ROCK ISLAND, IL
It’s getting apocalyptic. The U.S. is shedding celebrities, freaks, and athletes like old skin. Neither Alaska nor Illinois has the governor it started its most recent gubernatorial charade with. The hateful Minnesota Twins are closing in on the noble Detroit Tigers now that the land of ten thousand lakes has finally achieved some degree of political identity—if not sanity. There’s been a bit of a spat on the all-absorbing indispensable FPR, and now, according to the Associated Press, the Little People of America want the word “midget” legislated off the airwaves.
Obviously the ghost of Walker Percy has been hovering about.
It was this thing with the midgets that tipped me off. Not long ago I read a news story that claimed a “midget” had attacked someone but escaped capture. Two things stood out: someone had gotten away with using the word “midget,” and a midget had gotten away. Incredible! Then I learned from a follow-up story that the assailant in question, still on the lam, was believed to be clairvoyant.
So Walker Percy was out & about plus there was a small medium at large. Serendipitous! I went in search of them both.
Now you have to understand. At the time there was considerable political turmoil on The Porch, which is to say in America itself, and everyone—I mean everyone—was talking about it. It was like that little exchange in Love in the Ruins—
Ellen: There are riots in New Orleans, and riots over here. The students are fighting the National Guard, the Lefts are fighting the Knotheads, the blacks are fighting the whites. The Jews are being persecuted.
Tom: What are the Christians doing?
—only much worse:
PoMoCons, always solicitous of putting first things first, were standing up for their double-caramel skinny lattes and accusing Front Porchers of being corn-cob-smoking hayseed racists.
Front Porchers replied by over-theorizing and under-reticulating their views.
The HoMoCons were accusing the PoMoCons of being “Front Porkers,” which made the conflicted MetroCons adjust themselves and peer uncomfortably over their Raybans, while EvangeliCons from Dixie to Duluth picketed earnestly near every rainbow they could find, including the ones in the oil stains on the parking lot of the local Kum & Go.
The EmotiCons were weeping and gnashing their pixelated teeth, while the RubiCons couldn’t remember who had crossed what or whom.
A coupling between the unwed daughter of a PaleoCon and the self-righteous son of a NeoCon (the lad was also a youth pastor at a Giga-Church) resulted somewhat redundantly in the birth of a PleonastiCon (for whom life begins at conception but ends at birth), and rumor had it that not only had a GothiCon worn white but a CrunchyCon had shaved her legs.
BenedictiCons were consulting encyclicals, mostly Blogeri Soporificum. ApocalypticCons were searching the book of Daniel and texting Jack Van Impe, who, it turns out, wasn’t his usual lucid self, because he had recently caught Rexella and Chuck walking flushed and joyful out of the yes!-YES!-YES!iCon.
CalviCons pointed to the debate as further proof of double predestination, joined the ElectoCons at Russ’s and Shoney’s for pie and coffee, and conversed disdainfully about “those reprobate OrthoCons,” who were drinking and dancing at an ethnic festival “while all that God has planned for our individual lives is threatened by Tradition–Tradition!”
A fight broke out among our Jewish, African-American, and Spanish-speaking brethren (SemitiCons, HomeyCons, and MexiCons), and if I am not deceived six AgriCons, lured into dullness by ukulele music, had microchips secretly implanted in their ears by covert representatives from ConAgri.
A mess, to say the least.
So when I found the fugitive midget—he was hiding out with some friends—I asked him whether he could channel Walker Percy for help. “The Porch needs him,” I explained, and for a couple of pulls on my bottle of Early Times the diminutive conjuror agreed. (Did my eyes deceive me or did not the small medium actually savor the bosky bite of bourbon whiskey? Did he not put his hands to his throat and, like Kate Cutrer, say, “Oh, that’s beautiful!”)
He smacked his lips and said to my kneecaps, “I can do it. The salt domes here are not too dense.”
My spirits soared. He had all the confidence–and even the leg-kick–of one of these.
I expected him to go all calm on me. I expected his eyes to roll back in his head or turn red. But no! He stood, hands behind his back, against the tree, bouncing off it slowly and watching summer girl-elves in their summer dresses walk by, their flip-flops slapping against the bottoms of their feet and their splendid thick golden legs scissoring–though not exactly scissoring–through the forest. Then he swung his right fist into his left palm and knocked back a Tang-plus-vodka-plus-duckegg-plus-Tabasco sauce. His capillaries opened up wide, his hair follicles started popping like howitzers, and soon the Weeblo was in a trance.
It was then I heard the slow ironic drawl of Walker Percy himself:
Neither party listened to the other. They would come close as lovers, eyes glistening, shake fingers at each other, actually take hold of the other’s clothes. There were even fistfights.
It crossed my mind that people at war have the same need of each other. What would a passionate liberal or conservative do without the other?
I find myself wondering, what it is the passionate arguer is afraid of? Is he afraid that he might be wrong? That he might be right? An abyss opens. Is it not the case that something is better than nothing, arguing, violent disagreement, even war?
More than once I noticed … that passionate liberals, passionate on the race question, had no use for individual blacks, and that passionate conservatives could not stand one another. Can you imagine Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson spending a friendly evening along together?
One of life’s little mysteries: an old-style Southern white and an old-style Southern black are more at ease talking to each other, even though one may be unjust to the other, than Ted Kennedy talking to Jesse Jackson—who are overly cordial, nervous as cats in their cordiality, and glad to be rid of each other.
Ted Kennedy and Jesse Jackson—each is walking on eggshells. What to say next in this rarified atmosphere of perfect liberal agreement? What if one should violate the fragile liberal canon, let drop a racist remark, an anti-Irish Catholic slur? What if Jesse Jackson should mention Hymie? The world might end. They are glad to get it over with. What a relief! Whew!
Then the Munchkin said the signal was fading and held his hand out for the bottle.
“Hold on, you Elfin Fraud!” I said. “This is straight out of The Thanatos Syndrome!” But he just flung his hand out a second time, so I handed over the bottle.
Two hard pulls on the Early Times and he was tuned in again. It was Percy all right. I could tell by the irreverence in his voice. He sounded as put off as if someone had just chastised him for being impertinent enough to publish a bunch of anti-abortion drivel in the New York Times. “Of course it’s from Thanatos Syndrome,” he said. You think I have time to write new material here in Limbo with Jerry Falwell snapping at my heels and rumors up there that goddamned Newt has joined the fold? Hell!”
Tattoo (for so he wished to be called) went silent for a moment as if to give me time to meditate upon the travails of this sojourner, this wayfarer and pilgrim. Presently I raised the bottle solemnly and drank to Percy, whereupon I heard something like the wine of an old transistor radio as if it were zeroing in on a station. “Besides,” I heard the Sage of Covington add, “you peckerwood sonsabitches on the Front Porch recycle old material all the time!”
And like Art Immelmann through a ring of sulfurous smoke he was gone.
So I turned to the midget and said, “do you find the word ‘midget’ offensive?” The little bastard kicked me in the shin and scampered off, eluding capture for the second time in as many weeks.