Harold Abramowitz & Amanda Ackerman
from Man’s Wars And Wickedness: A Book of Proposed Remedies and Extreme Formulations for Curing Hostility, Rivalry, And Ill-Will
THE PATIENT sought out to study HIS CHIEF HOPE scientifically.
It had been a long time since the patient had been able to keep down a good meal. Ever since the hurricane and the very tragic death of his good friend and teacher Mr. Jones, he had not been able to eat spicy foods, or things reeking of garlic. Even the crystal clear, purgative, healing waters of Swabia could not give him the lift he had been wanting. He was despondent. He ate vegetable mush. He tried insoles. Nothing, no pain relief. He decided to hire a decorator. This was his chief hope. Maybe if he let more tropical green into the house, paint the walls, add small potted fan palms that reacted to the atmosphere with the greatest sensitivity. Not to be outdone, he hired the most famous decorator of the day. And the decorator began to festoon the plasterboard walls with shimmering little sweet things; he tossed out the requisite white couch, added coziness and color. “Don’t worry,” the decorator said to the patient. “If your demand is to be at home in your time and place, then rest assured, we will use honest materials, let in the light. Be assured, the problem is on the way to being solved.” But the decorator had other things on his mind, and he slipped up. This is how it happened. He hired men to paint the hallway yellow; he recommended halogen lamps, sheets of industrial plate glass. Because, even though his intentions were good, his thoughts were really and truly elsewhere. He was tired of being lonely. He wanted a community of two. And there was that woman in the alley. A shimmering little sweet thing standing in the doorway, holding a long spoon, wearing very little. He had heard her name was Eliza. A beautiful name, not too gaudy. He had heard she had a thing for odd-lot intellectuals. And he thought about all the ways he could impress her with his list of eccentric hobbies: writings on comets, the year 1897, the birds of the north woods of Michigan, growing horsetomatoes and mustard greens on a rooftop garden. She was wearing yellow that day, gauzy and not too gold, but sheer enough to see her heart pulsing vibrant blood down into her bare feet. Or was she wearing a nude-colored slip? She was a force of nature, how she clamped the empty spoon, looked at him with such diffident green eyes. Was this love? And if it was, then why had he failed the patient by suggesting, of all things, a halogen lamp in front of a plate-glass window? Wasn’t love supposed to be a curative? Wasn’t it supposed to be an end to all war, a chief hope? The chief hope? The heart of the world must keep beating or else we are all doomed. He kicked a stone down the alley. Saw her form from a distance, casting a shadow onto the undisturbed concrete. Did he need to change the style of facial hair? Grow a mustache? What was the highest degree of perfection man was capable of achieving?
OUR CHIEF HOPE sought out to study YOUNG AMERICAN ARCHITECTS scientifically.
You are roaming the seas to nowhere, you know. At least that’s what Samantha said to Esmeralda one fine spring day when there was no one home at Mr. Jones’s house and there was no spider to trust and no love to be found anywhere. But you are so gruesome in your way, Spider. And Samantha laughs. She has found a way to laugh after all these years. And there are plenty of spiders, and Jones rubs his hands together in a kind of anticipation. The feast is going to be marvelous. There will be jugglers there and clowns and odd-lot intellectuals. But you can never tell a building by the materials it is made from. Sure, certainly, glass and steel, but so much more. And they said that was a shadow, haven’t you heard? And your run-of-the-mill odd-lot intellectual shies away from the possibility of timidly imitated European models every time, i.e., the truth. It is turning itself on its head. It is suddenly turning into something I didn’t expect. The truth stands on one side connected, in this case, by glass. The non-truth, or desertion, or lies, if you will, stands on this side, like a flame or a suit of armor. Mr. Jones rubs one side of his face with fire, and the other with the truth. He wants you to be just like him in the end. But I am like him, screams Mr. Jones, in fact, I was born that way, he sighs. He is in the next room and there is garbage on the seat next to him. He was born a spy, in an agency, with a helmet on, by the burning ashes that the great war left in its wake. It is a time for feasting, for celebration, for laughing, for foaming at the mouth, and then you have to sing yourself a lullaby, say goodbye to the way things were before you even think about approaching the truth in the alleyway. But after 1945, our plutocrats, our bare-faced buildings, our young American architects came out of time. They rebelled against the notion of crime, of solutions, of abandonment as a way out. Well, just step right up. Well, in this ring we have a cold sore, a common cold sore, and the way things are. The truth is here and over there is the non-truth, or the maelstrom, strictly speaking that is, and please don’t apologize to the spider in the alley, the spider got in there with his keys. The keys you didn’t even know the spider had. The spider has keys. The spider has keys. The spider gives keys to the cats in the alley all the time. All he had to do was listen to the song. The maelstrom would come regardless of whatever one trusted, of whatever one had to say, and its only recourse would be a commune, a spiritual movement, a radical approach to art in all its forms, and this because I said so, and this because you said so, and this because of the bare-faced buildings they have bought, and not, after all, because of a health food regimen consisting solely of fresh vegetable mush at all.
