3 days ago
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
I went for a long walk last Saturday. The longest odyssey I've undertaken since the Grand Productive days had resumed. It was a preternaturally spring day. Across the canal, through the university, toward the first of many bookshops. I continued along my route, basking in the glow of having successfully bartered with the enormous, bearded and organically tonsured caretaker behind the desk. I hadn't seen a Victor adding machine in decades. I walked away smugly, having secured a reprint of Alexander Carlyle's anecdotes, published in the 19th century as his Autobiography, 1722-1805. It had been there for three years, collecting dust and feeling resolutely unwanted. I walked away with it, as well as a first edition hardcover of Graves' Belisarius. All for under $40. I continued down the slide roads, heading for Rideau St. There were other used bookshops and record stores that I hadn't visited since the Interruptnum. I approached the rear of a church. In the cramped yard adjacent, an itinerant was delivering a sermon for three other homeless comrades. There was much pantomime and wild gesticulation. Miraculously, the bottle did not fall from his hands. A remarkable display of enthusiasm and ferocious fervour, leavened with Stoic self-command. I made the humble mistake of "taking an inerest", and slowing my pace as I passed. Instantly, the itinerant preacher leapt to his feet and ran towards me, exhorting me to lead them in pious prayer. I laughingly protested that I was a Sceptic. "A heathen", snorted the holy man. "Then give us your fuckin money". Obviously, this latter day saint knew how to initiate at least one of the sacraments. Again, I protested. "I spent all my money", and showed them the bag of books. Things took a menacing turn after that. All of the congregation were now on their feet, advancing towards me with disgust and derision in full evidence upon their soiled and darkened countenances.
Things were not looking good. I glanced around. There were no bystanders, nobody to witness the enthusiasm of the mob. In the wake of the Interruptum, I was in no condition to resist a Rideau St. rolling. I raised my bag of books, for what purpose I do not know. Suddenly, the contemptuousness of the congregation was transformed. Perhaps it was the Byzantine bellicosity of Belisarius. But I prefer to think that it was the moderate Presbyterianism of Dr. Carlyle, emanating through the plastic of the grocery bag provided by the tonsured one. Following the lead of their quintilious leader, they returned to the enchanted cup. As one of Carlyle's contemporaries would note, "the poor savage, upon whose mind there are few objects which impress his external senses, and who, if not roused to exertion for the relief of his wants, passes many a tiresome melancholy hour, flies with avidity to this terrestrial nectar, which creates a new world before his eyes, makes all nature smile and dance around him, and at length steeps his senses in a grateful oblivion." Obviously, I felt much fellowship with these men, but not at the expense of my own martyrdom. Relieved that I had been spared by the moderate grace of my Protector, I scuttled off towards the Bytowne, found the cheap copy of The Information that I was hunting down, and hurried home to the Elysian fields of Elgin St.