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Friday, September 24, 2010
From The Scrap Heap, Exhibit 151b7: Convention
There will come a day when every conceivable human disappointment will make its way to a giant hangar somewhere on the outskirts of Topeka, Kansas. Every dashed dream and broken heart from all over America will converge there to mingle awkwardly, stammer, and avoid eye contact. Just as in Las Vegas, there will be no natural light and no clocks, and the only way to mark the passage of time will be by studying the exhaustion in people's eyes.
Among those who will make the discouraging trek: the man who once upon a time dreamed of becoming an astronaut and grew up to become instead an unhappy insurance adjuster. The woman whose naked body was never seen --let alone touched-- by anyone outside a doctor's office. The failed writer of science fiction novels who lived with his mother and raced remote control cars up and down the sidewalk in front of his childhood home. The brides left at the altar and the broken, bitter bachelors. The boy who asked for a Dukes of Hazzard pinball machine for Christmas and received instead a Slinky, a seemingly small and isolated disappointment that nonetheless planted the seeds for a lifelong pathology of disenchantment.
Also present: Beauty pageant rejects, disgraced public servants, neglected children, actors that never got a break, persistent writers of ignored doggerel, misanthropes and alcoholics, those for whom an adolescent crisis of faith became crushing and permanent, brooders, pipe smokers, solitary chess players, stalled middle managers, the perpetually startled, permanent orphans, third-string quarterbacks, cheerleaders who grew old gracelessly, bankrupts, scores of shattered refuges from Nashville, Hollywood, and New York, and all manner of neglected or utterly talentless musicians, artists, and philosophers.
You can be sure the sleepless will be there, standing in zombie clusters at some remove from the shapeless huddles of the pathologically shy, the socially awkward, and the chronically fatigued.
There'll be quite a crowd, to be sure, and you're virtually guaranteed to recognize all sorts of old friends, neighbors, and co-workers, all of whom will bitch ceaselessly, provided they haven't been made entirely mute by their disappointment.
God knows there will be plenty to bitch about: It will rain every day, the food will be lousy, the accommodations substandard in every way. Entertainment --for lack of a better term-- will be provided by an assortment of some of the worst garage bands, barbershop quartets, karaoke singers, magicians, mimes, ventriloquists, and baton twirlers you've ever seen.
As the evening wears on a bullhorn will be passed among the conventioneers, and each person will be allowed to shout out one sentence or declaration.
It's interesting, if pointless, to speculate what those present might make of this brief opportunity to express themselves. How many do you suppose will use their moment in the spotlight to merely blurt terse, general condemnations laced with profanity? How many, however disappointed, will declare some enduring love or eternal regret? You can certainly imagine that there will be a great deal of stammering, and many will attempt to articulate some already broken promise, ineffectual apology, or last impossible wish. Others, of course, will have absolutely nothing to say.
Should you or I find ourselves there in that awkward crowd, what words would we find to speak to the assembled? What might we say to the better, happier people we --all of us-- should have been? And do you suppose there will be even one among us who will have enough remaining courage or faith to utter some small message of hope?
Finally, at some point in the endless night, black and white helium balloons will be distributed, and on command they will be released. This gesture will mean different things to different people, and to some it will mean nothing at all.