July 27, 2006

Paragon’s Prologue (6 of 10)

Thread: Paragon

He evaded her question by trying to goad the senator, “They don’t like your wife, you know. She is unsuitable as a First Lady.”

“C’est la vie.”

“And you are not exactly the most diplomatic of candidates.”

“The answer to the question is that the Earth should not be permitted to suffer the sins of man and his quest for personal gain. To rebut my colleague’s point, no government in the world can hold its head high and claim to be a bastion of truth and goodness. China treats its populace as expendable cogs in an economic machine that should put up or be shut up. Israel persists in an unholy belief that ten deaths should be visited upon innocents for every one of their own, as if fire is the best weapon to fight fire. France’s virulent xenophobia is remarkable considering its influx of immigrants. The British make us happy, because they do what we tell them to, so good for them. But don’t even get me started about that farce that Russia is prolonging in Chechnya. And India still refuses crack down on the monstrous practice of child brides.”

“Diplomacy is the art of compromise. The United States has endured far too much of this ‘diplomacy’,” the senator replied. “You know this, yet you still cling to a fallen man who holds a once-honourable title.”

The advisor eyed the senator’s open collar. The senator had not worn a tie since he had made the decision to stand for the presidency, refusing to be identified with big business. He clearly saw himself as a man of the people and wanted to sweep away old political philosophies that cast the world as a relationship between the common man and the State. They were an ill-fit for the modern day of unfettered wealth, giving rise to grotesque global conglomerates that dominated the unchecked space between man and government. Ordinary Joe received his consumer culture barcode from these monsters and went on with his passionless life full of want and greenback lust. The advisor knew the senator was right. But he was also so wrong. His actions were not merely childish and naïve, they were suicidal. The man had taken a bungee jump without a bungee.

“I don’t like your stance on abortion. I don’t like it at all, it smacks of hate,” the advisor said.

The senator sighed. “I’m here to sort out government, not chase a single issue. Don’t belittle my position in that way.”

“How the Presidential magicians have misled us time and time again with sleight-of-hand! Look at my right hand, while my left hand is offering a free pass to the murderers of the unborn. Look at my right hand, while my left hand is signing away the rights of the American people. Look at my right hand, while my left hand is accepting bribes – my apologies, campaign contributions – from my corporate friends.”

The advisor wanted to provoke the senator into losing his temper because then the decision that hovered over him like a gluttonous storm cloud fit to burst would go away and leave him be. He said, “If you win, what are you going to do? Do you think you are going to face down CEOs and entrepreneurs with enthusiastic words? That only works on elections, it doesn’t work with real power. Their strings are everywhere, ready to be pulled and tightened around the right neck. The Japanese have a phrase: the nail that sticks out must be hammered down. You will find enemies and subterfuge everywhere you turn.”

The senator leaned back and, casually, explained the grand vision. “You have to remember that the time is right. Surely the souvenir peddlers that used to hang around Ground Zero years ago should have demonstrated that our cultural maxim has become ‘I profit, therefore I exist’. We are all tired of the perpetual capitalist wheel where the profit motive is the only commandment. The opportunity has arisen for the right man in the right place.”

The senator stopped briefly, as if something bothered him about what he had said, but shook his head and continued.

“God has given us this purpose. The people trust my motives. This is no ordinary presidential campaign, you know this. My sails have caught the wind and I am taking this country home. If the system moves to stop me, I will lead a peaceful revolt like that of the great Mahatma Gandhi. This would not be possible if the American people did not trust me. But you know they do. And that is why you came at our request today.”

The senator leaned forward again and put his right hand out. Candlelight from an adjacent table seemed to bleed through his fingers, lending his hand an almost magical glow. “Be part of this,” he said.

The advisor had come here to sabotage what was inevitable, a change of sides. The prospect was attractive but the risk – and fear – was beyond measure. The advisor put both hands over his mouth, not only to distance himself from the senator’s hand but also to block any words from spilling out. The outstretched hand before him was the one bridge that had not been burnt, kept open for one man: the advisor himself.

“You’re a good man,” the senator said. “Don’t think you’re alone with the fear in that throat of yours. We all feel it. We’re all scared. But that’s no reason, no reason at all, not to do the right thing. Please. Climb aboard.”