TREMENDOUS POTENTIAL sought out to study CHARITABLE MOTIVES scientifically.
But the problem, as usual, as it always was, was the problem of time. Charitable motives, with its harp and its lemonade and birdcalls and charitable, bleeding heart, had again climbed up a rope into the treetops, where it was hiding out and fantasizing about returning back to nature. Getting back to the land, eating acorn bread, bleating like a sheep, saving money, much like a child would, or much like a squirrel or a grouse. Charitable motives was always clear mentally, as well as physically. It was literally transparent. It was always pure. It contained pure motives and therefore always carried the smell of the salt sea, and moved like the sway of the Swabian coast. But charitable motives was whimpering this time, inexplicably, acting as if it had been injured. It was up a tree with all sorts of big ideas for reform and the right way to live. Tremendous Potential had not yet learned that charitable motives was feeling damaged, but it was soon to find out. Tremendous Potential had the potential to unlock, not the future, never the future, but to adapt to what already was – even if reluctantly or a little bit blindly. Tremendous Potential never had the full story. But you see, that’s what the acting mayor was for. Tom Terrific. The Acting Mayor of All Swabia. He was there to fill in our gaps. He had the best teeth in the city, the sturdiest, and the mossiest, and he protected his people well, and his jawbone projected the best shadow anyone had ever seen. Mr. Jones has a theory about this. He claims that it’s because of Tom Terrific’s grin that he’s now acting mayor, that, and because of his generally tidy and pleasing appearance, and his spaghetti-legged but authoritative gait, and I have never argued. But that is because I don’t care much for wagering any guesses about politicians – who they are, why they are where they are, how they got there, whether they are real or unreal, what they might want, and who put them in positions of power and influence in the first place. But this time I was faced with the necessity of forming an opinion, of taking a side. This is often what happens whenever you get into a discussion with Mr. Jones. He provokes thought, you see. It is because he is a real person. A great cook. He wears an apron and he has an iron pan and a whole cabinet full of flour and chilies of various degrees of potency. And real people tend to do that, to provoke thought. I needed to make some decisions. I needed to decide what I thought about this world of mine, of ours. I needed to decide what was real and what wasn’t, what was good and what wasn’t, what was worth making better and what was worth destroying, etc. When the sun came in my room that morning, soaking the curtains, arching over the knobs of my chest-of-drawers, I saw Tremendous Potential. It looked like a blaze of fire, or a glaze of it, or a black hat, depending on your point of view. Tremendous Potential was at my back again. It was telling me not to be such a cad, a lazy shadow, a carousing, sleepy nymph, tucked into my sheets all day. “Time to see the sky!” it said. “Time to see the clouds competing with the sun, the shade, and the sky overhead ripping into clam-shaped puffs… a gust of air.” I rubbed my eyes and put on pants. Was Tremendous Potential so focused on seeing the world through the lens of competition alone? I am not a passive warmonger! And that’s when we, the citizens of Swabia,, had learned the story. The acting mayor was corrupt, you see. Corrupt again. And then again and again. He had all sorts of problems with lobbyists and other politicians who were also corrupt, and problems with the system, which was very corrupt, and he had the problem of never being able to tell the truth to anyone, especially to himself. This was because he spent so much money on his own pet projects, and had hired so many architects and physicians and general industrialists and general consultants and CEOs and astronomers. All this to get a new flag made for our town hall. It had cost too much and now the town simply had no more money. And all due to the fact that the mayor was acting on whims of predestination. He was claiming that human time and human rhythms were no different than those of the very heavens themselves… the rings of Saturn, for