RUDIMENTS, pt. 40
George Santayana wrote : '...cities are
a second body for the human mind,
a second organism, more rational,
permanent and decorative than the
animal organism of flesh and bone.
A work of natural or more moral art,
where the soul sets up her trophies
of action and instruments of pleasure.'
Those few sentences once set up a
standard for me of what to make
of what I was experiencing; it all
read sort of sensibly to me. Of course,
as far as philosophers went, George
Santayana was just another name for
me, one of the many names found in
those dusty old Fourth Avenue bookshops
I haunted. Sad, dark volumes from the
libraries of dead old people; endless
'philosophications' over things that always
seemed so terribly outmoded as concerns.
In the 1800's and 1910, people actually
dwelled upon and thought about these
strange considerations of life and eternity.
It used to amaze me how outmoded it
all seemed. Yet, at the same time,
people were still devouring Plato and
Aristotle and the rest, and even all those
old playwrights, Sophocles, etc. In those
darkened years which, all before ours,
seemed so long ago and far away, I guess
concerns were just different.
One thing I found, among the work that I
did, was that in any endeavor, if you break
it, or the 'task' of it, down into the most basic
segments ('rudiments!'), it all becomes simpler
and easier. Like a mailman - think of the
daily mental challenge that must present,
no matter what the sort of mail route one
has. Let's say, 1700 houses, or apartments
or whatever (I don't know how that's broken
down) - it's a daily massacre of the most
ultimate tedium. Timed too, no less. Each
day must present a large, flat, mental onslaught
of task and duty that has to be faced. Yet, if one
breaks it down, one mailbox by one mailbox, the
tedium and the burden is lessened. It becomes,
rather than a,'horrid 'task' just a repetition that's
manageable and makes sense. It has something
in kind to do with how, in many places, scientific
or reference or whatever, even kid's books, they
present the most ordinary things, like a drop of
water or a piece of hair, and, in the intense
super-magnification of an electron microscope,
or by whatever means, they show this object
in intense close-up and then make comments
about how fabulous and exceptional it looks.
Doing that is much the same as what I'm
talking abut with the mailman, in its own way.
Anything seen close-up and isolated changes
complexion and loses all meaning sometimes
as well. That's the wonder of creativity, and of
'making' things. If it were not for any of that,
I'd bet the tedium and/or sadness of this life
would have killed me long ago.
'Unless there is a new mind there cannot be a
new line. The old will go on repeating itself
with recurring deadliness.'
Once or twice, maybe more I'll admit too,
there have been such moments of intense
magnification in my life that the moments
have become exaggerated and I've fallen in.
In fact, more than fallen in, I've wrecked my
life over something or other - diving headlong
into some new situation of which I should have
known better. There's never been anyone to
stop me; those that have tried were merely
superficial and ineffectual and therefore
neither effected nor changed anything for
me. I was left to my own stupidities. I'd
then ask, looking back, 'Is that the curse
of poor upbringing, poverty, a poor
family?' There's never been anyone there
to just take me over, slap me on the side
of the head and bring me back to my senses.
None of the people I've known from
'better' places, like New Canaan,
Connecticut, or some Park Avenue address
or somewhere big-deal and wealthy,
all those crazy towns around me, none of
them have ever gone through those situations,
that I've seen, they've always stayed, as a unit,
with family, getting advice and support, even
money and backing, for their own days. It's
always been an ideal of mine. God knows
I've gone through it enough with my one,
single, one, offspring. But there too, it's
really given me, mostly, nothing back and
I just ended up feeling milked and confused.
Fatal flaw time. So what's one to do?
Have I envied some of that? Yes. One time
I drove out to Connecticut for a long day to
visit with a friend I'd made, Liz. She came
from money, old-line Connecticut address,
the whole bit - family lineage right back
to Franklin Pierce. Wonderful girl. Her family
was so well-together, fictional and perfect.
monied and proper. I was astounded at what
I saw. Envious. No one there could ever make
a mis-step. All her brother kept taking about was
some sports wins, by Yukon. Yukon? I thought
to myself 'what so they have to give them an
allegiance to Alaska or northern teams?' Fool
that I was, it turned out to mean University of
Connecticut, which goes by the moniker
UConn. There's the difference.
In that drive, out to Connecticut, along some
Connecticut Turnpike or something, (it was
about 1982, and this 'turnpike' bore no
resemblance to the sort of 'Turnpike' NJ
had presented to me. This was, back then
anyway, just a pretty simple roadway, probably
from the commuter 1930's, really nicely done
and small enough to be pleasant, with, every
20 miles or so, a toll gate. I was clipping
along at a decent rate, maybe 55 or 60 mph,
in a low slung vehicle with less than usual
ground clearance. I thought I had the world
in my hands at that moment. Wrong! I suddenly
came up upon a dead, very large dog, in the road!
Unable to swerve, but with low clearance, yes,
you know the rest. It was no fun, no fun at all.
'No defeat is made up entirely of defeat - since
the world it opens is always a place formerly
unsuspected. The dogs and trees conspire
to invent a world. Gone!'