Conversation with Voltaire c.2016

Voltaire

T: You ask what is tolerance? Tolerance is an objective.

V: It is the natural attribute of humanity. We are all formed of weakness and error: let us pardon reciprocally each other’s folly.[1]

T: Easy for you to say. Things are tense here. You’re dead. I have a daughter now. The world is more confusing each month. I pace indoors, my mind a temple of intensity. Sleep is a luxury I cannot afford. I’d rather study and write—do my part to help solve our problems. Thus I look to sages like you for guidance.

V: It is said the present gives birth to the future. Events are linked to each other by an invisible fate.[2]

T: If this is a renaissance, it’s a morbid portent. It is as if the world is sick. America itself is ill with pervasive discontent.

V: There is no other remedy for this epidemic illness than the spirit of free thought, which, spreading little by little, finally softens men’s customs, and prevents the renewal of the disease.[3]

T: I agree, and in light of current events, in which communities of peace officers roam American neighborhoods like armies, in which whites can’t even agree that or are afraid to exalt that BLACK LIVES MATTER, another remedy beyond free thought is respect for our fellow men and women and the infinite potential inside them, for as you once wrote, “We should say to every individual: Remember thy dignity as a man!”[4] For I wake each morning and read the newspaper and often I cannot sit. I am physically pained at what I read.

V: This feeling of pain is indispensible to stimulate us to self-preservation. If we never experienced pain, we should be every moment injuring ourselves without perceiving it.[5]

T: Fanaticism has kidnapped the minds of men and women. Since we invented religion we have murdered in the name of it, and we continue to do so. Such fanaticism has spread into the political realm. Anger and fear dominate. People are afraid that if they don’t assert their convictions, they will be victimized. Moderation has evaporated in the overabundant breath of rhetoric. The people’s politics are exclusive rather than inclusive, derisive rather than unifying. History has shown us that such moments are regrettable.

V: Show these fanatics a little geometry, and they learn it quite easily. But strangely enough their minds are not thereby rectified. They perceive the truths of geometry, but it does not teach them to weigh probabilities. Their minds have set hard. They will reason in a topsy-turvy way all their lives and I am sorry for it.[6]

T: I’m not sorry for them. They get what they deserve. In America they only have two choices, candidates who appear at first glance to be siblings: A woman who, according to federal investigators, has been “extremely careless with information” at her privileged disposal, and a man who has been openly and dangerously intolerant of people that do not look or think like him. They pander and feed the public narcotic doses of false promise. These are perhaps the most tepid of charges against them.

V: So tell me, you who have travelled, who have read and observed, in which state, under what kind of government would you have liked to be born?[7]

T: I wave no flag and never will. I would have liked to be born WITH a government rather than UNDER one. The older I become, the more oppressive the weight of that government, the more necessary to shrug it from atop me.

V: Laws have proceeded in almost every state, from the interest of the legislator, from the urgency of the moment, from ignorance, from superstition, and have been made at random, irregularly, just as cities have been built.[8] In general, the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one part of the citizens to give to the other.[9]

T: I’m afraid the stakes are much higher than money. Western culture’s priorities are grossly misaligned. Emphasis is erroneously placed on sports and entertainment and the people are utterly disengaged until a horror seizes their attention.

V: But where are they to be found who will dare speak out?[10]

T: They’re everywhere, unfortunately. What they have to say is often more harmful than helpful. I dare speak, but who will listen? For “it is far better to be silent than to increase the quantity of bad books.”[11]

V: It is impossible for society to subsist unless each member pays something toward the expenses of it, and everyone ought to pay.[12]

T: Yes, but “try to arouse activity in an indolent mass, to inspire a taste for music and poetry in one who lacks taste and an ear, and you will no more succeed than if you undertook to give sight to the blind.”[13] In people’s certainties of their beliefs, they stop searching and their ideas stagnate, become a cesspool. They are certain of their beliefs and that is enough; little else matters.

