Friday, January 13, 2012

On the Proper Role of Caution

Santiago, Chile



There exist in Chile a number of forms of enjoyment that have not been freely practiced in the United States since the 1970s. These include: chain-smoking, tanning, loose halter tops, all terrain vehicles and sodas in their original unmitigated forms, including orange Fanta, which no Chilean family must ever be without.

Chileans will remind you that ordinarily they are buttoned down, clean living, los hombres sanos, but today (just today) there is a special barbecue and so there must be an enormous quantity of beer and pork, charred beyond recognition, as well as piscola and Lucky Strikes.

Please remember that this is only a barbecue, and does NOT qualify as a party. You will be corrected if you make this mistake. I am not certain what it takes to qualify as a party, but at very least there must be dancing and a visit from the police.

On Sunday afternoons my Chilean friends and I “make a picnic”. This means that we drive to mountains, to a campground, to the area designated for picnics, and sit on blankets in the dirt, smoking Pall Malls and drinking piscola, enveloped in the roar and dust of the circling all-terrain vehicles.

For years I have been under the misconception that I am an easygoing person. In fact I am spectacularly uptight. So uptight that I frequently fail to recognize what is going on.

At the start of our trip to the mountains, the beautiful girl in the backseat declared that we had to buy beer. So we stopped off and bought a six pack of Escudo, the cheap beer that is so frequently consumed here that my body now accepts it as being “just what water tastes like in Chile”.

And I thought to myself, what a shame – we haven’t a cooler and the beer will be warm by the time we get to the mountains.

See? Clueless.

The beer, of course, was for the car. We all popped our cans of Escudo, the driver too, and laughed and chatted as we swerved along the mountain roads. I did my best to enjoy the views, the laughs, and the fact that my future had been drastically simplified and there was no longer any need for long term plans because I was already drinking beer on a narrow mountain road.

Unfortunately, a panicked voice from deep within me kept interrupting the proceedings to exclaim, we are drinking beer in a car!!! This was exactly the same way that voice used to interrupt those extraordinarily friendly parties in Amsterdam by declaring, we are naked except for our boots!!!

I can’t help it. Of course I am enjoying myself very much. (I am!) I just wonder if maybe it would not be better if we could maybe please be just a little more careful.

At the picnic I sit in the cloud of dust and drink more beer and wonder if I should tell the beautiful woman with the halter top and the unruly mane of hair and lines around her eyes from the sun and Lucky Strikes, “Darling, this is the very last year it will be charming for you to play the role of the drunken girl. 36 is pretty much the limit.”

I am certain of this, just as I am sure that 37 is the limit for gay men who devote their lives to fucking around. Of course you can continue as long as you like (that is what Bangkok and Montreal are for) but after age 37 it becomes too painful to watch. That is why, age 38, I have recently become wholesome and all-knowing. You’re never too old to be a prig.

What is the proper role of caution? Could someone please write in? Because certainly it is possible to die by driving drunk on mountain roads. The warnings on packages of Lucky Strikes are real. (There are gory pictures of mouth cancer but the most common warning is of impotency and shows a shirtless man looking down at his groin, which is covered by a large thumb pointing down.) Making the Christmas rounds in Santiago I shook hands with a cordial smiling man lying on a sofa, home for the holidays from the hospital, where doctors are doing what little they can for his cirrhosis.

Yet, often an excess of caution seems worse than none at all. Despite my dissolute life, I am well-aware what perfect caution and responsibility look like: my in-laws are Protestant Republicans in Iowa. They live precisely as dictated by good sense. They have a white sofa on a white carpet, their retirements and even their deaths are already paid for, with enough money left over to hopefully assist their grandchildren to survive on a planet devastated by generations who thought that safety meant only keeping safe their arteries, immortal souls and wealth.

Good sense is desperately in need of an update. As currently formulated, danger and safety are dangerously stupid. At present, we have an option. Who would you like to poison? a) yourself. b) everyone else. c) all of the above.

At least the Chileans, with their relentless barbecues and beers passed to the backseat insist on today, that today is what matters, today, today, today. It may be that they are harm themselves more. It may be that, over all, they do less harm.

How is it possible to live so that I can have my days, until I pull my vanishing act, and leave a world where others can have their days too? The cloud of dust from the all-terrain vehicles does not disguise the fact it is a quite superlative world. The next generation would doubtless like to enjoy its picnics, halter tops and beers, even if I wish I could talk them permanently out of beef barbecue and orange Fanta.

The list of things I do not want includes: cancer or a house, a cigarette or a career, a case of the crabs, a job in advertising, another can of Escudo or Coca Cola, a white picket fence, an unblemished reputation. In particular, I find all my big opinions especially worthless.

Lord Jesus Christ, my personal savior, please put an end to whaling in Japan and meanwhile deliver me from endless days of charred meat and a house in Sun City, Arizona. I do not want a party every day (as in Santiago) or a white sofa on a white carpet (as in Iowa) and, above all, I do not want my old dead habits, the round of oatmeal, porno, weightlifting, vanity, mortal terror, moisturizer.

Long walks and great literature are still welcome, because both are continuously interrupted. It is the nature of both to consist of interruptions and wonders, of inconveniences and openings.

As for the rest, I will sit here with my rubber mallet and pop things on the head as they come up, not this, not this, not that, not that.

1 comment:

voiceinyourhead said...

You wrote: "It may be that they are harm themselves more."