Pere Lessard stood over the bread table in the back room of his bakery drawing patterns in the flour with a pastry brush, his forearms dusted white like great snowy hams.
"It's a sailing ship," said Pere Lessard.
Lucien tilted his head this way and that. "Oh yes, now I see it.". He didn't see it at all.
His father slouched, suddenly looking weary. "No you don't. I'm no artist, Lucien. I'm a baker. My father was a baker, and his father before him. Our family has fed the people of the butte for two hundred years. I have smelled of yeast and breathed the dust of flour my whole life. Not one day did our family or friends go hungry, even when there was war. Bread is my life, son, and before I die, I will have made a million loaves."
"Yes, Papa," said Lucien. He had seen his father slide into melancholy like this before, usually like now, right before dawn when they were waiting for the first loaves to come out of the ovens. He patted his father's arm, knowing that soon the bread would be ready and the bakery would boil with activity that would allow no time to grieve over ships that looked like birds.
"I would trade it all if I could lay down the colors of water like our fiend Monet, or move paint like the joy in a young girl's smile like Renoir. Do you know what I'm talking about?"
"Yes, Papa," Lucien said. He had no idea what his father was talking about.
It is along about two o'clock of a nippy Tuesday morning, and I am sitting in Mindy's restaurant on Broadway with Regret, the horse player, speaking of this and that, when who comes in but Ambrose Hammer, the newspaper scribe, and what is he carrying in one hand but a big bird cage, and what is in this bird cage but a green parrot.
Well, if anybody sits around Mindy's long enough, they are bound to see some interesting and unusual scenes, but this is undoubtedly the first time that anybody cold sober ever witnesses a green parrot in there, and Mindy himself is by no means enthusiastic about this spectacle.
In fact, as Ambrose Hammer places the cage on our table and then sits down beside me, Mindy approaches us, and says to Ambrose:
"Horse players, yes," Mindy says. "Wrong bettors, yes. Dogs and songwriters and actors, yes. But parrots," Mindy says, " no. Take it away," he says.
She had thought the studio would keep itself; no dust upon the furniture of love. Half heresy, to wish the taps less vocal, the panes relieved of grime. A plate of pears, a piano with a Persian shawl, a cat stalking the picturesque amusing mouse had risen at his urging. Not that at five each separate stair would writhe under the milkman's tramp; that morning light so coldly would delineate the scraps of last night's cheese and three sepulchral bottles; that on the kitchen shelf among the saucers a pair of beetle-eyes would fix her own--- envoy from some village in the moldings . . . Meanwhile, he, with a yawn, sounded a dozen notes upon the keyboard, declared it out of tune, shrugged at the mirror, rubbed at his beard, went out for cigarettes; while she, jeered by the minor demons, pulled back the sheets and made the bed and found a towel to dust the table-top, and let the coffee-pot boil over on the stove. By evening she was back in love again, though not so wholly but throughout the night she woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming like a relentless milkman up the stairs.
And then, while still meditating, I decided to create quantum physics. Although I keenly appreciated the certainty of logic and clear definition, I also felt that the sharp edges of existence needed some rounding. I wanted a bit of ambiguity in my creations, a measured diffusion. Perhaps quantum physics invented itself. It was gorgeous in mathematical terms. And subtle. As soon as I had created quantum physics, all objects---even though objects at that point existed only in my mind---billowed out and swelled into a haze of indefinite position. All certainties changed into probabilities, and my thoughts bifurcated into dualities: yes and no, brittle and supple, on and off. Henceforth, things could be hither and yon at the same time. The One became Many. And a great softening blanket of indeterminacy wrapped itself over the Void. My breathing slowed to a sleepy imperceptibility. Listening carefully, I could hear a billion tiny rattles and tinklings from all over the Void, the sound of new universes waiting to be. With the invention of quantum, each point of the Void had developed the potential to become a new universe, and that potentiality could not be denied. My creation of time, and then space, had made a universe possible---and that possibility alone, nestled within the quantum foam of the Void was sufficient to bring into being an infinite number of universes. Soon, new universes were once again whizzing through the vacuum. I revised my earlier decision that there should be only One. Or, more precisely, my creation of quantum physics necessarily required the Many. Peering out into the Void, I tried to find my original universe, the first one I’d made. But it was hopelessly lost among billions and billions of others flying about, throbbing spheres, distended ellipsoids, gyrating cosmoses thrashing with energy. The Void trembled with rumbles and shrieks and sharp popping noises.
