Isn't it ridiculous to spend so much time in a novel waiting for the elevator? Regrettable. But it does give you time to think. Here's what I think:
Reality, or what passes for it, exists for everyone and everything. No matter if you're the narrative voice in a novel with only four chapters to go or a guy selling fishing bait in the back of a copying place, there is a reality for you. This reality, this one right now, the one where I'm talking to you about reality, this is my reality. It is also your reality, and the reality of whomever else happens to be reading this at this very moment. In fact, my reality reaches out to a number of other people, and actually, for a time, becomes their reality, which means that... I could probably make a lot of money selling advertising space in other peoples' realities -- but I won't do it, I won't. I'm against all forms of sub-conscious persuasion. Still no elevator. Probably not an Otis.
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: While he waits for the elevator I'll remind you that the use of actual commercial product names is done solely to entertain you, the reading audience, and is not meant as a thinly-veiled indictment of the Kapital Uberklass of Korporate Kriminals who run the Kountry! It was just in fun, that's all. Back to my lesser self.)
Reality is elusive. We spend so much of our time in non-real states, like when we're reading, that we tend to daydream, we tend to stop paying attention, we tend to drift -- but it's only temporary, a reflex action, a defense mechanism to break the monotony, the goddamn monotony of waiting for an elevator that never comes!
This has nothing to do with anything, but Dancing Cloud asked me the other day if he was getting compensated enough for his work here, and I told him I didn't know, I wasn't the one to ask, it wasn't up to me, and just how much was he getting? Five hundred bucks a day he tells me. Five hundred bucks a day? I repeated, aghast. And, he added, another fifty percent for any appearances outside his contracted storyline. Contracted storyline? What was he talking about? I inquired, curious as hell now. He told me he'd signed a contract for a ten-chapter storyline, and that any appearances he made in other chapters would pay him an additional fifty percent to the rate he was getting, for a total of seven hundred and fifty bucks a day! So now I'm really pumped. He's really got my attention now. Seven hundred and fifty fucking bucks a day he was getting? Did I hear that correctly? This was reality, all right, and I didn't care for it, not one bit. Here I was, ostensibly the author of this thing, at the very least the author's mouthpiece, and what am I getting for it? I keep my money in my shoe, which would explain why I'm constantly finding paper money at my feet -- of course! -- meanwhile, I live like a pauper but my Indian friend, nothing personal, is taking home a shitload of wampum for a small fraction of the work I put in! It's not fair! I wonder what Uncle Lupo is getting?
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: Why the preponderance of talk about money? Probably because it's the most important thing in our lives. Even now, in a novel, in a contemplative moment within a novel, the thought of money is running through your mind. Admit it. You worry about it, even if you have a lot of it, you worry about having more. Admit it. That's why we talk about it, because we think about it. We do. Admit it.)
I want to change the subject, if you don't mind, and get off this money thing and back to some plain old-fashioned storytelling, some good old narrative fiction.
It's 1868 and the afternoon sun beats down with a relentless fury on the infamous penal colony known as Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, 120 miles off the Western coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico. Dr. Samuel Mudd is being given a breath of fresh air as the guards who have watched over him for more than a year lead him outside for a few difficult steps. Dragging his heavy ball and chain, Dr. Mudd is as resolute in his innocence as ever. He didn't know John Wilkes Booth -- oh, sure, he'd heard of him, Booth being a somewhat recognizable name in the theater world -- but a co-conspirator in the assassination of a President? Absurd. As he shuffled past Mrs. Dinwiddie he tried to pick up some sense of her opinion of him, but she wouldn't look him in the eyes. She was more concerned with her bank account at the First Federal Security Savings and Loan. (Mrs. Dinwiddie was not a terribly interesting person.)
Mudd, whose name was Mudd (see footnote, ), didn't know he'd be partially vindicated a hundred years later in books and articles and TV documentaries and mini-series, I mean, how could he? And yet, he did know that -- like Dreyfus and maybe Alger Hiss and maybe even the Rosenbergs -- he was innocent, and that kept him going, that kept a self-satisfied smirk on his face.
