. . . “Today,” over the vacuum whirr from the caretaker— or “caregiver”?—she couldn’t say which, “it’ll cost you about five dollars by subway to go from Church to the corner of the Rose Hill Campus.”. . . Or does it, of the difference, hinge on context? Nor about that could she say. Or why she insists on vacuuming when there are people to do that? . . . or dusting the faux ficus silk tree, aside which I sit, in the corner, head cernuous, daren’t to glimpse my weazened facies in the oval beveled mirror of the Edwardian armoire? Such a piece for such a place!…
Oh, my mind’s a muddle, and I’ve become, I’m afraid, peevish and petulant. I apologize. It’s just that —
Things are getting to me. . . . “Things”? Well, I mean—what? Well, all of this—this entropy, I call it, to dress it up, y’know. . . . Rot and decay is what it is.
Take today—I mean about things getting to me. All day long it’s been buzzing around in my—actually for days now, weeks even, months—this-this “collusion” business…. Talk about “blooming, buzzing confusion”— I mean this ceaseless agonizing, hairsplitting, with its attendant chaos, about whether it turns on intent. “Collusion, collusion, collusion”— ringing like tinnitus in my mind, groaning like a disembodied voice in a Poe story pulsing like a toothache, as I used to say to my girls at the Upper Eastside school where I taught— Hmm? Oh, y’know, comp., lit., and, my favorite, mythology.…
Anyway part of it—I mean my acute lugubrious sense of entropy, of inchoateness,— I guess, is linguistics, part politics—or better, the state of the polity. Politics and language. . . . I know, I know, you’re thinking Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”? I know, me too. I enjoyed teaching it. Naively “enjoyed,” I now admit, in the stark light of all the stumble-witted events thudding in my head. . . .
It’s the tight strain of fear I feel, far worse, y’know, oh yes by far worse, than-than the debasement of language. . . . What was it some philosopher or other called it— “The Society of the Spectacle”? with its use of misinformation and misdirection harnessed to immigration to stoke up fear and loathing? . . .
But, of course you’re right, as she keeps telling me, “Let’s not go there,” preferring instead to talk commonplaces.
Let’s simply say, then, that Lee Rigby had a rather bulky nose for such a long face and scrawny neck, fat eyelids and a sooty warmth, and used to teach logic and linguistics, did he, did the overpoweringly dull man of brag and bluster—and, oh yes, wispy blonde hair, he had, even back then prematurely thinning at the cortex. There, enough said? . . .
Now, back on track, good again, moving in the right direction—oh, just one other thing, about her, I mean. It won’t take, I promise—
If you asked her, say, “What is linguistics?” you’d get an impatient, “Oh, I don’t know,” because, well, were you to believe the other James, “Women have no faculty of imagination with regard to a man’s work beyond a vague idea that it doesn’t matter.” Of course, he said that, Henry did, way back in 1888 in one of his stories— “The Liar,” I believe it was. And, by the way, I never say what I don’t believe….Hmm? Oh, very good! Yes, yes indeed, there is much I believe that I never say. . . . But I was about to say hypothetically, were he present, to James I mean, I was about to say, “Oh, please, I can’t imagine—can you?—that Melania hasn’t but a vague idea that what her spouse and our epigeal throttlebottom Grifter-in-Chief, who presides over ‘The Society of the Spectacle,’ does doesn’t matter, can you?” . . . Huh? Oh, right that, er, that dissonant psychological green Zara jacket with “I REALLY DON’T CARE. DO U?” written in oversize white graffiti lettering on the back that she wore to the cages where the migrant children were being “detained.” I’d forgotten that….Good point. A perfect example of the misdirection that the democracy of the spectacle enlists in constructing its “inconceivable foe, terrorism,” in the words of—what’s his name? Help me, help me. . . . But still, I’m just saying— this isn’t 1888, ’s all. . . . True, to give Henry his due: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” . . . .
You’re right, you’re right, digression upends me—pitches me far afield, wildly!. . . . Ah, but my students loved it, my warrigal asides— though the headmistress—oh, her evaluations! . . .
