All great truths begin as blasphemies.
- George Bernard Shaw, Annajanska
Bill was quiet. He gingerly descended the steep stairs from the upstairs apartment. Dan walked behind him, following him into the living room where they both sank into comfy chairs. After a few minutes, Bill sighed deeply. "Man, you are bumming me out. Bum-ming me out." He said more slowly with a deliberate accent on each syllable.
"Sorry about that." Dan offered. "You did ask. Now you know why I don't talk about it."
"No shit." Bill agreed. "That is one depressing story. So do you think you'll see Trixie before you go home?"
Dan signed deeply. "I honestly don't know. I'm not really sure I want to. After all this time and all the time I spent obsessing about it, I don't think I want to relive what for me was a very dark time. I acted depressed a lot of the time. I'm surprised I made any friends at all. It took such a long time before I felt anything approaching normal that I'd like it to stay that way. I feel like a completely different person now. I don't mean that in any touchy feely new age way, I mean I feel like there are two me's. And the me that used to live here died that weird day, just the same as my mother did. The new me isn't necessarily improved, but he's a completely different person. But people always treat you the same as the last time they saw you. They can't allow for change. I notice it every time I speak to relatives or an old friend I haven't seen in a long time. They assume I'm still the same as they remember me even though they're probably not the same either. It's just the way human nature works, I suspect."
"Another weird thing is I'm not even sure I'd like Trixie anymore. I've changed so much, done so many other things that I never thought I'd do or experience. You know how people compare making a decision with choosing a path? Well, the path I chose led away from here. I guess I escaped, so to speak. If I had stayed here and married Trixie, bought a house in town, got a job, had kids, all that so-called normal stuff, what would my life look like today? I can't even imagine it, to tell you the truth. Would I be happy" Who fuckin' knows? I can't go back and change anything so what's the point of thinking about it."
"No need getting testy with me." Bill admonished.
"Sorry, no. I don't mean to take it out on you." Dan apologized. "I've just been over and over this subject in my head and with anyone who would listen for so many years that I'm just tired of talking about it. It's all new to you, but to me it's ancient history that refuses to stay buried in the back yard. I feel so exposed here in Shillington. I feel like I need to constantly be on my guard so I don't run into anything I can't handle. In California, I can effectively escape my past in the sense that the likelihood that it will walk up to me on the street is next to nil. Here it's practically inevitable. Everywhere I look there are reminders, ghosts and landmarks; like my past is alive. I don't know how people live in the same place their whole lives."
"So are we done yet?" Bill asked, changing the subject.
"Yeah, everything to send home is in the foyer now. Tomorrow I'll call UPS to pick up the boxes. The auction house will come in and price everything for the estate sale next week. They'll take care of inventorying everything and selling it. Jim Anwalt will be here to oversee them and keep them honest. So by next weekend, the house will be empty. Just another empty house on the market with people trampling through it, oblivious to the history of the place. It's going to be weird, this place not being in the family. Hell, my grandfather and my dad built this place with their own hands. Their personality is all around; in the walls, the floor, in the stone itself. You don't get that with cookie cutter housing developments where every house looks virtually the same. They're just houses, not homes. Very few homes today were built by the people who live in them. I think that's a shame. I know it's just modernization and specialization but I like an old-fashioned world sometimes."
"So, what now?" Bill asked. "You want a beer?"
"Sure, if you're getting up I'll take an IPA. Thanks." Dan responded.
Bill came back, beers in hand, and handed one to Dan. "You're not taking that ugly statue." Bill said, gesturing to the statue of a man on the fireplace mantle. It was a statue of an old man with a gold head, silver chest and legs of brass and iron. The right foot was made of clay and the entire thing, except for the head, was riddled with cracks. "What the hell is that thing?
"Yeah, it's pretty hideous alright. I don't know much about it. It's been there as long as I can remember. I don't know who would buy it, but I'm sure as hell not taking it home with me." Dan replied.
"So, any surprises so far?" Bill asked.
"Do you mean is the town the same as I remember it?" Dan clarified.
"Sort of." Bill said. "Has anything you've found been radically different than you thought it would be? But not just the place, the people, too."
"Well, I knew the town would have lots if new and different architecture. There's no stopping progress. It's tied to our dysfunctional economy." Dan began, standing and walking over to the fire. Embers were flaking and floating out of the fire, coming to rest on the stone floor in front of the fireplace. He stoked the fire and a rain of fiery flakes filled the inside of the firebox. Dan eyed a discreet bucket of white sand hidden behind a planter. A large ember landed in the bucket and for instant he watched the sand burn.
"One of the strangest things about religious fundamentalism is how on one hand they supposedly take everything literally yet when it comes to things their okay with or need then they simply look the other way and nobody calls them on it. Take usury. Originally the term meant any amount that had to be repaid for a loan. In other words, not just interest but anything. So if I borrow one dollar from you and you demand that I repay you two dollars, that's usury. Later, it became interest, and now it generally means exorbitant or illegally high interest. But it's forbidden in the bible, in Leviticus and Deuteronomy I think. I'm pretty sure it comes up in other places, too. The reason Jesus cleared the temple in that scene where angry Jesus goes nuts had a lot to do with the Jews ignoring their own usury laws. So you'd think we'd hear Jerry Falwell preaching against Bank of America or Citibank. I mean, if their number one premise is that every word of the bible is true, without question, then why aren't they calling for an end to usury? Well, besides the fact that their lying hypocrites which should be pretty obvious to anyone with a brain, it would destroy the economy and they need the present economy just as much as every other rich person. I'm not suggesting we abolish usury, although I'd like to see what a world without banks would be like, but I sure would like to stop having moral superiority preached to me by hypocrites. What's most galling is that it shows that they don't take every word of the bible literally, just the ones they agree with."
