DIVORCE – O F Cieri
July 20, 2021
When his first wife divorced him the Philosopher King had nowhere to live. A temporary setback, after all he was still an NYU professor. His marriage was annulled on a beautiful spring morning as the days were just starting to get hot. He took his paperwork for a nap in the shade of a big tree in Washington Square park. When he woke the sun was setting. He took his divorce papers to the gym for a few hours and spent the rest of the night in NYU’s library.
He thought, I could spend every day like this.
In the morning when he was tired he went back out to the oak tree and slept in the sun. Families played around him, undergrads got stoned and stared blindly at their textbooks. He woke up to teach class, to buy food, and to shower at the gym. In the evenings he read in the library.
One day he woke up late for class and crossed the street at a run, eyes locked on the front door of the English building. A car blew a red and plowed into a bike messenger. She let go of her bike and slid across the pavement while the bike flattened the Philosopher King. As far as he was aware he was standing one minute and horizontal the next. Pain flashed through his body and worried onlookers circled like fish. The car tried to make a U-turn and flee the scene but smashed into a planter. The driver emerged and stood next to his totalled car like a penitent schoolboy.
When the ambulance arrived they wanted the King’s address. Nothing he said could dissuade them from asking for it. He told them the date, the name of the President, the color of the sky and his own age but they insisted on his address, and so at last he told them that he was between homes.
Where did he live? He tried to explain that he had a favorite tree in the park he slept under on warm days and a library to stay in at night, but that was unacceptable.
God damn it, he shouted, that woman took direct impact and you’re worried about me? Look at me! Look into my eyes! Take my blood pressure, check my vitals, tell me why I’m the patient! Give me one good reason, and maybe I’ll think about getting into that van!
The police arrived and took away his chance to get in the ambulance. They cuffed him, tossed him into the back of the squad car and drove around for a little before they brought him to the precinct. One night in holdings, two in proper jail. They got a little jumpy when he began screaming for his lawyer. Not just any lawyer but one specific one that he could name off the top of his head. He didn’t even need to see a judge because the presence of a lawyer immediately docked the charges– why? Because he was being charged with vagrancy, and the presence of a properly retained attorney made that charge impossible. He had pulled rank on the public servants. They escorted him out of bookings like doormen, smiling and bowing before even the slightest essence of authority. That’s right, you buttoned-up rats! Mongrel! Swine! This is a tenured college professor! English cursewords don’t befit your status as animals, because even a motherfucker or a cocksucker implies personhood. Maybe in a few years you can graduate to asshole, that puckered ring of squeezing muscle which belongs to a person.
He went first to his attorney’s to debrief. The attorney couldn’t deduce from the charges what had actually happened in the park. The Philosopher King thought they’d have a good laugh over the events, but once he was done the attorney just looked confused.
“You’re living in the park!?”
Ah. An explanation was needed. He talked about the trees and the sunshine and the library and the gym, but he could see on the attorney’s face that none of this was enough. He’d taken a step too far outside convention and could no longer be understood by those still inside it. He found himself at the intersection between law and convention that he recognized as a place he first encountered as a child on the playground– he had broken the rules. Like in kindergarten he could deeply upset others by breaking the rules, and whether anyone was materially affected wasn’t an issue. Without protection from the rules he could be accused of every scandal and sin imaginable. Vagrancy, assault, theft, tax evasion, vandalism, loitering.
Like convention, the rules were a purely metaphysical infrastructure, lacking enough substance to hold a shape. Like the law its fringes were patrolled by watchdogs furnished with the state’s consent to inflict violence on stray lambs. Inside its walls were common sense logic conclusions like having a roof and a store of excess food. The Philosopher King had no qualms with the rules, only slight disappointment with himself for being freshly re-acquainted with them. He’d handled the invisible boundary without grace. Embarrassing.
The Philosopher King’s only real flaw was being a sore loser, but at least he knew that about himself. He put on a display of humility and allowed the attorney to lecture him. This was more for the attorney’s benefit then the King’s. He nodded humbly as the attorney told him off for his bad behavior and promised to find a new apartment immediately.
In reality– well. He wasn’t averse to getting a new apartment. The summer nights still stretched out luxuriously, offering countless warm nights wandering between the library and the bars of the West Village. But it would get old soon. Already he was tired of the public face of the gym bathroom. Just once he’d like to take a shower and not need to get dressed immediately. The novelty was losing its sheen in the wake of his arrest, and without it he could feel his summer vacation coming to a close. No more boy scouts camping adventure. He was being called back to comforts of home.