V: If you’d asked the entire world before Copernicus if the sun rose and set that day, everyone would have answered: We are absolutely certain of it. They were certain, and they were mistaken.[14]

T: All the more important that “[we] boldly and honestly say: How little it is that I truly know!”[15] Rather than shout their beliefs over another’s, why do they not close their mouths and listen? Why do they accuse rather than acknowledge?

V: This is the character of truth: it is of all time, for all men, it only has to show itself to be recognized, and one cannot argue against it: A long dispute means that both parties are wrong.[16]

T: So “who shall decide between these fanatics? The reasonable, impartial man who is learned in a knowledge not of words, the man free from prejudice and the lover of truth and justice—in short, a man who is not a foolish animal, and who does not think he is the angel.”[17] As I said, I look to you, but you were no angel. Harsh words against Muslims and Jews populate your texts.

V: It takes 20 years for a man to rise from the vegetative state in which he is in his mother’s womb to the state when the maturity of reason begins to appear. It has required 30 centuries to learn about his structure. It would need an eternity to learn something about his soul.[18] In the land of where the monster reigns, almost everyone is blind.[19]

T: I wonder what I do not see. Monsters abound in plain sight. Each week strikes a new terror worst than the last.

V: If there were only two men on Earth, how would they live together? They would assist each other, annoy each other, court each other, speak ill of each other, fight each other, be reconciled to each other, and neither be able to live with nor without each other.[20]

T: Some fighting is understandable, but why so freely kill each other? Across the world innocents are murdered as a means to an end, to espouse a statement or idea. Why not verbalize those statements and ideas? Why the fear of black men on behalf of the American police? And why the murderous retaliation upon the police when such actions force us retreating backward?

V: It is forbidden to kill.[21] To murder our brethren, can there be anything more horrible throughout nature?[22] We are told that human nature is perverse, that man is born a child of the devil, and wicked. Nothing could be more foolish. You are all born good. Witness how dreadful it is to corrupt the purity of your being. All mankind should be dealt with as all men individually.[23]

T: Still, there is too much. At times I am beaten down with it.

V: There is infinitely less wickedness on Earth than we are told or believe there is. There is still too much, no doubt. A melancholy mind which has suffered injustice sees the Earth covered with damned people.[24]

T: I don’t see them as damned. But “more than half the habitable world is still peopled with humans who live in a horrible state approaching pure nature, existing and clothing themselves with difficulty, scarcely enjoying the gift of speech, scarcely perceiving that they are unfortunate, and living and dying almost without knowing it.”[25] I’d like to help them find their voices. I’d like to level the playing field.

V: As men have received the gift of perfecting all that nature has granted them, they have perfected love.[26]

T: They have not perfected love. They have not perfected anything. Perfection does not exist. Perhaps it is all we can do to continue down this path of inquiry and reflection. Rest not, my dead friend. Your ideas are wide awake and eager for an audience. The fire burns inside me so it must burn elsewhere.

July 2016

 

Works

Besterman, Theodore, editor. Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary, Penguin Books, 1972.

DuMont, E.R, editor. Philosophical Dictionary, from The Complete Works of Voltaire in 43 Volumes, St. Hubert Guild, 1901.

Redman, Ben Ray, editor. The Portable Voltaire, Viking Penguin, 1949.

 

[1] Redman, 212.

[2] Besterman, 109.

[3] Besterman, 203.

[4] Redman, 228.

[5] DuMont, vol. IX, page 265.

[6] Besterman, 189.

[7] Besterman, 192.

[8] Redman, 224.

[9] Redman, 225.

[10] Redman, 224.

[11] Redman, 223.

[12] DuMont, vol. X, page 174.

[13] Besterman, 76.

[14] Besterman, 106.

[15] Redman, 225.

[16] Redman, 198.

[17] Redman, 198.

[18] Redman, 160.

[19] Redman, 162.

