Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Assassination of the Great Man

The Pen Is Mightier Than the Sword

George Motz

The Great Man comes, as he always does, to sit on a bar stool and be watched by his flock of worshipers, as they always gather at the end of the day at the local ‘watering hole.’ He unfolds his newspaper, takes out a pen from his pocket, and proceeds to ‘do’ the New York Times Crossword Puzzle.

"He does it in ink!" comes a whispered response to a questioning look from an innocent who has happened to chance a visit to the saloon for the first time. In a steady and constant manner, the pen rapidly places words within the grid of the puzzle, as the Great Man, without much effort, but with an occasional sigh or moan, displays his knowledge in an almost silent manner, as if he were competing against the best of the best in a Crossword Competition.

Slowly, this day, two patrons of the pub advance and stand beside the Great Man, afraid to interrupt him as his mind is deep into the puzzle, yet awaiting his acknowledging them.

Slowly, the pen is put down, and the Great Man looks up, takes off his glasses, rubs the bridge of his nose where the glasses have resided, and says, "Yes?" almost condescendingly.

The two seekers of wisdom, knowledge, and truth state their minor problem, dilemma, or argument.

The Great Man waits for a few seconds, then rolls his eyes as if to say, "Why disturb me for such a stupid and trivial problem?" and quietly renders his verdict, decision, or opinion, as if to say, "Why bother me with such a lowly thing? But here is the verdict," as if it were delivered by Zeus from Olympus, himself.

The two inquiring persons almost bow, and then retreat as the Great Man once more dons his glasses, picks up his pen, and goes back to steadily placing words into the grid of the New York Times Crossword Puzzle.

I have watched this happen for a long time now. I have always considered the Great Man as a mere mortal, and when I have been privy to hear his verdicts rendered, I have almost laughed or scoffed many times. Narrow-minded, short-sighted and almost bigoted, I have dismissed his verdicts as being.

But then it is not for me to dispute his decisions, as they do not affect me. If people wish to have such foolishness rule or dictate their own lives, then that is their choice.

Being a student of human nature, I casually watch every day, from five until six, as I enjoy the ‘Happy Hour’ of unhappy people, trying to see something worthwhile in their mundane lives through the bottom of a glass. I know this to be an almost absolute truism, as I am one of them.

About a half hour after starting the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, the Great Man sighs, takes the final swig from his glass, signals the bartender for another, puts the pen back in his pocket and rolls up the completed puzzle, to signify that he is done, and it is complete. Every day, it is the same way, so all can see, without his making it obvious, that the difficult puzzle was completed, in its entirety. The Great Man is now ready to make his most recent discourse on the state of the nation, the world, and the universe. He is about to dispense the wisdom of the ages. His disciples draw near, almost worshiping at his feet, for they are to carry and convey this knowledge to all parts of the earth, or at least the immediate community.

Never before have I witnessed such rapt attention in any classroom. Never before have I seen such engrossed students. Never before have I observed such eager and willing pupils.

I have been wrong in my life. I have been wrong many times. I have been wrong in the past, and I will be wrong in the future. But also I have been right. Many more times have I been right than I have been wrong. A wise man once told me that the only ones who make mistakes in this world are those who take chances.

There are very few things which I will state as an absolute fact, besides two plus two equaling four. Variables, new knowledge, and other factors always come into play, and so we all have to be able to be flexible, to reconsider and re-analyze our position and situation.

But now I see that the Great Man is inflexible. He is steady, even in the face of strong evidence that he may be wrong. But when chance puts one of his staunchest disciples in my grasp, when questioned as to the infallibility of the Great Man, the pupil says, "Don’t you see it? He is so smart. He even does the New York Times Crossword Puzzle—in ink!"

Man is a creature of habit. And as a man, I too follow certain patterns. At a quarter of five, I will enter the tavern, sit in the normal area which I find comfort in, and imbibe my favorite libation, without deviation. I enjoy the solitude, the semi-isolation, the solitary existence of the hour. A nod of the head, and a glass appears before me. The sports page is presented, well read by earlier patrons of the day, as now I can take a break from the rigors of real life and go into the world of fantasy and fiction. The television set drones on, giving the highlights of the day, the news of the world, and the workings of Wall Street. It has become my routine, and all else is shut away, for an hour of rest and rehabilitation, before I emerge and continue on with my day.

