Wednesday, February 27, 2008
The tricky problem of identity, and how the future seems so much like the past
While watching a cage-full of sprightly White-Handed Gibbons at the Toronto zoo, it had struck me, oddly, that I was some sort of monkey myself, and a tour through a pen of really
crazed and even violent musk oxen gave me the sudden intimation that all immigrants eventually go offf their heads.
I am not, strictly speaking, an immigrant, but my parent were. Immigrants. Extremely focused, but somehow troubled.
The fierce energy of immigrants. Rich by forty. Yet still somehow crazed. I guess a war and a strech at Hitler's "Summer Camp" can do that to you...How my father escaped from the concentration camp is still beyond me.
He certainly had not time for post-traumatic stress. He just kept going and made a fortune. But towards the end of his life, he began to drink heavily and my mother was far from well. Very nutty.
Part of the problem may have been the children and grandchildren.
Ah we of the second generation. Getting used to credit cards, something of the Rake's Progress in all of us.
"Lay off that whiskey,
Leave that cocaine alone", sings Hank Williams III.
...Comes, I guess, from having a really rich and famous grandfather.
I wasn't into the cocaine, but I was certainly into the whiskey. The Potato Famine and The Great Depresson were far behind--there would never be another Depression.
Ha. First law of the universe: You never really escape the Depression. If you do free yourself of its hold for a while, it'll only catch up to you, and it's not fooling. If The Great Depression doesn't catch up with you you will create your own Great Depression, only perhaps for the simple reason that you were very young during the Last One, and that kind of poverty, privation, pain, hunger--had somehow amounted to an odd kind of happiness in your childhood. But here in Canada, you live extravagantly, like a rock'n'roller., Days of Wine and Roses and all that. You do know you will come down with a thump, but what the hell. You only go around once.
Seems we are never as good as our parent, never. Dad had no time for mid-life crises, mammoth drunks, marathon sex, the life style of the rock star that I once was.
Life was so intense, so demanding that one had to keep one's nose to the grindstone, having finally arrived in a society that wasn't investing it's full GDP into possibly making a lamp shade out of you.
In any event, God had dumped us children of immigrants into a paradise--really a fool's paradise--and we would take full advantage of its perks. Things were handed to us on a silver plate and we were such pigs we almost ate the plate.
Comes the personal Great Depression. Personal apocalypse.
We thought that we were young, as the song goes, "and surely have our way."
Uh-uh. The furies come, even in the middlle of great wealth and comfort. And they seem to come for everybody.
Tinkering with commandments. Running off on our wives.
Hitchhiking on the road, picked up by the inventor of the Canadarm satellite-grabber, and told, "How can you be so irresponsible and still live?" This was a man who had worked on the Avro Arrow, that great but scuttled Canadian fighter plane, which another irresponsible man, John George Diefenbaker had destroyed, replacing the new fighter with A-bomb-carrying missiles that could knock down a hundred Russian bombers in a single blast--but what of us down below??!!
Crazy, sure I was crazy, but there were people in power even crazier.
And yet and yet. The old immigrant sitting in his self-built mansion, sipping his vodka and slurping his borsht.
"For all my possessions, I am still an immigrant. No matter how much money I've got, I still feel I have to take a shower again and again to rid myself of the immigrant stink."
Well, no such feelings from the second generation, the silver spoon set. Us.
Those of us well into middle age might carp, "Canada has not done well by me." But it has, oh yes it has.
What other country would give you a PhD, a beautiful wife, model children, for almost nothing.
And yet the furiess come. And come. Something from the past.
I am trying to land my Aeronca Champion light plane behind a Vampire jet figher. The heat of the Vampire ahead of me has lifted me eight hundred feet in the air. There is turbulence. I would have to be very careful in landing my plane.
Suddenly, an attack of the Furies. My father's voice. "Of all occupations, you had to pick this one. How many Mustang pilots have I seen, shot down into the rye and the farmers with pitchforks wanting to talk pollitics:
'Roosevelt is a Jew.' 'Roosevelt is not a Jew!' from the frightened figher pilot...Political discussion on the edge of a pitchfork."
Ah yes, my father's hold. The Depresson. The war.
He had not only survived, but prevailed. And here I was going off to try and kill myself as a fighter pilot.
So we children of immigrants kill ourselves in smaller, less glamorous ways, find, eventually that each immigrant and each immigrant's son somehow ends up in a kind of trap, like a musk ox, out of his ordinary millieu, banging against the cage, kicking the pricks.
"You have hang-ups nobody else has got," says a girlfriend.
I say nothing.
Things are in the saddle, and they are riding hell out of me. Seems lately, out of all of us.