All living is hard living, there are no two ways about it. This world will knock you about pretty good if you don’t develop the skills to properly navigate it; there are simply some things you just need to know to survive and thrive. Unfortunately, we are not born with these skills, with this knowledge. For some reason, there is no innate understanding of the characteristics of a high-quality bourbon, or what distinguishes striploin from a porterhouse.
Of course, not all knowledge is essential, or even useful. Despite what they try to tell you in school, math is pretty much worthless unless you need it for whatever career path you’re planning on pursuing. Examples of this might be designing skyscrapers or laundering money for the cartels. (Perhaps an objection could be made here with respect to the need for keeping track of your personal finances. But a smartphone or even a pocket calculator will take care of that. And, in my experience, budgeting tends to more often go awry due to a weakness for designer clothes and drugs and a taste for rare cognac and fresh lobster than from lack of basic addition and subtraction skills.) Likewise, car maintenance and household repairs are realms of mysterious esoteric knowledge better left to experts.
However, as any major dude will tell you, there are certain areas of acquired proficiency that are indispensable. The wherewithal to be able to fix certain things, such as martinis, relationships, and juries, is indisputably vital. Also, being able to rapidly shuck oysters, flambé crêpes suzette, grow antique roses, recite Shakespearean soliloquies, fool a lie detector test, and play some Cole Porter tunes on the piano are all du rigueur skills worthy of any sophisticated lady or gentleman of the world.
Perhaps the most critical of all domains of understanding, however, relates to the extent to which we are able to achieve mastery over ourselves and how we react to the various dire challenges, extraordinary events, or peculiar twists of fate that inevitably come our way.
At some point in every life, one is sure to encounter some form of calamity, large or small. Perhaps you realize in the middle of an important job interview that you are wearing mismatched shoes. Alternatively, your passport and credit cards may be lifted from your purse whilst you are patronizing a Sicilian brothel. Or you could find yourself, for whatever reason, in a situation where you must consume human flesh to survive.
Just as surely as we can expect to encounter dire peril and upheaval, though, we can also be sure that there will be an abundance of beautiful, even miraculous moments in our lives. We will fall in love, or taste the perfect black cherry cheesecake, or win big on the seventh race at Woodbine. We might see a silver UFO hovering above a volcano’s crater, or my friend Jeremy picking up a round at Leopold’s tavern, or a naked woman walking a panther on a diamond-studded leash down the Champs-Élysées.
No matter the scenario, though, good or bad, the truly savvy and adept amongst will take it all in stride. We will check our manicure, stifle a yawn. If sufficiently impressed, we may raise an eyebrow, but never anything more. As usual, the French have the perfect word for this state of casual unconcern: nonchalance. The ability to accept whatever may come in a calm and imperturbable way. In this fraught and capricious world of ours, and in these hysterical, overreacting, over-emoting times, to be still and unimpressed may be the loudest statement of all.