Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Her name was Malika. She was a graduate student when I was a post-doc and her family came from Yugoslavia before it fell apart. I love talking with people from other cultures so I can learn from them, and she was no exception. So, I asked her my usual question, namely, does she ever get back to visit. Her answer shocked me.
She said she hated going back to Yugoslavia because she was tired of dodging questions about the Yugo. For those who don’t recall, the Yugo was an import vehicle, and was the butt of jokes for the short time it was available. Excessively small and under powered, it didn’t fit the appetite of Americans wanting bigger, faster and more powerful vehicles.
As it turns out, it was called the “Yugo” because it was manufactured in Yugoslavia. But more than that, it was a source of national pride. In Yugoslavia, it was a luxury vehicle, much larger than what the typical Yugoslavian drove, and more powerful. They were certain that it was a huge hit in America, and they asked Malika how well-loved the Yugo was with great anticipation of what would surely be an answer of joy and excitement. When cornered, she had no choice but to explain that it was considered to be a joke in America, breaking the heart of the individual who had pressed the issue.
It’s all a matter of perspective. In our country, this little car was a joke, but over there it was a source of great pride. For them, it was spacious, roomy and the lap of luxury while here we could barely fit in it.
Much to my surprise, I actually have two vehicles today. I’ve never had two vehicles in my life, but here I am, but I’m also finding a purpose for both. The newer one is a hybrid hatchback. The seats fold down so it does have some cargo capabilities, but I never would have wanted to try to clear out my storage unit with it. For that, I needed my truck, a Ford Explorer, and the first item that would eventually lead to my return from the abyss. The Ford was a vehicle I purchased, in its entirety, with money from the first Coronavirus relief check, or about ¾ of it anyway. And she is certainly far from the lap of luxury.
Her front drive shaft had been removed, so she is no longer an “all-wheel drive” vehicle. I’m discovering that she is terrible on the snow (thank GOD I have good snow driving skills). She technically has a CD player, but it doesn’t work reliably. Basically, she has AM/FM, no GPS, no blue-tooth, and not all of the locks work the way that they really should. I think most people today would laugh at her, but I love her. She’s reliable, has marvelous hauling capacity, and is just plain fun to drive.
It’s all a matter of perspective. In many ways, I feel like I’m the Yugo of men. At night, when the demons come out, I often feel as if I’ve been overlooked by people, women as a potential mate, men who might need help building or working, and just society in general. I fit in about as well as that Yugo did. I’m small by comparison of manly men, under powered in body strength and speed, and standing next to even a typical man I just come up…well, short.
But it’s all a matter of perspective. I know I am not alone in feeling like this, but for all of us who do feel this way, take heart. It’s only perspective. Albert Einstein once said (or at the very least it’s one of the myriad of quotes attributed to him) that everyone is brilliant, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will surely fail. My strengths, and maybe yours, simply are not in those areas most revered in our society. The elderly are highly respected and loved in Asian cultures, while here we’re simply discarded as “old”. Intelligence is highly sought in China, but here we’re just geeks or nerds. As I write this, I’m sitting in my office surrounded by three computers, one desktop running Windows, one with Linux, and the system on which I’m typing this post in the hopes of getting back into the habit of programming and research (my research is writing computer and mathematical models of systems but even programmers won’t acknowledge this as programming). Yes, I’m a nerd. And maybe it isn’t respected in our society, but damnit, it’s who I am, and for me…I’m luxury.