Saturday, June 25, 2011

at the city of gold, it's marx versus murdoch

I grew up in the far northeast heights. I went to a high school that was named for a mythical city which supposedly was made from gold and precious jewels.

That metallic school, which was as heavy and hard to hold as any precious metal you can imagine, was populated with a diverse group of students. A fair amount of them were unconventional and untamed, eccentric dreamers and idealists. Thhy were young humans who could easily visualize, one supposes, the gilded future that awaited them. Whether that gold took the form of ingots or ideas, this tendency would serve them well for the most part, later on in life.

Some of the faculty was similarly quirky and exceptional. James Murdoch, the history teacher, wore a flat top and dressed in woolen suits during the winter. He had taught at the same school for years and years, though he had Ivy League cred.

When he was my instructor, he was near retirement, but still outspoken and exacting. Murdoch was a serious fellow, alright: required reading for his class included selections from Marcus Aurelius, Candide and Tuchman’s The Proud Tower. He gave long and passionate lectures on the subject of European history. He weaved Tuchman’s narrative into his inherently structuralist analysis and admonished those students - especially those could not readily draw a parallel between their experience and that of Cunegonde’s suitor - with impossibly intricate questions, as he walked up and down the aisles of desks.

The desks were filled with freaky and geeky kids, and he called upon his students respectfully, by their last names. The latter bit is a habit which I took up with due and appropriate solemnity in my second act, as a college lecturer.

Anyway, when Murdoch discovered that I had enlisted a few of my trusted peers to attend a meeting of the Young Socialists Alliance at UNM, had also and nefariously been seen at the local communist bookstore near Central and Maple, the name of which I cannot remember (probably from embarrassment or disappointment, the place was dark and shabby, in recollection), he asked to have a word with me, after class.

At first he spoke in technical terms, testing my knowledge of the nomenclature and theory, saying things such as, “a socialist, eh?" and "Fabian or revolutionary, Mr. Carrillo, Fabian or revolutionary?"

I told him that I was merely curious, while trying to hide the Lenin pin that until very, very recently had been adorning my shabby black cashmere overcoat.

Murdoch suddenly stopped stopped his inquisitive discourse and walked to the door, which faced towards the east, towards Tramway Boulevard. He opened it and said measuredly, with only a hint of awe in his voice, “So this is what you believe in...all this material, material that you believe to be the basis for everything, and ultimately the only thing perceivable in a measurable’re a materialist, eh?”

Then he sat and his desk and was quiet. An early springtime gust blew through the door and there were kids outside laughing and joking as they passed by and I could hear them.

Finally, after adjusting his tie and coughing loudly, he told me that it would be easy enough to hold fast to the tenets of Marx and his followers, as a young man. As I grew older, he said, I would surely come to reject them. This would happen he further stated, as surely as any atheist would invoke god, even if only reflexively, when confronted with the imminence of death.

Of course I tried not to listen to what he had to say, about the intricacy of human life and perception and experience and all of that. I tried to act aloof and disinterested, but what the old man said crept up on me, and got me to thinking about the unfathomable wonder of the universe, something I had to admit Marx neglected to talk about in his writings.

After our meeting ended, I decided to ditch school for the rest of the day. I enlisted two comrades and we split. We spent the rest of the day hiking up Embudito canyon. The mountain was snowy and there were deer and birds here and there and the wind was howling near the top. Again, I thought about what Murdoch said, what the man had rather implied, when he had opened up the door and pointed to the mountains.

Ten years later, I happened to pass through the Furr’s supermarket on Carlisle and Constitution. At that time, I had just taken leave of a post at UNM, in order to travel the world with my dear friend Kirsty, a British exchange student I met the previous year. I was at that Furr’s taking one last look at bountiful plenty, before plunging into the chaotic and impoverished world that lay beyond all the material and comfort to which I had become accustomed. I encountered James Murdoch in the dairy section.

Of course he immediately recognized me, and looking over his little round glasses intoned gravely, “Ah, Mr. Carrillo! One wonders, are you still a socialist, a materialist...perhaps also leaning heavily on Hegel’s dialectic and it's consequent assumptions?"

“Not so much, I said, but am of that influence. It's quite complicated, you know. I went hiking that day you lectured me and thought a lot about what you said. I am still thinking about it."

He was much older then, so I helped him load his groceries into his car. I shook his hand and he gave me a solid pat on the back. He drove off with one of Bach's fugues playing way too loudly on his car stereo, a weathered Mcgovern bumpersticker fluttering on the rear fender of his ramshackle Volvo.

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