I was standing behind a woman at the grocery store checkout a couple of days ago, patiently awaiting my turn, browsing the tabloid headlines and marveling at the variety of lip balms that are available to today’s consumers, when I happened to glance down at the products that were at that moment being zipped across the scanner and into the bags.
Mountain Dew. Cheetos. Ground beef (a ten-pound package). Wonder bread. Hot Pockets (six boxes). Hot dogs (four eight-packs). Microwaveable breakfast sandwiches. Little Debbie snack assortments. Potato chips. Frosted Flakes. Frozen pizza. An explosion of colors, textures and flavors that have never occurred in nature.
All told, a hundred and seventy dollars worth of groceries, with collectively less nutrition than a pound of pine bark.
Like millions of other people sitting in front of their computers yesterday, my reaction to the sad story of Cecil the lion was both visceral and vehement. The impulse to react accordingly was irresistible: it was also wrong.
The fifty-something American from Minnesota whose adventures launched such a firestorm was perfectly cast for the role of villain. He was a dentist, a job that arouses pretty negative feelings in many of us; better yet, he was obviously a wealthy dentist: How many of us can afford to walk away from our jobs for weeks at a stretch to go jaunting off around the globe (especially when we have dental bills to pay)? Most importantly, he was an avid sports hunter, not just of the local turkey and deer but of animals that most of us only dream of ever seeing in the flesh.
Some time ago I heard about a couple of guys who were going to use helium balloons to send up disposable cameras with instructions for whoever finds the cameras to use them to take pictures of themselves and their lives and then send the cameras back.
Then, as now, I thought the idea was a singularly bad one, mainly for environmental reasons: the balloons were almost certainly going to end up choking a sea turtle or an albatross when they blew out to sea and came to rest somewhere in the Atlantic.
I’ll never forget those long, hot afternoons of my adolescence, huddled with you in the college library, dripping sweat onto overdue term papers, struggling to find words that could compare to yours (but stopping before things got out of hand and I lost a letter grade due to plagiarism.) World Book, Encyclopedia Americana, they just didn’t compare. They didn’t have the heft, the smooth pages bound so seductively in leather and gold, the splashes of tropical color in the sections on Argentina, on Birds, on Cheese. Studying without you has never been the same.
This afternoon I found myself looking for a specific historical reference to use in one of my incredibly erudite Facebook posts. (I forget what the topic was: I suppose it says something about me that I remember making the extra effort to sound really smart, but I don’t for the life of me remember what we were talking about, or why it was necessary to impress anybody.)
Michelangelo’s statue of Moses in Rome shows a bearded man with two horns sticking out of his forehead. This was because by Michelangelo’s day the Old Testament had been translated and re-translated, and some inevitable confusion had crept in. The original Hebrew text had described rays of light coming out of Moses’ face, but in the process of translation the words used to describe Moses’ halo were misread as referring to horns. Eventually, scholars learned to rely less on the work of other scholars and to check these things for themselves, but by then the damage had been done.