When Parliament passed the Onion Act of 1707 I thought it was the dumbest thing I had ever heard of grown men doing, until I gave in and sent off the five dollars to join the American Association of Retired People -- or is it Persons? I don't want to be accused of Collectivism at this point on the stage of world history, and Juvenal said that to appear on the stage at all was a fate worse than death, though he couldn't have known when he said it, but he might have found out later, and he nonetheless spoke from the clamorous stage of the Roman Empire, which is now a faded and dusty backdrop for ours. And other asterisks twinkle like stars overhead, referring to so many of the theatrical remarks uttered within civilized parentheses that I will never get to them all . . . but here the professor interposes: "Your utterance is neither credible nor concise." I don't have to be credible or concise, I'm a retired person. A layabout, I think the English say, adjusting their collective monocle; and since I did not show up early enough on the stage of world history to actually now retire, they send mePostmodern Maturitywith my membership, the AARP, that is, not the English, so I can preview the relentless facts and articles, and puzzling letters to the editor, that are not yet quite relevant, but too soon will be. Dear Postmodern Maturity: I have just got back from the Depths (no modernist metaphor intended) but yet I enjoyed your unspoken comparison of today's health-care costs to those medieval crypts that increase in mysterious pungency as the centuries pass. But I would still like to see more discourse on the Great Platonic Brick. You know the one I mean, the invisible support for all the self-referential, daily-reality bricks that hold up the scene even when you've missed your lines, and at the same time is a disembodied token of the real reality as it hurtles from offstage like a cartoon denouement . . . But here the layout person has intervened, with an ad for pills that are supposed to make 75-year-olds feel like I do. Save your money, I want to tell them. You don't know how well off you still are, they answer. And then the letter concludes: . . . so when Parliament passed the Onion Act of 1707, I thought it was the dumbest thing I had ever heard of grown men spending their time on. But when it was followed by the Carrot Act, the Parsley Act, and then, in 1798, the Great Potato Act, I realized that England was the center of an immense vegetarian conspiracy that continues to simmer in the soup the attendants might bring me for lunch even today. But wait . . . there's the sound of the tambourine cutting through the noodles again (no post-metaphoric symbolism intended) so I better sign off. By the way, how about an article on where we came from, what we're doing here, and where we go afterwards. Please do this soon, as I'm out of ideas and time is running out. -- Mrs. Esther Brown, Hamilton, Ohio THANKS FOR THE LETTER, ESTHER, BUT WE FEEL THE HUMAN EPIC IS LIKE A GOOD DETECTIVE STORY, SO WE WON'T BE THE ONES TO GIVE AWAY THE PLOT -- ESPECIALLY THE ENDING! BUT IF ANYONE CAN FIGURE IT OUT, WE'RE POST-IRONICALLY SURE IT'S YOU. -- THE EDITORS And when I next glanced up from the magazine, in the dressing room reserved for the Chronologically Advantaged, life seemed to have lowered the lighting one more touch, casting a less elusive shadow on the curtains that part only for the Chronologically Overwhelmed. To the Editors: I spent a good deal of time, during my recent operation, trying to conceptualize the above, "England" being the only reality-based allusion. But I think the writer refers to the 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland rather than any mythical vegetarian conspiracy, although my doctor, as he was rearranging my organs, suggested I join one. -- Illegible, New York City NOT SO FAST, FRIEND. YOUR LETTER COULD NOT POSSIBLY HAVE BEEN PROCESSED QUICKLY ENOUGH TO BE PUBLISHED IN THE SAME ISSUE AS WHAT YOU'RE REFERRING TO. IF YOU CAN'T SUPPRESS THE URGE TO COMMUNICATE WITH US AGAIN, GET IT TOGETHER WITH THE SPACE/TIME CONVENTIONS IN USE ON THIS PLANET SINCE AT LEAST THE COOLIDGE ADMINISTRATION. -- THE EDS. But here the professor intervenes once more. "I told you," she admonishes, "that as soon as you took your eye off life for just one more frivolity, it would spin irrevocably away, and leave you standing there holding a ton of Platonic bricks; "and that what you thought you would have at last figured out some day, such as how to live with someone, or how to live, period, will have by then slipped unattainably away into the abyss." Postscript To the Editors: Like many of the readers that endure the fatigue of waiting to go backstage, I swore I would not waste any more precious irritability on cynical young editors who twist your words like tourniquets to cut off your intent. But I have just read the foregoing -- I guess it's what you people call atext, isn't it -- and my eyes are moist with tears. Thanks for impinging momentarily on my consciousness. Coda And continuing on themselves, the asterisks have fallen to earth, their referents disbanded. All these divagations have merely held off for a few scant moments my ongoing chronological calculations. I wish you had seen fit to skip it all and just publish the poem I submitted. It was called "Edifying Tales of the Deep" and I'll read it now: It is thus a perfect time to watch the clouds go by, and you tilt your chin to watch their diverse meanderings, sensations dwindled to the sound of a lighting match, but to illuminate . . . what, exactly? Memories, no doubt, those most antic of God's phenomena, frozen for much of the time, but now blaring their microscopic trumpets in a procession you are no longer at the head of, as if the poem had suddenly changed planes at Frankfurt and let you off in a deserted field, near Syracuse, New York, which dwindles to a tiny beanbag, with tinier writing on it; no, nothing could be like that, really, and maybe you'll edit that part out. While you do, I continue my stalking of eternity, treading mystic grains of time in the gravel of space. Wrinkles have been found in the fabric of space, along with campfires lit and abandoned by voluminous beings -- and these we call stars. They still throw light on our past events, though not enough to see what they were.
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