Jungle King

November 9, 2012

For the past two days, a friend’s email with the unassuming subject line: “My depressive rant” sat in my inbox. When I finally read it tonight, I told him that the only thing that depressed me about his story was the knowledge that, even if I spent the rest of my life before a keyboard, I could never write a story as good.

The author wishes to remain anonymous, but kindly allowed me to share his story.

One of my favorite stories—Las Naranjas de Joaquín Molina written by my friend Luis at Boiling Frogs—begins: “There are stories that demand to be told.”

Jungle King is one of those stories. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Jungle King

When I was 14 years old (back in the ‘70’s), I had a paper route in North Haven, Connecticut. Perhaps I was 15. I can’t truly recall. The forty-odd papers to be delivered each day taught me to serve customers, get up on early on weekends to work in sometimes inclement conditions, and enjoy the jingle of quarters in my pocket.

As a kid, I had many excellent opportunities for dispensing these quarters. The ceramic piggy bank with the pink cork sporting a small brass ring was one. Though perhaps not my favorite. Sorrentos Pizzeria another. But after all, a kid knows he’ll get free food at home. Again a second choice. Then there was AMF lanes up at ‘The Mart.’ This was at times viable, but it was quite a way to haul on your ten speed between fast-moving cars, and you could get all the way up there only to find the lanes were full and the pinball machines occupied. Older guys with leather jackets and cigarettes would pile a couple rolls of quarters on the edge of the machine as a sign to runts such as myself to take a hike. My favorite place to lose those quarters was Bill’s variety. It was close to home, run by a friendly if under-achieving store owner who sold cigarettes and soft drinks and maintained a couple pinball machines for the passers-by.

Bill’s shop was the first place where I as a customer experienced that look of a proprietor who is glad to see you and your money walk through the door. The doctor doesn’t count. They can read your name off a chart and your parents were there and paying the freight to the extent there was freight to be paid. But Bill learned our names and welcomed us with an understated nod. My favorite pinball machine was FreeFall. The graphics were of a sky diver or two sailing over chequered agricultural fields with an old fashioned airplane banking out of sight. One can only assume the plane had dumped us in flyover country and left us to our own devices. It helped add to the sense of expectation and adventure these amazing amusements managed to supply through the haze of smoke where they were normally used.

For 25 cents back then, you got five balls to flip and spin around the table top. The object was to depress a series of flags (drop targets) and some rollovers which, when all touched off, would create a condition called WOW when extra balls could be earned and beaucoup points. The joy of this game was achieving the free balls. Some kind of clapper inside the machine would snap against the casing of the unit creating a solid loud sound. Such achievement for a young soul.

The other machine, a good one but easier to beat, was called Jungle King. I would play this while waiting for Freefall to open up. The truth is, I might never have actually figured out all the levels to Jungle King. Either way, I must have spent hundreds of dollars on these two contraptions. Bill had a reason for liking his teenage clientele. We were respectful, dependable and cleaned-up enough that I doubt we deterred other customers from stopping in. Perhaps we even lent a certain energy or aura of bustle that might have been good for business. Afternoon upon afternoon as I recall. The competition was pretty healthy. We would try to beat one another’s high scores and practiced the sort of braggadocio which in this day is termed ‘trash talk.’ Sometimes a new kid would come along and show us how it was really done.

We had unwritten rules though. You could put up three quarters at a time then someone else put a quarter above yours on the glass and you would let them have a chance. The thing is if you ‘tilt’ a pinball game from that era you lose the rest of the game. 25 cents down the hatch. Sometimes on the last ball you’d get a little more aggressive wiggling the machine because after all it was your last ball anyway and you wanted to achieve a new high score or earn a ball before this one drained. The draining or saving a ball hung on a knife edge most of the time and gave focus for our adrenaline and best efforts.

One day when I showed up and greeted Bill, I noticed guys goofing off at the Jungle King game. Nothing strange except that the studious attention to the second by second successes or failures of the guy at the flippers was gone and replaced with a casual goofiness. More oddly, Freefall was not being used. Hmmm. As I approached the Free Fall game a guy said “Don’t waste your money.” “Why? Is it broken?” I asked. “No this one is.” Confused because Jungle King was being played I must have made a face. Obviously my friend was enjoying my ignorance. “The machine keeps giving free games” he said. Just wait and play this and save your money.

