Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Marriage Arising from Intellectual Speculation

Marriage Arising from Intellectual Speculation

Gregor wrote metaphysical poetry. He had begun writing it at the age of sixteen due to an excess of eros combined with a Catholic upbringing. He didn’t want to write metaphysical poetry; rather he would have infinitely preferred to write love poetry or poetry celebrating the lush earth or political poetry, anything other than metaphysical poetry which was completely out of fashion, and, to many, a sign of weakness of mind. But he couldn’t help himself. Try as he might to write other kinds of poetry it always turned out metaphysical. This disgusted him so much that for several years in his thirties and forties he wrote no poetry at all and in fact swore to all his friends he would never write another line. But he was spitting into a powerful wind. Regardless of his own opinions on the matter he came back to writing poetry and the poetry was metaphysical.

At one time, in his thirties, he worked out a theory that time would break him of the habit eventually and a new type of poetry would emerge. Time, he told himself, robs us of our illusions and surely his biggest illusion was the existence of something above the physical. He was willing to admit that something mixed in with the physical was possible, even probable, but above was ridiculous. But this theory of his turned out untrue. At the age of sixty, when he retired from his ragtag patchwork of small jobs –apartment caretaker, proofreader for a German newspaper, unpaid editor for a magazine publishing metaphysical poetry, newspaper vendor and so on – he said to himself, “Well, now that is all done, thank goodness.” But it wasn’t. After a brief hiatus of writing two detective novels filled with metaphysical speculations, but no poetry, he began once again on his lifelong obsession with writing metaphysical poetry. Finally, at the age of sixty-three, after thinking seriously about throwing himself into the river, he woke one day filled with what was at first was a bitter but then a hopeful acceptance of his lot. For some strange reason he had been born to write metaphysical poetry and any more rebellion on his part would be fruitless and sterile. He had finally come to the point where he accepted his fate.

“There is no such thing as fate!” said Andrew in response to his explanation of the above process.

“So there is no DNA then?” replied Gregor.

“DNA and fate are two completely different things.”

“No they aren’t,” said Rudolf. “They are two different words, yes, but they mean much the same thing.”

“Nonsense,” said Andrew. “The idea that we are preprogrammed, that we merely act out the instructions of The Great Computer, is pernicious.”

“But neither fate nor DNA implies that, Andrew,” said Gregor. “What you are speaking of is the old Calvinist view of predestination. There is no reason why you can’t have fate  interacting with individual initiative. Surely that is a maturer vision than a romantic notion of Great Prometheus or the Hero Totally Self Determined. Even our common sense tells us that many things are laid down for us. And then there is the whole question of culture which influences how our minds move, what kind of questions we ask. We can’t dismiss all this and claim a separated existence in a vacuum.”

“Granted there are a lot of things laid down,” said Gregor. “I’m not arguing there isn’t but I am saying there is still a huge area where our own initiative has great play.”

They argued on like this for some time until Rudolf grew extremely bored and offered to buy everyone tea and cinnamon buns if they would agree to change the topic. It was just before the end of the month and Gregor and Andrew, broke and hungry, agreed immediately.

The buns were heated and when Rudolf brought them to the table they slavered them with butter, ate enthusiastically and washed it all down with hot tea. Behind the counter Fritz was rubbing his hands at selling something extra to the ‘three grumblers’ as he called them privately, who seldom bought anything but three cups of tea over which they spent entire afternoons arguing. Occasionally one of the grumblers would hit the jackpot and buy a tray of deli sandwiches but this only happened once or twice a year. In the winter, especially a cold one, he doubted if they paid for their share of the heat, the old freeloaders. He called them grumblers because they always seemed to be complaining about something. They complained about the present state of literature. They complained about politics. They complained about the crappy books being published of late. The only thing they didn’t complain about was the weather. The weather, whatever it was, was always fine to them. If it was raining that was great. If the sun was shining that was fine too. If it was cold it was invigorating, bracing. If hot, it was just the kind of diauretic old men needed. They were radical acceptors of the weather. About everything else they complained.

