Excerpt: COMMON LIVES, novel in progress. ©John Legry
“I cannot say for certain what began my transformation,” Waldo wrote to his best old friend Monroe. “I only know that it occurred sometime in mid-June, probably on a Wednesday, or possibly, a Tuesday, but it was June. In the process, I suddenly saw everything in a new perspective, just as if awakening from a very deep sleep. I saw reality with fresh eyes. Rip Van Winkle is real, you see? And, what did I discover? Just this:
“I was born in America, in the City of San Francisco just before mid-century. In that storied city, I was imbued with both the Spirit of Liberty and the Phoenix – that magic bird which resurrects itself again and again from the ashes of its own destruction. I grew up believing in Superman, Manifest Destiny, Truth, Justice and the American Way. I was the refugee child of refugee parents, themselves the children of refugees. We looked for a better way on alien shores as aliens among aliens. We took our place in the legion of strangers pushing and jostling for the top – hoping to look back on poverty and want, and to feel smugly removed from the incessant rhythmic fear, which had started all that long march.
“I grew up in suburbs, being numbered among the handful raised in blessed innocence, free from teeming, toiling city masses. We learned the horror of crabgrass; we observed neighbors piling bricks up to build barbecues. We found pleasure in the smallest things in a mundane world, taking solace in rigid normalcy, created by following rigid rules. We aspired to concrete patios, toured on weekends through farmlands in noisy, fuel-inefficient machines which ultimately doomed the very orchards we’d come to see; or took slow rolls through upper class neighborhoods to see where we thought we were going.
“Those high neighborhoods were always sheltered by sculpted trees, surrounded by acres of immaculate lawn – no sign of crabgrass anywhere! They had Japanese, or Mexican gardeners, bright flowerbeds, eagle-crested double car garages, and gated drives a city-street wide. Those drives were stainless, absolutely unblemished. I assume that Irish washerwomen scrubbed them daily.
“To make a long story short, I was sent to college – the first of all my tribe. Set on the course of upward mobility, professionalism, immaculate lawns and sanitized driveways. I married and committed to a career. Never well paid, always overworked, I eventually examined my circumstances and decided that I was part of a large system that demanded more expenditure of my time and attention than I usually made back from it. Further, it demanded that I dedicate whole sections of my future to it, regardless of my personal motives or aspirations! I was compelled socially, economically and culturally to serve that damned system as a blind, following member – no better than mindless, serving ants plugging themselves genetically in and out of nests, mindlessly serving a queen, whose sole purpose is to mindlessly push out eggs to ensure continuation of that self-same, mindless estate. Well, to put it mildly, I was pissed!
“Glancing about, I noticed that a good two-thirds of the world was starving. While those people were dying, I was being paid to help perpetuate an all-consuming ethos that dooms the majority of humankind to war, famine, pestilence, murder and screaming neglect. I’m the son of refugees! How could I eat well and consider the world well ordered with those millions of others – the mirrors of my own ancestral impetus – still awash in the chaos, which my forebears had so intelligently fled? I could not.
“I, therefore, divested myself of every vestige of my former reality: wife, family, friends, career. I ran off to find myself, wondering all the while why the price of that journey should be so painfully high. I lost myself in drugs, booze, sex and cheap thrills. I walked ocean beaches, hiked mountain trails, re-observed city streets, and wrote and wrote and wrote, trying through the recording of all those sights, sounds and experiences to find some common thread among them, and in me, so that I would not forever remain an outsider. In this fashion, find my way back in some acquiescent present, imagined in a perfect future, to my imperfect, misunderstood, but now clearly missed past.
“As I mentioned, on a Wednesday in mid-June, approximately three years into my odyssey, I suddenly saw everything in a new perspective. The remnants of dream were washed from my mind, and I confronted stark reality.
“Until the moment when the mists cleared, I was as the others. I walked, I talked, and I carried on the day’s business without hesitation. I went home in the evenings, packed into cattle cars with my fellows. I sank down onto my isolated bed at night, alone in my isolated cell, conserving energy for the effort of that forever approaching ‘Next Day.’ All remained the same when I awoke, but now I saw it clearly for what it was, and the questions came faster and with greater force. Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? What has come to pass?
“Each day, I observed crowds spilling out of vehicles and doorways into the early morning city air. Each day, I watched them queue for bread, for work, for a drink, for love. They eddied and swayed in great masses, afloat in the polluted ether of overcrowded, urban life, elbowing for position, shouting for attention, separate yet fixed within the same stream (as oil in water, a colloidal, ambient suspension, a chemical reaction like any other). What is this? I demanded to know. What is happening? Why is this all so? Clearly these others among whom I accomplished my time were not all the same. No two were alike as peas in a pod. No one the mirror of another. (Oh, yes, we behave in generally predictable fashion – the degree of response varies from individual to individual, but a tack in the shoe usually causes the wearer to react. However, there are differences and they must be there for some reason, although we spend most of our time trying to deny or destroy them, for generally irrational cause).
“That common denominator I had been seeking seemed finally within reach. I began to observe my fellows and fellowesses more closely. Since we were all involved in the same great system into which we fed our energies – each of us without marked mental consideration – there must be something to it. The alternative, which I’d most recently been pursuing, was a form of outlawry or exile. Yet, the outlaws and the exiles depend in whole or in part on the system as well, if simply by preying upon it. Even survivalists come down from the hills for a gallon of gas to make themselves ‘independent’ of the rest of us. (Incidentally, if nothing cataclysmic happens, those survivalists are going to look pretty silly. Still, the current state of the cosmos appears to be bearing them out). In any event, the outlaws and the exiles are a minute fraction of the whole. I hence turned my full attention upon the majority.
“You see, from channeling my interest on a narrower and narrower track, transmuting my initial preoccupation with the cosmic to contemplation of my own navel, I have at last looked up from that infinitesimal focus of anatomy to perceive my individual smallness in the scheme of things. I see my relative impotence in the face of the world’s great consortiums of nations, corporations, religions and other power groupings. Yet, I am not frustrated by my size. I see the power of my personal vision. Because it is so personal, it is overwhelmingly intense, and that is the precisely directed laser, which I as the surgeon will use to help erode the deadly cancerous tumor, which presently corrupts the body, mind and spirit of humankind!“
“As ever, your dear friend, Waldo.”
“Yep,” Monroe said, “Waldo’s gone nova, Fred.” Monroe put Waldo’s letter on the end table beside his big comfy chair, finished his glass of wine, poured another and stared down at Fred the Cat. “Life should be so uncomplicated,” he muttered.
A FEW INTERESTING LINKS:
Celebrating Cronkite While Ignoring What He Did – Glenn Greenwald -
The Day They Arrested President Roosevelt – Robert Naiman
U.S. Income Inequality Continues to Grow – Don Monkrud