Somewhere among the conversations mentioned previously, there was one in particular that seemed incredible to me at the time.

One morning Slim took me out to the house in Harahan, and Brother-in-law opened things up by announcing that he had just read Atlas Shrugged.

Always in search of converts, I perked up. "Isn't Ayn Rand a genius?" I said.

Snorting, he said, "She's a woman."

"So what? She's the greatest mind of our age."

"Nothing great is ever produced by a woman."

"But --"

"However, I found Galt's motor fascinating -- the one that did not require fuel, but ran instead on static electricity from the atmosphere. Kerry, did you know that there already is such a motor, and the oil companies are suppressing it?"

"That's what my dad says. He never read Atlas Shrugged, though. I tried to read him Galt's speech once, but he just kept saying, 'When is this guy going to get to the point?'"

"And, Kerry, that motor was invented by Nazi rocket scientists working for Hitler -- and it is the motor that is now used to power flying saucers!"

I should have known Brother-in-law would say that. Naturally, I was disappointed. Expecting a convert to what I thought was the most rational philosophy in all the world, I was instead confronted by the same old, raving paranoiac Nazi maniac as always.

Note 33

Brother-in-law was pacing up and down. With a dramatic pivot he stopped, looked at me and said, "Don't you agree that if such a motor exists, it ought to be made known to the world?"

"Of course."

"And do you agree that there could be no greater crime -- no greater crime in the world, Kerry -- than the suppression of that engine?"


"No greater crime," he repeated solemnly.

"I agree. If there is a motor like that."

"Ayn Rand speaks of Prometheus, who brought the fire of the gods to humanity. Remember what happened to him? He was chained to the rocks and vultures fed on his entrails forever. You know, Kerry, if you try to expose that motor, that will happen to you. The world will tear you apart."

"I can imagine."

Somehow, nothing he said seemed to ring true. More than a matter of content was involved: Brother-in-law seemed so excited with his pacing about and gesturing that it was out of character. Slim sat there silently, as usual, looking much too amused.

"Another thing: one of the scientists that invented that motor went to work in Canada after the war for the Avro Company. Until the Diefenbaker government drove them bankrupt. Diefenbaker was a Liberal, Kerry. You don't like Liberals, do you?"

"I certainly don't."

"Kerry, that scientist was just like John Galt in Atlas Shrugged. And when that company went bankrupt -- he vanished. Just like John Galt!"

I was not at all comfortable with this notion of a National Socialist behaving like an Ayn Rand hero.

"And you know what else? That man had designed a flying saucer for A.V. Roe -- and when he disappeared, he took his flying saucer with him!"


Brother-in-law now turned and crossed the room in my direction, saying in what seemed a very angry tone of voice: "And, Kerry, that man's name was Tom Miethe!" He pronounced the name with frightening bitterness.

Slim was nearly in stitches, though.

Note 34

"Kerry, there also appear to be flying saucers that are from outer space." At this point he mentioned a name I do not recall, saying, "He met some flying saucer people on the rim of the Grand Canyon. They were dwarfs with enlarged heads and they communicated by means of telepathy with him."

I looked at Slim. "It's true," he said, with a smirk.

Note 35

"I went to high school with a guy who believed in flying saucers from other planets," I told them. "You would've liked him," I added, looking at Brother-in-law. "Our Senior English teacher asked us to write essays about our politics and he wrote one, insisting that he was a 'Military Fascist.' What surprised us most, though, was that our Liberal teacher gave him a A+ on it. No shit! His name was Hickman. In the essay, he said he expected the flying saucer people to help him take over the world. I couldn't believe it when he got an A+. The teacher, Mr. Surface, even had him read it to the class. He said it was well-written and provocative. I found it so unusual that I borrowed Hickman's essay from him and copied it in my journal."

Brother-in-law responded as if this was something he already knew about, with a pleasant, confident nod.

"Hickman didn't have many friends, and he used to always dress completely in black. Only one guy -- another social misfit named Dennis -- used to hang out with him."

