“Ugh, I don’t want to go there!” my 16-year-old daughter, Sara, exclaimed. “It’s so boring!”
We were on one of our frequent meandering drives in and around San Francisco, a favorite Sara activity. She loves to wheel around freshly found neighborhoods, especially those with long, lovely, boulevards: Lincoln, Folsom, Twin Peaks. While I enjoy these rides as well, especially on a temperate day tucked into our aging convertible Mini Cooper, I’m task-oriented. In this case, I wanted to make a deposit at Chase Bank.
“All they do is handle money,” Sara pressed her case. “Even the people who work there are bored.”
As with love, there are multiple shades of boredom, none adequately captured in a single word. There’s the tedium of waiting for an appointment with a doctor or dentist, leafing through the worn celebrity magazine in which the ripped-out page is exactly the one you need to discover which actor another, more famous, actor, has impregnated; eyeing the other would-be patients, hoping whatever they have isn’t contagious. It’s a mix of irritatingly comfortable nostalgic déjà vu, topped with not quite wanting the wait to end, as that could signal the beginning of something even more unpleasant.
There’s the monotony of a long, video-less, plane ride, once all available reading materials have been consumed, regurgitated, and consumed again, with two more hours to go, sleep an unattainable dream. A combo of whole-body frustration leavened with a terrible impulse for fight or flight, straitjacketed with the knowledge that neither is possible.
Sara was referring to the kind of boredom that feels like you’re going to pass out with your eyes wide open, a kind of miasma that’s far heavier than gravity, except its effect is on the soul, rather than the body. Instant ennui; life not worth living.
We all have a trigger for this type of tedium. Mine is clothes shopping, bred by back-to-school outings with my mother to Sear’s or Mervyn’s. The buzzing fluorescent lights stripped all color from the cheap garments on offer, as well as from the faces of the clerks and their customers. The inevitably purchased shirts were predestined to be scratchy; the pants ill-fitting and faintly ridiculous in a frostily uncool way. Negotiating the experience required surrendering the soul, not to the Devil – which at least would involve a palpable sensation, even if it was pain – but to the God of deep apathy and helplessness.
Though I had empathy for Sara, I also, as I mentioned, am task-oriented, and may have been under an unconscious spell to deliver a kind of payback for my own childhood boredom, even if there was nothing due the recipient. While I could’ve allowed her to stay in the car and play with her phone, I made Sara accompany me into the depository. We encountered a spacious set of cubicled offices surrounding a short bank of teller counters, all of which were devoid of any humans bar a single attendant, who leaned heavily against her stall, eyes half-closed.
“I’d like to make a deposit,” I told her, handing over a few checks. “How’s it going today?”
“Pretty slow,” she said. “Pretty boring.”
Sara flashed me dagger-eyes, and stomped off in search of the shrunken-head lollypops distributed at such outlets. There were none.
A few moments, and a lifetime, later, as far as Sara was concerned, we walked out.
“I told you it was boring!” Sara said. “Even she was bored. There’s nothing more boring than money!”
Although I still have trouble staying long in fluorescent-lit warehouses, I’ve shed most of my clothes shopping-induced ennui, probably because I’m more firmly in control of the experience. Now I believe Sara is right, in a much more expansive sense than my autobiographical tick. There really is nothing more tedious than money, whether related to a desperate need for more of it, or overly plumped by an excess of enough.
Which may help explain the current environment, in which a faction that glorifies cash, as represented by gold-plated codpieces and lavish estates, confronts another faction that worships currency, as portrayed by large numbers on a spreadsheet and heavily guarded gatherings of expensive “thought leaders” at seaside settings. It’s all quite boring, though in this case as defined by a volcanic anger buried under heavy layers of dirt and rocks, struggling to bust out.