Freedom to decide, quickly

German psychologist Erich Fromm argued that there were essentially two types of freedom; the freedom from making decisions; and the freedom to make decisions. A thought that occurred to me sometime after the two women approached the bar at almost precisely the same moment.

Instinctively I engaged with the lady I was most familiar with first.

“Your usual?” I asked.

“Do you still have only one Sauvignon Blanc,” she said.

“We do,” I said.

“I’ll take it.”

Taking all of two seconds.

An audible guffaw indicated that the other woman clearly thought she had been there first. That and the two handed flat palmed gesture at the sky so universal with umbrage.

“And what would you care for?” I asked even before the gesture was finished.

A multi-tasking bartender is a happy bartender, I always say.

Ms. Guffaw seemed surprised.

“I’ll wait until you are done with her,” she said.

“I am done with her,” I said placing Lady #1’s usual directly in front of her.

“Oh,” said Lady #2.

“Susan, what do you want?” she said turning only now to her companion.

“I don’t know,” said Susan. “What do they have?”

“What do you have?” asked Lady #2.

I stood in front of everything that I had, hundreds of different alcohols, dozens of different mixers, all combinable in nearly infinite possibilities. And that is not counting the 30 wines by the glass, the 20 different beers and the nearly 400 wines on the wine list.

“Are you looking for something in particular?”

She turned back to her friend.

“Are you looking for something in particular?” she asked Susan.

“Do they have vodka?”

“Do you have vodka?” asked Lady #2.

“Yes,’ I answered. “Does she like a particular brand?”

“Do you like a particular brand?”

“What do they have?”

“What do you have?”

I handed her a liquor list that I had presciently picked up, anticipating just such a response.

I looked at Lady #1.

“Do you need anything else?” I asked.

“Nope, I’m good.”

Another guffaw.

“Are you helping us or not?” the hands went palm up again.

“Sure,” I said. “What would you like?”

“What kind of vodka do you have?” she asked again, holding the list of such- opened for her to vodkas- in her hand.

Taking Fromm’s dialectic heart, I decided to engage in a “freedom from” discussion.

“How about Square One?” I asked.

“How about Square One?” Susan was asked.

“What’s that?”

Fromm clearly hadn’t counted on multiple variables.

It went on like that for some time. During which I managed to take Lady #1’s entire food order, pour her another glass of wine as well as wait on three or four other customers.

All of which didn’t seem to sit well with Lady #2.

“Life does not stop and start at your convenience,” said the character Walter Sobchak, played by John Goodman, in the 1998 movie The Big Lobowski. I leave out the “you miserable piece of sh*t” in the interest of civility. But just try explaining that concept to people who insist on monopolizing things simply by being first.

In our culture it sometimes only matters as to who was there first. Where? Anywhere. It’s true with parking spaces, campgrounds, neighborhoods, barstools etc. It hasn’t become “first come first served,” it has become first come, only served. And the problem with that concept is that there are a lot more second comers than there are first comers.

Leading me to these thoughts:

-If it takes you longer to order your drink than it does to actually make it, you might want to take a long look in the mirror.

-“Modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, [however] we don’t seem to be benefiting from it psychologically,” observed American psychologist Barry Schwartz in his 2004 book, The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less.

-People who are the most insistent on being first are invariably always the least prepared to be.

-Freedom from, is always easier to deal with than, freedom to.

-Fromm’s pivotal 1941 book appeared with two different titles: Escape from Freedom and Fear of Freedom, providing for some, a very keen sense of irony.

-Fromm left Germany just as the kings of ‘freedom from”-the Nazi Party- were taking charge. Luckily, otherwise we probably would never have heard from Fromm.

-In the Starbucks era of unlimited choices, is anyone really happier?