Thursday, February 27, 2014

unspeakable heaven

The topic of a public television presentation last night was the construction of "One57," a thousand-foot skyscraper in New York City. Dubbed "The Billionaire Building," its apartments afford unrivaled views of Central Park, sport solid marble bath tubs and have price tags that seemed to hover in the $19-million-apiece realm... or $90 million for a penthouse.

There was something weird in it. Why was I watching this show? Why did I keep watching it? Beyond or before the fact that I like human creativity and its applications, there was a sense that I should understand what was going on because this was, after all, a human endeavor and I too was human.

Maybe I should understand, but somehow I didn't. It was weird. I might understand heroin addicts or motorcycle enthusiasts or religious nut jobs, but this was somehow off my charts. Maybe I was supposed to feel greedy or diminished, but that wasn't it.

I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for ... something -- some way to assimilate and digest and connect.

The show went on and on ... a trip to Italy to assess the perfection of hunks and slabs of the 'finest' marble; a connection with an English company that made the 'finest' kitchens; the difficulties of installing the machinery that would keep the glass-everywhere windows clean.

It was all huge and assertive and gave meaning to the observation that "money is no object." This project was so opulent that it left opulence in the dust. It was the particular difficulties of bath tubs or ceiling tiles that filled out the story line. And one difficulty after another was overcome. It was a 'success,' but I was unsuccessful, somehow.

I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for ... something. Surely there had to be a punch line to this story, some resounding satisfaction, some pleasure, some joy, some something that would bring this life to this enclosed and self-referential exercise. I kept waiting for something and I didn't know what that something was. I could not avert my eyes: Dr. Frankenstein stitched and sewed and took enormous, attentive care and surely his creation would rise from the operating table at some point, wouldn't it?

I could feel my own social commentaries hovering in the background -- the obscene amounts of money spent while others went hungry or uneducated or were left medically bereft. I could hear the nattering of the Occupy Wall Street pickets pointing out income disparities. I could hear the social outrage I might employ in other times, but I was like a deer in the headlights -- frozen, trying to understand the mind of this creation ... and I couldn't. Literally couldn't. If I could understand, then, later, I would decide if I liked or disliked it, use it as some moralistic fodder, or simply reconfigure it for my own biased satisfaction. But I was left empty-handed.

This was like watching "The Walking Dead" ... it looked human and I was human and yet the humanity was somehow disturbingly elusive. What was I waiting for? What circuitry did I lack that left me unable to connect with a human endeavor? It felt weird -- not good or bad, just weird.

By the end of the video, I collapsed or surrendered or something. There were things I was incapable of knowing and I was forced to come up with facile conclusions: This was wealth without class; this was the latest version of the upstart American women who went to England and married their wealth to the prestige of a nobility that was flat broke after World War I. This was ... facile... facile... facile.

It was facile because, infusing the scene like smog in Beijing or scentless nerve gas on the battle front, there was the gently pressing sadness of what I was waiting for.

I was waiting for love.

I was waiting for the flaw that soars the human heart.

Surely there must be some hint, even within the detritus of egregious and obscene spending, that someone actually loved something. My mind begged for this foothold and found no purchase. It was not a criticism. It was a sadness. So much effort, so much care, so much creativity ... and Dr. Frankenstein's creation lay lifeless on the table.

Smooth, well-educated, well-heeled, creatively endowed ... and lifeless.

It was beyond hell in my mind. It was worse by far -- an unspeakable heaven.

But that's just the way I felt it. There's no telling someone else to love something but I could wistfully wish: A heroin addict, a motorcycle enthusiast, a religious nut job ... rise up and love something; grab a bit of peace.

Maybe money and power and control are OK. I'll never know -- it just strikes me as dead men walking through a desolate and desolating land.

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