[20] DuMont, vol. XIII, page 104.

[21] DuMont, vol. XIII page 106.

[22] DuMont, vol. XIV page 198.

[23] DuMont, vol. XIV page 215.

[24] Dumont, vol. XIV page 219.

[25] Redman, 225.

[26] Besterman, 30.

on Nietzsche

Flaming youth

…Nietzsche wished to make a rule of the exception. The higher self becomes the measuring stick against which human life is evaluated. To realize his potential, man must struggle such that his higher self may rule. One seeks, in other words, to extend the time one lives in a state of inspiration…The feeling of inspiration, of a heightened sense of power, is attainable only when the soul rises above itself…Whoever demands greatness from himself is subject to unending inner struggle…

Leslie Paul Thiele, Nietzsche and the Politics of the Soul

group discussion

burninglight

The room began to burn around them and the oldest of them said, So what are the prevailing themes of the work. So far, I mean. If it’s not too early in the story.

The other three looked to the flames spreading quickly about them, orange and yellow and red pulsing light and heat. Billowing flames upon the wide raftered ceiling and floor and white walls. They sat in silence and studied the force of the flames and then they dropped their heads into the text, scanning mindlessly, listening to the fire snap and lick carnally at their world. They tried to remember what the oldest one had just said and couldn’t and then what.

I know it’s early, she said. But surely we can identify at least one thematic element.

The flames carried a truth of their own, a rogue life force born of circadian breath and sustained by thought, thrust outward to the realm of awareness, attacking each of their senses and spreading violence and destruction and misunderstanding. Regeneration. Someone cleared their throat and the flames grew larger and doubled in heat, smoke whirling mad cyclonic threats about their heads.

Violence, said the second one. Violence is a theme, I think. He had to shout to be heard over the growl and whine of the spreading fire.

Please explain.

Well, um, he said, trying not to focus on the dancing fire but the topic at hand, the discussion. Not just overtly, he said, With the brutal beating at the beginning of part one and the shooting there at the end of part two. But also the implicit violence. The interaction between characters. There’s violence in the language, the dialogue, even without being profane. Especially without being profane. The author has chosen to create a dialogue of what seems to be constant agitation between parties.

Hmm, yes. Interesting.

And darkness. Darkness also seems to be a prevailing theme, I think, though I’m not quite sure how yet.

I was thinking of that too, said the third one, flames lapping at her legs. Her face was wet with sweat, hair matted to her forehead in knotted clumps. There’s obviously something complicated going on here with the use of light and dark, she said, Illumination and shadow. It’s like a dichotomy, like the author is using light and darkness to set up some kind of dichotomy.

Between what. Give us an example.

And the entire room was burning now, flames affronting physical and metaphysical laws alike and consisting not of individual bodies of flames but of one churning mechanism roaring godlike and ferocious and the people of the room watched transfixed with the glittering vortex tattooed onto their dark pooling irises amid the sounds of crashing wood and stone and screaming steel.

Well, for instance, said the third one. The narrator’s not really explaining anything he sees on the highway other than what’s revealed in the Cadillac’s lights. It’s almost like nothing really exists on the Highway Six unless it’s bathed in light.

Okay, yes. I see. Hmm. Interesting, yes.

It’s about revelation. I think. And the highway itself is very intriguing, said the second one. The highway itself is a character. There’s something very strange and fabular going on here, I think. I hope we’ll encounter more as the story progresses.

Well the story is named after the highway, said the oldest one. So I imagine the narrator will get around to enlightening us before long.

The ceiling crashed down around them, sparks and flames shooting up into a black void, deep chaotic vibrato and a loud hiss of smoke and pressure being sucked upward into the hole.

