Sunday, February 22, 2015

Crossed Purposes

 Being at crossed purposes is an existential condition where at least two valid presuppositions argue for possession of the microphone.  The most weighty presupposition has you with a significant purpose.  This is followed by your encounter with a person, place, or thing bearing a purpose counter to your own. 

Crossed purposes is all about establishing boundaries, property lines, definitions, rules.  As such, it is a cornucopia of dramatic opportunity, the contesting sides pursuing gravitas in debates where the winner is often the comedy of unintended disaster. 

Yet another precondition is your awareness of a dominant voice or attitude resident within you, which has caused you to have developed a radar for opposing purposes.  And there are sad cases wherein you are for the moment detached from your own purpose which has been filched from you by the pickpockets of obligations and identity.

At about the time you were becoming aware there was such a thing as a Southern literature, which is to say stories written by men and women living below the Mason-Dixon line, you were in fact living below the Mason-Dixon line and had experienced a few memorable unpleasantnesses.  The first of these was a direct demonstration of crossed purposes.  You were in Washington, D.C., thirsty.  Before you was a water fountain, which you addressed with the eagerness of a ten-year-old boy. 

Your hand scarcely touched the faucet knob when you were wrenched back by a hand, grabbing your shirt collar.  "Can't you read, boy?"  You could, and you said so.  "Then look at that sign. What does that sign say?"  It said COLORED.  Welcome to the world of the South.  The world of crossed purposes.  "You drinking water meant for them.  If one of them wanted water and saw you drinking his water, what would he think?"  Then, after a moment,  "Aint no matter if no one else is here.  You drink your own proper water."

Some months later, the driver of a local bus playing the streets of Miami Beach, Florida, lurched to a stop.  The driver yanked on the hand brake, stood, then marched down the aisle to where you sat, in your favored seat above the rear wheels.  "You know why I'm stopping ?"  You shook your head.  Even at that age, you had a smart-ass remark at the ready.  In California, you'd have said, "Fire drill."  In Florida, you shook your head until a black line painted about the interior walls, ceiling, and floor of the bus were indicated.  "You're sitting in a place meant for them.  One of them gets on, looks for a place, sees you sitting there, what's he going to think?"

A few months later still, when you were delivering a route for the Miami Herald, you encountered another, similar ugliness, related to signs in front of your customers' apartment buildings, listing a range of beings who were not supposed to enter under any circumstances.  These examples by way of illustrating the more grievous examples of crossed purpose.

In some ways, you've found a narrative voice from the stories of other writers.  Your narrative voice has over the years acquired a timbre and range through your observations of the human condition in general and such specifics as those listed above.  What is story but the continuing saga of persons attempting to communicate, to get closer, to understand, to explain an action or attitude one party thought to be perfectly clear to the point of being bewildered that another party could fail to grasp the intent.

Crossed purposes has become the equivalent of signing in at a large conference or exhibition, whereupon you are given a name tag bearing a name other than your own  because, even though you enrolled well in advance, the information was garbled.  Thus you enter the conference or exhibition knowing who you are, but bearing identity that says you are someone else. 

A narrative without crossed purposes is an outline, the opening acts at concerts or vaudeville displays; it is no more story than the sermons of the religious or the pie-in-the-sky solutions of politics, or, indeed, the intransigence of those who long for the merging of church and state.

Story starts as a discussion, escalates into argument, then explodes in a combustion of dazed characters, attempting to superglue their shattered dreams.


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