By all rights, I should be a full-blooded, pure-bred narcissist – and by that I mean, I come from narcissists on both sides. You know, like a dog with champion bloodlines and everything – I have ‘papers.’ Kind of like being a Plantaganet, or a Tudor – you are one simply because you’re, well, “to the manner born,” as they say.
Except, in my case, it didn’t really ‘take’ properly, so I ended up with low self-esteem instead. Maybe my parents both carried recessive genes for low self-esteem and I lost the reproduction lottery.
Because from the outside looking in, it seems kind of fun to think you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread: everything you do is great, simply because YOU did it, and everything you are, and have, is the BEST. Not a bad gig, eh?
Sure, it’s kind of hard on your kids – I think that’s been pretty well documented, here and elsewhere – but then again, if you’re a narcissist, it’s all about what YOU think, and since YOU think you’re just peachy-awesome, they can just take all their theories and put ’em where the sun don’t shine.
So, I’m not here today to talk about emotional child abuse, creating poor self-images, or virtual neglect (heh heh, managed to get all those in there, didn’t I?) – nope, I’m here to talk about the advantages of having narcissistic parents.
What ho – you say I don’t have a leg to stand on?
Well, gather round and give a listen, ye of little faith.
So here’s the deal: when you have two narcissistic parents, who, moreover, agree with each other about such things, this is what a young child learns:
1. Everything we do is FABULOUS.
2. Everything we have is FABULOUS.
3. Everything we are is FABULOUS.
4. Though you don’t understand precisely how all this works, YOU, by association, are FABULOUS as well. You are ‘of’ THEM, and therefore under the aegis of THEM, so ergo you partake of their fabulosity as well.
And because Numbers 1 through 4 are true, therefore:
5. All experience is AUGMENTED.
What do I mean by augmented? Well, we’ll get to Number 5, but first, let’s see how Numbers 1 through 4 work, in a ‘special’ family.
We lived in the San Fernando Valley, a relatively uncelebrated suburb of L.A. If it was recognizable for anything nationally, it was for its vast, undeveloped tracts of chaparral and scrub lands, shown in virtually every cheap Western ever produced. The developed portions were mostly row upon row of tract houses, the glory of which was made possible because ‘they’ (have you ever seen Chinatown?) made a desert into a semi-desert, by stealing water from Colorado.
Hooray – sort of.
Okie dokie, I think we can all agree on all of the above, but wait: WE lived there! So therefore, in the stroke of an ego, the semi-desert was transformed into the Crossroads of the World, the most desirable place on earth, where every man (i.e. my Dad) was a King, and every woman (i.e. my Mom) was a Duchess. After all, WE had a double-depth backyard. Well, we and everyone else on our side of the block, but only WE, by the precise choice of that exact combination of plants, trees and flowers, had transformed our yard into the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, putting all others to shame.
And yes, it was true that we didn’t get a clothes dryer until after everyone else in the world had one, but see, hanging the clothes on the line outside was BETTER!
How do I know that?
Because we did it that way, you big dummy!
Are you catching on?
Now let me see if I can explain what I mean by Number 5, ‘augmented experience.’ Let’s take a typical Sunday afternoon outing for our family of four, circa the mid-Fifties. We all piled into my Dad’s pride and joy, the brand-new yellow ’54 Mercury Monterey sedan (not a measly Ford – a Mercury, mind you!) – the greatest car in the world. We’re on our way to Griffith Park – the L.A. equivalent of Central Park, or San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, or the big park in the city of your choice. But see – ours is better! It’s the best park in the best city in the world – and WE get to go there!
How do I know all this?
Well, didn’t you just read Numbers 1 through 4, a few minutes ago? Seriously, I’m beginning to have doubts about your reading comprehension.
Okay, we drove to Griffith Park (which, though you are rather slow on the uptake, we all now agree is the greatest park in the world, correct?), going there, of course, by the best possible route.
First stop: the Los Angeles Zoo. Now, I loved going to the zoo. I loved all of it. The small cages where the big cats were kept, pacing back and forth – cages that would be considered the worst sort of animal abuse nowadays, but which gave kids a guaranteed close-up view of the magnificent lions, tigers and leopards, as they paced their cages endlessly. I loved the landscaping – tall, old eucalyptus and pepper trees everywhere, like they were standing guard over the grounds. I tried to imagine the drama of a famous trapper like Frank Buck ‘bringing ’em back alive’ – to picture what was involved in the taking of such enormous and dangerous beasts without damaging them, how they were transported across entire oceans, and then across the entire U.S. or around the tip of South America to the Wild West. I even loved the smell of the animals. I loved the popcorn, always in those red-and-white striped cardboard boxes, and peanuts in the shell, that you could throw to the monkeys. I could go on, but most all kids feel these same things about the zoo, don’t they?
