Drinking With Jumbo
"Rationality is the recognition of the fact that nothing can alter the truth and nothing can take precedence over that act of perceiving it."
- Ayn Rand (from Atlas Shrugged, 1957)
The problem with Ayn Rand's definition of rationality, is that truth and the recognition of fact and the act of perception, and so on, are often relative and sometimes intangible aspects of reality where human beings are concerned. Ayn Rand, for example, did not have a lot to say concerning trust, which is part of the glue that holds our fragile human race together. Without trust, after all, wouldn't much of someone else's truth be suspect to the point of possibly being a lie?
And what about the trust that we have, in varying degrees, in ourselves - shouldn't that be a part of the equation where rationality is concerned?
I am ready to submit that rationality is something completely different, something perhaps more Platonic, even ethereal in nature. Rationality is something that deserves to be explored over and over again, and at every opportunity. Such explorations should, whenever possible and convenient, involve alcohol and Cuban cigars. A good-looking woman should be present and encouraged to participate, and no reference material (except for morning-line odds on horses or spreads on sports betting) should be available.
Salt and lime is optional.
One evening, one Friday night a few weeks ago, Jeff came in and found me in La Fuente. I was enjoying a scotch and a wonderful view of Estelle, the cantinera, who declined to participate in our exploration of rationality. He brought Mickey with him. Mickey is only rational when he is sober. Mickey is only sober for one hour each day, mostly from nine o'clock in the morning until ten.
If you wish to have a rational conversation with Mickey, be advised: Nine in the morning is a good target time. Otherwise, good luck.
If you wish to have a rational conversation with Jeff, anytime is fine, even after a few beers. Thus, one possible definition of a rational human being could be this: A rational person is someone you can drink with. That definition works for me just as well as anything else that comes to mind. We kept Mickey at arms length and caught up on our trivial pursuits like a couple of old Army buddies.
Except that I was never in the Army. Not even the Navy. Jeff, on the other hand, spent four years in each branch of the armed forces. How about that for an ex-patriate!
Mickey peered in from the outside looking hurt, like a child might appear from the flimsy card table in the next room, watching the adults eating Thanksgiving dinner in the dining room. We ignored Mickey and swapped stories like passing large bowls of food back and forth. Stuffing? Sure, thanks! Mashed potatoes? You bet. And on and on.
"So, by the time you left the Army and enlisted in Navy, you pretty much had the armed forces figured out?" I asked him, guessing that the Navy was a more pleasant experience.
"The Navy was fun, I got to see a lot more of the world in the Navy," Jeff said.
Mickey tried to interrupt. Mickey served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam war, the only war ever lost by the United States of America. Mickey is, especially while inebriated, prone to launching into a full-blown tirade about his experiences there, which makes me suspect that he never saw any action at all. I have known many men who served on the battlefield during the only war ever lost by the United States of America.
What do they have to say about it? Nothing, the veterans who fought in combat there refuse to talk about most of their experiences. This is understandable. Certainly, it is a rational decision. I bet it still hurts like hell. This is what they say to anyone who asks them about what they went through during that war: I'd rather not talk about it.
We hushed Mickey and went on with our feast.
"What was the most interesting port you visited while in the Navy?" I continued.
"Thailand was wild," Jeff said. "I mean, your ship is going into port, and they're not supposed to know that you're coming, but it's no secret. Hell, they even had banners hung up, welcoming the various ships by name!"
Jeff laughed and his eyes lit, clear and blue and sparkling as if he were once again there. Maybe he was. I ordered another round, even one for Mickey who had finally decided to just listen. We all drank, and Jeff went on about Thailand.
"So, once off of the ship, we all find ourselves on the beach. Now, there are some bars in town, but on the beach, they have these carts, sort of like taco carts here, but they serve booze instead of tacos. I mean, you can stroll down the beach and go from cart to cart and drink."
"And girls?" I asked. I had heard about the extraordinary number of young girls in Thailand.
"Lots of them," Jeff nodded, "but I wasn't in the mood, I wanted to drink. They hung around the carts and mostly giggled a lot. I remember that night that one spoke some broken English and translated for the rest of them. My shipmates, of course, paired off with most of them, but even after I found myself pretty much alone there were always a few girls at whatever cart I was drinking at, and there was always one who spoke broken English."
Jeff, grinning widely, took a hit off of his cigarette and blew the smoke up, where it mingled with mine and that of others in the cantina. Our community-exhaled-smoke hung like an ornament, an overhead mantle that decorated his story like inverted angel-hair might decorate the manger in a dollhouse Nativity scene. Except that in La Fuente, the wise men never showed up. It was a cloudy night, no stars could be seen. Maybe that was part of it. Who can say?
Jeff went on.
"So there I was, in Thailand, drinking at this cart on the beach, when I felt something large and heavy land on my shoulder."
I blinked nervously. Mickey was in another world, and anyone else in the cantina, were they paying any bit of attention at all, did not show any sign of interest. Assuming that they spoke English. Estelle speaks good English, but appeared otherwise occupied, even if that was by design.