No, I didn’t re-read them all yesterday. Never mind what I said on Facebook. I lie a lot on Facebook. I lie on Twitter too. Come to think of it, I lie here as well. I’m the Mitt Romney of bloggers. Every other word I type is a lie. Heck, every other letter. So maybe I did re-read them all and the rest of the novels and collections on my bookshelf along with them.
Probably I didn’t. You know how you’d know? If you knew that it was February. I can’t read Dickens in February. I can’t read Dickens in any months that don’t end in an r and begin with an N or a D. Almost all the Dickens I’ve read I’ve read between the Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve of any given year since my junior year in high school when I was given a copy of Great Expectations for Christmas. The exception was Hard Times. I read that one May, back in college, on a bus ride to New York City and I didn’t like it. The bus ride, I mean. But Hard Times too. Which convinced me that one should never read Dickens in May. You’d think it would have convinced me never to read Dickens on a bus. It almost did. But in grad school I forgot about the hard time I had reading Hard Times and re-read David Copperfield on a bus ride from Iowa City to Chicago. The bus was taking me to catch the train home for…Christmas. Whenever I looked up from the book it was to look out the windows at snow-covered fields and houses decorated for Christmas. I think that was the third time I read David Copperfield. Maybe it was the fourth. Whichever, I loved it as much as ever.
I’ve read all the novels at least once. Three I’ve read only once. Hard Times, The Old Curiosity Shop, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Some day I may re-read the first two. Probably not on a bus though. Drood? There’s no point, unless it turns out that Dickens did finish it and put the manuscript away in a desk drawer and forgot about it and the desk was sold and then lost in somebody’s attic until…You get the point.
The others I’ve re-read and re-read. Some just a couple times. Several several and one, David Copperfield, seven. Or eight. I’ve lost count.
I’ve probably re-read A Christmas Carol twenty times, but that’s a special case, too special for me to list as my favorite, even though the evidence suggests that it is. When people ask me, though, I always say David Copperfield, because it’s my favorite too.
Obviously, if you didn’t already know, Dickens is my favorite writer.
No other writer comes close. Not Chekhov, not Twain, not Vonnegut, not Austen, not Trollope, not even Terry Pratchett. I could go on and on about what makes Dickens special. I could probably write a book. If you really want to know, invite me to your class or to your club. I’ll put on a show. Most of the show would be me reading my favorite passages from my favorite books. I can read the stuffing out of Dickens.
So, you might think that yesterday, Dickens’ 200th birthday, would have been extra-special to me. Not a bit of it. It was just another day in a near lifetime of days of loving celebrating Dickens. But I was glad to see that it was special to so many people around the web.
I hope you enjoyed the excerpts I posted. I had half a mind to post many more. One every for every waking hour. What stopped me was indecision. Too many choices. I had five passages I wanted to post from Dombey and Son alone! My brain just seized up.
Dombey and Son is another one of my favorites, although when people ask I usually don’t mention it. I tend to stop at five.
People do ask, you know. They asked yesterday. All over Facebook my Facebook friends were demanding to know. “Lance Mannion, what’s your favorite Dickens novel?”
Ok, maybe not all over Facebook.
I didn’t answer.
I was saving it up for here.
Lance’s five favorite novels by Charles Dickens.
The Pickwick Papers.
Our Mutual Friend.
Ok, that’s six. Oliver Twist is seventh. Then Little Dorrit. Then Dombey. Then Barnaby Rudge.
Why stop now?
Martin Chuzzlewit, A Tale of Two Cities, Hard Times, and The Old Curiosity Shop.
The last two I don’t really like.
Dickens wasn’t perfect.