I think it’s too early for theme, shouted the fourth one, the skin of his arms bubbling in the heat. His hair was on fire, his eyes glowing red and orange with swirling rings of white. But symbol, he shouted. There are symbols galore. The Cadillac is a symbol, I think. It’s a transporter, a protector. I mean, the only time we haven’t seen what’s happening are the times when our narrator is in the car, driving. We don’t get to know his thoughts, his doubts. This is when the world slows down enough for him to think, to assess his world and situation, and we’re not even there.

Excluded.

Yes, but if this is a coincidence or on purpose, we don’t know.

Everything in literature is on purpose.

This narrator, anger rules his world, said the fourth one, and then his body was swallowed in heat and glow, liquid flame of autonomy, his former body impossible to distinguish from the rest of the throbbing blaze.

We’re not even real, the oldest one said, and then nobody said anything, they all sat watching the blaze reach its howling culmination of size and depth and menace and they listened to its biblical crash and wail and they felt the heat abate as the walls fell away into black, total black surrounding them above and below and layers upon layers of dark nothing through to the very core of the universe and they all were able to breathe and all was so very silent as to hear one’s heart beating somewhere in the heaving cocoon of their chests, so very human and fragile.

Part two seemed to have a small meditation on police, or being a policeman, or the perception people have of policemen. Or something. This was the second one speaking again. She had her head in the text, a lone finger probing a page in repose, back and forth, back and forth, her eyes following the finger’s march through words and phrases and thoughts and messages both innocuous and incendiary. Trying to recapture a message or image burned forever into her mind with the power that only the written word possesses. Silence engulfed them. Playground of gods, landscape of the cosmos. Black on blackest. Infinite clarity.

What type of police officer is this narrator, the first one asked.

A complicated one, said the third one.

No, I mean a good cop or a bad cop.

He’s obviously a bad cop.

I think he’s a good cop, said the second one.

Maybe he’s a conflicted cop, said the Author.

You can’t do that, said the oldest one. It’s against the rules. Or something.

The interpreters interpret, said the Author. They do this because they cannot create. The creators just create. They do this because this is what they do.

Someone tell him we’re not discussing theory.

So you write for readers, then?

Who said that, said someone.

What are you trying to do, what are you trying to prove.

Who’s that speaking, who just spoke right then.

Why don’t you ask the creator, the Author said.

The silence

word-blur

She said that she had looked up to the sky in the dark wasteland to the shimmering lights of energies distant and ineffable and what she imagined was the very sum of all the things her mind could render. I spoke to her years later amid fragrant seaside discourse during an evening of food and wine and the amiable company of friends and intellectual neighbors and I asked her what had been the most cherished moment of her adult life and she tried to explain it to me vividly: that night long ago and her standing beneath the stars painted on blackness everlasting somewhere in the vast American desert, hands in her pockets and no sounds but those she conjured and felt in her toes through the vibration of the dusted earth. I asked her what was so seminal about the moment and she was silent for a long time staring off into some candle flame or inner reflection and then she broke from her reverie and regarded me with an expression of total indifference and said, I’ll always be incapable of explaining the significant moments in my life, however small and seemingly trivial they are to others, and that was one of those moments. Then she drained her glass of wine and leaned back against the wrought-iron chair and looked away from me to the dark cresting hills at the island’s elbow with the sound of night waves crashing upon the moon-paled beach behind her, dark eyes shadowed but glistening with tears. She refrained from looking at me or uttering any word in my direction for the rest of the evening, even when the oculoid moon crawled from one end of the sodden navy sky to the other and when the waves of the sea failed to rest upon the hour of their programmed repose and when our friends dispersed drunk and flaccid to their own nests and the dreams therein, and even when I walked her back to her room at the villa in our shared silence, my head oscillating from the flickering lights of town to the restless black water foaming at our feet. I wanted to tell her I understood but I knew that a woman enraptured by the sentiments of certain memories is an impenetrable emotive force. I stopped at her door and she passed through it without regard for me or my considerations or the steady rhythmic clock of the universe rolling its omniscient eyes at such petty human ruminations.

