The Moment of Truth — April 7, 2012

Obscurity

Originally delivered by me at the inaugural episode of Write Club Los Angeles, at Bootleg Theater, April 4, 2012:

We know who we are. You might not know who we are. You might not care who we are, and we may not even like who we are, but we know who we are. 

Obscurity is not oblivion. Obscurity is not non-existence. It is not the blotting out of your being. However, neither is it moksha, release from the endless cycle of reincarnation. I’m sure all of us here look forward one of these lifetimes to disentangling ourselves from karma and being liberated from repeated transmigration from one life to the next. Obscurity, granted, is not that release, it is not moksha. But it is a lot closer to such liberation than you’ll get by courting the public’s opinion. 

We are born into entanglements, and if we’re lucky we tangle with people we care about and who care about us in return. If we’re lucky we find ourselves entangled with people who know us, people who find it satisfying to know us and with whom we form relationships of substance. Because an entanglement not based on substance and satisfaction is just a clumsy ribbon, some red tape, some inconsiderately discarded twine or old clothesline we stumble into in the dark and stagger around snarled in as if our shoelaces had been tied together. 

When you court the opinion of the public in the court of public opinion, you are opting to wander around blindfolded in a field of carelessly strewn-about old twine and yarn and rope and clothesline. You thereby put in jeopardy the fragile ankles you were given at birth, which were meant to last a lifetime. Walking around with your ankles entangled in the discarded string and strands of strangers, you’re going to walk with a gait similar to that of a man with his pants down around his ankles. Except the man with the pants around his ankles has the dignity of knowing who belongs to the snare he’s ensnared in. They are his pants, after all. Think about that when you contemplate the blessings of renown: as a public figure you are even less dignified than the unknown, obscure man with his pants down. 

But even with that metaphor I am allowing too much emphasis on the opinions others.  

A man is known by the company he keeps? I don’t know who said that, but whoever it was, he must have been obsessed with what other people thought of him. 

Is it worth keeping particular company so that others may know you in a particular way? 

Of course not. A real person keeps the company he keeps because he enjoys their company, not so that others may know him as a person who keeps enjoyable company. That would be a shallow reason to keep company, not a substantial one. What is the point of worrying that you might be judged by your companionship? Unless you’re a politician, and we all know what’s wrong with them - they are surely less dignified than a man walking around with his pants down around his ankles. Substance and satisfaction is what I’m after in life. Substance and satisfaction. And other people’s half-assed opinions about me based on who I’m seen with do not fall under that rubric. 

Let’s not trot out the cliché that celebrity is the one sure way to lose one’s soul. Let us instead say: Obscurity is by far the best place to meet people who keep company for purposes of substance and satisfaction. 

You know what you get when you land outside obscurity? You get roasted. Chevy Chase got roasted, and let me tell you he did not look happy about it. But Greg Giraldo, who said to Chevy Chase at that roast, “I admire you. I can only dream of making forty-five movies and three funny ones,” Greg Giraldo never got a dinner. He never got a dinner. That is, he may have got a dinner at some point, but I didn’t hear about it and certainly didn’t watch it. 

And now he’s dead. He didn’t die in obscurity. He died into obscurity. He was getting pretty well-known there for a while, but whatever he might have aspired to beyond that was nipped in the bud. 

And as far as I know, he never got a dinner. And you know what? If he didn’t, good for him. Good for him.

Jesus got a dinner. A last supper. Was He known by the company He kept? He kept company with lepers and hookers. Also with disciples. But what about all the would-be messiahs who had no disciples, no one writing down their every word, who kept company with the downtrodden just for the sake of keeping the downtrodden company? For example… Leonard of Falafel Avenue. He didn’t allow disciples. He wasn’t looking for a cheering section, a peanut gallery, all he wanted was to keep some lonely messed up people company. You’ve never heard of him, but there were dozens just like him back then - he himself I had to make up, because the real examples have been lost to obscurity…

And none of them ever got a dinner. 

You think you can cheat Death? You think you can leave a piece of yourself upon this Earth that will repercuss and redound through the ages? Let me tell you something, you don’t want to cheat Death, and while repercuss and redound you may, Death is not cheated. You will only be cheating yourself out of a peaceful eternity. 

Why would you want that? Wouldn’t you prefer to untangle yourself from karma and slip the surly bonds of samsara, the cycle of rebirths? To live on after your death - that’s a fate worse than Death. It being so close to Easter, do I really have to remind you of the sad tale of Jesus?

Do you think Jesus enjoys having his body and blood conjured back into existence and devoured every Mass? He feels every bite and suffers anemia from the draining of every drop. When your holy man turns the wine into blood, it fills up Jesus, and then when you drink the blood it drains from Him again and that is just unpleasant. When your holy man makes the bread into the flesh of Jesus, that flesh is rebuilt on His bones and then torn off again by your teeth. Why do you build Him up, Buttercup, baby, just to gobble Him down? 

And that’s not even counting all the hashing and rehashing of His words and deeds and intent and not-entirely-substantiated historical existence - all that hashing and rehashing has made a hash out of Jesus - you think it feels good to be an immortal hash? 

Well, He’s Jesus, He knew what He was getting into. He can take it. But He’s about the only one who can. He got a dinner out of the deal, but in return He’s got to be everyone else’s dinner. 

I dine with the unfêted. I feast with undined. And I am happy to do so. We don’t care if you know us. We know ourselves. We know we’re mortal. To paraphrase Olympia Dukakis in “Moonstruck” when she tells John Mahoney why she’s turning down his invitation to canoodle, We know who we are. You might not know who we are. You might not care who we are, and we may not even like who we are, but we know who we are.