Should the spirit of protest occasion a crowd, far be it from me to be its exorcist.

Unsurprising to the nice round number of zero, Adam made it known this week he is wary of protests. His post indicating as much is one-half cheek and the other half teeth. As it happens, his (& a good many of your) reservations squeakily hinged on the fact that protests too rarely work. We Leftist-intellectuals are a busy lot, after all, and good time management requires that we cut out the ineffectual fat from our schedules, to make way for retweeting memes and attending committee meetings. I popped up in the comments of Adam’s post, a resident, tolerated troll, objecting in my own opaque way. I thought I might elaborate with a short post. Read the rest of this entry »

Adventures in Bookselling: A Few Lessons Learned

For the past year and a half or so I’ve been employed in a kind of noble profession, if such exist: selling books at a local independent bookstore. This is my story of things learned along the way.

Truth told, I was a little surprised I got the position. The job advert emphasized previous book selling as a prerequisite. While I had a year’s worth of such, it had been nearly fifteen years earlier. Following that, my job experience got a little weird & deeply unhelpful in terms of placing me professionally.* One of the owners was born & raised in Glasgow, Scotland, so I suspect my time spent there, conversational affection for Alasdair Gray, & anecdotes about getting in a fight following a Partick Thistle match helped. The lesson: embrace your odd-ball affections.  Read the rest of this entry »

Laodicea, Conclusion: “Don’t just stand there, naked ones, cover yourself!”

Ramsey regarded her letters as though they were treasures not to be cherished, their value neither monetary nor sentimental. These were not love notes whose excesses one might later come to regret. He once suggested to Miriam that he thought they told a story so slowly as to be imperceptible to him. This made her laugh. —If they tell a story, it is one I’d never want to read.

The shuffling of a dozen church bulletins and the sudden firefly glow of phones displaying the time told Ramsey he needed to find his ending. How to get to repentance, this was always the question. Forgiveness, that’s the easy part, softly and gently Jesus is always calling, he could sing this until his face was blue. If he’s done the job, if he’s laid out the sin and he’s described the shame, getting too specific about how to avoid either was a bit redundant. Everything else about the religion was built on the solidest foundation of assumption, from the a priori beginning to the predestined end, but not this? Though it frustrated him that the church allowed no leeway or shortcuts when it came to navigating the narrow path of their salvation, he nevertheless tried to make it as difficult for them as possible. Read the rest of this entry »

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Laodicea, Part 5: “that one should represent his past, the other his present, and neither his future.”

Of course, the handwritten letters, too, were her idea. Email was, in her opinion, utilitarian to a fault, and she was convinced that no one reads any that are longer than two paragraphs. Modern information technology, she continued, is well and good for when you simply need to convey something you do not want to trust to memory, like workaday names, places, dates, and times. Quite the opposite, though, for those things which the additions and the failures of memory are not only inevitable but required if the message is to be properly received at all. Not to mention, —Your Baptists, they want life to be like it was in the 1950s, don’t they? With all those women stirring their stews as the men return from work, the boys rough-housing in the front yard with good-nature’d, correctable grace as the girls set the table with the forks and knives in proper array, all those dirty aprons, dusty hats, scuffed knees and pig-tails. Ramsey, who are we to upset this picture of slowed-down, southern-drawled bliss? No, email won’t do at all in that world of yours.

Miriam loved to play the role of city sophisticate, but the fact that she lived in a place as mid-sized and amorphously suburban as Lexington was not lost on her. She had returned after college to care for her mother, who as it happened cared little for Ramsey. Neither cancer in her stomach nor congestion in her lungs diminished Miranda Porter’s thoughts about “the boy turned Baptist.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Laodicea, Part 4: “time’s got a way of sedimenting”

—Young, handsome man like yourself, you have to have a young lady on your arm, right?

—I suppose you’d say . . . it’s complicated.

—Oh, it always is, son, somebody said, to mostly faked laughs of agreement.

—Sure. Yeah, I know. I guess the short answer is, No, I’m not married.

—Don’t stop there on account of us. We got time for the long answer, too.

—Oh, yeah, sure. It’s just that . . . we grew up together. And, I suppose you’d say . . . time’s got a way of sedimenting . . . Read the rest of this entry »

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Laodicea, Part 3: “essaying the contrasts”

—It’s all connected, you understand. You must, Laodicea, before it is too late. The taste with the sight, the sight with the smell, the smell with the taste. It would all make for a baroque symphony of the senses, this music of life, fit for these final hours . . . were it not for the clamorous assault of your insistence: “I am rich. I have need of nothing.”

No one knew how much of Ramsey’s oratory was improvised or what he had memorized, and he politely sidestepped any discussion of homiletic method with even his pastoral peers. As one of the few people ever to share the sanctuary dais with him, Mona Swinton had on occasion, when leading the congregation in its offertory hymn or benediction, stole glances at the papers he delicately placed on the pulpit before beginning his sermon. For the life of her she didn’t know what to make of them. In addition to occasional reports of a labyrinth of multi-directional arrows, —like they exploded outward in twenty different directions, with one smack dab in the middle of the paper, Mona never tired of telling others, —I‘m telling you, it was the tiniest handwriting you’d ever seen. Too minuscule for even the strongest eyes, Ramsey’s sermon script was an affectation he had picked up at some point, he couldn’t remember when, or for that matter why, because his handwriting on everything else, paychecks, greeting cards, contracts and the like, was normal in the most unnoticeable, never-commented-upon way. Read the rest of this entry »

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Laodicea, Part 2: “muted commiseration”

—No, the issue cannot simply be that of taste alone, otherwise I might have the choice of avoidance . . . of pursing my lips against a different cup. Ramsey was conscious of his instinct at that moment to swallow. I’m drinking myself sick, he thought, throat slick with saliva.

—No, as with Christ in the Garden, there is no choice to be made. Steady now, Ramsey, mind the Christ complex.

—No, you have been contaminated. You are now the contaminate, whose fetid stench cannot be distinguished from its emetic sight.

As far as mysterious odors go the one inside the New Zion Baptist Church never qualified as rank. What wrinkled the nose rarely compelled its pinch. The staleness of the sweaty stink was that of an old stain deeply set in the sensory fabric; a stationary sweat, wetting the cracks and the folds of a mostly immobile body imperceptibly shifting like a tectonic plate. Southern smells move slowly, though, and rarely arrive alone. If the smell of sweat was familiar to all, the sweetened air it shared was an unexpected stranger. Over the years children scoured the floor for hidden licorice or discarded breakfast cereal, in order to taste what their noses told them was there, while their mothers whiffed the wooden walls and fathers scanned the trees. For as long as anyone can remember, the complex smell had hung over the sanctuary as a Janus-faced foreign presence. Whether one was the cause of the other, if the sweat smelled of sweets or the sweet dripped of sweat, none could say. Indeed, the only ones who really even tried were the visitors who did not know any better—out-of-town in-laws, campaigning mayors, stray Unitarians taking in the countryside. Everyone else treated the smell as something that refused explanation, opting instead for the muted commiseration of discussing it as seldom as possible. Its reality set at a remove from its truth, for them the smell was the perfume of a quiet sociability more intimate than prayer. Read the rest of this entry »

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