Don’t get me started on Master Humphrey’s Clock.
And if I’d made the list my favorite books by Dickens, Sketches by Boz and The Uncommercial Traveler would have been high up on the list, Sketches by Boz in the top five.
Meanwhile. What are your favorites? Which ones haven’t you read if any?
And, oh what the Dickens. One more. From Dombey and Son. Describing the effects of a lugubrious and unimaginative teacher’s instruction upon his young pupils:
As to Mr Feeder, B.A., Doctor Blimber's assistant, he was a kind of human barrel-organ, with a little list of tunes at which he was continually working, over and over again, without any variation. He might have been fitted up with a change of barrels, perhaps, in early life, if his destiny had been favourable; but it had not been; and he had only one, with which, in a monotonous round, it was his occupation to bewilder the young ideas of Doctor Blimber's young gentlemen. The young gentlemen were prematurely full of carking anxieties. They knew no rest from the pursuit of stony-hearted verbs, savage noun-substantives, inflexible syntactic passages, and ghosts of exercises that appeared to them in their dreams. Under the forcing system, a young gentleman usually took leave of his spirits in three weeks. He had all the cares of the world on his head in three months. He conceived bitter sentiments against his parents or guardians in four; he was an old misanthrope, in five; envied Curtius that blessed refuge in the earth, in six; and at the end of the first twelvemonth had arrived at the conclusion, from which he never afterwards departed, that all the fancies of the poets, and lessons of the sages, were a mere collection of words and grammar, and had no other meaning in the world.
The bar of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters was a bar to soften the human breast. The available space in it was not much larger than a hackney-coach; but no one could have wished the bar bigger, that space was so girt in by corpulent little casks, and by cordial-bottles radiant with fictitious grapes in bunches, and by lemons in nets, and by biscuits in baskets, and by the polite beer-pulls that made low bows when customers were served with beer, and by the cheese in a snug corner, and by the landlady's own small table in a snugger corner near the fire, with the cloth everlastingly laid. This haven was divided from the rough world by a glass partition and a half-door, with a leaden sill upon it for the convenience of resting your liquor; but, over this half-door the bar's snugness so gushed forth that, albeit customers drank there standing, in a dark and draughty passage where they were shouldered by other customers passing in and out, they always appeared to drink under an enchanting delusion that they were in the bar itself.
For the rest, both the tap and parlour of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters gave upon the river, and had red curtains matching the noses of the regular customers, and were provided with comfortable fireside tin utensils, like models of sugar-loaf hats, made in that shape that they might, with their pointed ends, seek out for themselves glowing nooks in the depths of the red coals, when they mulled your ale, or heated for you those delectable drinks, Purl, Flip, and Dog's Nose. The first of these humming compounds was a speciality of the Porters, which, through an inscription on its door-posts, gently appealed to your feelings as, 'The Early Purl House'. For, it would seem that Purl must always be taken early; though whether for any more distinctly stomachic reason than that, as the early bird catches the worm, so the early purl catches the customer, cannot here be resolved. It only remains to add that in the handle of the flat iron, and opposite the bar, was a very little room like a three-cornered hat, into which no direct ray of sun, moon, or star, ever penetrated, but which was superstitiously regarded as a sanctuary replete with comfort and retirement by gaslight, and on the door of which was therefore painted its alluring name: Cosy.
Miss Potterson, sole proprietor and manager of the Fellowship Porters, reigned supreme on her throne, the Bar, and a man must have drunk himself mad drunk indeed if he thought he could contest a point with her. Being known on her own authority as Miss Abbey Potterson, some water-side heads, which (like the water) were none of the clearest, harboured muddled notions that, because of her dignity and firmness, she was named after, or in some sort related to, the Abbey at Westminster. But, Abbey was only short for Abigail, by which name Miss Potterson had been christened at Limehouse Church, some sixty and odd years before.
