Preening peacocks


Sometimes overthinking becomes so confining that one must step back and think only of the shallowest things and all the plumage that adorns and connects those things. And how those things are completely transitory.

S cares a great deal about looking good, and often refers to himself jokingly as a peacock. This is mostly evidenced by his colorful and well-tailored sartorial choices. We thus talk a lot about peacocks – of both the figurative and literal sorts.

I think of this sometimes – peacocks. When I first moved to Gothenburg I misread a sign on a restaurant called Peacock, but I swear that even now my eyes are fooled every time I see it, thinking it says “Supercock”. From far away, the Chinese characters that precede “peacock” really look like an “S” and a “U”. Maybe I see what I want to see.

The peacock theme comes up now and then. Not long ago I read Flannery O’Connor (Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose) and a story about a loud peacock and chickens (“From that day with the Pathé man I began to collect chickens. What had been only a mild interest became a passion, a quest. I had to have more and more chickens.”), which reminded me of a former colleague who loved her chickens and was always trying to convince me to get chickens of my own – to persuade me by doing everything from bringing me fresh eggs to letting me borrow comprehensive books about how to raise chickens.

Then this week, a friend from school days posted in social media about her new peacock, which she has perfectly named “The Fonz”. She gave him a mirror, and he stands admiring himself in it. Of course he does.

In the meandering way in which I think makes this peacock Fonz remind me of my conversations with a younger colleague, to whom I often explain old (mostly American) cultural references. I don’t know how or why I was explaining Happy Days one day, but ended up explaining “The Fonz” and asking her if she’d heard the term “jump the shark”. She hadn’t. But even if she had, maybe it would not make sense or it would not even have registered with her. In fact when I mentioned this conversation to someone else (my own age), his first response was, “But how can she understand ‘jump the shark’ without understanding The Fonz and Happy Days?”

It’s interesting how the smallest references, so indelibly branded on our brains, disappear – or never existed to those who came later and never experienced them. A group of colleagues and I were discussing someone’s gaudy fake fingernails, and I referenced the famous FloJo fingernails. But Florence Griffith Joyner is a now-deceased former Olympic champion and 1980s relic star of track and field. But there are a lot of people my own age (and those older and slightly younger) who immediately understand what I am talking about when I say “FloJo” or, more specifically, “FloJo nails”.

And these things… these pieces of shorthand… come and go the same way beauty fades. It’s there one day and gone the next. Even a peacock doesn’t live forever.

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