Tuesday, March 20, 2012

without question

Chuck Crawford loved money. He didn't love money as a means of asserting his being or showing off. He loved the chess game that went with making it. Chuck once managed to purchase a brownstone in Brooklyn -- to hand over a down payment check at the same time that he had only $13.50 in his checking account. Years after I first met him in New York, he wrote to me from the Bahamas and offered to make me a millionaire if I would come down to the Caribbean and work with him on real estate deals. People who knew how to work were hard to find, he said. I could be rich. I was flattered, but I didn't go.

I met Chuck through his pretty and vivacious English wife, Dixie. I was working at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, selling expensive men's clothing. Dixie was working a couple of floors down selling women's something-or-other. I knew I would like Dixie after I asked her why she was working at a job that paid less than what it cost her to have someone look after her two small children. She said it was worth it to her ... just to get out of the house and away from the incarceration of parenthood. She loved her kids dearly, but she wasn't about to lie. It was the kind of truth I could admire.

I visited Chuck and Dixie a couple of times. They lived in a Brooklyn brownstone next to the mother of a Mafia kingpin. The Mafia mom owned a large German shepherd for protection and the dog was very edgy, barking at everything and anything that moved. Chuck put up with the yappy dog for as long as he could but then, because the barking kept his kids awake, he ignored his neighbors' warnings that this woman was Mafia-connected, went next door, and asked politely but firmly if the woman would please put a cork in her dog. Instead of being arrogant, the woman was very embarrassed about disturbing her neighbors. She apologized and quieted the dog. And Chuck evaded another bullet.

At least part of the connection that existed between Chuck and Dixie seemed to rest on the admiration of opposites. Dixie was very intelligent and very well-read. Chuck never read anything, but he had a photographic memory and concentrated his efforts on wheeling and dealing in a wheeling-and-dealing world. At gliterati parties they sometimes attended -- gatherings where people talked about the latest in culture and books -- Dixie would delight and shine. Chuck would amble here and there, sipping whatever there was to drink. And if by chance Chuck came across two men doing their best to remember the name of a particular, seminal work as a means of burnishing their conversation, Chuck could always supply the name. He might have seen the book spine once on this shelf or that and his photographic memory would file it for all eternity. He knew the name and impressed the conversing literati ... but Chuck was not about to actually read the book or worry about its impact and meaning. He'd solve a conversational riddle and then slip quietly back into the literate crowd that imagined he was very well read ... another culture vulture, just like them.

This whole recollection arose this morning because, for some reason, a single incident in Chuck's life came floating back. Chuck was walking down the street with his then-young son, a boy full of questions. And at one point the boy looked up to his father and asked seriously, "Daddy, why is the sky blue?" Chuck didn't miss a beat. With lightning-like swiftness and certainty he replied, "Because the smog lifted."

A Buddhist acquaintance of mine once commented, "There are no answers to 'why' questions." This observation may be greeted with the skepticism any broad-brush generalization warrants, but ... well, when you're right, you're right.

And that made me wonder: What would the world be like if anyone stopped asking questions ... if the question function simply ceased to exist? No...more...questions.

I am an admirer of curiosity and can put up the socially-respectable arguments for questioning and snooping and investigating and parsing and exploring. Question everything. Find out everything... only of course there is no way to find out everything: "There are no answers to 'why' questions." Invariably, the answers simply posit new questions. Nothing wrong with that. It's human. But what would it be like if the question-function were set aside ... just as an experiment?

And if the question function simply took a break, the answer function would likewise be given a rest. Not forever, perhaps ... but just for a moment or two, just to see what it's like. No... more...questions. No...more...answers.

If it got too scary, there could always be a return to self and striving. But perhaps just knowing that questions and answers are useful without being necessary would be an interesting adventure.

"Because the smog lifted."

Wish I'd said that.

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