One mast was broken short off, six or eight feet from the deck, and lay over the side, entangled in a maze of sail and rigging; and all that ruin, as the ship rolled and beat - which she did without a moment's pause, and with a violence quite inconceivable - beat the side as if it would stave it in. Some efforts were even then being made, to cut this portion of the wreck away; for, as the ship, which was broadside on, turned towards us in her rolling, I plainly descried her people at work with axes, especially one active figure with long curling hair, conspicuous among the rest. But a great cry, which was audible even above the wind and water, rose from the shore at this moment; the sea, sweeping over the rolling wreck, made a clean breach, and carried men, spars, casks, planks, bulwarks, heaps of such toys, into the boiling surge.
The second mast was yet standing, with the rags of a rent sail, and a wild confusion of broken cordage flapping to and fro. The ship had struck once, the same boatman hoarsely said in my ear, and then lifted in and struck again. I understood him to add that she was parting amidships, and I could readily suppose so, for the rolling and beating were too tremendous for any human work to suffer long. As he spoke, there was another great cry of pity from the beach; four men arose with the wreck out of the deep, clinging to the rigging of the remaining mast; uppermost, the active figure with the curling hair.
There was a bell on board; and as the ship rolled and dashed, like a desperate creature driven mad, now showing us the whole sweep of her deck, as she turned on her beam-ends towards the shore, now nothing but her keel, as she sprung wildly over and turned towards the sea, the bell rang; and its sound, the knell of those unhappy men, was borne towards us on the wind. Again we lost her, and again she rose. Two men were gone. The agony on the shore increased. Men groaned, and clasped their hands; women shrieked, and turned away their faces. Some ran wildly up and down along the beach, crying for help where no help could be. I found myself one of these, frantically imploring a knot of sailors whom I knew, not to let those two lost creatures perish before our eyes.
They were making out to me, in an agitated way - I don't know how, for the little I could hear I was scarcely composed enough to understand - that the lifeboat had been bravely manned an hour ago, and could do nothing; and that as no man would be so desperate as to attempt to wade off with a rope, and establish a communication with the shore, there was nothing left to try; when I noticed that some new sensation moved the people on the beach, and saw them part, and Ham come breaking through them to the front.
I ran to him - as well as I know, to repeat my appeal for help. But, distracted though I was, by a sight so new to me and terrible, the determination in his face, and his look out to sea - exactly the same look as I remembered in connexion with the morning after Emily's flight - awoke me to a knowledge of his danger. I held him back with both arms; and implored the men with whom I had been speaking, not to listen to him, not to do murder, not to let him stir from off that sand!
Another cry arose on shore; and looking to the wreck, we saw the cruel sail, with blow on blow, beat off the lower of the two men, and fly up in triumph round the active figure left alone upon the mast.
Against such a sight, and against such determination as that of the calmly desperate man who was already accustomed to lead half the people present, I might as hopefully have entreated the wind. 'Mas'r Davy,' he said, cheerily grasping me by both hands, 'if my time is come, 'tis come. If 'tan't, I'll bide it. Lord above bless you, and bless all! Mates, make me ready! I'm a-going off!'
I was swept away, but not unkindly, to some distance, where the people around me made me stay; urging, as I confusedly perceived, that he was bent on going, with help or without, and that I should endanger the precautions for his safety by troubling those with whom they rested. I don't know what I answered, or what they rejoined; but I saw hurry on the beach, and men running with ropes from a capstan that was there, and penetrating into a circle of figures that hid him from me. Then, I saw him standing alone, in a seaman's frock and trousers: a rope in his hand, or slung to his wrist: another round his body: and several of the best men holding, at a little distance, to the latter, which he laid out himself, slack upon the shore, at his feet.
The wreck, even to my unpractised eye, was breaking up. I saw that she was parting in the middle, and that the life of the solitary man upon the mast hung by a thread. Still, he clung to it. He had a singular red cap on, - not like a sailor's cap, but of a finer colour; and as the few yielding planks between him and destruction rolled and bulged, and his anticipative death-knell rung, he was seen by all of us to wave it. I saw him do it now, and thought I was going distracted, when his action brought an old remembrance to my mind of a once dear friend.
