You have no doubt noticed, as I have, that we live in a world where people are constantly telling us to face reality. There’s nothing wrong with facing reality per se, I suppose, although it does tend to wear out your shoes and upsets your digestion, but the never-ending demand that we face reality, especially in its more unpleasant aspects, is annoying in the extreme and makes you want to skip reality as the guiding principle by which any reasonable person would choose to organize their life. I think it is reality’s emphasis on the uglier aspects of human existence that has a lot to do with the resentment many people feel when they are told to face reality. No one says face reality, you’ve got you health, or face reality, you’re married to a lovely woman who loves you, or face reality, and this does actually happen on rare occasions, you’ve won the lottery. No, it’s always face reality, you have to do this, that, or the other thing, none of which you really want to do and if you had your choice in the matter you’d tell reality to go pound salt.
My first experience with facing reality occurred when I was only seven years old. I went home with my report card from the first grade; in those days kids, especially kids attending parochial schools in mostly Irish neighborhoods, got their report cards in school and brought them home for their parents to sign. I suppose we could have altered the cards if we really wanted to or forged our parents’ signatures or simply not tell them about the report card in the first place, but this was a different era, an era when the nuns would knock you into next year if they caught you altering a report card and your parents, unlike parents today, who will sue a school at the drop of a hat if a teacher so much as looks askance at their precious offspring’s antics, thereby damaging Junior’s self-esteem, would stand politely off to one side while the nuns smacked you around and wait their turn to smack you around some as well. Sometimes they’d bring a cop in off the beat to whack you over the head a bit with his billy club, so as to emphasize to the Lilliputian miscreant the idea that report cards are important educational documents that your parents must see and sign because they pay your tuition and are, therefore, not something you can trifle with just because you didn’t want to pay attention in Sister Mary Agnes’ spelling class.
But I had no worries: I had done well in the first grade and the report card marked me as an up and comer: I read well, played well with others, could do a little math, and could recite the Pledge of Allegiance, the Ten Commandments, and all seven of the Blessed Sacraments without ever looking at the book. Armed with this knowledge I looked forward to taking a year or so off and hanging out in the playground, relaxing and carefully weighing my options before moving on to the next step in my life, confident that my rigorous education would help me surmount any challenge life might throw at me. It was with no little consternation on my part, therefore, that my parents informed me that the job market for first grade graduates in modern American society was a bit small, if not completely invisible to the naked eye, especially if the first grade graduates were six and a half, going on seven and a half years old, and that in any case the second grade beckoned me, the second grade following the first as spring follows winter, night follows day, and the repo man follows my Uncle Jimmy’s Ford Taurus.
As you may well imagine, this second bit of information did not go down well with me. There I was, a young man of six summers, with only a few short years to make my mark in the world before the inexorable march of time brought me low, as it does to us all, and the parents were telling me that I had to waste that precious time in the second grade, and that the horror stretched into the future apparently ad infinitum, with a third and fourth and fifth grade and who knew how many beyond that awaiting me. The prospect of year after year wasted because of the abomination of compulsory education filled me with a pure and indefatigable loathing for the very concept of the second grade and I determined immediately not to subject myself to this outrage. Life in all its mystery and glory beckoned and I was not going to miss my shot at the brass ring just because some nun wanted me to recite the seven times table flawlessly.
I tried to explain all of this in a calm and reasonable manner to my father as he tried to pry my fingers out of the chain link fence that surrounded the playground, but he, usually a man much given to rational discourse, ignored the validity of my arguments, which he could not refute, by the way, framed as they were in the purest Aristotelian logic, with one syllogism leading to another and that one to yet another, just as chicken soup follows the common cold. He admitted that my arguments had some small degree of validity to them, but that it made no difference; I had to face reality, which meant going to the second grade, valid arguments or no valid arguments. Looking back at the incident now, of course, I don’t think he thought my arguments valid at all, but he did not wish to say so at the time in order to keep me from biting all the way through the tendons of his left index finger. I let the finger go, something I regretted during the subsequent spanking, but I left two baby molars in the gash and my father had to get a battery of shots as if I were a particularly vicious breed of small mad dog, and I didn’t get so much as a nickel for the two teeth from the tooth fairy either, which I thought a raw deal all around. She’s supposed to pay off on baby teeth without regard to how they came out of a kid’s mouth; it wasn’t my fault he put his hand that close to my face.
Since that time I have had a positive aversion to facing reality, which is understandable given the circumstances, I think, especially reality as defined by the people who most often insist on your facing reality. As I mentioned above, you may have noticed that the people who tell you to face reality the most are invariably people who want you to do something you don’t want to do, and that the something involved usually, but not always, to be fair, benefits them. And who’s to say that reality is such a great idea to begin with? From the historical record I think it’s pretty clear to everyone that reality is pretty much a downer and that all of us would be better off ignoring it altogether and going into the advertising business or the civil service instead, where no one deals with reality in any meaningful way unless they absolutely have to.