[Part two, wherein Michael McGeraughty must face the music of the night.]

 

 

**

  1. On the road, without thumb

 

I have filled my little trailer with my books—what remains—and I have lit out for the territories the same as young Huck. I can roll up my sleeping bag and that slab of foam every morning and fit it neatly above the desk in what was once the perfect bunk for kids, a space above the trailer hitch that my own joints have ruled out the possibility of ever using. Below that I have my desk and a cooler for ice beneath. I cannot abide warm beer even in emergencies and I prefer not to see this desperate act as that—not quite yet. After all, it is just my tribute to Dylan Thomas. I will not go gentle into that good night.

I do not know if they’ve yet issued a warrant for my arrest back in Old Boston. I know I am certainly ‘on the lam’, as it were, because the judge ordered me to stay put. But then, given her salary, she does not need to worry about Boston prices. It is proving far cheaper to be on the road than I had hoped. Nevertheless, I understand that they will eventually find me. It’s not just the license plate. I’ve kept the name of the old shop ‘A Republic of Books’ on both doors of my truck. Hard to miss.

On the second day, still well within the borders of Massachusetts but harboring at a campsite in the Berkshires, a fellow tapped on my door and asked if I was the same guy who had the shop in Boston. He looked to be very serious, and I was immediately worried I had sold him a book he didn’t like.

Instead, he said “Thank you,” having read the whole sordid account in the papers. Deirdre did a wonderful job with that.

With genuine concern in his voice, he asked me, “What’ll you do now”

I gestured at the shelves inside. “I suppose I’ll have to keep selling books.”

He said, ‘Oh, wow! Can I look?”

He bought an armful. I had forgotten to bring bags along, but, forty-seven dollars’ worth. Almost a tank of gas. Thank you, Christopher Morley.

(Though Pegasus, the old nag that pulled the wagon in Morley’s book, has nothing on my Ford-150 at 16 miles per gallon even with the trailer).

Deirdre seemed pleased with that news when she got back from town. She knew someone there and had taken the truck to go looking for a story. I didn’t tell her that I went looking for the business—that it came to me. But at our first stop, near Stockbridge on day one, I stood on the road with a sign until Deirdre begged me to come in from the weather. She was embarrassed by the sight of me, I think. ‘Pitiful.’ was the word she used. I can’t see the difference between my doing that and her nosing around looking for something of interest.

“Can I use the desk, tonight? I want to write something up so I can send it out to Tommy at the Post. They’ve been looking for color from this part of the state now that the leaves are down, and I have a good item about a high school football coach. One that’ll sell papers.”

“What did he do?”

“He sold his house to pay for uniforms. The school committee is trying the cut football out of the curriculum and refused to budget anything for it the last couple of years.”

“I’ll bet the team thinks the guy is awesome, but there are a few parents ready to sue him if one of their darlings gets hurt.”

“Cynic.”

“Just trying to deal with the reality around me.”

 

As long as a better past remains in the common memory, the alternative will be understood even by those who prefer to watch football on TV rather than to consider such things. The authorities will attempt to obliterate the recollection of better times with constant television indoctrination, but their incompetence will even screw that up. CGI requires some expertise. The education authorities will continue to manipulate what is taught in the schools to eliminate what is disagreeable, while promoting the agenda, but that curriculum is ultimately boring, lacking as it does a maniac in pursuit of a giant whale or a juvenile too willing to head out for the territories. No amount of CGI will make their own stories more interesting.

But is that true?

Standing in a cold drizzle beside the road, with my sign out, put me in a terrible frame of mind. All of that mumble about a ‘common memory’ was just my own wishful thinking. What ‘common memory’ was that?

The red taillights of cars slowing to enter the Burger King a block away illuminated the answer. I could very well remember the first McDonald’s that opened near my childhood home in New York. It was just a block away from the high school. In the school cafeteria, there was suddenly no line. None of the kids were buying the ‘hot’ lunch. They were saving the seventy-five cents until three o’clock instead and buying a burger and a shake at McDonalds! That was the common memory of America, now.