Ham watched the sea, standing alone, with the silence of suspended breath behind him, and the storm before, until there was a great retiring wave, when, with a backward glance at those who held the rope which was made fast round his body, he dashed in after it, and in a moment was buffeting with the water; rising with the hills, falling with the valleys, lost beneath the foam; then drawn again to land. They hauled in hastily.
He was hurt. I saw blood on his face, from where I stood; but he took no thought of that. He seemed hurriedly to give them some directions for leaving him more free - or so I judged from the motion of his arm - and was gone as before.
And now he made for the wreck, rising with the hills, falling with the valleys, lost beneath the rugged foam, borne in towards the shore, borne on towards the ship, striving hard and valiantly. The distance was nothing, but the power of the sea and wind made the strife deadly. At length he neared the wreck. He was so near, that with one more of his vigorous strokes he would be clinging to it, - when a high, green, vast hill-side of water, moving on shoreward, from beyond the ship, he seemed to leap up into it with a mighty bound, and the ship was gone!
Some eddying fragments I saw in the sea, as if a mere cask had been broken, in running to the spot where they were hauling in. Consternation was in every face. They drew him to my very feet - insensible - dead. He was carried to the nearest house; and, no one preventing me now, I remained near him, busy, while every means of restoration were tried; but he had been beaten to death by the great wave, and his generous heart was stilled for ever.
As I sat beside the bed, when hope was abandoned and all was done, a fisherman, who had known me when Emily and I were children, and ever since, whispered my name at the door.
'Sir,' said he, with tears starting to his weather-beaten face, which, with his trembling lips, was ashy pale, 'will you come over yonder?'
The old remembrance that had been recalled to me, was in his look. I asked him, terror-stricken, leaning on the arm he held out to support me:
'Has a body come ashore?'
He said, 'Yes.'
'Do I know it?' I asked then.
He answered nothing.
But he led me to the shore. And on that part of it where she and I had looked for shells, two children - on that part of it where some lighter fragments of the old boat, blown down last night, had been scattered by the wind - among the ruins of the home he had wronged - I saw [Steerforth] lying with his head upon his arm, as I had often seen him lie at school.
'I am to understand, then,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'that it really is your intention to proceed with this action?'
'Understand, sir!--that you certainly may,' replied Dodson, with something as near a smile as his importance would allow.
'And that the damages are actually laid at fifteen hundred pounds?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'To which understanding you may add my assurance, that if we could have prevailed upon our client, they would have been laid at treble the amount, sir,' replied Dodson. 'I believe Mrs. Bardell specially said, however,' observed Fogg, glancing at Dodson, 'that she would not compromise for a farthing less.'
'Unquestionably,' replied Dodson sternly. For the action was only just begun; and it wouldn't have done to let Mr. Pickwick compromise it then, even if he had been so disposed.
'As you offer no terms, sir,' said Dodson, displaying a slip of parchment in his right hand, and affectionately pressing a paper copy of it, on Mr. Pickwick with his left, 'I had better serve you with a copy of this writ, sir. Here is the original, sir.'
'Very well, gentlemen, very well,' said Mr. Pickwick, rising in person and wrath at the same time; 'you shall hear from my solicitor, gentlemen.'
'We shall be very happy to do so,' said Fogg, rubbing his hands.
'Very,' said Dodson, opening the door.
'And before I go, gentlemen,' said the excited Mr. Pickwick, turning round on the landing, 'permit me to say, that of all the disgraceful and rascally proceedings--'
'Stay, sir, stay,' interposed Dodson, with great politeness. 'Mr. Jackson! Mr. Wicks!'
'Sir,' said the two clerks, appearing at the bottom of the stairs.
'I merely want you to hear what this gentleman says,' replied Dodson. 'Pray, go on, sir--disgraceful and rascally proceedings, I think you said?'
'I did,' said Mr. Pickwick, thoroughly roused. 'I said, Sir, that of all the disgraceful and rascally proceedings that ever were attempted, this is the most so. I repeat it, sir.'
'You hear that, Mr. Wicks,' said Dodson.
'You won't forget these expressions, Mr. Jackson?' said Fogg.
