“To walk with circumspection and steadiness in the right path, at an equal distance between the extremes of error, ought to be the constant endeavor of every reasonable being” – Samuel Johnson
The late morning was hot and dry, as I biked down Tamarus on my way home from work. I was wearing my new straw fedora and sun glasses to shield myself from the heat. Tamurus runs from Flamingo, where Algonquin ends, down to Harmon. It is a true thru-street, for it has no stop signs. This street is the biggest hurdle in my daily commute. Coming home on University, I am forced to do a tricky maneuver, looking left and right to make sure no cars are flying by yet maintain speed so that I do not have to come to a complete stop. On numerous occasions, I dart in front of cars and make them stop rather suddenly. Of course, I have no shame in this. A driver in a car who stops suddenly is a man who moves his right foot less than a foot and exerts virtually no effort to break. He may use three whole muscles. But I do wish the turn was less dangerous, for my own sake.
As I road down the street, I noticed a man on a moped crossing on Rochelle. A grown man on a moped is, perhaps, the most shameful thing to see. A moped is a kid’s version of a motorcycle. Now, I am no fan of the roaring, blaring, obnoxious motorcycle. It is in league with the roaring, blaring, obnoxious truck, and together they are out to destroy all peace and quiet. But the moped has virtually no dignity. A man on a moped could do as much on a bike, and for this reason, his laziness seems almost exaggerated. He rides a kid’s toy to accomplish what he could like a man on a bike. He rides on the edge of sanity, if anything. And this particular man was one of those types who moreover seems lost not only in wits but in clothes. He was one of those types who wears an extra-large t-shirt when a medium would probably do. His jean shorts with side pockets were complimented with the tennis shoes and mid-high, white socks. As he road he looked down Tamurus and spotted me riding my bike. He swerved a little in the intersection, and I thought he was possibly drunk; then, once he crossed, he swerved again and coming to a complete stop by the sidewalk, hailed me over.
“Say, when you ride your bike through this area,” he said, waving his hand in the direction I had just come from, “don’t ride through that complex, okay?”
“Excuse me?” I responded, trying to figure out which complex he was referring to and recollect if I had ridden through it.
“That complex,” he returned. “I saw you the other night. You road through and stopped at the table and took two beers.”
I denied the accusation and told him he was mistaken. He continued.
“Don’t play dumb. I’m the security manager over there at that complex. I saw you ride through on your bike and you stole two beers. Stay away from that complex, you hear?”
I again denied the accusation. When was this? I asked. Two nights ago. I furrowed my brow and thought back to two nights ago. I first saw myself in a dark apartment, reading or writing with my orange Tabby sitting by my side idly watching. Then I had an odd vision of myself getting on my bike, as if sleepwalking, riding through some apartment complex, stealing two Bud Lights, or worse, Natural Lights. And as the visions flew through my head, I thought to myself that this poor man could not have chosen a less likely candidate to accuse. But as I began to say something, his accusation took a nasty turn:
“Don’t play dumb with me,” he said again, now rising in anger and swearing. “Ain’t no one else riding around here in that hat on that bike.”
I nearly fell off my bike. He looked at me with confidence, knowing he had won. Nothing could be said to this, for it was the truest thing the man had ever said in his whole life. A man who accuses anyone of a crime should simply point to particulars. The technique is pure gold, for it is pure fact. I could do nothing but ride away as he continued talking, floored by his ability to lie. The best lies are those drenched in facts, for facts do not have to be true, they simply have to be. And as I road away I thought about this and contemplated whether I should start riding my bike without my hat, but cooler heads prevailed. I, the Gambler, am perhaps the last man on earth to be associated with living on the edge; but I suppose, at times, edges come to us.
Edges are important. The edge of a thing is the beginning of a thing; the edge of a thing is the end of a thing. Art, virtue, religion, philosophy, or anything else in the world that matters must have an edge. The modern pedant loves edges. He believes a man must live on the edge. That is, he believes an artist should draw nothing but borders and outlines. If one ought to live on the edge, one ought to see how far he can go before he technically breaks meaningless rules. He must see how far he can go before he falls off the cliff and breaks his neck.
This past week, I stood with about a hundred people, looking out over the edge of a tall cliff in northern Arizona. We gazed at the Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River roughly a thousand feet above the shoreline. Roughly five feet from the edge. A man who falls off this cliff does not live to tell about it. We crept slowly to the edge like men approaching a haunted house, scared of what may happen. Peaking over it, we dared not get too close. The slightest slip, the slightest inadvertent bump, would be the end. One man, however, laughed at caution. He walked as if he was a big horned sheep; he walked as if he grew up on those cliffs; he walked right out to a small, pointed rock, jutting out and alone. He bent, sat, and folded his knees up into his arms taking in the same view as the rest of us standing safely from death.
My contemporary, modern brethren are all about definitions. They are about changing definitions, so that their nonsense makes sense. But a man may define a thing seven times over and not change its essence. A man may say, for instance, that the writer of this humble post does not live life on the edge, and he would be right if by this statement he meant that the writer of this humble post did not dance with the devil at the edge of the Grand Canyon. I am, indeed, not a man who lives on the edge in this sense. I bike the same route to school each day; I spend my evenings listening to my baseball team and writing essays, stories, and poems. When the desert air is cool and crisp, I take a walk, and it is generally in the same direction. But just because a man goes in one direction, does not mean he does not live life on the edge. It is the man who never moves who does not live life on the edge; or it is the man moving over the edge who cannot live on it, for he is dead. But the direction is the all important thing, so long as it is the right direction. Take alcohol, for instance. Alcohol is a delight, but if it is abused, it quickly becomes a disaster. The teetotaler never moves and thus is never moved; he never experiences the delight, though he won’t experience the disaster; the alcoholic moves too much; he may have begun in a noble direction, but he kept walking until he fell off the edge. The man who truly lives on the edge is the man who holds that each drink is an eternal joy. One drink is enough not because he is a prude but because he is not a glutton. The man whose senses are fully engaged is the man who can appreciate pleasure the most. Each drink is a wild pleasure because each drink is full of taste. This man does not say with my contemporaries, “I must live life on the edge; I must drink until I am drunk and fall off the edge.” This man says with wild authority, “I am already drunk. Drunk with joy off of just one pint. Let me see you gain so much pleasure out of four.” And I am such a man.
The man who lives on the edge also does not steal cheep beer from a random table in some dumpy apartment complex. This man is a coward. He is not wild or free or dangerous; he is a coward. He is moreover a coward because he does so under false pretenses. He dresses up like a noble, white Midwesterner and goes around snatching up cheep beer like a sneak. And if he happens to have any decency about him, if he happens to stumble upon this post as he does tables with cheep beer, I only ask that he refrain from stealing my pseudonym and spreading his folly with it.
Friday, July 1, 2016
Painting: “Tregiffian Cliff, near Lamorna”
By Samuel John Lamorna Birch,
Oil on canvas, c. 1921