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Journal of the Plague Year, Part 11 (The End)


The Cynic

The Cynic at the Diner

The Country Mouse looked his friend over carefully. He hadn’t so much as spoken word to him in nearly a half century. The Cynic was much the same.

The timeless features of humans – the sound of the voice, the color of an eye, the general bone structure of the face, a smile in motion – remain steadfastly constant. And, of course, though The Cynic was still tall, he had put on some pounds and his muscles were in retreat. He still had a full head of hair, tinged with white. Genetics are decisive, thought the Country Mouse.

“Do you remember…” The Cynic a week earlier had begun their phone call.

For the Country Mouse, this was an incantation that had always opened the mercifully locked doors of memory that connected him immediately with a specific painful or joyous moment.

Before The Cynic had finished the sentence, a scene flashed like lightening through the Country Mouse’s mind. He saw them both traveling in an old row boat ladened with cement bags towards a small island a half mile off the mainland.

The two were to build a wall around the island, owned by a dentist who would, at some distant point in the future, build his retirement house there. Walls make good neighbors, but lakes, particularly when one is situated on an island surrounded by water, make better ones.

That was why Orwell, said The Cynic, retreated to the remote Scottish Island of Jura to stretch his mind around Nineteen Eighty-Four. It was why the monks of the dessert took to the dessert, to better commune with the molten God burning in their souls. And it was why Antisthenes, thought to be the father of Greek Cynicism, established his school in a famous gymnasium built to service the nothoi, the bastard children of Athens.

The Cynic, nearly always a solitary, had asked the Country Mouse to help him build the wall, a self terminating endeavor, thought The Cynic, because the unpredictable effects on water disturbed by wind, rain and the pull of moon will overturn even the best laid plans of mice and men. But the pay was a bonus for the two student roommates who needed pocket money from time to time.

It was summer; the lake was blue ice, its quiet surface hiding the clamor and rough motion below the surface. What if the old boat sank? Would any attempt be made to save the cement? Would one, or both the project managers, drown, pushed under the quiet surface of the lake by a weight of weakness and ungovernable laughter?

“Who could forget that wall?” the Country Mouse had replied, before making arrangements to meet at a local diner.

Not he, not ever. The job amused The Cynic. His unappeasable κυνικός burst forth not in frowns but in what he called therapeutic laughter. Laughter, he had once told the Country Mouse are tears turned, like socks, inside out.

“Comedy,” he said, “is the tragedy that happens to your worst enemy.”

And now here was his old friend in the flesh. There was no “catching up” between these two. Heart spoke to heart. Time was foreshortened, and the two picked up pretty much where they had left off. Friendship, the Country Mouse thought, is rooted in requited expectation.

The Cynic, like the Country Mouse, was no stranger to politics. Both had written about Connecticut’s political absurdities for more than 30 years, and each had followed the other’s occasional writings, though neither had felt the need to reestablish contact, perhaps from fear that re-contact would abort a cherished friendship. Why spoil the past by resurrecting it, dripping with mold and moss, from its comfortable grave?

The Cynic had proposed a project that would allow both of them to create a semi-perishable narrative that might be of interest to people not too far gone in partisanship, as is the case, The Cynic pointed out, “with nearly 90 percent of the state’s highly compromised media. Searching for dispassionate reportage from this group was like searching in a whore house for glints of modesty and shards of morality, not,” he hastened to add, “that immorality was a bar to honest truth seeking.”

“Your figure might be low,” the Country Mouse replied, though he instantly had accepted the proposal.

Both had for the past three decades been “writing on water,” The Cynic’s formulation, for a slumberous audience that could not, or perversely would not, recall what had happened yesterday. Then too, the windy horror stirring on Connecticut’s horizon hardly ruffled these bouts of self-enforced somnolence. Working in the moment had unfitted them for unabashed journalism. So, why not disturb some restless ghosts?

“We should,” said The Cynic, bestowing a smile upon his omelet, “draw up an enemies' list.”

“A friend’s list,” said the Country Mouse, “would be shorter and more manageable. I can think of two reliables.”

“None for me,” said The Cynic.

Now, whenever The Cynic’s temperament was aroused, his voice rose as well, and he pronounced every syllable of every word as a Shakespearian actor might. Naturally, this captured the attention of nearby diners who began leaning into the conversation.

Responding to the Country Mouse’s remark that beaten people in Connecticut seemed emotionally exhausted by measures that had been taken to shut down the state, The Cynic launched the following philippic:

“At some point, someone – and if not the media, then who? – must scream loudly enough to pierce waxen ears -- “THE EMPEROR IS NAKED!”

This produced a stir at a nearby table.

“Too few in the state’s media do it,” The Cynic continued. “Politics is the only profession on earth that professes nonsense without media reproval. We’ve just recovered from a Coronavirus “pandemic.” The entire state was shut down – and NOT BY THE PANDEMIC – for a year.

“Just take one instance, and try to remember that the state’s political hegemon, the  Democrat Party, has controlled politics, without the least interference from Republicans, in all three of the state’s larger cities for nearly half a century, plenty of time to set things right.

“Whatever is wrong with Connecticut’s cities, the solution to urban social disintegration and lawlessness cannot be a bill to provide previously illegal pot in every urban pot.”

This produced some suppressed laughter from a couple sitting in a nearby booth.”

“Urban problems cannot be solved,” the Cynic continued in a lower voice, “or even addressed, by a state that asserts the elimination of zoning restrictions in suburbs will magically solve problems in cities related to causes untouched by the proposed solution.”

This produced slight applause and appreciative nods and smiles from a different booth.

Quieter still, The Cynic continued, “Removing partial immunity from prosecution within urban police departments will not reduce criminal activity in the state’s cities. Still less will early release from prison and the decriminalization of crimes reduce criminal activity in cities, though it may improve the kinds of statistics politicians cite in the heat of a campaign. The elimination of partial immunity celebrated by Connecticut’s progressive Democrats will reduce the number of police in urban police departments. In fact, a little noticed migration of police officers from urban to suburban departments has already begun. And it cannot be good sense to reduce police presence at a time when crime in urban areas is “MOVING FORWARD,” a favorite expression of blind progressive mice, at warp speed. Any politician unwilling to attack the rot at the root of a problem cannot be said to care for the plant.”

A lady to the left of the two reunited friends waved her fork in their direction. All the Coronavirus protective masks in the diner had been discarded. For the first time in a year, both the Country Mouse and The Cynic, who regarded the masks as emblems of subservience to autocratic governors, could once again read faces. And this one was smiling, the Country Mouse thought, sardonically.

“Excuse me,” she said, “who ARE you?”

“He’s The Cynic,” answered the Country Mouse.





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