“There but for the grace of God go I.”
Who hasn’t at least heard John Bradford’s phrase? Usually uttered by some drip who believes he or she avoided catastrophe by the skin of his or her teeth, but actually missed misfortune by miles.
Now that I reside in Las Vegas, Bradford’s expression bears zero currency. Maybe when I lived back East one could’ve spoken or thought such in true, though heightened, honesty. There, fate at its most capricious could’ve convinced the devout that disembodied powers managed their destinies.
Here, personal calamities are manmade. Often after heedless headlong rushes. (Guess what topic I’ll occasionally bear down on through 2014.)
Decades ago during an particularly bereft of cheer Christmas season, a bunch of us congregated. In a bar. Oh, without a doubt.
It was another slapped-together mish-mosh of diverse characters. Today’s social stratification and our lingual dumbing down prevents such round tables from meeting with any old frequency. Even if the table is rectangular the same sort of bull sessions are rarities.
Arizona used to demand these mixtures. Nobody attending or witnessing saw the collection as peculiar. Reflecting on us years later, after statues of limitations finally expired, and exposed truths no longer hold force of law to trip anyone, we’re all damn glad 21st century digital devices were still confined to our wildest imaginations or Star Trek.
Hasn’t social media ended privacy and made shame, its concomitant, quaint? I empathize with Millennials and generations after theirs. Much of what’s done in the first flushes of full independence shouldn’t be an easily categorized, searched, and downloaded ball & chain throughout the entirety of life.
None of my cohort took seriously the threats of our high school records chasing us the rest of our lives. We accepted random drug testing because jobs made them necessary as well as acknowledging the divide between childish pursuits and being enabled by the maturity to put them down.
No middle-aged person deserves being continually judged on youthful moments of over-exuberance or pilloried endlessly for same-age bonehead indulgences. Yet thanks to ever-vigilant technology and declining propriety, the pasts of many will be waiting for their arrival in the future. Those will be tough breaks.
Thom was our session’s big cheese. He desired becoming a philosopher. Or Frankie Lymon. I believe he took courses whose thick texts were smutted with tiny print in order to breed the title’s requirements. Then again maybe it was his fondness for doo-wop records. Either way Thom could persuasively explain why fools fell in love.
Persuasively, not passionately. And isn’t that the basis of philosophizing?
Thom also hunted. Maybe that’s where his passion resided. Mild-mannered, courtly, bespectacled, and seldom animated, he didn’t fit any big dumb guy with a gun stereotype. At least looking at him, listening to him, nobody felt Thom’s love of weapons and bloodsports overcompensated for any self-regarded inadequacy. Then again who among us shared his taste for game?
Another distinguishing feature of his: the black, flat-brim Buckaroo hat he wore. More a Pacific Northwest fixture, one seldom saw those lids amid the Southwest’s 5&10 Gallon styles.
Over rounds of shots & chasers during that long-dark Yuletide, discourse rose above accepted Fats Waller-level bar maunderings. Somehow the esprit of Albert Camus dragged up a seat and shouldered his condition into our conversation. Between contemplators and writers one never knows who’ll show up. Do one?
For us that evening, Camus embodied a thinking man of action. Or reducing him to his absolute simplest, an Old World Humphrey Bogart. One who spoke French, smoked Gitanes instead of Luckies, fought with the Resistance, his Marseilles a Mediterranean mélange of the Lower East Side and Brooklyn. Before both became crazy punk and cool hipster outposts.
As younger men, didn’t Thom and we others admire how Camus’ anti-heroes recognized the futility inherent in life – nobility or any valor discounted – yet nonetheless persevered against the inevitable? Hey. Isn’t that fatalism? Irrelevant! We’re Americans. We don’t do fatalism. We find nothing redemptive in futility.
Optimists as we proclaim ourselves, impractical Sisyphus gets reworked into a valiant who knows better but just can’t help himself. He believes one more heave will roll that boulder to the top.
Of course now with cool-daddy revival in flagrant fragrance, I expect Camus has been expropriated by those seeking iconic figures from who they intend drawing representative association. For us that poster ought have been an updating of Marx-Lenin placards. Instead of dour and tone-deaf commies, the idols leading our merry and mellow revolution would’ve been Groucho Marx and John Lennon.
Thom invented the “Camus Christmas” trope. Actually he simply added one component to a “Mexican Breakfast.” To the requisite glass of water and cigarette, he joined a gun. Appropriately enough, a revolver.
Fortified by the first two elements, the holiday celebrant had the option of dispatching himself (it’s always a guy) or those (always other guys) seen as better off dead than alive. Thom targeted the second because let’s face it the living can rationalize their deeds or misdeeds; the dead’s can only be speculated upon.
If the theorizing behind Camus Christmas remains valid and Thom isn’t helming a West Coast college philosophy department somewhere, then Las Vegas would be a wonderful place for him to expend his theory through practice. Instead of revolvers, the jetsam here makes cases for the return of blunderbusses.
Thing is Camus’ interior digressions wriggle among the folds. The clarity of his protagonists’ drives deposit ambivalence. At least in Americans. With him isn’t there often that, “Yes, you’re right, but …”? And the “but” is discomforting rather than oppositional.
Sure. I agree. This fucker needs a hole blown in his head. You’ve explained it perfectly. Nonetheless …
Thom’s Camus Christmas exempted “nonetheless.” Which makes it palatable to us. Otherwise he just could’ve called it “Jack London Christmas.” Where’s the alliteration in that?