Thursday, December 21, 2006

Paul Auster on Rascals (Missing Tiger Redux)

In follow-up to my last posting about the missing Tiger finger puppet, I offer this passage from The Brooklyn Follies, the latest from celebrated local novelist Paul Auster. Funny/strange enough, I read this passage the night after we discovered the apparent theft. (The novel takes place in Park Slope, making it doubly relevant.) It's interesting food for thought, not to mention marvelous prose.

We haven't recovered the Tiger, and probably won't, but perhaps instead we can find some solace in the notion that the spirit of the rascal has graced Greenjeans.
. . .

"I've always had a soft spot for rascals," I said. "They might not make the most reliable friends, but think how drab life would be without them."

"I'm not sure Harry's a rascal anymore," Tom answered. "he's too full of regret."

"Once a rascal, always a rascal. People never change."

"A matter of opinion. I say they can."

"You never worked in the insurance business. The passion for deceit is universal, my boy, and once a man acquires a taste for it, he can never be cured. Easy money -- there's no greater temptation than that. Think of all the wiseguys with their staged car accidents and personal-injury scams, the merchants who burn down their own stores and warehouses, the people who fake their own deaths. I watched this stuff for thirty years, and I never got tired of it. The great spectacle of human crookedness. It keeps coming at you from all sides, and whether you like it or not, it's the most interesting show in town."

Tom emitted a brief noise, an outrush of air that fell midway between a snicker and a guffaw. "I love hearing you spout your bullshit, Nathan. I hadn't realized it until now, but I've missed it. I've missed it a lot."

"You think I'm joking," I said, "but I'm giving it to you straight. The pearls of my wisdom. A few pointers after a lifetime of toiling in the trenches of experience. Con men and tricksters run the world. Rascals rule. And do you know why?"

"Tell me, Master. I'm all ears."

"Because they're hungrier than we are. Because they know what they want. Because they believe in life more than we do."

"Speak for yourself, Socrates. If I wasn't so hungry all the time, I wouldn't be carrying around this giant gut."

"You love life, Tom, but you don't believe in it. And neither do I."

"You're beginning to lose me."

"Think of Jacob and Esau. Remember them?"

"Ah. Okay. Now you're starting to make sense."

"It's an awful story, isn't it?"

"Yes, truly awful. It gave me no end of trouble when I was a kid. I was such a moral, upright little person back then. I never lied, never stole, never cheated, never said a cruel word to anyone. And there's Esau, a galumphing simpleton just like me. By all rights, Issac's blessing should be his. But Jacob tricks him out of it -- with his mother's help, no less."

"Even worse, God seems to approve of the arrangement. The dishonest, double-crossing Jacob goes on to become the leader of the Jews, and Esau is left out in the cold, a forgotten man, a worthless nobody."

"My mother always taught me to be good. 'God wants you to be good,' she'd say to me, and since I was still young enough to believe in God, I believed what she said. Then I came across that story in the Bible, and I didn't understand a thing. The bad guy wins, and God doesn't punish him. It didn't seem right. It still doesn't seem right."

"Of course it does. Jacob had the spark of life in him, and Esau was a dumbbell. Good-hearted, yes, but a dumbbell. If you're going to choose one of them to lead your people, you'll want the fighter, the one with cunning and wit, the one with the energy to beat the odds and come out on top. You choose the strong and clever over the weak and kind."

"That's pretty brutal stuff, Nathan. Take your argument one step further, and the next thing you'll be telling me is that Stalin should be revered as a great man."

"Stalin was a thug, a psychotic murderer. I'm talking about the instinct for survival, Tom, the will to live. Give me a wily rascal over a pious sap any day of the week. He might not always play by the rules, but he's got spirit. And when you find a man with spirit, there's still some hope for the world."

. . .

May the Solstice bring you Peace, Joy, Love, and Light

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