A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

For Christmas Eve

As brisk as bees, if not altogether as light as fairies, did the four
Pickwickians assemble on the morning of the twenty-second day of
December, in the year of grace in which these, their faithfully-recorded adventures, were undertaken and accomplished. Christmas was close at hand, in all his bluff and hearty honesty; it was the season of hospitality, merriment, and open-heartedness; the old year was
preparing, like an ancient philosopher, to call his friends around
him, and amidst the sound of feasting and revelry to pass gently and
calmly away. Gay and merry was the time; and right gay and merry
were at least four of the numerous hearts that were gladdened by
its coming...

But we are so taken up and occupied with the good qualities of
this saint Christmas, that we are keeping Mr. Pickwick and his
friends waiting in the cold on the outside of the Muggleton
coach, which they have just attained, well wrapped up in greatcoats,
shawls, and comforters. The portmanteaus and carpetbags
have been stowed away, and Mr. Weller and the guard are
endeavouring to insinuate into the fore-boot a huge cod-fish
several sizes too large for it--which is snugly packed up, in a long
brown basket, with a layer of straw over the top, and which has
been left to the last, in order that he may repose in safety on the
half-dozen barrels of real native oysters, all the property of
Mr. Pickwick, which have been arranged in regular order at the
bottom of the receptacle. The interest displayed in Mr. Pickwick's
countenance is most intense, as Mr. Weller and the guard try to
squeeze the cod-fish into the boot, first head first, and then tail
first, and then top upward, and then bottom upward, and then
side-ways, and then long-ways, all of which artifices the implacable
cod-fish sturdily resists, until the guard accidentally hits him
in the very middle of the basket, whereupon he suddenly disappears
into the boot, and with him, the head and shoulders of
the guard himself, who, not calculating upon so sudden a
cessation of the passive resistance of the cod-fish, experiences a
very unexpected shock, to the unsmotherable delight of all the
porters and bystanders. Upon this, Mr. Pickwick smiles with
great good-humour, and drawing a shilling from his waistcoat
pocket, begs the guard, as he picks himself out of the boot, to
drink his health in a glass of hot brandy-and-water; at which the
guard smiles too, and Messrs. Snodgrass, Winkle, and Tupman,
all smile in company. The guard and Mr. Weller disappear for
five minutes, most probably to get the hot brandy-and-water, for
they smell very strongly of it, when they return, the coachman
mounts to the box, Mr. Weller jumps up behind, the Pickwickians
pull their coats round their legs and their shawls over their noses,
the helpers pull the horse-cloths off, the coachman shouts out a
cheery 'All right,' and away they go.

They have rumbled through the streets, and jolted over the
stones, and at length reach the wide and open country. The
wheels skim over the hard and frosty ground; and the horses,
bursting into a canter at a smart crack of the whip, step along the
road as if the load behind them--coach, passengers, cod-fish,
oyster-barrels, and all--were but a feather at their heels. They
have descended a gentle slope, and enter upon a level, as compact
and dry as a solid block of marble, two miles long. Another crack
of the whip, and on they speed, at a smart gallop, the horses
tossing their heads and rattling the harness, as if in exhilaration
at the rapidity of the motion; while the coachman, holding whip
and reins in one hand, takes off his hat with the other, and resting
it on his knees, pulls out his handkerchief, and wipes his forehead,
partly because he has a habit of doing it, and partly
because it's as well to show the passengers how cool he is, and
what an easy thing it is to drive four-in-hand, when you have had
as much practice as he has. Having done this very leisurely
(otherwise the effect would be materially impaired), he replaces
his handkerchief, pulls on his hat, adjusts his gloves, squares his
elbows, cracks the whip again, and on they speed, more merrily
than before.

