So this book is a sidewalk strewn with junk, trash which I throw over my shoulders as I travel back in time to November eleventh, nineteen hundred and twenty-two.
I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.
Armistice day has become Veteran’s day. Armistice day was sacred. Veteran’s day is not.
So I will throw veteran’s day over my shoulder. Armistice day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.
What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance. And all music is.
It is a strange feeling - writing this letter. I do not intend to die, but I am giving up the world and this feels like the letter of a suicide. So I want to say that of all the people I have known, you are the only person I regret leaving behind.
You have to understand - I’m always standing on the edge of something bad. And sometimes someone like you can make me look the other way, so that I don’t know how close I am to falling over. But I always end up turning my head. Always. I always walk off that edge. And it’s shit I deal with every day, and it’s shit that’s not going away any time soon.
There in the cocktail lounge, peering out through my leaks at a world of my own invention, I mouthed this word: schizophrenia.
The sound and appearance of the word had fascinated me for many years. It sounded and looked to me like a human being sneezing in a blizzard of soapflakes.
I did not and do not know for certain that I have that disease. This much I knew and know: I was making myself hideously uncomfortable by not narrowing my attention to details of my life which were immediately important, and by refusing to believe what my neighbors believed.
If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down on his shoulders—what would you tell him to do?"
“I…don’t know. What…could he do? What would YOU tell him to do?”
You get to know a man, and deep down there’s something bothering him real bad, and maybe you never find out what it is, but it’s what makes him do like he does, it’s what makes him look like he’s got secrets in his eyes. And you tell him, ‘Calm down, calm down, take it easy now.’ Or you ask him, ‘How come you keep doing the same crazy things over and over again, when you know they’re just going to get you in trouble again?’ Only you know there’s no sense arguing with him, on account of it’s the thing inside that’s making him go. It says, ‘Jump,’ he jumps. It says ‘Steal,’ he steals. It says, ‘Cry,’ he cries. Unless he dies young, though, or unless he gets everything all his way and nothing big goes wrong, that thing inside of him is going to run down like a wind-up toy. You’re working in the prison laundry next to this man. You’ve known him twenty years. You’re working along, and all of a sudden you hear this click from him. You turn to look at him. He’s stopped working. He’s all calmed down. He looks real dumb. He looks real sweet. You look in his eyes, and the secrets are gone. He can’t even tell you his own name right then. He goes back to work, but he’ll never be the same. That thing that bothered him so will never click on again. It’s dead, it’s DEAD. And that part of that man’s life where he had to be a certain crazy way, that’s DONE.
For centuries, the battle of morality was fought between those who claimed that your life belonged to God and those who claimed that it belonged to your neighbors - between those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of ghosts in heaven, and those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of incompetents on earth. And no one came to say that your life belongs to you and that the good is to live it.