Two margaritas and a steak.
I could never be my father. Sometimes, I think about how much he taught me by saying so little. He kept it inside. You could see it, turning behind his eyes. The pain of having your brother who you defended in fights for years because he was outspoken and small, always getting into trouble and needing to be bailed out, wreck your car in Chicago, Illinois, in 1944 while you are trying to find work and living in a basement apartment feeling the cold lake wind in the dead of winter. You could see the resentment, lodged there from being felt-up by a gay doctor as you took a physical to work in Gary, Indiana, to earn enough money to get to your younger brother who lived in California who promised that work could be found there. He never said much at all. He wasn’t mad about this at all, he was just processing it, dealing with each day as he could, and trying to do the best thing for himself and his family.
You didn’t need to tell him that there was evil in the world, for he stared it down when he was twelve looking down the barrel of a gun pointed by his alcoholic father, trying to defend his mother and his siblings from the assault of madness. He didn’t carry a grudge, he just dealt with it. Quietly. Inside himself, and seldom did it ever move out into the light. It was private.
My father gave me one piece of advice that I’ll always remember: “Son, you can only do what you think the best thing to do is at the time.” He didn’t know that he was training me to be a Sophist. It was only obvious that my father’s idea of truth was relative. He saw decision making as complex, and the more you knew about something the better off you were. He didn’t know, as he brushed me aside and told me to “go to the library and look it up” that he was training me to be a scholar.
And I didn’t know at the time that his reasons for doing this were twofold: he didn’t trust himself as an authority, and it would get a pesky kid out of his hair. Most things were understandable if you dug into it, he thought. Dad made the same argument about Shakespeare that Huxley did, phrased in a Will Rodgers cliché: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Human nature doesn’t change. Things happen, and you deal with it. “You need to read some of those Russians, son, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky— they knew a thing or two.” Dad never graduated the eighth grade, but he knew that if you went to the library you could find what you needed to help you out. He didn’t know of Tom Huxley, but if it would have been useful to him, he would have found out.
I’m nothing like him. Or am I? All I know is that where he was quiet, I can get loud. Where he stayed away from people, I gravitate toward them. Where he was private, I am public. Where his life was filled with obligation, ultimately I have none. Now, that is. I tried to live life that way, it just didn’t work out. I’ve been thinking a bit about the Oedipal thing.
I’ve had it in my mind for a while to write some stuff about Walker Evans. Jonathon Delacour and I talked about it a long time ago, and he brought him up again recently. I’ve been revisiting a bunch of stuff, realizing that in order to say what I want to say that it will take many days and many posts. Perhaps I’ll tackle it next week, after I finish up the semester’s business. I was looking at Belinda Rathbone’s biography and was reminded that his father was in advertising. You couldn’t pick a more opposite pole for his career path. Or could you? Like my relationship with my father’s ways, I think that Evan’s father perhaps was part of the reason why he was so resistant to being involved in any propaganda enterprise. And yet he was, in a strange way.
Much more on this later. I just had to write to clear off the buzz and settle my dinner. And perhaps recommit myself to the enterprise. What Walker Evans was up to is vastly oversimplified in most of the material I visited on the web. Perhaps in the next few days I’ll offer up some links, but I hesitate to do that before I clarify my own position on the subject. There’s always more to know. But there also needs to be a time to write.