Sunday, April 17, 2016

Kidnapped, But Not the One by Robert Louis Stevenson

Sometimes allegory and history collide to produce surprising results.

 A writer, slightly beyond middle aged, has spent a long day at his desk, working on a book length project for which he has an agreement to publish. The last paragraph or so of this day's writing has begun to seem plodding, unimaginative. He decides on a walk about the neighborhood to clear his head,return to his desk, then decide once and for all whether to delete the offending paragraphs or add something to them that will bring them to life.

Pleased with the notion that his problem is what he likes to think of as a high-class one, he ventures out into the neighborhood with the kind of springy step that comes from a day where the work was more keepable than not, more exhilarating than boring. A car pulls abreast of him and the passenger motions for him to approach, as if requesting directions.

Said slightly beyond middle-aged writer steps toward the curb to oblige, whereupon the man in the passenger seat and another, bulky man in the back seat leave the car, step around the writer so that he is now between them. "Get in the car," one of the men says.

The other shoves the writer into the rear seat. "You're fucking kidding me," the writer says when the driver accelerates down the residential street, where the only other cars are parked before row houses and craftsman cottages so common to southern and central coast California.

"No," one of the men says, "we're kidnapping you." At this point, the writer is blindfolded. "My cat," he says. 

"Your cat will be fed and given water." the writer is told, after which he believes he hears one of his captors attempting to control laughter. "His litter box will be kept fresh."

"What the fuck kind of kidnapper is it," the writer says, "who talks about the litterbox of his victim's cat?"

"Everything will soon be revealed to you," one of his captors explains, "when we reach our destination. You will write a note to all your friends, explaining how you are off, working on a project. You will assure them you are safe."

"I'm not a wealthy man," the writer explains. "Are you sure you have the right writer?"

"We have the correct writer," he is told.

Now it is the writer's time for laughter. "The joke's on you guys if you think you're going to get any ransom for me."

"The joke's back on you," the voice this time comes from the direction of the driver's seat. The voice calls the writer by his name, knows the name of the book project he's working on, even knows the writer's cat is named after a famous jazz musician. "Not all ransom is for money," he says.


You'd had about all you could take of life as a journalism major, put in for a transfer to UCLA, and were accepted as an English major, with a minor in political science. Some of your accumulated class units were lost in the transition. Instead of admittance as a junior, you were classified as a high sophomore, which meant you were required by then existing laws, to take one unit of Reserve Officer's Training Corps, which meant you were issued shoes, socks, trousers, shirt, tunic, necktie, cap, and rifle. Not only was the course a requirement, you had to earn at least a C-level grade or be required to repeat the course until your grade reached C or better.

This meant you had one lecture class, time on a firing range, and a ninety-minute weekly drill at which you were expected to appear in uniform, with your rifle, thereupon to demonstrate your ability to carry, present, and otherwise demonstrate postures for presenting said rifle, and your ability to march in cadence, to turn, and, yes, even to demonstrate the relax position of "parade rest," for which you were twice given demerits.

The ROTC had strict policies regarding such things as absences and accrued demerits, both of which had adverse effects on one's earning potential for a grade. There were regular quizzes, a midterm and final examination. Through a clandestine trail of acquaintances, related to your appreciation of jazz and of marijuana, you were invited to join a group of players in the ROTC marching band who undertook shortly before drill to alter their consciousness to a degree that would make the ninety-minutes ahead bearable, perhaps even on occasion interesting.

Under those circumstances, "interesting" meant any situation that would test your ability to restrain the tendency to giggle at outcomes such as John Philip Sousa marches being played with occasional bebop riffs and flatted fifths.

The details of the writer being kidnapped were pure allegoric invention; the details of your time as a ROTC cadet were not. Something else of relevant, but non-allegoric incident appeared in the form of you reading the words "ROTC cadets" in the early pages of a novel, while you waited at a coffee shop for a friend to appear. You were yanked lo these many years into the past, and, in a true sense, you were kidnapped by the visions and sounds that come to you when you are visited by a story.

You have several pages already, more as difficult to hold in as a curious puppy is difficult to rein in. You have a protagonist, you have a theme, and yes, you have a book you have been kidnapped away from, and yes, it is the kind of feeling you achieve from time to time, over the years, that makes the entire process an allegorical puppy, wanting to get out and investigate the world of scents, associations, and outcomes.

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