A Brief Anecdote of Mortality

I suppose I could begin with the movie I had due back at the video store tonight: Ogniem i Mieczem (trans. With Fire and Sword).  It would best be described as a sort of Polish Three Musketeers – a 17th century swashbuckling battlefield drama about a group of heroes fighting against a group of unquestioningly evil and barbaric villains, and naturally it involves a beautiful woman.

What struck me most about this movie was just how dickish and cruel these brave heroes actually were.  Oh yes, their battlefield atrocities were righteous and valiant.  All the dozens of men they slew were surely deserving.  Clearly their individual lives were worth more than the combined spilled blood of all their wretched and worthless foes.  Blessed be to them, those good and benevolent butchers we so venerate.

Just once, I want to see an Indiana Jones type movie, where at the final standoff between the unquestioningly good guy and the unquestioningly evil guy, a random old woman appears out of nowhere and shoots them both to avenge the slaying of her son, an innocent employee of the bad guy’s lair, disposed of thoughtlessly by the good guy in Act 1.

Alas, I digress!  The film was due back at the video store later tonight, which required my reluctant effort to put on clothes, throw on shoes, and get in my car to drive a laborious 3.5 miles to the video store oh so far away.  A couple blocks away from the store, the road was blocked from what appeared to be a most recent accident.  Naturally, it was a minor annoyance.

Is it not terrifying that road deaths are marginalized to being minor annoyances?  Would you want your final hour combined with the pain and heartache of your loved ones to be a minor annoyance for the few people between whose destinations you lie?

I don’t know if anyone died.  Perhaps they did, perhaps they didn’t.  My life is changed insofar as I had to park and walk the rest of the way to the video store, and fatality or no fatality, that personal reality of mine remains unchanged.  But really, how annoying  – being forced walk.  Such cruel fate.

The streets were busy with pedestrians, the bars were flowing, and in the midst of red ambulance lights glimmering off the windows of the local shops, live bands were playing in outdoor patios in which happy couples sat to drink and enjoy a warm Austin winter night.  Boy and girl, man and woman held hands and embraced to the sound of Beatles covers and smooth jazz improv with no direction.

I was dressed in baggy cargo pants and a stained undershirt – as if I had just gotten off a blue-collar job.  My hair was ragged and my face was unshaven – as if I was a sleep-deprived new dad, or rather a lazy graduate student.  In short, I was in no condition to enjoy a nightlife, which made it all the more tempting to do so…

…I imagined sitting down and ordering a pint across from an imaginary single woman, who would glance me over and determine my lack of kempt appearance was an indication that I was harmless, because honestly, who goes out in cargo pants to pick up chicks?

“You’re not here for the nightlife, are you,” she would say.
“No.  I was returning a video to the video store and decided to get a beer on the night’s behalf.”
“Ooo… video stores.  Sexy.”
“If that’s what turns you on… you’re not here for the nightlife either, are you.”
“What gives you that idea?”
“Women only go out to bars if they’re either with a boyfriend to fight off all the suitors, or an entourage of obnoxious best friends to ensure that only the most overconfident of douches will ever be able to get to her.”

And that’s how it would begin.  I wouldn’t call it a one-night-stand.  No, there is something cheap and vulgar about that, as if it’s not about the passion but rather the conquest.  This would be two people, floating alone at sea, briefly finding each other in passing, and calling out to one another Ahoy! to remind each other that, outside of their forlorn boats, there still exists humanity.  These two sailors would pass in the night, and carry with them a memory that would give them enough hope to carry them to land’s first sight…

My perverted imagination could find no concrete image among the crowds before me – there was no single woman sitting alone in an outdoor bar patio.  Only couples.  My imaginary woman would have to do.  I wonder what she looked like.

I ordered a coffee from a kiosk and headed back to my car.  The paramedics and police were still there, but beyond the wall of emergency vehicles, I still couldn’t make out what was going on.  I forgot a coffee lid, so I leaned against my car parked across from the scene and looked at the lights flashing red and blue against the Austin skyline behind it.  It was strangely complimentary – the red and blue lights from the vehicles blended with the neon ornamentations of downtown skyscrapers and foreground clubs.  The accident ceased to exist as an accident, and began to manifest itself as an urban artwork, a dazzling array of colors to paint a picture of …of what?

Cars were whizzing by me, their headlights exposing me to the world.  Surely the drivers were wondering what a homeless man was doing leaning against a car, gazing at an accident.  As for myself, I wonder…

…in my final hour, will there be some bloke nearby watching the scene of my death while nonchalantly drinking a coffee, admiring just how nice the lights of my rescuers look against the backdrop of gleeful urban apathy behind them?  I do hope that guy will write a blog entry about me that night, whoever, or whenever he is.

About Doctor Quack

Just another bonehead with an internet connection.
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18 Responses to A Brief Anecdote of Mortality

  1. I admire your style of writing and perception. Not a lot of people see things as deeply as it seems you do, and that’s a wonderful quality. Loved this post. Very thoughtful and intriguing.

    • Doctor Quack says:

      Thank you. It was a bit looser in focus and form than my others, and I’m a little worried that it would come across as too emo or boring, but if you liked it, then that’s good enough for me. Thanks.

