Monday, 10 June 2013

DO WE NEED MORE ROCKING CHAIRS? (Part I)

Most people, who spend time in a rocking chair, find it an incomparable source of relaxation.  Not Josiah Brake.  When he says he is going to ‘rock’, he means, not that he is going to shake, but that he is going to ‘think’.  

Josiah isn’t like most thinking people.  Others assess issues and resolve problems while they drive to town, split a bit of fire wood or sit in the doctor’s office.  Not Josiah Brake. He needs to deliberate without distraction; employing a single mindedness only time, quietude and a gentle rocking motion, comfortably affords.
Many U.S. Presidents were great ‘rockers’; given their enormous responsibilities, Josiah thought, they must have rocked all day long.  But, for someone of his modest station, he could do all the thinking he needed after supper, on a Saturday or on a Sunday.

Now this Sunday, Josiah knew that Uncle Gnarley would pay him a visit. He had been hoping that his old friend might knock on the front door, soon; he missed conversations with the old economist since he had moved out of Petty Harbour.  While Josiah did not consider himself a well-educated man, he felt that he was not the dullest person in the community, either; he was an avid reader of the Telegram and he always listened to the news.  One of his favourite past times was bantering with the retired Professor, testing him, from time to time, as to how he might handle a particular problem. 

Josiah was among those who felt that reasonable people should be able to air their grievances and arrive at some common resolve, without putting civilization out of kilter.

The issue that got Josiah taking to his rocking chair, of course, was Jos Arnell. In fact, he spent more time rocking, these past few days, than at any other occasion he could remember.

It all had to do with Jos Arnell’s cat which had gotten killed right outside Josiah’s front door. Josiah thought badly for Jos’ loss, wrapped the little feline in a blanket and sent the two buckos, who discovered the creature, to tell her the grim news.  Feeling rather poorly over the incident, Josiah decided to retire early.

Jos was not one to be overly preoccupied with details.  When she learned that her cat had been untimely dispatched, she headed off in the direction of the most evident perpetrator of the crime. Entering Josiah’s house, without as much as a ‘howdy do’, she found him banking down his old woodstove for the night. Neither seeking confession nor explanation, Jos proceeded to berate the man with the foulest language. “You lowdown scumbag”, Jos charged at him; “you’re no better than a fart from Darin King.  If I sees you within an inch of me garden, I swear to god I’ll mow ya down”.  Jos invoked every profanity that Josiah had ever heard tell of, and seldom used, unless he was severely provoked.  And, when she seemed to have said more than enough, Jos banged the door shut and went back home. Josiah was heartbroken; he had never been treated so poorly, by anyone.

Jos had, understandably, blamed Josiah for the ‘loss’ of her cat.  Until now, at least, he thought her a friend; they spoke with each other frequently.  He was always generous with Jos and gave her loans while she waited for her pension cheque.  He could not quite figure out the cause of her outrageous behavior; she seemed like one who had suddenly “departed from her script”.  “Yes”, he thought, “that was a nice way of saying it. “Departed from her script”, he repeated to himself; such was the outpouring of vitriol that followed the unfortunate incident. 

Now, about her cat, the term ‘loss’ should be weighed advisedly, because there is more to be said about the cat of Jos Arnell, than what’s already been said; but, that’s for later.  I shouldn’t get ahead of my story.

Josiah had been so deeply affected by Jos’ outrage he felt feint; he could think of nothing else all week.  Every chance he got, he took to his rocking chair.  He had to figure out what had turned her against him.  He hoped Uncle Gnarley could explain the sudden outburst.  Afterall, it wasn’t he that he ran over the little feline; he hadn’t moved his truck in over a week. 

Josiah spent most of Sunday in his rocking chair, too; he was saddened he could not use the time better to think about more pleasant matters or even about the problems of the world.  Still, having thought about the issue between him and Jos, over and over, he felt he was making progress, even if he was still unsure. 

Though no one else was there to witness it, it must have been blessed relief that Uncle Gnarley appeared in the stricken man’s living room, shortly after lunch.     

Gnarley could readily see that Josiah looked strained and that he had barely emerged from the rocking chair long enough to give him his usual handshake.  As soon as he found his old friend a nip of scotch he hurried him to be seated.  In an instant, Gnarley understood there was no time for light banter; he was about to preside, as if a priest in a confessional, over what he was unsure, though he knew that an excess of penance had already been exacted.

Gnarley stayed silent while Josiah told the tale that had so aggrieved him. When he had finished, the economist scratched his chin and said:  “Josiah, I’m an economist, not a psychologist.  God, man, you don’t think I can figure out what is giving Jos the itch, do you?” 

“Well”, said Josiah, “I was hoping that you might shed some light on the matter; truth be known, I feels like Steven Harper must feel, being kicked in the guts by Mike Duffy.”  Gnarley let the comment pass, feeling that Josiah had more to say.   

Josiah became contemplative for a moment and then turned to Uncle Gnarley.  “Perhaps, he said, you might be patient enough to hear my own simple explanation.  I’d be grateful even if you tell me I may have bumped my head.”  “Go ahead”, said Uncle Gnarley, earnestly. 

