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American Dream Serialization (Early Chapters)
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Maurice Stoker
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Tom Bradley
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: American Dream Title Page by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 1 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 2 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 3 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 4 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 5 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 6 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 7 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 8 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 9 by Jim Chaffee
01-01-2015
Modern Tragedy, or Parodies of Ourselves by Robert Castle
01-11-2014
Totally Enchanté, Dahling by Thor Garcia
01-04-2014
Hastini by Rudy Ravindra
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 5 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
01-01-2014
Unexpected Pastures by Kim Farleigh
10-01-2013
Nonviolence by Jim Courter
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 4 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
07-01-2013
The Poet Laureate of Greenville by Al Po
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part VI by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 3 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
04-01-2013
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part V by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part IV by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 2 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
01-01-2013
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part I by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part II by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part III by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 1 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
10-01-2012
DADDY KNOWS WORST: Clown Cowers as Father Flounders! by Thor Garcia
RESURRECTON: Excerpt from Breakfast at Midnight by Louis Armand
Review of The Volcker Virus (Donald Strauss) by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
01-07-2012
Little Red Light by Suvi Mahonen and Luke Waldrip
TEXECUTION: Klown Konfab as Killer Kroaked! by Thor Garcia
Miranda's Poop by Jimmy Grist
Paul Fabulan by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
01-04-2012
Operation Scumbag by Thor Garcia
Take-Out Dick by Holly Day
Patience by Ward Webb
The Moon Hides Behind a Cloud by Barrie Darke
The Golden Limo of Slipback City by Ken Valenti
01-01-2012
Chapter from The Infinite Atrocity by Kane X. Faucher
Support the Troops By Giving Them Posthumous Boners by Tom Bradley
01-10-2011
When Good Pistols Do Bad Things by Kurt Mueller
Corporate Strategies by Bruce Douglas Reeves
The Dead Sea by Kim Farleigh
The Perfect Knot by Ernest Alanki
Girlish by Bob Bartholomew
01-07-2011
The Little Ganges by Joshua Willey
The Invisible World: René Magritte by Nick Bertelson
Honk for Jesus by Mitchell Waldman
01-04-2011
Red's Dead by Eli Richardson
The Memphis Showdown by Gabriel Ricard
Someday Man by John Grochalski
01-01-2011
I Was a Teenage Rent-a-Frankenstein by Tom Bradley
Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Fred Bubbers
10-01-2010
Believe in These Men by Adam Greenfield
The Magnus Effect by Robert Edward Sullivan
Performance Piece by Jim Chaffee
07-01-2010
Injustice for All by D. E. Fredd
The Polysyllogistic Curse by Gary J. Shipley
How It's Done by Anjoli Roy
Ghost Dance by Connor Caddigan
Two in a Van by Pavlo Kravchenko
04-01-2010
Uncreated Creatures by Connor Caddigan
Invisible by Anjoli Roy
One of Us by Sonia Ramos Rossi
Storyteller by Alan McCormick
01-01-2010
Idolatry by Robert Smith
P H I L E M A T O P H I L I A by Traci Chee
They Do! by Al Po
Full TEX Archive
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Modern Tragedy, or Parodies of Ourselves

By Robert Castle

"Some things I just don't understand," my elderly friend, McNulty, confided to me one day at the bar.

I wondered what a man of his experience and wide learning found so bewildering.

"The tabloids," he said and then quickly corrected himself. "The ones at the supermarket when you check out. How can people buy them? Believe in them!"

"They've been around for a while. Did you just notice them?"

There were some headlines that he couldn't get out of his head:
Teen Leads Pack of Wolves
Flying Saucer Seen With Confederate Flag on Its Underside
Two-Headed Woman Pregnant

The latter was particular disturbing for him because the headline assumed the reality of the two-headed woman. Why hadn't he heard about her, even if she didn't really exist?

I told him that I saw the article also and, albeit reluctantly, I picked up the social equivalent of excrement, and read the story. Apparently, the big issue was whether or not the woman should get an abortion. The heads were at odds over the issue. Apparently, the left head didn't like the guy but the other is Pro-Life. They could save a fee on Crossfire should they need to discuss the issue again.

"You can joke about it," McNulty snapped back, "but I think it's ridiculous that in the twentieth century it's inexplicable how people can believe that crap."

"Nothing's inexplicable," I said, "if you can eventually admit reasons you weren't originally prepared to deal with."

