He leaned forward, glaring, and for a moment he couldn‘t speak. The room filled with the sound of the rain, a rattle like a river going by. He said at last, quietly, driving the words out by intense pressure, “What did you expect us to be? Are you a grown-up? Is Dad? How do you think it was all those years, listening to you two bitch, the same old sentences over and over, neither one listening for a second to the other, like a couple of deaf idiots shouting at each other in the dark? Every word he said was moronic, according to you, and any fool could see what you said was moronic, not that the Old Man didn’t trouble to point it out. And you were the people we were supposed to listen to! -- take orders from! Jesus, I’d sit there in the living room hearing you blather at each other out in the kitchen, the Old Man sitting there fuming at the table with his bib tucked under his chin like a baby’s, and you slamming around at the sink saying clever things like some brat to her mean old papa. Talk about childish! And then you’d go to bed and he’d come in in his stupid damn nightdress and beg you like a kid that can’t have candy, and you’d sit there wide-eyed like an outraged little virgin. By god it was an education! Prepared us for the world, that’s a fact. The great university, for instance, where the stupidest people you ever saw in your life get to teach you. You don’t know what it’s like. You’re so stupid you believe them -- or some of them, which is stupider than believing all of them. It’s the truth. Listen.” He suddenly stood up, as if afraid she would cut him off. “They’re like chickens, big fat stupid chickens. They come examine the inside of your brain like chickens inspecting the inside of a clock. I had an English teacher, he had us buy an anthology and then he got a different one, and every question he asked, the answer was there in the other book. There wasn’t was single thing he knew! Not one! But Jesus what a show that horse’s ass put on. He had all the gestures. He knew how to make his eyes light up just like a human being. And oh was he kind -- to fat, dumb girls. And he would lecture on what trouble they used to have getting snow cleared off the sidewalks at Hahvid. Yeah. With diagrams on the board. And another one. He taught us how to find symbols in novels. Like this blue parachute that comes down in Lord of the Flies. ‘Blue,” he’d say. ‘What does blue make you think of?’ He looked like Dylan Thomas, but with yellow hair and pink cheeks. He was in Counter-Intelligence during the War, which is why the fucking war took so long. ‘Blue,’ he would say. ‘Think now. Blue.’ Some fat dumb girl with blue pimples would say ‘The Virgin Mary?’ and he’d say ‘That’s it! That’s IT!’ Sweet Jesus please us! One class I was in, the lady brought in a World Book salesman. I swear to God. He took half an hour giving his pitch to the whole fucking class. And then the math classes. Man would spend an hour writing out on the board the same explanations you could get in the book, except the book was faster and clearer, and he knew it. He cut class maybe twenty-some times in one semester. But history! Jesus!”
“Stop it,” she said.
“Let me finish.” He was leaning on the mantelpiece now, pressing his hands to the sides of his head. “Everyplace you looked, children. You’d see them in the cafeteria primping and preening and puk-puk-padokking, speech-making at each other, some of them, and the rest of them nodding, very solemn, as if it were all oh so interesting, talking about books nobody past the age of twelve would read all the way through except to punish himself, yammering about Communism an Capitalism and the Good Lay, and back in the dorm all the baby professors would do imitations, learning the gestures and the Right Quotations, prattling about Tillich and Bishop Pike and Mr. Fromm, and relaxing their minds in the great American way with talk about baseball and football and cunts, and the brave stupid ones would talk about defending freedom in Vietnam and the cowardly stupid ones would talk about How We Had No Business There, and if you fled to where the intellectuals weren’t, it was as bad as anywhere else, cooks, bartenders, ushers at the show, talking talking talking, or standing around like mutes because they hadn’t even the brains yet for their kind of talk, not human, kids, not even grade-school age yet, big as they were, or the med-students, the real true anti-intellectuals, with their contests over how many girls they could screw, parties where everybody screwed everybody, eight, nine in a bed. Fun? Christ’s hair. But they were great stuff, they thought -- all of them, med-school children, bartender children, professor children -- they were all somebody; thought they were cops. If a movie came out that was supposed to be Art they all sat solemn and said Look at the Art; if it was supposed to be funny they all went Ha-ha, if it was supposed to be sad they made crying noises; if they were church types they preached at you, if they were atheist types they preached harder than the others. They kept falling in love, and it was like one huge chorus going up in the park, a thousand voices all howling ‘She’s different!’ But I was ready for it all. I understood. They were children, horse’s prick children dressing up. And I was one too, right -- the grouchy one that wants to play some other game, because he can’t play this one -- but say what you like, at least I wasn’t fooled. There are no grown-ups. There are only children and dead people. So I quit. Bon soir, mes enfants. For which I thank you.”
“Are you finished?” she said.
He laughed. “Am I finished. Eschatologically speaking, I am finished.”
The glass was empty, and she went to the kitchen to refill it. When she came back he was sitting bent double, his eyes clamped shut. She was glad he was in pain.
She said, “Even raving Communists believe in something.”
“All foolish people believe in something.”
I didn't think anyone read John Gardner anymore.
More people should.
Wouldn't you say?