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Bring him a penny, that he might see it.

Okay, see, there’s this drunk guy, right? He’s out there on the corner yelling at himself about what a farken idjit he is and goldurn those goldurn fockruckers and spit, as he’s bent over peering at the sidewalk and sweeping his head back and forth like he’s about to carve chunks out of the concrete as soon as he remembers how his eyeball lasers work. Anyway, he’s loud enough he attracts the attention of a beat-​walking cop, a real central-​casting type swinging his billy-​club nonchalantly as he whistles a jaunty tune. (For this was when cops walked beats, on sidewalks, and whistled.) —What are you looking for, sir? asks the cop.
My fershlugginer keys, says the drunk guy. Bracken frazzle dropped ’em getten into my fuggle marpen car.
And the cop frowns, and the nonchalant swing of his billy-​club falters as he looks up one side of the corner and down the other. (Even in those days, you couldn’t be too careful.) —The nearest car is half a block away, parked in front of a disreputable dive. That your car? says the cop, pointing.
Yes, says the guy, like he’d almost figured out the trick with the eyeball lasers, only the cop had to go and distract him with a stupid question.
So if you dropped ’em getting into your car, why are you looking for ’em all the way up here? says the cop.
The drunk guy looks up then, and points to the streetlight, and says, well, fugget, light’s better here, y’know?

Our moral? —Be careful before you answer. Parables are not their dim shadows, allegories, with each sign firmly affixed to its signified, scrawled in white chalk on a dark suit-​sleeve (as in some political cartoons). They are wild and tricksy—labyrinths instead of trees; encyclopedias, not dictionaries—and they lead inevitably to divagations. Especially if you’re been reading Vollmann again. I could read him aloud all day (ask the Spouse), but will content myself with a brief morsel:

In regard to this cell, it should have been observable to Krupskaya that the walls were incised with Hebrew letters which seemed almost to flutter in the luminescence of the guttering lantern. Of course she was so long past her religious days as to be blind to the uncanny. And yet anyone can read in her memoirs that her heart had literally pounded with joy when she first read Das Kapital, because Marx had proven there, with scientific infallibility, that capitalism was doomed. Well, what might constitute uncanniness to a devout Bolshevik? The presence of a Social Revolutionary? But why seek the uncanny out? Motivations lie nested in motivations, like the numerological values of the letters of the Hebrew parables. If, as the Kabbalah posits, the most secret meaning is also the most precious, then we must sink into hermenuetical darkness. Krupskaya needed to prove herself to be so excellent, so above vindictive personalism, that she could forgive even the one who would have killed her husband-god. And forgiveness need not exclude contempt. Within the coils of this rationale hid a second craving which she hardly dared read, a lust for reassurance about her Revolution. But even this did not explain the intensity of Krupskaya’s attraction to Fanya Kaplan.

I think sometimes the dizzying games of qabalah and gematria were originally devised to simplify things, to tie them down. Words are slippery, tricksy things, signifiers that point ever and always to other signifiers; what the hell does any of it ever mean, in the end? Who knows? —By spearing each letter with a number and each shape with a meaning we tried to fix each word, define it as nothing more than the sum of its discrete parts, and by setting those numbers and those meanings down we tried to encompass who in the end might know. But the dictionary turned in our hands; all we did was impose another layer of signs between us and intent; signifiers that point our signifiers ever and always. Every word become a labyrinth; every text, an encyclopedia. —Who’s the first guy? Who’s the second? (Who’s that killjoy, the third?) Who’s the snake? What were the legs supposed to represent, again? The sword, the stone? Who got smeared into steak tartare?

Our moral?

In the fictional post below, “Digby” is a stand-​in for the Democratic Party in general, and “Bruce” is a stand-​in for frustration with the media-​pundit-​two-​party one-​way broadcast that seems to be a world of its own without the awareness, or care, to realize it.

Which makes “the pier” I think a stand-​in for frustration with pettily puritanical politicking and circular firing squads, right? —Do I get to say stuff like “Oh, grow up” and “No, no: revolution before you purge”? Do I get to make like if it weren’t for the people who are doing that stupid dumbass thing over there then we could really get something done around here, you just see if we don’t?

(Whose back? Whose dagger? Who’s Siegfried? Who’s Hagen? Which was Hugin, again, and which Munin? —What day was it in November?)

