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Apocryphal conversation with The Grim Reaper

How can I hope to find what I have not learned or discovered can be looked for, except by a happy but entirely unexpectable accident?[1]


Covid-19 victim in Brazil being buried, 30 April 2021, NYT.

Dramatis personae:


Everyman (Number 6).

BM: Are you there, Sir?

GM: I am, indeed. Can I help you?

BM: Well, Sir, I hope only in a small way, for now. If you will be so kind?

GM: Maybe, BM. I have much patience, for I always get my man -- or woman or, these days, other --, in the end, with only a very few exceptions, of course.

BM: May I call you by name, Sir?

GM: Of course, BM. I am GM, the Grim Reaper, or, as often known: Death. Yes, please call me GM. We're all equals in conversation, although not in physical strength.

BM: Thank you, Sir. I mean: GM.

GM: So, what can I do for you today, BM? My department is very busy these days, with Covid-19. But I have staff, and I have taken on many contract workers. Would you like a job? There are benefits, BM.

BM: I appreciate the offer, GM. And I may need to take you up on it, but can we wait a little while?

BG: Sure, why not? But you had a question, BM?

BM: I did, after what you had said. But I got distracted.

GM: What was your question?

BM: Nothing, really. But You said that there were a few exceptions?

GM: Yes. King Oedipus, Abraham, Jesus Christ and The Prophet Muhammad(PBUH), for four.

BM: I don't guess there is much hope for me becoming one of them, is there, GM?

GM: 'Fraid not, BM. So, what else can I do for you, today?

BM: I just wanted to talk a bit. And nobody around me seems interested in what I want to talk about. I don't play chess or anything, GM.

GM: Neither do I, BM. After Deep Blue. I do play games, however. Are you up for a little game of poker?

BM: No, thank you. I'm rather serious, GM.

GM: I undertand. So, what do you want to talk about, BM? I don't know everything, you know.

BM: I didn't expect you to. Just your own line of business.

GM: I think I am an expert, there.

BM: Yes, Sir -- I mean, GM, Sir.

GM: Thank you for the courtesy, BM. Where would you like to start? Or would you like me to start?

BM: Could you, GM? If I have any questions, I will save them for when you are done. I appreciate you taking your time to talk with me, GM.

GM: No problem. But can I ask you a little question first, BM?

BM: Sure.

GM: Most people want nothing to do with me. What's your angle?

BM: Well. as you said, GM, very few people get away from you, in the end. So what's their point? I don't know. You seem a lot better to talk with than most of them are, maybe?

GM: Well said, BM!

BM: Who's Number 1?

GM: That would be telling. Nope. I can't answer that.

BM: OK. So what were you going to share with me before you asked why I am talking with you?

GM: I see all kinds in my work here. Some people don't really believe I'm for real. They think I'm just the ticket taker on their bus trip to another life. I can't confirm that for you either way.

BM: I have my doubts, GM.

GM: Something else: They say the coward dies a thousand times and the brave man only once. But you know, BM....

BM: Yes?

GM: That's not quite right. Cowards think they're going to die a thousand times....

BM: And?

GM: And I've seen brave men die more than once. The poor schmuck gets all shot up and left for dead on the battlefield, and a couple medics take him back to a field hospital, and he gets healed up, and then they send him back out again, to be all shot up again and left for dead again, in No Man's Land. That just doesn't make sense to me. That's not how I would do it. But who am I to tell people what to do?

BM: You've got me stumped, GM. I try to avoid 'em when I can.

GM: Sounds to me like you know your ass from a hole in the ground, BM.

BM: I hope so, GM.

GM: And, you know, BM, like your archeologists say: The more there were, the fewer there are. I think it's called: hagiography. People are strange.

BM: Yessir. I mean: Yes, GM.

GM: And I think some of the craziest of all are the ones who say you should not enjoy the pleasures of the flesh because they are fleeting.

BM: I'm curious. Why do you think that?

GM: Because everything in mortal life is fleeting. Folly and wisdom. Abstinence and gratification. What the shit?

BM: So, what would you recommend, GM?

