Echo Park, Los Angeles, April 2010

Telluride Daily Planet, Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Reality is the light and fluffy topic of the day here in LA with my friend Dave, 10 years free and clear of Telluride, an Angeleno by birth returned successfully to his proper place in the universe. And according to Dave, at the end of the red-sunned day, there is not a shadow of a doubt that LA is a more real Reality than a certain village perched steeply and deeply at the end of a road, six hours from the nearest traffic jam or designer cupcake.

The discussion officially takes form with Dave’s use of my name in conjunction with the words, not, Kansas and anymore. This is right after our discovery that my car — the brand new kind — has been vandalized while parked half a block from his house. Since I’m not from Reality (which leaves dream, delusion, fantasy, virtual reality and the looking glass to choose from), I’ve naively left my GPS system on the dash. Reality check!

There’s no dismissing a gaping hole and thousands of pieces of shattered glass — the instant disappearance not only of my navigation device but of my independence and its sunny So-Cal soundtrack. After the initial bewilderment and sadness, I’m left scampering for a part so new it does not exist in Dave’s Reality, but, oddly, only in another, slightly less real reality called Portland, Oregon. It takes three days to get the window and by that time, Dave has swiftly, sweetly and generously dispatched himself to indoctrinate us — via the Black Ford Expedition Tour — on Reality Theory. Which, I think, goes a little something like this:

Number 1. There’s power in numbers. How many others are there with you corroborating Reality? The more the better. Because, when you start paring down numbers, things become less and less real. How real is a Mongolian outpost of three yurts, compared to, say, the Reality-generating power of a seething, hip-hop-bleeding metropolis of 11 million I-think-therefore-I-ams?

Number 2. Does it take you an hour to get to your job? Congratulations, your job’s real. You’re in Reality.

Number 3. Does it overwhelm or over-stimulate the average frontal lobe? If so, it’s real. Per Dave, Reality is nothing if not the five-sense nitty gritty maze of life. The more difficult it all is to negotiate, the more real. In LA, amid the shiny leased cars and freeways, the hazy sun, the bacon dog stands, pupuserias, and bags of fresh mango, amid hills and the Hollywood sign, palms and cacti, smog and sea wind, traffic and vandalism and watching your bag in certain places and your back in others, life simply grows into something so rife with description it cannot be resisted or refuted.

Number 4. Is pain involved? Because misery irrefutably trumps everything. It’s never not real. And to the degree that pain and suffering create Reality, pleasure, ease, and leisure erase it. Those skipping along, la-la-la, in resort towns partying 24/7? They don’t know beans about Reality. Those skipping along partying 24/7 in LA-LA Land? They’re still golden on account of Number 2.

Before my car got Reality-jacked, I was probably less real to Dave. Ergo, it would be tempting to say you can add a little suffering to anything to make it more real. But that’s stupid. Because at the other end of the philosophical spectrum, the Velveteen Rabbit Police are there reminding you that Love is what makes everything Real, not the intersection of matter and its observation. How do philosophers address these differences of opinion?

Obviously, too comprehensive a subject to delve into here. Dave would argue that philosophers will never agree on the nature of Reality, so it doesn’t matter. Plus, they have no credibility in the first place since they don’t even live in Reality (unless they’re in LA and preferably married to commuters). Their numbers aren’t big enough to count (see Number 1), and they’re not likely to be over-stimulated or in pain if they spend all day philosophizing. Thus does the question of Reality eventually end up in gridlock.

There’s a well-watched Youtube video — both hilarious and sad — in which a 7-year-old boy in the back seat of a car, fresh from oral surgery and nitrous oxide, asks his father, eyes swimming, voice uncertain: “Is this real life?”

My friend Dave and the goofy kid make me think that this might be a question we should all be asking every day — in every metropolis and village, in every cave and cubicle, on every mountaintop, in every dusty street and under every quilt as dawn breaks. Because in the same way that some believe you can steer your dreams by training yourself to ask “Am I dreaming?” we might better steer real life, without any GPS at all, by asking ourselves over and over again what Reality really, really is.

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