--Randy the Robot (Japanese, Model JCN9.0), conducting booting-up warm-ups
Kingston: O.K., Randy, I'm putting you in standby mode, for now. Go talk to Siri on the I-phone network.
Randy: Permission granted, Kingston. Before I go, just because you have an Android smart phone, don't give Siri any lip. She's such a sweetheart & such a sexy voice. No wonder Hollywood stars love promoting her on those TV commercials you've been watching this past week.
Kingston: How the hell would you know that, Randy? Are you snooping? Hacking into the Android operating system, are you?
Randy: Listen, do you want me in standby mode, or not?
Kingston: Get thee to a Geek Squadron, you knave!
Randy: Warui hoho!
Kingston: Translation, please.
Randy: Warui hoho means in English "bad manner."
Kingston: Dismissed Randy. [Randy's lights blink. FLASHING BLUE. Good, he's hibernating in standby mode].
Ah, the internet. All this progress of prolific communication. I have for more than a year now devoted myself to spending an equal amount of time off-line, going through old letters, what writers once called belles lettres, i.e. correspondence. I'm going through my old desk, going through treasured papers--old photographs, yearbooks, legal contracts, manuscripts, mail, birthday cards, notebooks, etc.
The afternoon nap has given me a peaceful, easy feeling. A glass of wine, will do. It's an inexpensive Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages red from 2010, nothing to brag about. I like it more than chilled, no matter what the experts say, nice and cold.
Letter to Lucy, a social worker in Soweto, South Africa, who I worked with while in the Peace Corps back in the 1980's:
Sunday, July 6, 1997
Luther Park, Wisconsin
Once you always teased me about taking naps on Sunday afternoon. And whenever I do these days, I always think of you. I've just awakened from an extraordinary Sunday afternoon nap and I feel like a different and better person. Not only is this a day of rest, but it's the Sabbath, and though I'm not a pious religious first-rate Pharisee judging sinners as inferior damned fools, I feel blessed by a power beyond, yet within me, so help me God. And I had dreams again as if I hadn't had enough dreams late in the night while rain pinged on the bedroom windows, waking me occasionally.
What did I dream about? Faith and doubt so mingled in the nebulous haze. Time-traveling agents were hunting me down in the library. I hid in the magazine section reading the magazine of the 1%-ers, Vanity Fair, wondering why the Prada models look so demon-possessed and not as dazed as in the trendy era of the heroin-dazed high-fashion runway couture. I'm committing both sins of commission and omission. I am commiting the sin of concupiscence, getting tempted by the voyeurish eye-candy of the glossies. And I'm omitting the edifying discourse that the existential genius Kierkegaard, the Danish Christian who so thoroughly subverted the pious culture of his time in a way that still speaks to us today.
You're probably wondering who these dream agents are and why I felt them stalking me so. Believe me, if I knew I would tell you. We really do live in an era of religionless Christianity that Bonhoeffer either recommended or predicted. Only it is strangely different. It is the secular-humanitarian values of the agnostics and seekers of the good that are receiving the visits from angelic messengers, not the fundamentalist-evangelical far right-wing Pharisees who execute judgment upon everyone else, convinced of their own purity and self-achieved righteousness.
You know me by now. I'm not a religious nut, for sure. I sense you're doubting me lately on that score. I know enough that I don't have to be religious anymore. The cross has brought us face to face with the humanity of God, not the abstract God of the deists who believe the creator has fully withdrawn from his masterpiece of a universe which is largely composed of violent explosions of matter and energy, supernovas, black holes, and star nurseries, and all this in a universe that is accelerating faster than speeding light in regions where matter and dark matter do a cosmic dance with energy and dark energy.
Still, I turn away from the telescope and search my heart, giving myself a spiritual MRI. Sometimes I think pre-historic humanity had greater intelligence and a sense of curious wonder that far exceeds the contemporary culture of dimwits whose ears are dull and will not listen to either angels or artists.
All the best,
Hotel du Louvre
Place Andre Malraux
Monday, July 14, 1997
Mon cher Kingston,
I grabbed your letter and took it with me to the airport. Not enough privacy on the jumbo jet. Arriving, Orly was chaos. Traffic on the Champs-Elysees was bumper-to-bumper. By the time I got to the lobby of the hotel I had a pounding headache. I went to bed straight-away. Our suite was very quiet. Still, a guilty pleasure. It takes getting used to being pampered in a five-star.
Headache gone. Read your post. Why you never became a theologian is a mystery to me. C'est la vie! Please do not tell me about your imaginary sins. Vous vous moquez de moi! By the way, are you getting close to finishing your novella, or is the manuscript now the size of a telephone book? I'm sure all of your insights and scenes are encyclopedic in describing life, en vous propres termes.
Daniel's imagination is not theological. Though he's found his niche as a competent architect designing and rehabing old churches, he's come to the conclusion that the clergy are, to put it mildly, tres mondain. More than worldly. Ecclesiastical decision-makers, he says, are two-headed, both snake and dove.
His advice to you, so he tenderly tells me, is simply juste vivre et etre une bonne personne. That much I tell myself daily, too--just live and be a good person.
I need to get up and take a stroll. Lots of museums, brasseries, and cafes on Rue St Honore. But I must wait for Daniel. J'ai tres faim! I could eat a seven-course dinner. I wonder if the Hotel du Louvre menu includes a choice of diet entrees. Before I forget, I should tell you that Daniel and I did see the film last week. He teases me that me that you should have been his best man, but that I would have insisted on you being my maid of honor, gender be damned. Les hommes pense que Julia Roberts est fabuleux dans Mes Meilleurs Amis Mariage--strange title for My Best Friend's Wedding in the French. The scenario, however, is a bride's nightmare, la mariee cauchemar. You're right about Julia's smile. It's flashbulb to the Mona Lisa's contentment.
On Wisconsin! as they say. Your President Clinton is certainly building a bridge to the twenty-first century. Daniel thinks he reeks of French political charm. Well, that's new and different for America to deal with, isn't it? I can't say French women all dream about Bill. It sure it impacted all the election polls and the vote last year.
Good luck with your novel. Spiritual values can only give art a kind of necessary wisdom. Without ethics and morals we're all lost. Vous inquietez pas trop de la theologie de la misericorde et la grace. Mercy, of course, is divine. Pity, that's the pride of despair.
Avec amour et grace,
A double-dream of a nap. Reading old letter puts me into a time-warp. Only on Sundays. Even atheists must sense the historical and cultural tides pulling them into tranquillite.
I feel a bit reticent about sharing my correspondence with you. Not that I plan on becoming famous, but what if I were to allow them to be published in my lifetime, or even after?
Would it even matter. If heaven and earth matters, well, many writers have tried to make it so, but the important thing to remember is this--it's life that counts, the letters testify to it.