The next morning I awoke tremulous and sweating from some dream I couldn’t recall and there were sounds of rain and people scurrying about in the square. I stepped into some clean clothes and opened my door to see what was happening, the rain falling heavily like a translucent screen, boiling sore of the world opened up and electric gray throughout. There were three men carrying the woman out of her room supine and motionless with a white sheet draped over her while other women huddled about trying to keep the sheet dry. People bowed their heads in prayer and a lone dirge echoed throughout the square in the rain and I looked down to them transfixed as the men placed the woman in a van and drove her away, mud slinging from the tires like the bloody pigment of the earth, the deep wounds left by the tires quickly flooded again by the torrent. I closed the door and my room fell dark and cold and so I called the woman’s room and listened for hours to the empty line ring until the rain ceased its barrage in the square, and the people came out of their rooms at dusk with candles aloft and flickering in the gray mist, water dripping from the rooftops. I stood from my window and watched them and tried to remember what the woman looked like or even her name but I could remember nothing other than her long and bitter silence the night before. And standing there gazing down upon the darkening world and the people of the square hovering about somnolent and wraithlike I understood the woman’s last words with a clarity proportionate to the white moon hanging dry and sagacious behind thinning silvery wisps of rainclouds.

Testimony

ecrasezburn1

I parked the van in the alley behind the building and went in the back door. The bar smelled like hickory and smoke, rich autumn sunlight flooding the place. There was no one there, or at least that’s what I thought. I walked around the bar and poured myself a glass of orange juice and stood there drinking in the morning silence, languid dust particles shoaling in the sunbeams.

“Where’s the stuff?” I heard someone say. I looked toward the end of the room on the right and saw Sal leaning forward on the bar, smiling, his bald head gleaming and slick and tracked by veins.

“The place looks good, Sally,” I said, and drained the juice. “You ought to lock it.”

Sal came back behind the bar and we shook hands and hugged. We stood there for a while holding each other at the elbow, two old friends frozen in the aging light of morning and studying one another’s age spots, the wrinkles and other flaws fashioned by gravity and time. He was much older and he didn’t look well. I tried to put his appearance into context, weigh it against my memories of him as a young man, flamboyant and indestructible. To stare into his eyes long bereft of their luster and see the irrefutable residue of his strain, the effects of life’s bitter charm, his youthful gloss wiped clear away and replaced with irony, it made me wonder how bad I looked.

“How long you been here?”

“You’re the first person I come to see, Sally.”

“Followed?”

“They’re listening now, I guarantee.”

Sal grunted and picked up the bar phone and dialed a number. He muttered a few words into the receiver and hung up and said, “Let’s go.”

We walked out to the alley awash in fluid morning hues and I swung open the back doors of the van. Sal looked up and down the alley and shuffled his feet and neither of us said anything. I climbed in and pulled the two suitcases toward the rear of the van and got back out, stealing a cigarette from my jacket pocket and lighting it and then snapping open the suitcases one after the other, the objects inside coming to life as if illumined from within, deep reds and browns and stark blacks of exotic hides with the names of men and women stamped in glittering gold and silver upon the handcrafted spines. Sal inhaled audibly and climbed in the van, leaning over the suitcases.

“I can’t tell you how beautiful,” he said, one hand reaching and hovering over the titles. “They’ll torture us, they catch us with these.”

“First editions,” I said, and sucked on the cigarette. “Each and every one.”

“Reminds me of the old days,” he said, and climbed back out of the van, his eyes wet and large and rendered frozen upon the books. Another van peeled into the alley and I had a brief moment of panic, my hand at my hip and the steel waiting there. Sal waved for the driver to park behind my van and a young man of maybe twenty got out and walked quickly towards me, his hand stretched out before him.

“Mr. Guy, holy shit, it’s an honor,” he said, and I took his hand. “How long it’s been, I’ve followed your career.”

“What’s your name?”

