Walter and the Panhandler

The gods and one's nature. Metamorphosis. Unhuman. Inhuman. Panhandling. Gold. Plutocracy.

Most gods have little choice but to follow their nature. It’s not so much that they are bound to, but that they want to. It’s what fulfills them, brings them happiness, even if its taste is bitter. It’s true though, that with a lot of hard work, one may achieve a kind of metamorphosis of one’s nature, changing, over time, but then that very change has always been a part of one’s nature, waiting in the wings, as it were. Metamorphosis is different from mutation or mistake or accident. The snail wants to be a snail, slipping and sliding slowly along its trail to and fro its eats. The seal is at home in her wavy salt water coves, climbing the rocks to dry in the sun after a meal of fish. So too the human can not be unhuman. Inhumanity is a different matter. One follows a slippery slope toward inhuman behavior, landing in the pond of selfishness, fed by streams of stinginess and hoarding. If you are happy, you will hand over some change to the panhandler on the corner, and not think twice about it. His cardboard sign may be filled with lies (veteran, three hungry kids and no place to call home, need money for ticket back home); so what, of these lies? Doesn’t all advertising fib? Appeals to the emotive, the passions. So when Walter and I reached the corner where sat the fellow with his sign (can’t work – groin injury), and Walter scoffed what was he, an NFL quarterback? I gave the fellow a greenback. Why Walter should care, Ray having just recovered the missing transaction of $300 million, is a story not of metamorphosis but of one’s nature. Walter is a miser. And, one of the wealthiest men in the world, he is, by nature, a panhandler who advertises by pandering to the base desires of a soft audience he detests. The language of the gods is not made of words. The best prayer, as Thomas Merton has told us, is wordless. As a flight of birds. As a sea breeze. As a flight of bills falling into a hat sitting on a sidewalk between two wretched legs. Words are seeds in bloom, flowers and weeds, wanted and unwanted. The bee is on your lips, her long tongue slipping through for the nectar of your words. It will take many bees to change these words to honey. The panhandler is working, similar to Walter, sifting his investment pan for gold nuggets, panning for gold. As an enterprise, it’s one of the most efficient. Surely, I told Walter, even you must appreciate at least that much. Money in one’s pockets, like gold, does nothing. It’s a dead weight. It must be circulated. This wretched state of affairs is part of human nature. Zeus blinded Plutus so that the god of money could freely pour the goods of his cornucopia without regard for worthiness. Thus we arrive at our current plutocracy, which affords sans philosophy, sans religion, sans love, sans hope, sans charity.

“Walter and the Panhandler”
is episode 13 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)

The Audience

The AudienceThe audience appeared waving umbrellas from drinking happy hour beer, or hurrying from work or dropping off the kid, driving in from the aloof burb or sliding down from the hep pad on the hill, making a splash, alighting from cab or bus amid the rush. Coming from everywhere, the audience began to cohere.

The audience entered the hall dressed to its drollest: dressed in red down gown, hair whiffed and coifed like a pastry croissant, smelling of perfumes; dressed in jet-black tuxedo, in tight shoes and diminished socks, with small bottle of whiskey packed discreetly in coat pocket, hair polished with floor wax; dressed in polka dot shift over silver flats; dressed in loose corduroy and plaid flannel; dressed in pressed denim pants over soft loafers or heavy boots. In any case, dressed: dressed to the nines, dressed to the gills, dressed to kill or to be killed, dressed like a cat or a pig, dressed and de-dressed and redressed, but not to digress.

The audience performed a wave. The swell rose from the back rows and swept forward down the aisles, rising and falling until it broke upon the stage. The audience pulled at its hair, feet patting the flowered floor. The audience was absorbed in felt. The audience was loosely packed, like popcorn, knee-to-knee, and bounced up and down in its box.

The audience yawned. The audience fidgeted. The audience teared. The audience popped bonbons and sucked jujubes. The audience cheered. The audience hissed. The audience levitated. The audience milled. The audience was blindfolded and applauded by the players. The audience walked out. The audience considered what fun to yearn through the years the discerning one.

The audience abandoned its mess. The audience crawled beneath seats, searching for lost touches. The audience stuck wet purple platitudes under seats. The audience retreated patiently without panic up the slow aisles. The audience left behind a coin purse of cough drops, a pair of plastic reading glasses, an empty bottle of whiskey, a set of earphones, a Moleskine pocket notebook full of lists, a psychedelic scarf, a citizenship test study guide, and a paisley golf umbrella.

The audience walked out into a breezy evening on the neon avenue, and a few unpopped kernels fell from wrinkled lapels. The audience went this way and that, for cigarettes or toilets, for coffee or cocktails, whistled for a taxi or waited for a bus, climbed into a cold bed or gave the babysitter a ride home.

The audience disagreed with the critic’s review in the morning blog. The audience told the coworker all about what was worn the night before. The audience the following weekend was unable to remember. The audience slept through the off-season, dreaming of animated spring costumes, of walking through the park, watching for peacocks, down to the theatre, the marquee illuminating the wet pavement, the hot buttery popcorn freshly popped. The audience awoke and wanted more.