Musings & Observations / Barry Halpin
Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, life goes on, brah! Lala, how the life goes on. -- The Beatles
I still have my front row center seat to the ongoing Theater of the Absurd production that is life today, and as the Summer TV season kicks off with a spate of new reality programming, once again there isn't a reality show that can come close to competing with the reality of life today. It's not reality that counts but our perception of reality and the way I see it, there is no show on television that can compare with the reality shows that have held me captive over the years.
We live in an overhyped world. We're bombarded every day with messages on how to look great, feel great, eat great, get a great job, get a great return on our investments, have a great marriage, have great kids (and have them get into a great college) -- in fact be great in every aspect of our lives -- and anything less is totally out of the question.
I've always felt happiness -- once again, Denmark has been voted the happiest country in the world, while the United States didn't make the top 10 -- equals reality divided by expectations, so if you are feeling particularly deficient in any of the above areas and are unwilling to lower your expectations, those ads and infomercials are most likely talking to you.
They would love for you to bolt out of your armchair, dial the 1-800 number on the screen and order the "Becoming a Better Me" self-help tapes, the best seller "How To Get Rich Selling Real Estate in Your Spare Time," those miraculous green diet pills which help you lose five pounds a day, the EZ liposuction at-home kit and whatever else they're selling. Don't forget to read the fine print on the package.
If you are not totally satisfied, you can return the product for a full refund. Of course you will have to spend at least an hour navigating through a phone system that plays music that makes you want to scream and has more options than your favorite restaurant; the whole experience equivalent to being sucked into one of those black holes in outer space. If you're lucky enough to finally reach a real person, she will invariably tell you, "have a nice day" after having made your day as miserable as possible.
If you really want to overindulge, you can hire a life coach: someone to help you get through a tough patch, help you have a great day every day and transform your reality into a better place to live. The newly created Life Coach U. online is now offering a one-year combined undergraduate/masters/ PHD/postdoctoral program.
My daughters recently took home their 10th consecutive Dramatis Personae awards for best performance in a starring role in an ongoing drama. Critics called their work in "Existential Angst -- What Do We Do After College," "brilliant" and "sublimely magical," and noted that they truly captured the agony and the ecstasy of the rite of passage into adulthood. My wife and I accepted congratulations for our supporting roles.
Here are some recent family highlight moments from the ongoing reality show I'm living in:
It's 6:30 a.m. and my wife hands me an updated to-do list and asks how I'm coming along with some of my recent assignments. She has an arsenal of WMDs (weapons of mental disruption) at her disposal, including the Cheshire Cat "gotcha" grin, the penetrating "I'm waiting until you see it my way" stare, and the all powerful, unnerving "look." I'm incapable of marshaling the necessary resources to counter any of her weapons, so I mumble how I'll really try and get things done soon as possible.
I'm making my signature scrambled eggs with fresh spinach for Kelly; I crack the shell and accidentally drop the egg on the kitchen floor, just as she walks in.
"Dad, you're not going to use that egg."
"It fell on the floor."
"It's a known scientific fact that nothing bad can happen to food that falls on the floor if you pick it up within five seconds."
"I subscribe to the no-second rule."
"It's perfectly safe."
"Fine. You eat it!"
On a recent trip to Isabelle et Vincent, for croissants and cafe-au-lait, Erin blurts out, "Dad, I have your ADD gene. I also have your overanxious, as mom puts it, `bull in the china shop' gene. Kelly didn't get any of this. I can't believe it! Why me?"
Without ever channeling Sherlock Holmes, watching one episode of "CSI" or consulting with Dr. Henry Lee, my amateur sleuth and cryptologist daughter has seemingly cracked the age old mystery of the Halpin DNA Code, a task more daunting than trying to decipher the Da Vinci Code. It seems I have only passed along variations of my hyperactive, talking-way-too-fast-in-a-Bronx, N.Y. -- accent, impatient, attention-span-of-a-gnat, Gemini gene.
As we devour our croissants, I say my mea culpas, while feeling a sense of pride in her deductive powers, which I would like to believe she has gotten from my as-yet-uncredited sleuthing gene.
With a big smile on her face, Erin says, "Oh by the way Dad, I'm glad you gave me the Love of Classic Rock gene."
"Thanks, sweetie, it's good to hear I managed to pass on some quality DNA stuff to you."
"OK, Dad, we can go now."
"C'mon Erin, the cafe-au-lait and croissant are to be savored and I don't recall being in a rush to get anywhere."
"Guess that's the impatient gene you gave me kicking in."
Erin loves to point the fickle finger of blame. Over the years, she has kept a mental laundry list of various slights and offenses both minor and major, periodically bringing them up. The mysterious disappearance of the Polly Pockets and how she never got the goat she always wanted are two of the more memorable.
"I hope you're not going to bring up the goat now, kiddo."
She gives me her, "I'm not amused" look, and I do my best possible goat impression. She laughs, I reach over and tousle her hair. It's one of those small Dad/Erin moments I have come to cherish.
A few weeks later, it's another dreaded Sunday family trip to IKEA. I've always felt that the true test for any family is to shop at IKEA for a large item with many parts, like the Gorm storage system, then go home and try and put it together without wanting to rip each others' heads off.
My wife puts on her official project manager's cap, and I adopt my Tool Man superhero persona, but we still run into a snafu trying to figure out how to position the component parts to begin to put them together. Erin invokes the, "I graduated from Parsons School of Design with a degree in product design, know how to work with wood and know what I'm doing, Mom," which is countered by my wife's, "I don't care where you went to school. You're still my daughter, and you're doing it in the wrong sequence."
What follows is the requisite shouting and finger pointing, a cacophony of "careful, careful, Dad," "I told you so," "if you're so smart, go ahead and do it yourself," and "ouches" from wrenches smacking fingers. Finally a collective sigh of relief, a group hug and we're finished.
My thoughts run to the Chinese greeting in which you wish happiness, prosperity and longevity, with happiness seen as a houseful of kids. All I can do is smile.
Barry Halpin is a prevention specialist for Liberation Programs, a substance abuse health-care agency based in Stamford that provides substance abuse counseling to adolescents and their families in New Canaan and Darien. He's also the director of the county-wide Peer Players, an adolescent theater company. E-mail him at email@example.com.