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Jack Smith

In our experiential world, is it unique to have a relationship with caring people in the parking lot?

March 07, 1985|JACK SMITH

I have received a flyer from a valet parking service that calls itself "the ultimate parking service" and "the Southland's most unique. . . ."

It is a lost cause to argue that unique means unduplicated--quite different from anything else in the world--and cannot be modified by any such adjective as most .

There are no degrees of uniqueness. But in American advertising, everything is more unique than everything else.

So that isn't what bothers me about this flyer. It's the second paragraph:

"Valet parking is no longer a luxury for home entertaining. It has become an expected and welcome service, as it sets the tone of the party and sends the guests away at the end of the evening feeling very special and nurtured. . . ."

That seems to me an enlightening comment on the state of the social scene in Southern California.

One dare not throw a party anymore without valet parking. It is not only welcomed, but expected. The implication is that if you don't have valet parking, nobody will ever come to one of your parties again.

But the most provocative idea is that your guests, at the end of the evening, when the valet brings them their cars and they drive off, will feel nurtured .

You used to feel lucky if they left feeling well-fed and halfway sober. Now they have to feel nurtured .

Nurtured never appeared in print 10 or 15 years ago, except in the sense of nutrition, but it is one of that bag of words that now are part of the arsenal of everyone who writes about interpersonal problems. (Nobody ever used the word interpersonal 15 years ago, either.)

Now we must all have nurturing interpersonal experiences. Nurturing in that sense means supportive. Supportive also was never used 15 years ago except in reference to jock straps, brassieres or flying buttresses--something that actually gave physical support.

It used to be, too, that one used the word experience only in reference to some exciting adventure, like losing one's virginity, or being mugged in a supermarket parking lot.

Now one can have a unique shopping experience. A unique driving experience. One doesn't see a movie. One experiences it.

Well, I can see that having one's car delivered by a valet after a party might be a unique, nurturing and supportive experience. In the past it would have been merely a convenience.

We have a whole new language of psychobabble, which gives some people the illusion, I suppose, that we have a whole new range of experiences. We no longer simply know people, or are acquainted with people, or sleep with people, or are married to people; we have relationships with people. If two people are giving anything of themselves to each other they are said to be making commitments; and if they do this for any length of time, they are said to be having an ongoing relationship.

If it is ongoing long enough, and the commitments are deep enough, they are said to be having a meaningful relationship.

If any children result from such a relationship, the partners to it go into a phase called parenting, and if they are conscientious, and supportive, they are known as caring. It is possible to be known as a caring person with no connections or responsibilities to any other person, just by feigning a caring manner when someone else is in a jam. How often we hear it said, "He's a very caring person," of some curmudgeon who has no wife, no dog and no meaningful relationship.

R. D. Rosen put his finger on this new vocabulary of phony analysis a few years ago, and gave it a name, in his book "Psychobabble: Fast Talk and Quick Cure in the Era of Feeling."

Whether it is the residue of Freud, the psychological shock of World War II and the Cold War or whatever, everyone in the Western industrial countries seemed to go in for self-psychoanalysis in the 1970s, with a lot of easy talk about getting their heads together and getting in touch with themselves, and the result has been a rise in the divorce and crime rates and punk rock music.

Human nature hasn't changed much since Chaucer and Shakespeare, and while our institutions have changed greatly, we are just beginning to deal with the fact that men beat their wives and adults abuse children, and ongoing relationships are no more meaningful than ever.

Rosen exposed the hollow language and dubious results of such fads as rebirthing, primal therapy, assertiveness training, transactional analysis and est, but the search for that "whole person" that lies within us goes on, mostly through the parlor games we play.

But it seems to me we are now about to leave the era of self-help, which has made millionaires out of dozens of hack writers of books on how to get rich, how to parent, how to achieve orgasm, how to climb the corporate ladder, and slide into the computer age, when we are likely to believe that everything we need to know can be purchased on a floppy disc.

But we must not forget that computers can only tell us what we already know, or are capable of figuring out. Garbage in, garbage out.

Meanwhile, we should take comfort in knowing that we can be nurtured by a parking service.

Its attendants, this service advertises, are "selected individually for their efficiency, courteousness, pleasant outgoing manner and their all-American look . . . and present a youthful and exuberant appearance. . . ."

They sound almost unique.

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