Let’s face it: we could all use something nice. Quarantine’s been extended, people are continuing to lose their livelihoods, and it really does seem as if some otherworldly force has grabbed the planet and forced it into a sudden and ugly halt. So for this issue of Down the Rabbit Hole, I’d like to offer something you can lose yourself in in a different way. A rabbit, so to speak, a soft and pleasant creature you can take some time out of your day and watch nibble on leaves.
Joe Pera is an actor/comedian, and profound enigma. The frequently asked questions that come up when you Google him only prove the latter, from one person asking “Does Joe Pera have special needs?” (No, he doesn’t), to another wanting to know “What is the point of Joe Pera Talks With You?” (A question that, according to the Internet, has no real answer). He is a man in the vein of Bob Ross or Mister Rogers, a thoroughly inoffensive figure who dedicates his show to talking about dancing, breakfast options, and the different kinds of rocks in his hometown. There is a plot, in a sense, but in every episode it seems inconsequential to the true goal of the episode – to talk about the very simple subject in the episode’s title, be it cold weather sports or creating a bean arch. And there’s something beautiful about that, especially in days like these.
What have you been doing lately? Since I work in a kind of unconventional food startup, I’m lucky enough to still have a job, but my days off have consisted of much of the same. I nap a lot and go on walks around my neighborhood. I watch arthouse movies. Every so often, I’ll check the news and immediately regret it. There’s so much going on that’s rapidly beyond my control, it’s become very important to focus on the things that are right in front of me. I heard somewhere that there’s only three days of the week now – yesterday, today and tomorrow – and the best I can do is look for the little joys that’ll keep me going through that cycle.
So there’s an immense comfort, and almost a source of inspiration that comes from Pera’s work. Take the episode Joe Pera Reads You The Church Announcements, probably my personal favorite of the series. The framing device is what the title states, with the semi-fictionalized Joe Pera reading the weekly announcements for St. Benedict’s Parish. Volunteers are needed, a toy drive is approaching – but there’s something more important than that. You see, Joe Pera only just now discovered The Who, more specifically their song “Baba O’Riley”. He immediately falls in love with the track after hearing it on the radio, and proceeds to call every station he could find to request it. We see him jump around the house to the music playing on repeat, dancing and generally rocking out.
He tells this church all of this until the pastor finally ushers him out. But he doesn’t mind, because he has a newly-installed CD player in his car and can listen to “Baba O’Riley” as he drives off into the snowy day. And that’s it. That’s the episode.
There’s something powerful about a form of storytelling that focuses on the small stuff. Because we’ve all been in Pera’s place, haven’t we? I myself have recently unearthed a strange and entirely unironic love for the music of Jimmy Buffett, and let me tell you, nothing spices up a quarantine more than a nice bath with those friendly islands jams playing in the background. But enthusiasm is a tricky thing, and it easily becomes passé, especially when it’s something that’s already gone through the ebb and flow of popularity. Try getting really into Tech Decks, for instance. Remember Tech Decks? The little skateboards that you pilot with your fingers? Really make that a substantial part of your life and try and share it with anyone else, and watch the reactions range from polite indifference to confusion or blatant mockery.
But Joe Pera doesn’t care about that. He cares about his dog and going on long drives to enjoy the scenery in fall. He cares about the different types of Christmas trees and their individual merits, and his favorite part about breakfast is dipping his toast in his egg yolk, which is so absolutely relatable that it I feel in in my very soul.
So, this is what/how I’m trying to realign myself. Because life has taken its scope and has somehow both minimized it and stretched it past the breaking point. I’m choosing to keep the latter in my periphery and focus on the former, the little stuff that’s far more manageable for someone with a realistic amount of power – which, right now, doesn’t amount to much.
It’s not all bad, though. I have a cat that lets me pet her tummy, and I’m close to my family. Maybe I’ll start an herb garden, but I might also spend a little extra time in bed. It’s all about taking care of yourself and living your best life, as unconventional or menial as it may seem.
Maybe we’ll learn in this time that nothing in this life is truly menial. And If we can’t learn it ourselves, perhaps Joe Pera can teach us.
Take care of yourself, friends.