Europe: the birthplace of academia, the nexus of modern thought, an encyclopedic history written in the streets, an opening for the mind to the questions that have rattled scholars for centuries, where you’ll spend 90 percent of your time comparing ham prices at the grocery store and searching the street for kebabs, streaming nightly episodes of “Seinfeld” and dropping change in the sewers.
Some of those are not like the rest. I was on one such kebab hunt when I saw a giant sign hanging there: “Welcome to Paris, David Beckham!”
In a lot of ways, this place showcases exceptionalism at its most obnoxious. Let’s really think about it, on a strictly human-to-human level: Why does that guy get a sign? Where’s mine? Where’s yours? Where’s the sign for us average people? How is he better than I?
I mean, at least a couple times during my pre-college basketball career I shot on the wrong hoop. So what? It’s not like it went in the hoop. And when you’re trying to ride out the cramps from the two hotdogs you ate right before the jump ball, it’s pretty hard to concentrate on the game.
What about that D- in chemistry? The 9-minute mile? My scrambled egg tacos? What about the average?
After getting through what few books I packed with me overseas, I’ve been spending a lot of my downtime sifting through issues of Harvey Pekar’s decades-long comic series “American Splendor.” They’re mostly stories about Harvey, an average Clevelander who has friends come to visit, snow to shovel, work to get done and obnoxious interactions at the grocery store. There’s really nothing to them – and that’s the beauty.
It really throws me for a loop, observing somebody’s stories as they go through their daily lives. There’s no moral, no higher meaning, no veiled literary interpretation. It’s just a bunch of illustrated stories of a guy who wants to talk to you. They’re stories about the average – and they draw me into the pages like no other.
But you know, we’re becoming a society so zoomed in on the “exceptional” (say Michael Phelps – that man is part dolphin – or Oprah Winfrey – she’s exceptional somehow) that it’s a relief to read about the people you pass on the street, the ones at family reunions, the one you see in the mirror. I don’t want to hear about the chef, I want to hear about the guy eating the food.
I don’t know, maybe I’ll start a fund, and we can find some guy and get his face plastered on Wisconsin Avenue. Hand out trophies or something. I think we all deserve a little something just for being around.