The Palace of Distraction
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Like most Americans, the Urban Man tries to stay as distracted as possible throughout his day. There's coffee, there's YouTube, there's email, blogs, Britney, Brad, Hillary, Barack and Angelina. And if all that fails...which it never does...there's the ceaseless reconfiguration of my digital devices.
Should I ever let such distractions fall below a certain minimum, I'm concerned I might, you know, get too deeply involved in life: Worry. Love. Fulfill my deepest purpose.
The secret of successful politics may be to distract voters from fundamental issues. The secret of a good courtroom defense may be to muddy the agenda with irrelevant motions. And surely, the same must be true of everyday life: you don't want time to think things through too carefully.
I bring all this up because today, I actually snuck out of the office at high noon to go watch a movie. Now, plenty of folks in L.A. could justify this as a legitimate business activity, but I'm not one of them: I just had a tough morning, and I figured a film would be a more healthy spanner to throw into the windmills of my mind than, say, a two-martini lunch...assuming, of course, I skipped the buttered popcorn.
Naturally, I timed my arrival to the last second—not to waste my precious day on mere previews. And once I found myself in the empty lobby of the cineplex, I sauntered with dignity past the sleepy ticket-taker. Five other slackers joined me in the booming dark of the theater—if you don't count the large cast of the prehistoric epic on the screen, many of whom paraded in loincloths and dreadlocks.
Now, a movie house may be the very palace of distraction, but I suppose you could pay that compliment to our whole city. I mean, lots of folks here make their full-time living distracting others from their full-time living—not to mention beguiling them from their kids, their spouses, and their best intentions.
I have a friend who helped build Splash Mountain, the flume ride at Disneyland, and yes, he once he told me, in so many words, that distraction was his highest vocation. He said, "If I can distract people, if only for a moment, from the hardships of their lives, I believe I will have done significant good in the world." And yes, think of good he has accomplished: the 10 million positive human impacts photographed at the top of the final plunge.
Others build their businesses on the much smaller slots of pleasure I have in my average day: a snatch of music when my phone rings, a latte after lunch, a bag of chips at the gas station.
It's a Faustian deal we have made. The Urban Man must eat more, watch more, listen more. Others must identify new and previously unexploited openings in my attention. In fact, by now, you have to say that the fundamental wisdom of our society rests not on the task at hand, but the proper method of avoiding it.
If we can keep this up, ours may be recalled as one of the great accomplishments of history—the discovery of every possible slot of inattention in the day, and the efficient filling of it.
Up on the screen one more handsome youth tries to avoid his destiny—but cannot. Along the way, he encounters large mastodons, saber-toothed tigers, and well-armed savages. But even with these magnificent images running rampant before my eyes—even with vast tundras and burning deserts, thundering horsemen, and flashing spears—The Urban Man can't help checking his watch, can't seem to keep his mind from slipping back to his own work and life and best intentions.
And yes, before long, I'm forced to go get the buttered popcorn.
Copyright © 2008 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
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