Thursday, November 03, 2005

"Reality occasionally needs a little help"

Fred Reed:
"...Perhaps it is because I have made only unwise choices, thank God, that I am here. Ages ago, setting out into the world, I almost did prudent things and made sensible decisions, but something always stayed my hand. Almost I applied to graduate school in chemistry, almost I became a federal programmer and, in Washington, almost was hit by a bus. Consistently I have taken the wrong turn.

...It was behavior most unwise. I recommend it. Along the way I met the underflow of the world, the freelances and bar owners in Manila and the whores and the ingenious flotsam who lived by their wits in the wilder places of the earth. I became one of them. For this I will be forever grateful.

We who live thus have our critics. They say that we have dark moods, that we drink too much, that we do not behave as we ought... Yet perhaps they do not drink enough. The virtue of vice is everywhere underestimated. Something is wrong with those who are always proper, careful, and as they should be. I would rather talk to a bourbon-swilling correspondent in a bar in Manila, with a cigarette in his hand and a barmaid on his knee, than to the cleverest chemist at Yale, tamer of ketones.

...Some will say that our lives constitute a sordid cohabitation with the ungodly. I hope so. Detritus we are, and detritus we will be. It suits us. The world, the part worth knowing, lives in the alleys. We have known the smoke and dimness of a thousand Asian bars, known them till they run together in the mind, and found the hookers morally preferable to the expensively suited criminals of good society, more engaging than the liars of the press conferences. There is more of life and humanity in the driver of a battered Ford who picks up a hitchhiker in the darkling valleys of Tennessee than in the moral fetor and vanity of Washington.

...We are what we are. We can’t help it. In moments of desperation we have taken jobs in places with names like Federal Computer Week, and sat in horror, muscles tensing in uncontrollable despair, waiting for lunch and a drink or a joint or something to get us through four more hours of federal contracts. I did that. A friend was a mortgage broker for a bit, another tried graduate school. One day it hits: fuggit-I’m-outta-here. We buy a ticket to Mexico City, or Kuala Lumpur, or Istanbul. Decide on the way to the airport. What the hell’s in Mexico City? Find out when we get there. Somebody will know.

The literary among us found that sociopathy is a saleable commodity in the magazine racket. A press card, as a great man said, is a ticket to ride. We spent years patrolling with the Marines in Lebanon, stalking through remote Africa with guerilla bands, being cat-shot from carrier decks. Get to know the cops and you see things you can’t write about, things dark and strange, drug pads with walls moving in roaches. A friend spent weeks in Tibet, at the expense of a television network. It is how we are.

...A strange life, I suppose, for all involved, and not much to show for it. I don’t think we care..."

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