Monthly Archives: May 2015

There’s Always Somebody:

No matter what the position, no matter how unlikely or ridiculous, it is extremely likely that there will be someone who holds it and states it, and indeed shouts it. This is a matter of statistics–given enough human beings, all positions will be stated. The fact that any given position has been stated is not in and of itself significant.

The Soviet Union based Russian society on egalitarianism, and the result was a nation ruled by kleptocrats.

The Third Reich based German society on nationalism, and the result was a nation terrified of its own flag.

The Islamic Republic based Iranian society on God. When it falls, the result will be a nation of more die-hard, full-throttle, make-Sam-Harris-look-like-the-Pope atheists per square meter than anywhere else in the world.

If you attempt to base your society on a principle, the result will be a bloodstained mockery of that principle, and a vast discrediting of the purpose of your showcase.

Nothing like a power outage to make you feel like a snail out of the shell. The feeling of helplessness that creeps over one after the lights pop off is embarrassing. I’m a human being, dammit, I should be able to abide without gadgets. But going to each task in turn, I find myself unable. Can’t even turn the stove on, because it takes a spark to light. We have no fire in the house. How can survive no fire? my inner caveman asks. At the time, it seems a valid question.

Our oldest, the 10 yearold, shares my unease. She asks how we go into this fix. I describe how electricity came into people’s lives and homes over the course of the last century and a half or so, beginning with light bulbs and expanding to appliances and entertainment, stage by stage. “When your grandparents were born, there wasn’t any TV. When your mother and I were born, there weren’t personal computers. Change is rampant, constant, and accelerating. The abominations of one age become the jubilees of the next, and that which is abhorred now will be celebrated soon enough, all in a continuum of no-essence, of random permutations of embodied ideas!”

OK, I left off everything after ‘computers.’ No need to rush things.

Nothing is easier than to get lost in American exurbia. Unless you know your precise location among the franchises and strips, you will quickly find yourself herded by one-ways and cul-de-sacs to the unknown. Accidentally mount a limited-access highway, get off on a random exit, take a right by the A&W, straight through three lights, then a left at the dark Kiddy City sign, and you will arrive in the parking lot of the Mall of Life.

The Mall has two anchor stores, on opposite ends: Birth and Death. They generate massive foot traffic, everyone visits, although oddly, no one can remember either. In between can be found dozens of smaller stores: a hot tub retailer in whose wares one can see your True Love, a comic shop that can provide every issue of everything ever published, a used book store with an infinite back, and a Kay Bee.

In a courtyard in the center stands the famous billiard ball sculpture “Memento Mori,” in which human skulls revolve on sprockets and bounce down xylophones. Shoppers plop gratefully on the benches surrounding it, resting their feet, staying as long as they can stand it, which isn’t too long. Some say the management put it there to propel customers, keep them from resting. No matter how exhausted, after a few minutes of watching the constantly moving craniums, shoppers find an excuse to carry on, always down the mall, towards the last store.

The history of the United States is universally more violent than is commonly understood. From the Trail of Tears to the Battle of Blair Mountain to the BEF to the prevalence of Kentucky dueling, an ocean of blood has been pumped under the carpet. The Civil War was no aberration, just a prominent example of a general trend. We live now in a down cycle of that tendency. But a mean can always be reverted to.

You check the archives. A long list of months. Next to the oldest, in parentheses, is a large number, (60) or so, sometimes100+. If you check those posts, they’re full of piss and vinegar; OHBOYI’MBLOGGINGNOW. As you scan up the list, the numbers diminish. The blog fades, you can see the energy & enthusiasm dwindle. The first month arrives with no posts at all. Apologies crop up. Perhaps there’s a second wind, and for a time the post numbers shoot back up. But it doesn’t last. By the time you find the page, the “Most Recent” is more than two years old.

That may yet happen here. We’ll see.

I have visited several libraries while asleep.

An academic library, a tall reading room faced with granite, lined with wooden shelves surrounding dozens of blonde wood reading tables, matching chairs, all occupied by students mumbling like monks. Tall windows flood the place with light. In the corner stands an octagonal circulation desk, busy, above which a spiral staircase leads to unseen galleries.

An urban library, housed in a Brutalist concrete skyscraper, the narrow windows set back in bays like arrow loops. A dingy elevator opens onto the fluorescent-lit seventeenth floor, home to beige stacks of the middle LC letters, crowded with people of every variety pursuing their passions, investigating, creating, learning.

A municipal library in a cavernous basement, sheet metal shelves far above eye level. To access the topmost books, one must wheel over a flimsy staircase and stand tiptoe on the uppermost rung, reaching heavenward with fingertips for the prize, risking losing balance and toppling to smash one’s face open on the footworn stone.

All these places and more—second-hand bookstores with piles of wooden crates, rummage sales with tables of paperbacks, rows and stacks and piles of broken cellophane dust jackets, half-cracked spines and rounded corners, the musty irreproducible smell of old books. Each one bearing potential, a hope of knowledge or insight or that cryptozoological thing called wisdom.