There was no Walmart in the suburban village I knew then, but the small shops on the Post Road began to close. After all, the ‘Mall’ was only twenty minutes away. You could get anything there! . . . Not quite. The only bookshop in town struggled to stay open against the first tide of chain stores, but soon succumbed to the psychosis of discounting. Shelf space there that once held odd copies of new authors and almost anything in print from the mid-list, were now featuring flashily repackaged re-prints and remainders, face-out. I had stopped going there by the time I had left for college.

The ‘common memory’ I was thinking of was something that died even before the Republic had stopped breathing. It had been replaced by a plastic soul of cheap goods sold at international chain stores, some, like the Walmarts, big enough to replace the malls that had replaced the shops I was so nostalgic for.

Finally, standing there against the rush of air from trucks and vans, I was slapped by the obvious. Many of those were emblazoned with the names of delivery services. UPS, DHL, Prime, Walmart again. The roads were filled with them. People could stay at home, insulated by the big screen presentations from their cable service, and order what they wanted on-line. No need even to congregate. Isolate!

The wondrous browse in the new bookshops of my youth was long gone, replaced by the marketing of television and movie tie-ins, pre-sold series soon to be a motion picture, the pre-determined best sellers from publishers now run by business majors instead of dilettantes and rascals, recreations of history reshaped by the current zeitgeist, recapitulations of grisly crimes, and the political huckstering of whatever the authorities were now pushing. Like drug dealers. . . . No! Those too! Advertising on television was already dominated by the Big-Pharma drug dealers. To really be in control, they must keep the populace drugged. Aldous Huxley had no idea how close he was to the Brave New World of today. Or did he?

Which brings me to my own bailiwick, and a brighter thought. There are an awful lot of books out there in the attics and basements of America. The bad guys may have closed my own small effort but what can they do about the countless millions of volumes already in the hands of the public. The schools may fail to teach students to read, but once even a small minority have gotten a few pages into Treasure Island, there is no turning back. And the word will spread.

The ‘word’ is important here, as any Christian zealot will readily say. The Bible will be taught. And as I have often alluded to in the past, once the Scottish people were taught by the Kirk to read so that the Word might be directly available to all, the Enlightenment was sure to follow.

And too, the suppression of books by public libraries will fail, with the buildings already used more often today for child-care and knitting circles, as much as for their toilets.

Sitting here tonight in a well-lit Walmart parking lot and staring down at the sparkle of raindrops on a dozen windshields, I can easily imagine a destination in that array of stars. But I am not likely to get so far as that. I am an old man.

I look, perhaps to see some refutation of the thought, but Deirdre is in her sleeping bag, reading a book.

 

I turned my old computer in at the Apple Store in Boston to get this new laptop. I think I’m probably giving in to the heebie jeebies after all the problems with the FBI, but I no longer have my tech guru around to watch over me and I don’t think the Feds have given up on all that snooping anyway so I just got rid of the old one for this. I am using most of the same programs—the ones I’m familiar with and little more. I have a new phone number but it’s not in my name. That was a risk I was pretty sure I should avoid. And Walmart sells a nifty little flip phone for $49.95 that I’ve read is diligently made by slave labor in China. Then again, I don’t need a phone smarter than myself.

All the writing I do now is simply going into ‘The Cloud’ anyway, whatever the hell that is. And that account is not in my name either. Ben has agreed to take care of that as well.

Despite the risk, on the last day I was cleaning out my old apartment, Jack showed up wearing some delivery service uniform or another and gave me instructions for how to do all that. How to disconnect from all the small ties to what I had been doing on the internet before. The three years he worked at the shop informed him that I am not to be trusted with such decisions, and I’m happier for it. I think Jack was still feeling bad about being responsible for the whole mess with the Feds, even though I’ve told him otherwise.

