by David Eide

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 movements.

-So, you won't come back? You are adamant about stay in this place?

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 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?

-A computer.


He reached behind a chair and pulled out a box with buttons and a screen on it and then quickly explained its operation.

-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 level.

-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 power creates.

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 frame.

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 gone by!

-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 another cigarette.

-Do you need money, is that it?

-I've got some.

-Well, good.

-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 them.

-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 city.

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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