Into polity I fear I have once again sunk, my gorge rising I feel, but-but, like a junkie, I can’t help it,—it’s-it’s quite captured me, like heroin, like a demonic possession—I mean what’s going on today . . . But, if you will, let me say just one more thing? . . . It is this: Our ergophobic, pernoctating President Samfie—and you will, I promise, presently see that this is relevant, if obliquely, to linguistics and Lee Rigby. It is this: President Spinmeister, in full possession of his imbecility, suffers from, among of course a host of other mental conditions, St. Augustine’s syndrome. That is, namely, he sees in others, as did the “giant of Western Civilization,” condemns in others, what he won’t own in himself. And frankly, it’s gotten, gets to me, honestly. . . . makes me, as you can see, feel, well, hot and bothered, to say the least,—flurried, hurried and worried— I mean all this talk of determining “intent” before calling, shouting, screaming, OJ! — No, no not Simpson! Although— I mean even like Judge Napolitano sees plainly obstruction of justice. Judge Napolitano! . . . Hmm? Doesn’t matter—just another alien at The Watering Hole. The point is——Oh wait, wait. I was going to tell you about Lee Rigby, who once might have mused over the “charming“caretaker”/“caregiver” distinction. Really! No joke! Of course, that was way back when it cost fifteen cents to make the Church-Rose Hill run, which Lee Rigby now says and says and says ad infinitum he paid with small Y tokens issued in 1953, the year Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations was published, posthumously.
“Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands.” So averred the Bishop of Hippo. There! Didn’t I tell you that that aside was relevant?…
Wittgenstein, of course, cast his Investigations as a refutation of Augustine’s time-honored—“time-honored”? . . . Oh, yes, I agree, “quaint.” Hard to believe there was a time when some things were thought “customary,” “established” “orthodox,” indeed “canonical.” But that was all—what? PCG I’ve came to call it, dubbed it yesterday actually, over IHOP’s “Big Farmhouse BreakFEAST,” it was,“Pre Cover-up General”—hmm?… Oh, come now, you know, President Highbinder’s poseur Attorney General?—yes, yes, that dumpy, fabian snollygoster who cunctates before he nuncupates, yes, whose wizardry, even sans star-covered capuchon, can turn—presto! even the most copper-bottomed facts into standpoint and eyeshot? …Right, that brain-fuddling snollygoster. . . .
But don’t misunderstand. I’m not a slavish adherent to tradition. Not by any means. Heaven knows it’s undone her, and me indirectly, though unbeknownst, to her I mean, and likely albeit for the better if you ask me, in its own way, I mean hurtful, damaging tradition has—left her with unattainable yearning, as if unhappily in love, it has—of both I suppose, if I’m honest…. But still, it has its place, tradition has, don’tcha think? its role, I mean, meaningful tradition? —tradition that gives comfort and belonging; that strengthens virtue; that unites and celebrates otherness; that reminds us of what we take for granted lest lost or stolen? That kind of tradition?…Ha! very good—yes, like IHOP’s “Taste and Tradition You Can Trust.” Exactly!…Huh? Oh, right, right, of the uneasy lidded Lee Rigby. . . . I was—now where was I—? Oh yes, I was telling you about— apologies. I’ve let President Highbinder and his AG prestidigitator and now IHOP waylay me. . . .
Ah, the vulgarian cognoscenti, there’s the thread, the vulgarian cognoscenti’s the thread. From them, the vulgarian cognoscenti: “a work of genius,” “a great achievement,” “a work compelling assent,” yada yada, mythomania like that of Investigations from all the fiends and geeks and crackerjacks who made up the intelligentsia of the day, a fraternity to which Lee Rigby, by the by, aspired to. You get the picture? She didn’t. Never did, never read it, couldn’t understand it if she’d had. Me either, for that matter. “The tongue of man is a twisty thing.” What more is there to say? I say. . . .