It was my fault. Entirely. Jack was only doing what he had to do. I was doing what I wanted. Without Ardis and Jack, the shop would surely have closed three years before. Ardis had put the energy back into the daily operation that I no longer seemed to muster. Jack had made our internet sales work. I was more thankful to them both than I could express. And I will admit, though I have long held to my peculiar political persuasion, I had for too long restrained myself from expressing that in public. My own cowardice. Jack may or may not have intended to shake things up, but he chose the situation very well.

Still, to understand just what has happened will need a deeper look into the past. The question, ‘what will I do’ must first make clear, ‘what have we done.’

What is necessary now is a reconsideration of what has gone wrong, outside of all the self-serving intellectuals who’ll soon be making their excuses by candle-light, and why. Such an assessment must go to the root causes lest the rot be preserved. My role in all this is too small to consider. But it is all I know. And I must keep asking, how could the self-anointed intellects of our age have so completely bought into the ‘Suicide of the West,’ as it has been well described? How did the authorities come by the idea that it was better to abolish man than to allow him freedom?

 

Deirdre is already asleep.

 

 

***

  1. Stuff that matters

 

I was just reminded by a Walmart security guard tapping on my window to keep my curtains drawn and the exterior lights on the trailer off. He seemed to be an affable sort. But the switches for the interior and exterior light are right next to each other and I am clumsy, by nature. So, I went inside the Walmart and bought an up-to date Campground guide. The campground listing in my old one is out-of-date and left us stranded here in the second place.

 

Earlier, Deidre had said, “You can’t help being the fellow you are.”

It was out of the blue and though she did not have anything in the way she said it that was critical, it surely was that. It was on her mind.

“I try to get help, when I can.”

She shook her head.

Later, when I hadn’t had a single customer at the empty lot I’d chosen to try just outside Springfield, and we were both sitting at the desk and eating some ‘take-out,’ which was just a selection of pickings from the fresh food section at the Market Basket and a couple of ham sandwiches from a deli-counter that Deirdre had tried after looking for an interesting news story over at the old Smith and Wesson gun factory, I told her about a thought I’d had.

“You know, this set up would be easier on us if it were a little more like a ‘Gypsy wagon’. The walls would slant out toward the top, just right. And if we had enough of an overhang flap at the sides to keep the rain off, we could have books on the outside too.”

“You just started! Give it a chance.”

“But I think people are naturally attracted to Gypsy wagons. It’s a good look.”

“They don’t like to be called Gypsies. They’re Roma now.”

“I’m talking about the wagons, not the people. Nobody would know what you were talking about it you said a ‘Roma wagon.’ It’s not traditional.”

“A lot of traditions are no good.”

I was bothered. I didn’t understand.

“So, get past the politically correct BS and tell me if you think that would be a good thing. People just aren’t that attracted to an old clunky looking Yellowstone Cavalier.”

“It’s great! Great idea! Can you afford to buy a Gypsy wagon?”

“That’s not the point. I was just imagining it. That’s all.”

She doesn’t argue. She usually just says, ‘I don’t agree.’ and lets it go. But when it’s something like this, she seems flummoxed. She just goes about whatever she was doing—which in this case was picking at her sandwich.

The part I think she doesn’t understand is that I live so much of my life in my head. I used to think everybody did, until I met Margaret—no, I still thought it for a few years after that because love is all in the head, at least until the reality became unavoidable. Margaret and I were married long enough to teach me a great deal about the female mind, but I didn’t learn a thing.

It’s not a matter of avoiding reality. It’s what you do with it. Example: you have to eat, but you don’t have enough money to eat out. Deidre used to grab something at McDonald’s after working all day. That was her habit. At least I’ve got her going to deli-counters now. It’s a start. I would rather buy some carrots and tomatoes and a broiled chicken at a supermarket. Costs the same and the burps are not so bad. But still, I do like to look at the menus online for some nice-looking place I can’t afford. There’s a feast there for the mind.

