Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"Making a difference"

The almost-35-year old Terry Schmidt had very nearly nothing left anymore of the delusion that he differed from the great herd of the common run of men, not even in his despair at not making a difference or in the great hunger to have an impact that in his late twenties he'd clung to as evidence that even though he was emerging as sort of a failure the grand ambitions against which he judged himself a failure were somehow exceptional and superior to the common run's - not anymore - since even the phrase Make a Difference had become a platitude so familiar that it was used as the mnemonic tag in the low-budget Ad Council PSAs for Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the United Way, which used Make a Difference in a Child's Life and Making a Difference in Your Community respectively, with B.B./B.S. even acquiring the telephonic equivalent of DIF-FER-ENCE to serve as their Volunteer Hotline number in the metro area. And Schmidt, then just at the cusp of 30, at first had rallied himself into what he knew was a classic consumer delusion, namely that the B.B./B.S. tagline and telephone number were a meaningful coincidence and directed somehow particularly at him, and had called and volunteered to act as Big Brother for a boy aged 11-15 who lacked significant male mentors and/or positive role models, and had sat through the two three-hour trainings and testimonials with what was the psychological equivalent of a rigid grin, and the first boy he was assigned to as a Big Brother had worn a tiny black leather jacket with fringe hanging from the shoulders' rear and a red handkerchief tied over his head and was on the tilted porch of his low-income home with two other boys also in expensive little jackets, and all three boys had without a word jumped into the back seat of Schmidt's car, and the one whose photo and heartbreaking file identified him as Schmidt's mentorless Little Brother had leaned forward and tersely uttered the name of a large shopping mall in Aurora some distance west of the city proper, and after Schmidt had driven them on the nightmarish I-88 tollway all the way to this mall and been directed to pull over at the curb outside the main entrance the three boys had all jumped out without a word and run inside, and after waiting at the curb for over three hours without their returning – and after two $40 tickets and a tow-warning from the Apex MegaMall Security officer, who was completely indifferent to Schmidt's explanation that he was here in his capacity as a Big Brother and was afraid to move the car for fear that his Little Brother would come out expecting to see Schmidt's car right where he and his friends had left it and would be traumatized if it appeared to have vanished just like so many of the adult male figures in his case file's history – Schmidt had driven home; and subsequent telephone calls to the Little Brother's home were not returned. The second 11-15-year-old boy he was assigned to was not at home either of the times Schmidt had come for his appointment to mentor him, and the woman who answered the apartment door – who purported to be the boy's mother although she was of a completely different race than the boy in the file's photo, and who the second time had appeared intoxicated - claimed to have no knowledge of the appointment or the boy's whereabouts or even the last time she'd seen him, after which Schmidt had finally acknowledged that the delusory nature of the impact that the Ad Council's PSAs had made on him and had – being now 30 and thus older, wiser, more indurant – given up and gone about his business.

David Foster Wallace, Oblivion (p47-48)

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