People you meet on the Road VI: Disappointment, Charlie Chaplin and Yogurt

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Whosoever said that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover was a hypocritical son of a bitch. Humans are programmed to desire, rarely to appreciate. We may not like this side of ourselves, but pretending to be immune to it altogether is silly. In all likelihood these pretensions to the moral high ground may even lessen your enjoyment of things, as you force yourself to do things you don’t particularly enjoy just to prove a point. Truth be told, the performance of an experience is almost as important as the content thereof.

To easily illustrate what I mean, I shall say that I recently had a wonderful meal at a Moroccan restaurant. Yet not content with this, I decided to top it all off with a dessert. Last time that I’d been there someone had talked me into trying the yogurt, and I must say that it was a delicious experience.

This time around though they lived up to the Moroccan lifestyle far too much, as empires rose and fell faster than the time it took for me to get my dessert. Eventually I decided that my sweet tooth wasn’t worth the wait; hence I stood up and went to the cashier to pay, rather than wait a second more. On the way there, you had to pass through the kitchen and I saw one of the cooks spooning out a yogurt from a shop container into a bowl.

When my waiter saw me attempting to leave he tried to get me to stay, and I did, but by then the spell was broken. I saw the farce for what it was, far from the homemade traditional yogurt I thought it was, it was simply a store bought one in a fancy presentation and with nuts and berries to further disguise it. This realization should not have altered my enjoyment of the final product in any shape or form. I had, after all, been more than satisfied with ordering it on other days. Yet it suddenly didn’t taste as well as it once did, because it left behind the bitter taste of lies.

“Lies” may be too strong a term for this, they never made any claim whatsoever that it was homemade. I’d just spun this tale to myself as the food has this homely taste to it, and I’d hate it to be any other way. Be that as it may, something quite ephemeral was lost once I saw the yogurt’s true identity. On a lesser scale it was like learning that Santa Claus didn’t exist.

Drama aside, I was reminded of a conversation I once had with Charlie Chaplin. Or perhaps, appropriately enough for this article, an impersonator of his. A couple of years ago, back when I was still attempting to grow some balls to approach girls I fancied on the street, I would go to Covent Garden and watch the shows as a delaying tactic.

For the benefit of my non tea totting audience, I’ll say that Covent Garden in London is the Mecca for street performers. Over the centuries this market has evolved to become the big leagues for jugglers, magicians, and clowns alike. There you will find the creme of the crop and, if I understand it correctly, the permission to perform there is a coveted privilege. To even be deemed worthy you have to stand a gruelling test and be harshly judged. If you happen to pass, you’re granted permission to perform, in a strictly regimented schedule -In Britain even clowning around has to be a punctual and bureaucratic affair, the Queen wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Few make the cut, and thus it should not surprise that after a while I had seen all the performances the square had on offer. With habit came complacency; and with complacency came boredom which brought a desire for novelty and discovery. In time I noticed that every show followed the same sort of pattern. Every beat, every joke that seemed to occur spontaneously, had been carefully designed beforehand. Even the heckler putdowns were designed with a particular purpose in mind. It is for this reason I started observing them to analyse their shows as a means to charm crowds. At the end of the day, this circus was all an elaborate mating dance to convince tourists to voluntarily part with their money by offering a show in return.

The interesting thing is that you got to see the show for free, and you were under no real obligation to pay anything at all. The key of the matter was to be so compelling that people would willingly throw money at you. Some would opt for the dark arts of the school charm. There was one I called “the angry magician”, for he constantly berated whosoever dared to watch his show without paying, even singling them out and shaming them when they left early without dropping a bob or two in his hat.

Others decided to take the highroad, and among them there was Diego, the Charlie Chaplin imitator. I have to commend the man, as he did it all whilst being as silent as a straight man in a musical. It’s one thing to mime simple things (base emotions like anger, happiness, sadness, etc) but quite another to mime complicated ideas. So it took the better part of ten minutes to convey the concept, with the aid of a board and pictures, that people should pay him whatever amount they feel comfortable with. This is a large chunk of the total runtime of his show – inefficient to say the least, considering he could just ask in the last ten seconds the same thing with no real net loss.

Hence, driven by curiosity, I went and talked with him once after his show. I tried to pick his brain on the structure of the performance, but most importantly, why he bothered with the last bit at all. He told me that indeed, he had thought of the same thing when he’d started out. He’d even done it for a while and verbally asked for money. But he started noticing that it bit into his bottom line. If he kept everything the exact same, but changed the final ten minutes to him talking once more, he actually got less than if he didn’t bother asking anything at all.

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His reasoning behind it was that over the course of his show he took the audience on a journey. He presented himself as the character of the “The Tramp” and people expected him to act in a certain way. When he eventually failed to meet the expectations, hoisted on him by the role he’d adopted, the spell was broken and the world that had been collectively crafted all but disappeared. It was essential to know the notes he had been hitting and to stick with them. We’re creatures driven by fantasy, and we’ll quickly grow to resent whosoever destroys our dreams, regardless of how silly they may seem.

This realisation goes beyond street performances as well. Whenever we interact with another person, we present ourselves as a character. It’s all but impossible to have someone know your whole being and thus we have to pick and choose what elements to show. This then presents a curious dilemma, if we’ve established a certain persona when interacting with someone else, it’s difficult to show other facets of ourselves without freaking them out and having them lose interest. It’s why guys constantly scream about “falling “into the friendzone. The silly thing of the matter is that these men did not fall into the friendzone, they put themselves there because they were never honest about their intent and thus interacted with the world as an asexual and altogether different character. As such, when they showed any sexual desire to the girl it seemed like a Teddy Bear that had grown teeth and claws – disorienting at best, scary at worst.

One should always be aware of the goals of the character that one is playing. Is your behaviour logical? To do so without a hitch, one has to do it with honesty and spirit, but always being aware of the environment and the circumstances. There is a time and place for everything, but you can rarely be two things at once for the same person. Know what you’re trying to achieve, and play your role to the hilt without hesitation. Charlie Chaplin’s main goal was the creation of a childlike fantasy. If he’d purely wanted money he would’ve gone for a safe office job. As such, his passion shows through when he’s congruent and the world rewards him for it. Knowing and understanding our passions and desires is of utmost importance, as it allows us to better live and play our roles better.

Or, as Shakespeare well put it:

” All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

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One thought on “People you meet on the Road VI: Disappointment, Charlie Chaplin and Yogurt

  1. Pingback: Women, Mental Cheesecake & Fidget Spinners – how expectations often don’t match reality – Tantalus Reborn

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