Thursday, May 8, 2008

Redemption Center

For most of my early years, I grew up thinking redemption referred to a transaction in which you were given money at markets when you returned bottles. Some of my early forays into the economics of acquiring beyond the parameters of my allowance the essentials--books and licorice cigarettes--of life involved collecting neighborhood bottles which I then delivered with entrepreneurial eclat to Weiner's Market at Sixth and Fairfax, there to receive the five- ad ten-cent pieces necessary to fulfill my longings. It also fell to my lot to discover another form of redemption: Earl, of Earl's Cleaners (Let Us Do Your Laundry) was good for one cent for every two unbent wire coat hangers I could provide.

In the culture into which I was born, there was no question of my being the agent of redemption; an older brother who died in infancy took care of that, obviating the need for pidyon HaBen, a ritual in which I'd theoretically have to be redeemed from an agent of the temple, a Kohen or Cohen, to allow me a life not in service of The Temple. No question because we were at least a generation away from orthodoxy.

I don't know how many generations I am away from redemption; I do know that the subject or concept did not again occur to me until I was seventeen, pursuing a study of journalism at Los Angeles City College, beginning to think myself unsuited for that craft because of its dogged insistence on established fact as opposed to my established imagination. The pull of literature and the English Department at UCLA had already begun to exert a pull when, in anticipation of that pull, I met another watershed influence, the son of variously a glove maker and wine merchant, fellow name Geoffrey Chaucer. In The Prioress' Tale was reference to a prayer, O Alma Redemptoris Mater, popular in the England of the time and relevant to the meaning and outcome of the Chaucerian trope. From it and Chaucer, I carried away a notion of the wry narrative voice and a phrase that delights me every time I hear it, Stella Mare, Portal of the Sky, Star of the Sea. Redemption meant asking for and being granted a refund on actions of which one was not entirely pleased or which upon reflection were revealed to have been counterproductive in a moral sense.

A number of containers pass through the house now, all bearing some reminder of how much I might acquire if I were to redeem them at specific redemption spots, itself an interesting concept. In my walkabouts at the university campus, I see the interesting aspects of entrepreneurship at work with the homeless or near homeless moving efficiently from trash receptacle to trash receptacle, removing containers which will be redeemed somewhere for something.

Thus I am culturally and environmentally programmed to think of redemption as something you get for something you have done or prepaid for. I look for redemption in my relationships with people, with pages of paper on which I have written, on hard drives on which I have caused words to be stored, on books I have read, on views I have taken, on views I will take.

I spoke earlier today in a note to a friend of ghosts. Probably the most famous ghost in Western culture is the one of Hamlet's father, who had come forth bidding his son to exact revenge for having been murdered. I can understand and relate to the elder Hamlet's being pissed off; I love this cranky, notional sense of self called life and would be mightily wroth if someone were to remove me from it. The ghost of which I wrote earlier was the one I've been chasing for some time, Mr. Mark Twain, whom I have had occasion to think I saw hanging around the entrance to Piper's Opera House in Virginia City, Nevada. But perhaps it was not his ghost at all, perhaps it was mine, and I was seeking to catch up with it, pockets filled now with hard cash, trying to redeem it with today's currency.

1 comment:

R.L. Bourges said...

"The waters will abate and flow away

Round nine o'clock upon the following day.

Don't ask me why and even if you do

I can't disclose God's secret thoughts to you.

You should be satisfied, unless you're mad,

to find as great a grace as Noah had. "

(the Miller's Tale, I think)