The middlebrow clincher to any argument is called "contradiction." It’s the sole guide and absolute tenet of talk. Dialectics in the coffee shop is ultimately finding your opponent has made conflicting claims.
As in all matters, events creep out of memory to mean what I find later on. Here from 1969 is the wife of a jovial weightlifter and owner of a gym, the one called Dr Dope for his chemical conveyence to other lifters. She has watched a talk show the previous evening.
First we should set the paramters of the discussion. We are all Texans. That cuts down the scope considerably. This ain’t MIT. But, the lifter and his wife are residents of an upscale neighborhood, Lake Jackson, and they are multimillionaires. That makes ’em smart.
"Joan Baez contradicted herself," says the wife. No further comment. None needed. Like she wore plaid with stripes; no argument.
"Up here," says the son, pointing to a VA claim response about his deceased father, "they say it won’t be, and down here, they say it’s all right." Case closed, even though neither of the statements he alluded to had anything to do with what he claimed.
For about four months, I was involved in a walking contradiction. Let me tell you about those days.
One of the main characters of a novel which energized a whole generation was Camille. I wrote to her about fifteen years after the book was published. Hi, Camille! Hi, she said. Why not come to California and we can be writers together. Okay, I said.
Now, Camille at the time was invested in a very extreme sort of universal cosmic makeover. Briefly, she believed in the spirit world extensively, to the extent it would inflict blessings on the hard cold ground of the everyday, if you believed. Shoot, I had just driven out from lonesome prairie smalltown Texas, so I was certainly ready for some bracing metaphysics. I thought reality was just too much with us during most days.
Camille had quit her job, cold, without any earthly idea about how she would support herself. Oh, Tinkerbell did have some ordinary wires holding her up; she used a credit card, food stamps, and her mortgage was in the name of some obliging and much abused friends. "It’s a natural law," she told me often, this cycle of wealth, so we sat back and waited for the celestial bounty to drop in.
As a huge favor to her in time of stress (her husband was a widely-known juggernaut of two generations but in his private life a not-very-dependable bipolar who battered women), a couple named Big Ed and Galatea Dunkel, also from the book, agreed to place the Camille homestead in their name. And so, quite promptly every month, the mortgage payment came due, Camille didn’t pay it, so the Dunkels had to. I was there for maybe four phone calls when Camille listened passively without emotion and Galatea cried to her about betrayal and recklessness. Okay, said Camille, well, goodbye.
See, one advantage of all this spiritual growthfulness was a complete lack of emotion. The ideal is a Zen saint, or a patient in a catatonic state; same thing. (Remember Dohbya in Sarasota when they tried to roust him out of the elementary classroom and his utter panic on 9-11 and he was like a jacklit deer? That’s Zen.) When the bills were shifted to someone else, Camille had aplomb down pat.
However, when pressure was on her … not so much. She was critical, showed anger, little patience nor human regard. She eventually grew weary of me, who demands overmuch patience, and began complaining, and I thought it a good time to put her in touch with her own contradictions. What’s all this metaphysics about money? – and don’t you know you can’t worship both God and mannon? – and, besides, look here, I said, you profess all these superhuman evolved qualities of clear mind and saintly spirit yet you kick your dog. She smiled and said, when I come home tomorrow, I don’t expect to see you here.
It was bound to be. How could I expect to last in that house after the sweet was chewed plumb out of the gum stuck on our bedpost all them nights? After all, she was semi-famous and twenty years to the day older than me and here I was just another dumb Texan who couldn’t even write to order.
I came out better than some others I knew about who lived with her after her ex-husband was found out along that railroad track in San Miguel de Allende. The first was a middle-aged mystery writer, unpublished, who met her demise in a headon returning from Mexico. Another was an armed revolutionary who died in a shootout with police on a Chicago freeway while hitchhiking away from Camille. The other was a 16-year-old beauty who I hope fared better. The beauty called one day while I was still in residence, asking if her drivers license had by chance been mailed there.
"No," said the serene Camille, succinctly if very coldly.
I check in with Camille and her family anonymously from time to time. They have websites that offer some history and plenty of goods for sale, yet I see nothing of the spirit world represented. Maybe she gave it all up. It sure didn’t seem to be working for her, but then, it’s always like that.