Category Archives: Princess Diana

1000 Words: Pastimes

Years ago I had nothing but contempt for people who cared the slightest iota about the British monarchy.

As recently as 1997 when Princess Diana died, I was dumbfounded by the worldwide emotional reaction to the event. Sitting in the living room of my Near West Side Chicago apartment with the redoubtable former teenaged touring Frisbee champion, African parrot owner, and the only person I’ve ever met who actually read Douglas Hofstadter‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning dense tome, Gödel, Escher, Bach, from cover to cover, Sidney T. Feldman, the two of us watched breathless coverage of the auto accident, mouths agape, and could only respond by agreeing to create a new game we called “Who’s Next?” Participants would be obliged to select three celebrities whose deaths within the next calendar year would be, in their opinion, likely. That first night, I chose Roseanne Barr, Courtney Love, and Ronald Reagan. I lost.

Anyway, I have always found the whole notion of the monarchy ridiculous, they being winners of a bizarre genetic lottery but otherwise unremarkable save for their propensity to engage in scandal and idiocy. I’d snort that this holy land, the United Sates of America, was created largely on the idea that kings and queens and princesses and princes and what in the goddamned hell ever else the royals call themselves (There are earls and baronets and dukes, although I think those characters might not be royal. Whatever. They’re all of a stripe as far as I’m concerned) were to be eschewed. That bloodline aristocracy was a stale relic of a long-past unenlightened age that we of the 21st Century found ludicrous.

Apparently not. As mentioned, the whole world wrung its hands over the tragic snuffing out of Princess Diana’s life. And now, a quarter century later, the world again is crying into its pillow for the death of the 96-year-old queen.

During that 25 years, my feelings have softened. Slightly. I still hold that the monarchy is ridiculous and those who follow the soap operas therein would behoove themselves to do something more productive with their lives, like staring at a blank wall. But I don’t run around spouting that philosophy anymore. It came to me a few years ago that I spend an inordinate amount of time fretting over, analyzing, predicting, mostly lamenting and occasionally celebrating the fortunes of a bunch of baseball players.

How much more ridiculous is it to know who Meghan Markle is than to be obsessively knowledgable about the accomplishments of one Koyie Dolan Hill of Tulsa, Oklahoma who spent six spectacularly unproductive years as a catcher for the Chicago Cubs?

I know way too much about this fellow.

Okay, I figured, I’m no better than someone who knows precisely who Camilla Parker Bowles is. Neither of us has spent time considering the intellectual and creative connections between Kurt Gödel, M.C. Escher, and Johann Sebastian Bach and how those connections illustrate the complex intertwining of human behavior and brain architecture.

Nevertheless, royal watchers and baseball aficionados are engaging in a human necessity: giving ourselves over to pointless inanity. We worry about heavy things throughout most of our lives. How am I gonna pay the bills? Is it safe to walk down the street? What’s that lump in my breast? Are my kids gonna be fried, drowned, frozen, or blown away by hurricanes caused by climate change? We need silly, stupid pastimes to escape from the heaviosity (a word coined by Woody Allen in Annie Hall).

Still, the entire top half of CNN’s home page yesterday was given over to the death of Elizabeth. The New York Times ran a six-column-wide banner headline on the death, with at least a half dozen supporting sidebars and features. And every local newspaper and TV station ran obligatory “Queen’s Passing Touches Many Lives Here” stories. I’m thinking the onset of nuclear holocaust will merit less ink and electrons.

Kids still are brought into the bookstore looking for princess coloring books, sticker books, and pop-ups. “I wanna grow up to be a princess,” a lot of the kids will say. Of course, that aspiration is not at all as common anymore as the many variations on the Girl Power theme, which heartens me. But a significant percentage of kids continue to be in thrall to crowns and gowns and the dream of people waiting on them, hand and foot.

I have one friend, a successful professional woman, who regularly posts about the royal family on social media even when no one of import has died or whatever scandals extant are fading from worldwide attention.

It doesn’t figure.

But, as I say, neither does my deep concern over the state of the Chicago Cubs’ bullpen this season.

Hell, some people build replicas of the Cutty Sark out of matchsticks. There are trainspotters, soap carvers, competitive duck herders, cosplayers, palm readers, firearms collectors, ferret racers, and any number of other seemingly pointless pursuits. Pointless to you and me, but of monumental importance to the practitioners thereof.

The Cutty Sark at the Matchstick Marvels Museum in Gladstone, Iowa.

None of them is more silly than my devotion of brain cells to the merits and drawbacks of the Three True Outcomes baseball philosophy.

Then again, I doubt there are more than ten people alive and awake in Iraq, a former British colony (then called Mesopotamia) that proudly gained independence from the monarchy in 1932, who have the slightest idea of what the Three True Outcomes are. Not many more Iraqis would even know what or who the Chicago Cubs are.

Yet, guaranteed, millions of Iraqis know who Elizabeth was. And a healthy bunch of them may even be mourning.

I’ve got to say it: I’m dumbfounded once again.

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