The young man was starting to age.
Whatever state he'd known
in his youth, whatever secrets he
held, whatever had been denied
his heart began to mold his features
so that he peered at his guest
with a kind of ironic doubt. There
was between them a green bottle
of wine with two cups in front of
each gentlemen. His guest smoked
occasionally while the other swept
his hand with slow irritated
-So, you won't come back? You are
adamant about stay in ...in
The host made an effort to lean
forward. He took the cup of
wine and sipped once, then smiled quickly.
-Unfortunately I was born in a country
made by revolutionaries
and their progeny are all reactionaries
now. They oppose their own
history, their own myth.
He shrugged his shoulders.
-I find the situation dangerous.
His guest laughed. -Oh, don't take
it so seriously. Quite frankly,
if you try pretty hard
you can see the ideal being
lived out somewhere ...at least it
is in the mind somewhere.
The other man was not listening.
He had been waiting a long
time to say these things. He had
practiced in his spare time, in
front of the mirror, because he
knew he would be asked.
-The reactionary has the conviction
of the myth even as he
opposes it. First you have faith
in the ideal, then you have faith
in the people, then you have faith
in yourself, and, finally, you
have faith in nothing. Well, I knew
that political opinion was useless
baggage that the intelligent fellow
should throw overboard. It's
all a kind of civilized deceit don't
you know. Am I depressing you?
-No, no not really. I understand you.
My trick in fighting
that feeling is to hold the prevailing
ideologies of the day in the
mind simultaneously and then take from
each according to the situation.
I mean, what is sacred about politics?
The host stopped him with a grunt.
-You read too much that's your problem.
You've been guided
too much by history. You were
always romantic that way.
-Hey, I accept that accusation.
But you know I love all
those gestures of history. I love the
ships and sailors at the bottom
of the sea, I love all those migrations
and riches. Do you know
that I feel sad when I think about Rome?
Well, history is all gone
now but it is renewed in the heart.
-What lousy romanticism did you get that from?
-No, I just hope. It's hope man, hope.
Hell, I was like you. I saw all of
this politics and economics and communications
and technology as failures. Goddamn
failures that weren't going
to be redeemed by the goddamn
sociologists. All I have done has
been to fight that sense of failure.
Rightly so, rightly so my friend.
-Well, it's obvious that you have
cultivated the more romantic
aspects of life. What, do you
still believe in the 'individual'-
did you see the 'individual in the
drugs you took? You know that
it was all the dream of some
old professor don't you?
They stopped talking for a little
time. The host listened
to the music. He always remembered
his friend as a music listener.
Back then it had been folk songs
and blues music and some Alabama
spiritual group. Now he sat there
smoking, filling the room up
with smoke and being oblivious
about it all. Why was someone
that smart so oblivious about
filling the place up with smoke?
This fellow who tells me these
things for god sake?
They continued to drink wine.
The man got up and went to the
small refrigerator that snapped
open and shut and brought out some
cheese. The visit had been a surprise-
out of the blue. He had
gotten the call from the airport
and in the intervening time between
the call and the arrival he had been
forced to re-locate himself
in that time-frame. That time-frame
that he had long repressed
and which, when he thought at
all about it, had ruined his life.
It had been the only time when he
truly felt alive, when he felt
the camaraderie among peers that
his father had said occurred among
the generation that fought World
War II. And then there was that
delicious sense of having the power
to persuade others to your
point of view.
He felt fine about things in general.
He would have to
get up in the morning to pick up
the child who lived with her
mother. That had been something
he hadn't counted on. That is,
finding a woman in this place,
fathering a child through her,
and then having everything go botch.
It was amiable at first
and then the woman got hard. They
did not speak when he picked the
girl up and he saw nothing but
trouble for years down the line.
The child loved the woods and the
splotch of lakes that dotted
the area. There were extraordinarily
tall, thin trees and he would
walk with the child watching her and
watching how she reacted to
everything happening between
the big thin trees.
-Well, would you like to play a game of chess?
-Chess? Why I haven't played for years.
The host brought the chessboard out
while his friend raised the bottle of wine.
-Well, don't make mistakes, I practice quite a bit.
