second I’m elated, the next moment I’m handed a new stressful challenge to find fresh parking digs. The peculiar thing is, on a cosmic scale, each of these contiguous events means absolutely nothing to much of anybody–that is, whether I’m happy or sad is nobody’s concern. But my body does not know the difference between meaningful and meaninglessness.
In a matter of seconds, I’m up and about, then down and out.
How do I shake off this tiger whose tail is super-glued to my hand, without getting disoriented about life?
Later on, a customer brings two enormous 19th-century illustrated books for appraisal. I am delighted to see the books and equally delighted to see the customer, with whom I graduated from school a century ago–or so it seems. But while examining the books, a sour-demeanor visitor enters and loudly proclaims–as if nobody else is conversing–that the Birmingham Arts Journal has made a serious mistake that must be corrected immediately before the Earth can continue rotating. As a Journal editor, I try to explain how publishing works, and how the problem can be addressed, while at the same time I attempt to keep the customer happy and engaged in the appraisal process. The visitor closes his mouth but hovers within inches of my customer and me while I explain the books and their values.
Again, up and about, down and out, repeat themselves. All I can do is hang on to the tail, since the entire day goes on like this.
Down and out. Up and about.
I recall an old Madison Avenue advertising tale about the marketing of a hair shampoo. One Don Draper-type, searching for a way to increase sales, suggests that the instructions on each bottle be changed from, “Lather. Rinse Thoroughly.” to “Lather. Rinse Thoroughly. Repeat.” Turns out that, once implemented, these instructions helped double the sales of shampoo, and Draper lived to carouse another day.
Where are my instructions for getting through the up-and-down days?
“When Down and Out, Get Up and About. Repeat.”
In other words, there will forever be hills and valleys. I just have to keep in mind that over each hill there will be valleys, above each valley there will be hills. Navigating them is just part of each fractured day of a life well lived.
Even if life isn’t always that well-lived, pretending that it is can go a long way
© Jim Reed 2016 A.D.