Updated: May 13, 2013 6:19AM
I don’t like egg salad.
That’s it, end of column. Thank you very much for reading, please exit to your left and enjoy your visit with the other fine features in today’s Chicago Sun-Times.
Oh all right then. We are bound by the limits of the form, aren’t we? Ann Landers once left the last quarter of her column blank, when writing about her divorce, as a tribute to a marriage that ended prematurely. Very dramatic, though it was an extraordinary circumstance. Someone who made her living telling others how to manage their lives couldn’t just shrug when something so vital in her own life went off the rails. Smart.
My marriage is fine, as far as I know. The egg salad though . . . I don’t like eggs hard-boiled, either. Which makes for an awkward moment at Passover, when my wife passes me the bowl of hard-boiled eggs, taking one for herself with a flourish of anticipatory joy. She really loves hard-boiled eggs.
I shudder with visceral revulsion and quickly pass the bowl, averting my gaze as if it held kitty entrails. I do not, however, say, “I avoid these eggs because hard-boiled eggs are gross — bland white goo surrounding a yellow sphere of chalky disgust.”
I don’t, in fact, say anything at all. Because I have learned a vital truth that, judging from my email, many adults have not mastered. One I would like to pass it on to you. Ready?
You are not the final arbitrator of all things. No one is. I’m certainly not. While an educated person, proud holder of a degree from Northwestern University, my tastes are nevertheless not the template quality can be measured against. What I like, and what is good on some objective scale, assuming such a scale exists, are two separate things.
This shouldn’t be a revelation. Yet so many just assume that what they like, and what is indeed good, bear more than an accidental relationship. So leap they do, aided by God, whom I’m beginning to define as: “the imaginary cosmic force that people conjure up to add weight to their own personal biases.”
I wish more people understood this. On Sunday, I wrote about the utter greatness of “The Book of Mormon” musical, laying out, necessarily in abbreviated, canyon-floor-rushing-up-at me form, why I think it’s a superior work of art. This prompted a number of readers to write back along the lines of, “I saw ‘Book of Mormon’ the other day and it was the worst thing I have seen in years.”
Period. Well, stop the presses. I’ll go tell the producers and they’ll close the show. Some writers, perhaps aware that something more is required, offer up rationale — it was “sophomoric,” which I take as the five-dollar word meaning it has swears in it. Or “racist,” which, thanks in part to the vigorous efforts of the Rev. Jesse Jacksons of the world, has gone from meaning “an unacceptable, even illegal act of racial hatred” to “anything that involves race that I don’t like.”
Now, a solid case could be made for either complaint — that obscenity ruins a work by jarring tender sensibilities. Or that stating frank truths about any particular people — such as suggesting that Uganda is a poor and violent place where many people suffer from AIDS — is unacceptable racism in a world gone mad to flatter everyone at all times.
But my corespondents didn’t say that — they just said categorically they didn’t like it, often that they didn’t like it because it wasn’t good. And I’m not embarrassing them by name, because to do so seems mean, since they are guilty of such a common lapse.
As the years grind on, I’m starting to see we are all ego junkies, so busy shooting up our own opinions that, as junkies will do, we ignore the rest of the big blue world. I’m as guilty as anyone. I can’t tell you how many times, talking about opera, I’ll be whining about seeing Berg’s “Wozzeck” in 1994, and what a soul-shattering experience of badness it was, only to be truly surprised when the person I’m talking to juts out his lower lip and says, in a small voice,“But I love Berg.”
You lose friends that way. And boldly thundering your opinion, without any sort of explanation, assumes people care, and they do not, particularly if they don’t know you. That’s important enough to write a column about, I think, because if society is a continuum, where on one side is a hive of selfless bees all laboring mightily to make the communal honey, and on the other is Robinson Crusoe, padding along his island alone, we have swung about as far toward Crusoe as you can get and still occasionally catch sight of another person. Our politics are a disaster, our schools in crisis, faith a shambles, in large part — I believe . . . in my opinion — because each of us has become so enamored with ourselves, our tastes, our sensibilities, our lives, that we forget there are other people on this trip too. So enjoy your egg salad. I’m sure it’s wonderful stuff.