HOW do you respond when someone handsome and callow cuts you off? Our guest columnist Lawrence Christon goes on a tear here about how we’ve gone wrong. With no further ado.
A FEW THINGS I WISH HE’D SAID
By Lawrence Christon
Though spoken in a TV show, it’s one of those crystalline moments, like “Rosebud,” or “I’ll have what she’s having,” that could go down in screen history as the memorable line that plays over and over again for the perfection of its utterance, timing and implication.
It happened in Thursday’s fifth season opener of the FX comedy series “Louie.” In it, Louie (Louis C.K.) wants to look at some merchandise in a store, but the hour is near closing time and the young salesclerk doesn’t want to help him. They get into a discussion.
“Do you know why you’re uncomfortable around people like me?” she asks (I paraphrase, but it’s close).
The woman is only slightly more pedestrian than chic, but still attractive, stylish, self-assured, and impeccably smug. What is her vaulting claim for such unarguable sense of place, her grand accomplishment in the universal scheme of things?
“I own a store,” she tells him.
Let’s put aside for a moment the notion that Napoleon’s comment about a nation of shopkeepers, made in reference to Great Britain, was hardly intended as a ringing compliment, or that the woman looks so far to have been spared serious disappointment, if not betrayal, and hasn’t yet had to pull back from the abyss of despair so harrowing that the image of a grave suggests optional comfort. Such experiences return a scarred caution, if not humility. Her arrogance is breathtaking. Yet there’s just enough challenge in her remarks, as when she implies that the ills of her generational world have been inherited from his, to beg reply of some kind, if not retort.
So you wait. Come on, Louie. Say something. Make a case. Give the team some minutes. What’ll happen twenty or thirty years down the line, when she’s his age and someone comes up to tell her the same thing she’s told him? How will she feel then? Being twentysomething, is that all there is? Are we all so locked down in the precepts of generational identity that we don’t see their drywall hollowness?
There are universals that transcend age, gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, the whole categorical checklist that’s plunged society and culture into squabbling irrelevance and recriminating censorship. There are young minds in old bodies; there are 19-year-old fuds. To age is to wonder about roads not taken and feel the looming shadow of mortality, to question it all again. A certain amount of stupidity and recklessness is a virtual requirement of youth where, as Lawrence Durrell wrote, “I move through many negatives to who I am.” We’re more defined by our mistakes than our successes because we tend to think success has followed an immutable plan, when in fact a lot of it is greased with dumb luck.
What does the girl know? What’s she done? Where’s she been? What makes her notable? What’s she giving back? What’s the there there?
Let’s jack it up a notch. What does she have to say about her part, however miniscule, in the long run of buccaneer capitalism that’s corrupted our political systems, enslaved people to the ethos and the fact of the almighty buck, and poisoned the planet? What does she have to say about our Huxleyan brave new world, where nearly every development of technological gadgetry brings us one step closer to mind control via the unlimited assault of commercial advertising and the atomization of private, inner space through constant interruption of our attention span? Any thoughts, opinions?
We needn’t be so grand. Who cares about you when you’re down and out? Or if you’re broke and need a root canal? Or a bank loan to get back on your feet? What if you can’t pony up the price of a McMansion to get a decent education, which really isn’t about knowledge, history, culture, thought, language, ideas, and fields related to yours, but scoring a certificate for a better job? How long can you get through a day without binging on screen time and copiously punctuating every text message with OMG! and WTF? And okay, miss, or ms., how good a salesperson are you if you don’t just antagonize a customer but send him away feeling like a piece of toilet paper stuck to society’s industrious heel?
The woman is of course a fictional projection of the male fears of Louis C.K., who wrote and directed the show. Improbable in some ways, real in others. Still, You wish Louie had said something, anything really. If it’s closing time, how about a latte to talk things over, maybe forge an interesting bond? Learn from each other. But Louie is a schlub. Things happen, life happens, absurdly, weirdly, just in its everyday self. Larry David would rant. Saul Goodman would find an angle to get around her. Louie just more or less takes it. But artfully enough for us to do the rest.
Most things we laugh at aren’t really funny; they’re turned into humor so we can live with them. But how do you wake complacency from its slumber?
That’s a tough room.