The Psychic Bartender

Kirby Farrell | June 3, 2011

"k1f" Kirby Farrell

You know the problem. Between swallows, the voice at the bar hammers you with a life story you’ve heard a million times. “I’m a success, I matter.” Or “Tell me I’m not a failure.” Everyone else has heard the story and either shuts it out or tops it with an even more boring life story.

Headlines trumpet a world of heroic hell-raising, disasters, miraculous rescues, and atrocities. But at any given moment, 99.99% of the bipeds are grazing in a meadow like moocows. From the side of the road, what you hear is basically “Moo.” With marvelous little variations of course, such as “Moo-oo” and “Me-ew- ooo.”

Translation: “I’m all right, I matter.” Or “Tell me I’m not a failure.”

Oh yes, on the surface everybody’s different. As the man says, the very rich are different than you and me. And so is the guy sleeping under the bridge. But deep down we all live the same story about appetite for more life. More mating, progeny, and self-esteem. More heroic life story: Genghis Khan and world conquest this week, brilliant suburban lawn and McMansion next week. And the story is a familiar package of symbols for appetite for life: money, power, subprime mortgages, Viagra, silicone breasts, nuclear weapons, BMW roadsters, tattoos, petting zoos, and the drug cartel pistol with your initials inlaid in gold on the butt. It’s all about hunger for more life.

Or you can flip it upside down and it’s about rescue from less life. “I’m a victim of bad luck, catastrophe, or villainy—real or imagined. But look, I’m heroic too. I’ve survived.” This is the desire to escape from less life and the ultimate less life: death. Everybody loves heroic rescue or being rescued. It influences how we choose mates, raise our kids, and invade other countries to save them. Greedy Bernie Madoff steals on Wall Street and gives some of his loot away, so he’s a hero on the Florida Gold Coast, why? Because his charity is symbolically rescuing life from the undertaker. Hell, even here at the denial file we dream of squirrels rescuing ducklings, and psychic bartenders rescuing humanity from terminal monotony. When was the last time you saw a movie or a TV show that wasn’t about some kind of rescue and advertising some package of ML (More Life = Moo Life).

Yes, cable TV and the Internet insist on novelty. But if you think about it, you’re seeing the same appetite for life and rescue from unlife over and over again. It’s the glories of mating or the struggle to mate. It’s Batman and GI Joe slugging this slob or that. It’s heroic glamour or heroic victimization or (sob) heroic failure. It’s the compulsion to feed self-esteem and escape nonentity, beating out the competition.

It’s Moo and the amazing persistence of Moo.

As we know from the drone on the bar stool, the nightmare is that the monotonous demand for more life actually flattens out life and makes one day just like the next. It’s why we hate factories and love movies about berserk robots wiping out humanity. The problem isn’t killing the robot. The problem is how to stop being a robot programmed by robot stories. Think about it this way. We love seeing the young heroic stud rescue humanity from death by killing the mad robots. But at the same time, the robot in us is fascinated by the all-powerful robot on a mega-rampage. In the “Terminator” flicks, you’re rooting for Arnold the Terminator as much or more than the boy hero.

If you’re dreaming of robot mega-rampages instead of wondering what’s the best way to get real about actual life, then all the flaming fury is just Moo.

As a psychic bartender, you hear plenty of Moo coming at you. (“Hey Joe, munch munch moo-oo.”) But these days you also hear worries that Moo is all there is. Life, the nation, the baby in the cradle—the fear is that it’s all terminal Moo. This is partly because the customers have been guzzling too much advertising and spin. Life starts turning into a TV spot.

It helps to remember that Moo is not new. The ancient Romans feared what they called “the demon of noontide”—that moment when you glance out the door at midday and suddenly the world seems utterly meaningless. Ugh. But you don’t have to cope as the Romans did, by conquering the world.

You can pull up a stool here at the psychic bar. The bartender says “What’ll it be, pal?” As you start mooing your own TIS (Totally Important Story), the bartender says: “Whoa. Hold it.” Then he says, “No moos is good moos.”

This imbecilic joke is a test. If you can grin at the stupefying absurdity of life, you pass and the drinks are on the house. The bartender pours questions for you:What have you done different today? Are you creating or consuming? Are you listening? What do you love? Are you just retelling other people’s stories or living out your own fresh one? Oh really? Such as? See, we’re psychic bartenders. We listen.

2 Comments

  1. Really liked this post – I feel this way all the time. I find the more I come to know about the world and myself, the less I have to say about trivial things, which seems at times to include almost everything. And the constant ‘mooing’ of others can at times sound like nails on a chalkboard that turns ones stomach. However, recognizing it for what it is, is also freeing. Its like being baptized with lucidity. We loose the ‘pressure’ or anxieties to cling to meaning or finding endless ways of filling our self-esteem… though it comes with an at times equally heavy burden; but I wouldn’t trade it back for anything.

  2. Brad Rayberry says:
    Thanks for the Beckenonian insight. I enjoy the balance of your cynical, realist and Rankian nature. Thanks , Keep them coming.
    You have reached a mind in Philadelphia.

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