Refined Sensibilities

There are people of refined sensibilities in the world. I don’t know how to put it so it doesn’t sound unbearably stuffy, so I will tell a story to illustrate the concept.

I have a friend who was born in a dirt-poor Mexican family. The father abandoned them, and my friend had to quit school at 16 and go work at an oil rig to support his functionally illiterate mom and two younger brothers.

For reasons that are impossible to comprehend, my friend turned out to be a person of refined sensibilities, an auto-didact who taught himself several languages, and became obsessed with books and obscure European movies.

The life at an oil rig was very distasteful to him. Contrary to the stereotype of a bookish guy as being slender and easy to bully, my friend is a huge, burly guy with the physique of an armoire, so nobody hassled him. But there was no life of the mind at the oil rig, and that, to a person like him, is almost as bad as death. Everything is smelly, dirty, and ugly. Other guys talked about stuff that to him, a deeply religious guy of extraordinary moral probity, was repellent. The only thing that kept him afloat was a copy of Dante’s Inferno he was reading in the original. That book was his biggest treasure because it took him from the debasement of the oil rig to the world of beauty and light.

Once he came back to his bunk and discovered that the treasured book had disappeared. Finally he found it in the toilet, which was of the kind that has holes in the ground, with the attendant nastiness and stench. Somebody had torn out the pages and used them as toilet paper. “It wasn’t out of malice,” my friend told me. “He simply didn’t see a difference between a page with words on it and a page without.”

For people of refined sensibilities who are reading this and who are shaken by this story like I was, I can reassure you by telling you that the friend ended up becoming a college professor and a writer. It all ended well. But the story is a perfect metaphor of life. Some people experience the sublime and others shit on it. Sometimes they do it unthinkingly and sometimes out of frustration because they really don’t get it and it annoys them. If you ever felt shat upon for being too sensitive, too bookish, or too repelled by coarseness, then you’ll know how precious it is to meet people like yourself. People who get it. People who acquire a dazed look when they can talk about their favorite books, indie bands or comics. People who were always laughed at and told they are weird.

All this has a point which will be revealed in the next post. For now, please stay with the story and think about the concept of refined sensibilities.


4 thoughts on “Refined Sensibilities

  1. Why would you need refined sensibilities in order to be horrified by a story of someone using the only precious reading material as toilet paper? Let alone Dante’s Inferno? In the original medieval Italian?

    And wouldn’t the other guys notice this weird guy staring at this book of paper with reverence even if it’s a bunch of squiggles, even if they were illiterate? Who would want a fight with armoire guy over destroying his entertainment? Would they have done the same with a girly mag?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Realistically, though, other than comparing shades of excrement, how do you find out which of the 200 guys took the book?

      As for how could people not be horrified, I have another story. A week after my father’s death, my mother took down the photos of his parents and grandparents and cheerfully announced she was going to get rid of “that old garbage.” Obviously, I took them away but imagine that there are people who think it’s perfectly fine to say something like this aloud days after a person died. So yes, such individuals exist. It’s even worse, they are the majority.


  2. You don’t. You pretty much assume it’s one of the guys who bunk next to you. And the way you tell the story your friend knew or deduced who did it; otherwise he’d use plurals and not be so sure about motives.

    It seems like your mother understands perfectly the meaning of calling her in-laws and grandparents-in-laws’ portraits “garbage” and doesn’t care and/or there’s some story behind that statement. I’m sorry.


  3. There’s an assumption that if you’re a guy of a certain build who looks like he can handle himself, you’re somehow into some kind of sports.

    It’s unavoidable if you come from a family of people who have been in sports professionally.

    This is to me the least interesting kind of talk, however, especially given the extreme likelihood of certain professional sporting leagues being almost completely rigged at championship levels.

    But I have a way to split the difference: bring the sport in from the outside.

    In the US, I’m a fan of English football, and so we can talk about Tottenham, Everton, and so on.

    (Smile with me, Avi, I know you want to.)

    In the UK, I’m a fan of North American baseball, and so we can talk about the Toronto Blue Jays.

    As for everyone else, how does jai alai strike you? 🙂

    This shuts down the unwanted conversation about sport most of the time, although occasionally I do have to shoot the crap about The Hotspur, what it’s like on the Tube on match days, why I’m not a Toronto Maple Leafs fan (did I even mention hockey?), and other odd bits.

    Primarily it’s about denying turf to things that don’t interest me.

    I don’t operate on the principle that I have an easily shared mental space.

    “… then you’ll know how precious it is to meet people like yourself …”

    There are two types of people in the world.

    You have open book storage because you keep these books around you as a reflection of who you are, and you want some of this to be part of the mental space of any visitors.

    I have book storage with roll-up metal doors and security locks because I keep some books that are likely to be subject to theft or book burning, and so what is out of sight for any visitors is also out of mind.

    We may both discuss any books at hand.

    But we are not the same. 🙂


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