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by Alfred de Grazia



Thomas tagged along after Swazey into Child's Bar and Restaurant. Odd shapes of lit candle and bits of oil-soaked rag afire lent a rakish atmosphere to the plain, cold place. They sat down to a small table to take coffee.

"You can't imagine the quality of the arguments in Union Square," reported Thomas.

"My dear fellow," declared Swazey, "of course I can. Did I not vehemently pursue the doctrines of free labor, free speech and free love there during the Thirties? Yet isn't all public debate a great fraud? Bits of information are conveyed, but minds are not changed."

"What does change minds, then?"

"Love changes minds. Only love. And them it strikes unexpectedly, a love

of man for man, man for woman, a group for a leader, and so forth."

"Charming, I'm sure, Professor Swazey, but where should all us professors be with love and love alone as our theme?"

"About where we are now… Just think for a moment, Thomas, of yourself. You are too serious, too rational. You are a perfectionist and therefore cynical. You try to say too much, to be complete. The result, nothing."

"It is true. I cannot act. I cannot get anything done. I see the top of the mountain and therefore am frightened by the first step upwards.

Believe me, Swazey, I sometimes feel that I am an unemployable. If it weren't for the teaching profession, which for me is permanent unemployment compensation, I should be nothing at all… Excuse me if I am slobbering, but I especially feel that way tonight."

"Cheer up, Thomas. What can you expect after drink and vomit? You are a likeable fellow, you know. You don't hurt anyone. That is of some consequence."

"But what shall I do? What shall I do? I am haunted really. I tell you I am obsessed.

"I carry a mark upon me that must be read by some others -- I think those three delinquents that bother me so much must read it: 'I am Useless in Search of Folly.'"

"Tonight my uselessness is excruciatingly evident and my folly all the more imminent and excessive."

Swazey had to laugh at him. Yet it was a sympathetic laugh and Thomas did not feel offended.

"I tell you, Swazey, I am thrice disgraced by uselessness. I was born that way, confined and doted upon by my mother - offered always only the passive way. I was applauded for accepting it, and for accepting it with a feline grace, for cutely and cattily playing with it. To be a professor has aggravated my condition and to be a professor of a shapeless and vague subject like American culture worsens the condition too. All I need do is talk and talk around the point, like a blinded mule must walk and walk around the well.

"All my life I have really done what the radio is now telling us all to do in the blackout--stay at home. The urge to act keeps aborting in me."

"Your definition of the verb "to act" is too narrow, S.J. You suffer in your mind from it. To live is to act. Where are thirty million people blacked out tonight. How many of them do you think are acting, by your definition? A thousand, a hundred thousand. Certainly no more."

"Certainly more!"

"Not if you mean the romantic kind of acting that your mind is stuffed with--deeds of heroism, tragic sacrifices, shoulders to the wheel and all of that."

"Perhaps so."

"Certainly so. Your very first mistake of the evening was to translate a happy event into a disaster. This is no disaster, it is a holiday, a feast day, a day of reconciliation, of fresh thoughts. It is not a day of darkness; it is a day of light."

"Swazey, you are a delirious optimist."

"Not at all, look at the lower classes. What do we notice about them? They are staging a Mardi Gras. They are masquerading. They are dominant.

"There may be some single man in the thirty millions who knows what happened to the lights. Every other man of high education and high skill is temporarily paralyzed and demoted. The lower classes leer at us and order us about, and we cannot perform our functions until the lights go on. So you must concede that for them the disaster is a good."

"I'm inclined to agree."

"Furthermore, think of all the husbands who will make love to their wives in the convenient and restful darkness. Isn't that also a great good?"

"Yes, it is."

"And isn't it also true that twenty million people will have a heaven-sent relief from television for a full night, Gorgias?"

"My name is Thomas."

"Excuse me. Thomas?"

"Yes, it is true."

"Take now the matter of crime, which ranges our dear city continuously. Is it not obvious that there will be less murder and harlotry and drug traffic tonight and isn't that good too?"

"Yes, that is so, Socrates."

"My name is Swazey."

"Excuse me. Swazey."

"And all of those people lining the subways--hungry by now, impatiently patient past the point of impatience--but looking at one another as human beings for the first time. Isn't that worth something?"

"Yes, but I don't believe that they appreciate it."

"You mean that though it may be good, it is not pleasurable."

"Right, you are.'

"There is a way out of this dilemma, never fear."

"Very well. I don't fear. However you worry me sometimes, Thrasymachus, I mean Socrates, I mean Swazey."

"Your mind is wandering tonight in a remarkable fashion, Thomas."

(Swazey was nearing the peak of success whence bullying sets in.)

"It may be those people at the next table. I can't see them well, but they are

doing a lot besides drinking coffee."

"Never mind them, pray," said Swazey. "Think instead of the little girls all over the northeast who are spared the daily ordeal of studying their images in their mirrors for hours on end! And the little boys who are masturbating peacefully in the dark without fear of officious interference. Are these not also goods?"

"Yes, they are good, or at least the blow to feminine vanity is good; but what the boys are doing is, I fear, only sheer pleasure. Isn't masturbation harmful?"

"Not at all. And think too of the little old ladies who can step out of their cramped, dull apartments, who can feel a comfortable fear, for once, knowing that nothing quite bad will befall them."

"Ah, yes. How true. Let me tell you about three little old ladies whom I met in a lobby tonight. They were secretly most pleased and absolutely bent upon not returning to their rooms for the duration of the crisis. The trouble is, though, that I'm not sure about them. These three men… three ladies…"

"Yes, yes," interjected Swazey impatiently. "But permit me to continue. You grant their pleasure and that they are benefitted."

