Most of what I know I learned on the way to looking up something else. For example, in writing a piece on justice . . . Let’s pause right there, and examine what a pompous proposition that is. A thousand words on justice? Really? Really? Let me guess, the mini-essay was going to come down squarely on the side of doing the right thing. How groundbreaking! How daring! How brave!
I can tell I’m starting out wrong. Let me begin again.
“Let Me Begin Again” was the title of a story I published long ago in a long-dead magazine called the Hiss Quarterly. For some reason, I’d gotten it in my head that Alger Hiss, or his assignees had somehow been involved in putting together the mag, as though it had begun with a re-examination of the early career of Richard Nixon, Whittaker Chambers and microfilm in pumpkins.
If you’re looking to lose an audience, obscure references to 60-year-old political scandals are a great jumping-off point. Still, isn’t Richard Nixon the hard-working Horatio Alger story—clerk to law school to presidency to disgrace—made flesh? Although he claimed to love the beach and the ocean, can you picture Nixon in a bathing suit? Nope. He may stroll along the sand, but he’s in a post-Navy-blue suit, carrying his wingtips and socks.
When I couldn’t sleep the other night, I reviewed the presidents of my lifetime, trying to decide who I would have (or did) voted for at the time and who I would have voted for now. What this says about me is scary and sad, I’m sure. A quick analysis shows I’ve voted in 10 presidential elections, and in half I would today change my vote, or at least strongly consider doing so. Part of this, I imagine, is because I can’t forget the actual results. My next step in going to sleep is to picture I am the sole deciding vote, and see how this would change my decisions. I’ll spare the chart and say, if I’d been king of the world—yet still lived in a democracy where my decision was the only one that mattered—the presidents since 1980 would have been . . .
Wait a second right there. This tangentalizing must stop! I do have a point, raised in the opening sentence, and it needs to be developed, lest your readers believe you’re nuts.
Although I can’t prove it, I don’t think it is true even a blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut. Blindness would be insurmountable for a tree-dwelling animal that relies on its ability to leap from branch to branch. Even if we posit a squirrel who is struck blind in some divine judgment, and already knows his home tree like the back of his creepy little paw, the proposition is absurd. Squirrels are not solitary creatures and nuts are a finite resource, so a pack of squirrels would likely have gathered all available nuts before the blind squirrel had gathered his courage and ventured ground ward. The blind squirrel would almost certainly die of hunger (or predation) (or an untimely fall from his tree) long before finding even a single nut.
And that would be an example of the tooth-and-nail justice of the jungle—or forest—or park.