Sunday, March 4, 2012

The debate concerning the distinction between memory and imagination went on for less than two hours and brought no more light to the subject than if we had been discussing it in a cave. The one is very like the other, according to this way of looking at things (if you can call it looking rather than feeling about in the dark, with your fingers splayed and anticipating abrasion) except in terms of the strength of the impressions made. I disagree entirely with those (like Hume) who would have the first more powerful than the second. Let’s just say they have yet to open the refrigerator door and so don’t know what is liable to be hiding in the crisper. In a similar vein, I look away the moment my hand happens to clasp the hand of someone standing directly in front of me. Not because I lack confidence. I worry about the transference of viruses through the medium of warm and stagnant air. And I can’t imagine how this averting of the gaze could possibly harm anyone in the long run, though there can be no question of its offending in the short. Also, I frequently think maybe I’ll find ten dollars on the ground, as I did once twenty years ago. The man with the flimsy van dyke beard and the habit of rolling his r’s as if he’d been born in Barcelona had just barged in late and was waving his hands about wildly above his head, but the room had all but emptied out by that point and those who remained behind, a few clumsy bikers and a woman with the letter C emblazoned on her sweater, taunted him mercilessly. You would have thought they weren’t really human beings – in the noble sense, at least, the sense preferred by apologists for the species, the thinkers and cheerleaders who had a vested interested in making us see ourselves not in the light of the sun but the light cast by unsubtle fairy tales and hymns – but creatures so far beyond the pale, so bestially cruel, as to thwart any and all efforts to classify them. I tried to hide behind the mahogany bar because I was a coward, and even though I knew right from wrong, I didn’t really want anyone else to be aware of that fact. I wanted them to aim their attention elsewhere, even if in so doing, their red-hot attention wound up burning the skin off of whoever happened to get in the way. On this day, unfortunately, it was the man with the van dyke who had just come to warn us of the presence of a grizzly bear in the vicinity. An animal known to the locals as “Venerable Augustine” and tolerated because of its reluctance to charge. The next day, who knows, it might have been a child ordered to play outside with his sister and their friends in the neighborhood until the first street lights came on. Until they heard the strains of the stand-up bass emanating from the open windows of their home and knew that all was well again, that their parents were probably dancing arm-in-arm in the dining room or the kitchen and no more apt to notice their presence now underfoot than might the entwined serpents of Hermes’ caduceus.

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