Chapter VI

“You better be kidding,” Jason said in disbelief while we sat in the cafe the next day. “Charsmith’s a candidate for mayor?”

“I’m not,” I insisted. “I saw one of his campaign advertisements this morning on Dr. Valley’s lawn.”

“He’s aligned himself with McRose, hasn’t he?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I still haven’t heard anything about Charsmith Enterprises being dissolved.”

“Sinister snake in the grass!” Jason growled.

“Don’t worry, he’ll come around,” I said reassuringly. “Charsmith always goes through these phases.”

“It was all an act . . . to get rid of us . . . too cool for us now . . . the Machiavellian snake!” said a furious Jason in broken thoughts, pounding his fist on the table.

Jason had deep distress written all over his face.

“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” I said comfortingly, “and actually, this might work for the better. Think about it: there’s a good chance Charsmith is only running to avoid the problem.”

“Afternoon, scumdogs . . .” said Fancy in greeting, joining us along with Darren Dumoine, thin and blonde and sleeved with tattoos, along for the ride.

We returned the salutation and filled the newcomers in on the latest news break concerning Charsmith.

“He’s too young,” said Fancy. “He’ll never get mayor.”

“I don’t know, he’s rich and he’s a Charsmith . . .” added Darren, allowing us to infer the obvious connection between wealth, pedigree and politics.

“So Darren,” I began, “your father had a conversation with McRose about me.”

“What about it?”

“I thought that old Clint despised me.”

“He doesn’t adore you, and I’m not going to hide it, but the way you directed The Night of the Iguana at the high school really moved him, but I can’t say that I know very much more than that.”

“So where’s that dumpy Euripi-something who’s always with you guys?” asked Fancy, taking a long sip of coffee.

“Not sure,” said Jason.

“If he’s not with us, I’d bet he’s updating his wardrobe at the Salvation Army,” I speculated.

“Well, what’s his story anyway?” asked Fancy, who was giving me the impression that he was a nosy one, that boy.

“What do you mean?” I replied, looking at Jason who returned my gaze, stalling–that’s what we were doing–for some time in our indecision.

“You know, why doesn’t he ever say anything?”

“He only speaks in dead languages,” said Jason.

I added: “Euripides wrote his dissertation in Classical Greek, which translated a list of Greek words, the etymology behind them, redaction, what have you . . . The final product was huge, but enigmatic to the scholars around him. It’s likely that his work made certain translations such as sections from The Metaphysics and other difficult texts more concise and understandable. However, when it came time to defend, Euripides wouldn’t agree to an English oral exam, was even ready to walk away from academia all together. It was then that the linguistic faculty agreed to a defense in Latin, only none of them were skilled enough to conduct it. They had to bring a Catholic priest in to oversee the whole arduous process.”

“Fascinating,” Fancy said sarcastically. “But what’s his story?”

The Story of Euripides: Differentiation

His name was Shawn Bacon, and he was an unpopular child all of his life, partly because he asked for it–he really did his best to be annoying–but mostly due to his disposition, of course referring to the blotchy red freckles accentuated by his wild and woolly red hair. He was also fortunate enough to have been born with a purplish birthmark on his forehead and as he got older it appeared that he developed man breasts. This made him look like his belly began just below his shoulders.

Despite his physical imperfections, young Euripides always had an eye for the ladies and he pursued with reckless abandonment. Truth be told, his biggest crush was on a flowery young lass named Avery, who showed absolutely no interest in him all through grammar school and into the first year of high school: I mean, she never was phased by his worship, never, forever turning up her nose. However, Avery eventually developed the nerve to take advantage of Shawn’s amorous intentions–the guy, and I’m not exaggerating, was totally whipped– in year two of his illustrious high school experience.

