Detachment and/either/or Indifference
“Soooo, what is this and/either/or business?” he practically sang with a pronounced Southern drawl. Sanders looked at him and said, “Wasn’t Atkinson a military man once; or did he just pretend to be.” “He only pretended to be,” said the first matter-of-factly without a trace of scorn, and then added, “Ah, what’s his name, the Polish writer . . . Kosinski,” he paused. He then continued, “Well, yes, Kosinski, you might say had a rough childhood. Rather nightmarish, in fact, and Atkinson for a time had been deeply influenced by him until our gentleman friend managed by a stroke of sheer luck to win a literary contest, and that set him off like a cannon again, and his artistic self flamed out of that cannon and turned into a hunk of insufferable iron immediately.”
“Cock-sure of himself, then?” Sanders asked blandly, as if for no particular reason.
“Oh, quite. . . . He really was truly insufferable, usually as a fool,” the man said with his now disparaging drawl. “But sometimes he hit the nail on the head, and when he did people took notice. And sometimes he tended to attract a lot of attention.”
“You don’t say?” Sanders posed, almost as though he were actually interested.
“No, you’re mistaken. I’m not jokin’. He had gotten rather good; and, in fact, he had even gotten literary, much to the amazement of everyone, including myself.”
“So he pulled off some Kafka act. How intriguing.”
“I told you that I wasn’t joking.”
“But you earlier mentioned that he wasn't around any longer. Where did he go to try out these new set of wings of his?” Sanders asked.
“Kunming, . . . China.”
“Not too far due north of Vietnam,” the man said flatly, with a faint echo of military experience. Judkins looked at Sanders, and he thought irritably, That asshole is so fuckin cocksure of himself.
* * *
Winston Barker stepped away from his desk to reflect upon what he’d just written. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, and he wasn’t even sure if he wanted to find out. He’d always been a bit of coward, you see. But now he wanted to shed his cowardice, treat people to some of his more combative thinking and he had a rather big arsenal. He could counter-punch and he could duck his head, or jut it from side-to-side to avoid even a glancing blow with a bare fist. But he still always managed to get beaten up once or twice when his mouth got him into trouble, as it had never failed to do in the past. And his awkwardness at times had even been rather alarming, and even more alarmingly descriptive, sometimes almost with halucinatory effects. He wanted to enter the entertainment industry as a top-billed script-writer and performer right from the very beginning. He wasn’t prepared to pay his dues (because he already had, ten times over in his mind). He wouldn’t have made the slightest concession, and would use the words ‘always’ and ‘never’ to excess.
He even had a specific aim and target. One individual, whom he'd known ever since childhood and whom he intended to exceed at all costs, including his life—if he had to relinquish his life, or at least that’s what he claimed. But he was too much of a pussy-cat; nobody believed him, which made him all that much more comical.
The fellow he had in mind was named Dwight Gregson, an accomplished pianist, an adept chess-player, a successful programming engineer in the aero-space industry in California, a good family-man, and a former atheist who had finally managed to turn himself into a Christian—with all the humane leanings of Christ. A perfect gentleman, in other words, much like Gregson’s own father had always been, a man who truly was an atheist and one of most decent people Barker had ever known. And here the moral ambuigity was perfect, at least by American standards. Winston Barker might not ever become the Picasso of 21st Century American Literure, his most preposterous claim yet, but at least he did intend to have a go at Gershwin.