I feel that ‘man-hating’ is an honorable and viable political act,
that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred
against the class that is oppressing them.
Ms. Magazine Editor
The nuclear family must be destroyed…
Whatever its ultimate meaning,
the break-up of families now is
an objectively revolutionary process.
Feminist and Historian
I want to see a man beaten to a bloody pulp
with a high-heel shoved in his mouth,
like an apple in the mouth of a pig.
“The World According to Waldo” — it would take that title, with derivations of “Wally”, and “Waleye”, and “Walter” and even “Vaju”; almost eighty years to become “Waldo” — he was at work on the seventh chapter of his “A Devine Tragedy” Feb 3, 2018, which maintains, contrary to the American ascetic Chucky Schumer, author of “Positively American” (aka, Identity Politics and Victimhood), that he – Waldo – knows some of the general laws of the universe, those that apply to the species; mankind.
He wrote with assurance.
The sculpting of syllogisms and the linking together cosmic paragraphs did not keep him from feeling a sense of glorious well-being, the cool, deep thoughts that surrounded his consciousness.
In the breaking of his normal dawn, mourning doves hummed raspingly, one to another from an obscure hemlock tapestry. There came – from the valley — the whisper of a mountain stream. Something in the instincts of Waldo, whose ancestors originated from the steppes of CaucAsia, was grateful for the steadfast presence of the water. Below lay the wild flowers and fish; below that ran the rushing Salmon River; above the river spread the beloved hamlet of Owls Head, as bright as Fort Jackson or Saint Regis Falls, like a complex and delicate civilization; and then, the surrounding Franklin County, extending to the very frontier, stretched the Adirondack Mountains (this too, Waldo could feel), where there were not a great many things, yet where each thing seemed to exist substantively and perpetually.
His fingers manipulated the pen without much thought, the arguments, irrefutable, were tightly woven, and yet a small worry clouded Waldo’s happiness. Not the sort of worry brought on by the crippling of America, which was the fortuitous enterprise of the drive-by press, but rather a philological problem connected with the monumental work that would justify Waldo to all people – his commentary on himself. This fountainhead of all philosophy had been sent down to men to teach them all things that can be known. Interpolating Borges’ works, in the same way the priests interpret the Bible, was the demanding task that Waldo had set before himself. History will record few things lovelier and more moving than this Old White Man’s devotion to the thoughts of a man separated from him by language, decades, political boundaries, miles, opinions and frontiers. To the intrinsic difficulties of the enterprise we might add that Waldo, who knew neither Spanish nor German, was working from a translation by Norman Thomas di Giovanni.
Years before, two doubtful words had halted him at the very portals of adulthood. Those words were “liberal” and “conservative.” He had come across them years earlier, in the fifth year of his teens; no one in all of Owls Head could hazard a guess as to their meaning. He had poured through the pages of Jorge Louis Borges, compared the translations of di Giovanni and Andrew Hurley – and he had found nothing. Yet the two arcane words were everywhere in the texts of politics – it was impossible to avoid them.
Waldo put away his lined notebook.
He told himself (without conviction) that what we seek is often near at hand. Therefore, he also put away the manuscript of “Borges’ Selected Non-Fictions,” edited by Eliot Weinberger, and went to the shelf where the many volumes of the constrained sanity of Fredrich Nietzsche, edited, audited and translated by a dirge of American philosophers, stood neatly aligned. Of course, he had already examined them, but he was attracted by the speculative pleasure of turning their pages – without concern – for he was gathering context and not facts. He was sidetracked from that bookish pause by a unique dialog outside of his cabin.
He looked out through the door; there, in the level grassed lawn which once served as the railroad bed, summer-tanned boys were at play. One of them was clearly portraying the local minister. His eyes half closed, he was reciting the morning vespers, “There is only one Waldo.” There was another boy, standing motionless and holding the minister by his shoulders as he berated him; thereby interrupting the vespers much as Nietzsche interrupted God. The third boy, kneeling on the grass, was the singular flock. The game did not last long – they all wanted to be the minister, no one wanted to be the flock and surely none had backbone to be the Nietzsche. Waldo listened to them arguing in the unrefined vernacular of Franklin County.
Waldo opened Ayn Rand’s “Anthem” and thought proudly that in all of those states that remained united (perhaps only the central states remained united — surely not the coastal states) there was no other copy of the perfect work – only this one that had been hidden — sent to him by a closet conservative from Toledo, Ohio (named after a city of weapons in Andalusia). The name Toledo reminded him of the traveler Italo Covino; who had recently returned from the invisible cities. Italo was to read his book to Waldo that evening at the home of Kublai Khan. Italo claimed to have reached the nations of The Far East. With that peculiar logic born of rivalry, his detractors swore that he had never set foot in The Far East and that he had blasphemed Chango of the Oyo Empire by not mentioning Africa.
