Today I will deliver part I in a series in which I quote passages of writing which have entertained me. They have entertained me for a variety of reasons. What I will do is quote the passage, then try to explained why the passage tickles my fancy so much. I will number the passages, for my own further entertainment, since I like numbering things. If there are any cases where my quotes give away too much of the plot, I will try to warn you.
1/This is from Penrod and Sam by Indiana author Booth Tarkington. Penrod, Penrod and Sam, and Penrod Jashber are the three books devoted to Penrod and his friends. They are very funny. Probably they are not as famous as they once were. They are in danger of being cancelled, these days, since there are several instances of the n-word being used, at least in the first two of them. (I haven’t scanned the third one recently.)
In Penrod and Sam, the boys create a secret society familiarly known as the In-Or-In. Part of the joy of a secret society, of course, is keeping people out. The boys want to keep out Georgie Basset, who . . . well, read the books. Georgie can be annoying. Anyway, parental intervention forces the boys to include Georgie in the secret society. The boys are not defeated, however. They make lemonade out of a lemon. They devise an initiation for Georgie–an initiation from the pit of hell. They blindfold and torment Georgie unmercifully. This causes repercussions from adults when they find out about it. Sam is forced to tell what happened, to his father. The telling takes a long time! The final indignation put upon Georgie had been paint on his hair. What else, Mr. Williams wants to know.
‘”That’s all,” said Sam, swallowing. “Then he got mad and went home.”‘ (Chapter VI)
That makes me laugh out loud. ‘”Then he got mad and went home.”‘ Poor Sam. He is doing his best to pretend that Georgie had been a free agent in all the torment he underwent. Georgie, according to this theory, only got mad at the end. When he did, he decided to go home, and just up and did so. Right. Tell it to the Marines. Georgie had been tormented all along, and there had been nothing voluntary about it–except that Georgie had wanted to be in a secret society that didn’t want him as a member. After that, Georgie had been completely at the mercy (non-existent) of the other boys.
Booth Tarkington, incidentally, doesn’t tell us how nonsensical Sam’s comment is. He trusts his readers to catch that on our own. Somewhere along the line, whether the first or fifth reading, I caught it, and that line has stuck with me ever since. It still makes me laugh. ‘”Then he got mad and went home.”‘
By the way, what does In-Or-In stand for, Mr. Williams wonders? Sam tells him: ‘”Innapenent Order of Infadelaty.”‘
You will not be surprised to learn that Penrod and Sam face corporal consequences for their behavior toward Georgie. It was a simpler time.
2/The following passage is from Cutting Through the Matrix by Alan Watt. I have not even read the book! But I have read and enjoyed the passage. It explains how sometimes an ordinary person will begin to wake up to how the Powers That Be are destroying our civilization. The waking person comes to stage 3.
‘The individual looks around for others already exposing “the conspiracy.” These established champions inform him which “conspiracy” books to read. Having done so, the individual begins to “expose” the corruption, first to friends, then when friendless, he either publishes what he has gleaned or becomes paranoid and withdraws from society altogether.’ (from Book 2 of Cutting Through the Matrix)
The words that especially struck me from this passage are “then when friendless.” I love the laconic way in which Mr. Watt assumes that the one trying to warn friends about our situation leads automatically to that one becoming friendless, as his former friends immediately drop him from being a friend. The phrase is perfect. The author could have written “then, when friendless.” He doesn’t, though. Brilliantly, he eschews the comma. That the person has become friendless is no surprise, is expected, is automatic.
I think there is a great deal of truth in what the author has written. Try speaking the truth about the way the world is put together. Then when friendless (and perhaps family-less, and church-less) come back and tell me how that went for you. Are you now paranoid? Withdrawing from society? A combination of the two?
If you think I am exaggerating the results of trying to speak the truth, consider the case of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. As soon as he started trying to tell us in the West painful truths about ourselves, the elite in this country dropped him like a hot potato. “Then when friendless” Solzhenitsyn just kept on keeping on. He, unlike the nameless waking person, did not become paranoid, nor did he withdraw from society altogether. Fortunately he had a large handful of people who understood and appreciated what he was trying to tell us. So Solzhenitsyn never became completely friendless. “Then when friendless” never really applied to him completely. But there sure were a lot of people who dropped him when he spoke painful truths.
The phrase “then when friendless” is very insightful, and is also hilariously funny. It would make a great title for a book: Then When Friendless. The book cries out to be written simply because of the greatness of the title. That was an excellent piece of writing from Alan Watt. He packed a lot of value in three words!
3/The following passage is from The Drop by Dennis Lehane. Bob Saginowski, the protagonist of the story, comes up against a case of possible lateness by one of the employees of his cousin Marv’s bar.
“Bob, who’d never been late in his life, suspected there was something hostile at the core of people who always were.” (The Drop, Chapter 2)
Bob, I am glad that at least one other person in the world–even though you are a fictional character–has noticed that there is something wrong with people who are habitually late. So I am not alone in my disapprobation of lateness! I suppose there are two types of people in the world: those who are often late, and always have an excuse for it; those who are seldom or never late, and who do not shrug it off when they are.
As my Aged Parent would say, “I can see why you never married.” Yes, it is true, I am judgmental. Being late seems to me the act of someone selfish and self-absorbed. Someone late is saying, “Rules of courtesy don’t apply to me. You are fortunate to have me show up at all.” Have you ever noticed that some people are even willing to show up late for Sunday School or for church? You have noticed? You, unlike me, probably just shrugged it off. I don’t shrug it off. I consider it to be a bad sign.
The point could be made that Bob Saginowski has dark places in his own character, as we will find if we read the entire book. And so, one might theorize, the same holds true for me. Okay, fine. I don’t care. I still think lateness is a bad thing, and I stand with Bob Saginowski.
The Drop is not a book everyone will want to read. It has vulgar language, and lots of violence. The movie “The Drop” starring Tom Hardy as Bob also has vulgar language, and considerable violence. Neither book nor movie will be appreciated by everyone, although I found them both fascinating.
And I will remain eternally grateful that Bob Saginowski, helped along by Dennis Lehane, has pointed out once and for all that lateness is a bad thing.
4/The following passage is written by the narrator of Notes from Underground, a short novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The man from underground is a man who is living on the fringes of society, at least psychologically. He is damaged goods–self-damaged goods, most of us would agree after reading the entire book. But he is capable of insights. Here is what he says about mankind.
“Gentlemen, let us suppose that man is not stupid. (Indeed one cannot refuse to suppose that, if only from the one consideration, that, if man is stupid, then who is wise?) But if he is not stupid, he is monstrously ungrateful! Phenomenally ungrateful. In fact, I believe that the best definition of man is the ungrateful biped.” (section VIII of Notes from Underground)
Looking for a scientific definition of man? Look no further: “the ungrateful biped” separates us from the other animals, and manages to highlight our most characteristic trait. The man from underground has nailed our carcass to the wall. How quickly we become ungrateful! How little we express gratitude, no matter how immense our blessings! We are indeed the ungrateful biped.
I love what Dostoyevsky has done here. You want science? You believe in “the science”? He won’t let us escape from the reality that life has a moral dimension. Gratitude/ingratitude are part of the moral dimension of life. Look at how we bipeds behave. Supposedly we are the product of evolution. (Supposedly only–evolution is drivel.) And to what point have we evolved? Science has defined us: we are the ungrateful biped. That is a lot more accurate than anything Charles Darwin or the fantasists who have followed him, have ever been able to say about mankind.
Well, there are four passages of writing which have entertained me. I can see that I have material for several more days. Lord willing, part II will appear next week.