Any other day I’d have been delighted to pay 25 cents to play Free Fall with no competition for replays. But now I was perplexed. I honestly can’t remember how many times I played thinking about playing Jungle King for free. The guys started getting a bit rough with Jungle King. But the guy playing Jungle King didn’t really care if he tilted. Without the great equalizers (cash money) it was pretty hard to decide when your turn was really up. The broken coin processor on Jungle King had pretty much destroyed the atmosphere down there. Apparently the technician had been called, but it wasn’t clear when he would show up.

When I came the next day, the Jungle King game was smashed. It had been vandalized when I wasn’t there. The same guys who had so devoutly fed it money only a few days earlier had turned on it, having lost all respect. Bill turned out to be too weak to have us kicked out of his shop or shut the thing down—and the goofiness had escalated. Tilts ever more aggressive. Battles for access to the flippers rougher and rougher and unbounded by cultural norms or force of law. Apparently, the technician had been called, but did not arrive in time.

Soon after this Bill’s variety closed down. I never heard what happened to Bill. A nice guy of the variety that always finishes last, a heavy smoker, unwilling or unable to control his own assets.

This entire suite of images and memories flashed before me when I woke from fitful sleep this morning. Two dominant parties in American politics squared off yesterday. And regardless of how objectively ridiculous this sounds, I believe in some ways they have done so for the last time. Jungle King is broken and some bad actors have gotten hold of the machine. They aren’t ever going to let it go. Don’t bother putting quarters on the glass. They are no longer coin of the realm. They have figured a way to by-pass the coin op. For a dozen reasons I’ll not review here, one party tilted, but did not lose this game. No “game over” light to signal the definitive arrival of cold hard reality. The balls just keep coming. No technician ever arrived. No grownup called a halt.

So Bill, God bless you wherever you are. Thank you for your little shop. There I learned that I’d rather play Free Fall for a quarter and even wait my turn than play Jungle King forever for free. It’s a lesson that has escaped us in the aggregate and the vandals are at the flippers.

The integrity of worthy human activity has a certain tension about it. Balancing bank accounts. Tuned cello strings. Toned athletic muscles. Tight tolerances in engineering design. By all accounts the natural feedback loops and dynamics of things should have led to a different result yesterday. I accept the fact that they didn’t. It has been a long time coming. The river has been crossed. More than half the people want to be fooled all the time.

The mission of a Christian Soul is to love. And in this respect, nothing has changed. God has granted us a target rich environment. Blessed be the Lord.

P.S. Just because I know that 51% of you are stuck on asking such things, the ‘Jungle King’ was a white guy.


Surprised by Horowitz

March 22, 2012

I recently came across John Hawkins’ Best Quotes from David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. Here is a proverbial treasure-trove of Horowitz’s brilliant insights re: the liberal/progressive/Socialist mindset from one who knows them better than they know themselves. The very first quote perfectly describes why Socialism is known as “the (false) god that failed.”

After the Russian Revolution of 1905, the philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev analyzed communism as a form of idolatry in a way that proved to be prophetic. Berdyaev traced the origins of what he called the Marxist “heresy” back to the tower of Babel. In that story, people had tried to achieve their own redemption — without a transcendent God — by building a ladder to heaven. Communists had a similar ambition. They had projected onto fallible beings godlike powers that would enable them to overcome their human fate. In do so, Berdyaev warned, the communists had created demons they would not be able to control. — P10-11

Indeed. The destructive ideology that passes itself off as “liberalism” nowadays is really a form of demonic idolatry, no different in method, results or fanaticism than the 16th century Aztec practice of human sacrifice on a scale unrivaled prior to the Bolshevik experiment.

Some more choice Horowitz quotes:

Lenin had called his opponents “insects” that the revolution must exterminate. If you were merely a peasant and got in the way of the revolution, your life was flattened into a single abstraction, as in “The achievement of socialism requires the liquidation of the kulak.” The particular individual with distinctive features simply disappeared. Stalin’s innovation was to make these condemned souls “unpersons” even before their deaths. Even heroes of the revolution were not immune. You could be as famous as Trotsky, and it would count for nothing when the revolution turned against you. Not only would Stalin kill you to the applause of the people, but it would be as if you never existed. — P.88

Sometimes the easiest truths to understand are actually the hardest to learn. “Thinking doesn’t make it so” is one. “Just because it feels good, doesn’t mean it’s good” is another. The failure to learn these distinctions is actually the cause of liberalism, and lies at the heart of the liberal confusion about race. Liberals begin by taking a stand that feels morally right; but the true appeal of liberalism lies in its making believes feel good about themselves. Because liberalism beings and ends in a moral posture, it doesn’t require the difficult assessment of facts on the ground to validate its conclusions. — P.161

