Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Best Thing That Is Only Good, Really, If You Experience It Second-Hand.

The world can be divided into two kinds of experiences: Those that are best when you are directly involved in them, and those that are best when you just hear about them from someone else.

I don't mean that those are the only two kinds of experiences; there are an infinite number of ways to divide the way we experience the world -- there are experiences, I suppose, that are best when they happen accompanied by music, and experiences that are best only if they never ever ever happen to us, and experiences that would be awesome if it wasn't for the fact that during them we had a hangnail, and so on. The multitude of ways we experience our lives cannot really be boiled down to just two.

But let me do that anyway. Let me boil the way you and I and everyone else live our lives down to just two ways: Things that are best experienced directly and things that are best heard about from someone else.

Things that are best experienced directly include: Love. Pizza. The ending to that episode of Lost in Season 3 when Hurley and Charlie got the VW Bus started by popping the clutch as it rolled down the hill. The Las Vegas Strip on a warm night in December when you're from a cold state so that you can not only look around at all the lights and color and sound and noise but also you can keep in mind that back home, it's 40 degrees below zero. Those things are all great things that you would want the full effect of, and also things that when you experience them in person, as opposed to hearing about them, become fuller, more three-dimensional, or even more dimensions than that. They become four, or five, dimensional.

In fact, describing them takes something away from those experiences, like it almost did yesterday when I watched that episode of Lost (I'm a little behind but I'm diligently trying to catch up)(I'm in fact putting more work into "catching up on Lost" than I am on "my yard" and "my career" combined) where Hurley gets the VW Bus started just in time and they all drive around in the field with it for a while. I was about to start describing that episode to Sweetie, but just before I began to tell her about it, I sat and thought about it for a second and here's what I thought:

I don't know if I can capture the tension that built as they rolled down that hill, the thrumming in my head as they got closer and closer to the rocks, watching their eyes get wider and wider and seeing Hurley finally close his eyes and take a leap of faith and the engine came to life and they swerved around the rocks and began cheering and the music crescendoed... I don't know if I can accurately relate the sheer exhilaration that was communicated by seeing that light-blue VW Bus drive around the Lost landscape.

And also I thought:

Sweetie is napping and if I wake her up just to tell her about that, she's gonna be mad.

So I kept it to myself.

But you get the idea: Watching that scene, like the Las Vegas Strip and Pizza and Love, is best experienced first-hand, and many things are that way: good only if we actually live through them.

Then there are the other, and thankfully smaller category, of things, which is, again, things that are only good, really, if you experience them second-hand.

I first became acquainted with this category of things when I was, in fact, exposed to that Thing which is the nominee in this category, over 15 years ago, but I won't spoil the surprise yet and instead will focus on other things that are only good if you experience them second-hand.

Things like rock concerts. I recently downloaded the Coldplay free live album and was listening to it this weekend, and doing that made me think two things:

First, I thought, it's easy to give away free stuff if you're Coldplay. Really, shouldn't all of their stuff be free from here on out? I propose a system in this world where, once you make enough money, you can't make any more. Take Chris Martin, of Coldplay. If you google "How much money does Chris Martin make?" you won't get any really helpful answers (thanks, Internet!) so you'll just go back to writing about him and you'll say this: He probably makes a lot of money. I doubt very much that Chris Martin will ever be hurting for cash again, so why is he still selling us records? Keep making them, sure, but give them to us for free.

I vow this: When I have made all the money I'll need for the rest of my life, I will then give my services -- law and writing-- away free.

Second, and more to the point of this entry, I thought this: Man, rock concerts just weren't that much fun, were they? I never got the point, to be honest. I've been to my share of concerts, including seeing Paul McCartney live in Chicago and Pink Floyd live in Madison and the BoDeans live at "Maritime Days" and, once, Cheap Trick live at the Waukesha County Fair (my mom waved to Robin Zander in the hopes that he would see her and call her up to the stage and whisk her away to a life that probably seemed more glamorous than it really would have been) and more, and, in the end, I just don't care for concerts.

(I also don't generally care for live versions of songs, aside from a bootleg version of U2's Bad I had once and aside, now, from the live version of Fix You.)

Concerts are loud, and sweaty, and expensive, and the songs don't sound like they do on the cassette tape/cd/mp3 player, and there's always someone next to you throwing up (thanks, man!) and what are you supposed to do, anyway? I listen to music while I do other stuff -- work or read or drive or clean or play with the Babies! Am I supposed to just sit and listen at a concert? But everyone else is standing, or dancing, or swaying, or barfing.

