SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
May 3, 2015

Waiting for Godot, or At Least Someone Who Resembles Godot

 

An old and dear friend of mine, a man I’ve known some twenty-five years now, recently flew back to his hometown in Louisiana to mark his seventieth birthday with his family. Funny how many people I’ve come to know from Louisiana. I mean, I don’t think I know anyone from Maryland, New Hampshire, South Dakota, or Maine, but I guess that’s what happens sometimes. And besides, it’s irrelevant.

            In any case the friend in question, who’s much more spry and energetic at seventy than I think I’ve ever been in my life (and much smarter too), had a fine visit. At least until he and his wife tried to return home to California. Here’s how he described it:

 

Somehow I managed to enter and escape from THE SOUTH once again, although this time there seemed to be a plot afoot, a sneaky conspiracy designed to suck me into its pliant and seemingly hospitable web. It started, simply enough, with the attempted return of our rental car. We had to return the fucker by 1:00 PM Sunday - the early return being yet another insidious device. It appeared that we had plenty of time until we discovered that the car rental agency was not at its address. After driving around for almost an hour, gradually growing more and more panic stricken, I finally ran screaming into a Home Depot where they had free wifi and, with the aid of a Google search discovered the TRUE location of Discount Car Rental in Gretna, Louisiana. We arrived there at 12:59.

      The next day we left for the airport at (ahem!) 5:45 for our 8:01 flight. Shortly after getting on the plane, we were informed that the departure would be delayed, and then was delayed again, and again, etc. Finally it took off - four hours late - for a one hour flight. But then, as we approached Dallas, the “captain” informed us that there was no gate available and, if one didn't come free soon, we would have to land in Abilene for more fuel. Somehow we were spared that indignity, landing at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport only five hours after our scheduled arrival. Of course by then we had missed our connecting flight. I won't bore you with any more details, but the bottom line is that it took us 13 hours to get home from New Orleans yesterday.

 

            It’s of course not that uncommon a story. Anyone who’s done any amount of traveling on commercial jetliners over the past thirty years could tell a similar tale of frustration and woe. Hell, I was once stranded in Chicago after missing a connecting flight to Green Bay, forced to wander aimlessly around O’Hare for twenty-four hours as half a dozen potential subsequent flights were delayed or cancelled. It’s not nearly as entertaining or exciting as it might seem at first. But as I read this particular story, it struck me as an absolutely appropriate, perhaps even the Perfect way, to mark a milestone birthday like that.

            You think about it, after all, what is it really but a perfect encapsulated analogy of what an individual human life is all about, right? Morgan and I have talked about this quite a bit over the years. You begin where you grew up, and the moment you leave you start to rush toward some perceived, shimmering goal in the distance, some promise of meaning and direction and satisfaction, be it school, or a job, or dropping off the rental car on time. You fret and panic and struggle your way along until you get there. And once you do, what happens? You find that shining beacon in the distance was really made out of old, soggy cardboard and aluminum foil. So now you sit there. Sit there and wait until the next goal presents itself way over there in the distance again. Maybe this time it’s a better job or some fancy new toy, or kids, something in any case that promises to make your life better than it is now. And once you focus on it, off you go once more, striving and sweating and straining to get there as fast as you possibly can, and once you get there you just end up waiting again. No matter how much promise it may offer from a distance, no matter how obvious and clear it is at the start this new job/degree/car/city/house/love, etc. will make everything better “once and for all”, by the time you get there and see up close what your supposed salvation is really like, it’s never exactly everything it’s cracked up to be. So you wait and fumble about until something else crops up in the distance, something really really good this time, and off you go again.

            We spend a lifetime doing this, running from thing to thing trying to get to that spot, finally, where things are better, and better for good. But we never really get there. In fact in most cases, nothing ever really gets better, and for all that striving and flopping about we don’t really get anywhere at all. Not in the long run, anyway. Things may seem better or different for a few minutes or months maybe, but that’s tops. Best we can possibly hope for is that things at least won’t get markedly worse, though that’s usually what happens. And my god, the whole process takes such a long fucking time.

            It’s the point at which The Wizard of Oz and Waiting for Godot intersect. Fight your way through witches and flying monkeys and snotty apple trees and drug overdoses to get to Oz, and when you finally get there not only do you learn the fucking wizard’s a sham, but a sham who sends you right the hell back to where you started. And then you have to drop off the fucking rental car on time.

            This may be why Waiting for Godot hit me so hard when I first read it in ninth grade, when the pointless repetition of it all was already starting to make itself apparent. It may also explain why to this day I think I’m better off opting to live without hopes and dreams and goals, because those sonsabitches will kill you. Better to simply wait and see what might crop up over the course of the day, and deal with it for better or worse when it does. Who knows? Someone might stop by with a pie.

 

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