A Life of Quiet Desperation vs. a Life of Not-So-Quiet Desperation


Last Sunday evening, right before sunset, after taking a little something for my nerves, I left the island to run an errand. It was a beautiful autumnal day, the sun hanging above the expanse of marsh bordering the Atlantic.

On the way home, as I took a left from Secessionville Road onto Folly, someone in a Wonder Woman costume, her cape flapping behind her, scampered across the six lanes of the highway in a foolish superheroinic[1] feat of derring-do.

She had just left a roadside bar called the Barrel, which no doubt had some pre-Halloween shenanigans going down. Encountering Wonder Woman was sort of a surreal sight, and I thought to myself I could see me doing that when I was young, running across a six-lane highway like a fool.

I then refocused on that suspended but sinking sun and decided to try not to think.

That didn’t last long, a deep breath or two. I was going against traffic, tooling past the long line of vehicles inching home from the beach. I considered the occupants in their little bubbles of being, feeling, no doubt, a little down, their weekends just about kaput.

How melancholy, I thought, that most of us squander our precious moments jumping from idea to idea, like Johnny Weissmuller swinging from vine to vine, thrashing through the years like jungle trees in a Tarzan movie. It brought to mind Thoreau’s smug observation that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” and I reckoned it was true – at least here in Late Empire America in the Age of Polarization.

It occurred to me that when I was young, I lived a life of not-so-quiet desperation. I was, to quote the James Dickey poem “Cherrylog Road,” wild to be wreckage forever. I got in trouble in high school and later college, risked my and others’ lives driving recklessly for laughs, offered loudly unsolicited provocative opinions, mocked those I considered uncool, blasted music in the wee hours. Yet, despite my Marxian mania (think Harpo, Groucho, not Karl), I was essentially unhappy, if not depressed, profoundly pessimistic, a lost soul.

Despite my hitchhiking, death rudely did not stop for me,. I survived, married a good woman, mellowed somewhat – or maybe more than somewhat – and am finding the wreckage I sought through the wear and tear of time’s decay.

So, on my way home, I was going the state-proscribed 35 miles and hour, slowing to 30 as I rolled onto Center Street, Folly’s main drag, no place for old men, the young in one another’s arms – strike that – the young staring down at their devices hooking up via Tinder.

On Hudson, I drove even slower, taking in the jumble of eclectic houses – the shacks, that two- story brick Italian-looking place with balconies, that tilted green-shingled house that juts at an angle so close to the road, those tiny twin remodeled rental cottages, the collection of cars crowding the shoulder, the last boy in the skateboard park putting off as long as he dared going home where his unpacked bookbag lay just where he had flung it Friday.

I thought of my wife upstairs in the house now coming into view. Forty tears ago this week we kissed for the first time on the night Carter defeated Ford. Perhaps she was preparing our supper, clanging cutlery, her head covered by a scarf or perhaps nakedly bald, or perhaps she was sitting on the sofa with her computer in her lap in the right now that is the only time anyone ever has.


[1] Okay, OED scholars, this is superheroinic’s debut in our language. Def: possessing the qualities of a superheroine, not some strong ass opiate.


4 thoughts on “A Life of Quiet Desperation vs. a Life of Not-So-Quiet Desperation

  1. You have to be careful with the use of that super heroin. They say the superheroinic (1) effect is killing a lot of people in not-so-quiet desperation.

    (1) first use of the newly coined word (a la David Foster Wallace) outside of this blog’s content.

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