My uncle, who I was more or less raised by, kept a little flip pad in his top pocket and wrote down sayings that he thought a man should live by. He used to read them to me, licking his thumb before leafing through the pages to find just the right one for any given situation. One of my great regrets in life is that his pad was lost when he died. I came across your last few columns and it occurs to me you might be a man with a few sayings tucked away somewhere. Care to share any? Maybe I’ll start making my own list for when my son is old enough.
I do not, in fact, rock. Mostly, I lie on my side and listen to Debussy while sipping wine. But I appreciate the sentiment nevertheless. Your uncle sounds like a wise man. It’s well known that a handy apophthegm is often more useful than a Swiss army knife, and while it is unlikely to open a can of Boston Baked Beans by a railroad trundle, the artfully aphoristic is capable of opening both hearts and minds. In fact, many years ago I was able to cross back from East Berlin under very dire circumstances, with a bricklet of uncut Turkish hashish masquerading as my left boot heel, by employing the invaluable Caesarian phrase Beneficium dando acceptit, qui digno dedit. I said this in a calm voice beneath the harsh lights of a deserted and wire-barbed guardhouse, my red bandanna knotted like an ascot. The woman I was traveling with, a knife-eyed teenager who’d run away from her father’s Aragonian duchy with a Gladstone full of silver table settings, was no doubt soon to be searched, groped, and then forcibly repatriated. I would receive far worse, and probably never see the outside of a Ostzone borstal again. Fortunately, the guard was a learned man, and recognized that my dictum not only meant “he who has given to someone distinguished, receives good by giving,” but also “there are two thousand pfennigs folded between the last two pages of my passport.” His answer of “Ja, is okay, let dem pass” is one of the wisest and most profound utterances I have heard this side of early Confucius, by which I mean the album before he went all techno.
The wilding runaway and I decided to celebrate. We spent that evening in a stately Hamburg penthouse, having cashed in the last of her family’s engraved flatware. I dialed in Voice of America and we listened to Chet Baker while drinking a magnum of Heinkel Trocken. We took a scalding bath, scrubbing the fear-sweat and chained heat from our skin, and then enjoyed a cone of tobacco mixed with pinches of my fine Constantinople bhang, before retiring to the sickle-shaped bed. She whispered Basque curses in my ear all night long, while I merely responded corpora lente augescent cito extinguuntur, cogi qui potest nescit mori. I wasn’t really sure what it meant, but it sounded good and each time the last syllable rolled off my tongue she growled like contended lynx.
My point being, a man with a wallet full of Latin and the capacity to deliver a well-timed bribe will never be considered either vulgar, or Bastille-meat, by those toting machine guns and visa stamps alike. So why wouldn’t they work in situations less dire, and for outcomes far more prosaic?
My answer is an emphatic yes, Jeremy. Beyond the utility of the situational axiom, I do indeed have a number of sayings that I try to live by in a broader sense. In fact, dozens. And although I do not have them in a pad or committed to memory, and they may sometimes morph and entwine as the mood strikes, I am happy to share a few with you off the top of my head. As it turns out, it is quite pleasurable to be improvisationally epigrammatic, and just like the Grateful Dead in the mid-eighties, you are more than welcome to record, repeat, dub, bootleg, distribute, or internalize any or all of the following material.
Twenty Dust Sayings For Clean Dust Living
1. Any Man who’s not half in love with Helen Mirren is a hundred percent of a fool.
2. Jesus made out with lepers. The least you can do is hand that dude with the cardboard sign a dollar.
3. Expect absolutely nothing from anyone, ever, and you will never be disappointed, in debt, or on antibiotics.
4. Hugging people you don’t know is cool. Wearing a red cape is cool. Joining a local club is cool. Talking on a phone is never cool.
5. Even the worst human is in the process of evolving, even the best human has an agenda.
6. You are either destroying the world, or you are temporarily forestalling its destruction. If you’ve ever asserted at a cocktail party that by destroying you are forestalling, you work for Goldman Sachs and should throw yourself down a well.
7. Own your face. Celebrate your imperfection. Accentuate your clavicle. Keep clean feet. Shave the obvious.
8. The answer is always “yes” when the question is, “would the gentleman prefer release?”
9. The best thing a student writer can do is learn to steam soy milk.
10. The world’s most overused phrase is “he’s a genius.” The most underused is “I was wrong.”
11.You should always think of yourself as a promising, but shoddily-written chapter in desperate need of a another draft.
12. There are five types of personalities: creative, hording, industrious, near-mad, and empathetic.
13. The only thing that’s truly breathtaking is a cigarette. The absence of cliche is sublime.
14. Fixed gear, fixed mind, fixed dreadlock, fixed cat.
15. All is derivation. Originality died today, or maybe yesterday–I can’t be sure. In any case, there’s art in the well-wrought familiar.
16. Maturity means having the balls to disbelieve your deepest held convictions. Certitude is the mind-killer, death to the intellect, the end of humor.
17. Bad novels unwittingly tell the truth about their authors, although a talented asshole can easily sidestep this problem.
18. The difference between an aphorism and a bumper sticker is negligible, but when it comes right down to it, would you rather be locked in a room with sweatered grandpa and his handy sayings, or the guy who has It Will Be a Great Day When Our Schools Get All The Money They Need, and The Air Force Has to Hold a Bakesale To Pay For a Fighter Jet on the back of his Kia Sorrento?
19. No one cares about your dream, no one will ever care about your dream. Do not tell me about your dream, do not write about your dream. Never employ a dream sequence–the naked devil-mother with a knife in her teeth in your dream is not an oedipal symbol, it’s your dorsal lateral pre-frontal cortex telling you that even it is bored with your dream.
20. My God, it’s filled with stars.
Free Bonus Aphorism! : There is no Free Will, There is only Free Won’t.
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