What Avery finally realized was the utility at her disposal, and elected to capitalize on the boy’s pliability in several forms meeting her purpose: TAXI DRIVER–he, get this, would have his father drive him to her place, pick her up, and then take her to the mall in which she’d go find her friends while he waited patiently in the foodcourt and join up with him later for a ride home with either his father again, or a taxi he paid for; CONCERNED FRIEND–during the pre-Refinement period she continually would phone him up and have him endure long hours of scintillating discussion concerning the trials of her and her boyfriend’s rollercoaster ride she described as a love affair; PHILANTHROPIST–she always solicited gifts and money by being suggestive of the possible love between them that one day might find expression; and finally, INTIMIDATOR–hardly anyone would mess with the big fellow face-to-face and so she used his size as an intimidation factor and to her own purpose, whatever that implies.

The thing is, Shawn/Euripides was only too glad to perform these services for Avery, unaware that she was becoming more and more unappreciative, and more and more demanding.

Finally one day–and I warn you Fancy, this is bad–Avery, momentarily boyfriendless, was talked into, and I don’t think it took too much prodding, seducing Shawn by her friends in the construction of a monster gag with, yes, we all can guess, Shawn, the poor sap, at its butt.

I cannot put this in my own words, so I’ll do my best to recollect the words Euripides used to describe the penultimate event marking the dawn of his decision to abandoned modern tongues.

“Avery phoned one Friday night and she was all, you know, seductive sounding and stuff, and she begged me to come over. After spending so much time chasing Avery, I couldn’t believe that she wanted me to go to her house and watch a movie or something. I’m not kidding, I flew there as fast as I could, my mind just racing with anticipation and expectation the whole time ride there.

“Then I get to her place, and she’s so nice to me, I mean, sugar couldn’t melt in her mouth, and I thought she was in love with me by the way she was looking at me, or at least I thought it was a reasonable possibility. And as we’re watching the movie, she starts kissing my ear, and I mean, I’m fired up, you know what I mean, I’m only in grade eleven, and then she turns my face very gently and kisses me, a big wet one, you know, right on the lips and then slides to my ear again and . . . and this is the killer, she tells me that she loves me in this real sexy whisper.

“So my heart, I mean I was exhilarated, and it’s beating a million miles a minute and I’m simply in love, so in love. Then she places an arm on my chest, and begins to rub gently, and starts talking to me in that seductive voice again, and I couldn’t concentrate very well.

“Shawn, if you say the right words, I’ll be totally yours tonight.”

“What kind of words?” I asked, totally baffled.

“Express your feelings for me from the very depths of your soul, the place where language can barely give expression to the emotion because it is so primal and raw and untapped.”

“I can’t-I can’t think,” I stammered.

“Just relax, and speak from the heart. You do love me, don’t you?”

And so I relaxed, and I let my mind search for words that barely intimated what I thought was deep-rooted devotion and poetic longing.

“When I think of you Avery, my mind sweeps across galaxies like the path of a comet destined to burn in the atmosphere of your heart, trailing an endless particle-streak of emotions that glow a transparent blue, and I can run my mind through this virtual manifestation as it grows longer and fainter and know–just know–that the faster it excels the more I will cherish the collision of my essence with the atmosphere of your own.”

“While I was pretty proud of how I carefully I tailored my extemporaneous sentiment, it must have been distilled in tranquility, she could only burst into laughter, laughter so hard that tears soon followed. She praised me for being up to the task, calling me a poet and true gentleman. Then she said she was struck with a sleepiness, she kept yawning and yawning, and I was dismissed for the night without so much as a kiss. Nevertheless, I left that night believing I had made true progress and that some intimacy was taking place.

“In school on Monday: some guys that Avery was friends with come over, and to my horror they start playing this tape-recording Avery had made of our conversation . . . I could have died, I felt so sick that my knees almost gave way, and this dread and fever and drymouth assaulted me like a spontaneous plague–to have the person you trust more than anyone else in the world destroy you . . . and it was only then that I realized the concept of betrayal, of injustice . . .”

What’s more, Shawn at this point is the laughingstock of the school, and Avery, she, can you believe it, still has the nerve to expect his worship. And old Euripides, he provides her with plenty more, continues to inflate her ego while refusing to entertain any notion of anger toward her, incapable of being dishonest about the love he believes exists between them and only possessing an inkling of understanding concerning the bitterness of his reality that everyone else seemed to recognize but him.

At this time, though, when Shawn was so beaten that he’d walk down the hall lacking the nerve to even raise his eyes to a single soul, a young rich student named, who would you guess, but Charsmith, had compassion for the boy who we used to hang around with as children before we allowed social stratification to divide us, and wrapped his socially protective wings around him. Nobody bothered Shawn once Charsmith and us guys started hanging around him again.

Still, we were unable to save him. Every day Shawn was becoming more and more dissatisfied with his lot in life, until one day he was asked to perform this mathematical application on the blackboard. I remember seeing the fear in his eyes, when the instructor pointed to him, singled him out, and I remember how awkward he looked walking to the front, and how angry I was at the teacher, how I wanted to strangle and shake the life out of him.

And then, to our surprise, probably to his own surprise, he started to work out the problem, and it was almost like he had a mathematical revelation, for he worked through the problem that even the best of our students was unable to approach like an artist, bringing his grand work to a crescendo before lightly setting down the chalk.

And then, then he walked back from the blackboard all proud, I could tell, he was stifling his pride, but I could tell. It was his moment, his moment . . . I know it was.

And then, the teacher told him he was too methodical, and he–I watched it form on his brow–had a parallel revelation: he was hated from the time he was born, yes, even his parents weren’t supportive of him, and now he had finally owned the possibility that he could do nothing to change the fact that he was borderline obese and naturally an outlier, so he cursed the teacher, changed his name to the Greek tragedian, Euripides, and chose never to utter another modern word.

“That’s horrible . . .” Fancy observed, shell-shocked.

“What was the curse?” asked Darren.

“I don’t remember, do you?” I asked, turning to Jason.

“Man,” Jason replied, “it’s gone, but it’s like at the tip of my brain.”

“Nevertheless,” I continued, “the point is that Euripides realized that his connection to the umbilical cord of society, language, was already severed, so he chose to fortify himself in his strengths and detach himself from the objects, mainly people and certain institutions, that brought him down.”

“That seems plausible,” said Fancy. “But perhaps he had nothing left to say.”

“I’m getting there as well,” admitted Darren.

“Regardless,” said Jason, “It seems rather extreme to just stop talking altogether.”

“Nobody knows what it’s like to be another person,” I said in an irritated tone. “How dare you judge him, Jason.”

“I agree, we shouldn’t judge. And any guy can get to the point where he’s had enough,” Fancy added.

“You guys are bleeding hearts,” Jason said, shaking his head.

“That’s not it at all,” Fancy responded. “I remember the day when everything came down to symbols as well, and that’s what Euripi-whatever is talking about, the elimination of a symbol for his greater good, the death, actually, of the way people cage him in the symbols of language.”

The Story of Fancy: The Heart-Shaped Locket

Symbol, I mean, how do you capture yourself in a single representation? I always argued it could never be done, until I met this girl in university and we went out.

She was real dark, you know, but in being demure and standoffish I found her to be so attractive, so sexy. So we went out and I started to fall for this girl, right, and soon she consumed my every thought and my grades reflected this, believe it. Truly, it was such an honor that this girl would even talk to me, let alone be intimate with me. Anyway, this girl always wore this silver bracelet with a heart that opened. I figured she kept a picture of her parents in there, or an old fling or something like that.

Well, one day, we’re sitting on her bed and I finally ask her what’s in the thing, and she gets all . . . you know, she gets all withdrawn and stuff. But I’m really curious, so I press her and press her, until the point where she tells me that it’s time I leave. So I’m taken back by her out-of-character vehemence, and wordlessly comply, like I have to put up with garbage like that, but she has a change in attitude for some reason and stops me before I could get out of her dorm, and I find myself sitting on her bed again, now turned confidant.

To tell you the truth, I had no clue what I was in for, I really didn’t. She’s real quiet, and I can see that the demure little thing is trying to find the right words, so I sit there patiently wondering what’s going on in that female mind of hers. Then she starts with this story, like:

“When I was maybe fifteen, I guess, I liked this boy named Simon. Anyway, Simon and I used to walk home from school together and just talk about things, you know, but I really enjoyed his company. We never dated, though, but once in a while we’d stop at a restaurant and get a soda together, and just kind of look at each other and get all involved in conversation over trivial subjects.

“Well, it was my birthday and I was returning from my friend’s with a present she gave me, it was just a silver bracelet with a heart that opened, and this car pulled up from behind me full of boys from my high school. Inside, as well, was Simon, and my little sister was with me, and they screamed out the window how ugly I was, and I know I’ve never been good looking. Inside the car I heard them teasing Simon about having anything to do with me and stuff, but they suddenly stopped teasing him and asked me where I was going. I told them I was going home to celebrate my birthday with my family.

“They insisted that take me out for my birthday–I wouldn’t be held up very long–and since Simon was there and I felt I was unattractive, I was moved into agreement by being flattered at having been asked to hang out with some of the most popular boys in school. I told my little sister to tell Mom and Dad that I’d be back in a little while and got in the car. They drove for a while, but I realized we weren’t heading into town, but further out. I became a little bit nervous, but they reassured me that it was necessary to go this way for my birthday surprise.

“I thought they maybe had cherry bombs or firecrackers they wanted an excuse to set off.

“Finally, we stopped at the top of this hill and I could see the town behind us. The breeze felt really good and I remember looking at the stars, and feeling great to be in the company of the boys, especially Simon. One of the boys came up to me and asked me if I could help Simon graduate into a man that night . . . Of course, I said no, and was completely insulted and asked to be brought home. The next thing I knew, they were making fun of Simon, calling him all sorts of names to make him feel like he was less of a man because he was a virgin. He had such a mortified look on his face, I felt my heart strings pull, and so without thinking any further I walked into the group of boys, grabbed him by the hand and led him to the back to the car.

“It was my first time as well. I held on to my bracelet the whole time, trying not to think about how deprived of love I felt in the encounter . . . how this day had somehow gotten so far off track. And I remember thinking of my friend who gave me the gift, and of death, and my cat at home, and my parents, and I held onto the bracelet believing that I was an ugly, little tramp who somehow deserved to have the magicalness of her first time stolen from her so she could protect the feelings of another . . .”

So the girl relayed her tale with this look in her eyes that betrayed smoldering resentment over being robbed of a precious and defining moment in her life, a right of passage. Yet once she started talking, the particulars floated more easily out of her, almost like she was unattached to her history, merely a historian recanting someone else’s misfortune.

Then she showed me the bracelet, removing it from her wrist and passing it to me to inspect. Girlish, it was silver with a heart-shaped locket fettered to a clasp. Opening it, I saw pale death within its enclosure, gaping at me with its laughing-skull-grin. Juxtaposed to the skull was a generic portrait of the Concept behind all of life, Christ himself. I was disgusted and dropped the thing, looking to her for an explanation of the gruesome contrast in the emblem of her heart.

“He was in on it,” she whispered. “Simon set the whole thing up . . .”

That day I discovered what it meant to attach pathos to religion, and learned what it was that my girlfriend placed her energies toward: the next life.

It changed my perspective forever . . .

“Pathos in religion?” I asked.

“I’m serious,” replied Fancy. “Religion has its foundation in a hope admired through the lens of pathos . . . the proleptic embodiment of hope being the Concept, the pathos inspired by his Passion. Of course, the alternative, death, is on the other side.”

“Whatever,” said Jason.

“No,” continued Fancy. “You guys can’t just brush it off . . . my girlfriend directed her energy toward . . . the life to come . . . don’t you understand? Religion is liberating, yet there is no question that the freedom comes at a price. There’s always an acceptance of a gruesome worldview that goes with it. My solution is that I throw myself at dogma and structure and live out my Christian life in the consequences.”

“What consequences are you referring to?” I asked.

“The consequences are the clash between what my soul tells me vs. biblical authority. It’s a continual working out of my salvation with fear and trembling.”

“So are you with the girl?” Jason interjected, perhaps uncomfortable by the religious turn of the conversation.

“What’s that?” Fancy asked.

“The girl?” repeated Jason.

“I’m in the middle of a thought–ah, I forgot what I was saying.”

I told Fancy that his point was made and that we all were curious as to how his relationship with this twisted girl ended.

“The girl,” he went on, although a tad distempered about the disruption, “she is the symbol of the female impressed on my heart, the one who visits me in my dreams. We correspond right now while she travels India, but nothing’s going to happen I don’t think since she says I’m unable to nurture; it’s complicated. Still, she’s the one I wish to marry.”

“Why?” I asked. “Why would you want a girl so cynical?”

“Because she’s serious about developing a personal philosophy–so serious that she travels the world searching for answers external to herself, every experience fecund with meaning.

“And by the way, Shannon,” Fancy continued, “I appreciated your comment about Kierkegaard’s spot a couple weeks ago . . .”

“Yeah, you recognized the allusion, did you?”

“What’s the spot?” asked Darren.

“To arrive at a realization,” I replied, “you sometimes you have to move away from it, like Fancy’s woman-friend.”

“So you’re familiar with Kierkegaard?” Fancy asked me.

“Yeah, I’ve read most of his works.”

“He’s the physician that Chapman has been spending his life studying in search of a cure: I heard Dr. Chapman wrote his dissertation on Kierkegaard’s diagnosis of the ailments of the human soul.”

“What about you, Fancy?”

Fancy asked me to clarify my question, so I asked him if he was aware of a primordial anxiety at the root of sin and despair.

“Sometimes . . .” said Fancy, after pausing for a second to collect his thoughts, “I’ll be doing something, like boating for instance, and the day’ll be great and I find myself basking in the moment–you understand the implications of the moment– and then the sky will melt into the islands and the water glistening around me and a brief surge of “blah” accompanies the good feeling, and I know that there is something within me that I’ll never escape, that will only allow me maybe ten seconds at most of reverie. Is that what you mean?”

“Exactly,” I replied. “The non-existence of an internal/external resonance . . . exposed by a sick feeling– it’s to experience your utter isolation.”

“Yeah,” said Fancy, the others listening intently, “but don’t you think that it is our fault, I mean, that we’re so aware of our affliction? Everyone in this Catholic town is religious, even Craven, whether he admits it or not, and to make matters worse, we gather together and expose ourselves to characteristics of our humanity that might have been beyond our reason, so we become more cognizant of them, and really don’t know what to do when someone like Charsmith has a genuine collapse.

“Besides, Shannon, listening to you I gather that you expect too much from your situation, and not enough from yourself.”

“It’s not that I expect anything from my situation,” I said, but not defensively, “it’s just a realization I’ve had that seems to be making more and more sense . . . the realization being–how do I explain–it’s the realization that at the heart of the most joyous ecstasy . . . lies the most profound sense of despair. Almost every poet knows this.”

“Because the joy is ephemeral, right?” Fancy concluded.

“The pleasure quickly becomes irrelevant,” I replied. “I’d argue that the passing of happiness isn’t the source of despair . . . doesn’t even contribute. No, profound despair isn’t to be experienced in misery, but only in light of its dynamic opposite. You can’t experience one without the other.”

“Charsmith employs such bifocals, you better believe it,” said Jason.

Fancy and I looked at him in surprise.

” . . . And he’s more intuitive and discerning than you think. So am I. If you took the time to know me, you’d know that I’m not just a waste of space at the table either. I’m listening . . . I may not be doing any of the reading, but I’m listening . . . I’m listening and I’m living by it . . .”

“I never said you weren’t,” I defended.

“Give me a break,” Jason scoffed. “When you go on about this November mentality and our spiritual isolation and what-not, you think I don’t understand, but I do and we share an experience that’s supportive.”

“The floor is yours, Jay,” I said respectfully, and Fancy gestured for him to go ahead and tell us his tale.

The Story of Jason: Lamentations of a Parasite

Oh, how I hate myself!

I lie awake at night and grind my teeth in bitter hatred, for what I’ve become and for my inability to transcend my sickness. I have this emptiness, and this emptiness can only be filled by the sleaziness that comes from directly hurting another, or even better, myself.

I like to feel bad, like nobody can get the better of me–like I’m the darkness that is supposed to conceal but really doesn’t conceal. This is me and all my clairvoyance–a capacity to see maybe two seconds ahead.

