23 September 2017

Untitled Novel: The Doorkeeper

[Passage from an untitled novel, written 23/24 September 1992]
The doorkeeper came in, obviously awed by the great magician. “You sent for me, my Lord?”
“Yes,” said Simon. “I have learned that a certain man has come to this city today. This man has come to undo the good work we have done here, and to turn people away from the True Path. Do you understand?”
The doorkeeper stared vacantly ahead, his eyes fixed on nothing in particular, his mouth gaping.
“Do you understand?” repeated Simon sharply.
“I’m sorry, Lord,” the doorkeeper said slowly. “My wits are no longer what they once were, and they wander about like woolly sheep in a blizzard.”
“You’ll have to pardon him,” said Marcellus, “He’s old, and he’s never seen a magician before.”
“I am not a magician,” said Simon wearily. “That’s a vulgar term used by people who do not understand the source of my power. I do nothing—I can do nothing—nothing at all, do you understand me?—without the power of God. A magician attempts to bend the forces of the cosmos to his own will; a man of God submits his will to the forces of the cosmos.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” said Marcellus, “I know all that. But you will have to admit, that it is not every day that a man comes into the presence of a great magician.”
Giving up the point, Simon returned to his main difficulty. “There is a man who has come to the city to undo our work here. His name is also Simon, but he is called Rock, and by that name you will know him.”
“Is he your evil twin, Lord?” asked the doorkeeper.
“Yeah, sure, that’s close enough,” said Simon. Good and evil were meaningless abstractions, but what was the point of rubbing the poor old man’s nose in it? “This man will soon show up here, to break apart our discussions and to confuse our counsels. There is no point in debating with him; I’ve tried, and his mind is like a sheet of iron—impenetrable to the slightest new idea or concept. When God allowed us free will, the only real freedom he gave us was the right to be wrong—” He broke off, realizing that he was wandering again.
“So what about this man, Lord?” asked the doorkeeper.
“What about him? When he comes here—and he will come here, you may be sure of that—when he comes, at whatever hour of the day or night, tell him that I am not in.”
“But what if you are in, Lord?”
“Tell him that I’m not in,” said Simon impatiently.
“I am to lie then, Lord?”
“But what if you’re not in, Lord? Am I to lie then too?”
“No,” said Simon, “In that case, you tell the truth.”
“So if you are in, I lie and say that you’re not in, but if you’re not in, I tell the truth. What if I don’t know whether you’re in or not? Do I lie then, Lord, and say I do know?”
“Whatever you like,” said Simon. “It’s very simple. In any case, and under all circumstances, you tell Rock Simon when he comes that I am not in. Not in. Do you understand?”
“Not in the least, Lord,” replied the doorkeeper cheerfully, “But that will not keep me from carrying out your orders to the last detail. I do not understand orders, Lord; I merely obey them.”
“You may go,” said Marcellus to the doorkeeper.
“Will he do as he’s told?” asked Simon.
“Oh, of course he will,” said Marcellus. “He may talk like a blithering idiot, but he’s really as sharp as we are. Now, what was it you were saying about the relationship between accidents here on earth and the power of God?”
So the rest of the day passed pleasantly enough in such discussions and in the blessings of the power of God. The next day, however, was a different story.
They were at breakfast when there came a cry from outside the house: “The dog’s loose!” This was a scarcely necessary observation, for the dog himself came bounding in to the dining hall with great enthusiasm.
“What is the meaning of this?” said Marcellus angrily, jumping to his feet and addressing the dog as if he expected an answer.
Unsurprisingly, the dog ignored his question. Surprisingly, however, he addressed Simon. “Simon,” he said, in a clear ringing voice, “Rock the servant of Christ is standing at the door, and says to you, ‘Come out in public; for on your account I have come to Rome, you most wicked deceiver of simple souls!’”
For a moment Simon was speechless. The single overwhelming thought that went through his mind was the mental equivalent of a series of exclamation points. The man was clever, no doubt of that. Who would have thought of his using a dog to get by the doorkeeper? Or had the doorkeeper somehow given the show away? The old man had not seemed to be that bright, despite what Marcellus had said. The moment of surprise lost Simon his advantage, no doubt as Rock had intended. Marcellus had left the table and gone off to see what was going on at the gate to his house.
“Go tell Rock that I’m not in—not to him, anyway,” said Simon to the dog.
“Wicked and shameless person,” said the dog, “enemy of everybody alive who believes in Jesus Christ; you see before you a mute animal given human speech to prove that you are a con-man and a liar. Did it take you all night to come up with this lame excuse? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, doing your feeble best to contend with Rock, the servant and messenger of Christ? Don’t get me wrong, none of this is for your benefit; this is for the benefit of those that you are sending to destruction. You are therefore cursed as an enemy and corruptor of the way to the truth of Christ, who shall prove you iniquities which you have done with undying fire, and you shall be in outer darkness.” And with these words the dog ran off, followed by the people, who after all, had never seen a talking dog before. This was a marvel greater even than Simon the magician, and so Simon was left by himself.
“It’s a cheap trick,” he said to himself. But it worked.

14 September 2017

Quotation of the Day

rump is a Frankenstein’s monster of past presidents’ worst attributes: Andrew Jackson’s rage; Millard Fillmore’s bigotry; James Buchanan’s incompetence and spite; Theodore Roosevelt’s self-aggrandizement; Richard Nixon’s paranoia, insecurity, and indifference to law; and Bill Clinton’s lack of self-control and reflexive dishonesty.—Jack Goldsmith
[Source: “Will Donald Trump Destroy the Presidency?Atlantic, October 2017]

03 September 2017

Quotation of the Day

eanwhile, the public servants who are in a position to do something about this—not least the Republican leaders of Congress—sit on their hands. Many of them know that their president is morally bankrupt, congenitally dishonest, brazenly corrupt, and when it comes to the highest duties of his office way in over his head. Yet, whether out of party loyalty, fear, or short-term ideological interest, they do nothing. The annals of history are crammed with tales of political and civic leaders who watch their nations sink slowly or plunge swiftly into decay or destruction, yet avoid action—not so much sleepwalking into disaster but walking wakefully, with eyes wide open. We may be witnessing something like that in real time now.—Fred Kaplan
[in “The Secretary’s Rebuke,” 28 August 2017]
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