A simple side-walk chat
Or evening after Christmas
How are you?
—Lonely, because no one is around.
—Anxious, because one of my
cousins had norovirus recently.
—Drunk, because I prepared for this
—Overall, couldn’t be better.
--Sam O. Rolhds
I recently received this poem in the mail from a one Sam O. Rolhds dated October 19th, 2017 on a trip to Shreveport. I’ve never known of this person which makes me believe that this person is not who they say they are, nominally speaking. H. Moss’ parents contacted me when they received a letter with same and were completely confused. Apparently, this Sam character has been contacting them in the years following Moss’ death. This leads me to believe this Sam is Moss. But, to what specific evidence could I point? I’m not entirely sure. Upon hearing this theory of mine, the Mosses rejected it with an almost insulted tone. After all, the implications of learning of and coming to grips with the death of your only son, periodic harassment from a stranger, and then the subsequent harassment from an old friend, likewise grief-stricken would not sit well with anyone.
But, I persisted in this claim. They rejected it to the point of tears.
Now, what could it possibly mean?
Because I’ve run the course of Moss’ oeuvre, and don’t have the constitution to write my own lyrics—seeing as how I could never come close to Moss’ deft style and profound insights, I will analyze this poem (and any like it from here on out) as though they were Moss’. This is not a way of some strange connection of dots in order to fulfill a paranoid theory of mine—however justified I find it—but rather, a reclaiming of my own sanity. I need these poems as a way to bring Moss back to life, even if he is truly dead. I miss him that greatly.
This poem reads like a typical Mossian prophecy—one that looks to the future and interprets the consequences of a given belief. A subtle call to action to reverse—in whatever means possible—the belief in question are these prophecies. This particular poem does the same as all Mossian prophecies only this time it looks to the rejection of vanity as a value.
How very uncharacteristic of Moss to express the consequences, negatively, of a rather communal feeling—that of deep connections. Obviously, the speaker is warning us against the deepening of our most cherished of banalities—the call and response of howd’yado—good. Howd’yado—good is such a normal thing in American society—at least on the East (think: Moss firmly connects himself to the east and protracts his eastern introversion to the whole of the world*) to the point of being automatic. One asks, howd’yado, one responds, good. Even if that ‘good’ is in no way reflective of the responders actual mood. ‘Good’ as a description of mental states or material status, is a catchall to mean both good and bad, neutral and chaotic. How useless a descriptor if it encompasses both positive and negative.
The automation of using the descriptor ‘good’ indicates far more about the responder’s avoidance complexes than it does about any actual emotional state. ‘Simple’ interactions with strangers (or perhaps even with close confidantes) can be passed over with relative ease with this catchall avoider (ln. 2). We must explore what simplicity means in this poem—and what it opposes. First off, the non-simple, or complex conversation is one that requires legitimate mining of one’s thoughts, as shown in the ironic placement of the howd’yado—good conversation:
Person 1: How are you?
P2: —Lonely, because no one is around.
P2: —Anxious, because one of my
cousins had norovirus recently.
P2: —Drunk, because I prepared for this
P2: —Overall, couldn’t be better.
In this conversation, a familiar question, “How are you?” (ln. 6), asked by P1, quickly transforms into a full-on therapy session for P2. This confessional reveals to P1 that P2 is suffering from some internal duress—fears of loneliness and illness as well as intoxication to cope with them. Here, the complexity of the response far outweighs the brevity of the ask. The ‘good’ in this conversation is not a ‘good’ but the full load of one’s thoughts—the ‘good’ is not a variable, but a unit in its own right. Look at it like a house—P1 invites P2 into her/his home to rest (the ‘home’ being her/his attention; rest being the conversation). P2, rather selfishly, proverbially ‘makes her/himself at home.’ While we all say these words when inviting friends over, quickly the literal execution of such an invitation becomes burdensome—at least to the speaker. P1 expresses exasperation at having to cater to P2’s woes (evident by the “…Erm?... [ln13]), to P2’s ‘making her/himself at home’ even though P2 is doing exactly what P1 made allowable. P2 doesn’t necessarily want to have to bear the load of P2’s woes, but now must since she/he invited it.