Then I amended my statement and said there were some things that couldn't be explained.

"I disagree. We don't know how the Pyramids got built."

"People from Outer Space," I replied.

"Reverting to tabloid explanations," he nearly choked on his Gran Mariner, "they don't count."

"Actually, I heard one explanation. The Egyptians built a structure like a pyramid and beside it built the pyramid."

"You've got to be kidding."

"No. It's like the theory about dreams in a way."

"Dreams can be interpreted," he said, "what's the mystery?"

"No, some psychologist theorized that dreams exist so that we can forget what we've dreamed."

Now he thought he had me. How did we remember dreams?

"The process is not perfect. We wake up in the middle of one or the dream itself has not been sufficiently washed away. I think television works in a similar way. The more we watch, the less well we remember things. Sort of a social Alzheimer's."

Then McNulty pointed across the bar to Frank Weathers, a regular, and the bartender, Joe Gillespie. What about those two?

"What about them?" I wondered.

"Not them, but what's on their heads. Don't they know how bad those toupees look?"

In other words, how could one account for people, "men" to be exact," who knew they, specifically their hairpieces," would be subject to the most derisive ridicule? The only answer—and it takes but one answer to make something not inexplicable—was that these people didn't know how bad they looked! A not-so-easily-put-off McNulty replied:

"It must be inexplicable that they can't apprehend the basic fact that they look so horrendous."

I understood what he was saying since he could point to another example in the same bar, the entertainer (except Sunday), Benny McSelf. All three cases, once fleshed out, made some sense, and it merely became a question who had the worst headdress.

Joe knew when he was twenty years old he was doomed to have a chrome dome. By twenty-three, a bald spot started. Twenty-five, the first hair plugs. He thought that his love life would be hampered by scalp exposure; he was also aware of the aforesaid hairpiece humiliation. The question with hair plugs was the cost, five to seven thousand dollars before its over (another answer to the 'why' of bad hairpieces: no inexpensive alternatives).

The second problem Joe met after the operation. His own hair, above the neckline, was used for the plugs and this caused extreme pain for a week. All for Joe's love of a lovelife. He checked his hair growth every hour for six months. It didn't appear as if his new hair growth would cloak his shame.

Never fear said his hair doctor, for another two thousand dollars…

Another hair implantation.

More pain.

Seven years later, the spot, had finally filled in. During half that time, Joe bore the undercurrent of ridicule over the money he had spent and for looking like a Chia pet. But Joe was satisfied that real hair covered his pate. From certain angles, even his hairline didn't appear to have receded very far.

Our mutual friend, Frank, earns over a hundred thousand dollars a year in the insurance business. At age fifty-four, after a long slow hair loss made him look older than the thirty years he affected to be, he decided to buy a hairpiece. He knew there would be comments over his changed appearance and faced a quandary. His vanity made him buy the hairpiece; his vanity on another level would smart at remarks about the piece. Finally, he compromised and found a toupee which was natural looking enough that strangers couldn't tell whether he was wearing one. Also, he was quick to joke with friends about wearing a hairpiece, adding that he needed it to protect his head from the sun on the golf course. In no time, he felt comfortable enough under his rug to mock Joe's plugs of hair.

If anyone had reason to wear a hairpiece, an entertainer could justify himself. Benny McSelf worked in a profession of appearances. His real hair had not suffered grave ravages by the age of forty, only a cogent thinning in the front. Two years ago, he appeared at his piano not only with a fuller head of hair but with what appeared to be a chinchilla up there. The reaction was swift. People forgot Joe T. There was a new person to ridicule at the bar. Joe was never happier, although he didn't take Frank Weathers' tack and spoof the McSelf roadkill.

Everyone agreed that Benny's choice of hairpieces defied all reason. More than Joe's hunt for women and Frank's desire to look thirty, Benny's livelihood depended on his appearance. Even I had to would admit that Benny's, as an act of individualized inexplicability, far exceeded the boundaries announced in the previous column.

The hairpiece was so awful, in fact, that people were afraid to mention the subject of hair around Benny. And this was Benny's genius. He never acted as if he were sporting his own hair. Consequently, the awful hairpiece would prevent those who had known what Benny's hair looked like originally, to mention it publicly. His shame at losing his hair would be turned back toward the potential ridiculer. Only in show business.

