Monday, November 30, 2009

Going to Dubai

I'd love to change the world, but I don't know what to do...

Gina went into the Peace Corps. It was more than 20 years after it stopped being fashionable to go into the Peace Corps. But she went. Right after High School.

She was a dreamer, a hippie chick in the time of Reagan. She told people she was born at Woodstock, but that was a lie. Still, she loved the protest music of the late 60s and wouldn't listen to anything else. She wore sandals and clothing made of hemp. proudly telling everyone who'd listen that she would never wear a bra.

And while it was admirable for her to join the Peace Corps, her smug, self-congratulatory fervor was hard to take. (Plus, attacking everyone else in our class for going off to "college and the bourgeoisie" didn't win her any friends either.)

For several years, she sent one letter back per year. One letter about building water systems in Africa or working at children's health clinics in India. She sent the letter to one of her friends, with instructions to pass it around to everyone else she knew. In each letter, several pages were devoted to rants about how her so-called friends were horrible because we weren't doing more to save the world.

In 19th century Russian literature, it's common for one character to say that another character had "gone to America."

This didn't mean they'd actually gone to America. It was a polite way of saying "committed suicide," perhaps because the journey from Russia to America was so perilous back then that only the insane would attempt it (and only a few who attempted it would survive).

Looking at the gilded insanity in the past 10 years, I started using a phrase inspired by Russian literature. Whenever someone I knew fell prey to irrational greed and the desire for wild, expensive things that made no sense, I'd say they were "going to Dubai."

This didn't mean they literally went to Dubai (although many of them did), but referred to their new type of thinking -- the same type of thinking that believed building gigantic hotels that look like sailing ships, indoor ski slopes in the desert, and artificial palm-shaped islands that maximized beach-front property and can be seen from space were good ideas. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

Gina dropped out of sight the same time most of her High School classmates finished college. As we went off to our first jobs (or to grad school, or even in some cases to the Peace Corps), we wondered what had happened to her.

But we all got caught up in our lives, so the mystery of Gina went from a frequent topic of conversation to an infrequent guessing game to "which one was she again?"

Until a few months ago.

This time, it wasn't one hastily-scrawled handwritten letter meant to be passed around. This time, it was a crisp, carefully thought-out email blasted out to several hundred of her old friends. With photos. And captions.

The letter alluded to making millions in investment banking and partying backstage during one of the American Idol tour stops. The lie about being born at Woodstock was nowhere to be found.

Judging from the photos, she traded the sandals and hemp clothes for designer shoes and businesswoman chic. And it's pretty clear that she now wears bras.

In one photo, she was smiling at the groundbreaking of a building on one of those artificial palm-shaped islands you can see from space. She was wearing a hardhat and holding a shovel. A shovel made of gold.

The email glossed over details, but one thing was clear: Gina, the hippie chick who believed that owning anything was a sin against nature, had come back from the Peace Corps, and gone off to Dubai.


Anonymous said...

Jeez. I've known people like her. :(

Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas said...

I am immediately introducing this phrase into my lexicon. I only wish that I could do so retroactively.