“We all have the power to change the future. We are all invested with one vote. Use that vote. We all recognise the malaise we find ourselves in. We are hated and feared around the world for the wrong reasons. We are hated for what oil has done to us. We are hated for what business has done for us.

“I speak with a free and honest tongue. Can you say the same, Mr. President?”

The advisor crossed the bridge taking care not to gaze into the yawning abyss below. His hand reached the senator’s and the senator pulled him across the chasm with a firm handshake.

An unexpected chill ran down the advisor’s spine as he thought: the beginning and the end look far too much alike.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2215

July 20, 2006

Paragon’s Prologue (5 of 10)

Thread: Paragon

The starters were laid out before the three of them. The senator had gazpacho soup, his wife had chosen bruschetta and the advisor had Caesar salad. The food had been sitting there for ten minutes and no one had started to eat. The Caesar salad was already wilting, but the gazpacho soup was still gazpacho soup, cold and unyielding. The waiter occasionally drifted towards the table but always veered away at the last moment, deciding not to interrupt the tense discussion that was in progress.

The advisor warned the senator, “The President is not a happy man. He is not a very happy man at all. He is confused as to why one of his own has turned Judas.”

“You are a good man,” the senator replied. “I want you to know that.”

“God, man,” the advisor said in exasperation, “why burn every damn bridge you have? You made him look bad. Very bad.”

“I may have belonged to the same party as this man, but it does not mean I call him my buddy. Our culture, our country, our spirits have been devalued by home-grown American avarice. I respect the flag, I respect this country, but I cannot respect a man, no matter what his standing, who considers the dollar to be the moral compass. The companies of this fair country might like to think of themselves as Mom-and-Pop stores on the street corner, but this is a poisonous bait-and-switch of a pleasant image for the salient, inconvenient facts.”

The senator explained, “Jim Jeffords turned independent over twenty years ago. Handing control of the Senate over to the democrats demonstrated conviction but led him to abandon many bridges. He survived that and so will I.”

“Jeffords was a black belt in taekwondo if I recall,” commented the advisor with a wry grin. “Besides, an independent will never win the Presidency. The electorate understand nothing other than left and right,” the advisor fired back.

“I think we can thank the media for that,” the senator retorted, still calm. He looked away from the advisor for a moment, observing the other diners who were making excellent progress with their meals. “All these people are eating and not saying a thing to each other. It’s all about consuming. Even the waiter is nervous because we haven’t started eating yet. There is a problem with the culture.”

The advisor was becoming more and more agitated with every exchange, which contrasted with the senator’s unnatural composure. He was either profoundly confident or under sedation. The senator’s wife sat beside him, her intense, piercing gaze following the conversation as a crowd follows a tennis match. He found the pair of them unnerving, particularly the evangelical undercurrent. But even more unnerving were the feelings that the senator had unearthed deep within him. He kept battening down the hatches, but the feelings were now tearing their way out en masse.

“You talk a very good talk,” the advisor said, “and I have to commend you for that, and you’re pulling in a serious crowd. But you don’t have a head for this level of the business. No one is going to support you. Your sole achievement will be putting the democrats in the White House. Congratulations. Is that what you really want?”

The senator’s wife smiled at the advisor to put him at ease, which did nothing but put him at unease. He had often thought of the senator and his wife as escaped mental patients, detached from reality and joyful in the bliss of the fall, the roaring wind in their hair, the ground looming. The wife leaned forward and said, “We’re the ones who called you here for this conversation. Don’t you know why you’re here? My husband has told you that you are a good man. Don’t you know why you are here?”

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2134

July 12, 2006

Paragon’s Prologue (4 of 10)

Thread: Paragon

“I knew your mother had passed on, but you’ve never talked about it…” the senator’s wife said.

The senator shot out the next words as fast as he could, saying, “Caught in the crossfire between government and rebel forces. They hadn’t aimed at her but a random bullet… There was some fuss made over whose bullet it was, but these people shouldn’t have been firing guns at all.”

He paused and an angry, barbed word escaped his lips: “Stupid.”

