originally published September 24, 2012

Good morning, class.

I’m your substitute teacher, Mr. Pezsnecker. Mrs. Kwibble left me some notes on what you kids have been working on, so we’re going to jump right into some math. Let’s see… she was talking to you about mass and volume. Can anyone tell me something about volume? You, kid in the red shirt.

Alright, it makes your TV get louder. Everyone around you just laughed. Do you feel good? Do you feel like you’ve gained some social acceptance as the class comic? You think that’ll get you laid in high school? Come talk to me when you’re working at a bottle depot in twenty years, kid. Anyone else? No?

Volume is the amount of space that an object or substance occupies. We’re not going to get into the formulas to calculate volume; apparently your Mrs. Kwibble doesn’t think you’re up to learning that stuff. She wants me to focus on two concepts: full and empty. Can someone tell me something that can be empty? You, with the stringy pony tail.

A glass of water. How clever. Alright, someone else. Someone with a bit of imagination. Freckle-kid, how about you?

A bucket of chicken? Better. I’d have expected that answer to come from the young Dom Deluise-looking bastard in the back row. Yeah, I said Deluise. Look him up. Don’t worry though, he was funny. Funnier than red-shirt up here.

You, Jew-fro kid. Your hand is still up, what’s your example?

A stomach? Interesting. A stomach is never completely empty, though. Your stomach will always have enzymes, acid, and probably some traces of whatever preservative-laden crap your parents stuff in your lunches every day. I swear, when you kids die, rot and decay, all that’ll be left on the bottom of your coffins will be dust, bones, and that non-food that passes for ‘meat’ inside a Lunchables box.

I don’t want you to get all hung-up on the stomach as a link to emptiness. That just isn’t healthy. It can lead to eating disorders, which some think are a result of an ‘emptiness of spirit’, an on-going hunger of the soul. That kind of stuff can mess with your head.

Let me ask you something. Can a person be empty? Don’t answer, I’ll tell you. The answer is hell yes. Excuse me… heck yes. No – no, wait. I can’t tone this down. You kids need to learn this. It’s hell yes. HELL yes.

Humankind is filled with empty people. Empty vessels who try to fill the void inside them with something. Any idea what they try to fill themselves with? You, ginger kid in the back, with the ugly shirt.

Love? Did you seriously just say that? Wow. Your parents plunked you down in front of a lot of Disney films, didn’t they? No, love is not something you consciously fill your life with. Love happens if it happens. People who are looking for love to fill their lives are really just filling it with something else; they just hope love lies somewhere down the dark alley they’ve decided to run through.

People – and this includes your parents, their friends, and someday you – try to fill their lives with something primal: food, intoxication, a sense of self-constructed purpose, sex, religion… why are you giggling?

Oh right, I said ‘sex’. I forgot my audience for a moment. You mind if I smoke?

Let me tell you something about emptiness. You don’t realize it’s there. Tonight you’ll go home and play with your Pokemons and your Playstations, and you won’t realize there’s a black hole at the center of your universe, and all you’re doing is focusing on the few stars that haven’t yet been swallowed by it. Existentialism teaches that the person who truly faces the emptiness, who embraces his or her alienation from other people, from God and from nature, those are the authentic people.

But you probably don’t know any of those authentic people. Yes, dopey-looking kid in the front row, you know me. But I’m a fake, a fraud. I try to drink away my emptiness. I gamble. Every Friday night I… well, you’re too young to understand this. Let’s just say I get into some pretty crazy stuff with a few very reasonably-priced girls I know. No, Asian kid in the hat, I’m not going to answer any questions about that.

You know who’s got it right? The Buddhists. Any Buddhists in the class? No? That’s a shame. Buddhists celebrate their emptiness. Once you truly realize your emptiness you can become liberated. That’s an end to your suffering. I know, you little dinks probably think you’re suffering when Spongebob is preempted by an extra-innings baseball game. But you’ll grow up and learn all about real suffering. Hopefully you’ll have the good sense to become Buddhists. I wish I did.

Taoism believes emptiness is a state of pure mind, a mirror of the universe. These people, like the Buddhists, use their awareness of emptiness as a foundation for meditation. Can you believe that? They deconstruct the bullshit of – sorry, bullcrap of their lives, then find peace in the nothingness that lies beneath.

And don’t get me started on the Christians. How many of you are Christians? I thought so, most of you. Heh, yeah I totally knew you were a Jew, glasses-kid. Am I right? Anyway, the Christians only see emptiness in terms of spiritual emptiness. Christianity’s answer is to fill the void with prayer, with faith, with all the crap they usually hock in the big Christian Gift Shop. That’s all well and good, but first you have to have bought in. If you don’t believe to begin with, talking yourself into faith just to avoid waking up crying at three in the morning aint’ gonna work. Are you giggling again? What the hell is wrong with you people?

Look, I’m not going to window-dress this for you kids. You’re smarter than the brats I grew up with. You have the internet now – no one’s going to fool you. But you’re still going to fall into the same trap of social alienation that catches everyone. And you’ll fill that nagging void with something – volunteering to bathe old people, gorging yourself on trans fats, building model zeppelins or suckling at the teat of sweet, sweet Johnny Walker. It’ll be your choice. My advice is simply to dive in with the knowledge that you can’t win.

Oh, that’s the recess bell. Alright, after recess we’re going to practice spelling. Whichever one of you turns out to be the best speller gets to drive my car around the block. Don’t get excited; it’s just a Hyundai. See you in fifteen minutes.

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