Pulp fiction suited me better. Her too, though she wouldn’t admit it, openly, because, I guess, of the pedantic Lee Rigby, you know. Arrogant and dull witted, as well, did I mention? Which the browline glasses only played up, by the by. . . . Anyway, where was I?…Ah, thank you— the genre?… Didn’t particularly matter—westerns, crime, violence, noir-thrillers— the more graphic the better. So long as the stories were shocking and printed on cheap, yellowish paper with untrimmed edges and had lurid and violent covers. She read them on her breaks at the ’Mat, where we met—her curly blonde head bent low as if in one of those insane classroom duck-and-cover drills held back then—as if, were there an atomic attack, anyone would survive. . . .
But, anyway, she didn’t fool me, not for a minute—amused and allured, yes, but not fooled, not for a minute. One I slipped her caught her up, though: Women’s Barracks, it was, about, ahem, a Free French group in London during World War II. The House Select Committee on Current Pornographic Materials said Barracks was promoting moral degeneracy. Imagine. Naturally, I re-read it. Who wouldn’t after that puff piece? She, I think. But I’m not sure— I know she read Spring Fire. . . Hmm? Never heard of it? . . . The story of love between two sorority sisters? . . . Came out a year before Investigations, Spring Fire did. Sold over a million copies too. . . . Investigations? Who knows? I asked her once. “Ask your Wittgenstein acolyte,” I said. . . . She never did. “A boatload less,” I told her, a bit harshly, maybe. “Your point being?” she flapped with cloudy uncertainty. “At least Wittgenstein,” I pointed out gently—well I-I think gently— “could put his name on his work.” Her neck, in wraith of memory clutching it, contused with a blush. But from her nothing more, not even to my Parthian shot, “Marijane Meaker had to use ‘Vin Packer.’”
The endings bothered her—y’know, typically, suicide or insanity? “Nervous breakdown” they called it in those day—like Fire’s Leda had. Needed to be institutionalized, she did, Leda, remember? . . . She favored the—what to call it? Ah, of course, the capitulation motif. You know, surrender to custom and convention? . . . Huh? Well, what I mean is redemption—y’know, through a marriage that never goes anywhere, rather than punishment that goes straight to insanity or suicide. Not that even, I imagine, on some level, some deeper level, it didn’t inchoately trouble her, such intended reassuring denouements, I mean— stir her, strike a chord with her, as it were. But—and here’s the thing— at the same time it silenced her, that’s really the thing, the main thing, the—what is it called? the theme, the breakbeat, the descant? — Ah, the leitmotif. Of course. “Lie to lips, denial of soul,” as one of my brave girls once put of life in the closet, bravely borrowing of course from Wilde. But that was, if not far away, long ago. . . .
Now, what was I—? Oh yes, not even the warm and loving Beebo Brinker Chronicles could rescue her from her self-imposed leitmotif of lie and denial. There. . . .
That said, she was in a certain sense “out.” Not of course,“out of the closet,” but in the sense of Webster’s “moving or appearing to move away from a particular place, especially one that is enclosed or hidden.” A beginning, you could say, a baby step. In retrospect, a “holding pattern,” —sort of like us today, in a holding pattern, until we can imagine—really conceptualize as a “live possibility,” in William’s sense of a forced, momentous option—I mean conceptualize, say, a world without Putins and Kims and al-Assads and Duertes and Erdogans and Sisis and Orbans—a world without, especially, without the Ringmaster of The Spectacle, Trombenik Triumphant. Imagine.… Hmm? …Well, yes, yes, now that you mention it, I think it should be their—their what? their anthem, the Democrats, I mean, in 2020. Yoko and John’s “Imagine,” yes honestly, their anthem—their chant, their chorus, their hymn, their-their call to remember, from pattern and rhythm, the 250 years of democracy peeling off with a scratch. . . . Imagine “the glory beyond the fog”—if, lamentably, she could have.
