It’s easy to be numb. It’s simple to be desensitized. Apathy is in style these days, but it is nothing new. The coolest cats in history were the Lotus Eaters, that group of drooling zombies that Odysseus encountered on his journey back from the Trojan War, which I recently found out was NOT a war over condoms, even though they weren’t nearly as abundant as they are these days and, considering how the Greeks party, probably not a bad idea to have as many on hand as possible. No, the big takeaway from the Trojan War is to always look a gift horse in the mouth. Had the citizens of Troy exercised a little caution and actually investigated the large wooden statue that the Achaeans left them as a parting gift, they might’ve noticed the thing was full of enemy soldiers waiting to catch them off guard. That thing was just begging to be re-gifted, maybe to Egypt or Phrygia. Egypt is full of gaudy bric-a-brac like pyramids and that half-man half-lion thing, and Phrygia was home to King Midas, who brought bad taste to new heights by turning everything to gold. Stick a big wooden horse right next to it all and call it a day. O well. The gullibility of Troy is one of history’s great lessons. Unfortunately people are really bad at heeding history’s lessons.
Which brings us to Odysseus and the Lotus Eaters. After the war it took Odysseus ten years to make it back home to Ithaca, which, considering he was a general in the war, means that the whole army wasn’t the sharpest set of knives in the drawer. A jellyfish could’ve made that trip in a fraction of the time. No wonder the war itself took ten years to win, and only after duping the other side into accepting a big awkward statue of a horse. The Trojan War should be renamed the War of Dumb and Dumber. On his way back home Odysseus stops at an island inhabited by a bunch of tosspots. They lay around all day gorging themselves on opium flowers, which means that he somehow sailed all the way over to the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco, circa 1966, and back again. (In fact, this essay is fast becoming as pointless and rambling as Odysseus’s journey, which is a clever form of conceptual art.) Of all the cautionary tales that Odysseus offers, the one that the modern world has embraced is that of the Lotus Eaters, and kind of in the opposite way. We consistently eat from the flower of not-giving-a-shit.
Recently, boat journeys in the Aegean and Mediterranean were back in the headlines, and leave it to the muckraking journalists at the Benetton Clothing Co. to bring us the news. They have been working diligently to deliver the hardscrabble truth about the plight of European asylum seekers by releasing a series of ads depicting an overcrowded float of fashionable refugees floating around the Mediterranean Sea. Sculpted and haunting, these sexy migrants can be seen relaxing in the sun, blue waters abound, fondling each other and yucking it up as they drift listlessly looking for a safe port of entry. Not since Gilligan’s Island has the tragedy of stranded humans been so honestly rendered. The Mediterranean, after all, is a popular vacation destination for the rich and beautiful. It’s like somebody complaining that they are “stranded” in Aspen, stuck on a raft in the heated pool at the Hotel Jerome. We should all be so lucky. I never realized that the horror of overcrowded rafts full of people fleeing civil war actually include a fully stocked bar, a lido deck, shuffleboard, and nightly limbo contests. You can’t beat the sunsets, the casinos payout daily, there is a driving range and skeet shooting off the stern, and the chefs are world class. Nothing to worry about. Most every person dreams of giving up the daily drudgery of their lives and sailing around the world, and here are these insouciant men, women and children actually doing it, coasting along without a care in the world. Benetton has given their struggle a kind of hip and glamorous edge, and we all want to be hip and glamorous, so, in a way, problem solved. I have a house, a car, food for days and all the booze I can drink, but I’ve never been in a fashion magazine, which means I’m the real victim.
Every party must come to an end, eventually, and there is still the issue of allowing these orphaned citizens entry into a place without bombs, bullets, nerve gas, rapists, marauders, and constant bombardment, and for this, I have the perfect plan based on my careful scrutiny of history and its past successes. I’m heading over to Europe with all the necessary diagrams and specs. You see, rescue and aid workers can start construction on this big hollowed out horse and…
More Alembics to come.