Saturday, 6 December 2008

Is There Gas In The Car?

There comes a point in your life, I'm convinced, when everyone you meet reminds you of someone else. It's partly a statistical thing, and partly a genetic thing. Despite the uniqueness of faces, and our fine-tuned ability to tell one face from another, in the end, we all look a lot like someone else, who also often behaves a lot like us, too. The experience is amplified if you work in education, as you encounter young people en masse, and see freshly-minted versions of familiar old faces every day. Damn it, there are types out there.

Now, this can upset some people, and it's a perception sometimes best kept to oneself. I grew up in a generation where the smarter type of person had a horror of categories, labels, and stereotyping. It took me a while to realise this, when I started mixing with the smarter type, and my stoner typological tendency ("Wow, this reminds me of that, and that reminds me of this!") marked me out as a know-nothing vulgarian.

Eventually, I was happy to buy into the idea that, even though 98% of people in Category A might behave in Manner X, that redemptive 2% meant that it was unhip (or A Crime Against Modern Manners) to predict that people in Category A were likely to behave in Manner X. As social re-engineering it was magnificent; as a way of avoiding mugging, downright foolish, albeit magnificently so. And compared to its extreme alternative, in which life becomes a complacent and fearful journey through Central Casting, it has many redeeming features. However, it gradually dawned on me that some of my new comrades had not really thought this thing through, and were simply working too hard at maintaining their surprise that -- so to speak -- the sun had come up in the East again this morning. Like, wow.

Of course, the sun is not people. I even eventually understood the idea that "Category A" was quite often a social construct. That is, somewhere along the way, someone had drawn a line ("Can we have all you As on this side, you Bs on that side, please?") that had maybe once served a purpose, but need not always do so. And that its usefulness might depend on where you stood, class-wise, race-wise, gender-wise. "Useful" often being the other side of the coin from "oppressive." Very little in the human realm was essentially so. And the belief that it was, I learned, was always the mark of a social conservative. This all made sense, though it was certainly not (yet) common sense, and certainly not street-wise.

[N.B. if you have understood and absorbed the last paragraph, then Congratulations! You have just short-circuited a three year degree-level course in the Humanities!! The rest is mere detail which you can fill in later. Collect your certificate and idiotic hat as you leave the blog.]

Of course, without a proper accompanying level of thought, a non-judgemental pose which is merely self-congratulatory can quickly flip-flop into its evil twin, paranoia, under the weight of accumulated contradictory life experiences. We're then either deep into denial and drugs (Steely Dan territory : "Is there gas in the car?"*) or looking at two decades of venality and voting Conservative. Or, in the worst cases, both. I think we all know of former radicals who, feeling personally betrayed by the failure of the British working class to follow their lead to the barricades, swiftly and irreversibly reverted to type. The ingenuity and sophistry of the excuses devised by the ex-bohemian middle classes to justify prosperous careers, large houses, and private education for the kids are, frankly, an impressive tribute to the benefits of higher education.

But I'm ranting -- how typical. All because I thought I saw someone I knew the other day, then noticed that they had not aged in the past 30 years, then realised my mistake, then -- in the same millisecond -- managed to wrench my smile and greeting into some weird but less embarrassing grunting grimace, and then reflected that in fact -- the last I heard -- Richard had married a figure skater and bought her a dishwasher and a coffee percolator.**

I'm gonna blow this damn candle out, and, Yes, there's gas in the car...

* Steely Dan, Kid Charlemagne, from the album The Royal Scam

** Joni Mitchell, The Last Time I Saw Richard, from the album Blue

1 comment:

Michael said...

Hey i am a big fan of Steely Dan, but Mr Walter Becker has a new album called Circus Money, What a great album it is, just had to share that with all the Steely Dan Fans.

From the Legendary Steely Dan Man WALTER BECKER NEW ALBUM ‘Circus Money’ OUT NOW

Unrepentantly and delightfully steely Dan-esque An understated gem.

“ Q “Melodic funky, and as smart as you like.”

The Times **** Uncut ****

Daily Express **** Record Collector