In the end, I think rock concerts are best experienced through someone else. It's way better, I think, for me to describe to you seeing INXS on their "Listen Like Thieves" tour play the free "rock stage" at Summerfest, describing the way we waited in line all day in the sweltering August humidity, taking turns running to get beers, the way we finally got into the rickety bleachers that formed the stands for the rock stage, and watched as INXS finally got ready to take the stage, the way Michael Hutchence prowled the stage and roared and growled as the guitars rang through the speakers, the way the boards of the bleachers shook as we cheered and sang along ("everybody's... down on their knees!") and watched while clouds rolled in and a thunderstorm opened up and rain torrented down, driving INXS from the stage and soaking us through the bone, leaving us stumbling through knee-deep water on the fairgrounds amidst a flashflood, happy and sunburnt and wet and still humming Don't Change.

Okay, bad example, 'cause that was pretty great to experience, actually, but that doesn't change the rule that rock concerts are generally best experienced through someone else's eyes.

As are other things, like weird foods. Talking the other day with a client, we were discussing some of the weird things I had eaten (a sheep's eyeball, for one thing) and some of the weird things he'd eaten (various indelicate parts of a bull, mixed into a taco) and afterwards, I think we both agreed that we were both better off not having eaten what the other guy ate.

Experiences -- good experiences -- that are best had second-hand are that way for a variety of reasons.

Sometimes it's because the idea is better than the actuality, as it is with rock concerts. The idea of a rock concert is: "get together with all the other fans, see your rock heroes live on stage, hear the songs you love louder than life, dance and sing and have fun." The reality is that the sound won't be that great, you'll worry that you're going to get pickpocketed, and there will be that point, at the end of the concert, when you and other fans stand for 15 more minutes holding up your lighters (or iPhone lighter-apps) and cheering, only to sheepisly realize that, no, the band's not coming back for a fourth encore, they really are gone, and you'll all sort of quiet down at once and begin walking out, and also, on the way home, you'll say Hey, they never actually did perform [fill in the name of the song you hoped they'd do but they didn't].

Other times, it's because the good parts are all scattered or separated by lengthy not-good parts, or otherwise hard to get to, or there's not enough good parts mixed in with the just-regular parts. Some experiences are like that: like a birthday cake where all the extra frosting-stuff, the flowers and trains and things, are all in one corner, but you lined up too early and you're getting one of the first pieces, from the other end, where there's hardly any frosting at all.

Vacations and other people's kids are like that. Vacations sound fun, in theory, but they involve spending a lot of money and carrying two-year-olds through airports and there's never enough leg room anywhere, and somehow, on every vacation you ever go on, even the ones to New York City, you'll get sand in your pants and have to sit uncomfortably at dinner. The fun parts of vacations are scattered throughout all the cramped/tired/sandy pants parts, making vacations something that is best experienced through someone else: In ten minutes, I can hear all the great parts about your trip to Portland, Oregon. (Note: I probably won't really be listening.)

Other people's kids, too, are best experienced through those people. Spend 10 minutes with a parent and you'll hear all the cute, smart, probably-made-up-or-at-least-exaggerated stuff that kid did, and you are then spared the actual experience of living with that kid. Because think about this: Take some parent you know (me, for example) and consider how many stories that parent has of all the cute, smart, probably-made-up-or-at-least-exaggerated stuff that kid has done (zillions, in my case. Plus some other junk.)

Then add up, mentally, in your mind, how much actual time all those thing would have taken, and compare that to the actual age of the kid.

I'll give you a Hypothetical Example:

Parent A comes to you and says "Yesterday, when I was walking my kids to McDonalds and then the park, where I let them play in the "Splash Park" and get soaking wet despite the fact that they were wearing regular clothes and their only pair of shoes, resulting in my having to call Sweetie... I mean Parent B... and ask her to bring towels and a change of clothes, and during that time, Mr F leaned down and got squirted in the mouth by a water fountain and it was really cute..."

(It was really cute, by the way. Hypothetically speaking)

How long would that story take? About twenty seconds. And that's all I told you about Mr F -- I mean, Hypothetical Kid. But yesterday was 24 hours long -- or (takes out calculator)(Realizes calculator doesn't have batteries)(gets pen to do math longhand)(gives up) -- a whole lot of seconds, each of which was not worth telling you about, and many of which involved diapers or messes or, once, not being entirely sure where the Babies! were.

