"Time is the cellmate who sodomizes us all."
"What's that, Pop?" Tall, dark-haired and tatted, Ronnie Greenway entered the room carrying a fresh pot of coffee in one hand and handful of Hazelnut creamers in the other."
"You heard me."
"Yeah, but it's a kind of a gross allusion, Pop. That's very unlike you."
"You don't think that what time does to us can be viewed as being gross?"
Ronnie knew that his father was trying to get him to talk about his mother's death the previous winter. Although divorced, his father had been there when the coroner had came and placed his beloved Julia in bag, put her on a gurney and wheeled her out the door. Ronnie was in no mood to talk about it though; he had been there too. "Yeah, I hear that, but I don't know what you're getting at. Time sodomizes us; what's your point?"
Noah Greenway, an aging, white-haired, blue-eyed man wearing black horn-rimmed glasses and dressed in a blue work shirt, white sox, and some faded blue jeans, was sitting in a large, comfortable brown leather reading chair. He was reading a new hard-back book when his t-shirt and blue jean clad son entered the room, so he closed the book and placed it on a battered oak coffee table that had seen its share of use. He carefully stirred a couple of Hazelnut creamers into his coffee and took a sip before answering, "Just thinking out loud. I've been reading this new book where the author is arguing that the continued use of the narrative arc in the writing of novels is an outmoded, unnecessary, and a limiting device. She offered up a list of other formats such as meandering, radial, or fractal that she thinks would serve just as well. It made me think that she's missing the point about the importance of the time element involved which led to the metaphor I just used."
"Did you come up with that on your own just now?
"Just popped in my head right when I said it. I'm surprised you can't see the light bulb still suspended over my head."
"Cool. So, I take it you don't agree?"
"No, I don't. Listen to this, while she's referencing the elements of fiction she says 'character, plot, place, etc.' Notice what she did there?"
"She failed to mention time as being part of the setting."
"Exactly. That tells me she knows."
"Knows what? That time is a cellmate that sodomizes us all? Who is it that drops the soap in the shower in that deal?"
"Don't get smart, asshole. It tells me she know the weakness of her argument. Setting is always getting the short shrift in fiction, always placed in the background and treated like a stage prop. In reality, time is the principal element that propels the story forward creating the tension and need for the arc. Most people have a tendency to ignore the fact that it is time located in a particular place that determines the meaning of the story. Everything in material existence has a beginning a middle and an end. Hell, even the act of reading a novel follows the narrative arc, as does cooking eggs or drinking coffee. The examples she gives to support her argument sound about as interesting as a travelogue."
Ronnie placed a blue porcelain plate loaded with bacon and scrambled eggs down on the coffee table in front of his father then went and sat down in a green easy chair at the western end of the table. "I think she's just trying to say it makes no sense in placing limitations on an art form, I mean, there's always other options; why just choose one. Seems that I remember that it was always you pushing the idea of transcendence on us and reminding us that time as we know it is actually a human construct."
"So is literature, a human construct I mean. I pushed it on you and your siblings because society does a horrible job of helping us understand our relationship with an infinite universe. I understand, Son that time is a human construct, and infinity is the ultimate reality. You can do a lot of different things to change the form of a novel, you can meander, you can spiral it out, you can divide shit up, but you can't get away from the fact that we come into this world, we live, and we die."
"Yeah but, Dad, remember what you always say about eternity and the infinite universe. Our lives are seemingly little more than flyspecks on God's gigantic home movie screen."
Noah chuckled, "Goddamn this is good bacon. Where did you get it, Caldwell's?"
"No, Lawsons. It's a new place over there on Vine and Bellrose."
"It's great. I'll have to try that place. You can read the newspaper through a piece of Caldwell's bacon." He took another sip of coffee before he continued, "No son, that's a very good point you make. And if that's what she really means, she's on to something. It would definitely change how we relate to world if we all thought in terms of the infinite, but we don't think in those terms. We can't, at least not for long. As we are now, it would freeze our brains or fracture our consciousness into a thousand pieces. It's what Christ was talking about when he mentioned the impossibility of pouring new wine into old bottles. Besides, all those alternate forms she mentions also take place in time. These alternate forms she's talking about, if that is what she's doing, would also be contained in the narrative arc. In fact, the story of how to obtain a more inclusive visions of reality is itself guided by the narrative arc."