'Perhaps you would like to call us swindlers, sir,' said Dodson. 'Pray do, Sir, if you feel disposed; now pray do, Sir.'
'I do,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'You ARE swindlers.'
'Very good,' said Dodson. 'You can hear down there, I hope, Mr. Wicks?'
'Oh, yes, Sir,' said Wicks.
'You had better come up a step or two higher, if you can't,' added Mr. Fogg. 'Go on, Sir; do go on. You had better call us thieves, Sir; or perhaps You would like to assault one Of US. Pray do it, Sir, if you would; we will not make the smallest resistance. Pray do it, Sir.'
As Fogg put himself very temptingly within the reach of Mr. Pickwick's clenched fist, there is little doubt that that gentleman would have complied with his earnest entreaty, but for the interposition of Sam, who, hearing the dispute, emerged from the office, mounted the stairs, and seized his master by the arm.
'You just come away,' said Mr. Weller. 'Battledore and shuttlecock's a wery good game, vhen you ain't the shuttlecock and two lawyers the battledores, in which case it gets too excitin' to be pleasant.’
There was another roar. At this moment the word was passed among the crowd that the door was forced at last, and that he who had first called for the ladder had mounted into the room. The stream abruptly turned, as this intelligence ran from mouth to mouth; and the people at the windows, seeing those upon the bridges pouring back, quitted their stations, and running into the street, joined the concourse that now thronged pell-mell to the spot they had left: each man crushing and striving with his neighbor, and all panting with impatience to get near the door, and look upon the criminal as the officers brought him out. The cries and shrieks of those who were pressed almost to suffocation, or trampled down and trodden under foot in the confusion, were dreadful; the narrow ways were completely blocked up; and at this time, between the rush of some to regain the space in front of the house, and the unavailing struggles of others to extricate themselves from the mass, the immediate attention was distracted from the murderer, although the universal eagerness for his capture was, if possible, increased.
The man had shrunk down, thoroughly quelled by the ferocity of the crowd, and the impossibility of escape; but seeing this sudden change with no less rapidity than it had occurred, he sprang upon his feet, determined to make one last effort for his life by dropping into the ditch, and, at the risk of being stifled, endeavouring to creep away in the darkness and confusion.
Roused into new strength and energy, and stimulated by the noise within the house which announced that an entrance had really been effected, he set his foot against the stack of chimneys, fastened one end of the rope tightly and firmly round it, and with the other made a strong running noose by the aid of his hands and teeth almost in a second. He could let himself down by the cord to within a less distance of the ground than his own height, and had his knife ready in his hand to cut it then and drop.
At the very instant when he brought the loop over his head previous to slipping it beneath his arm-pits, and when the old gentleman before-mentioned (who had clung so tight to the railing of the bridge as to resist the force of the crowd, and retain his position) earnestly warned those about him that the man was about to lower himself down--at that very instant the murderer, looking behind him on the roof, threw his arms above his head, and uttered a yell of terror.
'The eyes again!' he cried in an unearthly screech.
Staggering as if struck by lightning, he lost his balance and tumbled over the parapet. The noose was on his neck. It ran up with his weight, tight as a bow-string, and swift as the arrow it speeds. He fell for five-and-thirty feet. There was a sudden jerk, a terrific convulsion of the limbs; and there he hung, with the open knife clenched in his stiffening hand.
---from Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, born February 7, 1812.
It was interesting to be in the quiet old town once more, and it was not disagreeable to be here and there suddenly recognized and stared after. One or two of the tradespeople even darted out of their shops and went a little way down the street before me, that they might turn, as if they had forgotten something, and pass me face to face - on which occasions I don't know whether they or I made the worse pretence; they of not doing it, or I of not seeing it. Still my position was a distinguished one, and I was not at all dissatisfied with it, until Fate threw me in the way of that unlimited miscreant, Trabb's boy.