He continued, “I had to go over there and bring her back for the funeral, Dad just couldn’t. During the flight, I started reading all the articles that Mom had wanted me to read about the conflict, that explained what was going on there. I had kept putting them off because I wasn’t particularly interested in the affairs of some tinpot African regime, but Mom thought it was important for me to know, part of my world wise education. She never knew, of course, that her son would go into politics… and I guess neither did her son. Funny, I felt like I was carrying out her final wish, by reading that battered file full of newspaper cut-outs and magazine clippings.”

Now that he had managed to get past the event of his mother’s passing, the rest of the story was natural and easy. He understood that it was part of his life design; all things come to pass for a reason. He said, “You see, I had thought it was about poverty – that’s all I had thought her missions were about – but I had never really listened to Mom talk about her work halfway round the world. Of course it had to be about the tired left cliché of oil but believe me, oil is simply the catalyst.

“A new reservoir of oil had been discovered in Chad and members of a select government clique had been making themselves rich on it. That utter failure, the World Bank, had tried to ring-fence the proceeds of the oil sales to go to positive projects like hospitals, schools and so forth. When easy money exists, there’s always a way to make yourself rich if you have the strings to pull. One way they got around this was by getting friends to make over-priced bids for the projects and then awarding them the contracts.

“Mom went there to help out the ordinary people during the civil war. You might think this was because the people eventually turned on their leaders – wrong. Now that the president and his cronies were getting rich on the oil, it made others around them jealous. Even members of the president’s own family were willing to take a shot, that’s how bad it got. The World Bank relented on their tight controls and let the president use oil money to buy weapons directly for the purposes of ‘security’ but it was too late. The government splintered and boom, civil war. The ‘rebels’ said it was because the government was corrupt but, frankly, it was because they weren’t getting any of the proceeds of the corruption they were claiming to be protesting about.”

The senator was felt excitement stir in the pit of his stomach as he edged closer to his story’s climax; the tears were gone. He said, “The bilge that pours from the democrat mouthpiece is so constant that I was unable to pick out anything they said which was wisdom. A true fact I had missed: did you know that those African states that have oil actually develop slower than those that don’t? And I thought, if oil did that to Africa, how did we escape its chilling embrace?”

Just like the previous night, he found his words stuck, mired in emotions that wanted to depose rationality. He found himself scared to continue. The right men for the job never take the job because they know the difficulty ahead; they see the troubling details and the Devil that dwells within them. Yet the wrong men take the job in a heartbeat and then bring ruin upon all the people. That was the way of the world. Power attracts the narcissistic. He did not believe the fallacious precept that power corrupts.

His wife rose, glided around the table and knelt down beside him. She said, “Let me finish for you. So you worked out that oil had damaged us as well. And you thought that corporations have been running government for some time. No one can see anything of famine, poverty, faith or love because they’ve got the dollar blindfold wrapped around their head. Your mother’s death was clearly a signal from God that you should get into politics and start fixing things, get things moving. But you’ve been waiting for someone to listen to you for a long time. This is your fork in the road. Do you stop waiting? Or do you force them to listen?”

Her expression was one of importance. This was the greatest decision of their joint life. They were at the nexus that coloured all experience and events; look back, you see cause – look forward, you see purpose.

With an intense gaze that could not be evaded, she said, “Look at you. You’re so beautiful. You will run for President. Whether you succeed or fail, you will ennoble America with ideas that will not be forgotten overnight. This is why I love you. You are both hope and dream. And you are, and always will be, my husband.” There was joy in her face. She was happy to be here, to be here with him, regardless of what they encountered along the turbulent road ahead.

The senator leant towards his wife and embraced her. He was overcome with hope and he was overcome with dream. She accepted his arms and lips with reciprocal, equal love. His heart was pounding like it used to in his teenage years. His emotions were unruly and chaotic; jumbled feelings with no obvious outlet or control valve. Pure love coursed through his veins. His cynicism had been replaced with sturdy, muscular optimism. He believed. He felt holy.

For the first time in their marriage, the senator and his wife made love in the morning. The summer sunlight streamed through the windows, blessing their physical communion.