Plus, he managed to trump Joe's initial ridicule, thereby leaving Joe's the most ridiculous.

McNulty agreed, but I didn't convince him that they weren't inexplicable gestures. So, I had to give him one better. Joe Gillespie himself. His behavior, his life, was full of inexplicability. Some might even call it…well. my nickname for him was "Joe Tragedy," or Joe. T., for short.

***

Despite what I have said about his hair plugs, Joe's confidence with women had truly been bolstered by the new look. He might not have been getting as lucky as he would have everyone believe, but it was certainly better than his college years when he couldn't lose his virginity fast enough. Finally, at the age of twenty, after many close calls, he made his first conquest. In the weeks afterward, he would introduce himself to strangers as follows: "I'm Joe Gillespie and I just got laid."

What one meant by "Joe getting lucky" remained a slippery proposition. Observed closely, his relationships with women the last fifteen years fell into a pattern. The first three to six months were heavy with sexual action. Exhaustive action. Joe making up for those lost years of getting no or little sex. Then the next few months doubts creep into his mind. Did he love her enough? The "enough" was a psychological necessity. He couldn't admit that he was no longer in love.

Arguments with his girlfriend increased. Finally, they separated. A week later they are back together. A two-week stretch of heavy sex. More arguments. The arguments reanimated his doubts. Joe then talked the relationship to death with his friends. Then something happened to him.

An uncontrollable urge.

An urge which could best be described a tropism.

He would try to get together with one of his former girlfriends, preferably the one immediately preceding his current one or one of his self-styled "ideal" girlfriends (one that he hadn't taken to bed), and pour over with her his tribulations. Behind this move, of course, Joe wanted to take the old girlfriend to bed. One or two he actually did, although he claimed that he had no such intention. But who said tropisms were intentional? Did baby turtles scamper toward the ocean because they intended to go there?

(Who hasn't suffered love's tropism. I recall an excruciating evening after a college girlfriend ditched me. I phoned someone I had dated in high school. Her sister answered. Gwen was in the shower and would call back. I should have known that the sister was offering a reprieve to the upcoming humiliation and would have been wise to have said, No, forget it. I was deluding myself that I wanted a friend to talk to, deluding myself to the knave within me. After we talked for ten minutes, she had the better sense to end the conversation before the knave in me made some foolish request, such as meeting her for a drink.)

When Joe was breaking up with his first sexual lover, he tried to go back to the girl he had taken to the junior prom, an aforesaid "ideal type." He had seen and spoken to her recently. He drove to her house at midnight on a stormy evening, the wind was blowing thirty miles per hour. The house was dark; she was the only one home; her car was in the driveway. He tossed pebbles at her window for five minutes.

It should be noted: the tropistic urge manifests itself most when a person is drunk, and this goes far to explain why Joe decided to climb a flagpole that rose eight feet from her second floor window. Joe carried several pebbles as he shinnied up the pole oblivious to wind, rain, and the gradual tilt of the pole. Three-quarters to the top, beside the window, he dropped the pebbles. Soon the pole was leaning further askew than the Pisa tower. He started to inch down, falling the last eight feet on his back. Nobody heard him cry out. In a few minutes he slunk away and returned to the bar where he had started the evening. A few days later he had learned that the object of his desire was staying over a boyfriend's house that night.

"I see nothing tragic or inexplicable in his behavior," said McNulty.

"I'm talking about a larger pattern of behavior. Joe's marriage and engagement, for instance."

"I never knew he was married."

"He doesn't talk about it. Maybe it was annulled. But that's only part of it. Why should he want to humiliate himself any more than he has?"

"True."

***

I directed McNulty's attention to a couple of gentleman patrons a few chairs from Frank Weathers. A couple of great men in their own time. Good friends of Joe's. Notice how they're hanging on Joe's every word.

"Aren't those two dressed a little funny to be in public?" McNulty asked with a look as if his Vodka and Bitter Lemon contained Gin.

They came into the bar about a year ago. Joe was bartending. Started telling him their problems.

The black guy complained about his wife. He couldn't trust her; he thought she was seeing some guy. Well, he wasn't sure she was seeing someone. His best friend, Jacko, or Jago, or something like that, had given him evidence of her doing him dirty.

"Wait, the story sounds familiar." My friend probably could have recited many lines from the same story.

"The guy's a top mercenary working for the Republic of Venice," I said. "Not home much. Admittedly, he's overjealous. He lost his head and killed her."