Is this fair? Is this what she/he asked for? On the surface, of course—she/he allowed it to happen, actually asked for it. But, this is to assume we all want to develop deep, intimate relationships with everyone at any time. This principle applies to acquaintances as much as it does to close friends. Yes, close friends are always there; yes, they want you to feel better or at ease. But, humans are still ephemeral creatures—we’re flighty and say things we don’t mean—and interactions between friends can swing along the pendulum of singular humans’ desires to be that shoulder to cry on at any given moment. This shoulder is requisite in the froufrou notions of community—one where everyone is connected on some fraternal/soroitous level and very deeply. Sometimes we really only want the emotionally avoidant ‘good’ to our ‘howd’yados’ rather than constantly having to play the shoulder. It’s a bit selfish to believe that everyone ought to be a shoulder-to-cry-on at any given moment since the presence of ills most assuredly exists in P1 (though it is not voiced, only assumed)—and these social cues are sorely lacking in our world. Everyone wants to be nice—and niceness is vanity in American culture. On the other hands, being nice does not mean having to play the part of the shoulder—for that dips from niceness, to pity, to unwelcomed advances pretty quickly. Playing the shoulder could be playing the tough-love friend—the one who rejects problems (within reason, of course; my analysis, as well as the scope of this poem, are circumstantial) as irrational. Not all fears and woes are justified if even felt. (I’m going to detract for a bit from the man thesis of this paper to develop this idea further. We have passionate reasoning—or limited reasoning, as I’ve it in past posts—meaning we reason based on what we experience and what we feel at the given moment—what corresponds to our desires. When we do feel something, say, completely paranoid, that does not mean it has any material justification outside the skull of the believer. Paranoia is a fiction, but one that solely benefits the believer to believe since it functions to undercut the other’s affirmation rather than construct alternatives. It plays into fantasies of persecution—derived from fantasies of grandeur and importance in the individual. End digression).
This is all the complexity of the ‘good’, the response. What exactly does the speaker mean when s/he talks about ‘simple’ conversations? Obviously, the speaker taps into layers in meaning when it comes to everyday interactions—a hierarchy of emotional investment stemming from our hierarchized view of intimates. It’s pretty clear the speaker opines the loss or rejection of vanity as a sure-fire way toward creating a generation of social-idiots, those unwilling to see the desires of the other, to outright reject them, to not apply cues (of comfort for the other) as impediments to one’s speech and one’s actions. Impediments, mind you, that are quite necessary. Simplicity in this poem begs us to cherish or to become familiarized yet again with ‘small-talk’ (at least in terms of emotional relay; not in relation to say philosophical thought. The other side of this rather delicate conversation which can be just as if not weightier than emotional relay—but, then again, we are dealing with layers of meaning in every situation. General principles do not work globally, mind you), with the empty ‘good’ with empty words in general. Maybe this is dangerous to say, that we should enjoy empty words—something we know all too well from the current administration and corporate capitalism: buzzwords and words spoken out of sheer reaction. But, I don’t think the enjoyment of empty words is the real message here: rather, interpersonally speaking, we use vanity to introduce the weightier conversation, the woes into conversation. It’s not about ‘telling it like it is’ (whatever the fuck that means) but more so about having equitable relations with the people around us—whether they be intimates or strangers. We ought to treat all people the same—just because someone is an intimate, does not give you license to burden them with your emotions.
This assumption that we must all be connected (bemoaned by older generations at the advent of social media) is not a communist teaching, but rather a capitalist simplification of communism over all. The thinking goes that all people should be there for you—not the other way around. Possession is a mentality near and dear to capitalism, one that assumes the other is there for you, the subject that they exist to bear your emotional burdens. We must fear this rejection of vanity as the transfer of possession from material objects to something as abstract and contingent as interpersonal relationships. Vanity enables us to see the layers of meaning inherent in a situation (as outlined above) and to act upon them if the situation calls for deeper analysis by forcing us to see social cues (this is assuming we all have a high level of social awareness—perhaps this is undermined by our need for possessive intimacy? The assumption connectedness is possession?).