Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Prufrock Ponders Peaches

Prufrock had had enough. He couldn’t take it another moment. He fled the room where all women were talking about the New York Times article, “Some Ignorance Can Cure Chronic Buyer’s Remorse,” by Alina Tugend.

The article explains how people, more then ever, are agonizing in making decisions: small decisions as well as big decisions. There are just too many choices, too much information to sift through. It’s infuriating. Just going to the supermarket can turn into an ordeal. The amount of choices that are available to the consumer is mind boggling. There are dozens of types of cereals, spreads, coffees, sodas, and a gazillion types of potato chips. There’s the fine print to read, the weight of the boxes and the prices to compare. The article also mentioned Timothy Wilson’s book “Strangers To Ourselves,” wherein he writes about his research and observations on the confusion of many consumers. Consumers seem to be shell shocked, walking around dazed, not really knowing what to buy, and not being satisfied with their decision after they do buy something.

Prufrock found himself standing alone in the produce aisle of the neighborhood grocery eyeing the peaches. And indeed, he too began to agonize. “Do I dare eat a peach? Where are they from? Chili, Taiwan, China? They’ve gotten awfully expensive. Are they worth it? I wonder if they’re dry inside. And they can’t be very healthy with all the pesticides they use? I could wind up with cancer or Alzheimer’s. And look at these grapes, apples and strawberries. They’re not much better.”

Plagued by indecision Prufrock fled the grocery and wandered through half deserted streets. A lot of the houses were empty because of the mortgage foreclosures. Prufrock still had his home, but who knew for how long. He recently lost heavily in the stock market. He had thought surely that Bear Stearns was solid. But he had been proven wrong. He wondered if any decision he made can ever again be right or satisfying. Prufrock desperately wanted to save face. He thought there was still time, time to prepare a face to meet the faces that he would meet. He wanted to appear composed and successful at the fag end of life. At least he could have that.

But that image shattered when he caught a glimpse of himself in a store window. His hair had grown thin. And his arms and legs had gotten so thin. He was overcome with worry and wasn’t eating properly. Surely people would talk. In his youth he thought about daring to disturb his universe. But as it turned out, that was only a passing phase, and ultimately he carefully and deliberately measured out his life with coffee spoons. His life had been filled with so many details, so much minutiae and, of course, appearances to maintain. So many decisions and indecisions, and a hundred visions and revisions. Where would it all end???

He hurried on not knowing where to. “It was for the best,” he thought. “After all, the little things are important.… But what did I really do with my life? I could have easily been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the ocean floors. I didn’t have the guts to force the moment to its crisis.… I have wept and fasted and prayed. But who am I kidding. I’m no prophet. I saw death waiting and yes, I am afraid…. But I should have squeezed the universe into a ball and rolled it toward some overwhelming question. It would have been damn well worth it…. But no, that’s not me. Instead, I settled for the novels and teacups and skirts….”

Then Prufrock heard the Sunday morning church bells. People came and went from the churches. So many churches in town: Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian; what to speak of , the Unitarians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and even the Hare Krishnas. His mind was terrified. This was all too much for him. He decided to go for a calming walk on the beach.

“There’s too many choices, too many decisions to make. Even when it comes to religion. How can we ever sort it all out.” And his mind drifted back to his beloved peaches. “…. Now I grow old. I grow old. Perhaps I shall wear my trousers rolled. Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare eat a peach?…. I have lingered here and there, lingered by the ocean, lingered with the sea-girls. I have admired their beauty….”

Then the unique beauty of all the women he had known in his life unfolded in his mind’s eye, and in that instance he caught a glimpse of the truth. “Maybe that’s the way it is with religions,” he mused, “each offering their unique perspective and voice of the Divine. And maybe someday, if I’m lucky, a voice will wake me from my dream and my false ego will drown.”