February 11, 1998

Views From Metropolis


Wendy M. Pfeiffer

Part 3 in a Series

I've been learning about filters lately. There are all kinds, really.
Lungs are one example. Attitudes are another. And sunglasses.

We went out to a neighborhood sports bar to watch the Superbowl. It was a
friendly crowd. The proprietors even served up a homemade feast for the
crowd, at no charge. (Imagine the joy of a lusty barmaid urging, "Have
more potato salad, dear!") The bar was so dark that I could scarcely see my
baked beans and ham. Mid-way through the first half, a meticulously-dressed
man arrived. He was wearing Armani sweats, Armani shoes, and Armani
sunglasses. His hair was carefully styled, his nails manicured. This man
proceeded to watch the entire game through his sunglasses. His sunglasses
kept a wall up, preventing him from the need to show any reaction to the
events of the game.

One afternoon I returned to work after lunch in a blinding rainstorm. The
sky was low and threatening. The streets were slick. But I noticed
something. People all around me were wearing sunglasses. I began to count
those wearing shades: 14 people in my ten-block trip back to work. And it
was so dark that I needed my Jeep's headlights to see the road. Did their
sunglasses protect them from the reality of bad weather? I noticed that
they were still getting wet!

A few weeks ago I got my hair cut. Yep--chopped off in an Anne Heche-like
style. About 15 minutes into my experience (that's what my stylist calls
it--don't argue, *she* knows), a very strange woman entered the salon.
This woman had a Hair Emergency. She was attending the Golden Globes that
night, and needed to have her roots done. This woman had obviously left
the house in a hurry, and in a panic. She had just one boot on. She had
white leggings and a green raincoat with nothing underneath. She wore
sunglasses. And she managed to have her hair bleached without ever
removing her shades. Her shades protected her from recognition and
humiliation, I suppose.

I've got some friends with asthma. They can go along just fine through all
kinds of complex breathing situations: smoke-filled rooms, childbirth,
swimming, sex. Then comes a call from an ex-boyfriend, a conversation
about life insurance, or a frustrating tussle with traffic. The lungs fill
up, allowing less and less air through their amazing filters. Why do they
need to keep clean, healing air out?

They say our brains have a complex sound-filtration system. After an
initial period of sound analysis and identification, ambient noise is
filtered out, leaving only important sounds in the conscious fore. Perhaps
a similar system is in place with our attitudes. We have an inability to
recognize new input after attitudes are established. This condition allows
us to remain focused and secure. Perhaps it allows us to make progress.

I wonder, though, if our filters limit us? I wonder if, instead of
keeping the bad things out, they keep the bad things in? I wonder what
connections our movie star would make if she allowed others to see her fear
and confusion? I wonder what joys our sports fan would experience if he
ate and drank with regular folks? And how the fragile egos of L.A. would
be strengthened if they weathered real storms!

Anyway, that's the view from here.