A dispatch sent from the summer of my discontent

A dispatch sent from the summer of my discontent

“I haven’t met that many happy people in my life,” says Chloe, in a throwaway scene from the “The Big Chill,” the 1983 film that a lot of younger people seem to love to hate. “How do they act?”

It’s a valid question.

Speaking for myself — and only myself — the whole notion of happiness is a construct of American exceptionalism, a utopian ideal forever entombed in the Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, ratified in Philadelphia in July 1776, “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

OK, then.

Sounds noble, quite possibly the greatest sentence ever penned.

Consider for a moment, though, the word “pursuit.”

It’s what lawyers call a loophole, the kind of thing you find in the small print of the cell-phone contract you never bothered to read, the way you find yourself on the losing end of nearly every legal argument you have the temerity to bring against those in charge.

It’s not happiness the Founders guaranteed, just its illusion.

After all, we pursue many things we never achieve, and speaking for myself — and only myself — I can’t blame my shortcomings on anyone else. No one really cares how bad it gets. It’s just life, and to quote Tony Soprano, “Hey, what’re you gonna do about it?”

He says this after his mother has died, thus ending a legal headache.

Happiness isn’t the apotheosis of the human condition; rather, I think, it’s the temporary absence of misery, the kind of inkling that creeps into your mind a minute or two after waking up, the faithful daily reminder that says, “Oh yeah, I almost forgot about that.”

Carrying on in the midst of crises, the refusal to buckle when all seems lost, the way we all see a way forward when every exit feels blocked, that’s how we endure. It’s not supposed to be easy — I get that — but it would be nice to be surprised every now and again.

Not to get all political — and speaking for myself and only myself — these are hard days, indeed. It’s been a summer of discontent, filled with angst and anger, impotent rage and useless rancor.

No one I know seems very happy.

That’s probably more a reflection on my insidious malaise than it is anyone else’s state of mind, and it’s important to make that clear.

After all, I’ve been mainlining “The Sopranos” for a week now, and repeated exposure to that kind of hypocrisy tends to melt the mind.

Nothing bad really happens to that gang of thieves and murderous hoodlums, who exist only for their ability to skate past the rules.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s a time for the worst to thrive.

I was thinking about the time I got audited by the IRS about 20 years ago and how, despite what I considered to be my clear innocence, I got nailed with a monetary penalty that still stings.

And speaking for myself and only myself, it wasn’t fair.

I know folks who talk openly about, um, altering their taxes.

But that’s life. One man’s problem is another man’s happiness.

So where does that leave us?

My solution is to raise the drawbridge and let no one else in, to isolate myself to the extent it keeps me safe in my own little world, just being grateful for the roof over my head and enough food to survive, a job that still exists and reasonably good health.

But I still have to venture out into that hostile environment that is the dismal summer in the year 2022. Last week, for example, I ordered a large pizza with anchovies and got artichokes instead.

Did I complain, raise a ruckus? Of course not. I paid, and I left.

A few days later, I bought a fluorescent light that didn’t fit the fixture above the sink. Did I drive back into town and demand my money back? No, I just stored it in a closet and tried to forget it all.

Happiness, offered Charles Schulz, was a warm puppy, to which John Lennon replied, no, it’s a warm gun. Who was really right?

I don’t know much, but speaking for myself — and only myself — the longer I live, the more convinced I am the whole game is rigged, that there is no point to even try to do the right thing.

Let’s close this week’s epistle by returning to “The Big Chill,” my generation’s Declaration of Co-Dependence, and consider this line:

“Wise up, folks,” says William Hurt in his role as Nick. “We’re all alone out there, and tomorrow, we’re going out there again.”

Mike Dewey can be reached at CarolinamikeD@aol.com or 6211 Cardinal Drive, New Bern, NC 28560. Also, you can join the fun on Facebook.