"Well for one thing, it is what climactic moment of a story actually represents, the sudden epiphany, the sudden and all encompassing transformation of the hero. Narrative at its most primal story is the recognition of mankind's true condition, understanding of our real place in the infinite universe is what the ultimate climax represents. That's why in most movies it is usually accompanied by lightning storms, windows breaking, bullets, screaming, or car crashes, things that represent the shattering of the old, pre-illumined Ego. I believe that literature is secretly a ritual created to convey the idea of the Great Myth to a mass audience beneath the prying eyes of the Church. The irony of the author's position, is if she did managed to convince people of the truth of her argument, she would be actually be getting rid of the very ritual that kept that myth alive."
"Yeah, Pop, but we're not in the Dark ages anymore. I don't know if you noticed or not, the Church has lost its stranglehold on our consciousness."
The comment made the old man almost project the drink of coffee he was taking out of is nose, "Man, I call bullshit on that one! The Church's grip has morphed into the prison constructed of cold hard rationality, a rationality that for some reason prefers we forget the reality of the infinite. These empirically driven scientists are the new inquisitors, thinking that'll someday they'll be able to explain infinity by studying a small piece of it."
The young man shrugged. "Yeah, whatever, Pop. I'm not going to argue with you. Not to change the subject, but do you remember that time you sent Hannah a framed copy of Howl for her birthday? I thought homegirl was going to blow a gasket."
"I thought she was never going to speak to me again. I also remember the time when she came in my study without knocking and caught me reading from a book of Bukowski's poems. Hannah takes after her mom, I guess. Your mother wouldn't even let me have a copy of Henry Miller in the house. I had to hide them in a cardboard box in the attic behind a framed poster of Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg."
"Miller? The Beats? You and mom both taught the Classics, Pop. Do you really like that stuff?"
"I appreciate beauty of a well turned phrase wherever it comes from; listen to this. I wrote it down; it's from Bukowski, '
'There's so many days
when living stops and pulls up and sits
like a train upon the rails.'
Ronnie nodded, "That is pretty good. The way I see it is Mom spent a lot of years mastering the knowledge needed to get her doctorate, and she didn't appreciate people like Miller, Ginsberg and Bukowski coming along and ripping the ground out from it all with all that stream of consciousness and free verse stuff."
The old man stood and went and a took cigar out of a humidor on the bookshelf behind him. He offered one to his son who declined. He performed the ritual of lighting it and returned to his seat puffing on the cigar.
"Yeah, but she loved James Joyce." He shook his sadly. "There was no figuring what was going on inside that woman's head. That's why we divorced. Ronnie, do you remember when Sophie and I got into that big argument the last time?"
"Yeah, I remember she didn't talk to you for quite a while. What was that all about."
"Talk to me, hell, she didn't even invite me to the ceremony when she got her Masters, and it was all over her masters project. It was a multi-media presentation about Medusa, and knowing your sister, I knew she was going to make it into a feminist statement, and I warned her that she should not do that."
"I told her the Greeks would not understand. To them mythology was the way they considered the whole enchilada. They wouldn't dare to profane mythology trying to use it to make political arguments. What I didn't know that she was almost done with the project and that her advisors had loved it."
"I don't know, Pop. It seems like you can make anything fit into a political argument these days."
"Doesn't make it right though. Besides, I don't think that was the real issue. I think she was hell bent on making a point about the evils of the Patriarchy, and I don't think she believed it was fair of her to attack the Patriarchy and not attack her own patriarch. She threw me under the bus in the presentation and didn't want me to be there to see it."
"Shit. That's fucked up. I mean unless it was her relationship with you where she gathered the power of her argument. Do you know that for sure?"
The old man nodded. "Yeah, she also blamed me for killing your mother."
"Killing mom? Mom had brain cancer. How the fuck does she blame you for that?"
