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Friday, December 14, 2012

Eddie Willers' Tree


I was called as a witness in a check forgery case, today. The bad guys had our company's checking account and routing numbers and were printing bogus checks. A store owner at a neighborhood convenience store that cashes checks, ignored the phone number on the check, looked up our number in the phone book instead, and got me on the phone. This was a few months ago. The store owner described the check and I let him know it was a forgery. At this point, he grabbed the woman trying to pass the bad check and handcuffed her. You have to love ballsy shop owners who know how to make a citizens arrest. In the subsequent investigation, another co-conspirator was also apprehended. I was subpoenaed as the company officer, record keeper, and the person who'd originally alerted the victim of the attempted scam.

I went to court early today, and got there at 8:00 AM, in case the prosecutor needed to talk to me before court. I paid my ten dollar parking fee, went inside and waited. And waited. At 9:18 AM the prosecutor called me out of the court room for a quick consultation. He let me know that I probably wouldn't be needed because the defense would almost certainly waive a preliminary hearing, that they almost always did this in these cases when bail had already been posted. So I waited. And waited. Four hours and one recess later, they told me I could go.

Here's what I saw: lawyers always wear a suit and tie. They always carry folders and sometimes briefcases and they walk around all the time, almost never sitting down in the available seating. In the court room there are two bailiffs, one up front with the judge and another at the rear at the exit doors. There's no talking allowed—unless you're wearing a suit and tie and carrying a folder. You must take off your coat or jacket—unless your jacket is also your suit. You may not wear hats or scarves. I was hoping a Muslim woman would walk in so that I could watch the show-down but unfortunately that never happened. When the bailiff says no talking he means it. He also means no whispering and no meaningful glances either. We sit there eyes forward and we don't make a peep. Two people were ejected for peeping. The bailiff reminded me of Lurch from The Addams Family:

People constantly came in and then left; there was lots of coughing also. You can't peep, but you can cough to your hearts content. It's not peaceful, it's chaotic in the extreme. People are moving constantly kind of like brownian-motion. Up front was an ever-changing turmoil of people changing seats, moving up rows, moving back rows, coming, going, standing and sitting down.

After court, when I got back to the office, I learned about the Connecticut school shooting. My first thought was this: if only every teacher in the school had been carrying a concealed firearm, this wouldn't have happened. My second thought was this: Something is wrong. Something is wrong with our culture, our society, our country, our justice system, our school system. Every bit of it is sick to death, and I think probably beyond recovery. Is America now a hospice? I wonder if that's the reason for the big push to legalize all the drugs? You know, when you're going to die soon they like to make you comfortable while you wait.

I just can't believe it. It's too much. You just can't read something like this and then go back to doing whatever it was you were doing before. It's changed me and not for the better. It's another straw on a dead camel's back, and it's too much. There's something beyond wrong, something an infinity past the point of plain wrong. God help us.

It makes me feel so insignificant. What does my life even mean in the balance of a world where something like this happens, every few weeks? When I walked out of that courtroom I thought to myself, what a wasted day. But now... What I need to do, is somehow put into plain words something that I don't know how to say.

My thoughts turn back to the first pages of Atlas Shrugged, when Ayn Rand describes the process of decay in a towering oak. It was a parable, a tiny story about a giant oak tree that carried within it—like a tiny piece of a fractal picture—the entire story itself. It was a gestalt; not just the story of a tree, not just the plot of Atlas Shrugged, but the entire history of humanity's long march down through the lost ages before time began, down to this very day today:
[Eddie Willers] did not know why he suddenly thought of the oak tree. Nothing had recalled it. But he thought of it and of his childhood summers on the Taggart estate. He had spent most of his childhood with the Taggart children, and now he worked for them, as his father and grandfather had worked for their father and grandfather.

The great oak tree had stood on a hill over the Hudson, in a lonely spot of the Taggart estate. Eddie Willers, aged seven, liked to come and look at that tree. It had stood there for hundreds of years, and he thought it would always stand there. Its roots clutched the hill like a fist with fingers sunk into the soil, and he thought that if a giant were to seize it by the top, he would not be able to uproot it, but would swing the hill and the whole of the earth with it, like a ball at the end of a string. He felt safe in the oak tree’s presence; it was a thing that nothing could change or threaten; it was his greatest symbol of strength.

One night, lightning struck the oak tree. Eddie saw it the next morning. It lay broken in half, and he looked into its trunk as into the mouth of a black tunnel. The trunk was only an empty shell; its heart had rotted away long ago; there was nothing inside―just a thin gray dust that was being dispersed by the whim of the faintest wind. The living power had gone, and the shape it left had not been able to stand without it.

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