I think music is a good salve for that. It makes a little too much reality, palatable. Deirdre, a city girl, listens to Country Western while she is putting together a story about some misfit or lost soul. I like Sibelius, or Raff, or Saint-Saens when I’m writing. When my little book shop on wheels is open I tend to play Mozart or Bach but that’s only because it draws less comment and does a good job of creating a different atmosphere in a small space. I was playing Rachmaninoff the very first day and the only customer fled.

 

I know for a fact that dogs dream. They have a life in their head, even if they can’t express it in words. I imagine that to be some kaleidoscope of images they have retained, like an old Chinese script, with the ones for food and the people that feed them being the largest. I understand that it is not just the retained imagery or smells or sounds in my head that makes me different. What I think the difference is has to do with words.

If you are religious, this may sound like bunk. But there is no need for that pejorative if you think of words as a blessing of the lord, as one friend of mine does. It fits very nicely in his own confection of the cosmos. So, an affection for words is something we have in common, though we often argue about the rest. And it is this importance of words that I think makes the difference between those who believe in the authority of Government and those who believe in the authority of the soul.

 

I have rigged up a curtain so the light from the desk won’t disturb Deirdre. That, and so she can’t lie there and watch me while I’m writing. The light catches at her eyes, and it’s disconcerting.

She says, “I can still see you!”

The shadows of me are telling.

 

C. S. Lewis well defined the ‘abolition of man’ in his great three-part essay by that name. His particular religious affiliation is irrelevant to the truth of his observation. Of course, other great philosophers have engaged the problem of ‘natural philosophy’ and ‘natural rights,’ from Confucius to Roger Scruton, but I think none so well.

‘Men without chests,’ as Lewis brilliantly explains in Part One, are those disabused of any sentimental ideas about good and bad, much less good and evil, while attempting to reason without regard to their own ignorance, using traditional values to refute the very idea of value; those who call themselves ‘intellectuals’ so that any disagreement with them is an attack on intelligence, much in the same way, more recently, some ‘scientists’ accuse those who question their statements as being ‘anti-science.’

Part Two, ‘The way,’ illuminates the subtle means used by those hollowed men to subvert intellectual inquiry, by dismissing traditional values through a careless skepticism based on a subversive ethical system of their own. Because their subjects must be ‘carefully taught,’ public education is used to inculcate disrespect for tradition while developing contemporary obedience through social pressure. I was particularly reminded that Ernest Hemingway faced this exact conundrum in his most sentimental novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, when Robert Jordan must choose between dying for what he perceives as the ‘true’ or living for the unlikely love he has found in the midst of war. It was the right question but answered in typical Hemingway fashion with the hero doing his political duty even while admitting his love by attempting to save her. This meme has even become a cliche of the ‘modern’ cinema.

Taking just one of several key elements in the eponymous Part Three of ’The abolition of man,’ I was struck by Lewis’ prescient assessment, in 1943, of contraception as the ultimate act of an historic arrogance dictating values to future generations. A very bloody war of political values was raging about him, but he manages to focus on the elemental truths. I think it likely that he foresaw the time when abortion would be used by government to alter the balance of our humanity. That the ‘science,’ given political motive and used as a goal instead of a tool, would be made an excuse for extermination.

Please forgive any possible misinterpretation here. I am not a philosopher in any true sense. I am merely a user of philosophy. A consumer, not a creator. What I seek in philosophy is a predicate for the good, a reason to act for the good, but most certainly, a useful understanding of the good. In that way I have attempted to use my own novels as an exploration of philosophy through narrative and I have always conducted my business as a bookseller as if philosophy mattered.

 

 

 

****

  1. Things that are down in ‘Upstate’

 

Upstate New York is, with a few exceptions, a devastated place. Businesses have fled. The population is mostly older because they have homes there and can’t afford to sell them. Their children have fled south, or west. The fat prosperity of my youth has been rendered to the parched bone of empty shops and unrepaired roads. I had to take it extra slow in places to avoid having my books tossed onto the floor. The ‘L’ shape of the shelves is good for most situations, and they can stand a jostle but I have already had to purchase some light-weight bungee cords—fifty-six of them, which is all they had—and one hundred and twelve hooks—to span the backs of the books from side to side on each shelf to guard against the potholes.