GM: If it was me, I'd avoid doing anything stupid that might get me in trouble I could foresee or even not foresee, like climbing Mount Everest or going swimming in the Far Rockaways, or like being rich and flaunting it for all the poor people to get jealous of me.

BM: That sounds like very sound advice to me, GM. But what about the positive side? Or isn't there any?

GM: No, quite the contrary. There's all sort of things that are both enjoyable and also safe for you mortals. And a person never knows. they could be 85 years old and still have another sprightly 15 to go.

BM: And a 20 year old professional athlete can go "Kaput!" at any moment. Not very likely, I think, but I think it can happen.

GM: Damned right it can happen! I see cases of that every day, BM. There's 7.94 * 10 ** 9 people squirming around on planet earth (not to mention other places). So even a one in a million happens pretty regularly, if you look at the big picture.

BM: I try to see both the forest and the individual trees.

GM: Good for you! Some people don't think about it, but I 'm in the animal control business, too.

BM: I've got two cats I love, and at least one of them, I think, loves me. The other one just wants to eat more. Please don't take them away from me, GM!

GM: Again, BM, I cannot comment on that. But I do understand that you are unhappy that both men -- yourself -- , and cats die. I didn't make the rules. I don't have power to change the rules. I can only try to do my best in carrying them out, as fairly as men will let me.

BM: Really?

GM: Hey, man! Don't get too angry with me! It's people themselves who do most of the killing, I didn't invent your wars, or anything. I don't make anybody unnecessarily miserable, like parents who repress kids' healthy instinctual urges, and Educational Testing Service, and all your other crappy stuff.

BM: It ain't me you're talkin' to, there!

GM: I know. You're not the source of all mankind's woes, BM.

BM: I hope not.

GM: But you are not lily white, either, you know?

BM: I know. Are you going to punish me for it?

GM: Of course not. I'm a fair broker And I've seen where things come from. Harsh conditions do not often make for pleasant people. Anyway, I'm not so much into cats. I like my old boy Cerebrus. Bark for the man, Cerebrus! He's friendly. He likes dog treats.

CB: Woof! Woof!

GM: Good boy, CB!

BM: Yeah. He looks OK. I guess that's where the old saw about throwing a sop to Cerebrus comes from?

GM: I guess so. You know, BM, Jumbo jets and motor cars and all that technology has changed Charon's job a lot.

BM: Do you have a Chunnel to Hades these days?

GM: Sorry, BM, again, that's a secret. But you probably can figure out for yourself that if we do have one, it's one way. The trains would always return to your world empty. Again, if there are any trains and if there is a tunnel. If.

BM: Got it. that sounds logical to me. Better than any ontological proof of God's existence.

GM: Well, now you've got me puzzled, BM. What's this about ontological proofs of what?

BM: It's some people who have nothing else to do all day than play logic games (but most of them don't know any metamathematics), and they think they can prove that something they prove they don't understand exists.

GM: Weird!

BM: I guess they enjoy that a lot. And anyway, they have sinecures in universities and they can talk about this kind of stuff, like dogs sniffing each other's rear ends, at afternoon faculty sherry hour. So, who knows? Maybe they get a bit tipsy?

GM: So it's just an excuse for having some fun but looking serious for the bleachers?

BM: That's what I think. But I am not one of them, so I don't really know. I do know that the one time I went to the Yale Club in New York City, and you had to wear a tie, it was not acceptable to wear that tie under a turtleneck sweater.

You, my reader, have been provided material for elaborating this dialog further, should you wish to do so. But your narrator, unlike Socrates, does not have knowledge he hides; I (BMcC) really don't know what happens next here. I will now jump to the conclusion of this little conversation.

GM: Sorry, BM. I've got to go now.

BM: Yessir?

GM: I have to go to the loo.

GM: Excuse me?

GM: That's Lima Oscar Oscar. Not your friend Lima Oscar Uniform. He didn't do all that bad, really. He died in his sleep. Lots of people do worse.

BM: GM, that's what I'm really concerned about.

