I WAS THINKING ABOUT HAPPINESS the other day, at
Dennis' new house in Guelph. It was New Years' Eve, and Den and Andrea
were showing the place off to a full house of friends. We were sitting
around the dining room table, five couples and a potluck feast of meat
loaf and roast pork and fixins. Den has lived pretty cheap in the past,
living off tiny writing grants and smaller freelance fees before being
hit with a winfall in advances for his latest book. The house was huge
but it was cheap compared to a similar place in the city, and he was happy.
Drunk and happy.
Here we were, his friends, sitting around his table, put
up comfortably, a couple to a room, in his new house. He couldn't stop
talking about how this was it; this was everything he was working toward,
the nearest moment to perfection in his life. The only thing that could
have made things better was if the whole house and everyone inside could
magically be transported to Spain. The next day, he'd be so hung over that
he wouldn't be awake till well into the afternoon, when most of his guests
had left, but I don't think he regretted a thing. His perfect moment was
within his grasp, and I couldn't help but envy him.
IF I HAD TO NAME ONE THING that's made me happy lately,
that would be simple: Photoshop 5.5. I've never had a computer that could
run any version of Adobe's image editing software until now, and I didn't
know what I was missing.
I know that Photoshop has basically swept the field clear
of all rival image editors; I know that familiarity with Photoshop is considered
more essential than a clean police record of a full set of digits, at least
in my business. It's just that I've never worked with a piece of software
that does what it's supposed to before.
Even running several space-hogging windows on the monster
G4 at work, nothing is as stable not Reuters' FotoStation Pro, certainly
not Explorer. It's clean, it's intuitive; it actually works like the "digital
darkroom" it's supposed to be. I realise that I'm the last person under
seventy-five in the free world to discover Photoshop, but there it is.
I've never pretended to live on the "cutting edge". Now watch me
discover CD burning.
I DON'T PRETEND TO UNDERSTAND precisely what's happened
to Enron. I do know that futures trading has always struck me as little
different than betting on the colour of the next car you'll see coming
down an empty stretch of highway, while punchy and coffee-addled on a long
trip. I remember seeing a documentary
on Enron and the California blackouts about a year ago a PBS Frontline
thing that described trading energy futures as the next big thing, a
real innovation, the sort of sheer genius possible only in our brave new
world. That was enough to make me suspicious of the whole enterprise; I
was less than surprised when it all came apart in the last couple of months.
I'm less than outraged that half of the media is lining
up to add the suffix "-gate" to the whole mess, while the other half is
taking turns insisting that Bush has done nothing wrong, all appearances
to the contrary. It's hardly surprising that members of Bush's cabinet
owned Enron stock; these people are almost all players in some province
of the energy business for them, owning Enron stock is as obligatory
as black socks, crewneck sweaters and salt-stained Dockers. After the sell-job
on Enron up to and including PBS documentaries turning down Enron stock
would have been a thick, sticky gob square in the eye of their broker.
From what I've read, Kenneth Lay was hedging his bets
sound business practice, after all; the basis of a whole arm of investment
and donating money to both political parties; fat lot of good it did
him. If anything, the silver lining to this black cloud might play out
as a downturn in soft money. After all, if campaign donations, regardless
of their size, deliver so little in return, why bother? This one scandal
regardless of the outcome might accomplish what John McCain could never
hope to, even if he won the primary and the election.
It would be a good thing. Crony
capitalism is both inevitable and disastrous; we shouldn't be preaching
the virtues of the free market abroad when we're practising the same kind
of sly backroom incest between business and government that's crippled
Russia, Japan, and the "Asian Tiger" economies. Regardless of whether Bush
and the GOP did anything
exceptional in taking Ken Lay's money, this is an issue of confidence;
it's easy enough to become cynical about pork-fuelled economic policies
the fact is that it's wrong, both politically and economically. I can't
imagine what kind of crass powerwhore would imagine trying to sell it as
right and natural.
HOW MUCH HAS CHANGED since 09/11? It's a facile question
that mostly gets asked by people who've already picked out their answers.
A day, a week, even a month after the day, I liked to hope that there had
been a sea change, a real shift in the poles of our world. Nowadays I'm
not so sure.
Some things have changed, though. I was reading a first-person
account of a hijacking, a 1976 reprint on the Atlantic Monthly
site, and marvelling at the way little things sidelong observations by
the author as Croatian terrorists take over his flight brought back memories
of that time. I'm amazed, to this day, at how vividly I remember the Seventies.
|I never wanted kids. I was always scared of thatto
give myself to someone who would need me so much. It might be nice to have
Such a frightened, ungenerous time. Such strange self-denials
in the midst of all that sullen excess.
|"Would you like a sandwich?" We are still on the ground
in Keflavik. It is the blond. Sandwiches and cigarettes have been brought
on board. I take both. Smoke first. As I grow more and more tired, I wonder
who it is I fear most, the hijackers or myself.
Smoking on a plane. The only time I ever saw that was
years ago, on a Cubana flight to Havana probably the last holdout. And
that insistent mistrust of our every motivation. Shame amidst the shamelessness
of a decade I remember for its sour hedonism. He ends up finding an answer
"Them." but I'm amazed at the reflexive instinct to doubt. And I remember
it too well.
Finally, there's the generous indulgence of the passengers
and crew for the hijackers, a curious self-abnegation on the part of people
who've had their lives threatened, their liberty taken away:
|"This is the captain speaking." His voice is clean,
no cracks. "We have all been through an incredible experience. But it is
over for us. No one is hurt. However, it is not over for our hijackers.
Their ordeal is just beginning. They have a cause. They are brave, committed
people. Idealistic, dedicated people. Like the people who helped to shape
our country. They are trying to do the same for theirs. I think we should
all give them a hand." I look around me. The hijackers are smiling. The
audience is applauding.
The writer, to his credit, can't believe his ears. The
whole ordeal turned out to be an empty bit of political theatre, the "bombs"
carried by the hijackers nothing more than empty props, but the threat
was real enough.
|They had no guns. No bomb. No danger. No danger? All
is backward. Nothing is as it seemed. I must have been dreaming. The killers
are friends. The friends are fools. The game is for show. No one will die.
It wasn't always the case, however, and the stakes were
only rising. It's amazing to me that people could be so cowed, so easily
convinced that their time and lives could be taken away for some political
cause they assumed to be righteous just by invoking "oppressors" and "oppressed",
with the inference that they were lazy peons of the former.
I like to think things aren't like this anymore, but I
doubt if 09/11 was anything but the faintest tipping point. You can only
live in a vague, general cloud of assumed shame and guilt for so long.
Maybe we've finally stopped living in our hair shirt. Maybe we can finally
figure out what's good about our world.