McNulty was shocked. Not that the guy had committed murder but that he was walking the streets of our home town.

"Hold on, hold on, that's not really important," I said.

"Not important! Wait a minute, there's no Republic of Venice…it's part of…"

All because of a handkerchief…" I continued.

"That's…"

I nodded.

"The other one, in the gown, is a Greek, and when the other guy finished his tale he began his own tale of woe. If Joe thought the black guy had troubles, here he was a happily married guy, not jealous at all nor any reason to be, a mayor, only the place he lived was in the midst of drought. The people wanted him to do something. Word was the drought was a punishment for an unspeakable act. Some seer had barged into his office and implied he's the cause. Why? Because he had killed his father and married his mother.

McNulty nearly choked on his Anisette.

Anyway, this guy has killed in his time and married a widow, but he was sure it couldn't be himself. Then some shepherd tells him it was the truth and the Greek blinded himself in some sort of mortification.

"That's why he's bobbing his head around so much," I added.

Now Joe was patiently listening to this and didn't want to be outdone. He thought he'd had his share of tragedies. Like that very evening he was talking to those two guys. Pure suffering from a small cut on his middle finger when he was cutting limes setting up the bar. While he was working and some of the lemon or lime juice got into the cut... oooh, ouch, ouch oooh! He squeezed the underside of the knuckle to show them. This little thing would hurt for days.

"It's not exactly like marrying his mother," McNulty commented.

"That's what Othello said."

No, but Joe didn't stop there. He told him about the hair plugs and his night swaying to the left and right on the flagpole. Then he talked about the pizza he had heated up in a microwave that had burnt the roof of his mouth. And how a French fry with ketchup dropped on his couch the day before he was going to scotchguard it. Or the automatic car door opener that wouldn't work from more than twenty-five feet away.

Well, he had showed these jokers in the strange duds something or two about the plight of the modern man. Before you begin thinking you've got tragedies in your life, you had better talk to Joe Gillespie. You want to see someone who had suffered all that modern life had to throw at you…

"They were impressed?"

Joe wasn't done that night. Two, three times a week they came in to listen to his long sad tales.

"Women," Joe said. "You have your story, Thel, and I appreciate the depth of the sadness it has created for you. But I have had hundreds over the years who wouldn't go to bed with me."

"Hundreds!" exclaimed Thel and Oed. "You didn't really expect to…"

"Why not? I grew up in the Seventies. Everyone was getting laid."

"Are you shitting us?" asked Thel.

"I'm telling you, you lived at the wrong time. But it's not easy either. People were getting laid and I wasn't. Kids fourteen and fifteen years old getting it regularly.

"Just like Romeo and Juliet," said the mercenary.

"Whoever. Guys and girls in my high school were goin' down on each other all the time. I had the misfortune to earn my diploma with cherry intact. Girls said they liked me but they were the ones who didn't screw or said they didn't. Even sluts passed me up. You guys are royalty and nobody had the balls to stop you from getting a piece of ass."

Thel glanced at Oed, who was facing straight ahead and smiling.

"You don't have to bust balls," said Joe.

"Sorry," they said.

"I've had just as many problems with women who won't talk to me after I've dated them. The heck with them being my friend. You would think they would be happy someone had found them stimulating."

"Maybe you should get married," said Oed.

"I've thought about it. Another couple dozen stories to make you cry. I fall in love the first date. Have sex with them. I want to get married. Not right away. But after six months or, we get tired of the other's company. Takes another four months before we break up. It 's very difficult giving up the sex. I'm perpetually looking for a wife."

"I don't know if I could handle that kind of existence," Oed said to Thel.

I told McNulty that Joe T. had those classical fools eating out of his hand. McNulty, a classicist himself, refused to accept the notion that two well-ground tragic heroes could give in to this lightweight.

I thought Joe's travails were a bit flimsy as well, but one had to admit, finally, after talking about the things that had gone wrong in his life the last fifteen years, well, how could one not be impressed? Not that Oeddy gave up by any means. One night he told Joe about his daughter, Antigone.

"How do you know?" McNulty asked.

"Joe tells me everything. I think it's a validation compulsion. Oed lays out the entire story. Her brothers kill each other. She wants to bury them. Her Uncle Creon forbids it."

"I guess that put Joe in his place."

"Not quite. He wanted to meet her."

