THE RUBBER CHICKEN
Once a rubber chicken began to fret that it lacked sufficient gravitas. Or rather, the rubber chicken had come to sense that the crowd it found itself with for lunch or dinner every day didn’t show much interest in gravitas. It had assumed its companions, being figures who took themselves very seriously, would give more thought to the image they projected. These were the movers and shakers of society, were they not? Legislation wasn’t adopted without their nod. Businesses rose or fell on a chance word they might drop. A provincial backwater could become a “world-class city” overnight if they labeled it one. They raised the money for museums, convention centers, children’s charities, philanthropic appeals. They broke the ground for stadiums and named buildings after themselves. Then why, the rubber chicken wondered, couldn’t they behave at the table with a little more decorum? Why were they always slapping each other on the back and talking too loudly? Why did they so often claim that meals on the “rubber chicken circuit,” as they derisively called it, were without distinction and then proceed to leave stains all over the tablecloth and crumbs all over their chairs? When the guest speaker opened with a joke that the chicken itself must have heard a thousand times, why did every last one of them start choking with laughter and pounding the table like a country bumpkin? And the speeches! Who wrote these jumbles of tired sentiment and penny profundities? Retired generals saluted the past and either decried “the self-involved youth of today” or praised “the self-sacrificing youth of today.” Has-been functionaries huffed about the shortcomings of their successors. Motivational speakers trotted out lists of keyword formulas, all of which seemed to come down to “do whatever works.” Civic boosters extolled the virtues of the latest SUV-Only-Days recommendation for dealing with urban gridlock. Venture capitalists introduced multimedia displays of their vision of “human empowerment” as a digital buying spree. Disgraced CEOs pretended they couldn’t recall heading companies they’d run into the ground just last week. Political candidates told potential donors whatever they wanted to hear. And so on and so forth. But the worst of it, in the rubber chicken’s view, was that these people weren’t really as dim as they made themselves appear. Many of them were in fact quite bright. Yet they chose to conduct their public lives as if intelligence and introspection were liabilities, attributes to be disguised or even concealed if you wanted to ingratiate yourself with those who claimed superiority over everyone else in society. It was all very depressing, this strange notion of what merited revering and what passed for prestige. Unless these people began showing themselves to be worthy of the power they claimed to wield and the esteem they expected, the rubber chicken might just have no choice but to RSVP its regrets to any future banquet invitations from them. We are judged, it was convinced, by the company we keep.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans