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A Second-Hand Gentleman

October 3, 2015
Tales of the subgenius.

Tales of the subgenius.

Yesterday morning I dreamed about a person who saw himself in the truest of mirrors, that of others, and he said he loved the homely plainness, some would even say vileness. A kind of beauty, but ugliness too. He advised me to embrace adjectives, for a reason. He just didn’t say.

He said, “Stop. Let me continue. Others would hold their noses and murmur ‘ugly.’ Perhaps you will see yourself here?” he asked.

“I have been a second choice. A fool. You knew it, and so do I. I certainly don’t mind. Would it make any difference if I did? No. My story: A third rate romance, like the song. It’s all the story I have! As I grow older I feel that I can see certain things clearer.”

This guy said he was right between happy and sad and could see truly without passion, without self-trickery.

He went on, “Forty-six years ago when I was in jail in Millington, Tennessee, I had no story to tell anyone. Imagine a great hulking guy like me without a story, but I had visions, hallucinations. Too bad that my voices told me I was brainless and worthless.

“My visions were of a vast clockwork in which I became ever more entrapped. I even wrote to my mother complaining about this. This prompted a Captain from somewhere in the upper echelons of the Marine Corps to visit me in my jail cell and advise me to ‘knock it off.’

“Then they cut me to 1200 calories daily. No smoking, no dairy, no meat. Just vegetables, bread, water, eggs. Therefore, I wrote on my daily request form, to retrieve from my seabag, a book titled, ‘Sam Jones’ Latest Sermons.’

“They did. The book was actually the I Ching with a dust cover from the book about the preacher Jones. I didn’t know any sermons, but I had some knowledge of the Ching. I had taken a course at the University of Montana taught by Professor Henry Bugbee. No, someone else from the philosophy department taught it, and I poached the course, squeezed into the back of the room to listen. I was still a fake hippie then.

“Thanks to the Ching I had a story to tell the other poor bastards in jail. The ones who must have been afraid of me because of the way I watched the clockwork in my imagination.

“How does one tell a story? Quickly, I learned. That is, I learned to tell my story briefly. Took me lots of tries. I soon discovered that it really didn’t matter what story I told, as long as it was short. As long as I let my listener off the hook and found a new listener. Or none at all. One could always just head for the head. That’s what a navy bathroom is called. The head. In jail the head was not a separate room. Toilets, perhaps four of them, were in the center of the room, in a straight line. It was the military, after all.”

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