I guess we inherit a certain worldview from our parents. My father was a reporter for National Geographic, and my mother was the photographer on his assignments. We spent 11 months out of the year seeing the world and taking in its various wonders. Since that's the way I was raised, I just figured that's what families do; that's how life is lived.
My folks retired when I was 19. Not long after, I joined the Peace Corps, in which I helped a remote Honduran village develop an irrigation system. Along the way, I got to know the locals, learned their traditional folk songs and tales, and saw how their strength comes from their closeness and interdependence. Why did I do this? Frankly, because I knew no other way. I was just copying what I'd seen my parents doing.
Today, I'm one of the world's leading anthropologists, an accomplished archaeologist, and an award-winning novelist. And, at 41, I'm only now becoming aware of the globetrotting rut I've been in my entire life. Looking back on everything I've seen and done, I can't help but ask, "Is that all there is?"
If this is such a great life, traveling the world and drinking deep of its bountiful cultural and historical well, then why am I the only guy doing it? It's time for me to wake up to the real joys life has to offer.
Every weekend, in malls across America, guys hit on girls and dine on food-court Chalupas and Mountain Dew, then go off to buy the new Tool CD. Why am I not among them? Because while they're spending genuine quality time in fluorescent-lit shopping corridors, stupid me is off becoming a blood brother of the Blackfoot Indians or observing a Haitian voodoo ceremony. Well, I'm sick of it! I want better. I want to watch the DVD of Miss Congeniality in my bathrobe! I want to blow my money on scratch-off lottery tickets! I want to make my ass go numb sitting on the floor playing Donkey Kong 64 all day! I don't think that's so much to ask.
Everywhere I turn, I see ads for a corn chip called "Fritos." I think, "My God, this must be a truly remarkable corn chip, to be so widely and confidently touted." My thoughts often turn to Fritos while eating the obscure regional cuisine on which I invariably subsist. Like when that Chilean peasant village held a banquet to thank me for showing them how to dam the river and create a fishing reservoir. They made this local delicacy called "Pastel del Choclo" with corn, meat, and spices. But if it were as good as Fritos, wouldn't Pastel del Choclo be on billboards in every city? Why am I getting shorted? Will I die not having tasted Fritos?
Recently, I was with the Wapemba tribe in Zanzibar, and I heard their chieftain recite the mythology of creation that these people had known for thousands of years. And I was struck by its similarities to other creation myths, including the Judeo-Christian model. Then I thought to myself, so what the fuck am I doing here in Zanzibar? Why did I slog all the way to Africa to hear a story that I could have heard at the Baptist church two blocks from my house? You get what I'm saying? If all people are the same on the inside, why did I spend a year learning Swahili when I could just talk to the girl at the Tast-E-Freez? It's all the same shit, folks. Save your plane fare.
I'm not saying you should never go places and meet people. I'm just saying don't get too carried away with it. Sure, visit Paris and chat up a local in a coffee shop. But stay home, too. Get drunk and sleep until noon. Before studying the coastline of Sicily, learn the shape of your own mattress.
Sometimes, I just want to draw the blinds, tell the Explorer's Club to fuck off, and order two large pizzas and the Spice Channel. Now, that's living.