Okay, okay, I’m afloat again, loose and unmoored, but I’m afraid I just can’t help it—where was I? Ah, of course, her holding pattern, . . . her inability or unwillingness to imagine— for years, decades now really, she’s maintained it, the holding pattern, I mean. . . . How do I know? Well, because—I don’t know whether I’m proud or ashamed to admit, strong or weak,— I was with her, through it all, save naturally the lamentable spectacle of a church wedding, but the rest— the pregnancies and childbirths, the —oh please!—family milestones and setbacks and then—preserve us!— the grand kids etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseam, even till now, as she and I, arms entwined, train from Church to Rose because she says that’s where—at a place near Rose I mean— he would want to be, where he taught, she means—logic and linguistics, y’know—oh, I’ve said that.
“But he doesn’t even know his name,” I point out, “let alone where he is,” then plead, “Why not a place closer?” She demurs, I defer. And so it goes—has gone.
Not that, I imagine, she didn’t—no, no, she never did— suspect, I mean imagine, at the tide of the flood, omitted she would remain, “bound in shallows and in miseries,” but I—who am I to say? I who chose to live in the aforesaid. And thus we’ve played out our lives, she and I, in the shallows of each other’s personalities.
Now and again, she quietly admits, usually it is on the way back, specially of late, as when, specially of late, I am neediest—I mean in treatment’s wake—on the way back after “taking” or “giving” Lee Rigby care— she permits to escape through glued lips something that to me sounds akin to, “I have lived out in a holding pattern, like an aircraft awaiting permission to land.” Secretly, softly, sadly, something like that, sounds like to me, before a sob breaks in. . . . Huh? Frankly, I don’t know—from whom…. Nor what to do, for that matter—hold her or shake her.…
Anyway, I was saying—what was it?— Oh yes, she was out, in the aforesaid sense, when Investigations was out and about and all the rage like, y’know, the latest tune that gets all the applause?— with one notable exception. Bertrand Russell.
Russell, she said the emotionally parsimonious Lee Rigby said, dismissed Investigations as rendering philosophy “idle tea-table amusement.” Then, queerly, but it has stuck with me all these years—imagine!— with, at that, horrifying lucidity, she said he recounted, the stoop-shouldered Lee Rigby did, on one Sunday afternoon picnic, it was, in Bronx Park—y’know, along the river, with its gardens and zoo?—something from Russell.
“‘I was on a bike ride,’” began the anecdote, and continued, “‘with one of the many wives I have had throughout the years, and about half way through I realized I didn’t love her anymore. This may be because she told me she’d been sleeping with Oscar Wilde. I thought that was my privilege alone.’” And she said critically that he had laughed, snorted likely, Lee Rigby had, hard and long, insisting fiercely, she, that she found nothing amusing about— though, frankly, I did when she told me, then scolded me for finding anything amusing about it— “betrayal,” she called it. . . .
That’s when I should have known—huh? Hmm, you’re right, you’re right again, I should have known, of course, when she took up with a linguistic philosopher— an existentialist maybe, but a neurasthenic logical positivist! You’re right, you’re right…. But anyhow, I certainly should have known then, I mean with “betrayal,” I should have known that she would never, ever could —that the-the gravitational pull of custom and convention—I mean what the time-spirit demanded— was just too strong—that “respectability” was the bitch-goddess she worshipped and whose shade of displeasure she feared. . . . Ah, “the dross of shame,” exactly! . . . But, yes, yes, I agree, this is only to show myself and, thus, we must, you’re right, at his urging, Wittgenstein’s and, presumably, Lee Rigby’s, pass over in silence for what we can say meaningfully. To wit:
At the end of his trip from Brooklyn to the Bronx, Lee Rigby, who more than once puzzled crazily, and she admitted vacantly, more than once, on why “the Bronx” but not “the Queens”?—can you imagine?— would stop at the Horn and Hardart Automat for a cup of freshly brewed, piping hot French-drip coffee, the best in the city, at a nickel a cup, flowing from silver dolphin spout and served on real china.There—that meaningful enough for you?… No? Okay, what about this?