Then that fateful day, the day when I entered and the bartender placed the glass before me and shook his head, and said almost sorrowfully, "Sorry, no sports page. Someone must have walked off with it."

There is nothing I can do but knowingly nod in return, and go to my place of hiding, as that is what all of us are doing, hiding out from the real world, seeking refuge and shelter from the storms of life, if only for an hour.

I walk past the Great Man, now engrossed in his New York Times Crossword Puzzle, as he almost methodically places words into the grid. I glance, in hopes that maybe, by chance, the Sports Page is concealed under his section. But it is not.

There is a pattern in the black boxes between words on this day. A big diamond, with many more little black boxes surrounding it in a random order, is located there. It is no big deal, yet it is a curiosity. But I linger only a fleeting second, so little time that I doubt that the Great Man even knew I had hesitated.

An hour later, I leave the tavern, and by chance, feeling a void in my life, as my routine had been disrupted by not having the news of the sports world recorded in my brain, I drive towards home. A glance at the fuel gauge says that my vehicle will need gasoline soon, and as there is a station on the way home, I swing in and fill the vehicle’s tank. As I go to pay, there on the counter is a small stack of the remaining newspapers of the day. I add one to my purchases, and then go home to my solitary life.

As I microwave a dinner fresh from the freezer compartment of my refrigerator, I sort to find the sports pages and read the news and scores of yesterday, as I dine on a tasteless cardboard dinner. I settle in to try to endure the evening, as I have endured so many others previously.

As I disdain televison as a necessary evil, and seldom watch it, I settle into my easy chair and reach for a book I have been reading, to fill in the void between the hours I work and the hours I sleep. The rest of the newspaper is there, and a minor headline calls to me. A seeker of truth and knowledge, of wisdom and information, I cannot leave this chance to allow another useless fact go unexplored. In anticipation, I read the first half of the report, and then the article is split and the numbers at the end of this half-article direct me to another page. I thumb through the pages to find it. It is located next to the New York Crossword Puzzle for that day.

I almost dismiss the puzzle, but then see that the pattern I had observed only a few short hours previously is not present.

"Curiouser and curiouser!" I reply to my unasked question, to quote Alice in some book from my long past childhood.

I read the last part of my article, and then read my book, until sleep calls to me.

But sleep doesn’t come easily. I awake shortly after going to bed. The subconscious part of my brain is working overtime. Something has set it off, disrupted its need for normalcy, for settlement, for solution.

In the dark I lie awake, trying to find what my brain was wanting me to do. I retrace the events of the day, in an orderly fashion, as is my want. And always I come back to the sports pages.

And then it comes to me. The grid, the blackened diamond is missing. But why?

Like a fictional detective, I consider and then reconsider what I had observed. And who I had observed doing it.

With daylight, I once more go out into the world, but in breaking with routine, I go early. I stop and purchase a newspaper. In the solitude of my day, I do two crossword puzzles, both the New York Times. Yesterday’s. And today’s.

Yesterday's puzzle is easy. It is easy, in that I now have the answers, right next to today’s puzzle. The second puzzle is the problem. I struggle, and I strive to find the solutions, and one by one, most of them eventually come to me. Only a dozen or so answers elude me, and I am exhausted.

It is Happy Hour. The Great Man sits at his place of celebrity and puts the words into the grid of the New York Times Crossword Puzzle in front of himself. I enter, and instead of stopping as I always do, to receive my glass of refreshment, I quietly take an empty seat immediately next to the Great Man. I take out a new copy of the New York Times Crossword Puzzle. In a rapid display of fluency, in ink, I place into the grid, the answers.

The pen of the Great Man stops. There is no flourish of movement now, no knowing sighs of recognition offered up, no display of having infinite knowledge being exhibited.

Slowly, I look up and turn my head slightly so that I can see his eyes. His eyes are on my copy of today's New York Times Crossword Puzzle. Ever so slowly, he takes up his drink, drains it, folds up his newspaper, pockets his pen, and then he walks out of the bar.


George Motz is a retired farmer living in Minnesota with a dozen books in print. CONFESSIONS OF A COUNTRY BOY! is a group of shorter works. DWCM-51 is another journey into humor. COON CRICK CROSSING is the book which gets most often mentioned by the good folks out in Fox Creek, as they threaten to sue him over it.

© George Motz

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012