Hierarchy vs. Conviviality Stories: Church /
Everything I’d done before the army had been successful or successful enough. I’d had the biggest paper route, my boss at the supermarket said I was the best worker ever. In college my refreshment agency business broke Columbia’s record for earnings by a student agency. I’d hated school all along. Wanting to be a caveman made me some sort of an anarchist from the start. My friends knew that I wasn’t one of them, just as my church knew that I wasn’t really of their congregation; so my “friends” treated me like an enemy. Still, I was used to it. Still, I was doing OK. If the draft hadn’t been hanging over my head, I might have been tempted to get a job. Had I gotten a job, I might have somehow joined and stayed with the normal economy … been able to support myself, have a life, despite my differences.
But no. By the time this draftee got out of the service and into graduate school, I so hated hierarchical kleptocracy, that maybe I should have shot it out with the army while there, or with the graduate school my first week of matriculation. No, stupid pk, letting time grind on, still believing that I could say what I meant, write what I believed, and somehow someday be understood. Of course it didn’t work. The world went right on being the world, running me down, bowling me over, not even seeing that it was doing it.
In the 1960s the publishers didn’t want my short stories no matter how they liked them. By 1970 the New Yorker enjoyed passing my stuff around the office but wouldn’t endanger their sponsors by letting the public see it. I bet there were plenty of cardinals in the old Church who just loved some of the theologies of those they nevertheless burned as heretics.
1982 my girlfriend repeated for the third time that she wanted to take care of me while I wrote my first novel. I gave up my business, gave up my apartment, moved in with her … and found myself without so much as a surface to place my typewriter on. Wedged into her motor home, having been promised an office, work was impossible. I was her boy toy. I got out, fled to Florida, where I could try to write without a home, without a desk, plugging the typewriter in where I could.
1988 I still had no publisher for By the Hair of the Comet, had found no publisher for Beginning, was still writing out of my car, selling a graphic here and there to eat, and still had no publisher for Dark Beacon. I never would have given up home and business to write novels were it not for that promise of patronage, but the patronage a lie, once I started writing my novels I couldn’t stop. Starving and writing was better, way better, than being a millionaire and not writing. 1979 I’d been rich: and drunk. 1988 I was starving, but proud proud. Still, each year it had gotten harder to climb back north to try to sell some art: and each year it was harder and harder to sell the same old crap around Florida. I’ d saturated that market without adding a thing to my portfolio. I needed new galleries that had never seen my line before — and wouldn’t recognize it as old, out of date — but there were fewer and fewer such. And I wasn’t bearing the bushes, I was writing; beating the bushes for galleries only when the tank was near empty. And back north I had to reregister the car, reinsure it in order to register it. That got every more expensive as the insurance had always lapsed and the company wanted ever more premium to write a new policy.
I hate the way I’ve written this, but will press on, revising later.
That summer I parked my car and pop-up-tent trailer in the back yard of friends in Lambertville NJ. Actually they weren’t so much my friends and the friends of my ex-friend from the army. That guy, Phil, was also crazy as a writer, imposing on people, or had been. Now I was imposing on the same friends of his who’d gotten sick of his imposing on them a decade before. A lot of details could be filled in here, but this is supposed to be a church story. I’ll leave it for now that after a time I moved my pop-up to a state park on the Delaware.
One day at my wit’s end it occurred to me that though I’d had bad luck with churches all my life, it damn well was the churches who should be helping me. After all, it was God’s messages I was writing: Ivan Illich’s messages, Jesus’s messages revitalized: and Gregory Bateson’s messages: better than God’s. I saw an Anglican church on the main road. I was christened Anglican. My godfather had been the bishop. Maybe they’d give me a handout.
