I shall therefore revert to the personal and the small
and concentrate my attention only as far as the wall
that separates my circle of intimates from others too ajar,
too numerous, or too exclusive to be counted amongst us;
I will do so starting from what one might call the “historic nucleus”
of my closest friends and let the compass reach out from there.
To cherish those nearest to one is a natural impulse—
call it a passion, esprit-de-corps, or just instinctive pull—
that not only gentlemen but also scoundrels do share:
which may be one reason why Christ urged all those who can
to go a step further and to try to understand,
to bear with, and even to love them that inspire revulsion
prima facie—a formidable imaginative task
tantamount to the ripping off of the mask
of the ego, the challenging of all convenient assumption,
the begging to be torn asunder by the Furies …
not exactly your every schlemiel’s cup of tea.
Yet there are some whom the Fates have empowered
to sense the primacy and urgency of such a proceeding,
not only for themselves, but also for our whole species’ being:
that it still might be said that we are not cowards
before God as a race, though many continue to be craven,
pusillanimous, and even dastardly towards their fellow man.
So penitential a destiny can become sealed
only after the “shades of the prison walls” have closed shut
around the fully grown boy, not when his pluck
is still adolescent and the rich penumbras of life’s appeal
are but juvenescent. Yet it is at that earlier time—
when the learning to read and to write on the fly
and how to articulate individual opinions
coincides with the pubescent’s natural need to rebel
against their parents and/or other controllers, helps
them to voice their aspirations despite all constriction—
that young persons’ first vital, critical friendships are born.
My own experience falls a little outside of the norm
in this respect, as I sprang from a relatively enlightened couple,
who had made life even easier for me by divorcing,
so that I could have more or less my own way in things
without offending anyone or causing much trouble.
Also in deviance I was somewhat precocious,
though to my mind there had been nothing atrocious
in fixing a mirror to the top of my shoe
and carrying out a detailed periscoscopy
beneath a girl’s skirt, even if it got me
failed in conduct while at elementary school.
As far as rebellion is concerned, I have been convinced
that the sooner it is enacted the better ever since
I took a good look at my first-grade class picture:
everyone in it except the hyperactive, most unruly
kid—Steven I believe his name was—but including
Mrs. So-and-so, our teacher, cuts a rather dull figure;
Steven, instead, appears illumined by some vastly superior
knowledge, his head at the center of the last row like a meteor
beaming with a smile about to come down on us all.
What happened to him in the later course of his life,
I don’t know; that it may have ended in strife
seems somehow probable, as sure as shooting stars fall;
but, as far as I can distinguish, there is no
spark of genius that does not have his glow.
My first friends and I entered our teens in the mid-sixties,
at a time when rebellion was very much in the air
amongst those ten years older than us, who had been scared
numb by the test-explosions of nukes on TV,
the eeriness of the McCarthy hearings, the stomach-turning
footage of concentration camps and of the ever-burning
desert wastelands of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
when they were coming of age and we were still toddlers.
We, too, had perceived some of the same sodden
stuff on the tube but, being much younger, were more lucky
as far as the programming went, more in sync
with the new plethora of slapstick
and of comedies for children. We grew up on the whole
formed by the sway of tongue-in-cheek portrayals
of middle-class life, with hardly any wherewithal
about the polemics that had surrounded, say, rock-and-roll;
by the time we reached high school we were prone
to believe ourselves bound to triumph by candor alone,
and everything around us seemed to confirm it.
Aristotle says that young persons fool themselves
when they deem friendship not to be based upon selfish
instinct, that in reality every relationship
worthy of such a noble appellative is also an investment
made to further concrete exchanges of mutual interest.
I am quite ready to underwrite what old Ipse himself
dixit in about as many words, as also my bosom buddies
and myself in those halcyon days were not fudging
around when we elected each other as the greatest wealth
we could possibly want amidst the general scramble for treasure.
All in our little “clique” had discovered the truest pleasure
in the confirmation we afforded one another of the suspicion
that had matured in each of us singly throughout the later years
of our childhood, and in the “cross-fertilizations” we were
able to enact for the enrichment of the others’ visions.
Despite our somewhat different backgrounds
we had converged like so many hounds
upon the same univocal conclusion:
a more just world would have had to be meritocratic,
what with most peers and adults being as thick
as they were, like so many clots and occlusions
to be preventively bypassed in society.
The educational system recognized the propriety
of desert as a criterion for advancement
and, in this sense, appeared at least well-intentioned;
yet it offered no follow-up in the same direction,
preferring to prospect material enhancement
to those who lagged behind intellectually.
That this was a fatal flaw which eventually
would precipitate the world’s descent into hell
was quite beyond the scope of our imagination,
as of most everyone else’s at the time in question:
the “Limits of Growth”1 were nice and well,
but there was fuck-all one could do to avoid them;
while nothing in the world waxed more annoying
or wearing of the spirit than the sanctimonious
bellowing of fatted calves to the slaughter.
Tom, Fred, Kerry, and Scott were—
I say this at the risk of sounding odious
to someone who may never have had such a feeling—
comrades who gave my adult life a reason for being
beyond the confines of what is only better than nothing.
Thanks to them I discovered the practical meaning
of true nobility of character; of leaving
the dumb, pedestrian trudge for the cutting-
edge, tightrope dance of symbolic-logical
thought; of the sublime supra-sexual
in women; of an alerted social responsibility.
Paltry things! Nothing more (or less) than the manifestation
of what may be termed the divine in Man without exaggeration,
the sodium chloride of all earthy sensibility.
Club of Rome, 1972 ↩