Searching for Air

Tony Curtis and his then-wife Janet Leigh made a movie in 1953 called  “Houdini”, what would now be called a bio-pic about the life of Harry Houdini.

(For those too young to remember, Harry Houdini gained fame 100 years ago for seemingly impossible feats of escaping imprisonment. An escapologist who defied the strictures of safes, straightjackets and handcuffs, he was the original David Blaine.)

As a kid, I was horrified by a sequence in the movie in which Houdini was to be securely chained, trussed and locked in a box, and then placed – midwinter – into the Detroit River. The idea was for him to defy the confinement, the water and the ice. The trick went awry when the box went out of control and fell into the river prematurely, forcing him to find air trapped under the ice to survive…after he’d escaped his bonds.

I had lunch yesterday with an acquaintance who was metaphorically searching for air under the ice. A guy in his forties, he’d created a mess in that most ordinary way: he’d lost his attraction to his wife and tomcatted on her.

He didn’t couch it in that way, mind you. The story emerged over a few months, beginning with “we’re having problems”, transitioning to “I’m just not attracted to her any more” and finally “there’s another woman involved”. This is the story played out in many marriages, a story in which the transgressor spends a lot of energy justifying their actions.

+ it’s not my fault

+ he/she’s put on weight

+ I don’t love her any more

The seeds of this shallow response to life are sown way beforehand. I know this guy, and no-one ever explained to him that when  you choose a woman, marry her, and then have two children with her, your priorities shift away from your own desires to the responsibility of raising those children.

Did I mention they have two children under age 8?

Until those urchins are 18, his attraction to her is peripheral: that changed the instant she conceived.

So he’s been tossed out of the marital house and his life is tilting towards the extremely messy, hence the gasping for air metaphor. Of infinitely more importance is that hose kids will be maturing without the benefit of a father’s male energy to balance their mother’s and the consequent model of a sound marriage to emulate in their own lives.

We keep finding ways to make the same mistakes in the same way.


Overlooking what’s right in front of us – okay, directly in front of me – is a kind of species hazard. The joke is on we homo sapiens that answers find their way into our line of sight and then manoeuver themselves into our blind spot.

They’re there, in plain view, if only we shift our heads a few degrees, up or down, left or right.

In the same vein, I had a mate a few years back who loudly proclaimed his ocular “blonde spot”. His optic nerve, he would say, only registered women of the non-brunette non-redhead variety. (The technical inaccuracy of this metaphor was lost on him, but, hey, it was a good line.)

When pressed about why he would deliberately refrain from pursuing most of the eligible female population based on hair pigment, his answer was:

“Dude. It’s in my DNA, okay?”

This admittedly extreme case of girl-blindness had nothing to do with his DNA, and everything to do with the story he told himself. His dating script, in other words, was a kind of monograph that forever cast him in the role of BlondMan.

His notoriety lasted for a while, but like all typecast actors he fell victim to his own limitations and ran out of parts.

We Want A Niche

The point of Breaking Bad wasn’t that good people can bust out. It wasn’t that evil can lurk inside a milquetoast. It wasn’t even that civilization neuters men.


The point of Walter White is that we need a point. We need to belong, to be recognized and to stand apart.