The International Writers Magazine: On Life and Indignities in New York
From our archives
Jagged Little Pill
What level of understanding can you reach with a person who has never read a book? I’m not referring to garage mechanics, but to prosecutors, medical administrators and diplomats who can’t read or write and are now medically classified as having a disability called dyslexia.
I love to watch movies on my little portable DVD player. In addition to being able to visually experience previously inaccessible environments at the bottom of the oceans or Hindu festivals on the Ganges, a film can relate volumes of culture in a record short period of time, like having a chip planted in your brain that immediately illuminates exotic customs and attitudes.
© Dean Borok April 2013
But that’s just a supplement for reading, not a substitute. Books allow you to penetrate deep into the souls of people and to explore the multiple facets of reality and complicated concepts in a way that even the most lovingly composed image cannot. As the historic American film producer Louis B. Mayer once screamed in a fit of pique, “If you want to send a message, call Western Union!” As incoherent an imbecile as can be imagined (writers particularly loathed him), Mayer nevertheless instinctively apprehended the distinction between visual images and the life of the mind with a clarity that seems to have been blurred by the distractions of contemporary life.
Dyslexia is just the latest disability du jour that might have been devised to explain why the world is becoming stupider and more brutish.
How do I disdain thee? Let me count the ways.
Obesity, which is mostly caused by gluttony and lack of exercise, that’s a disability. Then there’s something called Asperger’s Syndrome, which seems to be an inability to focus (“When I’m on the telephone I never know whose turn it is to talk” duh). Of course, we can’t forget Tourette’s syndrome! I once sat next to this imbecile in a working situation where he used to punctuate the office silence by letting out little barks like a seal. I used to jump up out of my seat in alarm. “It’s nothing,” he advised me, “I just have Tourette’s syndrome”. Fine, but do you think you could suffer your attacks in silence? Quite aside from all the other petty indignities of the workplace, why does it also have to sound like feeding time at the zoo?
Back in the previous world, when there were jobs and careers other than investment banking, I used to perform technical tasks that required me to judge minute measurements down to a millimeter. I didn’t require glasses, but by the end of the working day, my eyes got tired, and I blinked and rubbed them a lot. Maybe I should have tried eye drops. Anyway, I sometimes would meet this woman for Happy Hour, to unwind and have a few laughs. Little did I suspect that New Yorkers are not laughing people.
“Why are your eyes blinking so much?” she demanded.
“I have to work closely, for the specifications”.
“You can’t fool me. It’s the drugs you’re on!”
She was the kind of wacko New York broad who would go into your bathroom to do an inventory of the pills in your medicine cabinet. No good to just tell her to mind your own business (the words that send New Yorkers into a paroxysm of fury)! She was relentless, like the Hound of the Baskervilles. She found some little green tablets that had long ago been prescribed to me by some quack physician, and had convinced herself that they were some kind of exotic morphine-amphetamine-steroid compound that were causing my eyes to flash like strobes.
What’s worse, the idiots who display phony symptoms, or the nut-jobs who diagnose them? “Anyway”, she told me, “you have Tourette’s syndrome”. Being the ultimate modern stooge of a girl and keeping up with all the latest trivia, she had seen Dr. Schmucko’s Medical Hour on Fux TV, and she had all the straight dope on me, that I was an addicted narcomaniac afflicted with a nerve-destroying malady.
Complicating the matter even further, pharmaceutical companies are aggressively marketing new mood elevators to palliate these hysterical afflictions, so now you have to penetrate another layer of phoniness to get to the core of the person, only to discover that there’s nobody home. These pod people are everywhere: the fat cop who issues a traffic summons; the presiding judge; the ex-president (I’m referring to Bush).
The worst of it is: when you eliminate reading, maths, foreign languages from the curriculum, as they are doing to give a leg-up to persons with disabilities, you are eliminating philosophical reflections and 5,000 years of civilization from the equation. Whole areas of culture and reasoning go by the boards. As the Wall Street Journal exulted:
“The proliferation of smartphones, video chats and other techniques may also make the future easier for people with dyslexia…Reading is just one way of communicating – and in the future, I think it won’t be as important as in the past”.
The old saw has it that when a person loses one of his senses, the remaining ones become sharper to compensate for its loss. The opposite may also have come to pass. Adding on another, digital sense, instead of enhancing the other faculties, as hopefully intended, cultural deprivation caused by mind-numbing video distractions may be sapping the synaptic circuits of their vitality and leaving the subject that much more dull, if that’s possible!
You never really know the true level of your interlocutor until you have seen something written by him, preferably in his own hand, and it’s usually a dreary surprise how little most people really know, not just about writing but about life in general. In the meantime, I have to worry about myself. You can keep your iPods and tablet computers. I think I’ll just go read “The Red Orchestra”, a true, French-language suspense thriller about Stalin’s spy network in Nazi-occupied Europe, out of print for 50 years. Try to find that on your telephone!
*RIP Dean - still missed three years on.- Editor
Anybody who wants to get a thumbnail of the changing demographic of American society would do well to take a ride uptown to the Lorenz Latin Dance Studio on 110th Street