GM: That's the Medical Department's job, BM. But I'll mention your concern to them, if I see any of them before I see you again. They really are not very empathic, unlike me.

GB: I wlll appreciate that, Sir -- I mean, GM.

GM: Look! Let me assure you. Our little conversation this morning neither hurt nor helped you. I'm like Santa Claus, sorta. I know when everybody's sleeping, and I know when they're awake. I keep a list and I check it quite often, really. But I could care less if you've been naughty or nice, so have some fun now. I'll be seeing you, although maybe not today. My list is Top Secret, and you don't have clearance. Anyway, be safe, and have some fun while you can!

BM: Thank you, GM, and bye for now.

Go back to A place to Study Main Page!

GM: Be seeing you!

Apocryphal conversation with the Big Bully in the sky

Dramatis personae:


God: Well, Mr. McCormick, Welcome The Pearly Gates,

BM: Sounds like Auschwitz to me.

God: Yes, I see you have a rather deviant opinion about My Creation.

BM: I do, Sir, but I am open to evidence which might lead me to modify my opinion about anything. I am not a Believer in any religion. I'm not sure who You are, even.

SB: Stick it to him, Bro! Show him who's Boss around here!

God: Take it easy, my Friend. You know, we're not dealing with a sap like Job here, who, if we kicked him, he said 'Thank you, Oh Most High. I am Your faithful servant, O Lord."

SB: Yes, that man had a very good attitude. How's he doing these days?

God: He's doing fine. He has gone to his eternal reward. But, Satan, you are distracting me. We finished with Job a few millenia ago. We've got this guy to deal with now..

SB: I apologize, O Most High.

SB: That's better. Thank you. You see, Satan, I created the human species, so I am interested in unintended side effects if I missed anything in my design for them.

SB: Yes, God.

God: Don't get too uppity, Satan. You know I created you, too, so you need to keep in your place. Galileo thought he could make a fool of his Bog Boss and you see what happened to him.

SB: Yes, God.

God:Damned Toadie! Why do I put up with You? I really did make a mistake at The Tower of Babel. Thost master structural engineers would have been better company than You, Toadie.

SB [Fearing for his future, now]: Yes, God. Anything you say, God. Just say The Word, God, and I'll go back to Hell where I always have a full inbox on my desk....

God: Hummh.

[Long silence]

God: Now, Mr. McCormick. You know how it works here. Ecah persons gets to go one of three ways: Up, horizontal -- a holding pen --, or down.

BM: Yes, Sir. I hope I'e done my homework. I expect this place it going to be like Educational Testing Service (ETC) Princeton New Jersey (501(c)(3) on steroids. And I don't expect to be even a Heavenly Merit Corpse semi-finalist.

God: How did you know? Most people who come here are surprised when they have to take the SAT -- The Spirit Aptitude Test, that is.

BM: Just a lucky guess, I guess, Sir. I certainly did not have enough evidence to have a reasoned opinion about anything about what goes on here. except that I've seen all those Mannerist paintings of Heaven and it looks like a very crowded place, full of 2-legged sheep, Sir

God: Why this "Sir" "Sir" "Sir" stuff, Mr. McCormick? I know you don't like Me?.

BM: It's very simple, Sir. I address everybody that way, Sir, from trash men to corporate CEO's, especially if they don't deserve it -- in that case to offer them a model of whom they could become of they raised themselves up. But poease let me have one more sentence, God....

God: Of course, Mr. McCormick. I'm in no rush here in Eternity.

BM: Thank you, Sir. As an aside, let me say I am afraid here; I'm not a fool like that Galileo dude.

God: I already knew that. I khow everything.

BM: Then why, Sir, are you asking me my opinion? [hasterning without giving God a chance to respond] What I wanted to say is that the tutorial "Sir" is meant more for big people like corportate CEO's, thna for little peiple like jainitors. Of cousre I never wanted to clean toilet, but I respect the people who do it. It's the BigShits I don't like and whom I think are in need of education. If the shoe fits, Sir, wear it; but if not, then I am not accusing anybody of anything -- just helping them to judge themselves.