The old man shrugged, "How the hell should I know? I'm just an old man, make that a foolish old man who has never been able to fathom in the least all of the mysteries of womanhood. I loved your mother with all my heart, yet never understood her in the least. Your sister cared for her as she was dying and listened to all her complaints but lacked my ability to decode what her mother was really saying."
He looked at his son's mouth hanging open and knew he would have to explain things further, "Your mother wanted me to more like the man her father and her brothers were. She wanted a lawn mowing, furniture fixing, house painting, pick-up driving, bitch slapping, hard drinking, poker playing, God-fearing, bonafide HE man, and I wasn't any of that."
"Mom? You're saying that my mother, the classic loving professor of English literature, secretly desired a Stanley Kowalski to come in and slap her around some?"
"That's where the decoding comes in, Son. Your mother wanted to move to a cabin in the mountains where we could sit around a fire, ski in the winters, and have picnics at the lake in the summers."
"And, what's wrong with that?"
"Nothing, besides the fact that none of the rest of us wanted that life. We're all book people, theater goers, movie critic types. Besides it's not what she really wanted at all."
"I'm confused, Pop."
"What she really wanted was for someone to take the burden of dealing with the decline of her parents off of her shoulders. She was the baby of the family and they left it up to her. She couldn't really blame it on her siblings, so her anger fell on me."
"Well, why does Hanna think that it was your fault?"
"Well, for one thing, I could have been lot more helpful. I should have helped her more. I was having my own crisis of identity. She kept comparing me to her father and her brothers, and I kept agreeing that I didn't come off looking too good in that comparison. Hell, I never believed I measured up to my own dad."
"Pop, Grandpa Moses and Grandpa Joe neither one of them had an eighth grade education. You earned a PhD at one of the most renowned universities in the world. You teach at one of the most elite universities in the world. What you are talking about is like comparing apples to oranges. That's absurd reasoning."
"Yeah, that's what I try to tell myself, but when I'm all alone at night, left with the memories of the those last few years, a voice keeps saying, 'Not apples and oranges, Mano y Mano. Your grandpas were men of action. Men who were not afraid of bleeding when blood was the required medium of exchange."
"You are way too hard on yourself, Dad. All we can do is try and do our best. You guys are okay now aren't you? I mean, she had some kind things to say about that last review you published."
"Yeah. As long as I keep my mouth shut about certain things. Besides, if a father gave up on the relationship with his children every time one of them broke his heart, he'd end up a lonely old fart."
"Or like Mom."
The old man frowned and wiped a wisp of his long gray hair behind his ear, looked up at his son and almost whispered, "Exactly."
The conversation halted for a moment. The son watched as the old man's eyes drifted off into the past. His father had told him once that the saddest moment of his life was when his wife was crying over something that one of the girls had said and for the first time in their relationship, he couldn't make her smile, couldn't pull her out of the sadness. "I knew then I'd lost my magic," he'd told his son, "and I knew she was over me too."
The need to brush his ash off into the large, black marble ash tray brought his father back into the room. "Everything we know is false because we judge it without any true understanding of the Cosmos."
"I don't know, Pop. I remember what you said about Vogelin and the idea of Metaxy, for any artistic creation to stand the test of time it must reference the transcendent nature of the universe. I assume that's true of life as well."
"Don't be vague, such as?"
"Say for the sake argument, painting the Mona Lisa, composing 23rd Piano Sonata in F Major, recording Shelter from the Storm,, Sophocles's Oedipus at Colonus, Jung's Modern Man in Search of a Soul, building a house from scratch, running a trucking company, teaching the young how to understand what Dante was saying, need I go on?"
"Smart ass. I noticed you left out Fred Gibson's Old Yeller."
Ronnie smiled, "Don't make fun of Gibson, Pop. You know that's my favorite book. Well, tell me, what are you going to write about that lady and her book?"
"I already told you."
"Time is the cellmate that sodomizes us all."
"I like it. Especially the way you use the prison cell as the part of the setting, but you still didn't answer who it was that dropped the soap."
"If you're trying to get me to say that it was God's soap, you're wasting your time."