"So I looked at my shoulder, and saw this huge grey piece of flesh that went on in back of me, and I looked up and saw this enormous elephant standing behind me. He had his trunk draped over my shoulder, and he was just standing there, with this basket on his back way up high, and he was right on the beach and at this cart I was drinking at."
"An elephant?" I asked.
"I swear," Jeff said, crossing his right hand in front of him. "The girls started giggling, when one who spoke broken English informed me that the elephant wanted me to buy him a beer."
I found myself remembering the articles that I had previously run across, at least once every few months or so, that had chronicled herds of elephants in some remote village in India. The herd smells the hooch being brewed and comes in out of the jungle to tear up the village. They find the hooch, drink until they get drunk, and proceed to rampage and kill whomever they find.
So I already knew that elephants enjoyed some sort of brew now and again.
And as Jeff went on, I feared for something terrible in the aftermath of whatever had happened that night in Thailand with the barfly-pachyderm, but my fears were without warrant. That particular elephant, as it turned out, was at least in the same category that I now place my definition of a rational human being.
Someone you can drink with!
My son Joshua is seventeen and soon to be eighteen, and one thing that I told him when we met in downtown San Diego on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, was that if he decided to drink on occasion, then he would have to learn how to drink. He argued the point, respectfully and eloquently, but I persisted in telling him, in order to remain a rational human being, that he would have to learn how to drink and that it might take years of learning. I told him that I was well into my thirties before I learned how to drink.
"Dad, believe me, I've drank a lot, I know."
"Son," I said, "trust me. The key to drinking is locked behind that magic age where it isn't so much fun anymore as it is something one does to either pass the time or as a table-setting for other activities."
"Like exploring rationality."
We walked all over the place, I pointed out street banners and so on that the company where I work are responsible for. They are all over the place, these banners, on Broadway, at the airport, near the stadium. Easy testimony to prove, in part, that I have contributed in some way toward the betterment of humanity - even if the vinyl which these graphics are displayed on will refuse to biodegrade into the next millennium.
It sure beats pointing up to the sky, to some jet-fighter up there, and claiming responsibility for some part of that nightmare.
My son told me that he normally sported a mohawk, a haircut that is associated with punk-rockers. Out of respect for his gray-bearded-old-man, he wore it in its relaxed state, which made him look a little bit like a member of The Monkeys than the Sex Pistols. Better the former than lunching with Johnny Rotten (if only to avoid the obvious comments such as, "Hey, what's the old fuck doing hanging out with the young punker?"). We spent most of our time talking, which was perfect. We needed to talk, we have over a decade of our trivial pursuits to catch up on.
This kid is deep. And polite and able to spark up a conversation with just about anyone. And he did, at various times throughout the afternoon.
Into the evening, we were rained on a little bit and it bothered neither of us. I was enjoying a cold microbrew and he was sipping a cola, and I related to him this story that Jeff told me the week before in La Fuente. I bet he is still wondering about that.
"Well," I asked Jeff, "did you buy the elephant a beer?"
"Sure. In Thailand, at least back then, your money went a long way, a beer cost next to nothing. What the hell, I bought the elephant a beer. You ever see an elephant drink a beer?"
"Nope," I said.
"After the bottle was opened, he took the bottle of beer with his trunk and stuck it down his throat. I thought, 'Holy crap, he's going to choke on it!', and I started to reach my hand into his mouth. Then I thought about how this elephant probably weighs more that five busses, so I waited. In thirty seconds, he spits the bottle out into the sand, empty of course."
"And he wanted another one," I offered.
"Of course. So I got him another. What the hell."
"And you matched him, beer for beer?"
"Hell no. Jumbo out-drank me three to one. And he'd have drank more if I would have bought them. I'd go down the beach to another cart and Jumbo would follow, all night it went like that. Until about five in the morning, when I saw the sun coming up. I'd had more than enough, and it looked like the elephant did too, he was half asleep. I was finishing the last gulp of beer, when I heard someone yelling in Thai. I looked up, and some little Thai dude was yelling at me from out of the basket on top of the elephant, presumably, for getting his elephant drunk. 'Sorry about Jumbo', I told him, 'but I gotta go', and I headed back to my ship."
I laughed for fifteen minutes even after Jeff and Mickey left.
Much of this explains why Jeff can stand drinking with Mickey. Personally, I would rather drink with Jumbo.
Joshua writes. I have never read anything that he has written other than an email, but we share this method: Rarely do we begin writing at the beginning of what we wish to say, we are likely to write the ending first. I was floored when he told me this, and I am not so sure that genetics has anything to do with it so much as one's approach to life in general.
I am very proud of him. In a few months, we look forward to getting together down here and sharing some Tecates in some of the places where I often explore rationality. Maybe we'll have a Cohiba. And when he goes back home, if his mother asks him what he did down here, I will suggest that he answers her honestly and appropriately. I will suggest that he tells his mother that he spent his time in Tijuana drinking with Jumbo.