I went in and introduced myself. The reverend was beaming at all I said at first. Encouraged, I told him about my writing The Model — The First Week. “Very gnostic,” he said. The smile left his face. From that point on I could raise no further theological points with him. But: he said he would help. He asked me to wait, to hang around. Some food was brought. I say I was “starving,” but not at that particular moment: I’d had a decent breakfast, and never ate lunch. Still, I ate the food. He sent me to his in-house publisher who bound my dot matrix printed manuscript of Dark Beacon. Man! I actually have, still have, one of my books bound like a book! Actual paper with print on it, readable by turning pages!
Later I was introduced to the person he’d wanted me to meet: a social worker. This gal told me that if I only learned how to deal with bureaucrats I could have everything I needed. She promised to train me. She promised that practically overnight I’d have an apartment, food, probably a swimming pool … and the state would pay for it. I’d be on welfare. All I had to do was learn what lies to tell.
I was reminded of the movie Casablanca. Rick owns a nightclub, with a casino. Some poor gal needs money to leave the country. Rick tells her to play eight black on the roulette wheel. She wins. He tells her to leave the winnings as her next bet.
The odds against winning a specific number on a roulette wheel are 36/1, 37/1, or 38/1 depending on whether the wheel as a zero or a double zero. Modern wheels have both zero and double zero. If the house pays 36 to 1 it will make a profit on average because even odds would be 38 to 1. But where Humphrey Bogart’s Rick tells the poor thing which number to bet, we know that the odds are not 38 to 1; they’re a sure thing. The wheel is fixed and he is a crook. Telling her to play the same number twice is telling everybody loud and clear that he is a crook, that he’s been fleecing all who play roulette in his club.
What I especially love about that scene is how everyone responds as though Humphrey Bogart has a heart of gold. But he’s not giving the poor waif his money; he’s giving her YOUR money!
I thought it would be appropriate for a supposed house of God to give some of its bundles of cash and resources to a servant of God, a messenger of God: me. Even if the god I was serving had ceased being God and had become god: what god started out as. The reverend dismissed me as a gnostic, but decided to help keep me alive, not with Church money, God money, but with STATE money! Money stolen from the public, the marketplace, the earth, the commons … Money stolen by fraud.
I put myself in the church, the reverend, and the social worker’s hands. She told me to tell the state park that I was now broke and couldn’t pay for another night. They would tell me that I had to leave. I would request from them an eviction notice: they had to give it to me. I would then give her the eviction notice and she’d take it from there. By that time it was Friday. She told me to go to some motel in Flemington, they’d expect me. On Monday I’d go to the bureaucrats … and they’d put me in an apartment with food, spending money, a swimming pool … Someone would come to the motel to see about getting me some food through the weekend.
I went to the motel. No one came to feed me. On Monday the bureaucrats just ran me in circles. There was no apartment, no food. I headed back for Florida: where the car fell apart before I’d reached the Everglades where I knew I could trade a camp site for work.
But that’s another story.
ASAP I’ll rewrite this. Writing that first draft reminded me of some details, made me uncomfortable that I’d kicked off with comments that didn’t take me straight enough to the story relevant here: the church promised help, then palms off social services instead, misrepresented everything … and I never again saw either the social worker or the reverend. For all I know that may still be working together in Lambertville to seduce and misinform the indigent without helping them a bit.
Ugh. Horrible. I’ll do this better. Meantime, the essentials are at least here.
PS. I’m way overdue, at K. too, to say more about Gnosticism. The term applies to me in more than one way, some of the ways ways I’ve never heard anyway explicate. Nowadays I know from Bart Ehrman that early Christians specifically targeted Gnostics: if God talked to contemporaries as he’s supposed to have talked to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses … John, Jesus, then priests to whom God has not spoken have no authority. How come no one figures that out outloud?
It also means that one has to be very careful before believing Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses … John, Jesus … Illich, or pk … I probably speak for Ivan Illich as well as myself when I say to that, Amen!
Yes. Be careful. If you’re careful, if you use your mind, then God very well speak to you too, and you’ll know exactly what (Jesus and Illich and) pk are talking about! You’ll be tuned to the Tao.