"Well, yes, if it was the real 'they'."

"Of course it was the real they. Things don't change in the dark, you know, Thomas."

Thomas was startled. Actually, Swazey had come to look ghastly. His bones were appearing out of his gentle fat face. (Had Buddha Bones?) A luminosity was somehow suffusing his countenance and transforming it into a death's-head.

"Of course not, of course not…Incidentally, you haven't been X-rayed today or anything, have you?"

"Not at all. I didn't rise until dark."

"I see. But really, Swazey, everyone is inconvenienced by all of this pleasure and good, you know."

"What is inconvenience, Thomas?"

"Inconvenience is not having things in their accustomed places and not doing things according to their accepted priority and with their proper efficiency."

"Very well! Provided there is an underlying good that is greater than the substitute good. What is a vacation, Thomas?"

"A vacation is doing the unaccustomed outside of its usual order of priority without regard to efficiency provided it is generally pleasurable." Thomas was feeling his oats again. He ordered beer now for both of them.

"Is all which goes on in New York this evening pleasurable?"

"No, it is not."

"Is it pleasurable to you?"

"Well, yes it is, in a way."

"Do not fear that I shall try to move from the particular to the general."

"Thank you, for that would be the universalist fallacy."

"Yes, and we would leave that for Callicles and the likes of him."


"No matter. Let me ask, if a thing is not pleasurable, can it be good?"

"You have said so and I have agreed, Swazey, that what all these people are doing is better than what they would be doing.

"Good it is then. But as you guessed, Thomas, -- not pleasurable."

"Right," ( did not guess -- you old fag ; I am said to guess truth whereas you know it.)

"Now, of course, for a great many of these citizens, what they are doing now is both a pleasure and a good, for instance the cab drivers, the doormen, and the little boys. What proportion of the population would you say, therefore, is obtaining both good and pleasure?"

"Well over half, I should say, are enjoying a true vacation."

"But without pay," interjected Nalbandian the Obstreperous, who had been assiduously overhearing the discussion even while the others at his table were boozing and necking and raising a hullabaloo.

"Fine," continued Swazey, glaring malevolently at Nalbandian who leaned forward on his thick cane, resting his chin on its knob and beaming genially. "Now the rest, it would seem, are not sensing pleasure later on, do you think, Thomas, because of the good that they are doing now?"

"As a matter of fact, Swazey, most of them will. They will tell stories. They will derive enjoyment from the knowledge that they have gained of human relations and from their new ability at introspection. As you say, Swazey, 'Know Thyself.'

"They will have the pleasure that comes from well-exercised muscles, from clear eyes, from a good night's sleep."

"Now, whatever gives a greater postponed pleasure cannot be considered unpleasurable in the balance, can it, Thomas?"

"Say that again Swazey." (Nalbandian was chuckling in a diverting way.)

"I say, what is good now and pleasurable later, should be given credit on both counts, of course." Swazey sipped his beer and belched in satisfaction.

"A belch is not a good, Swazey." This came from Nalbandian. Thomas was too ashamed of his own excesses of the evening to criticize anyone else's.

"It is personally convenient. Though I fail to see what concern it is of yours. If you were turned to your own table you would not have heard it."

'"A rose in the empty desert still stinks good. Ha-ha" And Nalbandian placed his head back on the knob of his cane, smiling genially.

Thomas intervened. "Furthermore, Swazey, we have not properly accounted for those who have fallen down steps and broken their legs or for the man on the operating table when the lights went out."

"No, that is true, Thomas, we have not. But for every one like that -- there cannot be more than a hundred operating tables in New York -- are there not a great many more of the other type, of men and women who will be alive and well tomorrow…Men who were not murdered tonight because their wives found them still useful…Potential victims of gangs that could not assemble for a rumble…Women that escaped rape because their would-be assailants were lodged safely in subway cars…Children who avoided trucks that could not move fast enough to kill. There must be thousands of these. I won't mention the million neurotics who feel for the time being that they are involved in something bigger than their internal conflicts."

"Just a second. You say for the time being. Won't all of these evils be multiplied in the days to come? Won't the rapist, the rumblers, and speeders, the prostitutes and all the rest make up for lost time?"

"To some extent, perhaps," admitted Swazey. "But for a dead opportunity, there is no resurrection. The clock of evil will never catch up with these dark untold hours. The good will live on."

"Right, right, right!' bellowed Nalbandian, hammering his cane on the floor. (It was Thomas' turn to be annoyed at this interloper, a perennial adjunct professor whose classes were so suspiciously popular that he was never offered permanent appointment.)

Swazey hastened through the breach which Nalbandian had opened. "Every general policy, my dear Thomas, hurts some and helps others. The law is only a statistical preference for one set of harms and one set of helps."

"Go on, Swazey! Surely, you would not wish to perpetuate this state of affairs."

"Forsooth, no! Sufficient unto the night is the good thereof."

"Bravo!" (Damn that Nalbandian!)

"And you would not deny me the right to find my pleasure in being useful?"

"Not at all."

"Even though it's active good that I'm seeking, not an accident or the will of God preordained?"

"Hell, no?"

"And even though I may cause more harm than good by my bungling?"

"That's the other fellow's look-out."

"Well, then. I'm getting out of here." So saying, Thomas swept some coins off the table into his pocket and, breaking through cordons of bodies, strode with uplifted head into the open air.

"You know," mused Swazey, addressing Nalbandian now in an absent minded fashion, "that was my small change that he went off with."

"Buck up, if you'll forgive the expression," Nalbandian boomed heartily. "A teacher must pay for the privilege."


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