Saturday, May 02, 2009

Half a Glass of Poison

"You are a cynical crapehanger who always sees the glass half-empty!"
"No, you're wrong. I see the glass half full, but of poison."
- Woody Allen, Scoop 2008

There are few things as annoying to me as the eternal optimist. "She'll grow out of it." "Things are looking up." "Look at the butterflies."

Throughout my life - at every stage, I've had to live with inane comments - from optimists.

When I was young, it didn't really worry me. Things don't really "matter" when one is young. "It'll be better when you have a job," maiden aunts would tell me when I'd had to give up university because my mother couldn't pay the fees and my dad was an alcoholic non wage-earner Trotskyite in New Zealand. Sure. I went with it.

But I was so much older then", as Bob Zimmerman explains. "I'm younger than that now."

And so now, I'm sorry, but I'm not so tolerant when it comes to dealing with optimists. Or ... let me qualify that ... with selective optimists. For it seems to me that the so-called optimists are not optimistic about everything - only about things that effect others.

I have a friend of over one quarter of a century. When I met her I was wandering in a park. The park was not far from where I lived. The locals called it "MacArthur Park". But no one left any cake out in the rain. We were too poor to eat cake and Eddie Izzard of Izzard of "Cake or Death" was merely a future glint in his daddy's eye.

The would-be-friend saw me in the park and invited me to her house for afternoon tea. I accepted and crossed the road to her place, where upon I was led into her dining room. Of sorts. There I saw a number of people (12?) arranged around long table. Visions of da Vinci's "Last Supper". On the table was an impeccably starched and ironed linen table-cloth. Later I was to discover she was Ukrainian.

In the centre of the table-cloth was a very small silver tea-pot. It would have held perhaps, one cup. I didn't turn it over, for obvious reasons. But had I, I am certain it would have read, "Property of Victorian Railways". Seated at the table there were 12 people, 12 cups. And matching saucers..

I sat down and stared. As impractical as I was, and how much more impractical can one be, than an Arts student in 1968 at the University of Melbourne? - I could not imagine how that little silver teacup could serve 12+ people.

My to-be-friend however, was not to be defeated. She, in her Annie Hall clothes (several years before Annie Hall ever walked upon the silver screen), shrugged, looked innocent, held the tiny teapot up, and with a Marilyn Monroe smile, looked convincingly helpless.

It was on that day that I learned how to be a woman.

Decades have passed and we are in another century. The optimism of the tea cup has paled. I think of those dreadful books and films - the YaYa Sisterhood, the Denim Pants Society , the Traveling T-shirt Pumpkin Letter Writers. My god. But at the core of their assinity there's a certain - je ne sais quoi. And I'm not going there.

The teacup. The optimism. The impracticality.

Thing have changed. My friend and I have moved on. But I've not mastered the art of pessimistic optimism. To me the tea-cup is neither full or empty. It's just a tea cup.

But my friend... Well, there's the rub.

"Hello", I'll say on the phone. "How's things?"

"Oh", she'll answer. "My daughter, well blah, blah, blah... She had a headache and dropped a pen What will I do?"

"Half yer luck", I might respond. "Mine's on heroin and ice and has overdosed. She's preggers, has no $$ and her boyfriend is a wife basher. Plus all her teeth were knocked out and she's been arrested".

"Oh, but she's smart and she'll grow out of it I'm sure," says my friend. "But my daughter X my God her boyfriend just won film producer of the year and she's jealous. So neurotic. What shall I do?"

"Have a cup of tea out of that silver teacup", I want to say. But I can't.

Instead I commiserate. "Yes that's SO bad. How long has this been going on?" I ask. "How DO you cope. Blah blah".

And pour myself a cup of tea.

The poison can come later.

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