Thursday, March 21, 2024

The Over/Under of Happiness

I'm sure all anyone will be talking about today is the new Happiness Rankings by Country.  

The U.S. fell from 15th to 23rd.  It seems that young people are much unhappier than old people.  C.C. says that it is because old people know it will all be over soon, but you must look at the anomalies like Israel.  I almost commented that the happiest countries are the ones with the most homogenous cultures, but then I realized so are the most miserable on the worst list.  I'm glad I caught myself on that one.  

What makes young people so unhappy?  

Old people.  

All this chart tells me is that the young will eat the old.  I think, though, that will leave a bitter taste in their mouths.  

I would have no idea how to gauge how happy I am.  The real me, not this C.S. character.  He is a schizo who dwells in light melancholy when he is not manic or depressive.  Well. . . maybe he is a bit like his creator.  

But I have never hated old people.  I moved into an apartment after college in what had up until then been reserved for retirees on fixed incomes.  I was one of the youngest people to live there.  There were two others.  I would walk with the old folks and sit out and talk with them in the early eveneings.  They would bake me cookies and tell me I reminded them of someone.  

Even now, I spend almost every day with the over 90 crowd.  

I would never eat them.  

Rather, I am still pretty much meat-free and loving the flavor.  I feel like I'm floating.  I think I'm producing helium.  It is lovely.  

I went to the Cafe Strange for a decaf cafe con leche in the afternoon.  I felt the need, not for the coffee but for the experience.  It was packed.  As I sat down at one of the sticky tables, a cafe con leche girl with slight epicanthal folds walked in wearing very small cut off jeans shorts, cowboy boots, and a veneer of a top.  She was with a pan-boy, pale, wan, small, nearly transparent.  They were very happy giggling, touching, laughing.  They walked straight to the Photo Booth and made secret photographs that I could only imagine.  And when that was over, they left.  I liked them, but I fear for their happiness as they age.  All about me were tables of young people gathered in twos or groups whose conversations sounded much more sophisticated than mine.  My experience of age groups and happiness seem to be skewed in the opposite direction.  I don't think C.C. is correct.  I don't think knowing it will all be over soon makes old people happy.  

He was kidding, I know.  As the tagline on an opinion piece in the Times read this morning, "You Know You Are Old When You Spend the Evening Talking about Your Knees."  

Did I tell you about mine?  

While I was sitting with my coffee and writing in my notebook, an old fellow, a bit disheveled, walked in with a bedraggled labradoodle.  He came up to my table and stood close beside me.  I say he was old and .  He was probably my age--but really much older.  

"Excuse me."

"Hey, man. . . what's up?"

"What is this place?" he asked.  He stood mouth agape taking in the lights, the crazy art on the walls.  

"It's a cafe."

"Oh, he said, still gazing about him, "I thought it was a restaurant."

"Well, they do serve food.  I wouldn't eat it, but they have coffee and wine and beer and a full bar."

He didn't say anything for a minute, then, "I'll have to come get a beer sometime.  I haven't seen a place like this for a lot of years."

"Yea, it's sort of hippie, isn't it?"

He kind of shook his head and wandered off.  In a few minutes, I saw him put his dog in a car and drive away.  

The cafe started out as a video rental store many, many years ago.  I used to go there with my dead ex-friend Brando who knew the owner's father.  They were both architects.  The place had the best selection of videos in town, most of them bootleg copies.  They did a hopping business then, but as video tapes became a thing of the past, the place successfully transformed into a groovy cafe.  Used books line some of the shelves where the videos used to be.  

Last weekend they had a celebration/reunion and advertised a call for all the Old Strangers to come on Saturday night.  They were going to screen the first movie they had ever rented out, "Rebecca."  When I went in yesterday, they were selling a zine with photos of the place over the years.  There are still some Old Strangers who go there.  

It is an odd place certainly, but I think by and large the people who go there are happy.  They seem to laugh a lot.  

