Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Jerry: Wisdom for the Great Big, Fascinating, Downright Nonthinking World

Eleven years ago today the music scene lost one of its most interesting figures. Jerry Garcia was only 53 when he died of a heart attack after a longsuffering history with addiction and other health problems. But in that short life, he left a wealth of music and wisdom for the rest of us lucky enough to still be around to consider these.

I'm still unlearning what I "knew" about Garcia and the Dead, and approaching their work in a completely fresh way. These were real musicians, not some merry band of emptyheaded guitar-toting pied pipers leaping over the countryside in a VW van.

And they were real people, with real concerns about the world, real frustration at the general absurdity of war, hunger, poverty, the environment, racism, corporate collusion, and pretty much every other plague we're still fighting today.

At this point in my life, I'm still trying to help people see, and do something about, the absurd nature of things. This I have learned is a completely pointless venture, but I can't help myself.

The exchange I had today is a good example. My son’s school requires parents to purchase for their 7th graders a special calculator that is, we are told, geared toward Ohio’s testing requirements. Now, for starters, I’m not sure why we have to have a special calculator when his dad just bought him one last year. Of course the answer is probably a combination of clever marketing and public policy in a state with an educational system driven almost entirely by standardized testing. Nonetheless, the end result is that we have to buy another calculator which we’re supposed to believe is ideal for something to do with Ohio. Fine. Whatever.

Then there is the actual acquisition of said calculator. Rather than purchasing the calculators in quantity and reselling them to parents, the school directs parents to purchase these items directly from the company. There is no other place to secure the calculators except evidently at the company's Web site. Again, unnecessarily silly, but whatever. My kid's gotta have it, so I gotta eat it.

I visit the Web site of the company which I learn is not really set up for retail sales. They do most of their business third party through schools as wholesale customers. They have a standard shipping charge for all customers, whether the sale is for one or 100 calculators. So.

I have to pay $9 for the calculator,which seemed like a bargain -- until I learned I’d have to pay another $8 to have it shipped north from a community that is barely an hour away.

Were I being asked to pay $17 for the product, including shipping and handling, I probably would not even have thought twice about the issue of value. I can’t get a calculator at Target for much less than that. But the psychological leap to parting with $8 just to get hands on a $9 item just makes no damn sense. You would think other people would notice this, including school purchasing managers, the principals of the company, and maybe other parents.

In my stupor and disbelief, and to be certain there wasn't some critical piece of data I was missing, I questioned this. Big mistake. Can't I see that's the shipping price?! It is clearly is stated right there on the order form -- and what more authority would one possibly need?! So the long and short of it is that the company is going to charge me what it costs to ship ten calculators even though I'm only buying one, the schools didn’t plan ahead to prevent me from wasting my money, and my kid gets a $17 calculator that really only costs $9.

Many of you are probably wondering why I make such a big deal out of something so simple. But it’s a big deal precisely because it’s so simple. That company does not have to charge me or anyone else eight bucks to send me one calculator. But they can ram it down my throat because I don't have a choice, because nobody thought about offering a choice, and nobody thought about asking for one.

The way people accept and live by other people's constructs is dangerous and amazing. This really is not a thinking world, or I should say, it seems we as a species are simply a vapid, following bunch happy to dance around in other people's constructs. We are governed by our lack of questioning and common sense. Our country is led by it. Some people seem to thrive on it. Our children are spoon fed it. Few question it.

Eventually I will learn that to point out something illogical that is also costly, time-consuming, offensive, ineffective, duplicative, insulting, really stupid, or just plain wasteful is a huge waste of time. The objects of my query typically defend their reasoning with pride. People who are making a buck off the fact that folks aren't paying attention are not people with much capacity to change.

At the end of the day, I know I will pretend to like and even accept some of these constructs. Other people's entire worlds depend on these constructs. Someday I will be in a better position to step away and let them fall, and my children and I will make a run for common sense, dignity, and fewer layers of bullshit.

By Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia

Saw a bird with a tear in his eye
Walking to New Orleans my oh my
Hey, now, Bird, wouldn't you rather die
Than walk this world when you're born to fly?

If I was the sun, I'd look for shade
If I was a bed, I would stay unmade
If I was a river I'd run uphill
If you call me you know I will
If you call me you know I will

Ooo, freedom Ooo, libertyOoo, leave me alone
To find my own way home
To find my own way home

Say what I mean and I don't give a damn
I do believe and I am who I am
Hey now Mama come and take my hand
Whole lotta shakin' all over this land

If I was an eagle I'd dress like a duck
Crawl like a lizard and honk like a truck
If I get a notion I'll climb this tree or chop it down and you can't stop me
Chop it down and you can't stop me

Ooo, freedom
Ooo, liberty
Ooo, leave me alone
To find my own way home
To find my own way home

Went to the well but the water was dry
Dipped my bucket in the clear blue sky
Looked in the bottom and what did I see?
The whole damned world looking back at me

If I was a bottle I'd spill for love
Sake of mercy I'd kill for love
If I was a liar I'd lie for love
Sake of my baby I'd die for love
Sake of my baby I'd die for love

Ooo, freedom
Ooo, liberty
Ooo, leave me alone
To find my own way home
To find my own way home
I'm gonna find my own way home


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