I have always enjoyed writing about Halloween and/or Day of the Dead, but I’d like to take a slightly different approach this time. For all I know both may have passed by the time this reaches print. (I don’t think so; however, the phrase “vagaries of publishing” springs to mind.) As I say, this will be a variation.
What I’ve had in mind is the toll that some three years of this economic depression has taken on the people I see around me. I use the word depression not lightly because I sincerely believe that’s what we’re talking about here, but, of course, no politician will go near the more accurate term.
With the exception of younger people who have known nothing else, I see walking ghosts or the walking dead or near dead; even if they have a rictus of merriment drawn across their faces with either facial muscle or makeup. It strikes me that recent weather has reflected this as well, with only sporadic sunlight, a true anomaly in this part of the world.
Now, this most likely is just me, given my penchant for the darker side of things. But it strikes me that everywhere I look I see a Danse Macabre, no matter how loudly (and often too loudly) the laughter resounds with a seeming desperation — on street corners, buses, malls, and movie theaters featuring humorless and mediocre comedies.
From an encyclopedia entry: “Dance of Death is variously called Danse Macabre (French), Dansa de la Mort (Catalan), Danza Macabra (Italian and Spanish), Dança da Morte (Portuguese), Totentanz (German), and Dodendans (Dutch). It is an artistic genre of late-medieval allegory on the universality of death: no matter one’s station in life, the Dance of Death unites all. The Danse Macabre consists of the dead or personified Death summoning representatives from all walks of life to dance along to the grave, typically with a pope, emperor, king, child, and labourer. They were produced to remind people of the fragility of their lives and how vain were the glories of earthly life. Its origins are postulated from illustrated sermon texts; the earliest recorded visual scheme was a now-lost mural in the Saint Innocents Cemetery in Paris dating from 1424–25.”
Again, this is certain to be a conceit particular to myself and a lifelong history of grisly fascinations reminiscent of Tim Burton’s early short film Vincent, wherein a young neurotic boy considers himself too insane and tormented to go outdoors and play with other kids.
I recently received an email from Java Joe (of local coffee/music-venue fame) in response to what I had intended to be a parody of existential despairists (Sartre, in particular). And Joe posted a bit online about how San Diego was not a place for deep thinking but outdoor fun, etc. “First thing you have to do, John, is double down on the antidepressants. Nobody ever died from taking too many antidepressants, plus, it’ll get you out of the funk you are currently in.” Joe went on to say, “San Diego is not a town for heavy thinking. Everyone goes to the gym, or runs, or rides, or swims, or drinks, but I don’t recommend that for you. Focus on the nothingness that is everything here. Build your body; improve your breathing, become a vegan or go fishing. There’s a bazillion things to do here. But you do have to get off your duff and get into it.”
More than likely, Joe is correct, but I find it difficult to overcome a lifetime of the “Vincent” syndrome. And I’m not sure, but Joe might have been about as serious as I was being in the column in question.
One thing is true: my observations about my fellow San Diegans and the effects of this economic depression on both them and myself are as serious as a heart attack (and I should know). Or cancer. Had that, too. Possibly this explains my perennially un-cheery outlook, but I prefer to think of it as my despairingly poetic nature.
Today, the clouds are like hastily washed and desultorily hung laundry left out in a sunlight too feeble to dry them. I am disturbed by the quote from H.G. Wells I read recently — deadly accurate, it seems — as to how human beings are much like naked apes nodding sagely to each other in the dung pile. Still, hardly as disturbing as the looks I see (coincidentally, as Halloween and the Day of the Dead approach) on the faces of the people on the number seven bus, or at Walmart, people who look as if they had just discovered that life is hardly a polka march to the grave but a sadistic and moralless Punch and Judy show.