One day, one wiling day, Lee Rigby, of the vague and bilious eyes, said, I surmise, to the wide-eyed, leveled-browed, exceedingly winsome face with thin lips and retroussé nose and regular white teeth behind a small glass window, “‘Cinnamon butterfly cake.’ What’sat?” I say “surmise” because from her in turn, “It has pecans and raisins,” shouted through the small glass window, loudly enough for all of us in the kitchen to hear, but not what he, the phlegmatic Lee Rigby, in return, but I surmise, said rapturously, “‘Pecans and raisins,’” and then, in a rare, nay, I expect, the sole Saroyanesque moment of his entire life, I imagine Lee Rigby fell in love with the face in the window.Then, I imagine, he, like-like—well, Acontius comes to mind. Y’know, at the festival at Delos, Acontius, who threw a coin into the slot? and she picked it up, —the face behind the small glass window did, like, as it were, the Athenian Cydippe? and read aloud, as it were, loud enough for us to hear in the kitchen, “I swear by the temple of Artemis that I shall marry Acontius…”?. . . And so, by tradition, by fiat, it came to be, that he, Lee Rigby, could, would, spend the rest of his life with the fair-haired face in the window, who—whose name even!—he now can’t remember, while I, fixed in heart and memory, cannot ever forget. “Eleanor.”…
’Sat meaningful enough for you?… Good….
So, what’s to say of the iridescent mystery of the time of our lives? I mean if dunked in the acid bath of truth? What’s to say?… Besides, of course, the obvious, “It is best left to the laughter of the gods and the sorrow of men.”
There is Lee Rigby, who thought much but felt little.
There is Eleanor, who felt much but saw little.
“Imagined,” I mean of her, and so settled for a role in the maiden’s tale—hmm? . . .
Well, what else to call it but that? “Bought into,” really— purchased—a life, I mean, of—what? well, “bourgeois respectability,” comes to mind, which decreed, “Marriage is the destiny traditionally offered to women by society.”…
But, you’re right, who am I to talk amid the laughter and the sorrow? Me, with my bootless puzzled wonder about what caught me up? . . . with my unquenchable romantic love fixation that a fallible someone would “come fill the cup and in the fire of spring…”?
So, over the vacuum whirr, she goes again,“Today, it’ll cost you about five dollars by subway to go from Church to the corner of the Rose Hill Campus,” just to make small talk, you know, with the sleep-heavy eyed Lee Rigby, whose old and faded brain permits to pass like a pension-dreaming gatekeeper but dusting hands and a long nacreous fingernail marking time, and, of course, lips that ceaselessly form unspoken words, save for the fare from Church to Rose, which, with the metronomic regularity and mincing precision of a cuckoo clock, make a hollow and plaintive escape that to me sound akin to: “Paid for with Y tokens issued in 1953, the year Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations was published, posthumously.” . . . And I can almost hear them fall, as I stare stonily at my laptop, the weak clink of Y tokens amid the pulsebeat of “collusion, collusion, collusion.” Oh, I’ve told you that—or have I? . . .
Soon, very soon, we’ll start back in—who was it who called it, “the umbrageous violet light of approaching nightfall”? No matter, my head shaved like a modern day Magella, hers shingled, grey and curly, we’ll soon start back— and I’ll say uncertainly, as melancholy invades my slush voice, I’ll say, as we roll out of Rose like a Conrad steamer in the fog, “Don’t you wish the cars still had rattan seats and paddle fans that whirr and the untroubled yellow light of incandescent bulbs?” and she’ll have trouble finding her voice, finding words like, “Like when the’Mat—?” Then, Church reached, to a landing of a stately Brooklyn brownstone, where I shall wrap my long bony arms about her, my caregiver—or caretaker? Or does it matter amid involuntary shivers, quivering off in tears, amid nerves twitching and straining as one?
After retiring from a career teaching philosophy, Vincent Barry returned to his first love, fiction. His stories have appeared in numerous publications in the U.S. and abroad, including: The Saint Ann’s Review, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, The Broken City, Abstract: Contemporary Expressions, Kairos, Caveat Lector,Terror House, The Fem, BlogNostics, and The Writing Disorder. Barry lives with his wife and daughter in Santa Barbara, California.