God: Sounds like you'd like to be wearing my boots, Mr. McCormick!

BM: Goddamned right, Sir! Or was that a nono, Sir?

God: Oh, you mean about taking My Name in vain, Mr. McCormick?

BM: Exactly, Sir. You've surely read my little story about The Eleventh Commandment, Sir?

God: I have indeed, Mr. McCormick. It's quite amusing. Do you really think I cared bout that dude Moses's body odor?

BM: I don't know, Sir. But that lampoon was not primarily aimed at You, Sir, but at all the People I had to put up with down there on earth, who were obsessed with how I smelled and even with traces of fecal mtter I sometimes unintentionally left on the toilet seat. What abunch of creeps! Why did you create them, Sir?

God: Be careful, Mr. McCormick! That guy Satan has an R&ampD department to cook up custom-tailored eternal punishments for outliers like you.

BM: Respectfully, Sir, then why dont you just get it over with? I am well aware You are bigger than me -- Sir!

God: I'm really not sure what to do with you, Mr. McCormick. And I've got all these Ukrainian civilian casualties to deal with today (+2022.03.21). You said you liked waiting for Godot, Mr. McCormick?

BM:I did indeed, Sir. Slthough let me add that I am well aware of King Midas's stupid mistake of asking for something without first thoroughy investigating the possible consequence of getting it, Sir.

God: Well, you will find out now, Mr. McCormick? Here's your bus stop, where you said the Mosad waited for Mr. Eichmann. I have other work to do, so that will be all for now, Mr. McCormick. Be seeing you -- maybe, Mr. McCormick?

BM [aside to the audience]: Looks like I am one lucky puppy, for now. I wonder if there is a library in this place....]

[Exeunt omnes]

 
 

Apocryphal conversation with Life

Kilroy was here. Kilroy lives!

Dramatis personae:

orestes: you will give me your hand and we will go---

electra: where?

orestes: i don't know. towards ourselves.[2]


MV: Are you there, little one?

BM: Yes?

MV: Come here to me. I'm not going to hurt you.

[BM looks puzzled, not comprehending what MV might be talking about.]

MV: It's OK. Here: You can pet the cat.

Cat: Meow!

MV: We're going away. You're going away from here. You won't have to come back, ever again.

BM: Who are you?

MV: You can just think I'm from some place else then here, a place you will like that you probably never heard of: Italy. It is so far away from here that your parents will never be able even to see you again unless you really want them to. You don't like being here , do you?

BM: Where are you from? what's "Italy"?

MV: Where the cat's from. And you know what books are, yes?

BM: Yes?

MV: It's a place where there are lots of books. And nobody's going to make you go out in the glaring hot sun on a beach and get sunburned, without your shirt on, even. They do that to you, right?

BM: Yes.

MV: I have come to rescue you, to take you away from here, to people who will appreciate you and where you will like to be and you will like the people there. You will need to look back at where you are now only as omething you hope you will never have to have anything to do with ever again.

BM: Really? Are you trying to trick me? How can I trust you?

MV: You can't. People who ask you to trust then are lying to you, yes? They are telling you to believe what you do not know if it's true or not. It's going to take time for you to see that we are different and better for you. What do you have to lose, little one? What do they do for you other than feed you and give you a roof over your head in the rain?

BM: They annoy me and tell me what to do They make me do things like wear blouses that are so tight around my neck that my mother has to struggle to button me in them and they take me to have my hair cut and I have to concentrate on the potty and produce for her or else they give me an enema. I hate them.

MV: You poor little boy. I don't think they really hate you. They just do not understand that you are different from them and so they try to make you be like them. But what does it matter why they hurt you or if they even are aware they are doing it?

BM: I'm hurt.

MV: Are you ready to go? Are there any toys you like and want to take with you? The less you take, the better. Everything where we're going will be new and different.

BM: Just my little stuffed animal dog.

MV: Good. Lets go.

BM: I hope you are not trying to trick me.

MV:Time will tell you. And you can always come back and cry and confess you were a horrible ingrate child who didn't undertand what was good for him, and now you really love them dearly and want to do whatever they tell you to becaue it is right and your only wish in life is to make them happy, and beg for their undeserved forgiveness.

