Not only does art often hit the nail on the head, it drives that nail as deep as it needs to go. And Ethan and Joel Coen know how to use a hammer.
It was back in high school when I noticed the change. Most of the seniors, all the cool ones anyway, hung out under the Senior Tree, the gathering spot for those who were going places. I was going nowhere. I knew this from the moment I entered high school and got a strong whiff of what my future held; stifling conformity, doing work I had no interest in for the benefit of others, yielding to the wishes of those more aggressive, and being asked to speak your mind when you knew damn well no one cared what it’s contents were.
Happily those days are behind me. I had a great time during those four years, but it had nothing to do with school. I lacked the desire for a career, whatever that meant. Ambition was nearly non-existent in me. When I recall the times roaming Hollywood, Santa Monica, downtown, and elsewhere in southern California going to concerts, museums, independent movie theaters and bookstores, and cooling off in the placid Pacific ocean, an inner peace comes over me that’s irreplaceable. It was the best liberal education I could have received… and I gave it to myself.
But back to the Senior Tree. Day after day, seniors stood underneath and around it, acting foolish while hatching plans for world conquest, commonly known as the path to success. Belief systems crystallized in conjunction with these plans, systems unalterable and impenetrable. I felt like I was living in a foreign land. All this preparation for the endless grind ahead made me queasy. I didn’t belong in that world. I understood I was going to have to work in some menial labor-intensive fashion, and I was okay with it. We all work to make other’s rich, if we’re not working for ourselves. At that point in my life I became aware that writing would be my release. It would make my particular ‘endless grind’ easier to swallow.
Meanwhile, I missed as much school as possible, graduating by two credits. That intentional calculation would prove to be the reigning accomplishment of my high school career.
Years later I’m in Virginia. The solitude has been life-changing, except for one thing. As I’ve matured I’ve seen that the Senior Tree has shape-shifted into a mysterious Dragon living in nearly everyone’s garage. It goes like this:
I’m walking through my neighborhood. It’s a delicate, cool morning with a touch of heat. The spring colors dazzle the eyes. About a block from home a regular looking Joe is standing on his driveway, doing nothing. He says hi.
“How’s it going?” I say.
“Good. Did you know I’ve got a fire-breathing Dragon in my garage?”
Instead of wishing him to have a nice day, I make the mistake of engaging him in dialog. I’m making an effort to be more a part of the human race, so in order to do that, I need to speak to the inhabitants from time to time. “Interesting. Can I have a look?”
He takes out his keys, presses a button, and the garage door goes up. There’s plenty to look at, but no Dragon in sight.
“”Where is it?” I ask, greatly anticipating his response.
“It’s right over there,” he says, pointing toward the door leading to the kitchen. “I forgot to tell you he’s an invisible Dragon.”
If that’s the case, I tell him, let’s spread flour on the floor to see if we can get footprints.
“That would work,” he says with disappointment, “but this Dragon floats in the air.”
“Well then, we’ll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.”
The man shakes his head. “His fire is heatless.”
I’m getting annoyed, and almost turn to go home. But I’m stupid, and press on. I point to the shelves on the wall. “I see you’ve got spray paint. Let’s spray around the door area and make him visible.”
“He lacks any material constitution. The paint won’t stick.”
“I think I left my oven on,” I say, walking briskly toward the safety of my front door and laugh. What’s the difference between an invisible, immaterial, floating Dragon who spits heatless fire, and no Dragon at all?
Inspired by a Carl Sagan parable