“His name is Billy,” Sal said. “And he’d better get on.”

“Good to meet you Billy,” I said, and loaded the suitcases into his van. “But Sal’s right.”

“Yeah,” Billy said. “I’d better get on.” He reached out for my hand again and I shook it, feeling the coarse strength and energy in his skin, thinking back to when I was his age and wondering where the virtue had died between the people of my generation and our own shadow-leaders. None of us are safe, I thought. Not then, certainly not now.

I watched Billy drive out of the alley into the radiant unknown and I could have worried about our precious delivery but I pacified myself in knowing that some day in the future there will be large hallowed libraries again and there will be books lining their shelves protected from the destructive clutch of tyranny and those books will forever provide testimony to man’s most sacred ideas so long as courageous young minds like Billy and his peers continued our honored struggle of liberating them to the grueling end.

verve/violence/virtue

The young man dismounted his horse in the mad clatter of battle and forgot about his life, the unwritten codes and reverence of the land and deep honored traditions. He forgot about his young wife and the lump in her belly and he moved swiftly through the fog of rifle smoke trailed by his own long braids and the mad shrieks of wounded men. He approached the white man with red hair lying supine and staring at him from the mud. There were men upon wild horses weaving incoherently through the smoke with their guns or war clubs raised and there were fleeting visions of other men riding boldly and bareback but long ago killed on the battlefield and a small white sun directly overhead trembled each time the white men in blue coats fired their wagon-gun.

The young man stepped over the men strewn across the sodden prairie field and unsheathed his bowie and crouched down next to the white man. He took a handful of the man’s red hair and looked into his eyes. A bullet whistled over the young man’s head and another screamed by his left ear and he sliced the white man’s forehead from temple to temple and said to him quietly in Lakota, “The wind does not cry for you.”

Then he stood and tore the scalp from the white man’s skull and held it up to the sky and screamed while the white man in his final moments of life watched his own blood drip down the young man’s arm, his torso, lean and brown and heaving muscle in the gray light.

That night the young man sat alone in his tipi and thought about the mystery of battle, the subtle violent leanings of men and the power to forget one’s self amid the jolts of heightened awareness. Outside, the red fire glowed bestial and the hypnotic throb of victory drums brought to life the dancing ghosts of many dead men both white and red and the young man agreed with the ageless wisdom of his ancestors that warfare was indeed more spiritual than physical, that courage was an extension of the self but that acting upon that courage according to honor and principle was integrally selfless.

The young man reclined onto his blankets and listened to the chanting of his people and breathed deeply to remove the walls of his mind. He remembered what he had said to the white man with red hair and he reminded himself that the wind cried for no man, especially not the man who honored and defended it with his own life.

We communicate

He had to remind himself to breathe.

Sitting there in the truck, liquid daylight leaking into the city, he couldn’t breathe unless he thought about it. Counting backwards from thirty. He reached forward to the radio and turned the station. He turned again, and then again, trying to find a balance, something to soothe him.

“Hey asshole. Stop with the radio.”

“I’m a little on edge, is all.”

“Yeah, me too. Before I break it.”

“All right, jesus.” He reached forward and turned the radio off. “That better?”

The driver didn’t say anything. He leaned his head back on the headrest and closed his eyes.

The guy in the passenger seat looked out the window. He didn’t care to watch the dark monotony of night slip away to another day’s luminous truth. He didn’t notice the ravens swirling stark in the rectangle of sky above the alley. He could have rolled down his window and focused his attention on the sound of morning, the crisp regeneration and cool yawning concrete. That might have calmed him. He picked up his Walther instead, slipped out the magazine and then clicked it back in. Out and in. Down and up. Click, click. Click, click. The smell of the city never changes overnight and for some men the sound and feel of a loaded gun is worth a thousand dawns.

“You know what I was thinking?” the driver said.

“You were thinking.”

“We’re isolating ourselves.”

The guy in the passenger seat stopped playing with the Walther.

