I work at a record store and we have a listening counter on the basement level: a broad semi-circular counter with a half-dozen control panels and headphones jutting out of it at two-foot intervals. Customers stand about shoulder-length apart, skimming through the liner notes of a potential purchase, bopping their heads rhythmically. I’m the dude who stands behind the counter rewrapping discarded and unloved CDs, placing them in section-specific piles which ascend gradually towards the ceiling as the day wears on.
Every day, without fail, someone steps up, quickly examines the goings-on of my work environment, turns to me and ventures a guess: “Is this the check-out line?”
Brilliant. The answer, to myself, invariably: “Fuck, man. I dunno. Are you paying in cash or in headphones?”
The situation is very much the same in other parts of the city. Public transportation users engage in daily struggles with the back doors of busses: I’m sure we’ve all seen those irate passengers madly waving their hands a few feet away from the motion detectors while the bus is moving or heatedly pressing against the doors without even bothering to contemplate the possibility that the steps beneath them are pressure activated. I mean, it’s not like it’s written right in front of them.
Or take an Off the Board piece yours truly wrote last week proposing “masculinism.” For what I felt was an utterly harmless piece of writing, the Tribune received letters of complaint and accusations of sexism and misogyny. You would figure that people in their third year of university would clue into the fact that the mere use of the term “masculinism,” in addition to denoting General Tao’s chicken as exotic foreign cuisine and arbitrarily combining laundry loads as economical and productive, is fairly laced with irony and sarcasm. Or not. Maybe Perceiving Irony is a fourth-year course.
See that? That was sarcasm. I know full well that irony isn’t taught in school, the same way that I know women are equal beings metaphysically speaking, though underrepresented in government and certain areas of the workforce.
All these shenanigans came full circle last week while I was reading about McGill’s no. 8 listing in High Times’s counterculture heavyweights. Naturally, some McGill tight-ass stuck his neck out to say, “This is so ridiculous. It makes us sound like a bunch of stoners when we’re actually all so busy studying that we don’t have time to get high.”
And this, dear readers, is the nature of the beast. We’re all too busy studying.
I’m not proclaiming that people should put away them lame-ass books and start rockin’ the ganj ’round the clock, just that we take stock of what our environment is doing to us. McGill’s campus comprises some of the brightest young people this side of the tropic of Cancer. I mean that. Any number of the people whose paths you cross daily could write you a hefty dissertation on why Africa is in such pitiful political and economic shape, explain in detail how J.B. Watson changed the way we examine the human mind or build you a snowmobile in a couple of days. And yet these very same people have trouble grasping irony or how to open motion-activated doors.
As a society, we’ve all become gifted at reading, retaining facts and contributing in our workplace and occasionally at home, but lost touch with just about everything else. We’re seeing generations of people who are book smart but not street smart.
We must embrace this duality within ourselves. We must become hybrids: part Hawking, part Shaft. We must observe our surroundings with an eagle’s eye and a fox’s sly wit. We must take time away from our books and our work to nourish the person inside of us who desperately wants to not look like an idiot, and in doing so, give ourselves a teleological rebirth. Ashes to ashes, funk to funky.