Deirdre found yet another story when I stopped at the hardware store for the bungees. Just across the street—a gray street lined with uncleaned windows on dark interiors—was one storefront with a line of people waiting to get inside. In seems there was a woman there who was doing fortune-telling that was actually worth the price. She had been an accountant, and given the economy in the area, had been laid off herself, but now, for fifty bucks, she took the same basic necessary information from people and told them what their future was—by telling them where they might go to find a job in another state where they could afford to live.

Genius! She had a line out the door and Deidre had to pay the woman the $50 just for time enough to get the details of her story.

People will go to a fortune-teller before they’ll go to an accountant. Why? Because the accountants charge more, but also because the accountants all seem to be part of the system. And the system is rigged.

David Brooks, my accountant—was my accountant—was a good guy. I was going broke while he was giving me the ‘reduced’ rate of $50 dollars an hour. I appreciated that. But that only means there are a lot of people who can’t afford an accountant, especially in Troy, New York.

I paid ten bucks to take a space at a street fair there and sold about $50 worth of books which I immediately spent on a trunk-load from some fellow who had run home and cleared off his own shelves as soon as he saw me; all of it good old early twentieth century stuff in dust jacket that had been abandoned on the shelves by the previous tenant. I felt sorry for the tenant. Why does someone go off and leave such good books: Conrad Aiken. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolf, Willa Cather, Edith Wharton, Edna Ferber. Maybe the original owner had died. If they bought the books when they were new, as it appeared to be by the neatly penned name on each front flyleaf. They would have been in their eighties now, at the very least. That would just about explain it.

Which had me thinking about my other project.

Resolution 451 is important. The best books are being lost. I need to find a way to promote that without sounding like a preacher. In an anti-religious age, I have to come at it from the other side—from the best interest of the people I am talking to. I need a philosophy about it that they can adopt as all their own.

My assumption here is simply that man is not ‘human’ without philosophy, but only that lower form that may be scientifically labeled ‘homo-sapiens,’ and which lacks a soul. It’s a bit of a rewrite on the tale Mr. Mifflin tells in Parnassus on Wheels: “You remember Abe Lincoln’s joke about the dog? If you call a tail a leg, said Abe, how many legs has a dog? Five, you answer. No, says Abe; because calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg. Well, there are lots of us in the same case as that dog’s tail. Calling us men doesn’t make us men. No creature on earth has a right to think himself a human being if he doesn’t know at least one good book.”

Deirdre, a true agnostic, even about her personal gods, has accused me of believing in a religion of books. Of course, I don’t deny that. She simply does not yet understand that my philosophy is tied to the human soul. A single life is too ephemeral. A single book can be as lost as Aristotle’s second book of Poetics. And Homer’s work survived orally for centuries before it was written. However, would it still be with us through repeated conquests if it had not been transcribed at last? What wondrous stories were once told at the Mohican campfires that are forgotten now because they were not captured in print?

True, believing that a ‘soul’ exists does not make it so, any more than a denial might. To me, the affirmation might come with the living of life as if it does. However, I am critical of the past only because it matters to every possible future that we might have.

And it is clear, both in the immediate reign of an individual life as much as it is in history, that living as if there is no soul results in pain, degradation and misery. We yet know very little about the universe and its contents, but we might know something of ourselves if we pay attention. Religion might offer solace to some, but which religion? Blind faith is so often deadly. I think achieving some appreciation of one belief or another requires philosophy.

And then there is the pseudo-intellectual’s elixir: science. Science is a process for discovery, but no more than that. To make science an end in itself, a philosophy, if you will, is little more than making math an ultimate. It doesn’t add up. It won’t help you appreciate the beauty of a September day, or any other. And a sense of beauty is a part of the life of man. As Thoreau made clear, a philosophy can grow from a simple aesthetic appreciation of the moment, or a seed.

