There comes a time when any snob must ask himself if there really is any point in cultivating his ability to make critical distinctions between different refined things, whether it is looking at Picassos or tasting fancy red wines. The crisis usually arises from a nagging realization that the pursuit of such highly refined items is ultimately unsustainable for mankind, against entropy, and in many cases, against even one’s own personal happiness. In other words, I’m talking about having to live in the Midwest.


What happens when there is no good wine, no good cheese, no Matisse? It hurts. A lot. Actually. But if you can survive long enough, you may discover that the skills you develop at the high end can actually help you to enjoy seemingly more trivial distinctions at the lower end. And that’s good because this is where you need it. To be able to enjoy the difference between a good frozen entrée (Ethnic Gourmet) and a not so good one (South Beach Diet). Okay well that doesn’t take a lot of skill. You just have to be sober. But to make such distinctions between, say, two similar Lean Cuisine entrées. That may take a bit of skill. Such skills may indeed lead one to question one’s sanity, or to be more precise, it may lead others to question my sanity. But for my part, I can assure you these very same skills can make life in the Midwest possible. Comparing the quality of one parking ticket to another. The handwriting. The grain of the paper. Fascinating. Hey, that gas station’s only got two pumps? That one there has four. Awning? Full speed ahead. Reverse! Increase. Decrease. Man over bored. To glory! Awesome.


“What about an apple?” you say. Yes, what about an apple? The pure thing? Absolutely. If it is of high quality, then yes. wonderful. A lot of third-worlders would be right there with you. Because they have climate, and slowness, on their side. But here again, quality is everything. The fruit or fish or nut by itself can bring the greatest delight to the unspoilt heart. But make no mistake, a bad apple by itself is dreadful. Peanut butter can mask the badness of a bad apple just like a lot of Cajun spice can mask the flavor of old meat. A good cantaloupe is from God. A bad cantaloupe is hopeless. Indeed, this is not an argument against the enjoyment of pure gifts from nature. I am merely saying when you are presented with two things which are both in some way inferior or fake or insincere, you can at least derive a sense of enjoyment in knowing you have chosen the lesser of two evils. You can make something, out of nothing. In the Midwest. Bring a camera.



April 2007