Archive for Sunday, May 12, 2002

Making a phony impression is a human frailty

May 12, 2002


I once read an article in which celebrities were asked to name their favorite books. Three of them Art Buchwald, Roger Ebert and James Belushi selected "Catcher in the Rye."

Oh, puhleese! Call me shallow, call me stupid, but call me honestly puzzled: How can anyone really like that book?

OK, so I was in junior high when I first read it and maybe so were they. And perhaps they haven't read it since. I have and reading it as an adult reinforced my belief that only teens (and very young teens at that) enjoy identifying with the three Ps: problems, pimples, profanity.

The fact is that even celebrities feel the need to appear intelligent and sensitive. They wouldn't dare admit their favorite book was some trashy romance novel or a compilation of Far Side cartoons. "Catcher in the Rye" is a sure-fire bet to make them seem smart and caring about the burning issues raised by the three Ps.

Non-celebrities, too, are susceptible to the need to appear intelligent and sensitive. And, in my experience, nothing makes that more evident than a board more accurately, BORED retreat. I admit to being sadly disappointed by my first retreat because it was held in a functional meeting room at City Hall. "Hey," I said, "shouldn't we be at TanTara or at least someplace a lot more exciting than this?"

Frankly, I hate retreats and the touchy-feely questions associated with them that I presume are designed to "open one up" to one's fellow participants. At the last retreat I attended, the facilitator enthusiastically announced, "Okay, we're going to go around the table and each of us is going to tell what our favorite movie is!" First, I don't think I have a favorite movie and, second, if I did have one, I'm sure I couldn't think of it on the spur of the moment.

Not surprisingly, there were several participants who said "Out of Africa" (no kidding) and even more who said "Casablanca" (no brainer). Only one individual named "The Brave Little Toaster" as her favorite movie.

At the noon break, I er she was approached by her friend Rick who said, "I love that movie! I watch it with my kids all the time."

Rick was the only other retreat participant enlightened enough to know that the animated film depicted the adventures of a bunch of household appliances led by a very brave toaster and a curmudgeon of a vacuum cleaner that set out to find the little boy who used to spend summers at the cabin where they resided.

Have you ever wondered why we humans find it necessary to try to impress someone we don't care about in the least? If you have pondered that question and have come up with an answer that makes sense, please let me know. Frankly, I'm stumped.

I have witnessed even the most down-to-earth people swept away by the desire to appear hip and sophisticated. Once, after a PTA board meeting, my friend Roberta and I were visiting with another board member who remarked that she had flown in that morning from Las Vegas. Within seconds, Roberta mentioned that she had spent part of the summer in Europe.

Later, as we walked to our cars, Roberta exclaimed disgustedly, "Did you see how she made me mention my trip? I just HATE people who make me act like that!"

Recounting that incident reminds me of a short story by Mark Twain about people who go to "Yurrup." I don't think any writer can top Twain when it comes to pointing out and poking fun at ostentatious behavior as he did in writing about the snobbish, name-dropping family recently returned from a year "Yurrup" with whom he was forced to share a train ride one eternal day.

Twain pulled no punches in describing the family, who didn't speak TO him but AT him, as "a cartload of imbecility" and said he "wished it had pleased Providence to leave the clapper out of their empty skulls."

I wonder what Old Mark would have to say about Buchwald, Ebert and Belushi choosing "Catcher in the Rye"?

Marsha Henry Goff is a free-lance writer in Lawrence.

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