"Usury is also oddly responsible for a lot of the hatred of Jews. Early christians in Europe actually did think usury was bad and accepted it as forbidden because of what the bible said about it. But, of course, they needed bank loans to finance society's shift from a feudal system to a mercantile one. The progress that started, which has continued into modern times, would not have been possible without banks, and usury. So the christians got around this prohibition by allowed jews to do the loaning, and they created many of the first banks. And here's where it turns ugly. Banks make a lot of money meaning that many Jews got rich doing what the christians were not allowed to do. Well, that made a lot of christians angry who wanted to be rich, too. But instead of admitting usury laws were incompatible with the new society they were creating, they blamed the Jews themselves. Like it was there fault. Jews were forbidden from many, many professions so when they succeeded in one of the few professions they were allowed, they were persecuted."
There's a more modern example of this, too. Native Americans. Their genocide by white invaders was exponentially worse in terms of numbers killed, enslaved and displaced than the Jewish holocaust. Their numbers today are a tiny fraction of their pre-colonial populations and the amount of land that remains to them is likewise tiny in comparison. So it turns out federal reservation laws allow the to put gambling casinos on their land. So after years of the worst imaginable treatment resulting in abject poverty, inhumane treatment and every single treaty they ever made with the British and then American government broken they find a loophole that makes them some money. And how does white America respond? Well, I don't know for sure about the other states, but in California they tried to squeeze money of the Native Americans. Suddenly they had money, and like the Jews before them that couldn't do. Only whites should have the money. Two propositions were proposed for the vote a couple of weeks ago that would unilaterally changed the relationship of the federal land, the reservations, and the state of California so that they would have had to pay more money to the state. The justifications for them were so laughably ridiculous that it's hard to believe so many people took them seriously. And they spent millions on tv ads to try to persuade Californians that the shakedown was legitimate, necessary even. The ads had supposed ordinary citizens, yeah right, saying shit like 'it's not fair,' 'we need the money' and 'they're not paying their fair share.' What bullshit. People just can't accept anyone else's success. Native Americans finally found a very miniscule way to get back at us, or at least the idiots who gamble, and we can't even let them have that small victory."
"Well, that's interesting. I guess. But what does it have to do with what I asked you?" Bill wondered aloud.
"Oh, sorry. Rambling again. I tend to do that, I'm afraid." Dan admitted.
"Really? I hadn't noticed." Bill said sarcastically.
Dan laughed. "Funny. Okay, well a lot of the town looks like it's stuck in time. Then a few small pockets, mostly on or around the main drag have changed. But really not that much. A few new buildings; hardly any, really. The most changes are a lot of the businesses on Lancaster Avenue aren't there anymore. Ibach's Pharmacy is gone, Sieger's store is gone, the elementary school is now an office building, the movie theatre is a church, the Shillington Restaurant is boarded up and they've moved the farmer's market to the other side of town. But town hall is the same, most of the churches are the same, the high school is the same, etc. They tore down the junior high and put up another building that looks just like it. So to someone who’d never been here before it would probably look like an old town. Only a local would notice the changes.”
“As to the people, they still seem to have that small town attitude, which is both good and bad. I like that once you’re accepted into that kind of community, then you know everyone and they all know you. Of course, that also means there’s a magnifying glass on you and everybody knows your business. Like that medusa of a neighbor who ‘stopped by;’ she was a small town gossip who had to know everybody’s business. People like her are pathological. She could never make it in a big city. It’s people like her that see cities as evil places filled with miscreants of all stripes and no morals. That’s the downside to small towns and rural areas in general. It’s why there are red states and blue states. Both places distrust the other. Of course, that’s an overgeneralization but there’s still a lot of truth to it.”
“You probably didn’t notice this, being invisible … and dead, but people here stare at one another, especially the people they don’t know personally. It’s like they’re keeping an eye on everyone, making sure no strangers ruin their paradise. I find it very unnerving. I just want to stop and shout at people, ‘stop staring at me!’ But that would just make them more suspicious. I felt that way when I still lived here. You could always feel their eyes on you wherever you went. I guess that’s how small towns stay isolated and insulated. They let outsiders feel only so welcome so they won’t stay around too long. When we moved into the house on State Street, it took a full year before the neighbors accepted us, in fact until they would even talk to us. As a child, the other neighborhood kids were a little quicker to accept me, but there was still a period of isolation where they kept their distance.”
“But once we were accepted, then it was a different world. We never locked our doors. We’d go away for a week and never lock the door to our house. We’d just walk into neighbor’s houses and if we didn’t see anybody there, we’d knock on the inside of the door and yell their name to announce our arrival. I can’t even imagine doing that in San Francisco and I’ve lived there for over twenty years. People would go into each other’s garages to borrow things, like tools or lawnmowers, and nobody thought twice about it. That was great. I loved that about growing up here. It’s innocence. But I imagine it’s not even like that here anymore. I think the decades I grew up in were more innocent, as well. So it’s not really fair to compare the two. I think innocence is dead almost everywhere. And that may be the worst loss of all.”