Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The New World

Yesterday he asks about my relationship to the café’s owners. I tell him they’re my friends. He says maybe he can make friends with me. I admit I’m easy to make friends with. His name is Erasmus.
Today I ask him if he plays chess. He says he can. I tell him I’ll bring a chessboard. He says it’s nice to have a friend. He tells me that someone else once said that we should love our friends with the greatest intensity possible from whatever distance is necessary. He explains that the woman he is quoting came to a bad end. I say that most extraordinary people do. He says that his mother was extraordinary and she led a peaceful existence. I amend my statement. Many extraordinary people come to a bad end.

This morning Walter Richard Patton came in and ordered a Danish. In high school he reversed the order of his first and middle name and came to be known by all as Dick or Dickie. His father died in Chicago the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed. The next day Dick's younger brother, Arthur, came to him and said he wanted to join the Navy. He was 16 years old. Dick helped him to alter his baptismal record by changing a 5 to a 3, thus helping Arthur to gain enough years to enlist. Dick himself joined the navy shortly after his family moved to Utah.

Erasmus told me this afternoon that he once hunted down an archeologist who studies modern artifacts; eye droppers, paper cups, anything that can be found in an urban gutter. Erasmus located him, surprisingly, tucked away in rural Maine. The gentleman told him that he had worked in Berkeley on the development of the Nuclear bomb. He described the day after the bombing of Hiroshima, standing among the scientists who had helped create the most devastating weapon designed by mortal men. He told Erasmus that they all went a little crazy that day, the day after 66,000 people were killed all at once.

When Dick came out of the Navy he found himself in California. He could never bring himself to return to his family's home. There was a reason for this. In 1945 Art was lost off the coast of a small island in the South Pacific. Dick felt responsible. He was the one who had changed that 5 to a 3.

When Erasmus was ten years old his teacher and the school's principal called a special conference with his mother. In this conference she was told that her son was mentally retarded. She asked on what grounds they were making this proclamation. She was told that he didn’t understand that he should sit in his seat. He preferred to sit in the windowsill. She was then shown a paper covered in writing and told that he didn’t understand how to write in the lines. She withdrew Erasmus from the school and sent him to another.

Dick’s grandmother came from Austria with her husband and their family. Her brother in law brought his family all at the same time, but after passing through Ellis island, the two brothers never saw or heard from each other again. They simply lost one another in the strange new world.

I listen to Erasmus conducting an interview on the radio. He is speaking with a woman from England who leaked secret documents revealing a plot to bribe members of the United Nations into supporting the Iraq war. He asks her if she regrets having done it. She tells him she does not. She explains that she had thought the war might be stopped if she revealed the truth, but nothing came of her actions. She was fired from her job, she faced imprisonment, but there was a war just the same. Erasmus thanks her for her bravery.

Dick’s father died in Chicago the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed. The day after the attack on Hiroshima, a group of scientists in Berkeley went a little crazy. One of them became an archeologist that studies modern artifacts. Arthur was lost at sea off the coast of a small island in the south pacific. Dick could never go home again. He sits in an empty café in Berkley, a very lonely old man with a heavy heart. Erasmus’s mother was an extraordinary woman who was told that her young son was mentally retarded. Later he was nominated for a Pulitzer. Now he is interviewing a person that hoped to prevent a war by telling the truth.

Someone said that we should love our friends with the greatest intensity possible from whatever distance is necessary. That someone came to a bad end. Many extraordinary people come to a lonely, painful end. They are simply lost, separated from those they once loved by choice or death or circumstance, left alone to face the strange new world.

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