Without priest or prayers

By David Grima | Apr 19, 2014

I read the last sentences of Anthony Cronin’s 600-page biography of Samuel Beckett at 6:40 a.m. last Friday, and immediately a sense of bereavement visited me. It was such a long book and I had been at it for three straight weeks, and the end of it had cost me the promise of reading more. I am used to this idea overtaking me when the end of a useful thing is reached, still I am always taken by surprise.

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Saturday afternoon I set out all my papers on the sawn-off piece of lumber that serves as my work table up here in the west tower at the foot of Mechanic Street, laid flat stones on all the heaps of documents, took a hopeful breath of fresh air, and sat down to do my taxes. I put it off every year due to my horror paperwork, until the horror of facing the job is overmatched by the terror of not. An hour later I found that I am theoretically due some money back, assuming my math skills have not completely collapsed, which I do doubt. The mix of hope and terror involved in taxes reminds me of a story a friend told me about the day in the 1970s when he calculated that the government owed more than $1,000. Delighted at his good fortune, he went out and ordered a mass of stereo equipment worth even more than the anticipated refund, only to receive a corrected tax return in the mail which said that in fact he owed the feds money and could they please have it now. I bet you could see that coming.

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Last Friday evening I was kindly entertained in Wileys Corner by two friendly vegetarians, and as I left their house I heard the spring frogs for the first time this year. Always a welcome sound I said to myself, as I followed my carefully laid trail of meatball crumbs back up to Route 1. No harm in making sure I can find my way home again after an adventure out of town.

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I see things have been set in motion up at City Hall for a vote on whether we will borrow $1.6 million to fix Very Old County Road. If we do vote to get this loan, and I have my doubts about that, I think there is something we can do to make sure that we of the Lime City can recoup some of our money by charging people from everywhere else to drive on the road. We might set up a toll booth at the Route 17 end, a neighborhood which used to be known as Blackingtons Corner (and which once upon a time tried to secede from Rockland in true Crimean fashion,) and set up another booth further along at the Thomaston line. If we can squeeze $1 out of everyone driver who cannot produce a Rockland vehicle registration, we ought to be able to offset as much as half of this cost eventually without too much bloodshed. Of course, the state claims it will also pitch in some money, which might cover the out-of-towners’ share of the work.

You might find my toll booth idea a bit much, especially if you do not live in Rockland. You might have a point. Years ago, I remember the Town of Camden (somewhere vaguely northeast of here I am told) decided to ask all the other towns in the area to put up some cash to help with the costs of operating their little ski slope at the Snow Bowl. I remember very well the enormous, nay, the overwhelming silence that this idea provoked from those other towns. Never has silence said so much. I see the South End Tomato Lady, who despite my advice got herself elected to City Council last year, had something to say about this whole road-fixing idea.

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The first spring peepers on Friday, and then last Saturday afternoon I heard the year’s first complaint about the heat. Yes! By all that is strange, the heat! At the South End Grocery a customer was going on about the forecast that Monday might possibly be quite warm indeed. She was firmly against it. Standing on line behind her, I cautiously checked her out for signs of irony or even sarcasm, but no. She seemed quite serious.

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Frank came up to me on Monday in a state of excitement and said he had just learned that some graduate research students have determined the most painful place to be stung by a bee is inside your nostril. Either one, I suppose. Frank quit smoking two weeks ago, and I had thought he was doing remarkably well with his nicotine-free lifestyle. But on second thoughts I am beginning to wonder if abstinence is making him hallucinate about bees and nostrils. Nevertheless I thanked him for this peculiar information, and made a mental note to buy a couple of medium-sized corks just in case.

* * * * *

Still thinking about Samuel Beckett, I have decided to end this week’s nonsense with some words from the final chapter of the biography I mentioned above. A Protestant Irishman from Dublin who chose to live most of his life in France, and who wrote much of his work in French, Beckett died in Paris Dec. 22, 1989, and was buried four days later in Montparnasse without priest or prayers. Almost all his life he resisted questions about the meaning of his novels and plays, and his own interpretation of human existence. Yet the author cannot resist attempting a summary of sorts, thus:

“It is doubtful if he believed in any sort of survival of consciousness, or disbelieved in it either, since belief — or disbelief — was not something he permitted himself. He thought that all the guides were poor ones and that it was better to live, and to admit to living, in complete uncertainty: better because more honest; better in his own case because it was only after he had decided to do this that he had written 'Waiting for Godot' and his trilogy of great novels. Better perhaps also because convictions and the desire for them had led to a great deal of trouble and unhappiness in the world.”

David Grima is a former editor with Courier Publications. He can be reached at davidgrima@ymail.com.

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