But, as we have seen, not all philosophy is good. Before the age of dogma, knowing what is ‘good,’ or what has been judged to be the good, had generally been understood through a ‘common sense’ of life derived from shared experience and passed down to each generation. In a world lit only by fire, guided by the seasons and measured by the stride, this understanding was sufficient. But with the momentum of the ages carried forward on the wheel, and the engine, and finally upon wings, a greater comprehension has become necessary.

The nearest campsite with requisite facilities required us to drive through Schenectady, in the rain, and I got lost at that.

 

It rained unrelentingly in Utica. I found another empty lot in a suburb pocked by many such gaps—this one having once been occupied by a filling station—and set my sign out on a stand instead of pitifully waving it around myself. As if it were somehow mysterious, a cop stopped and asked what I was doing. I invited him in out of the rain. He bought a Zane Grey western, my only copy of Riders of the Purple Sage, and seemed pleased enough with my telling him we would be staying at the State Park in Fayetteville that night.

Deidre went to a salon and got her hair cut. The gossip there got her nowhere, but they were quite interested in what she was doing. She said they seemed desperate for news from beyond.

The next day, with the sun clear and hot above, a lady in Skaneateles bought a book while I was eating my lunch at the park and then proceeded to tell me all about her life. The book was far too cheap.

Route 20 is a fine enough road, evidently kept up by the small towns that punctuate its length. The air was quite warm, so I jumped in the lake and had my first real bath since swimming at Carson Beach during the summer. I thought Deirdre might appreciate the effort. The lady with the book watched me from a park picnic bench.

Out loud, she says, “You shouldn’t swim so soon after you’ve eaten. The water is too cold … You could have used the shower at my place. I just live walking distance.”

I thanked her and told her that I had to be going. Thankfully, Deirdre showed up just about then and routed her.

 

It would appear that the average person does not actually have a ‘philosophy.’ After a couple of generations of being told to just do what ‘feels good,’ most people just do what feels a little better. They go from thing to thing, until they get bored and move on. Marriage. Home. Job. Whatever.  Religion cannot be trusted. The future is a blank. The past is to be forgotten.

Once, what was only deduced through dialogue became the subject of volumes, from Socrates to the compilations of a Mortimer Adler. All the while, a search for meaning in one’s life, and for those assurances and comforts of value in the midst of what appeared to be an ever-enlarging void and an inescapable self-awareness of our ignorance, begged for better religion and absolute margins for our behavior.

The brutishness of some men—the wanton actions of some toward others—wanted guidance. Religions had been imagined for explication and explanation, but religions failed—not suddenly, but over and again. However, the very persistence of our want for religion may be proof enough for the need. From the rain dance and the sacrifice of virgins to the construction of awe-inspiring cathedrals, religions fought over the meat of the unknown, while leaving mankind to conjure means to control what little was known and might be managed.

 

I am writing every morning and every night now. Not so much, really. I get tired easily at night and I am always anxious to be moving along in the morning. But I am getting some work done and I’m happy enough about that. When Deidre wants to use the desk, I go up in the cab and set the laptop against the dashboard.

I stopped in Geneva because there was a sign out at the library announcing a book sale.

It was a problem. I wanted to buy too much. I put those boxes in under the writing desk and my knees are cramped so I will have to find another solution for all that. But the time taken meant we needed to camp nearby. Deirdre had wanted to get closer to Buffalo. I’m not sure why.

 

Yet still, the need for philosophy has remained, and this desire is a cause for us to be human—to question our very existence and our reasons to live. To this present moment, absolute truth escapes us. We theorize, but no more. Religions often propound doctrines for such matters but fail to prove them, demanding faith rather than reason, and the dictates of a dogma rather than revelation. And, sadly, philosophy too often turns to the safety of politics for resolution and its own absolute answers, when this should be the reverse.

Religion and philosophy are not interchangeable. One demands faith, and the other demands reason. Both may fail. Neither can prove the negative of the other. Some degree of both may be alloyed to live happily, of course, but the conflict is inescapable. Given the vastness of the unknown and our human needs, it is likely we must accept this battle as ongoing, as we do for hunger, or a need for breath.

