The Ballad of Potato Man

So, I’m sitting in the balcony with my friend Other Beth (so named only to differentiate her from the best friend, Beth 1.0) waiting for the Weird Al concert to start. We are both people-watchers and have much to say on the topic of crowds in general – this may stem from our friendship having been born in the fiery flames of a customer service hellscape, or it may just be in our nature and that’s why we’re friends to begin with. And lo, the universe did give unto us a gift: Potato Man. He strolled (nay – he positively sauntered, I say!) in, the lady on his arm resplendent in a balloon animal hat with rotating whirligigs, himself clad in a shining silver lamé suit and faux douchy ponytail à la Weird Al in the “All About the Pentiums” video (one of my personal favorites from the Yankovician oeuvre). I said to Other Beth, “I bet he’s up front.” And he was front row center. Because obviously. We dubbed him Potato Man, because he looked like a baked potato (perhaps the more recent Weird Al song “Foil” was lurking in the back of our collective subconscious? Who knows? It’s a silver suit – there’s not much I can do with that as a metaphor). We proceeded to have a brief but intense back and forth about how great it is when people are enthusiastic about their genuine love for things, how positivity is sorely lacking these days, how being a fan of silly things is itself not silly. Our consensus was: good on you, Potato Man. Well done, sir. You do you. I kept an eye on him throughout the show and he knew every word to every song, laughed long and loud and unabashedly, and seemed like he was having an incredible time. During the song “Yoda,” (a Star Wars riff on The Kinks’ “Lola,” the earworm to end all earworms), Weird himself pointed to Potato Man and said “Okay, just this once,” and handed the microphone over for a chorus. My heart swelled for Potato Man! Honestly. How thrilled he must have been! How thrilled I and Other Beth were for him! The whole crowd went apeshit. It was truly a thing of beauty.

Upon relaying the tale of Potato Man’s glory to her husband later, Other Beth realized that it didn’t ring quite as awesome. Perhaps it was because he hadn’t had our bird’s eye view of the show (although I am jealous that he got within a couple of feet of the Al himself while he traversed the ground floor crowd during a particularly athletic number). Or maybe it’s just one of those You Had to Be There moments. Some of my favorite moments are those kind. Inexplicable, but dear. And while I may never be able to adequately convey how happy Potato Man made me, I’m going to hang on to that image of him and his shiny, shiny suit and Weird Al smiling down on him like musical comedy Jesus.

-A week later, in writer time-

I had an outline for the rest of this post. Some dumb stuff about how shockingly fit Weird Al is (yay, veganism!), a whole lot about musical comedy and the dearth of proper, good parody, and then a bunch of philosophical blah blah about synchronicity and You Had to Be There stuff.

But it’s been a couple of weeks since the show and so much gnarly shit has happened that all of what I had written just seems pointless and trite. Seriously, it makes me feel like part of the distraction machine when I post these things in the face of war and disease and environmental destruction for profit and civil rights protests and (and I’m not even kidding) Klansmen for Trump.

It all makes me want to either A) only put up angry screeds about how stupid people are systematically destroying our civilization because of propaganda created by greedy, soulless, faceless Illuminati types pulling strings from the shadows, or B) bury my head in the sand and give up completely and switch to hard liquor and just kick back to watch it all burn to the ground.

Neither of these is a viable option.

The real problem that I have with the world, in general, right now is that a lot of the anger I’m seeing is in response to false dichotomies. Most things are not as neat and tidy as they are made to appear in the media (with the possible exception of building a big, dangerous oil pipeline through sacred native land – that one’s pretty clear to all but the scummiest among us). Just because you think Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that you hate cops or support rioting. Just because you’re pro-choice doesn’t mean that you think abortion should be used as a substitute for easily accessible birth control and common sense sex ed. Just because you subscribe to one religion doesn’t mean that you automatically hate people who are some other religion. Just because you support someone’s First Amendment right to sit during the National Anthem does not mean that you disrespect our flag, our troops, or our country. Just because you think Donald Trump is the fifth horseman of the apocalypse doesn’t mean that you think Hillary Clinton is a perfect angel who will save us all.

This oppositional, confrontational attitude – the constant automatic us/me-vs-them/you thing – leaves no room for more nuanced opinions, and certainly none for constructive discourse. And frankly it makes us look like insensitive, uneducated babies throwing temper tantrums. Further, I’m bothered that anyone who does want to actually discuss finer points and not just take a screaming stance is seen as weak or soft. The talking heads on news shows do this all the time, shutting down folks who don’t have a clear all-or-nothing soundbyte right away. I’m unsure whether we’re creating a generation of reactionary non-thinkers by promoting and showing only this crap, or if they’ve already taken over and now it’s too late to go back. I suppose we shall see. For now it drives me crazy. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to pick only one side and that the other side is the enemy. Maybe there’s more than two sides, or only one.

At the end of the worst of this, when the dust settles – which it inevitably will and always has throughout the ebbs and flows of the entirety of fucking human history – we all still have to live together. We still have to build and nurture communities. We still have to raise our kids and teach them how to live in the world, how to leave it better than when they found it. We still have to look injustice squarely in the eye and correct our behavior accordingly. We still have to take care of each other. We still have to make it through the day.

And I have no intention of actually burying my head in the sand. Willful ignorance of important issues doesn’t lessen them or eliminate them. I know that. I’ll do whatever I can when I can to help my fellow humans. But I won’t let my anger or my compassion consume me, either. Life/rage balance is key here, I think. I will try my hardest, whenever possible, to be like Potato Man – to find unbridled joy where I can, to take my moments when I can, and to remember that those things make me a better functioning person. That’s the best that I can do.