Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Blinded by the Light

An acquaintance, a woman I have known more than decade, once told me she had discovered the secret to a happy life. Over coffee one day I waited for her to tell me and she took her time doing so. She deliberated deeply, as if her revelation might best be kept secret from unbelievers like me, and then she said, “Stay out of the idiot spotlight.”  She took another minute or two, nodded and added, “If you do that, you’ll be just fine.” Then she stood up, pecked me on the cheek and walked away clutching her purse.

I’ve thought about that phrase often as the idiot spotlight shines with burning intensity on a variety of Loony Tunes characters—senators and businessmen, potential presidential candidates, actors and athletes, a panoply of men and women (but mostly men) who might have become celebrated for less reckless reasons had they taken care to not stand in that harsh and merciless brilliance. But they did, so screw ‘em. I have absolutely no compassion for the people I will call fortunate idiots, folks with education, resources, loving families, bright futures and opportunities most never dream of having, folks who, at the heart of it all, should know better and somehow don’t. I don’t quite understand them, either. Does the idiot spotlight attract them, moth-like, or do they think the beam only falls on lesser men?

Because really, one does not bask in the idiot spotlight by accident; in fact the light’s brightness is so often crowded—indeed jam-packed—that one almost has to make a reservation.  Often, the spotlight is activated by an action that defies good sense, and a follow-up of denial in the face of absolute evidence. This in and of itself deserves a secondary illumination, something we might call the Dull Glimmer of Brainlessness.

The DGB, in many cases, eventually leads to a realization that denial has become more costly than truth ever could be. Ironically, there follows a chorus of Hank Williams’ classic I Saw the Light, in which the sinner, this time visited by a different radiance of atonement and humility, tells all, begs for forgiveness from family and constituents,  admits to having a problem and promises to deal with it. Then he (again, we are dealing mostly with he’s) enters a rehab where shortcoming are identified, faced, and dealt with prior to reintegration into society and, often, a return to old behaviors. Sometimes the rehabs give little graduating certificates, but these rarely end up framed and hung.

I’ve been singed by the idiot spotlight more than once, and it has never been pleasant. I like to think I learned something from every instance, though I can’t swear to it. But to date I have not Tweeted photos of my crotch, nor used public moneys to pay off a mistress, nor propositioned men in the Minneapolis airport.  As other friends have told me, it’s all a question of progress, not perfection, so I suppose I’m doing something right.

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