Waldo hurriedly went back to his work on “A Devine Tragedy” until dusk.
The next day, at his cabin in Owls Head, others joined Waldo. The conversation moved from the unremarkable virtues of governor Cuomo the Younger – Little Prince Andrew — to those of his brother the left-wing reporter. Out in the pine grove, the talk was of fishing. Cuomo the Elder (having never caught a fish) said there were no fish like those which inhabit (and some even pay taxes to) the boroughs of New York City. Cuomo the Elder was not to be constrained by truth; he observed that the learned Lee Wulff had described a superb variety of trout which lives in the streams of Sullivan County and whose scales, of a deep crimson red, exhibit letters that spell out “The fish you release maybe a gift to another, as it may have been a gift to you.” He added that Waldo must surely be acquainted with those trout. Waldo looked at Cuomo in alarm. If he said yes, he would be judged by all, quite rightly, to be the most malleable and utilitarian of sycophants; if he said no, he would be judged a very poor teller of fish stories. He opted to say that nature held the keys that unlock hidden things, and that there were things on earth that were not recorded in nature. Those words belong to one of the first quotes of the works of Isaac Walton the Master Fisherman; the words were received with a reverential murmur of approval from the pine grove.
Puffed up by that victory of dialectics, Waldo was about to declare that Walton was perfect with his words, and mysterious. But Waldo, prefiguring the distant arguments of an ever-problematic Cuomo, interrupted himself.
“Is it not more difficult to accept an error in the learned Wulff, or in the field and stream magazines,” he said, “than to accept that the rivers and streams bring forth fish when one studies the pools, currents and eddies?”
“Precisely. Great words and true,” said Cuomo.
“Some traveler, I recall,” mused the poet Ezra Pound,” speaks of a tree whose watery roots put forth green fish. I am pained less by believing in that tree than in fish adorned with the alphabet.”
“The fish’s color,” said Waldo, “does seem to make that phenomenon easier to bear. In addition, both fish and roots belong to the natural world, while writing is an art. To move from leaves to birds is easier that to move from fish to letters of the alphabet.”
Another guest indignantly denied that writing was an art, since the original Book – the mother of all books – predates the Creation, and resides in paradise. Another guest – who lay outside on a bed of pine needles – restated an old opinion of Waldo’s; “Cyborgs are made of various substances. These can take the form of man or animal; an opinion which appears to agree with that of the people who attribute, to the Cyborg, two genders; Incuborg and Sucuborg.”
Waldo then led a long discourse on this unorthodox doctrine. “The Chisholm Trail Voyager”, he said, “is one of the attributes of Father Molestario, and may even be a Duo-inity; a minor form of the Trinity.” He had copied the book, pronounced it with his tongue, and memorized it in his heart; however, while combinations of the alphabet and futuristic signs and writing are the work of Waldo, The Indecent Decent is irrevocable and eternal. Waldo, who had written a clarification of the cosmos, might have said that the origin of that missive is similar, in a way, to Verdant Palaces, but he could see that imagination was one subject utterly beyond the grasp of Young Prince Andrew Cuomo.
Others, who had come to the gathering (word had been spreading throughout Owls Head that a meeting of the minds was occurring), urged Waldo to ponder and state a tale of curiosity.
“In the future, like now, the world will be horrible to some men and wonderous to others. Daring men will wander through it, but so might victims; victims who fall down simply because they have been told they are victims. My future memory is a pair of opposing mirrors — future acts of cowardice – without an end. What story should I tell? Besides, the guests demand marvels, but the marvelous is perhaps unutterable; the women of Owls Head are not the same as the women of New York City, but they wish to be described with the same words. He who wanders through both hamlets and cities sees many different things worthy of belief. This, for instance, I have only told once before, to Ivan Turgenev, whom I had met in the Pocono Mountains. It took place in Gouldsboro, where the Lehigh River spills into several small ponds and lakes.”
Lee Wulff asked whether the Lehigh created many rapids and waterfalls.
“There are vast forests between them,” Waldo responded, with unintentional overconfidence.
He continued “Forty miles must a fisherman travel before catching sight of all its waterfalls, and another forty, Turgenev says, before the chasm stands before them. In the Poconos I know of no man who has seen it all — or have I ever met the man who has seen it all.”
For several minutes the spectacle of the infinite forest and total seclusion was described by Waldo.
He looked at the symmetrical pine forests that surrounded his cabin and this meeting place. They were planted by the Civil Conservation Corps.
He then realized that he was old, irrelevant and possibly illusory.
