Hm? No—not Him; that’s obvious. I mean Jon Carroll, venerable and, I contend, “veneratable” columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.
We interrupt this service for the following announcements:
- Hedge No. 1: If you are a humorless and voluble evangelical, I hasten to add I don’t mean the God, as in “Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me;” oh my no that would be blasphemous. I mean a minor but nonetheless supramortal and respectable diety—of the secular human or outright pagan variety, like Bacchus, if that better suits your belief system.
- Hedge No. 2: Okay—this isn’t technically a rant; it’s more of a paean (or idolatry, keeping with the theme). I’m paying service up front to the mandatory maternal admonition—you know, “If you can’t say something nice…”—so’s I can rip into the next guy/issue/oeuvre with abandon.
We now resume our shameless sycophancy. Thank you for your attention. A voluntary offering after the complimentary coffee and doughnuts will be appreciated.
Has this ever happened to you? You’re at a monstrous, boring cocktail party where you know no one—made that much worse by the fact that your husband/wife/spouse/life partner/significant other/pelvicial associate (check as many as apply) who, as is his or her presumptuous wont, RSVP’d for you both but now is sick and ergo absent. (“Honey, this is key to my future at Wibblefidget Industries! Arnold Veeblefester is my boss! We can’t both not be there!”) Whilst animating the last, unobtainable drop in your plastic pseudo-stemware with your wrist, you’ve noticed a pleasingly inoffensive gentleman of upper-middle years picking and muttering at the same strange buffet items that you did. He is not sucking down the unidentifiable Chablis against his will, like you and everyone else, which makes you mildly curious. A large person backs into you, knocking him out of your head.
Okay, this really sucks. One more lap around the room; kiss Veeblefester’s ass; make excuses; and I’m outta here!
You start your circuit in earnest but your rheumatic ex-athlete’s knee and pinching brogans push you to the curb. You scan the terrain for a place to sit. Your eyes land on a half-empty loveseat; That’stheguy is at the other end, studying the embossing on the paper napkin under his soft drink. Your annoyance causes you to shrug psychologically and take the risk.
You clear your throat to begin the dreaded embarrassed silence. He strokes his well-groomed beard for a moment. Instead of hawking his own pipes or issuing a perfunctory reply in kind, however, he touches your hand gently and softly says something engaging and witty. You’re disarmed; grown-up conversation ensues.
He listens to me and thinks before responding. Remarkable!
Everything he says is always well-considered and often wise. All is reparteé and riposte; you laugh and occasionally jostle like true comrades. The room spins away; suddenly, it’s wrecked and desolate, and one of the caterer’s surly teens is prying the cups from your hands.
So, has it? Of course not! That’s why you must read Jon Carroll. Open five days a week, rain or shine! (Unless he’s out idly burning paid leave; traveling; or otherwise distracted by the lovely, mysterious Tracy, their progeny, or the World’s Most Perfect Grandchild–formerly, “WMPG;” now, whimsically, “Alice”—in which case he’ll write about it later, anyway!) Risk free! Just add eyeballs and gray matter! All necessary questions, observations, and responses cheerfully anticipated and supplied! Not so much as an appreciative nod required!
How do I love thee, Jon? Let me count the ways:
Ability. The dude can flat-out write, knowumsayn? Two bits from “My Friend, Alexander McIntire,” a reminiscence about a cyberfriend who manifested himself and dematerialized suddenly, published May 14, 1999. Act I is where Alex and Jon meet on-line:
CYBERSPACE IS A good place for people who look different from standard-issue humans. For once, they do not have to deal with strangers immediately reacting to their height or weight or scars or disability. They can be the person they are in their minds…
Act II is when they meet in the flesh:
Alex shattered my stereotypes about very fat people. He is not indolent or even sedentary. When he came out here, we walked to the tip of Limantour Spit and back, and he did not labor noticeably. It was his gift to me, one of many; he allowed me to break through several layers of prejudice I did not know I had.
* * * * *
Act III is when Alex vanishes:
It is a total mystery. I believe that he is still alive somewhere; it is not a rational belief, necessarily, but it is nevertheless entirely sincere. He used to read my column on the Web; maybe wherever he is, he still does. That last night in Miami, he played me a moving piece of music, a collaboration between Gavin Bryars and Tom Waits. The words are simple; imagine Waits singing them: “There’s one thing I know, for he loved me so, Jesus’ blood never failed me yet.’’ We watched each other listen to it in the warm night; we said nothing at all.
Hi, pal. Come home soon.
Charity. His favorite? The self-invented “Untied Way,” wherein you, the philanthropist, withdraw as much in crisp Twenties as will cause you bearable discomfort and shower indiscreetly on whomever appears in your eye to be needy, until gone. (That’s needy, not worthy. As you might hear John Cleese as Python say it, “Judgment don’t enter into it.”) Attention, true believers: This is what Jesus would do.
Clarity. This guy gets it. An opinion is both fungible and perishable; its value is measured by the integrity of the truth and logic supporting it and the manner of its delivery. Invoking the Pythons again, argument is not to be confused with mere disputation. Tolerance, equanimity, and respect are mandatory for discourse to be valid. A dash of humility, a dollop of modesty, and a soupçon of self-effacement season a point of view nicely, when stirred in with personal experience. You will accept his premise if he earns it, and he does. How do you spell relief, dear reader? P-E-R-S-P-E-C-T-I-V-E.
Next Week: The rest of the ways…