When I was a grade schooler, I turned my tiny bedroom in my parents’ apartment in Queens, New York into a log cabin on the American frontier. I had this powerful drive to change my circumstances 180 degrees, turn back the clock and rearrange geography so that I could roam the valleys and the plains of the Old West, herd cattle, sleep under the stars, build a log cabin with my own hands. Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett: these were my heroes. More than that, I would turn my bed into a tent and imagine I was them. Alone on the prarie, shaping America.
An hour later, my room would transform itself into Jonas Salk’s laboratory. I had a chemistry set and I would create all manner of potions and compounds, heat them on my Bunsen burner, wildly and passionately in pursuit of the next great scientific breakthrough. At the time, Salk’s vaccine for polio was undergoing mass trials on the school children of America and I was one of them. Polio Pioneers, we were called, and although I had little understanding of the magnitude of this grand experiment, I liked everything about “pioneers” and I understood that Salk was a great man who had found a way to accomplish “the impossible.” In medical school, he had been told that it is impossible to create a vaccine for a virus. Salk saw that as conventional thinking. He didn’t believe it for a second and because he was a Serial Skeptic, he could go on and prove the impossible, possible.
Perhaps the favorite thing in my room –even more beloved than my six shooter, my cowboy boots, my lasso, the chemistry set and the more than 100 biographies of historic figures I had read before the age of 10–was my ant farm.
For hours, I was hypnotized watching the tiny creatures burrow their way through the soil, building complex roadways, turning dirt into cities, developing their own civilization out of a mysterious drive and determination. As I studied them, I saw that it wasn’t just a bunch of ants: among them were leaders, inspirational figures, engineers, city planners, visionaries. They weren’t entertainment: they were education.
As a child of a middle class family in a characterless chock a block borough of New York City, I didn’t have the means to venture off and see very much of the world. People in Queens didn’t do that.
So I brought the world and all of its fascinations into my room. And I turned that room into a theater of the absurd. And in a way, I have never left.
The more we escape the confines of what we know and expose ourselves to what we don’t, the more we grow. If you had walked into my room in those grade school years, you wouldn’t have seen Daniel and Jonas. It was my Cartoon Imagination that brought them there and let me learn, in some distorted but no less romantic version of the truth, what it was like to build America before there was a car, a railroad or a radio anywhere on its soil.
In all of the years since those formative days in my life, I have had thouands of more formative days. I have insisted on living, now and then, or for whole periods of time, in The Theater of The Absurd. Refusing to grow up, to accept the inevitable, to believe there are limitations, to take a nap when I can create, by being romantically fascinated by snow storms, impossible possibilities, summer mornings, sleep deprivation, extreme anything, life on the edge, people who are powered by a thousand Die Hard batteries and the dreamers who can and will do what everyone who is asleep at the wheel and convinced that life has limitations, says they cannot do.
They do what they do because they are geniuses and artists and poets and architects and college drop outs and MBAs and philosophers. And because of one common thread: they are the inhabitants of The Theater Of The Absurd.