Grasshopper Soup: Is this Heaven, or the Pit of Despair?
October 14, 2008
I drove down to the Old Tahoe Cafe in Homewood last Friday for one of their superb breakfasts. I thumbed three quarters from the nifty little coin dispenser in my inherited, front-wheel-drive Lincoln Continental and waltzed over to the newspaper stand. The headline on the front page of the Sacramento Bee made me spontaneously combust with laughter. I did what the headline wanted me to do, but what I already intended to do before I saw it (just so you know I’m not a complete sucker). I bought the paper.
The very sensationalism of the headline, along with its questionable accuracy, was reason enough to buy it. I could at least cut it out and frame it. It said, with all the apocalyptic horror bold black print can project, “Nation descends into pit of despair.” Was the story about the economy or the presidential campaign?
Maybe the nation was descending into the pit of despair because alcohol had been banned. Maybe they ran out of sunflower seeds and chewing tobacco and had to cancel baseball season. Maybe a solution to the conflict between traditional marriage and same-sex marriage had been reached, and the California State Supreme Court decided to settle the question once and for all by calling same-sex marriage “pairage” instead.
I looked down at my feet to see if they were descending into the pit. Then I looked down the street to see if Eagle Rock was still standing. It was. Two men with their hands in their pockets were headed proudly for Obexer’s Marina. They seemed calm enough, maybe even a little hopeful. Everyone I saw had a bounce in their step.
Steam rose in thick plumes like walls of smoke, or Einstein’s hair, from Lake Tahoe. The only things descending were snowflakes that would not last a week. There was no pit of any kind anywhere to be seen, just the magnificent Tahoe Basin overflowing with beauty.
The only thing I see is the incredible hubris of the people who got us in to this financial crisis. Hubris is excessive ambition and pride that leads to one’s downfall. It may be worse than a pit of despair. But the whole nation? Do you know how many people were stretching themselves all the way to nirvana in yoga classes all over California before the ink dried on the Bee’s headline? Do you know how much Eastern Spiritualism and the attitude of non-attachment to the outside world has swept over this great state these last few decades like the varicose veins on the aging legs of a hip little granny levitating over her yoga mat, in leopard skin leotards and rainbow headband?
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Turns out the story was about the economy. But I’m one of the lucky ones. If you ain’t got nothing you got nothing to lose. I never did trust the stock market. I’ve always thought it was just like gambling. I have one friend in particular who is ultra-proud of his Wall Street hubris. At least he was. Now he’s broke.
Hubris was also the cause of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl of the thirties. People were eating tumbleweed, and were overrun by dust, jack rabbits, centipedes, and poison tarantulas, making our current economic situation look like a piece of cake.
Some eastern religions believe that reality is an illusion, and the pit of despair is really Heaven, and we should all be happy. That’s easy to believe. Putting it into daily practice is quite different. You’d have to be superhuman and able to hold your breath for several days to be happy on Black Sunday, the most hellish dust storm of the thirties.
Hopefully, only our hubris will fall in to some kind of pit, never to be heard from again.