Me ‘n’ My Shadow — Forward


So I had all these bits squirreled away in the nooks and crannies of my laptop, with me suffering from the delusion that I was going to somehow stick them all together in a book – a memoir.  But I often notice that my rate of procrastination exceeds my rate of composition, and then I think maybe none of it will ever come out into the sunlight at all.  So I’ve decided to dribble parts of it out piecemeal on the heads of friends, relatives, and passing acquaintances, mainly in an ill-disguised attempt to show off.  This, the preamble:

Erasmus said that in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king.  I realized when I was ten that I had been born in that land.  The way it happened was that in the Catholic orphanage where we sojourned for a few years, we were told that the protties were all going to hell, especially the Baptists.  (This was long ago – over 60 years ago.  Pre-Enlightenment, I suppose.)  I got out of the orphanage, ironically, when my father died, and went home to – the Baptists!  They thought the Catholics were all going to the bad place.  I already knew there were very good and very wicked people in both camps, and it occurred to me that, sadly, no one I knew, who spoke so knowingly, with a such a voice of authority, actually knew what they were talking about – that they all were, in fact, full of shit.

As a teen I found that I could also speak with that voice of authority – that people were, in fact, eager to find anyone who talked like that because most of them had no more idea than I had about what the truth was, or actually if any was to be had atall.  So I resolved to try to stop.  It was very hard for me, because I feared I might be abandoning my last best opportunity to ruin young girls, like Elmer Gantry.

I resolved to try to be honest.  First with myself.  Gunter Grass called his memoir “Peeling the Onion.”  I imagine that’s because he intended to try to be honest, and supposed it would cause tears to himself or others, or both.  So, anyhow, I had discovered the infinite capacity for perfidy in the human mind, mine and others’.  Ever since then, I have become obnoxious to the sanctified friends of my youth, because of the superior powers of discernment enabled by my genius(!)  Since they were all Baptists, they were more given than most to self-deceit.  “You can trick yourself,” I’d say, “but you can’t trick me.”  Whaddayamean! they’d say.  Their most frequent response was silence, which meant “I can’t deny it, but I won’t admit it.”  Mostly they don’t talk to me much any more, but that’s as it must be.  I have better friends now.  Grown up and all.

Round about, I am sneaking up on talking about my little voice, the voice of my homunculus, or alter-ego – I call him “Monk” – with whom I have carried on an almost lifelong discussion.  You can listen in for a minute.  “H” will be him; “M” will be me.  (Did you ever try asking the big questions to McCain’s dagoogle?  “Why do we read?”  “What’s the use of fiction?”  Try it.)  But now, here’s H having at me.

H:  Why do you write?

M:  To share my wisdom with others.

H:  That sounds like kind of a self-serving answer.

M:  OK, actually I want to impress everyone, and maybe get rich and famous.

H:  So we’re back to your quest for power and glory again, after all.

M:  I forgot you knew about that.  Well, I’ve kind of lowered my sights.  I thought I had ’em (power and glory) by the short hairs for a while, but before I could bag ‘em they flew off.  Now I don’t know where they’ve got to.

H:   You‘re getting warm, I think.

M:  OK, I like to get people to laugh.  Reflected glory and that.

H:   Quit saying “OK.”  It’s annoying me.  But I sense that you’re approaching an honest answer.  Care to dump your guts?

M:  You’re a very incisive shrink, for being home-grown and all.  OK (oops), I want to seem lovable, especially to the cute girls.  (Back to that.  Sorry.)  I just keep my guy friends for cover.  I hope they don’t realize that they’re being used.

H:  That seems kind of pointless, since the prostate surgeon made you, at least functionally, a eunuch several years ago.

M:  I know.  I think it’s a habit.  I don’t want to talk about it.  Makes me terribly sad. Anyhow, if that’s all you can think of, you’re very shallow.

H:   Shut up.  Well, the truth is never as pretty as the pipe dream, huh.  Anything else, then, before your 50 minutes expire?  You’re getting tiresome.

M:  Sticks and stones to you.  Anyhow, do you think my jokes are funny?

H:  Actually, yes, but I’m disgusted to be a part of you when I see how hard you laugh at your own jokes.

See, I delegated H, when I was still quite young – as soon as I’d caught on – to stand guard in my pre-frontal cortex.  I armed him with a hatpin, and gave him permission to dart out and stab me in my delusions of grandeur whenever they started up, before they got well off the ground.  I only know when he succeeds.  He’s learned a lot of my slimy tricks, though.  But I’m sure I’m still slipping stuff past him sometimes.  (It’s another regrettable but unavoidable part of “the human condition,” I fear – more and more devious attempts at self-deception.  We both get ever more skillful.)  And he gets out of hand.  He takes such satisfaction from his job that he victimizes others – kind of like a berserk hand puppet.

The distaff side of the family, by the way, casts a gimlet eye on some of my jokes.  Lisa Junior, for instance, thinks I shouldn’t make fun of people, like in a recent example, the Greeks (Lenore is 1/4 Greek.)  I, however, would rather keep doing it, and let them make fun of me back.  I’ll even help attack my own lineage:  Krauts have far too much respect for authority.  Scotch-Irish Americans are likely to be rebellious hillbilly rednecks, too eager for a fight, and religious fanatics.  The English are class-ridden, and burn their barbie.  There.

There’s also reason to laugh because almost everyone takes himself far, far too seriously.  Big Bill, the pre-eminent realist, knew 400 years ago (to me this is astounding):  Life, he said, is a tale told by an idiot.  How come we’re still in denial?  Because we don’t like what we see when this guy gets his head above water, so we keep shoving him back under.  It’s about one of those self-evident truths.  No matter how big we grow our heads, fate comes along soon enough and whacks them off.  He cackles loudest when oversize heads make that obscene squirting whoosh when he does us.  So it is to laugh.  Otherwise, weep.  Laughing is better.  Simple.

This whole rant is by way of warning you of what you’re in for you if you don’t bail out of this mess right away, now, before you forget.

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