"Kerry, you know Hitler used to talk about what he called 'the Superman.'"

"Yes, I remember reading something about that. Hitler admired 'the Superman,' but was also afraid of him."

"There was a mysterious man named Gurdjieff, Kerry, whom Ouspensky wrote about."

"Under the initial, 'G.'"

"Yes, that's him."

"Gurdjieff went to Tibet and was functioning as an emissary of the Dalai Lama. There's a theory that he contacted the Nazis by short-wave radio from Central Asia, Kerry, and that it was he who was 'the Superman.'"

Note 36

"There is going to come a time when all these things will be very important to you, because you are going to have to deal with them. At that time it will help you to read a book by Peter Viereck called Metapolitics: The Roots of the Nazi Mind. Can you remember that?"

Note 37

"Metapolitics," I said. "Yes, I can remember that."

"Metapolitics: The Roots of the Nazi Mind," he repeated. "It may come in handy in understanding someone you're going to be up against."

I must have looked frightened, because both Brother-in-law and Slim laughed.

"You know, in this generation there are two Dalai Lamas. There is usually only one. That is because --"

"I know, and one of them is sympathetic with Marxism -- the sonofabitch!"

"Yes, he is open to Marxist ideas, Kerry, but that doesn't necessarily make him a villain."

"I don't know about that."

"Kerry, have you ever heard that song: 'I'm a ramblin' wreck from Georgia Tech and a heck of an engineer...'?"

"Sure. Everybody has."

"You know, Kerry, Ockham's Razor doesn't always apply to every problem to be solved."

"What is Ockham's Razor?"

"That's the idea that the hypothesis making the least number of assumptions is most inclined to be the valid one."

"Oh yeah, I remember now."

Occasionally he would launch into a long discourse of Zeno's paradoxes. "You know, from a logical point of view an arrow can never reach its target."

"Why not?"

"Because if it keeps halving the distance between itself and the target it will continue to halve that distance on into infinitesimality."

I didn't like arguments against logic. "Reason is more than just logic; it also requires observable facts; it is a combination of logic and facts. And it is a fact that arrows hit targets."

"If a barber shaves every man in a village, but does not shave himself -- yet does not have a beard -- then who shaves the barber?"

As best I recall, the answer was that the barber was a woman. But I hated talking about philosophical riddles. For a man who showed such irritation at facetiousness in others, Brother-in-law certainly seemed indulgent of his own digressions.

"Have you heard the story of the riddle of the Sphinx, Kerry?"

"Yes." Whoever this man was, he definitely possessed a classical education. In the French Quarter it was not unusual for college graduates to be working as barkers on Bourbon Street, so -- at the time -- it didn't occur to me that all this fondness for ancient fables was inconsistent with a gangster's career.

Appropriate to the situation, he often mentioned Faust, and seemed to view himself as a Mephistopheles. "Just think of me as the Devil," he would say with a laugh. "I go around making pacts with people."

As in everything else, his preference in mythological themes seemed heavily weighted in the direction of death and suffering -- or, sometimes, power.

"Remember the sword of Damocles?" "Yeah."

"Remember the Greek mathematician who said, 'Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the world'?"

"I like the one you told me about Hitler. About how he said nobody should ever make the mistake of assuming people are any stupider than they really are."

"Yes, Hitler did say that."

"That's so true. A certain amount of rationality is needed just to work at a job and survive. People aren't near as stupid as these politicians think they are."

"Kerry? Do you know that line from that Tennessee Ernie Ford song: 'I got one fist of iron and the other of steel; if the right one don't get you, then the left one will....'?"

I chose to interpret that as a warning of some kind.

Once, I told a tale that may have given Brother-in-law an idea. "I heard a story on the radio about a French financial genius. A doctor came to him and offered him fifty francs to will his brain to medical science, so they could cut it up and find out what made him so smart. But when the man died and the doctor came to collect his brain, it turned out he had sold it for the same price to fifty other doctors. Nobody got it. His brain was buried with him."




free web stats