A few small houses, scattered on either side of the road,
betoken the entrance to some town or village. The lively notes
of the guard's key-bugle vibrate in the clear cold air, and wake
up the old gentleman inside, who, carefully letting down the
window-sash half-way, and standing sentry over the air, takes a
short peep out, and then carefully pulling it up again, informs the
other inside that they're going to change directly; on which the
other inside wakes himself up, and determines to postpone his
next nap until after the stoppage. Again the bugle sounds lustily
forth, and rouses the cottager's wife and children, who peep out
at the house door, and watch the coach till it turns the corner,
when they once more crouch round the blazing fire, and throw on
another log of wood against father comes home; while father
himself, a full mile off, has just exchanged a friendly nod with the
coachman, and turned round to take a good long stare at the
vehicle as it whirls away.

And now the bugle plays a lively air as the coach rattles
through the ill-paved streets of a country town; and the coachman,
undoing the buckle which keeps his ribands together,
prepares to throw them off the moment he stops. Mr. Pickwick
emerges from his coat collar, and looks about him with great
curiosity; perceiving which, the coachman informs Mr. Pickwick
of the name of the town, and tells him it was market-day yesterday,
both of which pieces of information Mr. Pickwick retails to
his fellow-passengers; whereupon they emerge from their coat
collars too, and look about them also. Mr. Winkle, who sits at
the extreme edge, with one leg dangling in the air, is nearly
precipitated into the street, as the coach twists round the sharp
corner by the cheesemonger's shop, and turns into the marketplace;
and before Mr. Snodgrass, who sits next to him, has
recovered from his alarm, they pull up at the inn yard where the
fresh horses, with cloths on, are already waiting. The coachman
throws down the reins and gets down himself, and the other
outside passengers drop down also; except those who have no
great confidence in their ability to get up again; and they remain
where they are, and stamp their feet against the coach to warm
them--looking, with longing eyes and red noses, at the bright
fire in the inn bar, and the sprigs of holly with red berries which
ornament the window.

But the guard has delivered at the corn-dealer's shop, the
brown paper packet he took out of the little pouch which hangs
over his shoulder by a leathern strap; and has seen the horses
carefully put to; and has thrown on the pavement the saddle
which was brought from London on the coach roof; and has
assisted in the conference between the coachman and the hostler
about the gray mare that hurt her off fore-leg last Tuesday; and
he and Mr. Weller are all right behind, and the coachman is all
right in front, and the old gentleman inside, who has kept the
window down full two inches all this time, has pulled it up again,
and the cloths are off, and they are all ready for starting, except
the 'two stout gentlemen,' whom the coachman inquires after
with some impatience. Hereupon the coachman, and the guard,
and Sam Weller, and Mr. Winkle, and Mr. Snodgrass, and all
the hostlers, and every one of the idlers, who are more in number
than all the others put together, shout for the missing gentlemen
as loud as they can bawl. A distant response is heard from the
yard, and Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Tupman come running down it,
quite out of breath, for they have been having a glass of ale
a-piece, and Mr. Pickwick's fingers are so cold that he has been
full five minutes before he could find the sixpence to pay for it.
The coachman shouts an admonitory 'Now then, gen'l'm'n,' the
guard re-echoes it; the old gentleman inside thinks it a very
extraordinary thing that people WILL get down when they know
there isn't time for it; Mr. Pickwick struggles up on one side,
Mr. Tupman on the other; Mr. Winkle cries 'All right'; and off
they start. Shawls are pulled up, coat collars are readjusted, the
pavement ceases, the houses disappear; and they are once again
dashing along the open road, with the fresh clear air blowing in
their faces, and gladdening their very hearts within them.

Such was the progress of Mr. Pickwick and his friends by the
Muggleton Telegraph, on their way to Dingley Dell; and at
three o'clock that afternoon they all stood high and dry, safe
and sound, hale and hearty, upon the steps of the Blue Lion,
having taken on the road quite enough of ale and brandy, to
enable them to bid defiance to the frost that was binding up the
earth in its iron fetters, and weaving its beautiful network upon
the trees and hedges...

Meanwhile, Mr. Pickwick and his friends having walked their
blood into active circulation, proceeded cheerfully on. The paths
were hard; the grass was crisp and frosty; the air had a fine, dry,
bracing coldness; and the rapid approach of the gray twilight
(slate-coloured is a better term in frosty weather) made them
look forward with pleasant anticipation to the comforts which
awaited them at their hospitable entertainer's. It was the sort of
afternoon that might induce a couple of elderly gentlemen, in a
lonely field, to take off their greatcoats and play at leap-frog in
pure lightness of heart and gaiety; and we firmly believe that had
Mr. Tupman at that moment proffered 'a back,' Mr. Pickwick
would have accepted his offer with the utmost avidity.

