A friend of mine who is in her 60s is afraid she might be developing Alzheimer's. She is losing her acuity, her memory, and her train of thought a lot, so she is jumping to the worst possible scenario. She makes herself feel better by holding a salt shaker. When you develop forms of dementia, it's not so much that you forget specific things, she says, but that you start to forget their applications. For example, you see a salt shaker, recognize its shape immediately, but you cannot remember what its purpose is. So she randomly picks up a salt shaker now and then and knows that it is for shaking salt onto food, and thus she keeps her fears at bay.
That got me wondering: What is my purpose? I can't say that I've ever known. I see my form and I recognize it, but don't often know what the heck I'm supposed to do with it. Do I have emotional Alzheimer's?
I was thinking about all this when I ran into a very drunk person at Danny Coyle's in the Lower Haight. It's a clean, well-lit place for beer, far too clean to be a real Irish pub, but nice nonetheless. I mean, how many Dublin watering holes have bathrooms that smell like potpourri? The bartenders have Irish accents, though, so darn it, that's good enough for me.
"Hi, I'm Bill," the very drunk guy said, extending his hand. I said hi back and shook. He immediately started telling me his tale of woe. He lived with his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend, but she had just kicked him out and he had nowhere to go. He had been an accountant all his life, but now had no job.
"Wow," I said. "That's hard." I sipped my Guinness. There was a little bit of silence, then the guy turned to me and extended his hand again.
"Hi, I'm Bill," he said, having no recollection of already saying that to me. I shook again.
The bar was partly full. I had been in earlier in the day because I knew the place had a large following of British expats who came for the soccer matches. Earlier there were two matches showing on different TVs, and the guys all had their laptops open to even different games. They were all huddled at one end of the bar, the only people there besides me. Not very exciting, so I left and came back later.
Bill started telling me about how he was legally blind in one eye and so no one would hire him. I informed him that it was nobody's business what his disability was, and he should keep his mouth shut in interviews. This went in one ear and out the other: Bill was determined to be down in the dumps, homeless, and jobless. Ah, well.
There was another moment of silence. Then he put his hand out to shake.
"Hi, I'm Bill." I thought about maybe pointing out that he had already said this to me twice, but instead began to figure out how to make my escape. I just didn't really want to go home. Talk about having no purpose. I get off work and am so happy to be off work, but then I get home and am like, er, now what do I do? Sure, I could read a book, or clean a little bit, or watch a DVD, or write, or rearrange my CDs. But nah. I feel no sense of purpose; no interest in having a purpose.
Maybe this is an okay place to be. I recently watched the documentary The Bridge, about people who had jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge. The filmmaker, Eric Steel, captured their leaps on film and then talked to their families and friends. It's pretty intense. Suicidal people feel purposeless, so their purpose becomes deciding to kill themselves. Not to sound insensitive, but we all have to have goals, or at least we have to think that we have to have goals.
I am slowly deciding that it is okay to have no goals right now. It is okay to not have a purpose. I don't need to know how to shake my salt, goddamn it.
Homeboy put his hand out again to shake. I just ignored him this time. That has to be the hardest part of being a bartender: being forced to deal with drunk people.
I looked at my glass of beer and thought about what it would be like to see it, recognize its shape, but not really be sure what to do with it. (Too bad that hadn't happened to Bill, by the way.) But didn't Mork from Ork have that problem a lot? He would see some strange new thing, like a toilet, not know what its purpose was, and wash his zeegorp in it or something. Hey, Mork turned out just fine. Yes, indeed. I think we can all learn something from this little anecdote.
I decided to go home to my purposeless existence and do a crossword puzzle. It took me a while to remember where I parked, but that always happens. I tried to tell my friend in her 60s this ... that I always lose my train of thought, can't find my car, and basically don't know shit from Shinola.
"Bye, Bill," I said.
"Nice to meet you!" he said with a wave.
Wow. He remembered.