There are absolute truths which we may seek through philosophy, and perhaps know through religion, even as our quest for greater understanding continues, but all of this must be re-established with each generation—taught, lest the knowledge be lost. We are not born knowing our purpose in life. Each individual human being must rediscover this, as part of their birthright.

Knowing what is ‘good,’ and what has been understood to be the ‘good,’ derived from our common experience and passed down to each generation, may define a common sense ‘natural philosophy.’ This might serve as a gospel by which we can readily know the good without the need for argument at every crisis, small or large and may be one more excuse for the dogma of an ancient religion (other than being the absolute ‘word of God!). But so too, for the tenets of a viable ideology, drawn from a consistent natural philosophy, with an eye on the realities of the present and a foreseeable future. Things change, but the good remains.

 

There is a state park near Genesco that is pretty good. I decided we should stay on there a couple of days when Deirdre said she wanted to check out a story she heard about in town. I wasn’t going to be able to sell any books in an empty State Park, but at least I could write, and the showers worked.

 

And this brings us, inevitably, from the theoretical to the present. Establishing our ‘natural rights’ is, and always will be an essential task for a coherent and open society. Rights propounded, dispensed, and enforced by an ideology that is not shared, are a guarantee of disorder and disunion, strife and failure. The ‘Reign of Terror’ that was the French attempt to artificially impose an ideology was an example of that, as were the ‘Russian Revolution’ and the ‘Cultural Revolution’ of China.

Historians, feathering their own ideological nests, might call some such disruption a ‘Glorious Revolution’, but the result is nearly always as bad. Catholics slaughtering Huguenots, Muslims slaughtering Christians, Communists slaughtering Kulaks—none of these are the actions of a humane or philosophically human society. The annals of such bestiality are long and disquieting if one is seeking the comforts of either religion or philosophy. How can mankind have done such things and be worthy of existence? But then the lion may kill its cubs and eat them to survive another day. What we seek is to be better than that.

Functionally, what we want is happiness. Defining this might be a trick, but it is no less real. And, just as clearly, for a society to function, that goal must be available to all without expense to others. The genius of The Framers attempted just this. Where they failed is obvious, but where they succeeded, we should take note. We can honor them for that much, at the least.

I would let historians ponder the failures, as well as the successes. My own sense of it is that we may have come very close to the ‘city on the hill,’ and might again if we make the effort. But given the slave-driven world from which it was imagined, their failure might be understood, and their success may be taken into account.

 

Deidre returned with something on her mind. I waited. Nothing came out, so I prompted her.

“What’s wrong?”

“Too much to settle right now.”

“Let’s settle part of it.”

She took that deep breath that I knew was filled with her thoughts.

“I want to go home.”

I really didn’t expect it, but it was right there in front of my eyes. Especially when she started to cry.

“This is your thing. You love this. But it’s not me. I want my little apartment in South Boston. I want to know where my next meal is coming from.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I am too.”

The crying didn’t stop for a while, but she is very sweet when she is emotional.

She slept better after that than she has since we left. Naturally, I couldn’t sleep at all.

 

This then, this America in our time, is at the end of all that. It is the sum of those failures and successes. It makes no sense to throw all of that away, without alternatives. A city might be built upon the ruins. And the alternatives being bandied about by the nihilists, all of them dependent on more government and less individual autonomy, have been proven time and again to be worse.

I see my own responsibility—one I cannot shirk, or avoid, or pass off onto the shoulders of others, no matter my age, health, or wealth—and that is to build. We cannot stand still while other world powers are moving around us, and capitulation means disaster. Such a retreat would only condemn our children, those that survive, to the job we have failed to do. Whether from a virus or a nuclear holocaust, starvation or a bullet to the head, this horror is not inevitable and historically not so very different from the burdens accepted by past generations.

Avoiding this responsibility is as crucial a mistake as is failing to protect the young, or ignoring the old, and is a dereliction of duty. A government of, by, and for a free people—one not guided by a religious belief or some order of birthright—requires the predicate of specific rights and a constitution to administer these equitably. Getting to that state cannot be done by an order or command.

