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THE STAINLESS STEEL POLE
From the Living Novel HELENE by David Arthur Walters Helene and Paul were hanging onto the middle of the same stainless steel pole on the People Mover as it rolled around downtown Miami when they first met, yet they came from opposite ends of the pole. Their acquaintances and even friends and family thought they were displaced and peculiar, and frequently said so, yet Helene and Paul rejected the notion of their eccentricity; on that much they immediately agreed, that is, that they were normal. Paul, who had been a student of psychology even since his father had him analyzed for urinating in the finger paint pots in grammar school, claimed that he and Helene were rather common neurotic types. Helene disagreed, and said that she, for one, was perfectly sane because she had been recently tested by the authorities – it was with an irritated shake of her golden locks that she dismissed his claim that sane people are neurotic, that a perfectly lucid person would be mad, and that much of mental illness is a profitable farce. Besides the pole they clung to, Helene and Paul had another thing in common when they met: each lived well below their ideal stations in life. In Miami that meant riding public transportation to work with low-income workers. Riding public transportation to work, they proudly noted to one another, is something New York
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HELENE mayors and other sophisticated urbanites are wont to do. To further confirm their high opinion of themselves, Helene and Paul took civic pride in Miami-Dade‟s bus and train system simply because they rode it. Hence it was with some dismay that they duly noted how the public-transportation clientele in Miami had rapidly deteriorated as real estate prices fell in the summer of 2006, a fact confirmed by several bus drivers. Most decent folk had apparently managed to buy cars and pay through the nose for gas. The buses and trains were suddenly flooded with the unemployed dregs of society, many of them between jails and mental health care, not to mention the persistent bug infestations on the Number 51 route. Helene and Paul had drifted into the Miami with the usual flotsam and jetsam. They had been cast overboard, as it were, their lives practically wrecked by untoward circumstances, yet, at least in their own minds, they were of a higher intellectual quality of white trash than most of the refuse drifting into the last resort to strike it rich or croak. Helene was descended from high authority and therefore looked up to it, particularly if it had a military bearing and was likely to beat her to death if she was not a good girl, howsoever good might be tyrannically defined. She had been raised in the family boot camp, where she did not hear an encouraging word, and she was voluntarily polished off in finishing school. Wealth and its purchasing power was a fundamental factor in her upbringing, hence she could tolerate some slovenliness in a rich and powerful man provided that she kept his household in perfect order, the food cooked, the surfaces scrubbed with bleach, the sheets and pajamas starched and iron – pajamas must be worn from neck to foot. Otherwise her former husbands did not allow her to work; since she was a workaholic, she was allowed to further exhaust herself in debilitative dieting, Impressionistic painting, and interior designing. Indeed, Helene was creative by nature, and if stifling order had not throttled her Teutonic proclivities, the world would have to be laid to waste so that the Valkyrie within her might guide the slain to the orgasmic wonders of Valhalla. Unfortunately, Helene‟s last husband turned out to be a frustrated white -collar hoodlum and corporate grifter whose idea of exercise was to get high on booze and drugs and haul off and cold cock her for no reason at all – he eventually put her into the hospital with a broken back. But Helene was the sort of person who would rather fight than switch, provided that was the honorable thing to do. True to her vows and to the patriarchy, she did her best to save and serve her pater familias – the original phrase meant “servant master.” Her efforts were to no avail, and now she would rather see him in jail for everybody‟s own good. Her fortune was virtually ruined. She cannot count on the realization of a $50 million claim against a spin-off from Norne, Inc., a claim taken on contingency by a prominent lawyer who had also been shafted by her shady husband. She found herself alone, stranded in South Florida and forced to live in an unaccustomed manner at present. Her pride wounded by inferior means, she insists she lives thus by choice, as if she really were an eccentric. After all, in a world where money is everything and homelessness is the horror of horrors, one must
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HELENE not appear to come up short. Her fall from palace life was not about to prevent her from recovering her composure. Whereas other big shoppers whose fortunes fell have been known to become shopping cart ladies and winos, disappearing from their families onto the streets somewhere, Helene took advantage of her noble Prussian blood, buckled up and launched a new career from devastated grounds – her grandpa, by the way, had been a German rocket scientist. Paul, on the other hand, the greatest author the world would ever or never know, could care less about ironed and starched sheets and pajamas: in fact, he slept naked on top of a bedspread which he laundered once a month at the most. Not that he was an eccentric slob. He washed his clothes every week – he did not separate them by color, giving him cause to wish he had bought yellow T-shirts in the first place. He did not like cleaning house, so he rented little studios and did his best not to get things dirty. Alas, nature had a mind of its own. He did not mind sweeping the floor, but scrubbing it was another matter. He was a hairy man, thus hairballs rolled across the floor like tumble weed before his broom. But it was the granddaddy longlegs spiders in the bathroom and the piss ants in the kitchen that drove him to wit‟s end. As for clothing, he prided himsel f in wearing no more than $15 worth of clothes at a time, including shoes and watch; he was his own Salvation Army: divorcees and widows contributed to his attire from time to time, with good effect, except the pants were usually too short. Needless to say, Paul had lived a liberal childhood. Child abuse, including a sound thrashing for reading an Ayn Rand novel, had rendered discipline distasteful, so when he turned 13 he ran away from home, to Chicago, where he took advantage of his height and lied about his age, got himself a job, and did whatever he pleased in his spare time. Missing mother‟s milk, he chain smoked cigarettes, guzzled beer, and read everything in sight, dreaming all the while that he was the greatest author the world would ever or never know. That exalted position included saving at least half the world and living the good life at various retreats under the auspices of a nonprofit foundation. Paul was working as a lowly bookkeeper in Coral Gables when he met Helene. He otherwise occupied himself reading existentialist tracts, watching television, and writing a potentially best-selling novel about a bookkeeper who turned into a gigantic phosphorescent bookworm, founded the Association of Monastic Librarians – the AML would save liberal literature from the dustbin of history. Helene, on the other hand, was on her way to becoming the best dressed, conservative natural blonde leader the people of Florida would ever applaud. To begin with, she raised funds for the Miami Association of Battered Women, a job that put her into touch with almost every substantial man in town – given the information she had, the wife beaters among them were the most generous of sponsors. Paul grimaced when Helene virtually bragged about the abuse she had suffered at the hands of her own husbands, and how she had courageously tried to save her