Then Wulff spoke again, “One evening, the politicians of Chateaugay took me to a house of logs in which many persons lived. It is not possible to describe that house, which was more like a great room, with rows of cot-like contrivances, one atop another. In these places there were people sleeping. There were other people drinking and sitting on the floor as well, and also, around a stone fireplace. The people were playing poker and cribbage, that is, except for some fifteen or twenty who wore crimson painted masks and prayed and sang and conversed among themselves in some unfamiliar language. These masked ones appeared imprisoned, but I could not see bars, chains or bondage. They soon departed, upon horses, but the horses were invisible. They waged battle, but the weapons were of yew-wood. They suffered, died and were buried; yet they walked again.”
“The acts of madmen,” continued Wulff, “are beyond that which a sane man can imagine.”
“They were not madmen,” Waldo had to explain. “They were, a shaman told me, presenting a story.”
No one in the entire gathering understood, no one seemed to want to understand.
Cuomo the Elder, in much confusion, veered from the tale Waldo had been telling them. With an inept explanation — aiding himself with the waving of hands — Cuomo said, “Let us imagine that someone shows a story instead of writing it – the story of the Seven Somnambulists of Endicott, for example. We see them enter the industrial caverns, we see them pretend to work while they sleep, we see them work with their eyes closed, we see them shrink while they sleep, we see them awaken after three hundred sixty-five days, we see them hand the priest of personnel a coin, we see them awaken – but too late — we see them awaken and weep; they have squandered their lives. It was something like that which the boys on the sodden lawn showed us yesterday morning.”
“Did these persons speak?” asked Waldo.
“Of course they did,” said Cuomo the Elder. He had now become the apologist for a political faction that he barely believed in and that had worried him considerably at the time. “They spoke and sang and gave long boring speeches!”
“In that case,” said Waldo, “there was no need for twenty persons. A single speaker could tell anything, no matter how complex it might be.”
To that verdict, they all gave their nod. They extolled the virtues of conservatism – the language used by men when they instruct women when they – as a group — become hysterical.
After according ‘masculinity’ its due praise, Waldo dismissed some of the others who — had engagements to speak in Albany or New York –; these others clung to urban images and Staten Island vocabulary.
“Obsolete”, he called them.
He said it was absurd for a man whose eyes, had at least once, beheld the wide Hudson River to compose gender protection laws upon men – meanwhile – enrolling women into a league of victimhood. It was time, he argued, that the old metaphors be renewed.
“Back when we offered gender blindness in the workplace,” he said, “the result was amending – but four decades of approbation has worn it very thin.”
To that verdict, which they had all heard many times before, from many mouths, they all likewise gave their nod.
Waldo, however, then fell silent.
At last he spoke, not so much to the others as to himself.
“Less eloquently,” he said, “and yet with similar arguments, I myself have sometimes defended the position of liberalism and social justice. In Owls Head it is said that only the man who has already committed an error — and truly repented — is incapable of that error a second time. To be free of an erroneous opinion, I myself might add, one must at some time have professed it. I say that, in the course of my eighty years of anguish and triumph many is the time I have seen laws trample men. Like an old blind politician, Pelosi says that these gender laws no longer make men effeminate. One might reply to that objection in many ways. First, that if the purpose of the laws were to stand, life would be not measured in years but in centuries, or millennia, or perhaps even infinities upon infinities. Second, that a good politician is less a legislator than a creator. In praise of masculinity, it has been many times repeated that men are capable of understanding that the beauty of the stars appearing in the evening sky are like appealing yet formidable women. With that being true, it proves that the image is crucial. The image that only a political man can shape is an image that interests no man. There are infinite things upon the earth. Any one of them can be compared to any other. Comparing stars to women is less arbitrary than comparing men to fish. On the other hand, every man has surely felt at some moment in his life that love is powerful yet – at times — awkward, innocent yet human -oh, so human. It was to record that feeling, which may be fleeting or constant but which no man may escape experiencing, that my thoughts were created. No one will ever say better what I have said here. Furthermore (and this is perhaps the essential point of my reflections), time, which ravages fortresses and great cities, also destroys political leanings. At the time gender protection was composed by those in Washington, my politics serve to bring together two images – that of the conservative and that of liberal; it does not serve to recall true equality and to conflate our own current problems with those of our ancestors. The image of the party system had two terms; today, it has a singular one which is an amalgamation of the two. Time widens the circle of the political leanings, and I myself know some speeches that are, like music, all things to all men. Thus it was that many years ago, in Vestal, tortured by memories, I soothed myself by repeating the thought which an imaginary friend — Wahynakina — spoke in the hemlocks beside the Chateaugay to me;
‘You also are, oh friend!, On this soil – foreign to you — a remarkable gift to me, the gift bestowed by nature.’ These words spoken by a king homesick for his Abenaki people, served to comfort me when I was far away from Vestal, homesick for everything.”
