A plea for … less


If there’s one thing I hate, it’s when a broadcaster says, “here’s some Beethoven FOR YA!”  It’s that fake friendly intimacy I find condescending and all wrong.

Among the many other complaints I’m lodging here are: the fancy “him and I,” instead of “him and me,” and the way the ads on TV are louder than the programs, plus those dratted adverbs like “only” or “just” before the price, and happy endings to please the paying customers, and tea bags over-wrapped in elaborate bags and boxes ... and, oh! the thousand unnatural shocks that our flesh has become heir to. All due to noise and addiction to distraction.

My boyhood and youth in the early decades of the bygone 20th century taught me, us, that thrift was a good thing, and a patriotic duty.  Hand-me-downs were valued as if they held meanings among the moth holes.

Now that I have survived long enough to seek ever-changing sunbeams of happiness in the first two decades of the 21st century, I look back at the chapters of my story with a mixture of nostalgia and pride, and with some honest guilt for mistakes and inadequacies, but also with an abundance of things I hate!

Like the wide, fake grins that the camera insists on, and overly convenient gadgets that we “deserve” (?) and that make the lessons of yore irrelevant, useless, beside the point.

What point?  The point of living.  A book is to read.  A shoelace is to tie, with your tongue to guide you as you twist and turn the string into a double knot that won’t unravel and trip you on the sidewalk and leave you with skinned knees.  A newspaper is to peruse, maybe with a pair of scissors if, like me, you want to study the funnies (which my grandkids label  “the sillies.”)

My list of contemptible “accomplishments” from the inventions we are much too proud of goes on and on, and reaches a plateau with political slogans.

I am determined to make my own list of things I love about my birthplace that doesn’t include the highly profitable and ingenious (I suppose) products of our national pride – the big cars and trucks, and the highways they required or demanded to make their speed ever swifter … at the expense of wildlife and for the benefit of vultures.

Instead, I would offer a less tangible list of a few miniature good things. There is a bumper sticker that reads in big letters, “Sh** happens!” I like it ’cuz it’s funny and somehow youthful in tone.  But I would add at this point in my saga, on the other side of my rear bumper,  “Happiness also happens.”

Old Tom Jefferson wrote a wonderful line, the best line, that no matter what happens, we are free in  “the pursuit of happiness.”  We may not deserve or earn it, but strangely, marvelously, somehow, sometimes, it just happens.

It did for me, here, and so, I’m glad, especially in the month when we celebrate the birth of our nation’s promises, made right here in Li’l Rhody, the smallest colony, with the widest and biggest heart and harbor, to salute the flags both of my nation and my state and to claim our popular songs from Cole to Irving, as sung by Kate and Judy, by Frank and by Fats. Yes, a song is a social collaboration. The lyrics, the tunes, the singer … and the listener!

So my plea here is to lower our demands, lessen our trash, remember with respect the minor skills such as mending and darning our socks, and listen to the mockingbird.

MIKE FINK (mfink33@aol.com) teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.