“Just what the hell is going on in this country?”
C.W. sometimes asks me questions to which I don’t have an easy answer. He did this just the other day. We were walking, he and I, in our favorite park in Little Rock, along the river. He was in a form quite similar to the title character from Zorba the Greek, the book by Nikos Kazantzakis. He actually had transformed himself into a fair resemblance to Anthony Quinn, who played the Greek in the movie.
Anyway, he had just asked me a tough question, and I was still forming what I thought was a satisfactory, if not sufficient, answer. I answered carefully.
“I haven’t a clue.”
“I haven’t a clue.”
“Then what's the use of all your damn books if they can't answer that?” he said, borrowing a line from the book and, later, the film.
I thought hard again. After all, my job is to explain America to him, at least explain my little postage-stamp portion of America. I concentrated hard on an appropriate response.
“I don’t know.”
He raised a hand in exasperation, just in time to make a bicyclist veer sharply, lose control, and rush down an embankment into the Arkansas River.
He slapped his knee. “Hey boss, did you ever see a more splendiferous crash?’
I was glad to get his mind off other questions, but a little anxious to move on. I motioned us ahead. We walked on for a minute before he spoke again.
“Splendiferous crash,” he said, repeating the phrase. “Hey,” he said, “let’s get in your truck and go knock over something silly.”
“I think that it might not be funny if we did it. We could get in serious trouble.”
He turned and glared at me. “Life is trouble. Only death is not. To be alive is to undo your belt and look for trouble.” It was at this point that I realized he had, indeed, been reading Kazantzakis and was jacking me around.
“Since you have obviously been reading,” I said, “have you ever heard of John le Carré?”
“Who hasn’t?” he said. What about him?”
“He said, in 2003, as we were preparing to bomb Baghdad, ‘America has entered one of its periods of historical madness.’ So, this isn’t the first time that we have gone mad, as a country. Maybe the worst, but not the first.”
“You know,” he said, “a man needs a little madness, but for a country, it can be fatal, this madness.”
“I suppose so.”
“Speaking of madness,” he said. “I met a couple of women while you were in the restroom.”
“They are looking for some fun. They even told me what hotel they were staying at.”
“I’m married,” I said. “Or don’t you remember?”
“You could just watch and take notes for your next novel. Why not unloosen your belt and look for trouble?”
“Why don’t we just keep discussing politics. Have you read the latest postings our president has put on the internet? Most people have forgotten about the fall of the Ten Commandments in our city, and are laughing about those tweets, now.”
“I’ll bet that man doesn’t even like dolphins,” he said. The he returned to the other subject. “About those women … .”
“I said no.”
“Don’t you believe in God? Can’t you imagine a hell with a special place for the politicians who are ruining your country?”
I didn’t answer, so he took my silence for an affirmation of faith.
“Well,” he said, “God has a very big heart but there is one sin he will not forgive: if a woman calls a man to her bed and he will not go.”
I feverously searched my brain for a logical refutation.
“Shut up,” I said.
Then he began to dance. Out across the grassy area of the park he pranced, swirled, and bowed. Then he pointed to the sky and clapped his hands to a rhythm only he heard. I spun around to head the opposite direction and nearly collided with a jogger.
It was the junior U.S. Senator from our state. He stopped, looked at C.W., and then stared at me.
“What is that man doing?
“I think he’s dancing, sir, I said.
“Why don’t you make him stop?”
I’d had about enough by this time. I don’t even know what came over me. I said, “Why don’t you do a better job taking care of our country?”
“Why don’t you contact my office if you have a complaint about the way I do business?”
I guess it was the influence of C.W., memories of Zorba, or thought of collective insanity, but an appropriate response to both questions popped into my head this time. I answered before I realized it.
“On a deaf man's door, you can knock forever.”
He stiffened. “I order you to make him stop.”
“No,” I said, unloosening my belt, “I’m going to let him teach me to dance.”