Yet Fritz didn’t mind their complaining. On the whole the place was rather dead. People sat lined up one at a table staring at their computer screens lost in the la la land of cyberspace. Sometimes the café was totally filled with these kind of people and there was not a single conversation. But when the three grumblers showed up they shook the place up. They knew many of the patrons and teased them mercilessly. They sat in a corner near the window and talked so loudly you could follow their conversation from the other side of the café. The screen addicts glanced at them irritably. If the professor was at his usual table with a crony or two he literally growled at them. Rudolf growled back. “How are you doing you old hypocrite?” Rudolf shouted across the tables at him. “Have the police been around to pick you up yet?”

The professor showed his yellow tombstones to indicate he could take a joke which was untrue but socially necessary. At least once a month he dreamed of murdering Rudolf in a gruesome way. Once he slowly lowered him into a vat of acid. Another time he tossed him off the roof of a high rise. During each murder Rudolf admitted the error of his ways and pleaded for mercy but the professor was relentless.

Asking if the police had come round to pick up the professor was ironically ridiculous, for if there was a man less likely to be sought by the police than the professor it was hard to imagine whom he would be. Other than the occasional lapse with women and that a matter of impious propositioning rather than illegality, the professor was scrupulously law abiding. He had a reverence for authority which leaned towards preferring absolutist government over what he considered to be inefficient, squabbling democracy. Rudolf’s anarchism, to the professor, was dangerously disrespectful of duly constituted authority and unpatriotic. If the old standards had not ‘gone by the boards’, as the professor phrased it, Rudolf would have long ago, along with his black flag friends, been put in jail on meager rations until he came to his senses. Why he was allowed to move about in respectable society spreading his poisons was beyond him. He had spoken several times to Fritz about barring such persons from the café but Fritz just laughed. “I don’t care what they think as long as they eat and drink,” he said. Fritz didn’t care much about ideas and political struggles but he liked Rudolf who was lively and jolly. The professor, on the other hand, was morose. He had much of the undertaker to him - a presbyterian dead pan seriousness. When the professor laughed it was from reasons of policy. He hadn’t laughed out of a sense of delight for more than fifty years.

After buns and tea the old friends decided to go for a walk. The café was close to the river and along this section there was a paved path. They strolled along the path for a kilometer and then sat down on one of the benches in a grassy area leading down to the water. They sat on the bench for some time in silent companionship. Just beyond them there were two young men casting out into midstream. On the grass beside them were three silver coloured fish. They must have been caught some time ago for they were dead and still. Above them stretched enormous cottonwoods, fully canopied and spreading about them a delicious coolness.

After they had sat for five minutes without saying a word, two young women came along the path. They were wearing long cotton dresses and sunhats for the day was hot and the sun full. One of the young women walked slightly ahead of the other. The two did not even glance at the men on the bench and seemed to be about to pass them by when the last in line suddenly stopped and turned to face them. She looked at them with an intensity which seemed out of place for such a casual encounter between a young woman and three older men on a bench. Her companion also stopped. She said something to her which the men could not make out. The young woman made a brisk gesture with her right hand as if to brush her off. Then she walked up to where the men were sitting and said, “Are you all married?” She had a slight Spanish accent but the words were enunciated clearly and the friends had no trouble understanding what she asked them.

Andrew answered, perhaps because in his job he dealt with marriages and young women, and it seemed to him most natural that he do so. First he smiled, a generous wide smile half professional, half arising from his usual overflowing spirits. “Why do you ask?” he said.

The young woman considered this question for a moment. Then she said, “I need a husband to stay in the country. Otherwise they will send me back. If I am sent back they will kill me.”

“Where is back?” asked Rudolf.


“And who will kill you?”

“The gangsters. Or maybe even the police who are bribed by the gangsters. My husband was assassinated. He was a drug dealer. I managed to escape and come here but now they are going to send me back. The lawyer says if I can find someone to marry me then I can apply under a different section and will be allowed to stay.”

