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Stating the obvious, for the record | Chuck's World


Last updated 9/6/2017 at Noon

My wife dropped our car off at the dealership last week for a minor repair, returning to discover that another small problem had been solved, too.

“I washed your car,” the technician said, apparently in the same way a houseguest might sidle up to you and whisper, “I cleaned your bathroom.” People sometimes take matters into their own hands.

My wife doesn’t really care if the car is clean or not, although that won’t stop her from raising her defensive hackles if she senses some judgment. She’s the primary driver of this vehicle, and the responsible party, although in general she tends to stand her ground anyway.

The other day, I heard her deliver a passionate explanation as to why she had to go into the kitchen during the U.S. Open and why it was unreasonable, therefore, for the TV to turn itself off when apparently some sensor recognized that no one was watching.

I know this woman very well. I understand that she views this sort of technology as sorcery. I just wanted to point out that she was making her case, eloquently, to an inanimate object. She defended this, too.

So of course she felt compelled to mention to this spontaneous car-washing dude that the house next door to ours was recently torn down, and that while they were clearing the lot of some trees, and running a wood-chipper nonstop, a film of sawdust began to cover everything, including the car.

The car wouldn’t have been washed in any case, you understand. My wife just believes in the power of special circumstances.

This makes her pretty normal, I suspect. If pollsters are to be believed, most of us consider ourselves to be “average Americans,” generally representative of the country and culture. At the same time, I’m guessing that most of us also think of ourselves as individuals, with individual stories and circumstances. There’s a good reason the backseat is filled with napkins and empty coffee cups. Just ask.

All of this nonsense is just me, fumbling around, wondering what to say. I see the same things you do. I see the same images, I read the same stories, I hear the same news. I don’t know what you think, and I’m reluctant to speculate, but my suspicion is that “uneasy” is the adjective of our time.

The other day, waking up at dawn and uninterested in doing anything that resembled getting out of bed, I spent an hour reviewing 40-50 articles from a large daily newspaper that I subscribe to. Normally I’d only skim, preferring to curate my own newsfeed from various sources, but I had the time and inclination to immerse myself in current events from the comfort of my bed.

I got little comfort. I’ve been a news junkie since I was a kid, always interested in what the world was doing, but that morning’s headline surfing reminded me of my wife’s reaction when she attempted to read the “Game of Thrones” books: after a few pages, she wanted to look away.

This was August 2017, then. A month anticipated for decades, our cosmic calendars marked up for a rare astronomical event, was eclipsed by ordinary evil. Charlottesville. Berkeley. North Korea. Yemen. Syria. Barcelona.

Houston, our fourth-largest city, from where American optimism and ingenuity led us to gaze at the moon and figure out a way to walk on it, has been devastated, not by a sleeper cell of nihilistic terrorists but by wind and rain. We look at the pictures of rivers where highways once were, and we can’t imagine, but then we don’t have to. We can see.

We’ve had traumatic months in our history. December 1941. November 1963. September 2001.

But this feels different. There are always special circumstances, and I have no doubt that our contemporary glut of information and our compulsion to view the world through a social-media lens have twisted our reactions, but we can’t pin the world on Twitter. This is bad. I imagine I’m not the only one who wakes up too early some mornings.

And August was about acute events, not our chronic ones. Millions of Americans are being automated out of jobs that will never return. Healthcare costs continue to rise while we tinker around the edges, and drug overdoses are beginning to make the scourge of AIDS in the 1980s fade in the rearview mirror.

I don’t want to write about any of this. I understand why some do; in fact, I’m often baffled by people who seem oblivious to the chaos, fear and pain who, as my daughter recently pointed out to me, persist in posting photos of their avocado toast online and never mention that the world has gone crazy.

But you know. You’re reading a newspaper right now; you have to know.

This is my way, amidst musing about my wife’s defense mechanisms and how eight hours of wood-chipper noise makes me appreciate the aesthetic qualities of leaf blowers, of telling you that I know, too.

I just know other things. That we’ve had a glorious summer up here, unless you miss rain. That the horrors of Houston have also shown us that humanity rises with the water level. That goodness survives, that we are our neighbor’s keepers, that heavy hearts still beat and compassion is not diminished by political polarization. There’s such hope for us, sometimes.

And somebody washed my car for me. It’s a little thing, but you know.


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