Chapter 45: R—’s Philosophy Hit’s a Snag
Sunday was spent in pleasurable Lucinda-Time. We ate and hiked and talked and had a generally good time. No deep conversations. No saving the world. We took a break from our personal angst-driven conversations, and enjoyed the simple things for what they were, rest and relaxation, an opportunity to recharge depleted batteries.
Monday morning I received an email from my editor. It seems a reader wrote a letter to him, complaining about a point I had made in one of my longer essays of late. Normally, I never hear about these, but this one was interesting. My editor thought it’d be a good thing to have me answer it. You know, interaction with the little people, and all that rot. He had scanned the letter and it was attached to the email. Would I please send my answer back forthwith?
Forthwith it is I replied, and printed out the letter.
It was entitled R—’s Philosophy. His main point was that I am an idiot (go figure) and that I am wrong (what’s new?) and other blah, blah, blah junk he spewed off the top of his head. But the best part of the letter concerned a mangled quote he used in support of his argument against my article.
“Essence of being is the most powerful thing. Existence pales in comparison. You just remember that when you write and all will be well,” said the little twit.
I vaguely recalled those two words — essence and existence — as being part of a quote I read in college and went online to find it. The quote was five words long.
“Existence precedes and rules essence.”
Not only did R— get the quote wrong, he completely misunderstood it. That meant my reply to him would be two-fold. One: He needed correcting. Two: I’d have to ask him to reread my column in the light of this correction and resend a better question for discussion. Here is my letter to R—.
I thank you for your letter. It is always a pleasure being challenged by a reader. And when that reader calls you an idiot, then the pleasure of a reply goes up ten-fold. This morning, as I sit in my office, having read your letter forwarded to me by the editor, I am ecstatic with joy. Why? So happy you asked, R—.
One thing real journalists do is research. I do not brag on myself, merely quote my keepers when they say I am damned good at it. Therefore, properly giving weight to your letter, I spent an exhaustive morning tracking down the quote you referenced.
Please note my joy in saying you properly and thoroughly mangled it. Merely as an exercise in stream of consciousness thought you seem to be so good at, I ask you who is the idiot now?
No need to answer. I continue. The quote is accurately stated thusly: Existence precedes and rules essence. This entire quote is quite clear. Let me break it down for you.
Simply put, and I hope you appreciate how simply I am putting it to you, what makes you who you are (essence) cannot come to be until first you exist. Existence only allows an essence to become. In other words, there is no baby, then there is a baby.
Again simply put, when you die (cease to exist) there is no more you (essence).
Therefore, of the two, existence is more powerful. The question, though, that needs to be answered is this: Which is most important, existence or essence? In other words, is simply to exist, to come to be, the most important thing? Or, is what we do with our existence and who we are most important?
To begin to answer, I paraphrase a wise man of old who said Better is the end of one’s days than the beginnings.
What does this mean? It means nobody puts up commemorative buildings or statues to babies because babies haven’t done anything to deserve them. If a baby dies, people cry and mourn, but not for the same reasons they cry and mourn for an adult. Adults who have lived full lives and who have benefited others, well, people go to their funerals and remember back on all the good things they did. What they did with their existence defined their essence.
To your comment that our existence depends upon our choices, I agree in that I could choose to jump from a building and thus would cease to be. But I did not have a choice in becoming me in the first place.
The next question to answer is this: What is involved in determining my essence?
There are three things: Genetics. Environment. Free Will.
Another way to put it is: Nature, Nurture, and Choice.
Genetics (Nature) are those things given to me over which I have no choice: Height, eye color, disease path, talents, certain thought patterns, and so forth.
Environment (Nurture) are those things done to me above and beyond my control, and modifies those things given to me by genetics. Example: I have certain thought patterns. I have a wonderful childhood. My thought patterns are influenced in a positive manner. But, if I experience abuse, my thought patterns are influenced another way.
Free Will (Choice) are those things I choose to do. Shall I hurt myself and others? Shall I get a job or not? Shall I let bad parents dictate to me what I can do? Shall I replicate bad done to me?
All that being said, it is my considered opinion that essence is more important than existence, but it is not more powerful. I further submit to you, one cannot be missed if one never was. Further, when one ceases to be one is only missed by a small group of people and only until they, too, cease to be. Existence is not all it is cracked up to be. To exist is not the thing anyone should aim for. It is what one does with that existence which matters.
With this new information and clarity of thought, I ask now that you clarify your question and resend. At that time I’ll be more than happy to answer it.