Casting my eyes along the street at a certain point of my progress, I beheld Trabb's boy approaching, lashing himself with an empty blue bag. Deeming that a serene and unconscious contemplation of him would best beseem me, and would be most likely to quell his evil mind, I advanced with that expression of countenance, and was rather congratulating myself on my success, when suddenly the knees of Trabb's boy smote together, his hair uprose, his cap fell off, he trembled violently in every limb, staggered out into the road, and crying to the populace, "Hold me! I'm so frightened!" feigned to be in a paroxysm of terror and contrition, occasioned by the dignity of my appearance. As I passed him, his teeth loudly chattered in his head, and with every mark of extreme humiliation, he prostrated himself in the dust.
This was a hard thing to bear, but this was nothing. I had not advanced another two hundred yards, when, to my inexpressible terror, amazement, and indignation, I again beheld Trabb's boy approaching. He was coming round a narrow corner. His blue bag was slung over his shoulder, honest industry beamed in his eyes, a determination to proceed to Trabb's with cheerful briskness was indicated in his gait. With a shock he became aware of me, and was severely visited as before; but this time his motion was rotatory, and he staggered round and round me with knees more afflicted, and with uplifted hands as if beseeching for mercy. His sufferings were hailed with the greatest joy by a knot of spectators, and I felt utterly confounded.
I had not got as much further down the street as the post-office, when I again beheld Trabb's boy shooting round by a back way. This time, he was entirely changed. He wore the blue bag in the manner of my great-coat, and was strutting along the pavement towards me on the opposite side of the street, attended by a company of delighted young friends to whom he from time to time exclaimed, with a wave of his hand, "Don't know yah!" Words cannot state the amount of aggravation and injury wreaked upon me by Trabb's boy, when, passing abreast of me, he pulled up his shirt-collar, twined his side-hair, stuck an arm akimbo, and smirked extravagantly by, wriggling his elbows and body, and drawling to his attendants, "Don't know yah, don't know yah, pon my soul don't know yah!" The disgrace attendant on his immediately afterwards taking to crowing and pursuing me across the bridge with crows, as from an exceedingly dejected fowl who had known me when I was a blacksmith, culminated the disgrace with which I left the town, and was, so to speak, ejected by it into the open country.
Whoever relies on the Tao in governing men doesn't try to force issues or defeat enemies by force of arms. For every force there is a counterforce. Violence, even well-intentioned, always rebounds upon itself.
The Master does his job and then stops. He understands that the universe is forever out of control, and that trying to dominate events goes against the current of the Tao. Because he believes in himself, he doesn't try to convince others. Because he is content with himself, he doesn't need others' approval. Because he accepts himself, the whole world accepts him.
Paterson lies in the valley under the Passaic Falls its spent waters forming the outline of his back. He lies on his right side, head near the thunder of the waters filling his dreams! Eternally asleep, his dreams walk about the city where he persists incognito. Butterflies settle on his stone ear. Immortal he neither moves nor rouses and is seldom seen, though he breathes and the subtleties of his machinations drawing their substance from the noise of the pouring river animate a thousand automations. Who because they neither know their sources nor the sills of their disappointments walk outside their bodies aimlessly for the most part, locked and forgot in their desires-unroused.
—Say it, no ideas but in things— nothing but the blank faces of the houses and cylindrical trees bent, forked by preconception and accident— split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained— secret—into the body of the light!
From above, higher than the spires, higher even than the office towers, from oozy fields abandoned to gray beds of dead grass, black sumac, withered weed-stalks, mud and thickets cluttered with dead leaves- the river comes pouring in above the city and crashes from the edge of the gorge in a recoil of spray and rainbow mists-
Most people will explain their jobs to you with surprising accuracy. They were, let’s say, given a hundred tasks and they accomplished that number. Or, if only ninety-seven jobs were completed, they’ll have a good excuse for the gaffe---which is usually something or someone else’s fault. The generator blew they might tell you. Or their associates, underlings, or bosses failed to make good on their promises or deadlines.
Even the president of the United States claimed that his war was a mistake based on misinformation he received from those whom he expected to supply him with the truth.
People who work within systems can avoid their own short-comings because they are surrounded by people who are just as flawed.
---private eye Leonid McGill, who works alone, philosophizing in Known to Evil by Walter Mosley.
