Way back when I was a kid the question grownups most asked me was “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The only sensible answer, these days, for any kid is “Alive”, since that is becoming more and more unlikely.
Even then, and throughout my life, I never found a satisfactory answer. In those early days when just being alive was a fascinating puzzle humans were unique animals, who retained the character of their childhood throughout their entire life. The novel by Aldous Huxley “After Many a Summer” uses that thought. A horror story that ends with the main subject character achieving total maturity to become a fierce wild animal. It has strange implications about the current state of society which may be approaching that final vicious maturity.
What stands out in human society is the extremes it holds in maximum appreciation. The normal good is never good enough. Braque once remarked about Picasso that he was a pretty good painter until he became a genius. As a kid, my most memorable times were not what I treasure now, the relative peace and beauty of the continuities of small pleasures in discovering simple good food, a sense of fresh awakening each morning, the glory of a cecropia moth, the astonishing pleasure of only once when a chickadee innocently landing on my open hand for a moment. As a kid, it was fourth of July firecrackers and skyrockets, the heights a tin can would reach prompted by a cherrybomb. It was the several million volt blast of man made lightning in Steinmetz Hall at the New York 1939 World’s Fair GE exhibit. It was the scary slide in the dark in a small boat into an artificial pond at Luna Park in Coney Island. It was the 1947 blizzard that buried Manhattan to leave the 3rd Avenue Elevated trains blue sparking their travel on the tracks and left the parked cars in the streets under frozen mounds in the snow in a strangely silent city.
Frankenstein’s pathetic confused creature and the frightened challenged King Kong atop the Empire State Building swatting the sky full of angry biplanes in past days is not enough today. The streets have to be filled with flesh eating zombies and most of California has to drop off into the Pacific to satisfy the eagerness for horror. Millions of dead in Eastern Asia and recently the obliteration of Near East nations where psychopathic head chopping has become rampant is passed over as a minor military error. Perhaps it was the atomic enthusiasm at the end of WWII that calloused the world to the conversion of almost two hundred thousand helpless Japanese civilians to instant dust. The atomic delights now have the potential to destroy the entire planet many times over. The current military whose main talent has been well demonstrated to achieve incessant defeat with a military potential unmatched in any history is champing at the bit to smash the entire planet into radioactive sterility. That promises to be quite impressive for our jaded tastes. A good deal of this obliviousness may be due to the marvelous ability of the nuclear industry to pass off Chernobyl and Fukushima and the total fumble at the Hanford site as quite tolerable cancer increases so the public remains docile to atomic enthusiasm.
It remains rather fascinating that the quieter progress of global warming with its inevitability already quite visible to acidify the oceans and destroy both the bulk of the shellfish and the coral reefs that incubate much of the ocean’s food potential is not only regarded as an issue only slightly disturbing but is totally denied as an issue to a large percentage of the population. The major disasters have yet to appear and the large number of people currently blasted by tornadoes and droughts and floods and sea rises are, in general, not in position to impress a government requiring intensive financial inspiration to react to any disaster.
There was much talk, when I was younger of some archangel emitting the final trump to notify the world that it was becoming obsolete. The world leadership is now blatantly on point, even linguistically, to this.
My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light.