On scientific materialism

In Heaven, of course, the journalists don’t make mistakes. Up there, I infer, paper is pricelessly expensive, so everything is composed in the writer’s mind beforehand, dictated then copied in the finest scribal hands. Sentence after sentence is hung with knowing craft and confidence, so the proofreaders need only read with admiration. Too, the choirs never do rehearsals.

I used to say things like this to a Marxist acquaintance, of the old school, with whom I shared a kitchen. We would compare utopias, I with recitations from the Horae Canonicae of W. H. Auden. When he in his turn sang of “scientific socialism,” I would accompany on my metaphysical hurdy-gurdy. A smell of smoke being in the air, I might comment that, “In the perfect world of scientific socialism, that toast would not have burnt.”

He was a Polish-descended mathematician, but with the surname Kaiser; of short stature, with wolfish hairy ears, matching grin, and strangely infernal eyes. I do not know which identifier he made least attractive. I do know he was the usufructuary of the house, in consequence of which I was soon evicted.

The eviction was so entertaining, I cannot resist a telling. It happened of a Friday evening, while he was screening Cuban movies for his comrades, in the living room downstairs. They were raucous in their frequent applause, and drinking a great deal of beer. The toilet being next to my room atop the stairs, the comrades kept choosing the wrong door. To help them select the right one, I painted a red hammer-and-sickle on a large card, but with a tilted thunder-box substituted for the hammer. This I attached to the correct door. On my own, the simple legend: “NOT the bog.”

There was a girl in my room, whom I was sheltering from the communists. She opined that I was doing an unwise thing. But I was quite headstrong in those days, and had barricaded the door.

Dr Kaiser, uttering obscenities on the other side, to the effect that I was an insolent person, summoned several of his mates, and was attempting to stove the door in. We inside were, by way of contrast, trying to pry open a window, with the intention of getting out.

Years later, I returned to the alley behind the house, to see if my memory had accurately reconstructed our escape. It had, and I was pleased with myself. How well I had recalled the precise path, along eave and trough to the roof of the kitchen extension. My girl-friend, an apprentice ballerina, did an elegant leap and roll from there. Mine was more awkward, and I was limping as we ran.

Perhaps gentle reader will wonder what became of my possessions. The room had come furnished, so I did not much care. Some battered books were recovered, by a friend of my friend, but they were few, and several were anyway leftist trash I had obtained only to refute. I did regret what the scientific materialists had done to both volumes of Schweitzer’s Bach, however.

Well, this is perhaps a trivial anecdote, but so are most, and at least it points a moral. Never taunt your enemies; especially when they are more numerous and have been drinking. I have tried to bear that in mind, ever since.