example, the circuits of the spleen. He thought our politics to be just as organic and efficient as all general types of organization that you would find in nature. Most of his fellow general industrialists, corrupt lobbyists, and lying politicians agreed. And this, over a dinner table, while eating clams and lime steak. You should have seen the amount of clam shells in all the dumpsters behind nice restaurants. However, they debated, argued, opposed, climaxed, and conjuncted before reaching an agreement about how big the flag should be and where it should be placed. Now that the town had no money, a lot had to change. For example, the orphanage had to shut down. This sent charitable motives, being gold-spirited and generous and kindhearted and sympathetic, into a kind of foolish tizzy. It had climbed a tree and now refused to come out of the forest. All it talked about now was getting itself a good pair of steel boots and getting back to the land. Foraging and lighting fires. Riding the backs of deer, swimming with grizzly bears. Sidling easily over power lines. And charitable motives said it would stay in the forest and wait, until such a time that our city walls and city gates were gone, and when there would be any hope at all that a space for it could be placed inside our every-worrying minds and homes.
THE DIET CONSISTING OF A MUSH OF FRESH VEGETABLES sought to study TROPICAL GREEN scientifically.
And this, of course, took place in a Swabian bog a long, long time ago. He makes mention of Swabia before he goes to bed. It is the paper mill he remembers best. A house on the corner. A hill by the lake next to the mill. And there is rapid degradation. The ways in which he does or does not remember anything at all. To be honest, I have never been to Swabia, have never seen its shores, she says. I have never been to Swabia. I have never been to Swabia. I have never been to Swabia and sat in its curative hot springs, rested in tropical green. But odd-lot intellectuals. It never stopped odd-lot intellectuals before. You know the kind I mean. The ones running around Europe. Odd-lot. An odd-lot, I say. And this is Swabia, and that is Swabia, or at least Swabian thinking or at least the thinking of the paper mill, the factory, the glass box, the spider, the truth on this side and on that. I am bored, and I am boring. And I am going to Swabia this spring and then again in the summer so I will feel less bored and be less boring, says Mr. Jones. I am dead and a Swabian vacation is just the thing for me. She was looking at the universe all wrong. It didn’t begin and it didn’t end. It was a spiral. Lord Burlington, you are back. And the children sing a song. And Lord Burlington is back. But I will have to sit, says Mr. Jones, and listen to Lord Burlington and all his lies. I will have to take myself out of this patch of grass I have been lying around in for the longest time and cool my heels and become a real European intellectual. There is a back road into Swabia that only Lord Burlington knows about. He knows the secrets of the paper mill and buildings and silver and health food regimens, but after 1945 it all began to change. He hiked the Swabian hills. He got a haircut. He began to love himself madly all over again, and it was like he was the universe, and it was like he was reborn. But I am Swabia all over again. It is strange, Lord Burlington says. I was thinking of a flower, a particular flower I used to love, and all I could see were daisies, over and over again. This is funny and ironic because Mr. Jones just loves daisies. And he has been waiting for an opportunity to one-up Lord Burlington all night. The Swabian coast. The European artist, what a dazzling figure. And in the end there is disease and there is a cost to the remedy you seek. High medical bills. And you have been overcharged. You have to keep your ears open when they tell you lies. You have to keep them hidden and hold them up to the fire and give all of them exactly what they deserve. It’s the voice in the wilderness. Swabia, if you will. Swabia, and thanks for reminding me, Jones, Lord Burlington says, I’d forgotten all about that story. My trip to Swabia began rather unexpectedly. I was holding court with a group of odd-lot intellectuals, the kind, incidentally, one used to see roaming Europe during those days…