PS: Please note that, while I believe you to be an idiot yourself, I did not state it as a fact. It is merely my opinion. Granted, my opinion could very well be correct and you are, in fact, an idiot. While I believe I have enough evidence (supplied by you in your letter) to support that opinion, it is still, nonetheless, a view from this perch and not necessarily accurate. Upon receipt of your clarified question based on this new and accurate understanding of the information, I look forward to being proved wrong in that view and engaging in dialogue as befits intelligent people. From this last statement you may have inferred I am saying you are stupid.
Not so! Merely uninformed; in other words, ignorant. Your state of stupidity will only be confirmed upon your reply.
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I sent the reply to my editor. He didn’t like what I wrote. I refused to retract or soften it. Print or not, I told him, I don’t care one way or the other. But if you want to sell more papers, I hinted, shake it up, Dawg.
The letter ran with R—’s the following day. For a couple of weeks there was some drama as R— threatened to sue the paper and me for slander. He even got that wrong and when our attorneys sent him a letter explaining they’d sue him for damages, time, and costs related to defending the paper and me specifically, who was only responding to an attack on his reputation from R—, R— shut up. The paper turned it into a miniature soap opera with daily updates on all parties concerned.
TV Journalists – yes, I say that with tongue in cheek – wanted to interview me for their evening newscasts and my presence was required at the office several days in a row until such time as the story ran its course. I was reminded to be nice on air. The public was so fickle. Besides, there was no blood and we all know if it bleeds, it leads. In any case, it was fun. Papers sold. Goals were met. I had fifteen more minutes of fame.
Chapter 46: Lucinda Is Invited
“Oooo. I’m dating a celebrity. Does that make me a someone?”
“Ha, ha, Lucinda. Technically, you would be called a groupie.”
This conversation was had while we lay on her sofa watching the last of my interviews on TV. She insisted on watching. I did not want to. When it was over, she flipped around the channels a bit until we found nothing was on. She turned off the TV.
Dropping the remote on the floor, she turned over to face me. “I don’t know why I pay money each month to watch nothing.”
I wrapped my arms around her and said, “I don’t have a television.”
She kissed me on the neck. “I should unplug mine.”
“Speaking of being unplugged—” I waggled my eyebrows at her.
And so another pleasurable evening was spent after which she saw me out the door and waved bye-bye and didn’t close the door until she could no longer see me. I was almost home when I realized I was very hungry and I had nothing at home to eat. So I turned my vehicle toward an all-night diner not far from my house.
Finding an empty corner booth, I ordered, and sat back. I thought of the evening and of Lucinda happy to have me in her space for a short bit of time but no longer, and what that meant. She had not yet been to my house. I had never thought to invite her over and she had never asked to come. I wondered if her reluctance to have me in her house for very long was a direct correlation to her not being welcome at mine.
But she was welcome.
I’d send her an email in the morning and tell her I wanted to cook for her and invite her to my place.
My food served, I fell to eating, but was distracted by what I can only describe is the worst female voice I have ever heard. It was monotone and droning with barely a pause between words or thoughts. Furthermore, there was no redeeming sound quality to speak of. In other words, if the sound had been clear, sharp, and in tune, that one single sound would have been bearable. But it was out of tune, harsh, and muddy. I wondered at her friends’ abilities to stand it.
It was certainly giving me a headache. Worse, though, was what she was saying.
“So I said to him I said I loved my cat more than him and he said my cat hated me and one day my cat would attack me and kill me and he’d dance on my grave and I said he was a horrible man and he should leave but then Mother came over and he said to her he said…”
Here she paused for a bite and a chew and a swallow. “…he said he could see where I got my insanity from and Mother grabbed a rolling pin to hit him with it and he ran when he saw her swinging and he hasn’t been back since and I say good riddance…”
I couldn’t take it anymore. I threw a twenty on the table and left. After a good night’s rest, my first email was to Lucinda.
Dinner. I cook. Saturday evening. My place. What do you say?
She reminded me we were already going to Hydrate with The Reed on Saturday. Damn. So I suggested Friday evening and she was good with that. It took me all week to clean my place and do laundry and dust and change the sheets (you know, just in case), and shop for groceries. I bought a nice red wine I thought she’d like and in general worked myself up into a lather. It had been at least ten years since I had a woman in my house. Ten years. How did that happen? I had known women during that time, certainly. I had been to their houses, of course. How is it I never had them to mine?