“How do you know that if you go back they will kill you?” asked Gregor.

“That’s the way they do things. They kill the man and the wife too.”

During this question and answer the other young woman came up behind her companion and said, “Please excuse her, sirs. She is distraught. Up until now she has been able to restrain herself. This is the first time she has approached strangers.”

The second young woman reached out and took the first’s hand and tried pulling her away but the first ignored her. She stood her ground and kept looking at the men.

“I need friends,” she said. “I need someone to help me.”

“But I am your friend, Estanza,” said the other young woman.

“Yes you are but you can’t marry me. I need a man to marry me.”

“This requires further investigation,” said Rudolf. “And this is not the place to do it. Not far from here there is a Vietnamese restaurant. Let’s go there and have lunch. During lunch we can talk.”

At the restaurant they had lunch and talked for an hour and a half. The friends decided than Estanza was telling the truth. They considered it their duty to find her a husband.

“What kind of a husband do you want?” asked Andrew.

“Doesn’t matter,” said Estanza. “As long as he is free to marry and healthy enough to stand up during the ceremony.” She laughed.

“What I mean is,” said Andrew, “Do you want us to look for a real husband or is it to be a marriage of convenience.”

“What is a marriage of convenience?” asked Estanza.

“Real legally so that you can be landed but you don’t live with the man and when things are settled you can get a divorce.”

“I guess one of those then,” said Estanza. “There isn’t enough time for me to find one I would want to live with.”

The friends told the two women to meet them at the restaurant at same time two days from now. They figured by then they would have found a husband. Julia, Estanza’s friend, a cousin who had immigrated as a child, gave Andrew her address and phone number and they went off.

 “Do you have anyone in mind?” Andrew asked Rudolf.



“There are a number of old anarchists who might step into the gap.”

Gregor had several bachelor friends, one of whom might be willing to assist them. Andrew had three old gentlemen in his congregation he would ask. They agreed to meet for breakfast the day after tomorrow.

Rudolf, being the most solvent among them, insisted on paying for the breakfast and later for lunch at the Vietnamese restaurant. They ate breakfast in a tiny place just down from the café.

“So?” said Andrew.

“I asked three of the old anarchists I thought might be willing but they all said no,” said Rudolf. “They claimed they were old and set in their ways. ‘What does that have to do with it?’ I asked them. ‘All you have to do is mumble a few ritual phrases and go home.’ But no they said, they were too old to get mixed up with women and complicated arrangements.”

“Last night I went to visit my three bachelors,” said Gregor. “It was the same with them. They didn’t want to get involved. The woman might come after their pension. There might be complications. The immigration people might accuse them of fraud and they would have to hire lawyers.”

“Well,” said Andrew, “ I drew a blank too. The old gentlemen are all widowers and each told me their children would scream bloody murder if they married a young woman. Their grandchildren would accuse them of being lechers.”

“My, my,” said Rudolf. “That means we will have to activate a scheme I have been revolving in my mind since we met Estanza yesterday.”

“What scheme?” asked Gregor.

“The professor.”

“No,” said Andrew.

“What do you mean, no?” asked Rudolf.

“The man is a lecher. Even at his age he would insist on his conjugal rights.”

“Yes,” said Gregor, “but would he be capable of exercising them?”

“I doubt it,” said Rudolf. “He’s eighty-eight and has a bad heart.”

“Maybe,” said Andrew, “but you never know with some of these old guys. And there are the new drugs.”

“We wouldn’t be able to tell him it is a marriage of convenience,” said Rudolf. “Perhaps we could convince him that Estanza has seen him everyday going by her window and decided that, although a little on the older side, he was a fine figure of a man. And now she must marry or be deported why not approach this fine old gentleman whom she had been admiring for some months. Stoke up the old buzzard’s vanity. Lay it on with a trowel. Freely admit Estanza has an ulterior motive, yes, but why not combine it with marrying a handsome old man with an aura of prestige and standing in the community?”