So if you'd directly experienced Parent A's day, you'd have had twenty seconds of cuteness, and a whole lot of not cuteness. But, thanks to SecondHand experiences, you got to enjoy just the good parts.

Which brings me to my nominee, which was where I started all this, talking about The Best Thing That Is Only Good, Really, If You Experience It Second-Hand, and that thing is:

Monty Python skits.

Going back about fifteen years now, I've heard, off and on, from people who loved Monty Python skits. I first heard about them from my Washington D.C. roommate, Rip, who loved Monty Python skits, and who at times would tell me about them -- the guy with the parrot, and the Black Knight who loses his legs or whatever, and the Knights That Say Neep or whatever. Rip loved Monty Python, and would tell me these skits and they would be very funny, very funny indeed. So funny that I would think to myself "I've got to see this Monty Python."

Periodically, after that, other people would tell me about Monty Python, too, and they would describe or act out or recite the skits, and they, too, were very funny. They'd tell me about movies and songs and something about Spam and more, and I'd again think to myself I really should check that out.

Then, Monty Python got made into a musical on Broadway, and that, too, sounded funny; I'd read reviews (yes, I read reviews of musicals. What of it?) and think I should go see that. If, you know, Sweetie and I go to New York City again. Then, I'd think You know, I still wonder how that sand got in my pants. It's a city, for Pete's sake!

Then I watched some Monty Python, through the miracle of having a DVD and one day realizing I could set it to tape some Monty Python.

And, you know what? It stunk. I never laughed at all even for a second.

I didn't give up there, either. I watched a couple of Monty Python movies, or tried to, but I fell asleep in them and gave up and never went back, because they stunk, too.

And I was reminded of this all when I happened to see, before a movie last night, an inexplicably-weird commercial for "G," a commercial that involved that dance group that seems like they'd be serial killers and also, I think, a basketball player, and the guys in the commercial were doing that thing that the guys in Monty Python did, which is pretending to ride horses and making the sounds.

Here's a far-too-long video that seems to include the commercial:

I remembered hearing about the Monty Python guys doing that, clipclopping their horse-sounds, and thinking that sounds funny, and then I remembered watching them doing it, and thinking No, it's not funny after all, and then I watched that commercial, and I had a moment that really seemed as though the space-time continuum was getting all muddled up, because it was both funny and not at the same time.

As I watched that commercial, I first remembered Rip, and others, telling me about Monty Python doing that horse thing, and I thought how funny it was when they told me about it; so the commercial was kind of like it was telling me about Monty Python and because I was, through the commercial, experiencing Monty Python second hand, it was funny.

But I was also experiencing the commercial itself first-hand, and it was extremely not funny (and also weird) and I didn't like it. I sat there and watched and tried to sort it all out, the not funny competing with the funny, but it was all too complicated so I went back to wondering if it was too early to go get a refill on my Large Popcorn. (I decided it was; nobody should ever be refilling a large popcorn before the actual movie starts, even if they have somehow eaten half of it already.)

I slept on it and mulled it over today and decided that what makes Monty Python funny is not Monty Python or the skits or anything like that.

Monty Python skits themselves are not funny. Watching people try to do Monty Python skits is funny. What makes the latter funny is the fun of seeing someone else try to be Monty Python and watching them as they try to relate to you the joy they took in that skit, watching them try to communicate the humor in the skit, and experiencing, vicariously, the thrill and laughter they had already lived through. The person acting it out for you is the funny, is the humor... provided that the person isn't serious about acting it out, but is only trying to get you to see how funny it was (even though it wasn't.)

All of which has made me think about this: What if there was, say, a troupe of people who would act out skits about people acting out Monty Python skits? Would that be so ultimately funny and enjoyable that it would exceed all previously-known humor limits and catapult the human race, giggling, into an unimaginable future? Or would it have the opposite effect, creating a humor vortex, not unlike that G commercial, only more powerful, which would pull into its maw all humor and enjoyment?

Either way, I'm not going to try it. I'm feeling a little tired from all the popcorn, and I've still got two more seasons of Lost to watch.

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1 comment:

lisapepin said...

INXS and Paul McCartney! I was at those shows, too! Though we didn't go to INXS together...

What a revelation about Monty Python! I thought I was the only person who felt that way. It must only be funny if you watch it without ever having heard about it beforehand. If your friends do the skits for you in advance, that becomes the funny version.