      • I’m certainly glad you wrote it. For what it’s worth, it didn’t come off as emo or boring in my opinion, but as I said before, perceptive and very sincere. It was obviously something you felt very deeply about and it prompted you to get it out in your writing, and that shows in your post. That’s something to be very happy for. Especially if YOU are glad you wrote it too 🙂

  2. OperationJA says:

    Actually, believe it or not, I too had something similar happen to me, except I was sitting at a bus transit waiting for a bus that wasn’t going to show-up. People look at you weirdly when it was obvious that I wasn’t dressed for travel yet I was still there, waiting.
    I liked this post. Great~

  3. DSS Ramam says:

    I liked your post for two reasons, one is your style, kind of very unassuming and modest; the other is about the philosophical thought behind. I often come across many such incidents of road accidents. There are always people who just stop by out of curiosity and see what is happening. They have a comment or two about the lack of road safety, indifference of police and such. But more interestingly, there is the other variety, who are more in number, just don’t bother. They keep going minding their own business. When I look at that scenario, I really wonder who cares for us, just in case. Now after reading your post, I wonder whether there will be somebody to write a blog post, because people are too busy with their own problems.

  4. dhanesh says:

    Splendidly written. Riveting read kudos

  5. thelooker23 says:

    I loved this, especially the last paragraph 🙂 Did you ever find out who it was??

  6. Kat says:

    As sad as it is, people only matter to us if we have a personal connection to them. When I drive by a wreck, I’m always so very sad–for about a minute. And then I stop caring and forget there even was an accident. I might mention it if it caused me to be late, but otherwise…

    I used to imagine nice people to have romantic trysts with, but I found it just made me lonely. And I could never get their faces right, or infuse them with much personality. It was like looking at a shell of a person, just a husk without any soul.

    I think the flashing lights are beautiful, too. I especially like the blue of cop cars…except when they’re behind me. Then, they do not inspire beauty–they inspire pure terror.

  7. Daisy says:

    Beautiful post!

  8. re:ramble says:

    Yes, yes, but don’t miss the point about Ogniem i mieczem! The whole reason for watching this movie is that Bohun (the evil-but-not-really guy) is just so good-looking. At least that’s what it always seemed to me and I’ve seen this movie, well, many times since the first time in high school. Kidding aside, it’s so strange to find it mentioned on a non-Polish blog.

    • Doctor Quack says:

      I suppose if I were gay, I could justify watching the film with Bohun’s stunning good looks, but as it is, I guess I’ll just have to settle for Izabella Scorupco. And besides, Bohun is entirely the evil guy. There’s no not-really about it.

      I understand how important it was for Sienkiewicz to write this (to give Poles a connection and appreciation of their history and heritage), but in modern times, I wonder if the movie just kind of pisses off Ukrainians.

      • re:ramble says:

        It’s nowhere near politically correct, neither the movie nor the book, so I’m sure it’s seen as hurtful in Ukraine. It’s not even particularly trying to be fair to Ukrainians. And it’s actually in this light that Bohun is not really so evil and you can’t overlook the fact that he’s presented with a sort of fascination by both Sienkiewicz and Hoffman. Of course, from a feminist standpoint, he sucks.

  9. corlosky says:

    That was beautifully written. And most certainly thought provoking. I often wonder about those who did or didn’t make it out of a crumpled car, and my imagination often can’t let it go. Particularly if on a long ride when the crash comes into sight. But no sooner than I have something else to capture my attention, the lives I was briefly inspired by in passing the scene of their probable death are lost from my memory.

    It’s nice to know that some strangers still think about victims of these “minor annoyances,” even if only for a fleeting night and a blog post.

  10. goodoldgirl says:

    You may not think you cared about the victims in the accident, but you did. You cared enough to write about how desensitized most of us are to tragedy, whether it be on a movie screen or in the road in front of us. That desensitization is our protection against the debilitating grief that would overtake our lives as we struggle with the sheer volume of tragedy this world throws in our paths. It enables us to move forward, to keep on keeping on. The trick is to keep it under control enough to maintain our humanity.

    A well written and thoughtful post. Thank you.

  11. So I was eating a sandwich one night, really chomping away on this soggy greasy sandwich with enough fat and calories to feed 3,006 African children when I saw a man standing against the side of a car. I figured he was homeless and naturally had to look away because seeing homeless people can make food taste bad, but then a car swerved off the road, splattering the homeless man or rather making him pop like someone squeezed a Slim Jim and I watched the car swerving, saw the guy’s face as he realized his last moment was enjoying a shitty coffee, and then his innards exited sideways and the owner of the car was ejected through the windshield and tumbled along the pavement like a rag doll while people puked at the carnage and I dipped my sandwich in barbecue sauce because it was really tasty and I didn’t want to wait and let it get cold because that annoys me when food gets cold.

    • But I don’t think we’re desensitized or immoral, just how can we concern ourselves with every bit of human suffering? It’s a shitty thing to say, but we can’t absorb all of it without destroying ourselves and unfortunately we have to ignore a lot of it, go on with our lives and forget the fact that everyday a child is beaten, raped and mothers are murdered because it’s such a sick cruel world and somehow we need to find beauty, even at the cost of ignoring. You wrote a great post and it’s good to see that people still care for their humanity.

      • Doctor Quack says:

        I agree with you. If everyone absorbed and deliberated on every horror ever encountered, surely we’d go collectively mad.

        And thank you for the kind words.

        Also, you have a knack for the macabre.

    • Doctor Quack says:

      Well that was colorful.

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