But all kids weren’t our family! Because although we were with the other people at the zoo, we were not of the other people at the zoo. It was as if we were some kind of visiting royalty, hobnobbing graciously with the hoi polloi because we were good-natured, but not actually of the same ‘stock’ as they, the huddled masses, the great unwashed. They slumped along, the ignorant armies of the night, while we strode along magnificently to the unheard (by them!) strains of the promenade theme from Pictures At An Exhibition. The only reason we didn’t blow kisses to the toiling masses, or give them benevolent Papal waves, was because it would only make them feel bad.
See what I mean by Augmented?
And now on to the true highlight of any trip to the Zoo, at least for me: the great, the magnificent, Bee’s Rock. What the heck is Bee’s Rock, you say? Well, in NPR (Normal People’s Reality) it was this place near the Zoo where you drove uphill until you parked your car, then hiked up to a relatively modest outcropping of stone, which overlooked, well, chaparral and scrub lands down below, and then, beyond that, a view of the city.
But in Augmented Reality? Ah, it was a magical, mystical place – think of a combination of the Blarney Stone, Mount Everest, and Livingstone when first he beheld the splendor of Victoria Falls.
The only possible vocalization from its summit was, “Eureka: I have found it!”
Think Lewis and Clark, putting their hands dramatically up to shade their vision as they peered out into the enormity of a vast and blessed new land, tears of awe spilling from their eyes. It was a summit, and a view, to transport even the lowliest of mortals, but for those of us who truly understood, who were capable of appreciating its true glory, well, words just fail, and since no adjective could do the experience justice, I won’t even try.
Tearing ourselves away from heights that would make the word rapture seem puny, we now approached yet another shining star: The Griffith Park Observatory. Oh, the huge, retractable dome of it! Oh, the science of it! Oh the arcanity of it! Oh the shiny red plastic buttons-that-you-could-push-and-make-things-happen of it! There was a huge pendulum there, recessed in a huge pit, that demonstrated things as it swung. Exactly what it demonstrated I was never exactly sure, but I knew it definitely demonstrated things, and I knew it was gasp-worthy.
And after you saw all the exhibits, and pressed all the buttons, there was the maxi-gasp of all time: The Planetarium! You sat there and the lights went down, revealing a back-lit silhouette of the cityscape all around you. And then a smart guy came on and talked you through The August Sky, or Tales Of Orion, or The Gotterdammerung – it doesn’t matter what they called it, as long as there were millions of stars up there, and the Ride of the Valkyries playing real loud, giving you chills and bumps.
I mean, what more do you want?
How about a gorgeous water fountain, lit up at night with ever-changing colors? You got it: The William Mulholland (yep, the Colorado water thief) Memorial Fountain, on our way down the hill and toward Los Feliz Boulevard and home. We parked at the fountain for a few minutes, to take it all in. Then Mom and Dad turned to me in the back seat, not “as if to say it was the greatest thing in the world,” but to ACTUALLY say, “This is the greatest thing in the world: right?”
And as you say, “Right,” you come to believe it!
See what I mean about Augmentation?
Well, that only left one item of business. To put a nightcap on a perfect day, we stopped in at Currie’s Mile-High Ice Cream, the (surprise!) apotheosis of the ice cream maker’s art. Need I point out that they had the BEST black walnut (Dad) and the BEST black cherry (Mom). And, as for the Pistachio (Me), well, ooh lah lah, say no more. Gee whiz, what were the chances of that: the greatest ice cream in the entire world, and lo, it just happened to be in our town, on our way home.
And finally, home again, home again, jiggity jig. I slumped back dreamily in the back seat of the Merc, in my post-pistachio torpor, the passing scenery washing over me, swaddled in the warm cocoon of protective specialness that came from being part of a perfect family. Let others worry about bad decisions, mistakes and fatal weaknesses – none of that stuff for us, because we existed atop the Bee’s Rock of society, looking down benignly at the human chaparral below, secure in the knowledge that whatever we did would be fine, because we had done it.
Riding for a fall? Sure, sure, but all that would come later. For now, we were in our heaven, and all was right with the world. As my eyes fluttered closed, I pictured myself up on Bee’s Rock again, looking out over the city from on high, master of all I surveyed.
Well, there you have it: an outing in the Augmented Universe. Sounds good, huh? Well, it is, until you hit the real world, and that’s . . . well, not quite so good. But I only promised you a rose garden, not the thorns, so we’ll leave the “come-down” for some other time. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed the vicarious thrill of a trip down Narcissism Lane.
And now, as the lights come up, and your eyes get adjusted to NPR once again, we will play you a selection from The Ride of the Valkyries, so that you might return to your drab, quotidian existence trailing at least a few clouds of glory:
Good night, and please come again!
Note: All clinical vignettes herein are significantly altered to protect patient confidentiality and privacy.