Not wishing to appear a broken record, I thought today I’d write about something other than Babalu.
I’m a bit of a hoarder--my wife the opposite--so before she throws an item away, gives it away, or donates it to a worthy cause, she shows it to me in case I should see inordinate value in it. I look it over, “see” it saving me and all I love from some unpredictable future catastrophe, struggle with myself and then, the rational me victorious, I let the item go.
The item in question this time was a book, Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitchell Albom, a sports writer. I’d heard of the book and decided I’d read it, sparing it, for now, banishment to a second hand book store, to languish in the company of abandoned self-help books, thrillers, romances, and how-to-make-a-fortune guides.
I had just finished A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for the umpteenth time and must have been ready for a radical departure since Tuesdays with Morrie is the true story of the regular meetings of Mitch Albom and his former sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz—warm, witty, and wise—who was dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease).
The meetings became a two-person seminar on death, fear, aging, greed, marriage, family, society, forgiveness, and the meaning of life. The book, which is not maudlin in any way, further raised my already high existential awareness.
After finishing that, I saw an article in the New York Times about Daniil Kharms (1905-1943) a Russian writer of the absurd, who died in a Soviet prison because the censors disliked his work. Since I’m a bit of an absurdist writer myself, I went to the library down the block, where I read one of Kharms’s many children’s books, First, Second. I had to go to the university library to get Incidences, a collection of his pieces for adults.
Samples from Incidences:
I feel within me a terrible power. I thought it all over as long ago as yesterday. It will be the story of a miracle worker who is living in our time and who doesn’t work any miracles. He knows that he is a miracle worker and that he can perform any miracle, but he doesn’t do so. He is thrown out of his flat and he knows that he only has to wave a finger and the flat will remain his, but he doesn’t do this; he submissively moves out of the flat and lives out of town in a shed. He is capable of turning this shed into a fine brick house, but he doesn’t to this; he carries on living in the shed and eventually dies, without having done a single miracle in the whole of his life.
-So, here I am-says the old woman and comes into my room.
I stand by the door and don’t know what to do: should I chase the old woman out or, on the contrary, suggest that she sit down? But the old woman goes of her own accord over to my armchair beside the window and sits down in it.
-Close the door and lock it-the old woman tells me.
I close and lock the door.
-Kneel-says the old woman.
And I get down on my knees.
But at this point I begin to realize the full absurdity of my position. Why am I kneeling in front of some old woman? And, indeed, why is this old woman in my room and sitting in my favorite armchair? Why hadn’t I chased this old woman out?
After I finished First, Second I browsed, coming across Trouble is My Business by Raymond Chandler, first published in 1936. A great find, not only because it was the model for many future stories of hard-bitten detectives, but because it’s a time capsule. Everyone smokes and everyone drinks whiskey. And everyone carries a gun. (Well, that isn’t so anachronistic, is it? ). Chandler's hero, Philip Marlowe, is a tough wise guy. Here’s a sample:
They came out at me, almost side by side, from the dressing room beside the wall bed—two of them—with guns. The tall one was grinning. He had his hat low on his forehead and he had a wedge-shaped face that ended in a point, like the bottom half of the ace of diamonds. He had dark moist eyes and a nose so bloodless that it might have been made of white wax. His gun was a Colt Woodsman with a long barrel and the front sight sawed off. That meant he thought he was good.
Until next time.