taking the passive out of passive-aggressive

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

During a recent game of Go Fish with my daughter, we came across a pair of jokers in our deck of cards and discarded them. I left them on the basement floor until tonight, when the joker struck me as suddenly very odd. This particular Joker--and I know there are many varieties--is depicted as a king riding a bicycle, with a rock (a tombstone? a road marker?) behind him that says "808." And in the corners, what looks like a dollar sign turns out to be the letters "US", superimposed.

My internet research (faulty and flighty at best) tell me that my deck of cards is from the Bicycle Playing Card Company, now the United States Playing Card Company (or is it the other way around?) And it's an 808 series deck. All very self -explanatory--the Joker must simply be a promotional card, another advertisement. It all makes sense, really, even the played-out "fool-as-king" trope.

And yet--the Joker is sticking with me.

Lookit, I hate cheap symbolism, that new-age ability to turn everything into meaning until everything is meaningless. But at the same time, I suspect that this Joker is telling me something. The card is a depiction of a certain reality, and maybe when you're experiencing that particular reality, all of its symbols come and haunt you. The joker--his truth-to-power idiocy, his utter disregard of consequences, his trump-card bicycle-riding self--has something to say to me right now. I just don't know what it is.

Anyway, taking life direction from playing cards is, at best, stupid. But what the hell else can you take direction from? Your own flawed brain, so overcome by its own biology? Your body--most certainly not! Most of us, I suspect, end up taking direction from some arcane and unwritten Book of Rules anyway--a mishmash of society's expectations, your parents, your children, your desire, and your job. Playing cards can't be any worse of a guide.

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