Dear Greer Larson Savage: My future seems uncertain. I’m scared, I’m afraid. I don’t feel safe on the streets. I hate everything and I don’t know what I hate. I’m angry. I’m worried I may have the flesh-eating disease but I’m not yet showing symptoms. People don’t return my phone calls. Should I buy a gun?

Signed, Ordinary Loop Office Day Worker

Dear Ordinary Loop: No wonder people don’t return your phone calls. It’s this namby-pamby, weak-willed whining that is ruining it for the rest of us. I think the question you need to ask is, What are you afraid of? That nobody likes you? I assure you, they don’t. Two words: Buck up. I’m talking about duty.

Consider this: A few weeks ago I found myself in a section of the city that had become barren of faeries. And by barren of faeries, obviously I mean there were no trees in the area, no gardens, no flowers. Because, well, where do faeries live but near vegetation? But here there was only broken glass and litter. I came across a young mother. She was very young, couldn’t have been older than seven. And the baby she was dragging along struck me as neglected. Its hair was dry and matted, with spots where it had been pulled away at the roots, the face was dirty, and the little thing needed cuddling. Badly. Its eyes didn’t move! Already defenses had been set up in the child to the extent that the skin seemed almost plastic.

At first I thought, “Motherless mother, see no more the wasteland. Set thine eyes upon rosier cakes. Please! Forgive the unready for they know not what they bring about.” But the function of thought is to guide action, as we all know, so I bent down, because the young mother was rather short and I’m what they call taller, and I said to her, “You know you’re raising an ax murderer there, don’t you?”

Immediately the tears. She was inconsolable, you can imagine. Must have hit a raw nerve. It was embarrassing. But an impulse of duty fell over me. And I reached out and cradled that young mother in my arms and rocked her as though she herself were a child, because you know we all need that from time to time. And I cupped my hand over her mouth and I said, “My god, woman, get ahold of yourself.”

All that pent-up rage. At who knows what, but frightening, really. You know there are so many pressures involved with parenting, but I tell you something. If you’re going to have a child, you’ve got to learn to love it. I’m quite serious about this. Because a child is a lot like a tropical fish aquarium, and any of you who have tropical fish aquariums will know what I’m talking about. You’ve got to put in the time to care for it or it will just get out of hand. And left untended, in 20 years or so–sooner, really–what you’ve got is a very complicated, dangerous, disagreeable mess. You’ll be tempted to throw the whole thing out, but you can’t because you’ve already invested so much damn money in the thing.

I tell this story not because I mean to brag about my own compassion toward ordinary people on the street but because I feel it illustrates a tremendous ignorance growing in our society. And studies, academic studies from some of the nation’s finest junior colleges, have shown us that ignorance is not bliss. Otherwise this country would be home to the happiest people on the planet. But I tell you something, and I’m quite serious about this, our minds are a lot like a refrigerator. If we don’t keep checking on it, what’s inside will simply rot. We become afraid of opening the refrigerator door, we don’t want to go anywhere near it. So we start eating out a lot, bringing home doggie bags, and the downward spiral continues.

We live in a world of appearances, where everything is open to interpretation. Fact. One person sees an average, everyday empty lot for what it is, an empty lot. Another person sees it as a public dump where they can throw their Taco Bell wrappings. One person sees a white cow grazing in the meadow and says, “Look! Mother of the Universe, Queen of Heaven, Producer of the Milky Way! She from whence the Sun sprang forth. Holy Cow! Great Mother, there she is!” Another person sees the same white cow and says, “Mmmm, juicy burger.” One person sees Michael Jackson as the world’s greatest freak. Another person sees Michael Jackson as the world’s greatest client.

But these are only constructs. Truth reveals itself in glimpses. Because this world isn’t real. It can’t be. There are just too many yahoos loose!

In closing I would like to say that love–and I hesitate to use the word because it’s been overly hyped by the media–but love, real love, not the kind of love we can buy in the show store, is a lot like a tremendous vacuum cleaner. All the grief that we must dree, all the disappointment and hurt that settle and collect in little balls under the bed, we can Hoover! No debris too great or too trifling that we cannot give it a good dust-gusty glory suck with the old tube. Oh, I’m quite serious about this.

Please, Ordinary Loop, remember to feed your inner tropical fish aquariuhhmmm…Just kidding. You must resolve to explore what’s in your produce crisper. And please, vacuum.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Dan Grzeca.