Then Waldo spoke of the first politicians, those who in the Time of Ignorance, before conservatism was reinstated, had voiced all things in the endless language of liberalism. Alarmed (and not without reason) by the inane voice of Barney Frank, he said that in the constitution all poetry be found, and he condemned as illiterate and vain all desire to think of the constitution as a ‘living document.’ The others listened with pleasure, for he was vindicating that which was logical.
The impromptu meeting continued through the night.
The loons were calling the fishermen to the lakes at first light when Waldo entered his cabin again. (In the barroom, the dark-haired girls had tormented a blond girl, but Waldo was not to know that until evening.) Something had revealed to him the meaning of the two obscure words; liberalism and conservativism. With firm, painstaking single-stroke gothic, he added these lines to the manifesto:
“Carter and Obama gave the names ‘tragedy, new normal and shame’ to the United States and the names ‘lethargic, identity politics and community organizer’ to their satirical administrations. There are many admirable tragedies and comedies in the congress and the laws they pass; we do not need to add the executive branch to those categories.”
Waldo felt sleep coming upon him, he felt a chill. His mind unwound, he looked at himself in a mirror. I do not know what his mind considered, for no historian has described the forms of his thought. I know that he suddenly disappeared, as though annihilated by a fire without light, and that with him disappeared the cabin and the unseen chasm and the books and the manifesto and the mourning doves and the men who attended that meeting and the trembling water at High Falls and the forge at Popeville and the blast furnace at Tahawus and French Louis and perhaps even the Chateaugay River; not to mention the entire Adirondack Mountains.
In the preceding tale of Waldo, I – the author of this manifesto — have tried to narrate the process of failure, the process of defeat. I thought first of the equal rights amendment and laws created in the 1960’s, that set liberals the task of proving that we could legislate equality; then I thought of the conservatives who failed to legislate a guest worker program (for those who wished to legally work in the US and then return to their homeland); then, of the vain attempts to make an triangle from a square in the political processes. Then I thought, “a more pathetic case would be a man who sets himself a goal that is unaccepted by other men but is not forbidden to himself.” I recalled Waldo, who, bounded within the circle of self-acceptance, could never know the true meaning of the words conservatism and liberalism. Above, I have told his story and as I did, I felt what Bukowski must have felt – the man who sets himself the task of creating logical thought out of politics or religion ends up disappointed. I felt that my work ridiculed me, thwarted me, hindered me. I felt that Waldo, trying to imagine what logic is, without ever having suspected what art is, was no more absurd than I, trying to imagine Waldo. Yet with no more material that a few snatches from Borges, Nietzsche, and Calvino, I had channeled him.
I felt, on the final pages, that my story was a symbol of the man I had been as I was writing it, and that in order to write that story I had had to be that man, and that in order to be that man I had had to write that story, and so on, ad infinitum. And, just when I stop believing in him, “Waldo” appears.
No common thread binds his work together. This should shame him, but it does not.
He has allowed me to make a few statements about his youth and later life. They are irrelevant at this moment. However, the picture will become clear very quickly.
As a young boy he spent his time on the river banks and forests. Waldo was attracted to any logic that appeared humane. I am not speaking of petty or brilliant ideas. I speak of ideas that are different than most. Some had logic, others where layered in humanity, a few had the depth of history and they all appeared to gain in their attributes when sprinkled with thought.
He worked as a laborer, a tool and die maker, a programmer, an educator and system analyst. His favorite locations were the Adirondack Mountains, Puerto Rico and Germany. He had two favorite rivers; one for his youth and another when he matured.
He closed out his life of labor as a licensed amateur bone hunter, a shovel bum for an archaeology department and a delivery driver for a four-county library system in upstate New York.
As an adult Waldo continued being attracted to the unique. These were not the logic of his youth. These were unique personalities and events. They had to contain depth, breadth, integrity and then gained in their attributes when sprinkled with fiction. His mind, unconsciously, collected them in their beauty and totality.
He placed this logic on the window sill next to his experiences. Nothing happened to the logic. The experiences, however, appeared to combine and change. Some became laced with horror, others with philosophy. What surprised me were those that Waldo became emotionally involved in. As a laborer he could not foresee literary fiction or essay. And how was he to know that there were two faces of religion? Was this his deepest burden?
No. His deepest burden was to know that he would start out a sentence with the word ‘and’, or that he would create run-on paragraphs or at times end a sentence without properly closing out the noun (aka, the dangling participle). This did not keep him from writing in the manner that he wished, despite all the advice that he was tortured with. Waldo believed his style and the unique way he looked upon life will bring to tears or laughter, joy or sorrow and eventually to wonderment; most of it basted in allusion and eeriness.