Gotthold Lessing (1729-1781) wrote in Anti-Goeze: It is not possession of the truth, but rather the pursuit of truth that he would choose. Possession of the truth makes one passive, indolent, and proud.
Everyone had gathered in an old bank vault, not the vault, but an old bank with a vaulted ceiling. The safest place was in the board room but that was full and no one would open the door. I stayed along the wall and looked up at the plaster ceiling, the finery of 19th century workmanship dangling in delicate, broken segment high above. I moved corner to corner, past the huddles of people I did not know and who did not want to know me, and finally down a hallway that led to a narrow staircase and a wooden basement. I knew that it was a bad dream and I had to go down.The first door came eerily open and I was afraid. I shut it and jumped away, continuing to the next where I found more cold and dark and decided I must go back to the first and face my fears. There was nothing there. It was empty with a dirt floor room wand a draft. I didn’t question why it was under the bank. It was just there, like the witches and killers and crypts beneath my childhood home. The first rumbling was clear, like an airliner coming in too low. The next was less so. And that was it. The vaulted bank room was empty by the time I returned.
Perhaps you remember the recent controversy regarding a ‘mosque’ being constructed a few blocks from the World Trade Center? Once a coat factory, the site was to be converted to a social center with a Muslim prayer hall. Various loons from across the country referred to it as the “Ground Zero mosque,” or the “Victory Mosque.” Newt Gingrich went further: “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington.” And so all of this inspired the loons to descend, requiring the property have 24-hour security. There was a bar next door – The Dakota Roadhouse – cash only and free spicy nuts. I met a number of intense people there – plenty of frazzled brokers, a guy fresh out of prison, waitresses at the end of 14-hour shifts, a rambunctiously flirtatious couple from Denver – and the televisions, like the music were always too loud, even if there was a free Coors Light with every Yankees home run.
Anyway, that was all torn down. It’s a long and winding and sordid tale – told best here – that seemed on its way to becoming a tres chique Muslim Center and Museum. But that’s history too. Plans now call for a 70-story condominium. Perhaps the sacred and profane Dakota Roadhouse will find a home atop of this.
DAVIS lies half conscious on the porch of the frat house and stares up into the tree branches above. KATHRYN beside him, stroking his head.The front door swings open. MAX, FANG, (KATHRYN’s ex-boyfriend), others behind come outside.
MAX (Seeing DAVIS and KATHRYN): Jesus, Davis.
FANG: What the fuck?
DAVIS struggles to get up but is too light-headed.
FANG (To KATHRYN): What is this?
KATHRYN (To FANG): What do you care?
DAVIS (Struggling to sit up) It’s not like…(Giving up) Shit.
FANG: (To DAVIS): You are such an asshole, such an asshole. (Pause) You’re a complete fucking failure, you know that?
DAVIS (Muttering): Hey, I just blacked out, man.
FANG (Jutting his jaw out, spittle forming at the corners of his mouth): There is no one more worthy of scorn than you. No one!
DAVIS notices the gathering crowd and sees ELLEN in the back. FANG: (Turning, seeing ELLEN as well) You like her? Yeah?! You want to know something, man? You will never have her. You will never have anyone. You don’t deserve anyone! You will die alone.
DAVIS (To ELLEN): She’s not my girlfriend.
FANG: Why are you talking?! Why the fuck are you speaking?
DAVIS sees ELLEN leave as FANG steps toward him and slaps him in the face.
FANG: You are a stupid irrelevant fuck!
DAVIS: Holy shit, man. Calm down.
DAVIS tries to laugh but fails miserably as he feels the nausea well up again and falls back to stare up into the branches.
Alberto Moravia’s novel Boredom follows Dino, a struggling artist, in his attempts to escape the burden of his family’s wealth.
I asked: “Well then, are we rich or are we not?”
For a moment my mother sat silent, looking at me with a strange solemnity. Then, leaning toward me and lowering her voice, she said: “We are not rich, Dino, we are very rich. Thanks to your mother, you are a very rich man.”
“What does ‘very rich’ mean?”
“‘Very rich’ means something more than merely ‘rich’.”
“But less than ‘extremely rich’?”
“Yes, less than ‘extremely rich’.” As I examined the faces of my mother’s guests, I suddenly had a strong feeling that there was not one wrinkle, not one inflection of the voice, not one ripple of laughter,not a single feature, in fact, that was not directly determined by the money which, as the fat old man had said, was represented by the guests in that room, in greater or lesser quantity. Yes, I thought, in that crowd, money had turned into flesh and blood.
I had a dream that I was a soldier in the wings of a stage. I was waiting with other soldiers as I practiced my line: “We’d like a drink.” I was practicing that in my head when I noticed I was surrounded by peasants, small and young; the other soldiers were gone. I flailed at the black curtains and saw the other soldiers on stage and leapt behind them just as the Innkeeper said, “Vodka?” That was the line after mine.
I retreated to the corner to watch the drunken dancing unfold and thought. I am a person. I am not a monkey. I don’t look like a monkey. I don’t smell like a monkey. I don’t do anything like a monkey. I don’t know what I am . I just know what I’m not. I’m not a monkey.
I finished a bag of chips as we started to watch Jafar Panahi’s Taxi. I was about to get up and throw it away but waited.
The opening shot held too much promise, a point of view from Panahi’s car as he started through Tehran. I folded the bag and held it tight.There is so very much to say about Panahi’s film Taxi – searing political statement, marvel in story-telling, profound celebration of life, comic odyssey into sordid realism (a phrase repeated throughout) – but what struck me most is the advice given by Panahi to a prospective filmmaker who sits in the back of the car. After being told that the young man had read many books but could not find a good subject for a film, Panahi replies: “Those films are already made, those books already written. You have to look elsewhere.” If only Hollywood and the rest of the film-making world would listen to that; it’s the ideas that matter and not the budget. Imagine what the Oscars might look like then, with none of the Mad Max, Gravity, Lord of the Rings nonsense. Actual films instead…what a world that could be.
The film ended as suddenly as it had began, the camera removed, the screen now black. I realized that I still held the plastic bag tight and, at long last, stood to throw it away.