They did not notice Marion beyond the kitchen door, taking a picture of them with her mobile phone, taking care of her insurance policy for a rainy day.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2123

July 5, 2006

Paragon’s Prologue (3 of 10)

Thread: Paragon

Over a wheat cereal and a glass of ruby grapefruit juice, the senator reflected on his strange dream that he had not yet realised was no dream at all.

Marion had parked herself before the dining room window, a patient, human eclipse of the morning sun. She asked the senator, “You’ve been sitting there for half an hour, now, sir. Would you like me to… clear anything away?”

The senator was still muddled in thought but replied, “Half an hour?”

His wife, who had been pretending to read the New York Times while peeking over the top of the newspaper at his faraway face, sniggered. “Oh yes you have, Mr. Senator.”

“Shucks, I’m really sorry Marion,” he apologised, grinning with mild embarrassment. “I guess I must still be a little tired after yesterday, although, truth be told, I feel quite rested.” After an almost meditative pause, he added, “Tell you what, come back in when I call you. I’d like to discuss something in private before I’m ready to abandon the breakfast table for a another day of boring work up on the Hill.”

“Of course, you just let me know if there’s anything you need, sir,” said Marion and she retreated to her sanctum, the kitchen.

“Honey, I’m can’t say sorry enough, I was so down last night, I just felt, like, at my wit’s end, you know how it goes,” the senator began. He suddenly banged the table a few times with violent rapidity, inducing an earthquake across the breakfast crockery landscape; some milk spilled onto the table, but no one cried over it.

“Today, it’s all change inside! I feel… invigorated!” he continued with his arms animated like a pair of high-tension power lines whipping around with newfound freedom. He was thankful to the Lord for all of the things that were. He thanked the Lord for the wings of insects, the hue of the sky and the songs of poets. He gave thanks for the children his wife would one day bear for him. He was thankful for being brought to a unique and special moment in his life. He was going to begin hiking into unknown territory, getting off that senatorial train once and for all. Yesterday was a day of selfish self-pity. Today was not.

His wife put down the newspaper as there was no longer any reason to hide behind it. “I know, something is definitely changed in you today,” his wife replied, blinking softly.

The senator composed himself, sitting upright yet relaxed. He asked his wife, “Do you know why I went into politics?”

“Now that’s a tough one. I don’t believe you’ve ever spelt out your reasons. I would think the reason would be that you wanted to change things, but I can see that you have a little more to tell me than that,” she replied. She leaned forward, resting her head on one arm and waited for his words with famished eyes. It had been a long time since the senator had spoken to her with such passion and verve.

“Yes, I have more to tell you,” the senator explained, stretching his arms out wide with a smile to demonstrate something epic. He had to tell his wife a new story that, to him, was a crumpled, dusty, old one.

“I never really told you much about my mother. Mom used to be an important woman running errands as an accountant for a big firm. But she really had enough of it in the end. It gets to you after a while, doing the same thing, day after day. You get surrounded by people who have this self-inflated concept of importance and you all believe the same common good. What’s good for the company is good for you and good for the country, apparently. And no one talked, of course, about what was good for mankind because that just wasn’t interesting enough to be part of a corporate credo. Heck, no one would have believed in a company that said it believed in mankind anyway. Or God.

“Anyway, I’m rambling. As she had no real power to change anything, she tore up her five-figure salary and decided to spend more time in church. She canned her career completely. She threw it all away because, to her, it had become worthless. Career wasn’t a treasure to be prized… it was the millstone around her neck. She wanted to do good things. She wanted to change the world for the better, in bite-sized chunks if she had to.

“And you know what? Our family was happier. There was a darn sight more empty space under the tree at Christmas time, but it didn’t matter one bit. She was so positive. She started to love herself more than she had for a long time. When it’s not about ego, but simply about liking what you see in the mirror in the morning, that kind of love spreads out across us all. It was a great, humbling lesson to me – it’s all about the love you have in your cupboard. Wow, you wouldn’t have guessed that my Mom and Pop used to have such screaming matches… but devoting herself to the happy man upstairs changed not just her life but our whole family.”

The sparkle in his eyes began to melt and tears slowly dripped from his face. His wife rose, to hold and comfort him, but the senator motioned for her to sit down.

“And so… I still find it difficult not to shed a tear or two when I talk about her death in Chad.”

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2254