Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Childish Things

"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." St. Paul, 1 Corinthians: 11. (Part of the one of the loveliest passages in the New Testament, sandwiched in between some of the most contemptuous, misogynistic, cold-blooded fanaticism ever put on paper. Apparently God created this world and all its joys just so we could reject it all--oh, and we should all be celibate. Every last one of us. Not really into long-range planning, was Paul. But then, the End of Times was coming, so I guess creating the next generation wasn't a big priority. I did warn you I was a bigot.)

But I didn't quote the Good Book just to initiate a spittle-flecked explosion of outrage from fundamentalists. I did it to point out that Paul might have been the last man to follow this path of "putting away childish things." (Assuming he wasn't lying, for which I'll give him credit.) Do any of us really do that? I know I didn't--haven't. I mean, I'm in my mid-30s, I have a Ph.D., I have a wife (or she has me, depending), I have massive credit-card debt--I'm a "man" as opposed to a "child," right? Right?

Wrong. Utterly, tragically wrong.

Comic books. I still think comic books are wicked awesome. I still care about movies that are based on them. A lot. Too much. I'm an adult, and I spend hours--hours--each day wondering if they'll ever make a decent Batman movie. If I'm flipping channels past Cartoon Network, and I spot that Justice League is on, my bone-deep reaction is "Cool!--I'm there!" This could occur if the show appeared on the digital schedule between Seven Samurai and a newly unearthed edition of the uncut version of The Magnificent Ambersons. Nope, I care more about watching Batman flirt with Wonder Woman than I do about, say, the future of mankind or whether or not the house I'm in is currently on fire. I reiterate--I'm 34. THIRTY. FOUR. Why haven't I grown beyond this nonsense? It's not as if my tastes haven't matured in other ways. I read Dickens and Milton and Faulkner voluntarily and with pleasure. I've tackled Ulysses and Gravity's Rainbow, often less than grudgingly. (Proust still eludes me, but I'm working on it.) I recognize that my former foe, asparagus, is actually quite pleasant (especially with Hollandaise.) I can listen to the whole of Das Rheingold and Beethoven's 6th and not check my watch once. I actually like wearing ties--and I can choose ones that go with the suit and shirt I'm wearing. I haven't bought or consumed a candy bar or a Hostess product in years. I am, in short, Not Without A Certain Maturity Of Taste.

And yet I can--and will, at the slightest provocation--explain at great length and exhaustive detail just where Lucas went wrong in Return of the Jedi. (Ewoks and the death of Boba Fett, of course, but that's just the tip of the iceberg.) Why??? What causes me to cling to such infantile effluvia? Am I simply trying to hang onto youth? I doubt it--though I did recently dream about trying to catch a bus that, as it pulled away, was being driven by none other than the Trix Rabbit. Clearly that bus, like all things associated with said lepidora, was "for kids," and my inability to catch it as it sped away could mean only that I'd lost that part of my life for good. Needless to say, I woke up profoundly disturbed, not only by what the dream revealed but by the fact that the best my unconscious could come up with to articulate this realization was a frigging cartoon spokesman for a sugary breakfast cereal. What's next, a nocturnal visit from the Hamburglar? I suck.

The only thing that comforts me is the fact that such infantile retentions are not exclusive to my own psyche. I have a friend--we'll call him S. to preserve his dignity. S. is a graduate of Stanford Law School. S. is an attorney with a major firm in the L.A. area. S. owns a house in Los Angeles--not near, but in (the amount of money involved in such an achievement is staggering.) S. drives a late-model Mercedes. S. is, in short, a man of substance, achievement, importance. He also visits Disneyworld--not Disneyland, Disneyworld, with the flight cross-country and the hotel and the rental car and all that--every single chance he gets. Are such childish fixations to last with us forever? Will I find myself irresistably drawn to the Graphic Novels section of Barnes & Noble when I'm in my 50s--where I'm sure to be mistaken for a pedophile scoping out the local action? Will I, on my death-bed, be found muttering, "Burton completely missed the core of the Penguin's character..."? Do we ever really put away childish things completely?

I need not add that I own both a Nintendo Cube and an Xbox, and if I'm not playing on them, I'm working through another first-person RPG on my computer.

P.S. In my defense, I no longer quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail at any given opportunity.


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