—End of the day, I pitch my tent in the moonbat camp. Clinton was a fine Republican president who pissed me off on a daily basis; the Democratic party as it’s currently constituted would make an acceptable right-​wing opposition in any sane, late 20th c. democracy; the system’s broken, crippled, cracked; we were robbed blind in ’00 and ’04; I’m still not over it, thank you (or ’02, either, or ’06, you betcha); our bright light casts some terrible shadows, and anyway blinds some folks without sunglasses; I do not think I know where we will be in ten years, not anymore, and that scares the ever-​lovin’ piss out of me; there isn’t a clusterfucker inside the Beltway media or politico or apparatichik who isn’t up to their swimming pools in somebody else’s blood, I mean, look what’s splashed on me, for Christ’s sake; everybody knows the fight was fixed, everybody knows the good guys lost, and sometimes it’s all I can do not to pack it all in and to hell with it.

That’ll learn ya.

Except.

(And it’s not even that “time” is “wasted” by triangulating diatribes against the clay we see on the feet of good soldiers when South Dakota’s locked and loaded the Joe Lieberman Memorial Rapist’s Rights bill. We hardly measure any sort of hourly productivity on this score, and anyway, I think some variation of Goldman’s Conditional applies.)

It’s this post from Henley that won’t leave me alone, and if you’re looking for someone to blame for this particular divagation, he’s your man; I mean, it surely isn’t my fault.

So “we” didn’t do jack shit to accrue affirmative responsibility for what happened. And the notion, which I’ve entertained from time to time, that if I or other doves had only tried harder—made better arguments; marched more; wrote more; pestered more of our neighbors—we’d have stopped the war itself, or extraordinary rendition, or the Gitmoizing of Abu Ghraib, or the Gitmoizing of Gitmo, or any of that—well, that notion is simple narcissism.
To which The Editors respond, in paraphrase: You paid your taxes.
I think what he means here is more subtle than his readers give him credit for. One immediately points out that refusing to pay your taxes is no so easy to do. (The Montana Freemen; the Branch Davidians—the original raid was just a tax case; etc.) And, again, the idea that a bunch of us engaging in tax protests, or hunger strikes, or emigration, or quitting our jobs and yelling at people on the subway with our pants around our ankles would move our rulers and such rump of support as they still enjoy; well, that’s not just fantasy but self-​flattery. And violent protest would be useless and, more importantly, evil in itself.
Here’s the thing, though: the certainty of failure may be no excuse. Once you know you’ll fail to stop the idiocy and cruelty, you still have to decide what you’ll do to fail.

What am I willing to do to fail? What does failure look like? What’s failing? —What does my life look like if I genuinely believe there’s no hope, that engagement with whatever part of the broken system I can get my hands on in an attempt to set it right is nothing more than “drilling ragged, weaponless troops in the prison yard, while their captors look on, laughing, from the guard towers”?

It would look very different than it does. (Wouldn’t it?) —Thus with this weak tea do I keep myself, misanthropic introvert though I might be, riding the bus head down iPod cranked every morning into my paralegally clerical job, bootstrapped nonetheless into what scraps are left of the commons-​as-​they-​are, increasing the us to the extent I can, and not waiting altogether elsewhere for enough of us to come around to the commons-​as-​they-​someday-​might-​possibly-​be-​if-​only. Quod erat demonstrandum; thus, I suppose, do gormless 16-​year-​old revolutionaries become heartless 30-​something liberals.

(Wait. Which bit was it, got demonstrated?)

  1. Bill Hooker    Mar 7, 10:06 AM    #

    Thus with this weak tea do I keep myself… riding the bus

    I’m the surly character with the scowl and the book, but when you leave your hat on the seat it’ll be me who bothers to yell hey this yours? and toss it out the window to you.


  2. Scott    Mar 8, 02:50 PM    #

    See, this is what I’ve been waiting for the return of.


  3. Kip    Mar 8, 11:45 PM    #

    Much obliged, Bill. And good Lord, Scott. I had no idea.


  4. Bruce    Mar 10, 10:49 PM    #

    clear as mud

    Keep at it, you’ll get there someday.


  5. Scott DiBerardino    Mar 11, 09:39 PM    #

    Kip – on the contrary, you have several, and often.


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