I was walking through a local park with my mother, a woman who, had she grown up in this era instead of the miserable World War II period, might have been a neo-pagan.
They didn't have pagans in the '40s; they had cocktails, sweater sets and rationing. Still, having dismissed the churches available at the time and without the new awareness of "that old time religion," (like it says on Stonehenge T-shirts), my mom maintains a belief in the power of nature and, "Do what you will but harm none," without ever thinking about it or putting it into words. If you said "drum circle" she'd think of Buddy Rich's fan club, and the only candles she's ever bought have been in case of a blackout. Still, when it comes to nature, she's a natural.
So we're walking and she's going on, with surprising verve, about the magnificence of this ancient tree or the elegance of that Spanish moss and how great the balance of nature is. Flatly underwhelmed with most people and their second-rate achievements, it takes nothing less than all outdoors to impress her and right now she's impressed.
"There is beauty in the world," she says, as though it has finally been proven to her.
"Do you think it makes up for all the bad things?" I say.
Without missing a beat she says "No. There are a lot of nuts in the world. They have to be nuts — some people and the things they do."
That she can be moved by a bromeliad yet maintain a cynicism that makes Denis Leary look like Mary Poppins is why I like her.
Yes, there are nuts in the world and she meant the bad kind — the suicide bombers, kidnappers and assorted bastards whose greedy idiocy ruin it for the rest of us. There's another kind of nut, though, the harmless kid whose buffoonery just has to make you laugh. I like this kind because the news these nuts provide us, compared to most, is a walk in the park.
Case in point: The global village has found a new global village idiot in the person of Caesar Barber, the guy who has brought a class-action suit against several fast-food chains because their food caused him to balloon up to 270 pounds, and they didn't tell him it was bad for him. If you spot Barber on the street, try to get him to trade his car for a handful of magic beans. It could work.
This lawsuit has been compared to those successfully filed against tobacco companies. Those lawsuits were similarly insubstantial, in that we all know cigarettes are bad: We don't have to smoke. I smoke. Sometimes I eat really greasy junk food, too. And when I start coughing or can hear the stitches of my clothes straining to stay together, I stop smoking or go to the gym because this balancing act is what adulthood is all about.
The whole point of growing up is getting to take control of yourself, for good or ill, and there's less danger to society in cigarettes and fat-squirting chicken legs than there are people who insist on being too goddamn dumb to know a few basics.
This kind of bullshit lawsuit undermines real lawsuits, too. America seems like a very litigious society, but really, it's nice that we have an avenue to justice for those who have been genuinely wronged. Underline "genuinely." Take, for example, the lawsuit that made Erin Brockovich a household name, the one in which Pacific Gas and Electric had dumped lethal toxins and poisoned the groundwater of a California town, unbeknownst to its citizens.
There was a legitimate lawsuit: You can reasonably expect water to be harmless. Contrast this to expecting to be paid because the surly teen-ager at the drive-through didn't explain that stuff that comes out of the fat fryer has fat in it. Jesus. How stupid is it to be these days without getting classified as "special?"
Another irritation is that this lawsuit makes those of us who aren't dumb bricks act defensive of the fast-food industry. No one wants to have to defend cheap, greasy fast-food as being a good thing. But it's like all those things you're supposed to know aren't exactly culturally or intellectually nutritious, such as "Jackass," romance novels and manufactured pop music: You're supposed to enjoy them. That's what they're there for. It's when they become your whole diet that you're a moron. Case closed. And chalk another one up for the idea of balance.
So yes, this guy is nuts, but in that harmless way. It's nice to find a news item that doesn't make us think the world is going to hell on a greased poll, but makes us think, "My God, was the work of Subway's Jared all in vain?" Nuts like Barber are the human equivalent of fast-food: fine in small doses. But not to be treated as if they have substance.Liz Langley writes for Orlando Weekly. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org