-Who do you play with?
He reached behind a chair and pulled
out a box with buttons and a screen on
it and then quickly explained its
-This is a fascinating machine.
It is set for several
levels and is unforgiving. One
mistake and it finishes you. It
takes five hours before it makes
its first move on the highest
-You let the damn machine spend
five hours to make a move?
-It's my teacher.
They began the game. Before long
the mans Knight was in
a position to fork his guests
Queen and King and in this moment
of delight for him he cried out,
-Social change is an illusion.
He finished the move and his
guest lifted his wine once
more and drank quickly.
-That computer is teaching you how
to think or something.
-All the computer does is alert you to patterns.
-So, you were talking about change...
-It doesn't matter but I will tell
you anyway. Social
change is an illusion that is
agreed upon by the society.
Great concentration is placed
on a specific attribute and
suddenly it flourishes like a
great flame around which everyone
dances for a time. The flame dies
down and that's that until
another one starts up.
They eyed each other. It was the
first time he had really
looked his guest over. His face
had lost some of its resiliency.
He had gained a tremendous amount
of weight. As he ate and talked
his body heaved up and down.
-Well, you know what your problem
was? You thought the damn
thing would be created in a week.
That all it takes is a thought,
a few actions, and then all the
street signs get changed. Now that's
where reading could have done you
some good. Read about Mao, Lenin,
even the old liberal revolutionaries
for Christ's sake and you can
see that it was a profession to
them. It was little different
than being a businessman or a
teacher. Lenin actually seems like
an entrepreneur now. He could
just as well been Henry Firestone
or Rockefeller before the
old guy made any money.
The host grunted and shrugged his shoulders.
-There's something to that. Lenin
was a teacher when you
get down to it. A teacher with pretensions.
The guest leaped at the chance to expostulate.
-And you have to remember that
Lenin didn't make the damn
revolution. Neither did Mao, neither
did Washington or Danton or
Marx. Revolutions are not made
by men, they are made by abdication
and by abuse that creates a breach
between the powerful and powerless.
A whole fabric of trust breaks down
and out of that the revolutionaries
emerge. That is what a revolutionary
trains himself to watch for.
-Yeah, but that breach is always there.
It has been there since the beginning of time.
-Well, that depends on who is
perceiving it. And how
much opportunity there is to perceive
it. And how many martyr's
The chess game was quickly over. His
guest was not good at the game.
It was cold outside. It was another
thing he couldn't get
use to; how the cold would come in
through the small crease in
the window so when the child was over
she would complain about getting
a chill and ho would tuck her blankets
between the mattress and the
The guest was right of course. He
was right about everything
but it burned him to hear him agree
to what was being said. And now
he was forced to remember all of
those people who he had crossed
paths with. Some of them had been
absurd collegians out on a lark
or who had some beef with their
parents for one reason or another.
Then there were the serious ones.
They were usually the sons and
daughters of immigrant families or
Jews or outsiders of one kind
or another. There had been Sarah
R. who knew Marx pretty well
and who could organize pretty well
and once told him that when the
revolution was over she would make
love to him. She had a fixation
on a movie star and would threaten
suicide from time to time. And
then there was the swarthy Trotskyite
fellow who had a hard face
and was as close to being a professional
as anyone he'd met. He
once reached into his pocket and
showed him a list of enemies who
would feel his wrath when the
revolution was over.
He was never sure himself. Sometimes
he could imagine the
whole thing turned over. The White
House, those monstrosities on
Manhattan, the cities and towns
and villages all turned over and
redeemed by the act. It seemed
ridiculous now, now that he saw it
flash once and quickly across his
mind. His ex-wife had tried to
convince him that it was only a
phase. God, how he hated the sons
of bitches who ran things! The
apes. Someday the apes would all
be on the run but he would never
see it, his time was passed already.
He could feel it. He could feel
others judging him with their
eyes and those eyes said, 'it is
over- your dream- join us, join
us.' They said it softly, very
softly he thought. How fast it had
-The States aren't too bad now.
The guys in power now hate
the government and the system as
much as we did; except that we hated
the rich and they hate the middle-class
and the poor. Everyone is
very greedy so the cycle is way out
beyond the dark side of the moon
but it will re-emerge one of these
days let me tell you.
