Under the Bell Curve

Under the Bell Curve

With all apologies to both Ms Plath and Mr Cobain

The Bell curve may not be quite the right term, though it certainly is no “jar.” As a young, entitled white kid who came from a family embarrassing stuck in a working-class lifestyle with a very middle-class mindset, I had notions. I admit, looking back, until now, it never occurred to me that my thoughts might not have been unique.

To me, the other families on Mona Lisa Drive in Montgomery Alabama in the 1960s, and later in slightly less geographically defined area, were rather mindlessly going through the motions of life. These motions I could not understand. I mean I fully understood what they were doing. They were going to school, the parents worked in offices. Mr. Stewart was a salesman for an insurance company and every two years they either gave him the Chevy he had been driving or sold it to him very cheaply, so it became his wife’s car and he got a new one.

There was the lady across the street with the yappy Pekinese, and the little boy who I preferred to not play with unless nobody else was available, there was Dusty, and his mom. Dusty was our number one cool kid. If Happy Days had already been on the air, we would probably have called him the Fonz. I assumed his dad had died.

We never talked about it. Maybe his parents were divorced. I imagine that would have been enough of a scandal we would have talked about it. Mrs. Pekinese chain smoked and was unpleasant in her appearance. Again, until I started writing this, it never occurred to me that she would have ever been married. This is certainly due to the sexist little mind I had as a six-to-ten-year old boy.

Mona Lisa Drive, was not where I was born, it was in the middle, nearer the end than the beginning of the 13 homes I lived in from birth until I left for college and eventually lived (so far) in another 15 homes. But of all the places I lived, it was the first real neighborhood, as opposed to country houses. It formed my idea of America and Americans in a way no other place ever has. Maybe it was the wrong microcosm. Maybe I misread my neighbors and friends. Maybe I didn’t.

The point, and Mona Lisa Drive’s role in it, is, it seemed like my friends and neighbors were ants, living not so much in their ant hill, as in an ant farm. From my 6th birthday party/welcome to the neighborhood party, organized by my mother about two weeks after we moved there, until, now, literally as I write these words, (I realize my understanding of that time is changing) my perception of Americans, and maybe humans, were they don’t think, they certainly didn’t dream, or if they dreamed it was of ridiculous dreams. Of Barbie dolls and real leather footballs and chemistry sets and pretty dresses, and the grownups weren’t much more impressive.

I still don’t know if everybody dreams like me, if they think like me, if they should, or even if it matters. But it seems like it should matter. Does it matter that I ever had “special” dreams, that I still do? That I thought my life should matter somehow. I have now lived long enough to watch both of my parents die, and before them my grandparents, and along the way most of my aunts and uncles. Some of them seemed to live meaningful lives, and have meaningful hopes and dreams. Some of them seemed to live completely void and pointless lives. Now they are all dead.

Does it matter? I don’t mean in any hereafter that may or may not exist. I mean here. Today. Or even 30 years ago. Or 30 years after tomorrow, or approximately a week after I am dead? Is being meaningful only wrapped up in the moment of that meaning? Should we strive to be exceptional? Do we have any choice? Are most humans, at least most Americans, or at least most working-class/middle-class white Americans lives filled with getting to Friday? And planning a trip or a shopping excursion or how to pay the bills? Is there more? For most people? For EVERYONE?

You might say I am asking if, “andriods dream of electric sheep?” Well, do they? Sometimes I stand on this planet and wonder if there are any more of my kind here, but more often, I wonder if almost everybody here is just like me, only I am too dumb to see it.

So, if you dream of Barbies and sit empty headed on the couch watching the Packers, or if you are like me, or even different from both. Send up a signal, light a flare, declare “which side you are on!”

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