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HELENE marriage to the very man who wanted to beat her to death. Her childlike reverence for power and her loyalty to authority worked her own destruction, thought Paul. As far as Helene was concerned, might is right in the final analysis: as every Saxon worth their axe knows very well, love is beside the point: only the fit are fit to survive. Therefore she worshiped power; in fine, she identified with authority, presuming that its position on top of the human heap, where she felt she belonged as well no matter how beaten up, made it right no matter what it did to stay on top. She unconsciously sized people up not as potential lovers but as adversaries. She was her own worst adversary: Her stainless steel armor was her means of survival. So habitual had her line of defense become, she was barely aware of it. But that she was slightly aware of the ambiguity of her position was a good feminine sign, and allowed Paul to accept her as she was and to steer clear of the either/or intolerance for ambiguity enjoyed most by F-type men. Paul was one who would rather take flight from abusive people than fight them close up and personal. “Why suffer needlessly? Do I want to suffer?” he liked to ask himself, and the answer was a polite, “No, thank you.” He thought Buddha was right when he said only a fool allows himself to suffer someone else‟s behavior. And he was wont to quote Eleanor Roosevelt‟s, “No one can hurt you without your consent,” followed by Gandhi‟s, “They cannot take away our self respect if we do not give it to them.” Paul would fain retreat to the cell in his ivory tower, where he would take up his lance and relentlessly write for virtual liberty – the most passionate libertarian tracts are written from prison. That is, he worshiped ideal liberty for its own sake and did not take to hard labor or to fighting real wars. His fanciful jousting with windmills distracted him from the implications of his solitude, which he swore made him very happy indeed. Lost in space, Paul‟s struggle was at bottom insincere, for he would gladly trade his ivory tower for a handsomely renovated windmill where he could grind grain, make beer and love his frau, dance for joy, and perhaps get in a fistfight every year or so. Yet, when Helene took some interest in him, Paul balked and worried anxiously, “If I respond, will she interfere with my solitude and independence?” But he eventually responded and enjoyed her company very much, so much so that he thought going out and being sociable every six months or so was a fine thing after all – that is, when she was along. Helene was the „really big shew‟ wherever they were as far as he was concerned, so he really didn‟t care where she wanted to go, if anywhere: he was glad to tag along and watch her and her admirers in action, or to watch her hips sway as she spray-starched and ironed bleached sheets and pillow cases at home. Helene despised Paul‟s liberal views and was not much interested in what he had to say in person, but she loved his way of writing and said she would not have him change a jot of it. And he accepted her style as well. She was the stern-looking, stalwart natural blonde in the thousand-dollar conservative dress. She was the „Somebody‟ who smelled of money and power, and whom every person of note in the
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HELENE room was naturally attracted to. She was right up front and ready: she got things done. She would rather fight than take flight, although she liked to run long distances when she was depressed: running made her feel good and powerful, relieving her anguish. Paul surmised that running was her way of running away from her pain instead of facing it, but he kept silent on that point, not out of fear of retaliation but because he was liberal-minded and favored all forms of escapism; besides, running is good exercise for women providing their organs do not fall down. Helene was a case-hardened romantic who abhorred anything that smacked of romance. Paul was romantically inclined, although he feared any such personally involvement and was only aroused by the afterthought of what might have happened. One evening Helene frightened him when she said she had a special present for him because he had been a “good boy.” False alarm: She did not emerge from the bedroom in a silk nightgown; the gift was a real dish all right, a dish of pecan candy. Naturally Helene‟s demeanor sometimes elicited vulgar feelings in Paul, especially when she glanced at his pants, perchance to spy an inappropriate bulge. Paul, by the way, was basically a lip man, but he was especially attracted to Helene‟s fulsome derriere – he imagined he would carry her brief case behind her when she became rich and famous in her own right. But never mind: sexual advances not to mention innuendos and references were deemed “inappropriate.” Fighting was Helene‟s flight from the tender and flighty core Paul would fathom if only he could get started. She took up boxing for exercise, to vent her frustrations, and perhaps to fend off potential lovers. If it were not for finishing school, she might be a clumsy klutz. Indeed, she was out of touch with the very body men desire: she didn‟t know whether she was fat or thin; the mere suggestion of fatness infuriated her and might lead to suicide by starvation. Perhaps it is best for persons to join with their opposites in some happy medium that transcends their faults. The reader might wonder if Helene and Paul might have a future together, say, as lovers, given their differences. We don‟t suppose so, but that remains to be seen. Paul felt they were, at bottom, where it really counts, pretty much the same, but Helene thought not. He was not her type, at least not until he wrote a bestseller and got invited to the White House. They might be just friends. There would be nothing wrong with that, but we would like some romance in our novels, would we not?
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