Dimly, for he was not accustomed to thinking along these lines, he perceived the numbing truth that we human beings are merely as many pieces in a jig-saw puzzle and that our every movement affects the fortunes of some other piece. Just so, faintly at first and taking shape by degrees, must the germ of civic spirit have come to Prehistoric Man. We are all individualists till we wake up.
Another thing about kids: Years ago, I was thinking about whether or not I wanted to have any. I wondered if I actually didn’t want to, or if I just worried that I wouldn’t be able to put their problems in front of mine. So I volunteered at UCLA’s occupational therapy ward, where there are lots of kids with autism and OCD and emotional problems. I went there so I could be around a bunch of kids who would say things that hurt my feelings. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could not break down and cry at everything, and that I could just help somebody else. The one thing I really remember was that when we would take them out of the hospital for a walk around campus, they would freak out the most when we were waiting for the elevator. I remember the guy at the elevator said to himself, “Transitions are the hardest.” And I said to myself, “Transitions are always the hardest.”
An eminent philosopher among my friends, who can dignify even your ugly furniture by lifting it into the serene light of science, has shown me this pregnant little fact. Your pier-glass or extensive surface of polished steel made to be rubbed by a housemaid, will be minutely and multitudinously scratched in all directions; but place now against it a lighted candle as a centre of illumination, and lo! the scratches will seem to arrange themselves in a fine series of concentric circles round that little sun. It is demonstrable that the scratches are going everywhere impartially, and it is only your candle which produces the flattering illusion of a concentric arrangement, its light falling with an exclusive optical selection. These things are a parable. The scratches are events, and the candle is the egoism of any person.
An ad that pretends to be art is — at absolute best — like somebody who smiles warmly at you only because he wants something from you. This is dishonest, but what’s sinister is the cumulative effect that such dishonesty has on us: since it offers a perfect facsimile or simulacrum of goodwill without goodwill’s real spirit, it messes with our heads and eventually starts upping our defenses even in cases of genuine smiles and real art and true goodwill. It makes us feel confused and lonely and impotent and angry and scared. It causes despair.
Another way fathers impact sons is that sons, once their voices have changed in puberty, invariably answer the telephone with the same locutions and intonations as their fathers.
His way of answering the phone sounded like ‘Mmmyellow.’
'I want to tell you,' the voice on the phone said. 'My head is filled with things to say.’
Hal held three pairs of E.T.A. sweatpants in the hand that didn’t hold the phone. He saw his older brother succumb to gravity and fall back limp against the pillows. Mario often sat up and fell back still asleep.
'I don't mind,' Hal said softly. 'I could wait forever.’
'That's what you think,' the voice said. The connection was cut. It had been Orin.
The light in the room was a creepy gray, a kind of nonlight. Hal could hear Brandt laughing at something Kenkle had said, off down the hall, and the clank of their janitorial buckets. The person on the phone had been O.
'Hey Hal?' Mario was awake. It took four pillows to support Mario's oversized skull. His voice came from the tangled bedding. 'Is it still dark out, or is it me?’
'Go back to sleep. It isn't even six.' Hal put the good leg into the sweatpants first.
'Who was it?’
Shoving three coverless Dunlop widebodies into the gear bag and zipping the bag partway up so the handles had room to stick out. Carrying all three bags back over to the console to deactivate the ringer on the phone. He said, ‘No one you know, I don’t think.’