One night, Joe was bartending. Oed was sitting beside a younger woman who wore a toga like his own. Joe finally came over to me after I had waited five minutes.

"Sorry, I was talking to Rexy's daughter."

"And his sister!" I couldn't resist.

"I don't really want to get into that." He paused. "Not bad looking, don't you think?"

What he was really asking: was she pretty enough for him to be seen with her in public? When a women spoke to Joe, he immediately assumed they were interested in him and his body. A five or ten minute conversation, as he just had, convinced Joe she was in love with him, which was the first and probably most important component for Joe to fall in love with the woman.

Also, I had to answer Joe's question. For a moment, he had gone back to Antigone; Oedipus moved his head around helplessly listening to Joe's come on to Antigone. While on one level he was impressed by Joe's tragedy track record, Oedipus might have been wishing he had another set of eyes to poke out should Joe ever take Antigone on a date. Maybe he could discourage Joe by talking up the daughter/ sister angle.

"Don't you think she's good looking?" Joe asked again when he returned. "I think she likes me."

I wondered had he met her before.

"No. Do you think I should ask her out?"

Joe tried to convince himself he was in love by playing out his fears rhetorically, especially the fear of rejection. He didn't really want my advice so much as my reassurance for what he was planning to do. But hadn't I heard Joe say that he didn't like Greek women because they were too hairy?

"I hadn't really met one in person. It's true I don't like much hair on a woman, especially in the armpits. But that Antigone has a nice body and…she doesn't seem too hairy, does she?"

I couldn't tell from where I was sitting.

"I was thinking it was about time to start thinking about settling down."

Joe's way to express a personal death wish. A death wish on a relationship. He didn't want to get married but thought that if he had the idea first it would act as a spell against her having the same idea. Personally, I figured that any women who dated Joe T. for any length of time had a death wish. I hoped Antigone wouldn't let down her old man.

He had tickets to a hockey game. So what that she didn't know a hockey stick from a baseball bat. Joe would tutor her the game. Would draw them together in a master-slave sort of way. That is, it enhanced his chances of sleeping with her on the first date. And the hockey team could help him by winning the game.

I bumped into Oedipus in the men's room a week later and asked how he felt about Joe seeing his daughter.

"He's a good boy," said Oed, "just as long as he doesn't do anything I wouldn't have done."

Guiding him to the urinal, I waited until the old Greek was finished before completing my own business. What exactly Oed meant by that statement I wasn't sure.

***

Six months later, about the time Joe T. announced his engagement to Antigone, he came to me again for advice. Mollified by the thought that kids rebel against parental demands and ways, I well knew that children take on parental traits with a vengeance. Joe T., Jr. would become as or more tragic than his Dad. From Baby Tragedy would come a rush of a thousand molecular irritations, each one made into a Himalaya of worries. However, there was still hope for the world. Apparently, Joe's future in-laws had similar trepidations.

"Oed has been supportive," Joe admitted. "It's the rest of her people, especially Uncle Creon, who have been busting my stones."

"Oeddie's always saying great things about you," I commented. "He says you're the most tragic person alive."

"What did Creon object to?" McNulty interrupted my flow.

I had wondered also.

"He doesn't think I'm tragic enough," Joe replied.

"A man after my own heart," said McNulty. "Joe's not Greek, either. Can't even read the language."

Joe had asked once what were those funny looking letters. That really got him. That and only ancient Greeks were truly tragic.

"What does this jerk mean that I'm not tragic enough? What about the heartburn I got from too many pepper flakes in his spaghetti sauce. Maalox didn't help at all."

I was sorry for Joe. He had actually found someone he loved more than he had loved himself (not including how much he thought she loved him).

"He says I'm a parody of everything that's really tragic," Joe added bitterly.

Hadn't Joe's told that old fart about his ex-girlfriend awhile back who left her two dogs at his condo for a week? One evening he went out for eight hours. Didn't come home immediately after his work shift at the bar. The dogs had crapped on his new white carpet. Ruined it. And what did he do with the poop?

"That was Beth, two girlfriends ago. She went to San Francisco and never came back. Left me the damn dogs. Oeddie got a cathartic response over that."

"Did you tell him the whole story?"

"I think he heard enough."

"What was the whole story?" McNulty demanded, thinking that I was going to bail out on him.