The more racists you can find under any given bed, the more progressive you will be judged, and the more guilt free you will feel. Thus, there is a psychological pay off. The more racism you are able to see, the better you can feel about yourself. In discovering racism, even where it may not exist, you are able to realize your own virtue and its self-reward. — P.162

Unless one is blinded by the discredited Marxisms of the political left, there is no reason that the rich should be adversaries of the poor or oppose their interests. Not in a dynamic market society. Only if the economic market were a zero sum game, as leftists believe — “exploited labor” on the one side and capitalist profit on the other — would leftist ideas make any sense. But they don’t. The real world relation between labor and capital is quite the opposite of what the left proposes. Entrepreneurs generally want a better-educated, better-paid, more diverse working force, because that means better employees, better marketers, and better consumers of the company product. That is why, historically, everywhere capitalism has been embraced, labor conditions have improved and inequalities have diminished over time whether there has been a strong trade union presence or not. — P.212

Many years ago, I lost a close childhood friend to a fringe Christian fundamentalist sect. Ironically it was the group’s twisted teachings that first inspired my long, difficult philosophical and spiritual journey that 20 years later brought me back home to the ancient Catholic faith that contains the fullness of Truth. The following passage calls to mind the tactics and paranoia my friend’s group tried to instill:

The radical commitment is less a political than a moral choice. Leaving the faith is a traumatic experience because it involves an involuntary severing of communal ties. That is why “political correctness” is a habit of the progressive mind — it is a line of fear that holds the flock in check. No greater caution exists for those tempted to leave the faith than the charge of “selling out.” Prior to temptation, leaving the faith is inconceivable, a sign that one is no longer a good person. — P.275

Here is Horowitz’s pithy demonstration of the famous liberal double-standard that lambasts Limbaugh for the splinter of a poor word choice taken both out of context and out of character, while missing the beam in Bill Maher’s (and too many others on the Left to name) serial mysogyny and grotesque obscenties hurled toward accomplished conservative women:

Shortly after Peter Collier and I first entered in the conservative world, I had a lunch with Norman Podhoretz, who warned me, “When you were on the left, you got away with everything. Now that you’re on the right, you’d better be careful, because they won’t let you get away with anything.” — P.287

More good insights:

It is the fact that the community of the left is a community of meaning, and is bound by ties that are fundamentally religious. For the non-religious, politics is the art of managing the possible. For the left, it is the path to social redemption. This messianism is its political essence. For the left, the agenda of politics is ultimately not about practical options concerning which reasonable people may reasonably differ. It is about moral choices that define one as human. — P.294

In authentic religions, each person understands himself as a sinner, and none mistakes himself for a savior. But in political religions, human beings propose to act as saviors, judging and condemning, using their wisdom and power to redeem us all. But in politics, there is no redemption. There is only the bloody history of the left, its drama of the guillotine and gulag, marching endlessly through time. — P.317

Hayek called this “the Fatal Conceit,” the idea that “man is able to shape the world around him according to his wishes.” I call it The Sound of One Hand Clapping.

My good friend Symeon recently introduced me Horowitz’s latest autobiographical odyssey, A Point in Time: The Search for Redemption. Much as I always respected and admired Horowitz, over the years I pigeon-holed him as someone whose trenchant insights into the utopian mindset were limited by his own lifelong secular agnostic beliefs. I assumed–without evidence as the quotes above prove– that his Marxist critique was political and secular only, missing the deeper insights of say a Whittaker Chambers who fully understood Marxism’s political and economic failings, but also the effects of its spiritual impoverishment on the human spirit:

“What I had been fell from me like dirty rags. The rags that fell from me were not only Communism. What fell was the whole web of the materialist modern mind—the luminous shroud which it has spun about the spirit of man, paralyzing in the name of rationalism the instinct of his soul for God, denying in the name of knowledge the reality of the soul and its birthright in that mystery on which mere knowledge falters and shatters at every step.”
Whittaker Chambers, Witness, p. 83, 1952

I stand corrected. I see now that for a long time, Horowitz has been asking the same questions that other truth seekers throughout history have asked, and it seems he’s arriving at the same answers. Having seen first hand the dead end of secular utopian delusions, he’s been following the via negativa and finding hints of the Alpha and signposts toward the Omega in the writings of Marcus Aurelius, Dostoyevsky, Pascal and Augustine.

Looks like I have got a lot of catching up to do.