Philosophies derived from other sources, such as myth or math, logic or the many religions, are at best artificial to any deeper or broader understanding of the ‘good’ and what is best for mankind, in that they must be imposed and do not occur naturally from a healthy functioning society. One may be better than another, but none can be imposed. These are the considerations that must be brought to mind, now.

That a particular doctrine is ‘logical’ only says that it is coherent to some specific beliefs—what is a given. A natural philosophy respects the bounds of human understanding and builds upon our knowledge, however limited. Judging a human action to be logical presupposes a knowing of why, or how something can be done. But given the variety of human abilities, simply assuming such omnipotence can be fool-hardy and destructive. That, in essence, was the protective scaffolding the framers of our nation attempted to create.

 

In the dark, the sounds beyond this aluminum chrysalis are scary. What goes bump in the night? The same sound by daylight can easily be ignored. It is the dark that transforms the insignificant into monsters. That is really the point, is it not? Simple ignorance?  We are all too scared of the unknown. Perhaps justly so, at times. Being afraid is not wrong. But it is wrong to let that fear manage you; to spoil the revelations of day with fear; to alter your well-made plan—made well enough to inspire you to sally forth in the first place—without a better alternative. I have something to lose, for sure, but everything to gain.

 

Importantly, any philosophy, political or otherwise, which attempts to reduce man to the status of animal, i.e. of a predicable behavior, is a negative. Whatever ‘instincts’ mankind might have, they are clearly subordinate to our ability to determine our actions. Our disasters are sufficient proof of that.

A positive philosophy for mankind might be derived from practical experience, such as farming, or building, or repairing, etc. For most individuals, a practical philosophy is existential in nature, and not studied for itself; but the study of philosophy can offer a larger framework upon which a society and its government can be based.

An open society, in the spirit of the great philosopher Karl Popper, is likely the best. But without omnipotence, the apparatus for securing that society and then preserving it will always be messy. Neatness only counts in dictatorships. And the bollix we have already made must be considered. As The Framers understood, the means and allowances for our inevitable failures ought to have been in place.

In the morning I brought Deirdre to the airport in Buffalo and said goodbye, feeling a little numbed by it more than the lack of sleep or the weather, which had turned cold again. I had taken something for granted. I shouldn’t have. But my whole attitude about life has just been forcibly changed, and now changed again. I hadn’t even had time for a little grief and some self-pity at the loss of the shop or that largest portion of my adult life. I was too busy stoking my libido with visions of an endless new adventure with Deirdre.

I don’t have to plan now to save enough to pay the rent, or the electric bill, or set aside the quarterly taxes, or buy new stock, or explain to someone why I can’t buy back the books they bought from the Book-of-the-Month Club or remaindered at Barns & Noble, or vacuum the floor, or unplug the toilet or clean the windows or replace the light bulbs or hire someone responsible (and reasonably book-worthy) to be around on the weekends, or pay the salaries, or pay the accountant, or pay the lawyer, or talk to at least twenty people a day about none-sense. Now, I can just do and talk about what I want.

But that is my new world, and not Deirdre’s.

This made me just a little bit angry. More than that, I guess.

I was free. Yes. I could do what I wanted. Pretty much. And what I wanted was for her to be here next to me. Which meant, what I actually wanted was not to be free.

It wasn’t just the illogic of it. It was the fact.

The old phrase came to mind, ‘check your premises.’

My particular premises, in the cab of the truck, were quite small. I could at least negotiate that much. Yes?

I was still in the unloading zone when I got a rap of knuckles against the passenger window. With one leg out, I stood to ask the cop where the closest Post Office was—and it was close. I knew there was some paper in a box under the desk. But I was a little too pleased with the idea of sending Deirdre a letter that she might get in a week. Then again she might even get it tomorrow if I sent it special delivery.

 

 

 

Be sure to tune in next week for the next thought-provoking episode