“Make a legacy, then retire champions.” Serena Williams
I wish I could say my friend, Bruce, went gracefully. He died in a struggle to live, something a lot of us do. We don’t want to leave without a fight, but it isn’t long before someone’s looking at their watch. Bruce understood that better than most people. He was always looking at his watch. He left theatres before the credits began. He had the sentiment of a playing card.
In doing his eulogy, I realized Bruce left nothing. He had talent, he was a Mensa, he worked for big corporations. He retired and vacationed in Cuba, spending his money on girls and occasional bottles of cheap champagne. All he left in the end was a condominium and some stocks. His collection of pornography was carted off by friends.
They were miniatures bought at Dollarama before he went south. He handed them out on the beach like paper flags at a patriotic parade.
On the tapes were Cuban prostitutes, sitting in bodegas or the rooms he rented in Guanabo. One of the girls is asking Bruce to marry her. Another shows a Mantanza teenager in the shower, telling him she likes the shampoo. They were miniatures bought at Dollarama. He handed them out like paper flags at a parade. Cuban girls like shampoo. They also like to eat.
In his eulogy, I mentioned that Bruce invested heavily in games. One time, he’d ordered a fighter jet simulation, shooting down Russian T-50s. Some nights, he was too busy with this aerial carnage to answer the door. His gaming consoles were also taken by friends.
We’re not looking for levels of voyeurism when someone dies. We’d rather hear they got a cat out of a tree.
When I say he left nothing, there was nothing of consequence. Gaming scores don’t amount to much. Being a steady hand with a camera while someone bathes doesn’t mean much, either. We’re not looking for levels of voyeurism. We’d rather hear a cat was saved before the final needle (which Bruce did near the end: from the saddle to the ground, salvation was found).
Anyone knowing Bruce would say he was a good man, but good and useful aren’t necessarily the same thing. We all have useful moments, but these can be overshadowed by long periods of uselessness. A lot of people visit Cuba each year. They don’t save cats or girls in Guanabo bodegas. They add to the economy in ways the Cuban government would rather not talk about.
A shift towards democracy won’t change that. Tourists like Bruce will always come to Cuba with no interest in legacies. This could be called The Trump Generation. Trump’s legacy won’t fill the back of a business card. Ours won’t be much better. The Trump Generation is about “getting,” and the shear force of acquisition becomes a daily exercise.
Ancestory.com is doing great business these days. In the fourth quarter of last year, they sold over 1.4 million Ancestory/DNA kits costing $99 dollars each.
It’s built on the notion that leaving anything behind is stupid. Real men leave gaming consoles, real women leave shampoo. Videos consist of steaks on a barbecue and candy tumbling out of broken piñatas at kids’ birthday parties.
Ancestory.com is doing great business these days. In the fourth quarter of last year, they sold over 1.4 million Ancestory/DNA kits costing $99 dollars each. The yearend total amounted to $850 million.
People want to know where they came from, or at least something to justify the cost of a search. Did a faraway relation invent the Lundy fence or develop the formula for Listerine? These things matter in hindsight and make for interesting conversation, but it’s the rarefied few who want to better their forefathers or foremothers. It’s a party game rather than a motivator.
We just take the DNA test and marvel at the past. Nothing inspires us to rush out and invent a better Listerine formula.
Hemingway’s son, Bumbie (Hem’s nickname), never attempted anything close to his father’s reputation. It seemed like one historical figure in the family was enough. Two granddaughters, Margaux and Mariel, went into acting with limited success. The Great One was the last Hemingway of any distinction for reasons nobody knows or necessarily cares about.
For the rest of us, it’s not much better. We take the DNA test and marvel at the past. Nothing inspires us to rush out and invent a better Listerine formula. Nor are we going to write anything better than “Farewell to Arms.”
Somehow consumerism has stopped our genetic reason to try, settling for a salary instead, and occasionally taking a stand against something on Facebook. Our heroes are up on the screen, and companies like Netflix have more money than some countries’ treasuries.
Last year alone, Netflix saw such a rise in online orders, they’re spending $5 billion on new shows. To realize any profit will take years, but the money will come. We’re too dependent on the minds of others, too fixed to our monitors, phones and televisions.
We’re proud of our kids’ volleyball games or that they graduated with honours, never wondering if they’re proud of us.
It used to be, when someone passed away, you’d find boxes of books, letters, cards, photos — even awards. In some respects, you could follow the course of their successes and their proudest moments.
Now all we have are computer files and photo libraries.
It’s a strange irony in one way. We post pictures on the Internet, we show our families, our homes, our friends. We’re proud of our kids’ volleyball games or graduating with honours, never wondering if they’re proud of us.
I look at my own accomplishments. Compared to my ancestors, they’re negligible. Compared to the people I read about, they’re a speck.
I went through our family history, finding one ancestor who wrote an encyclopedia in Latin, oversaw the writing of the Bishop’s Bible, got stabbed by Cardinal Wolsey and served as Father Confessor to Ann Boleyn. I also have the prayer book of another ancestor who crowned Queen Victoria.
Compared to them, my accomplishments seem negligible. They’re a speck.
I can live with this to a certain extent, but I still wonder what my own eulogy will sound like. Will there be any accomplishment that causes even a minor distraction from the movies or television?
It’s something to think about. I wish Bruce had thought about it, too.
Robert Cormack is a novelist, blogger and freelance copywriter. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores (now in paperback). Check out Yucca Publishing or Skyhorse Press for details.