Saturday, December 29, 2012

Excerpt from The Road to Los Angeles by John Fante

The old man smiled his way and I smiled mine.  I looked at him and he looked at me.  Smile.  Evidently he didn't know who I was.  No doubt he confused me with the rest of the herd.  Very amusing this, great sport to travel incognito.  Two philosophers smiling wistfully at one another over the fate of man.  He was genuinely amused, his old nose running, his blue eyes twinkling with quiet laughter.  He wore blue overalls that covered him completely.  Around his waist was a belt supporting nothing, not even his belly, for he was thin.  Possibly a whim of his, something to make him laugh when he dressed in the morning.

His face beamed with a larger smile, inviting me to come forward and deliver an opinion if I liked; we were kindred souls, he and I, and no doubt he saw through my disguise and recognized a person of depth and importance, one who stood out from the heard.

"Not much today," I said.  "The situation, as I see it, grows more acute daily."

He shook his head with delight, his old nose running blissfully, a Plato with a cold.  A very old man, maybe eighty, with false teeth, skin like old shoes, a meaningless belt and a philosophic smile.  The dark mass of men moved around us.

"Sheep!" I said.  "Alas, they are sheep!  Victims of Comstockery and the American system, bastard slaves of the Robber Barons.  Slaves, I tell you!  I wouldn't take a job at this plant if it was offered to me on a golden platter!  Work for this system and lose your soul.  No thanks.  And what does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"

He nodded, smiled, agreed, nodded for more.  I warmed up.  My favorite subject.  Labor conditions in the machine age, a topic for future work.

"Sheep, I tell you!  A lot of gutless sheep!"

His eyes brightened.  He brought out a pipe and lit it.  The pipe stunk.  When he took it from his mouth the goo from his nose strung after it.  He wiped it off with his thumb and wiped his thumb against his leg.  He didn't bother to wipe his nose.  No time for that when Bandini speaks.

"It amuses me," I said.  "The spectacle is priceless.  Sheep getting their souls sheared. A Rabelaisian spectacle.  I have to laugh." And I laughed until there wasn't anymore.  He did too, slapping his thighs and shrieking to a high note until his eyes were filled with tears.  Here was a man after my own heart, a man of universal humors, no doubt a well-read man despite his overalls and useless belt.  From his pocket he took a pad and pencil and wrote on a pad.  Now I knew: he was a writer too, of course!  The secret was out.  He finished writing and handed me the note.

It read: Please write it down.  I am stone deaf.


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