Painting by Sebastian Ferreira
PAUL’S LAST STAND
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
Paul Bowman, the greatest author the world will ever or never know, takes pride in the enormous inventory of unpublished essays he has written since he quit his perfect job and moved to Paradise to devote himself to his writing career. His rose soon grew thorns. He thought his savings would be sufficient for him to ramp up to fame and fortune; alas, he has now fallen pathetically short of his imagined fame and fortune: he has sold only two of his brilliant essays over the last five years, both to a Catholic journal. It is not that Paul’s work is worthless; he is just not cut out to be in any sales department, let alone be his own marketing staff of one.
Needless to say, Paul is a rather bookish man. Albeit he lives in Paradise, he is often in the library, his Heaven on Earth. He calls his library “the Ark of Civilization”, and claims that it is a shame that only two or three people besides vagrant wayfarers are on board on any given day. But never mind, for who has time to rub shoulders with the locals when one has the intimate company of the greatest minds that ever thought?
Mind you that Paul, despite being a bookworm when not writing, is not really standoffish: he is in fact gregarious when not engaged in literary pursuits; but his gregariousness has little social support. You see, Paul is a member of a race even more despised over the centuries than the Jewish and the black race; to wit: he belongs to the intellectual race, which can be Jewish or black. He is fond of ‘vulgar’ people as people, as well as the intellectual elite as people, but the feeling is far from mutual. Many people get a college degree not for the liberty of a liberal education but to get a better paying office job. Paul takes his liberty too literally. Arrogant anti-intellectuals have no interest in his merely ‘academic’ liberty, thus his discourse sails over their heads. He cares little for sports. Although he enjoys sex, he doesn’t care to discuss the most popular topic, ‘pussy.’ To make hanging out with the guys even worse, he does not get racist jokes, hence they think he is a stupid intellectual.
Since there is little love lost among the violently clashing wits of his own kind, the library is actually the ideal place for Paul – his vision of a stately throne is a private author’s desk at New York Public Library. The library in Paradise is a cool and empty place to be on muggy days. The books love to be read and to have notes taken from their pages. Once in awhile a new security guard, seeing Paul around so often and wondering if he should be discriminated against, asks him if he is homeless, to which he replies, with a smile, “So what if I am?” He gets no answer, except, “Never mind.” The librarians are quite nice; the only thing he likes about the current U.S. president is that he had the good taste to marry a librarian.
No, Paul is not homeless, at least not yet. But homelessness is looming ever more near as the days pass. Again, Paul’s sales are not ramping up to his production schedule. He is the greatest author the world will ever or never know, but he is not a salesman. Therefore he has been seeking work lately, as a keeper of books, of course. He has fine credentials, including glowing letters of recommendation concerning his proven abilities as a controller, accountant, and bookkeeper.
Paul applied for part-time or temporary work at first so that he could keep up his furious research and writing pace. Since no such engagements were forthcoming, he applied for 412 full-time jobs. He managed to get five interviews and one job offer, for $10 an hour, which he declined because he thought he could do better than twenty-percent of his last pay rate. He has had occasion to regret turning down that job, for now he is on the verge of eviction and is willing to take up anything for any income. Times are especially bad for unemployed liberal writers since the Republicans took over; for instance, car thefts in Paradise are up forty-five percent this year. Nonetheless, with his excellent references, what is Paul’s problem? He doesn’t know for a fact. On the one hand, he thinks he is having a bad run of luck. On the other hand, he supposes the hypothesis of cause and effect might provide a commonsensical explanation, hence he has speculated on the possible causes of his help being so unwanted. For one thing, that he is an off-color stranger in Paradise, and there is not much Paradise to be shared with those who are far from flush. And that he is over fifty but not eligible for Social Security; thus he falls into a sort of limbo pending his warehousing for death. His age-bracket, a bracket that in traditional cultures is associated with experience and wisdom, is a bracket young managers and executives have small interest in. After all, after leaving home and getting a job with the corporation, who wants to hire someone who reminds them of their dads? Anyway, he has had his chance and he is not a top executive or retired to Palm Springs already, so there must be something terribly wrong with him.
Fast-paced companies today are looking for career-minded people who have three to five years of experience and who must have pushed the latest sequence of buttons many times. These detail-oriented, highly motivated people must be able to independently follow instructions in order to meet deadlines under pressure while making sacrifices. During his second interview, Paul was asked what sacrifices he would be willing to make if he were asked to work overtime. He said, “I would be willing to sacrifice at least one chicken. I would sacrifice a wife, but I don’t have one at present.” The interviewer, one of the many thousands of under-paid women in Human Resources, grimaced; end of interview: a sense of humor was definitely not wanted by that firm, a rather large one whose operating attitude reminds one of the United States Army.
