"Prior Restraint"

February 17 2017

"Prior Restraint"

I was seduced by gravity. I clung to the unchangeable. I would wash the dregs from a coffee cup, place it in the rack, watch immutable laws of physics do the rest.

Flux had entered my life on various fronts. On each front I met defeat which was unexpected, swift, total. Everything was swirling away and coming close, like that tea cup ride.

I took up smoking. I wanted that hourly craving, some need I could indulge and easily conquer. More accurately, I resumed smoking: Fourteen years had passed since my last cigarette. I'd given them up after someone I found irritating complained over lunch about his difficulty quitting. That night I slid the cigarettes from their pack, buried them in the trash atop coffee grounds, said kaddish.

I went to a newsstand. I couldn't believe a few ounces of paper and tobacco had become so expensive. I lit up one of these little luxury goods in my living room and put on a Cal Tjader record. "It's been too long, my friend, how have you been?" asked the cloud of cancer. An insincere question from an unsavory merchant; I imagined Signor Ferrari from "Casablanca" as Tjader mamboed.

Cigarette ash fell to the rug. In Morocco thirty years ago my girlfriend bought the rug from a Berber who wept as he sold it to her. Soon she left me and the rug. From my desk I retrieved a cigar box containing important documents. I found my will and added a codicil regarding the rug. Once when I ordered food from the Moroccan place the owner himself delivered my food, and when he saw the rug he nearly wept. It was a lovely rug, yes, but wasn't it just that? The rug would go to him.

I called my financial advisor and told him to sell everything. He said, "Explain, why sell everything?" He sounded upset. He also sounded like he was eating soup. I told him that markets rise and fall and can't be relied upon. He said, "Sell even the mutual funds?" Even the mutual funds. He said, "This isn't an advisable course of action, you don't sell when you're down." Everything, I said. "Everything," he muttered.

There was nothing in my apartment to drink. The liquor store was closed. I went to the medicine cabinet where I stored my razor in a glass of vodka. I poured the vodka through a tea strainer and over some ice cubes.

I sat down to write myself a letter. I'd done this before, in eighth grade, when our teachers had us write self-addressed letters which were then sitting on our desks on the first day of high school. My letter got misplaced, so one boy handed me his letter to read. "Did they continue printing the Pentagon Papers," this boy, the son of a U.S. Attorney, had written to himself, "or did Nixon's goons successfully argue for prior restraint?" My lost letter had just read, "Greetings, how was summer, did you get any?"

Now I wrote myself another letter. The specifics of it are between me and the paper, except to say that I wrote in an awful hand. How far I'd come since eighth grade, when my cursive was so excellent that my teacher paid me to address envelopes for her son's wedding. I couldn't believe what had become of my handwriting.

Underuse dooms us all. In a few thousand years things like handwriting and pinkie fingers will be nothing but rumors. Maybe less.

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