Andrew was delegated to talk with the professor. They invented an address for Estanza which put her on the professor's walk to the café every morning. Andrew was a little queasy about the ethics involved in such a deception but he was convinced that if Estanza was deported she would be murdered. The situation demanded bold steps; to be overly scrupulous was to be an accessory to murder.

The professor was interested. “Mexican, you say?” he asked. He had often dreamed of dark skinned senoritas flinging themselves about in flaming flamingo dance routines. Many years ago he had been in love with the Mexican actress Ida Lupino. Andrew convinced the old man that Estanza had watched him walk by her window every day for some months and thought him very attractive. It was all he could do to get this out without bursting into laughter. The professor went for it hook line and sinker. When could he meet the young woman? If speed was necessary then it would have to be a quiet affair. But then at his age he wasn’t interested in hoopla and fancy celebrations. Perhaps Andrew could perform the ceremony. Keep it in the family so to speak. Andrew promised to phone him that very afternoon.

“I’ll take my chances,” Estanza said when they explained the situation to her.

The Professor and Estanza were married two weeks later in the Unitarian church. Andrew preformed the ceremony, Gregor was the best man, Julia the bridesmaid. Rudolf, not wanting to antagonize the old man, or give him reason to suspect a plot, stayed away. Afterwards the professor took everyone out to an upscale restaurant where they ate steak and lobster tails and drank six bottles of expensive wine. When the dinner was over, the professor, bride on his arm, left the restaurant and the newlyweds took a cab to the professor’s home, a stately brick three story on the riverbank not far from the café.

There the professor, who drank one and a half bottles of wine by himself, fell asleep on the sofa. Estanza, a strong young woman outweighing the professor by thirty pounds, carried him into the bedroom and undressed him. She found a pair of pyjamas in the bureau drawer and put them on the old man. Then she covered him with a light blanket and left the bedroom. In the kitchen she wrote a note to the professor thanking him for a night of delirious love which, to be frank, she had never thought she would experience with an older man. Such passion! She was gone off to do some errands but would be back in the early evening. She left the note on the kitchen table.

When the professor woke he went into the kitchen and read the note. He was pleased. Although he could not remember the previous evening with any accuracy he was delighted that nature had taken its course and his bride had been satisfied. He was somewhat exhausted after his night of celebrating and went back to bed and slept until noon.

This became the pattern of Estanza’s and the professor’s nights of love. She convinced him that a man of his age must build up a reserve and once a month was the most to be expected. The professor was an imbiber of wine and she always made sure there was three or four bottles of his favourite for their special nights. Together with the effects of the wine, which invariably made him sleepy after a bottle and a half, and the professor having reached the point in his mental activity where dreaming he had done something and having done it was much the same, he was convinced he and Estanza had a night of successful passion every month. He was a little surprised that such happy completion had come upon him in his old age and was most grateful to Estanza who with her round cheeks and peasant face he saw as a grounded, earthy, everyday version of Ida Lupino.

After his marriage the professor became close with the three friends. What is marriage if there are no friends attached to it? He even extended the hand of comradeship (not the anarchist kind, of course) to Rudolf for the sake of his friendship with Gregor and Andrew. They came for supper every second Saturday. Estanza made tamales or burritos and, after dinner, they watched a movie on the professor’s big screen TV (formerly used by the professor exclusively for watching porno flicks).

The professor died at the age of ninety-one, at night, in his own bed. Estanza found him in the morning cold as ice but with a peaceful look upon his face as if he had been dreaming something pleasant when death came by to take him.

Estanza inherited everything, which was substantial for the professor never had a family and was a frugal man. During the three years of her marriage she had become an anarchist under the tutelage of Rudolf. After the funeral she had an apartment built in the third floor of the house for her own quarters and gave the first two floors over to Black Flag Society, the new anarchist organization recently started by Rudolf.

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