“I mean, not like, you and me. I mean all of us. The world. Americans.”

“How’s that?” Click, click.

“The technologically advanced.”

“Please elaborate.”

“There is movement toward isolation in the wake of technological advancement. This happens on a personal level, but also culturally. People shrinking from each other. Less face-to-face contact. The more technologically advanced a culture becomes, the more its parameters of communication shift. The modes change shape with each new wave of progress. Think about it.”

“The Internet.”

“Think about the language. Dialects. Think about means of expression. The invention of words and terms.”

“You’re thinking about the Internet. People shop for anything from home. They don’t need to go out, spend hours in the bookstore or trying on a pair of pants.” Click, click. “They don’t have to go to the bar or to church to find a date, to sample the talent.”

“Notice how almost everyone has a mobile phone now,” the driver said, lifting his up and looking at it. “We use these phones to communicate in a myriad of ways.”

“Less standing in line. The Internet has made standing in line an endangered species.”

“Text and e-mail. Voice. Video, photo. Imagine if we could see the streams of communication going on all around us. Even right now, at this hour. Imagine all the invisible voices and coded language, all the hidden data. Slender rhythm of radio and television waves. Digital binary information, little ones and zeros dictating the pulse and flow of all the world’s knowledge.”

“The prayers.” Click, click. “Imagine if we could see all the prayers.”

“I wonder what it would look like, if each mode of communication was a different color.”

They looked through the windows to the alley set in cool morning shadow, the chinked and stained concrete, old brick facades of buildings left to derelicts and huddled runaways. Dumpsters ahead and behind them filled with waste matter. The driver looked up through the windshield to the sky, a snatch of cloudless pale blue emerging stridently to claim another awed human rumination.

“The change is so gradual that we can hardly scrutinize it,” the driver said. “I mean, we go from a megabyte of technology to a gigabyte. We go from cordless phones to cellular phones.”

“From Playstation 2 to Playstation 3.”

“We don’t graduate straight to high-def television from shortwave radio.”

“Self-deification takes patience.” Click, click.

“Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the transformation is dense and tangible enough to observe and study, maybe even to manipulate. Maybe this is what the guys in lab coats and power suits are thinking of next. Clustered in places called Washington. New York. Los Angeles. Cairo.”

“Las Vegas.”

“Sitting around a table, men wearing gleaming white ghoutras and women dressed in paramilitary fatigues, guerrilla-clad luminaries with mysterious backgrounds and red smiling faces.”

“Calculating the science of communication in order to control it.”

The guy in the passenger seat clicked the magazine free of the gun and clicked it back into place and he looked down to it black and reassuring in his hands and he imagined how he would react if the people in the bank mutinied or if the cops came in with their guns aloft and he tried to imagine pointing the Walther at one of them and pulling the trigger and he told himself he could do it if he had to but he wasn’t convinced. He pictured his wife of twenty-four and in his mind he saw their son with his mother’s curly blond hair and his father’s stone gray eyes and he tried to imagine how his family would survive if the action this morning went south.

“Do they even have record stores anymore?” he said. “Are there such establishments as record stores, and are they operational? Quite frankly I haven’t seen one in at least a year.”

“People on the subway. Most of them plugged into a music player. The others with their heads buried in a shiny magazine. Maybe there are books. I think people still read books.”

“Nobody burns books anymore.” Click, click.

“Nobody talks about how the ball team is doing. Nobody asks about the wife and kids.”

“The discussion board is the new subway.”

“People assume the wife and kids are fine. The wife and kids are healthy and plentifully drugged.”

“People assume.” Click, click. “People shouldn’t assume.”

The driver reached forward and flipped the radio back on. He changed the station to a news program and the two of them sat listening to the hurried headlines until the sweeping brand of day lit its distinct mark upon the world and the cellular phone buzzed in the driver’s pocket.

“We’re on,” he said, and started the truck.