BM: Then maybe my mother would not threaten any more to abandon me. Lets go.

Go forward into life....

[MV Helps child into a taxi and the three of them, including the cat (and little stuffed animal toy dog), leave for Baltimore's Friendship Airport where they will catch a shuttle flight to New York and then board an Alitalia flight to Milan. Michelangelo Antonioni will meet them on arrival at Malpensa airport.]



Where living meets Death

This should be obvious: Starving artist and his wife and kids or his girlfriend or just himself. "What are we going to eat tonite? The stomach calls, and we have no money." "I guess we'll have to go dumpster diving behind the fancy restaurant down the road." "Guess so." God: "You know, starving artist, that in 100 years your paintings will be selling at auction for over $1,000,000 apiece (adjusted up for inflation). yes?" "Yes, I know that, God, but I need to eat todnite or tomorrow I will be dead." God: "Ars longa vita brevis, good man."
 
 

Epilog

At the end of Ingmar Bergmann's film "The Seventh Seal", the protagonist, "The Knight", is coming home with his squire, Lyndon Baines Johnson. The Knight is a cultured man who had been wasted years of his life on a Crusade ('Nam?) but he has survived. LBJ is entirely cynical about it all. They are in a race with Death to get to The Knight's castle.

Back on the home front, in the castle, The Knight's wife, Karin, awaits her husband's return. She is also aware that Death is coming. She could have fled, but she has stayed, loyal to her husband, as an honorable citizen of her social world. Would fleeing have helped anyway? From Death, like from the KGB, you can run but you cannot hide.

Karin is in charge of the castle staff. pro tem. She hosts dinner for everybody. Of all the people at the table, she is the only one who can read. All the "Return of Martin Guerre" illiterates are going nuts at the approach of Death, which, in their lack of reflective self-awareness, they can only fear like cornered animals.

At the table, Karin remains calm and reads from a Bible (The Book of Revelation, but it could as well have been something else; the medium is the message). Death beats her husband to the door, and enters. She invites him in and says he is welcome in her house. She is not suicidal. She has no choice in the matter. Death is not to be easily turned away; so she makes the best of it. Literacy: seeing the world of immediate experience as an object in experience, enables the Knight's wife to live in conscious distance from the immediate situation instead of just freaking out by immersed reflex reaction.

If you are Kursked, you have only two choices: use it or lose it, and if you ain't got none, you're lost and just consume more of the O2 remaining for everybody than if you'd kept your cool. Charles Momsen could not have saved submariners who had already died from asphyxiation.

Let us also recall the famous story that, after the explosion of the first atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer did not exclaim, like a Proud Boy: "This is cool! The bigger the better! Let's build a Super!" The story goes that he said, from the Hindu scripture The Bhagavad-Gita: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." We are a conversation.
 
 
 

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Footnotes

  1. This is a variation on Gordon Hirshhorn's First Principle: "Other than chance encounters, we can only encounter in reality what we have previously encountered in fantasy."
  2. Note that BMcC had this quote from Jean-Paul Sartre's play "The Flies" as the caption of his high school yearbook mug shot, Spring 1964. It now (2021) appears ironically and unwittingly prescient of unfulfilled hopes that would later arise after reading Robert Musil's "The Man Without Qualities" (1982?). Rrose Selavy.
  3. What if i had come out of the birth canal of a highly cultured existentialist intellectual young lady? Her only child since childbearing did not appeal to her, and having one was too terrifying already. But we made it through, and, unlike how my IBM manager Dr Don H. Nix described in an autobiographical story, I did not fight against being born, so minimal fear of my ripping up her vagina coming out. We made it, without forceps. The psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott said the healthy foetus wants to be born, so I guess that says something about Dr. Nix, aka: "Sluggie" (his chosen term of self-endearment from his intimates) doesn't it?


Unfortunate for themself, the person who lacks one; unfortunate for others, the person that is one. Don't be an a**hole!


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2022-04-19 08:09:10