However, Mr. Tupman did not volunteer any such accommodation,
and the friends walked on, conversing merrily. As
they turned into a lane they had to cross, the sound of many
voices burst upon their ears; and before they had even had
time to form a guess to whom they belonged, they walked
into the very centre of the party who were expecting their
arrival--a fact which was first notified to the Pickwickians, by
the loud 'Hurrah,' which burst from old Wardle's lips, when
they appeared in sight.

First, there was Wardle himself, looking, if that were possible,
more jolly than ever; then there were Bella and her faithful
Trundle; and, lastly, there were Emily and some eight or ten
young ladies, who had all come down to the wedding, which was
to take place next day, and who were in as happy and important
a state as young ladies usually are, on such momentous occasions;
and they were, one and all, startling the fields and lanes, far and
wide, with their frolic and laughter.

The ceremony of introduction, under such circumstances, was
very soon performed, or we should rather say that the introduction
was soon over, without any ceremony at all. In two minutes
thereafter, Mr. Pickwick was joking with the young ladies who
wouldn't come over the stile while he looked--or who, having
pretty feet and unexceptionable ankles, preferred standing on the
top rail for five minutes or so, declaring that they were too
frightened to move--with as much ease and absence of reserve or
constraint, as if he had known them for life. It is worthy of
remark, too, that Mr. Snodgrass offered Emily far more assistance
than the absolute terrors of the stile (although it was full three
feet high, and had only a couple of stepping-stones) would
seem to require; while one black-eyed young lady in a very
nice little pair of boots with fur round the top, was observed
to scream very loudly, when Mr. Winkle offered to help her over.

All this was very snug and pleasant. And when the difficulties
of the stile were at last surmounted, and they once more entered
on the open field, old Wardle informed Mr. Pickwick how they
had all been down in a body to inspect the furniture and fittings up
of the house, which the young couple were to tenant, after the
Christmas holidays; at which communication Bella and Trundle
both coloured up, as red as the fat boy after the taproom fire;
and the young lady with the black eyes and the fur round the
boots, whispered something in Emily's ear, and then glanced
archly at Mr. Snodgrass; to which Emily responded that she was
a foolish girl, but turned very red, notwithstanding; and Mr.
Snodgrass, who was as modest as all great geniuses usually are,
felt the crimson rising to the crown of his head, and devoutly
wished, in the inmost recesses of his own heart, that the young
lady aforesaid, with her black eyes, and her archness, and her
boots with the fur round the top, were all comfortably deposited
in the adjacent county.

But if they were social and happy outside the house, what was
the warmth and cordiality of their reception when they reached
the farm! The very servants grinned with pleasure at sight of
Mr. Pickwick; and Emma bestowed a half-demure, half-impudent,
and all-pretty look of recognition, on Mr. Tupman,
which was enough to make the statue of Bonaparte in the
passage, unfold his arms, and clasp her within them.

The old lady was seated with customary state in the front
parlour, but she was rather cross, and, by consequence, most
particularly deaf. She never went out herself, and like a great
many other old ladies of the same stamp, she was apt to consider
it an act of domestic treason, if anybody else took the liberty of
doing what she couldn't...

A happy party they were, that night. Sedate and solemn were
the score of rubbers in which Mr. Pickwick and the old lady
played together; uproarious was the mirth of the round table.
Long after the ladies had retired, did the hot elder wine, well
qualified with brandy and spice, go round, and round, and round
again; and sound was the sleep and pleasant were the dreams
that followed. It is a remarkable fact that those of Mr. Snodgrass
bore constant reference to Emily Wardle; and that the principal
figure in Mr. Winkle's visions was a young lady with black eyes,
and arch smile, and a pair of remarkably nice boots with fur
round the tops...

Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, Chapter 28


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