-That kind of activity is for the young.
The guest let out a sardonic laugh.
-You're not exactly a fossil yet.
-Let me ask you. Would you give
up your career and
everything to help an effort
like that again?
The guest made a loud groan
and throw up his hands.
-Listen, running around like
this to meetings and buying
little objects for the house is a
real burden. But, to tell you the
truth, I wouldn't want to. Well,
I wouldn't want to live with twenty
other people or run for my life
from the cops or got involved with
some of the characters who were
around at that time. Maybe I could
get involved from a distance.
You never know what will happen.
In fact the host was thinking of
enrolling in school and
chasing down the remnants of a
career. He had been reading,
obsessively, in International Law.
He was on the computer mailing
list of an organization and they
sent him materials. What he did
not want to do anymore, what he
never wanted to do ever again was
to scrounge for rent and food. He
had calculated that it would
take three or four years at the
most. He felt jittery when thinking
about his own future. He did not
like the predictive nature and
yet found comfort in seeing himself
sitting passively reading from
a big blue book in a half-empty
library. He would be judged, yes
he would be judged by them. And
he would be judged by how close
he was fused to that predictive
nature and the goals of that nature
and there was no recourse really,
none except to plunge into another
irrational activity. He suddenly
remembered the Krishna character
who had knocked at his door one
evening when he lived in Toronto.
He was standing there looking like
a nut asking for donations. Why
did his mind go wild for a moment?
He knew it was not the Krishna
character that had created that.
Or that time when he was driving
in New Hampshire and that guy in
the VW drove by with his hand
cupped to his mouth and called
out the window, 'hey, Jesus loves you!'
But, in a funny way, he could
understand these people better
than he could understand his guest
sitting by the bed eating a piece
of cheese and reading through the Toronto paper.
It had been different than Krishna
and Jesus or any of this.
He had looked at reality, the
permanent thing, and seen how all objects
were held together in a semi-malicious
way and that some had control
of the objects and others worked
in the shadow of the objects and
that if men were still men they
had to admit that which suffocated
them. That was the way to prove
manhood rather than the arena or
the field of battle or making money.
Well, he thought, it was more
than perception. Perception didn't
require anything but an open
eye. And the people, the infamous
people, all they wanted to do
was to fuse themselves with leaders
and then learn how to mouth
the words of the leaders and to
devour the fantasies of the leaders
so that they would feel at one with
the stupendous leverage of
the leaders. It was only natural.
-Are you going to stay over?
-If it is all right. I have a
conference tomorrow at 10.
It's a big thing. Why don't you
come with me to the city
tomorrow and we'll have lunch.
Maybe afterwards we could check
out the scene, you should show me around.
The host mentioned he had to
pick up his daughter in the
morning but that he was free
to come back after the conference.
-Now, I just might do that.
Oh, before I forget I
bought you something. You might find
it interesting even if you
aren't the kind who reads much.
The guest took his briefcase and opened
it to take out a paperback book.
-I saw that the airport and had to buy it for you.
I read it years ago. Fantastic pessimism.
I think the guy's a Christian.
The book was The Technological Society
by Jacques Ellul. The host had never heard of it before.
His friend chuckled.
-This guy is thoroughly disillusioned
by the whole shitter
and says it is too late to do anything
about it. The machine has
us you know. That's the gist of it.
-Another doom prophet.
-Naw, I think this guy's a Christian
so he's castigating secular humanism
like the fundamentalists.
-Well, why not?
The host thanked him for the book
and then suggested they
go outside before it got too dark.
They left by a side door which
opened into a field. There was a
lake in the near distance. It
was flat for miles around and cold
looking. They moved toward the
lake as the guest lit a cigarette,
hunching over and cupping his hand
against a slight breeze. It was
not totally dark. The moon made
an eerie appearance in the sky,
full and white. For a moment the
man was glad to be out in the cold,
out of the sad abode and the
smoke and the smell of men who had
been defeated and knew it. And
now they use their brains to
rationalize their defeat, he thought.
-So, did you marry a Canadian?
