In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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Tall, lanky, rubbery-faced K. is sitting across from me in Dunkin’ Donuts, smoking a cigarette he just bummed from the man beside him. “Chesterfield, goddamned Chesterfield. Ain’t had one of those in six years.” He’s talking steadily to no one, to the air, to the counter, now to someone who just sat down and is ignoring him, reading his newspaper. K’s mouth is bruised — from a fight? a sickness? His words rise and fall like a small boat, its rudder smashed. They rebound off the big glass windows, the way our soliloquies do in our minds. More in control than K., we just talk to ourselves.
Or to unseen audiences. This is how actors, and Presidents talk — right at the camera, to no one in particular, across distances. This is how I write, aware I’m creating a distance in the act of explaining myself. How much I explain depends on how much I assume you understand. How intimate can I be? Is silence the greatest intimacy? See it loop in and around these words, carrying the real meaning. Do you believe that, or am I fooling you with a suggestion of something profound? Frustrating, isn’t it? Who do you trust? The power companies, telling you nuclear energy is safer than crossing the street? Your air-conditioner, to come on when you push the button?
I was born in 1945, the year the first atomic bomb was dropped. I’m as old as the nuclear age. And I agree with the nuclear apologists: nothing is safe. The Dallas Morning Herald reminds us that all methods of converting energy to mankind’s use involve danger. Look at “well blowouts and fires, gas explosions, mine cave-ins, floods caused by dam breaks. Even the old waterdriven grain mills were hazardous places to work.” What’s safe about that? Comparing a nuclear reactor to a grain mill invites certain ridicule; yet the Herald persists. (If the Three Mile Island accident shook our faith in Science, so has Art been delivered a blow: it came out that someone typed up the first 21 pages and then the whole of Jerzy Kosinski’s prize-winning novel Steps, and submitted them to a wide variety of publishers, including the publisher of Steps. The manuscript was rejected by all of them.)
This isn’t a lament about ignorance in high places, or the difficulty of trusting your fellowman. I trust most people only to do what they want to do; I also trust them to try their best. This allows for nearly every kind of behavior, which is exactly what I witness around (and within) me. Taught, as a journalist, to accept nothing on hearsay, I’m not bitter that I can’t “trust” the President, or the press. I can trust the authority of my own senses, and my questioning mind. What a blessing that is!
The “miracle” of nuclear energy lives within us. It’s life itself that hums in a controlled reaction — days, seasons, experience upon experience. The lessons of living forged in that heat are what we can trust. Knowing that energy is infinite, and within us, is something to trust.