But Paul is not giving up. This very morning he is sending out more resumes, and he will make calls until he is blue in the face and his ears are sore – he does not have a speaker-phone. Then he will write late into the night until he is exhausted. Then he will go to bed for a couple of hours. He can barely sleep at night because he is tormented by the looming prospect of houselessness. Just before he went to bed last evening, he witnessed an absurd scene on his 13″ television:
A woman of thirty or so had found her husband sleeping with another woman; there are no kids; she got the house and alimony. Now she enters her abode. She misses her husband, looks at his photo, and is obviously depressed. Maybe she made a bad mistake, and now she is all alone. Tears stream down her face as she walks through the luxuriously furnished rooms of her home, and finally throws herself onto her huge bed. She takes up the fetal position and moans. Fade out.
Woe is me, thought Paul. What numbskulls these people are!
In the good old days, homelessness was not a curse but was a virtue to wise men. In those days, Confucius himself would sleep in the dirt with the crook of his arm as a pillow rather than work for the wrong prince. Some of the Greek wise men would not work for any prince or price, for they in Truth were already wealthy, powerful and free citizens of the Cosmos. As far as they were concerned, poverty consists in desiring things, in wanting fools’ gold instead of wisdom. And if poverty is a lack of temporal things, then, at least for Franciscans, Poverty is a Lady to be loved. Indeed, how can someone who is busy chasing after the things of the world become wise? Worldly people did not despise such wise men very much providing they did not get in the way. People even felt obligated to give them alms in India. But never mind: nowadays homelessness, or rather houselessness, is considered the worst of all curses, and homeless people are despised and feared as if they were Dr. Frankenstein’s monsters.
In any event, Paul Bowman is no young man today; and this is not the Sixties where bohemians took some pride in vagrancy; nor is it the Great Depression where hoboes had the comfort of numbers even though the bulls beat some of them to death for loitering. There is plenty of food and shelter to go around, but this is the day when everyone has the duty to work, even at the production of junk, trash and garbage, just to get something to eat and shelter from the elements and the spite of people who fear homeless people.
Paul once wondered why people in This Great Nation of Ours, Leader of World Civilization, have a duty to work but no right to work. He asked the president, “Why?” But of course, since Paul is still a nobody, not yet the greatest author in the world, he got no reply. He thought, If the almighty president himself cannot provide me even with a meaningless, wage-slavery job, why should I care about the president and his damaged Pentagon? Or, for that matter, the commercial system it protects? After all, it is a system that intentionally makes things scarce in order for the few to make enormous profits. But never mind that, Paul told himself, for I am willing to cooperate, even though the culo with the great job on television says six-percent unemployment is just right.
Paul is not lazy. As a matter of fact, he works up to 70 hours per week without pay. He wants to belong to society, even if that means holding down a meaningless job so he can do his meaningful work in his spare hours. Just as Ssu-ma suffered castration to complete his history, Paul is willing to kowtow to become the greatest author the world will ever know. Alas that he gave up his job for the American dream. Now alas that nobody presently wants his mind or body in any form, either at the drill press or adding machine, or at his writing desk. Yet again, he has not given up. He rejects homelessness as an alternative. He understands why another man in similar circumstances is planning suicide on Thanksgiving Day. And why not suicide instead of a slow death on the streets? where the false Christianity causing the problem wants to deprive people of their real opium? As Seneca said, “Do you like to be wretched? Live. Do you like it or not? It is in your power to return from whence you come.”
A man’s individual life is his last private refuge, Paul thought, and the state that makes suicide a crime commits the ultimate invasion of the liberty of privacy. How absurd it is that those who would kill each other in war would not allow a man to kill himself! Paul does not blame others or himself for his bad luck; he is not disposed to go on a killing spree at a useless employment office. But he loves his freedom and he does not want to be a despised houseless man without means even to continue with his beloved work. Therefore Paul, a true libertarian, has a marketing plan for his Last Day, the day the marshals are to evict him, if it comes to that.
Paul lives on a high floor from which he plans to take his last stand, and to jump to his death if push comes to shove. He has mounted a camera in order to broadcast his leap, live over the Internet, and also to record it elsewhere for posterity. He has composed another one of his brilliant essays to memorialize the tragic loss of the greatest author the world will ever or never know. The essay encourages talented artists to risk everything, even their lives, to live an artistic life. As has been noted, Paul detests marketing, perhaps because he unconsciously fears failure, yet now he is so convinced of the value of his work that he believes the filming of his death-defying leap, together with his last brilliant essay and his accumulated inventory, will be the very promotional scheme that will make him the greatest author the world has ever known to date.
— To Be Continued Maybe —