October 01, 2007

Sixty-Second Memoirs

The Catholic Bibliophagists entertaining memoiristic style ("I was not looking forward to adulthood with much eagerness, for it seemed to me that childhood was a pretty cushy berth") reminds me of a current read - William Dean Howell's 1916 Years of My Youth - and how it trips certain chords o' memory.

[Que music from the romantic era.] At a very early age I recall witnessing "diggermen", construction workers whose job entailed excavations as a means to some end but I mixed up means and ends all the time back then and thought that this was so cool. To think that men were paid to reveal that which was concealed under that great and endless opaque earth! All sorts of things could pop up, such as pirate chests or Indianheads. Earth exploration (literally) was the last frontier, or at least the most accessible.

And so I proclaimed with all the solemnity of Solomon: "I want to be a diggerman when I grow up!"

Time passed as is its wont and the diggerman phase must've faded for it wasn't long before I didn't have a vocation again. I adopted "major league baseball pitcher" as my next career choice on the strength of countless elaborate wind-ups and pitches. Somewhere, somehow, humility (and reality) must've set in because I realized major league baseball pitcher wasn't to be my job, probably because I was never pitched for a Little League, Babe Ruth, high school, college, or minor league team and it's pretty hard to go from imaginary pitches to the big leagues.

At some point during the high school years I seemed to have decided that the world didn't owe me a living. I don't know where I got that from although I suspect Alex P. Keaton of Family Ties. In that era before catechestic teaching, one gets it from television. Perhaps some still do (involuntary shudder ensues). I don't think this is in line with Catholic social teaching since being entitled to a living wage implies that right to a job in the first place. Man wasn't made for work, work was made for man. Whoda thunk it?

I mention this because a friend of mine is a stubborn sort. He truly lives with work as a secondary consideration. He chooses to live in Columbus as a bachelor. That is his primary consideration. He's more Irish than the Irish in his sentimental connection to land and clan. My mindset is: I will bend to the market - I will do something that people need to have done. His mindset is the opposite at least concerning the non-negotiables of not moving to another city or taking on a roommate to save expenses. He hasn't found a job for four years and during that time he's spent his 401K and now sells off assets. I know that protecting the 401k would've led me to seek work elsewhere. I recall the Albert Brooks' Lost in America speech to his nestegg-squandering wife:
"You can’t even SAY the word ‘egg’ any more. When you go into the woods you see a bird’s round stick. For breakfast you have THING’S with ham."
I admire his indifference to the nestegg without intending to emulate it. The fragility of the current economy given our reliance on oil suggests we all may end up emulating his result, like it or not.

On the surface we're both conservatives. But he is a traditional conservative in a whole different mode. He doesn't like girl altar servers or the slightest liturgical change simply because it wasn't the way before. "It wasn't like that when I was a kid," he'll say and even if some issue was an innovation that occurred just before he experienced it, still it doesn't much register. There are old people who will be affected adversely by any change and that is intolerable. The elderly, for him, are a class of saints. In his mid-40s, he always lines up with the elderly and the underdogs.

Leading by either the heart or the head seems like a path for trouble. If Jefferson Davis was right, intellectually, about states' rights and about the fact slavery wasn't banned in the bible, his heart concerning slavery was underweighted as a consideration. And how many a Communist in good faith simply wanted material inequalities ameliorated without taking into consideration the head knowledge of how that might play out?

One brand of conservatism asks: "should we not take into consideration the past when asking if something is true?" Another asks merely, "was it this way when I was a kid?" or "will this adversely effect the elderly?". Two very different views of the world, all falling under the wide banner of conservatism.

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