"Wipe that self-satisfied smirk off your face!" one of the guards barked, and Mudd did so, because he knew the consequences if he didn't: The hole. Just ask Mrs. Dinwiddie. (And he did. Her answer? "Don't ask.")
Excuse me, but the results of that readers' poll are in. In favor of an Index: 83,328. Opposed: 64,105. The ayes have it. Back to the story.
Dr. Mudd, trying to keep himself sane, developed a little routine where, every day, on his outing in the prison yard, he would pick up a small stone or pebble and place it in an ever-growing pile near the outer wall, a wall heavily-guarded by soldiers armed with bayonets. By the time of this writing (or reading) the pile of pebbles had reached a height of eighteen feet, just two feet shy of the top of the wall. For some reason the guards didn't notice the giant pebble pile, so gradually had it grown. And it was now so high that an ambitious prisoner could easily race up the side of the pile and propel himself or herself over the wall and past the soldiers to freedom. And this is just what Dr. Mudd was thinking when we caught up with him for an interview on the modest little TV magazine show which can be seen every Thursday afternoon at four on this novel's in-house closed-circuit cable channel.
"Do you really think you can break out of Fort Jefferson, Dr. Mudd?" he was asked by Farley Greg, the host.
"Well I hope you're right because it would sure make for some good adventure writing."
"Well that's good, but it's not my concern, I'm a doctor."
"Tell me, Dr. Mudd -- and I'm sure there are many characters in this novel who would like to know this -- how did you get your start in this novel?"
"I was just a footnote, to begin with, and then I guess my story caught on and I'm in the thick of things now."
"Indeed you are. And as a result I'm getting a little 'page time' myself, so thanks for having such a compelling story in the first place."
"Thank you, and you're welcome."
"Before this becomes a sappy mutual admiration society, Doc, tell me -- weren't you even just a little bit suspicious of this character who turned out to be the man who shot Lincoln? Didn't something about him set off warning sirens?"
"Red flags? I don't know what you mean?"
"I mean, Doctor, didn't John Wilkes Booth act in a manner that would have made you at least a little bit suspicious?"
"Oh, well, no, he didn't."
"I see, I see -- let's take a break right here -- we'll be back, after this commercial."
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: There are no commercials on closed-circuit cable talk shows. Be that as it may, a break is a break and I wanted to prepare you, and myself, for the inevitable -- the end of this book. That's right, the end. It's not far off, maybe a few chapters away, that's all. We can't avoid it. We can't run and hide. We have to face it head on. Let's look at what we have here. Let's tackle the issues, answer the questions, answer THE question. But, let's also wait until the last chapter. Back to Farley Greg and his guest.)
"We're back, and I'm talking to Dr. Samuel Mudd, a Nineteenth Century physician who found himself in the unenviable position of having to befriend the man who shot Abraham Lincoln, our fifteenth President."
"I'm sorry, sixteenth. Now, Dr. Mudd, you were a footnote -- to history, as well as this book. That must give you some gratification, in spite of all the hardship."
"Some. But, when I appear in a book, whether I'm a mere footnote or the subject of the entire work, I find it a very hollow experience. I really can't explain it, but there's a feeling of helplessness, like I'm not me, but someone else's perception of me."
"So Plato was right."
"Yeah, I guess so, heh-heh."
"Let me ask you this: If you had to do it all over again -- would you have treated John Wilkes Booth?"
"I've thought about that a lot, and, if I had to do it all over again I'd have shot the bastard in the head!"
"But you didn't, and so it goes. We're out of time. Thanks for coming by and talking to us, Dr. Mudd. You're a good sport."
"Anything to get away from the Dry Tortugas for a few minutes. It was my pleasure."
"Next Thursday on the Farley Greg Show we'll be talking to the author of this mess and try to get to the bottom of it, but, until then, I'm Farley Greg, have a good one."
(This ends Chapter Sixty-one.)