I think we in the U.S, probably have a different idea of happiness than do those people in Nordic countries, however.  I think that their version of happiness is much more subtle.  Or was.  Social media has probably altered what young people conceive of as happiness which is about as subtle as their rage.  It is easy to blame social media, and surely that assumption will be born out by research one day, but I blame shitty parents, too, those helicopters who want to be their kids' friends, want to be just barely more than equals, who dote over and talk about the little fuckers constantly and make them play soccer or tennis or whatever from the time they can walk.  And the other kind, too, those hillbilly/cracker/redneck fuckers who jack their kids up on conspiracy theories and arm them to the teeth and take them to MMA sessions so they will know how to kill a motherfucker.  

Well. . . I guess just parents in general.  But it is probably social media.  I just get very tired of hearing about how great everyone's children are.  

"Oh, Barry came home almost in tears yesterday.  He was afraid he was going to get a "B" in biology, but he found out he aced his final and so he was on the honor role this period.  I thought I was going to have to go up to the school and have a talk with that instructor."

"They're ALL on the honor role, you idiot!  Everyone gets good grades now.  Teacher's are not allowed to give bad grades."

O.K.  I've outed myself on this one enough.  It is the fault of social media.  

"My mom is on the computer all the time now.  She's on some dating site."

All the kids laugh sarcastically.

"Yea, my dad is on one, too, but he hardly ever gets a date, and when he does, he talks about how awful the woman turned out to be."

Eyes roll. 

"At least your parents aren't still married!  Mine drive me crazy.  They won't leave me alone.  It's worse than school when I come home."

"Hey. . . we should smoke it up before we have to go home."

Wow--this went sideways.  I blame most things on Hunter S. Thompson, but I'll throw in Kerouac and Bukowski and the whole Literary Rat Pack of the 80's, too.  Not that anybody reads anymore, but it doesn't matter.  Not everybody read "Interpretation of Dreams" when Freud published it at the turn of the 20th century, but everybody was influenced by it.  Shit just gets in the culture.  

Tennessee stopped by last night to look at some repairs I need to make.  When we were done and I walked him to his truck, a car pulled into my driveway.  There was a big dog staggering around in the road.  

"I think that dog got hit by a car," T said.  I thought it was the dog who loves me, the big Labradoodle named Ace.  I started calling him and walking down the street.  The lady in the car asked, "Do you know him?"  

"I don't know if that is him or not." 

Tennessee followed me down the road.  The dog was staggering away from me. Then another big dog came out and got between us.  Then I knew whose dog it was.  The two dogs lived down the street from me in the big brick house owned by a contractor and his pretty, skittish wife.  I've only seen them about twice in the years they have lived there.  

The dog kept walking and falling and struggling to get back up, his buddy running circles around him and barking.  

"It's o.k., it's o.k." I kept saying.  I caught up with them just as they turned down the long driveway to the house.  I thought the healthy dog might try to attack me as I walked to the door, but I heard a woman's voice call him from the back of the house.  I rang the doorbell and went to see the other dog who was just standing in the drive.  Then the front door opened.  It was the woman.  I realized I was barefoot wearing shorts and a t-shirt and carrying a glass of whiskey.  I like making a good impression.  

"Is this your dog?"

"Oh, yes. . . . "

"I think he might have gotten hit by a car.  He was staggering around in the street and. . . ."

"Oh, no. . . he is old.  He's had a couple of strokes.  I've thought about putting him down. . . ."

I didn't say, "Holy shit, lady!" but I thought it.  She thanked me for bringing the dog home, and Tennessee and I headed back to the house.  

It was nine-thirty when T went home.  I sat on the couch and listened to a reading of Didion's "Slouching toward Bethlehem"--sort of.  When I woke up, it was midnight.  

It is another, maybe the last, in a string of unbelievable days.  I must get out into it.  These days make me happy.  But of course, you know. . . I'm over thirty.  

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