It had seemed reasonable – more reasonable than wrapping it in a newspaper he hadn't read or throwing it out with the carpet ("Or mailing it to his ex," I said under my breath) – well, reasonable to a confirmed bachelor, to take the poop and put it into the sink's garbage disposal. The disposal never worked the same, and Joe would have been wise to purchase a new one at the cost of a few hundred dollars. The episode certainly has made Joe's friends reluctant to come over to the condo, even when Joe was offering free beer and Pay Per View heavyweight bouts.

"That would have been a perfect Joe-style of tragedy," said McNulty, now an expert on the life of his favorite bartender.

"Joe changed his tune when he started dating Antigone."

"Maybe that's why Creon was unimpressed."

The Uncle had threatened to dispossess Tig if she went through with the marriage.

"We might elope," Joe confided in me.

"You can't do that," I said, "what about the money and gifts you'll get at the wedding reception?"

"You don't think Creon's right, do you?"

Ah, Joe T. I knew when he asked such a question, he must half-believe the truth of the self-parody remark. Another aspect of his tragic condition. No real confidence in himself. He wanted me to bolster him and deny the truth of Creon's remark. Next, he would dispatch me to the Uncle's domicile to convince him! However, there was much truth in what the old guy said.

"Crap. That's what Antigone told me."

What I meant was that few people can avoid becoming parodies of themselves.

"Does that mean I'm not or I am?"

"Look at Frank Weathers. The way he torments you about the hair plugs. It's not as if his toupee didn't violate standards of hirsute decency. But he gets by. Because he's impervious to all criticism of his hair. It's his personal if not private way to parody his own vanity. Benny McSelf, as an entertainer, already contains an element of self-parody. Little if anything about him is true. Billed as an original Irish entertainer, he actually was born in Minnesota. Everyone knows he's a sham. Nothing about him is true. The more audacious his toupee, the more true he is to his own parody of himself, and the less we think about what a phony he is. Do you understand? We're all eventually prone to it. Copying ourselves. It allows a protective coat to wash over being and provide the final excuse for the inexcusable. Namely, being a human being.

"How can it be prevented?"

"It can't. Nor should we try."

"Do you think I should be less tragic? Maybe get a new garbage disposal."

I saw Joe wasn't getting my meaning.

"Yeah, that's what I'll do. Thanks for your advice. I'll get those Greeks on my side yet."

***

After a two-week honeymoon in the Cyclides, Joe called me and said that he had made the worst mistake of his life. All he could talk about was the rude awakening of married life, not to mention all the homosexuals he was meeting in Mykinos.

"They were holding hands and lying on the beach together."

"There was a lot of that going on in the ancient days. I guess you never read Plato's Symposium?"

"They were mostly German guys there!"

"Well, what's so bad about married life?" I paused. "Are you saying you didn't get any?"

"No, nothing like that. We've been sleeping together since our first date. She's on the pill. Don't get me wrong. She's a great gal. We have the best sex. Even Uncle Creon's coming around. I think it was the garbage disposal story. It's just that…"

I divined what it was. Joe T. had a revelation, or a vision of Hell. Either way, there was no advice that could save him. He was overwhelmed by a solitary thought that he would be with Antigone forever. She was his age but would begin to decline in beauty.

"Not only that," he said. "I can go out looking for nooky whenever I feel like it. I mean, it didn't occur to me while we having sex nearly everyday for the last year. But on the flight to Greece…"

"You're thinking of divorce."

"It would kill Oeddie. She's his favorite daughter and sister. They're tighter than most. The father-daughter, brother-sister thing."

"That thought would have stopped most of us at the bar from asking her on a date," I confessed.

"It sort of turned me on, originally."

The brute reality was that he hadn't spent more than four to six months with one woman. Except one. And she became his wife. He had waited and waited for the feeling to wilt for Antigone inside his heart. It hadn't. But now the anticipated loss of interest in her in the near future was tantamount to losing interest in her in the present.

He had dropped most of his girlfriends before they had an argument. He decided to pick one with Antigone on their first night in Athens. It was a holdover from a small disagreement they had during the planning of the wedding. Joe had wanted Benny McSelf to play the music at the reception. Antigone thought that Irish songs at a Greek Pagan wedding would be too incongruous.

"Who'd she want?" asked McNulty.

"Nobody you'd know. A zither player Uncle Creon knew."