Josiah cleared his throat and started in. 

“I believe, Uncle Gnarley, that what I have related to you is a story of fear, he began thoughtfully.  Fear changes people; it makes them do and say things they would never ordinarily contemplate.  If you need an example, I saw some of the same reaction, a couple of weeks ago, when Kathy Dunderdale spoke to the Board of Trade.  Who do you think, Sir, she was intimidated by, most?  By the Prime Minister for having demanded that the European Trade Agreement contain one more asterisk?  Or, was it the voters, who are no longer amused with this Premier, as a litany of Opinion Polls confirm.  Fear, Uncle Gnarley, it is fear”, Josiah spat, “that makes people say things they would never, otherwise, utter.”

He paused for a moment to make sure Uncle Gnarley was still listening and to try and catch a glimpse of any facial expressions that indicated whether the wise Professor might think him destined for the loony bin.  Gnarley wore only a thoughtful aspect, so Josiah felt confident enough that he should keep going.

“A less fearful Premier”, continued Josiah, “would have felt no need to up the ante.  Afterall, Sir, she was delivering a Speech to a group of friends, people with whom she was familiar, business people, people who have applauded her many times.  They are or, at least were, one with her; as John Crosbie would say “cheek to jowl”, he laughed lightly.  “Now, it seems, the intensity of the applause has dulled; the Muskrat Falls project having been secured.  Her words, or at least the stuff in the early part of her Speech were repeats, they offered nothing new or original.  What else was the Premier to do in the face of an audience bored and flat-footed?  She could not be blamed for expecting, once again, to be honoured, to be hailed as the victor, the hero of Muskrat Falls, could she Sir? 

“I think”, said Josiah, “she had suddenly realized that her friends had moved on.  It must be a lonely place, Uncle Gnarley, when even your friends have taken you for granted.  Where did that leave the Premier? She had to say something bold, she had to own them again.  If necessary, she had to drag them to their feet; otherwise she would have retained only the hollow bravado of a one trick pony.” 

At this point, Uncle Gnarley was becoming quite startled at just how far Josiah was going with his analysis; the man, he thought, must have spent a god awful lot of time in that rocking chair. 

Josiah had barely paused to get his breath before continuing:

“I believe it’s where Jos Arnell finds herself, he continued. Had she picked up the phone or popped in to see me as she would normally, any misunderstanding would have been put to rights.  And, I’m thinking, Gnarley, that’s what Kathy Dunderdale forgot to do with the Prime Minister.  Wasn’t he the guy that had followed through on the Federal Loan Guarantee, with barely an MP from his Party elected in the Province, Josiah asked rhetorically?  Before, taking a strip off the man, don’t you think she owed him, at least, that much? But, Sir, in the end, it was the PM ‘be damned’”, he spit the words out with emphasis; “she could not see her friends disappointed.

“Now”, Uncle Gnarley, far be it for me to liken a spat between the Premier and the PM with Jos and me; but, after thinking about it and whiling away many hours, in my rocking chair, sir, that is my conclusion.”  Josiah paused for a while to see if his analysis was still holding together. Finally, he added:

“Jos, I suggest, has far more reason to be fearful than a Premier who, even if she is sent off to the sunset in the next election, will do fine. But, I believe, Sir, our Mrs. Dunderdale is consumed by fear”, and, pausing for emphasis, he added forcefully: “she denies the realty that tricks do not favour a poor magician.”

“What is it Josiah that makes Jos fear you?” Uncle Gnarley asked, now completely astounded.  “Jos is a lonely woman, Sir”, Josiah replied, with an earnestness that was no less than he might employ if he were announcing the second coming. “And, she doesn’t make friends easily. Apart from the two of us, there’s that cat and her dog.  We are, by far, her best friends, much like the people at the Board of Trade are among the few the Premier has left.  When you are in jeopardy of losing them, it makes one do stuff and say stuff that, to most ordinary people, just seems strange.  That, Sir, is what I think, Jos’ uproar is all about and if I might suggest, Sir, the Premier’s, too.”

Uncle Gnarley’s increasing bewilderment over Josiah Brake’s unusual, though careful appraisal of Jos Arnell’s odd behaviour was kept well contained; he was not about to take issue with one who had thought so deeply about his conclusions.  Josiah’s rocking chair had clearly been put to a severe test.

Uncle Gnarley, himself, now felt tested.  Josiah certainly had constructed a very strong proposition; one that he was unwilling to challenge without having first accosted her ladyship.

He was ready to offer some comment on Josiah’s musings, though his declaration was far briefer than Josiah might have preferred.  Josiah, Gnarley declared, I shall have to reserve judgement on the matter.  I may not be able to speak with the folks at the Board of Trade, but I shall speak with Jos Arnell.

It is truly a fine theory; one which you now compel me to prove, one way or the other.

Having said all that he intended, Uncle Gnarley left Josiah Brake in his rocking chair and headed down the road to see Jos Arnell.
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NOTE: PART II of "DO WE NEED MORE ROCKING CHAIRS?" will be posted on Thursday.

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