"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, April 17, 2020

Gossip, Rumor, And Innuendo–Life Would Be A Bloody Bore Without Them

Libby Farnham hated math.  Not that it was that hard, but it was just too…certain. There were always 180 degrees in the angles of a triangle no matter how poorly drawn.  The speed of light was a constant, a+b always equaled ‘c’ no matter what the value of ‘a’ and ‘b’. Quadratic equations always had a solution – one solution, not many possible or alternative ones. There was no give to diameters or circumferences, no guesswork about the value of pi or the number of grams in a kilogram. 

Image result for image quadratic equation

Although there were some interesting possibilities in quantum physics – i.e. the speed of a particle could be known but not its location, or vice-versa; the universe might be expanding or contracting or both; and if Einstein was right, time could be slowed; but all in all math was a dreary affair.

History was more to Libby’s liking for although historians claimed that the past was as clear as day, it was far from it.  While there is no doubt that Genghis Khan had burst out of the Mongolian steppes in 1206 and conquered most of the known world in just a few years, no one has every figured out just how one man could have had the intelligence, courage, fearlessness, leadership, and a canny understanding of strategic warfare to single-handedly march his armies over vast territories with such calculated, amoral mayhem.  Or how Hitler mesmerized an entire nation to follow him in a brutal, unwinnable war, and in the extermination of six million Jews. 

Image result for images genghis khan

As importantly, historical facts were only records of what appeared to have happened, not what might or could have happened.  Would slavery have collapsed without a civil war given the inevitable economic and industrial might of the North?  Why did family feuds escalate into the decades-long, bloody English War of the Roses.  Significant socio-economic, political, and environmental variables – the meat and gristle of history – are not enough to account for the idiocy of a War which took thousands of lives and accomplished nothing.

So the ‘what if’ of history was far more intriguing to Libby than the ‘what happened’.  History was no more than a series of replays – the same human nature behind human events since the first settlements but expressed in an infinitude of fascinating ways.  Shakespeare understood that the same greed, ambition, jealousies, desires, and frustration that motivated one king motivated another.  It was the wonderful, unexpected ways that human nature played itself out that interested Shakespeare – the play’s the thing, not the facts of it. 

Image result for confederte flag

Literature was her love because authors told stories without having to pretend they were real.  There were no such things as facts in a novel, only assumptions about how people act when confronted with what they think are facts.  Characters are invented because of combined possibilities.  Authors see how certain people behave and condense their greed, ambition, jealousy, or enmity into a character – a fictitious creation that could be someone you knew, but then again perhaps not.

Libby liked religion best of all because there were no facts behind it at all.  There is scant evidence that a person called Jesus ever existed, let alone that he was God.  God the Father, Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament might well be a mythological figure more memorable than Gilgamesh or Hanuman but a fictitious one nevertheless; or he might easily be the One, the Eternal, the one who existed before existence as John 1:1-5 elegantly states.  There was most certainly a Mohammed, but whether or not he actually received the Koran from the Archangel Gabriel is a matter of speculation and belief. 

Image result for images moses parting the red sea

The stories of the Bible, the Koran, and the Mahabharata were wonderful tales of heroism, faithfulness and infidelity, deceit, dissension, power, and glory; and the fact that they just could be true or at least divinely inspired gave them intrigue and possibility.  Libby was never after the truth, never believed there was actually any such thing; but read on because there might be.

Libby was always the center of every social circle in school because she was a storyteller.  She was the one who started the gossip, rumors, and innuendo.   There was never anything malicious about her gossip – nothing of the hurtful, spiteful, nasty girly kind.  Just suggestions and possibilities – insights derived from clues that no one else saw but once told, agreed.  What Billy Markel did behind the tool shed with Nancy Billings certainly could have happened given what everyone knew about the precociously sexy, surprisingly sensual fourth-grader; and what they also knew about the shy, complaisant, innocent Billy.  It might have happened or it might not have, and it made no difference either to Libby or her girlfriends. 

Libby’s real genius, however, was her insight.  She knew that Mrs. Jordan was not happy with her alcoholic husband, the Fourth Form Latin teacher, because she was summary and dismissive with him at the dining room at dinner, passed him the beef and carrots like throwing him a dog dish.   His aftershave was never enough to cover the stale scent of gin.  His tie at dinner was never as neatly fixed as it was at lunch; and he made more sense with Cicero in the morning than he did with Caesar in the afternoon.  She watched, observed, concluded, and spread the gossip.  The Jordans would never last out the term, Libby said.  Either Mr. Jordan would be let go; or Mrs. Jordan would leave him for another man.

Word spread quickly and all eyes were on the Jordans for the telltale signs of dissatisfaction and deceit.  Sooner or later, their decorum and private school propriety would disappear; and disappear it did.  Dinner became a nasty, infighting affair, and before long the table was without the Master of Bennett Hall and his wife.

All the students at Miss Linder’s School for Girls looked to Libby for the latest gossip, social news, and advice.  They took from her remarks about  hair, weight, clothes, and shoes that they would never take from anyone else.  She was the arbiter of all things social, fact or fiction, imagined or real. 

Libby outgrew her gossipy, prankster, social arbiter phase; but never lost her sense of others’ gullibility and her uncanny sense of how to appeal to it.  People would swallow anything as long as it had a grain of truth, and they seem to be as unconcerned about the truth as Libby was.  The only difference between them was that Libby knew there was no such thing, and they didn’t.  Five bystanders can never agree on how an accident happened.  Lawrence Durrell, Robert Browning, and Akira Kurasawa wrote about the subjectivity of perception and the impossibility of fact.  If there was no such thing as fact, then life –not just fiction – was a continuing melodrama; and Libby was circus ringmaster, vaudevillian on the burlesque stage, actor in an afternoon soap opera, carny barker, and snake oil salesman.

Image result for the ring and the book images browning

Ivan’s devil, imagined by the feverish Ivan Karamazov in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, tells the serious, truth-seeking Ivan that there is no such thing; and besides, without him – the Devil and his devilish pranks – life would be tedious, boring, and and as stultifying as a never-ending Mass.  A life with nothing but good would be intolerably dull.

Image result for ivan's devil

All of which is to say that the last thing in the world anyone should worry about is ‘fake news’.  What in God’s name is that?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.