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Dithering Diderot

By Shipley Sails

“The highway is for gamblers,
better use your sense.”
–B. Dylan.

Part 1: The Mugging

Right now I'm looking to get mugged. The reason is simple: comfort. That cocoon of consolation that is sketched about you by slouching cedars on sombre summer evenings is a façade. Real comfort is huddled about that brief spark of life winking its existence to you from under threats of death; or from the far edges of that murky mundane bog known as vanity. Most people never even notice this spark; others use it to build raging fires within them. Muggings are good kindling. And they are cheap if you plan ahead. You can buy a cheap wallet for a few bucks. Usually, I carry about ten dollars in small bills, but when I'm feeling really low I go as high as fifty. Today I'm carrying 40 bucks and some worn down gift certificate to some place that sells generic gift certificates sealed nicely in colourful envelopes. I've already been around the block once: Mann, Fifth, Daily, Fourth; and now back onto Mann. Too early. The sun is still reaching out with its closing display of artistic brilliance. Whoever said the sun is a saucy pedantic wretch knew what he was talking about.

In this city, like most others, there are good places and bad places for getting mugged. Surprisingly even the good places, which are a few, are difficult to get mugged in. Sometimes it takes days to happen, sometimes even weeks. There are always freaks about, reminding you of the danger of complacency, but anyone can be a mugger. You can’t judge on looks. Right now some guy is coming towards me, walking slowly, with his hands in his corduroy jacket pockets. He is wearing those white and black chequered pants that line cooks usually wear: stained and shadowy with wear and with tonight’s dusk. A few feet from me I look into his eyes; he’s already locked onto mine. A gentle thrill enters into my gut. He stops,
“Excuse me guy, can you spare a quarter? That’s all I’m missin’ to catch my bus.”

“Sorry, no change.”

He whips out flashes of light, looking and sounding like metal rustling against long chards of glass. A butterfly knife. I haven’t seen anyone use one of those in a long while.
“Gimme your wallet, pal. Quick!”

This, of course, is the best part: the sudden shock from the torrent of adrenaline racing into blood vessels; the lungs widening, filling themselves with oceans of oxygen; the incredible flashing contractions of the heart. Everything is approaching infinity. Everywhere collapses into my own personal universe. The Big Bang is a spark at the centre of my being and now all life around me becomes possible, understandable. For one brief moment.
“Alright, ok, here it is.”

I am quick to take my wallet out, quick to hand it to him. This type of adventuring is dangerous. I’ve been punched a few times an d I’ve been stabbed once. But, my worst mugging wasn’t any of those. The worst was Alex. He was a student of mine the year before he mugged me. Promising and bright, I expected him to go into grad school. Instead he ended up standing in front of me on some lonely street that, seemingly, was only ever used to carry the darkest of nights into the city. He politely asked for my wallet and pretended not to know me. I did the same about him. There were few words exchanged between us and when he was gone I was left just some human shell trying to contain the darkness of despair. Humpty Dumpty without reason or rhyme. It really shouldn’t have affected me so much, but it did. I was put off getting mugged for months.

The line cook guy pocketed my wallet without looking through it. And, in the same motion, turned and ran off, saying “Thanks, fucker!”

I had filled my wallet with two fives, one ten, and a twenty; scraps of paper that I had copied bits of philosophies onto; a few business cards from restaurants and stores that I like; and that gift certificate tucked inside its green and red envelope. I had never even bothered to check how much it was worth. I think most people just take the money, check for credit cards, and then throw the wallet and its other contents out. But after the Alex incident I started writing bits of wisdom on scraps of paper. Sometimes I’d quote Rousseau or Voltaire, sometimes I’d just put down facts: The housefly is the most dangerous animal in the world because of its transmission of diseases or: More Monopoly money is printed in a year than real money is printed throughout the world. I don’t know why I do it; perhaps it’s an assertion — or pompous display — of intellectual power. Though more likely it has to do with guilt and fair trade. I don’t want the purchase of my ecstatic experiences boiling down to a simple, yet crude, exchange of money. Those bits of banal wisdom are meant to change, to improve, these people. I get my momentary high and they get an erudite wallet with some cash to help them dream. In this age you save the world my saving yourself first.

Two days later I’m at La Géométrie for a pre-conference get-together. It’s a fancy French restaurant with whole number prices and a wine list bigger than the menu. I am a little late because I hate these types of social events especially when they are hosted in a place that carves up shame in jus de sang under the guise of godly gourmandise. Our department is hosting a small conference on Rhetoric and Power in Social Relations in a couple of days and I will be presenting a paper on how texts within the genre of youth culture explore issues concerning the cultures that produce and read them. Of course, I am not really sure what I am talking about. This dinner is suppose to be a meeting, but I know nothing of importance will get discussed. I am introduced to a couple of new people. The first is charming dutch woman who keeps eyeing her wine glass. My boss then motions towards some guy with his back turn and says, “and this…

The man turned to face me, and there he was: the line cook from the other night.

“…is Dr. David Butler.”

 

Part 2 coming soon....

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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