Oh, how I hate myself! How I love to hate myself.

She was an innocent girl, the kind I like best, and I knew that my darkness would strum a chord in her pure, innocent child’s heart. This is the way it always goes with the nice girls; they must hate themselves with an equal intensity, and they seem to have a universal attraction to men they shouldn’t even make eye contact with, let alone become involved with. But you see, the secret for a dark man like myself is to let just a little bit of light flicker in your eyes, a little bit of compassion, a tremor of shyness, an intimation of kindness– all of these things send the unmistakable message that a dark man, like myself, and all his problems, can be reformed, can be rehabilitated with just a little coaxing and nurture and spit-shining. It’s very simple, let a woman, like this gentle specimen, think you need fixed.

Oh, how I hate myself. How I love to hate myself. How glorious it is to have the freedom to hate myself.

She was an innocent girl, the kind I like best. She had eyes of ether, and her kiss was warm enough to make any man feel ripples of devotion and concern flow through and around him, lifting him, providing him with a certain buoyancy on the pool being filled by her selfless love. And I affirmed this love and devotion, opening up to her, confiding in her, allowing a new leopard spot to reveal itself in my sentiment, as I lamented my past and promised through tear-filled eyes that I was indeed converted–no, not only converted, but saved and resurrected through the efforts of this kind, graceful woman.

In my mind, though, I was becoming less and less attached to people in terms of feeling. The responsibility to love, that god-awful burden, was slowly being convoluted by pain as pure and intoxicating as lotus and ambrosia and fragrant wine. Intoxication means you lose your feeling as apprehended by your mind, and a person like me desires to sink further and further into sickness–to the point where I either die or beg God for some respite, for some direction.

Oh, how I hate myself. How I love to hate myself. How glorious it is to have the freedom to hate myself. How hateful it is to hate myself.

She was an innocent girl, the kind I liked best. She finally wanted me to meet her parents. This was a sign that I welcomed, for it meant that she was at the point where I could break her, where I could show her that everything she did for me was not for me, but in her own best interest–I would eventually prove this. And then I’d die once again, like so many times in my past, in her tears, in her hurt, in her devastation. And the trick to make this all work out was to let myself care for her deeply, to resurrect my feeling in order to send it crashing down to Hades, death, and darkness that doesn’t conceal.

So I went to her house and had dinner with her parents. I was polite and I looked upon her with all the love that my defeated form could muster. Her parents, through shared looks, approved of me, I know it, and she beamed with pride and excitement, and I ate and drank with a great appetite. And then, to my surprise, the girl I was actually physically involved with at the time showed up at the door.

When her mother let her in, she asked to see me. She made a beeline right toward me. I jumped up from my chair and found myself face to face with her blind, wild fury.

“How could you do this to me?” the psycho bitch cried, doing everything she could to inflict pain on me–punching, scratching, pulling my hair–while I tried to cover my face with my arms. “And you, you little bitch,” she hissed, turning to the girl, “did you know about me before you opened your legs for him?”

After the initial shock, the father took control and told both of us to get the hell out of his house before he called the cops. His eyes were full of tears and confusion and agony for his daughter. And the innocent girl, the one I liked best, she was white as a sheet and showing all the signs of dying, as was the mother who was trying to comfort her.

Oh, how I hate myself. How I love to hate myself. How glorious it is to have the freedom to hate myself. How hateful it is to hate myself. How lonely it is to hate myself.

I am who I am . . .

This may not be the exact way Jason shared his tale, but it’s the way I heard it. Nobody at the table seemed very proud to be associating with him after he was done speaking.

I broke the silence by saying, “I’m not like you. I have no desire to destroy trust and beauty.”

Jason smiled smugly. “That’s not what I’ve observed.”

“I’ve always only wanted one woman,” I insisted. “Even as far back as high school.”

“Well, you’re certainly willing to hurt your share in order to find her,” Jason replied coolly.

“Take it easy, boys,” Darren said.

Our meeting had run its course, and we had little time to try to come up with ways to knock this running-for-mayor crap out of Charsmith’s head.

We just wanted our old friend–and our old lives–back.

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