Now and then, while we rested, we watched the laborious ant at his work. I found nothing new in him--certainly nothing to change my opinion of him. It seems to me that in the matter of intellect the ant must be a strangely overrated bird. During many summers, now, I have watched him, when I ought to have been in better business, and I have not yet come across a living ant that seemed to have any more sense than a dead one. I refer to the ordinary ant, of course; I have had no experience of those wonderful Swiss and African ones which vote, keep drilled armies, hold slaves, and dispute about religion. Those particular ants may be all that the naturalist paints them, but I am persuaded that the average ant is a sham.
It is an inane town, filled with sham, and petty fraud, and snobbery, but the baths are good. I spoke with many people, and they were all agreed in that. I had the twinges of rheumatism unceasingly during three years, but the last one departed after a fortnight's bathing there, and I have never had one since. I fully believe I left my rheumatism in Baden-Baden. Baden-Baden is welcome to it. It was little, but it was all I had to give. I would have preferred to leave something that was catching, but it was not in my power.
It is late at night, cold and damp The air is filled with tobacco smoke. My brain is worried and tired. I pick up the encyclopedia, The volume GIC to HAR, It seems I have read everything in it, So many other nights like this. I sit staring empty-headed at the article Grosbeak, Listening to the long rattle and pound Of freight cars and switch engines in the distance. Suddenly I remember Coming home from swimming In Ten Mile Creek, Over the long moraine in the early summer evening, My hair wet, smelling of waterweeds and mud. I remember a sycamore in front of a ruined farmhouse, And instantly and clearly the revelation Of a song of incredible purity and joy, My first rose-breasted grosbeak, Facing the low sun, his body Suffused with light. I was motionless and cold in the hot evening Until he flew away, and I went on knowing In my twelfth year one of the great things Of my life had happened. Thirty factories empty their refuse in the creek. On the parched lawns are starlings, alien and aggressive. And I am on the other side of the continent Ten years in an unfriendly city.
Childhood was the germ of all mistrust. You were cruelly joked upon and then you cruelly joked. You lost the remembrance of pain through inflicting it. But somehow, through no virtue of his own, he had never taken that course. Lack of character perhaps. Schools were said to construct character by chipping off the edges. His edges had been chipped, but the result had not, he thought, been character---only shapelessness, like an exhibit in the Museum of Modern Art.
“I have a secret defense, Mr Wormold. I am interested in life.”
“So am I, but…”
“You are interested in a person, not in life, and people die or leave us---I’m sorry; I wasn’t referring to your wife. But if you are interested in life it never lets you down. I am interested in the blueness of cheese. You don’t do crosswords, do you, Mr Wormold? I do, and they are like people: one reaches an end. I can finish any crossword within an hour, but I have an experiment concerned with the blueness of cheese that will never come to a conclusion---although one dreams that perhaps a time might come…One day I must show you my laboratory.”
“I must be going, Hasselbacher.”
“You should dream more, Mr Wormold. Reality in our century is not something to be faced.”
All through the night, the leaky faucet searches the stillness of the house with its radar blip: who is awake? Who lies out there as full of worry as a pan in the sink? Cheer up, cheer up, the little faucet calls, someone will help you through your life.
Beside the highway, the Giant Slide with its rusty undulations lifts out of the weeds. It hasn't been used for a generation. The ticket booth tilts to that side where the nickels shifted over the years. A chain link fence keeps out the children and drunks. Blue morning glories climb halfway up the stairs, bright clusters of laughter. Call it a passing fancy, this slide that nobody slides down now. Those screams have all gone east on a wind that will never stop blowing down from the Rockies and over the plains, where things catch on for a little while, bright leaves in a fence, and then are gone.
...I heard on the radio that we creatures have about a billion and a half heartbeats to use. Voles and birds use theirs fast as do meth heads and stockbrokers, while whales and elephants are slower. This morning I'm thinking of recounting mine to see exactly where I am. I warn the hummingbirds out front, "Just slow down," as they chase me away from the falling hollyhocks.