-She was French Canadian. A feisty
one but nuts the way American
women can never be nuts- at
least the one's I knew.
When the American women are nuts
it is usually for keeps.
They usually end up destroying
your property or end up in
the hospital. This one was nuts
because she wanted power and
Canadians know nothing about power.
Do you ever see Sanderson?
-No, not really. I know he is a
lawyer in the Bay Area.
-Still a commie?
-Yeah, as far as I know. Although
he never took those things very seriously.
-Sanderson was a jerk.
-Curtis is dead.
-What? Bill Curtis? The newspaper guy?
-That's right. He was robbed in
Oakland and shot dead. A
big story at the time. And it's
too bad because he was ready
to free-lance a column for some syndicate.
-I feel bad hearing that. Now, he
was all right. What about Walling?
The guest laughed.
-He's writing very popular books. He
even goes on TV once
in awhile. These are mostly how-to
books. He is living well now
as they say.
The host began to feel bad. It was
the cold and the fact
that he had to see his daughter in
the morning and not having any
money to take her places so they
would end up back at the hovel
and play chess or read out of
Mother Goose and then walk around
the lake through the thin trees
where he would ask her about what
she was up to and who wouldn't
answer for a long time or simply
shrug her shoulders. He was feeling
bad because he had listened
to the fate of people he had known
during the period of time when
life felt at its most intense. It
was hard to believe that Curtis
was dead. He had been the intelligent one.
His guest stopped at the fringe of
the lake and flicked his cigarette in.
He seemed almost adamant.
-Listen, I don't like to pry...don't
like doing that and don't
like that being done to me but why
don't you give it one more
shot; start over, start fresh. Hell,
get into the system somewhere
and work from the inside out.
He was a citizen now and took the
train to Banff or Vancouver
when he could and had no desire to
go across the border to the
'thing' as he referred to it.
Somewhere in its latent dreams Canada
dreamt of wealth and power but it
knew it would never achieve it
and so was content to play at being
a country and that took the edge
off people so there wasn't that
tension when he walked around the
cities. All of that lay below the
border and was a sickness of
some sort and you either learned
how to love the sickness or you
got sicker until it killed you in
the end. He wanted no part of it.
-I'm thinking about it, he lied.
-Well good. Oh look, those birds.
The man pointed to the flock that
had emerged from the other end of
the lake. They scattered upward and then
formed a crude V and went toward
the city. The man was lighting
-Do you need money, is that it?
-I've got some.
-It's cold, let's go in.
They came back to the hovel and
warmed themselves by
the stove. The host turned down
the couch and as his friend
got ready he picked up the book
and began to thumb through
it. The guest was obviously
uncomfortable. It was as if he
was embarrassed for his friend.
It was as if he were sorry that
his friend had suffered for what
the others had let pass through
-Actually, I can see some good
points about staying up here.
It smells better. Cleaner at least.
The man fell asleep quickly.
Before long his huge body
was heaving in snores and the
host went out again into the
cold and black night.
He wanted his dissatisfactions to
be his own and not to
share them with anyone or be caught
in a mass of dissatisfactions
so he would have to laugh the source
of them away. They had recently
found more oil in Alberta and he
would get a job on a rig like
before and be with the men that
swore like his grandfather and
when he got his money he would
get another female and make a
little cozy existence somewhere-
Vancouver, there was a civilized
The lake looked frozen in the
distance. The trees looked
dead and appealing. He tried
to find Polaris and found it and
remembered the entry he had made
in his journal. He thought it
strange that of all things apparent
the stars wore uppermost and
yet few people took the trouble
to learn about them. To learn not
simply the names of the stars but
to learn their inner power, to
learn their processes and to know
it with the confidence of the
scientists. What had started it
all, for him, was the picture
of the Earth, all of a piece,
hanging on the edge of nothing. It
was the Earth against the blackness
of nothing now and that was
a fact though people didn't act like it.
He could see change coming and
it would involve him. He
would have to stir himself and
appear in the daylight more. But
it would be the daylight and it
would open and he would forget
about all of this one day and be
somewhere completely different. He
knew that, he knew that like
nothing that he knew before.
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