This was blowing my mind. Ten years ago I was forty-five. I was now fifty-five and could barely remember the last woman who had been in my house. By the time Friday evening arrived, I was tired, worried, upset, and wondering how I was going to get Lucinda out of my house, and she hadn’t even arrived.
Punctual as always, the doorbell announced her arrival. I had changed clothes and showered while the lasagna baked. Don’t be impressed. It was one of those pans of lasagna you can buy at the store. And the salad was from a bag, but it looked good in the bowls. Bread was now warming in the oven while the lasagna sat on the stovetop to settle down and the wine was breathing.
I opened the door and there she stood. Calm, cool, collected, and looking like fresh cream poured over a bowl of sliced, freshly plucked, ripe, succulent strawberries. I stared and could not say anything. She inquired about her next move. “May I come in?”
Brain pathways cleared, I laughed and moved out of her way. Closing the door, I turned to see her standing as if she was a guest in my house waiting permission to move, and not a cherished lover. That would not do and I proceeded to put my arms around her waist and pick her up bodily and swing her around gently while I kissed her. She held her purse in one hand and a package in the other so could not hold on to me, but her lips worked just fine.
I pointed down the hall toward the comfort room; to you men that means the john. The dinner was a success. Nothing was burned, the wine was delicious, and Lucinda was as charming as ever. I was still a nervous wreck and hoped she didn’t notice. Later I took her on a tour of the house and pointed out all the things she had to pass to get to the comfort room in the first place. She nodded politely and oooed and aahhed over cherished possessions I pointed out.
We sat in the living room, sipping wine, chatting about ordinary, everyday, normal topics. The Dance Floor Wars wasn’t mentioned though it seemed to be the elephant in the room with us. After three hours had passed, Lucinda sighed and said she had to be going. Did I want help to clean the kitchen? No, no, no, I said. You are my guest, I said. I want this to be a relaxing evening for you, I said.
She helped me with the dishes anyway. She washed and rinsed. I dried and put up. As she handed me each plate, fork, spoon, pot, glass, knife, I took them as if this was something we did every day. No hesitation. No wondering when she’d hand me the next piece. There was a beauty in our actions, a give and take that was rhythmic. Like our dances. Like our making love. The call and response upon which great jazz songs are written.
You may think I’m a sentimental old fool. Hey, old man, you may be saying, stop it with the sentimental kitchen journey. If that is you saying it, you must be young…and stupid. I can call you that because I, too, was young…and stupid.
There comes a time when you know you have not many days left to you. When you know the days of doing dishes with a woman will soon be over. When your body will no longer function as you wish it. When you will wish for younger days so that you — stupid idiot that you were but would no longer be with the knowledge you have — could take her in your arms. Yes, take her in your arms and with the power of youth and the intuition of experience, worship her as the exquisite thing she is — and know you had years and years to please her mind and her body.
The days roll and the years pass and you find one day, to your horror, you have only so much power left in you. While you have it, you want to pour it out in a rushing torrent.
I am a man.
Let me show you what a real man is capable of. Ignore that faker from years ago. Pretend he does not exist. See me now?
I hung the towel over the sink edge to dry. She walked to the door. She set her purse on the floor and turned to me. I, who had made conversation all evening so very politely, was overwhelmed with passion and need for the woman in front of me.
This woman who, having given so many years of her life to the son of a bitch, was now facing the rest of her life. Surely she understood? I am sure she did. But these thoughts I kept to myself. I did not burden her with the introspection of an old man, nor did I let my eyes bring accusation that she was on her way to becoming an old woman who’d one day cease to dance with all eyes upon her. Because standing in front of me was a woman who was not old. Who made old men wish for younger days and could still bring young men to their knees. She was in her most golden time. I hope she knew that and wasn’t too worried about it ending.
I put my arms around her waist and felt her back arch against my arms and the curve of her body against me. I felt warm arms sliding around my neck. I saw soft eyes searching my lips for a hint of what she should next do. I felt smooth lips on mine as she found that answer.
No sound could be heard except for our breath as we kissed until our lips were sore. Her hand went to her lips, she said ow, we laughed softly. I bent down, picked up her purse, put it in her hand, and waited for her eyes to focus.
“Goodnight,” I said, stroking her cheek with my finger.
She gave me one last kiss and went out the door. I watched her until car taillights could no longer be seen. I watched until the bugs, attracted by the porch light, began hitting my face. Then practical matters returned. I closed the door and went to bed.
Sweet dreams, Dancing Queen.
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