Joe thought that Benny could use the work having just finished a few weeks at one of the lounges at an Atlantic City casino. Well, he mentioned to her when they got to the hotel in Athens that none of his family or friends could dance to a zither band. Then she hit Joe with a bombshell. She had dated Benny McSelf ten years before.

"I couldn't believe it," said Joe. "I began wondering how many of my other friends had slept with her. The sex during the honeymoon wasn't as great as it had been. Then when we got home, that night, when I got into bed, she turned her back to me and said she had jet lag."

"Well she probably did, Joe."

"What was this? I couldn't believe I was finally married and I wasn't getting any. And we haven't had sex since. I can't help thinking she wishes she was married to one of her ex-boyfriends."

"You can't give up. This is natural."

Actually, I was glad this was the problem and not the one I had imagined. But it was inauspicious that he was dreaming up her past lovers as an excuse for having an argument. Possibly, a new pattern was developing. An evolution from simply dating girls and gradually alienating himself from them, now he would have to marry them first before feeling the pangs of regret.

"Did they patch it up?"

Joe never spoke about it again. In six months she moved out of his condo. He never seemed happier that evening at work.

"What did Oedipus say?" asked McNulty.

"He was relieved. His relationship with Joe had been strained during the months Joe was married. Besides, it added to our boy's tragic baggage."

***

Before we left the bar that evening, McNulty wanted to know one last thing. What did I think was truly inexplicable?

This was a question best answered by clearing away the near to the almost inexplicable.

"What about war? Why must humans kill each other on such a vast scale?"

"Probably the easiest thing to explain. I thought you were going to ask why anyone would want to be nice to another person?

"Cannibalism is the most unthinkable thing on earth."

"To your meat-and-potato minds, maybe. More than a few societies have practiced it. Large ones, like the Aztecs. It may be upsetting, but check out a few books on anthropology – and don't rush to the sex sections!"

"Why do people smoke cigarettes?"

"Pleasure, pure pleasure."

"They know smoking kills them."

"For Christ's sake, you smoke. You should be able to tell me."

"Well, part of the pleasure," McNulty replied after some thought, "I mean, the price of pure pleasure is its inclination toward death. On the other hand, cigarettes don't kill fast enough. Even four or five packs a day won't do the job quickly."

"Actually, the cigarette example wasn't bad. Actions for which all rationales have eroded. Like saying 'God bless you' when someone sneezes."

"The heart stops and…"

"How do you know the heart stops when you sneeze?"

"We were told…my parents told me, or…or I read it somewhere. Anyway, that's what happens."

"I won't argue the point. In fact, you offered an explanation. I won't go into why people shake hands."

"What about serial killers?"

"More explanations about them than you want to deal with."

"The link between man and ape. Not Bigfoot. How human beings came into existence. How the Universe was created. The Big Bang."

"One crowd gives God credit where credit is due. The evolutionists and physicists have another explanation. In other words, somebody can answer your questions."

"This is frustrating. You want me to give up."

"I'd like you to," Joe Gillespie interrupted. "It's a half-hour since I gave last call."

"You never gave it," said McNulty.

"Do you have any other suggestions?"

"The Edsel. New Coke. Punk Rock. The ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey."

"The Bermuda Triangle," Joe added.

"Look hard enough and you'll find an answer," I replied. "Maybe not to your satisfaction, but an answer. All the disciplines—biology, chemistry, sociology, psychology, geology, theology, have removed most if not all things from the realm of the inexplicable. The fewer things that can't be known in some way, either by the Book of Revelations or Quantum Physics, the better."

"Are you saying you didn't have anything in mind when you brought up this topic?" McNulty snorted. "I've been racking our brains for nothing."

Joe had gone.

"I had a few in mind," I said.

"Not Joe's life."

"Nope." I paused. "Okay. The first, and I'm not saying you or anyone else might not have an explanation, but I don't. Every time I saw it I was dumbstruck mentally. My mind blanked out. Yet, it fascinated me in a perverse way."

"You mean it doesn't exist anymore?"

"I don't know. I only read the tabloid covers in supermarkets now. It used to be in the comics section of the newspaper. Did anyone, a single person, find the comic Henry funny?"

"I don't read the comics," McNulty said.

"He never talked," I said, and added, "I don't think he had ears."

"I don't believe it. All this time, and you name something I don't know anything about. I'm getting the hell out of here."

"You don't want to hear my other examples."

"No."

cardinals courting

© Robert Castle 2015