Thursday, September 01, 2011

It's a thin line between brilliant and crazy

I just read an email from an educated traditionalist Catholic person that promoted a conspiracy theory so ridiculous that I won’t even describe it. It's easy to put everyone who holds a conspiracy theory in the same crazy basket as this person but every now and then someone comes along who turns out to have been brilliantly aware, and absolutely correct.

The author, Stephen King once wrote an essay in which he posited the idea that Americans are prone to conspiracy theories because of Watergate. No. It's deeper than that. If you look at the individual family histories of Americans you'll find that a lot of us owe our existence to an ancestor who thought something weird was going  on and decided to risk ridicule by having  conversations that went something like these:

Helene: Maurice, I want to go to America. That man Hitler scares me.
Maurice: What? He’s a big deal in Germany but we live in Paris, my little cabbage.
Helene: Have you read his book? It’s sold out at the bookstore up the street.
Maurice: It’s just crazy talk. Besides I'm not Jewish anymore. I converted ten years ago. I’ve never even been to a synagogue in my whole life.
Helene: Maurice, I’m serious. We need to leave here.

One year later. France has surrendered to Germany. Maurice and Helene are in New Orleans running a snooty restaurant.
Maurice: Thank God I listened to you.
Helene: Mmm Hmm.


Mam: Son, I bought you a ticket to Boston in America.
Ned: What? I couldn’t leave you and Dah.
Mam: Sweet boy, the way the English are running things this blight is going to lead to a famine. I want to you be in America with your Uncle Declan.
Ned: But
Mam: No buts, boy!

Thirty Years Later
The famine did happen. Ned became a big man in Boston. His son graduated from Harvard at the top of his class and married a daughter of the Brahmins.

Ned: Thank God I listened to Mammy.
Spirit of Mam : Mmm Hmm.

Brosh: I’m sick of living like this and I heard that the Turks wiped out a whole village last week.
Elizi: It’s just a rumor. If we stay calm and don’t cause any trouble…
Brosh: Elizi, it’s just a matter of time before they come to our village. I’m selling the goats and getting tickets for the whole family to go to America.

Four months later. The Armenian genocide begins in earnest. Eliz, Brosh and their children are in Coney Island running a sandwich cart that will one day be a diner.

Eliz: I’m not one hundred percent in love with this tenement but thank God I listened to you.
Brosh : Mmm Hmm!

Bernice: Tony, I think we should leave Tulsa.
Tony: What?
Bernice: I overheard some people talking. The Klan is going to ride Saturday night.
Tony: We have a house, a business!
Bernice: Tony, I’m going to be on the train Friday morning . You can come with me or not.

Two days later. The KKK burns down most of the  neighborhood known as Black Wall Street. Bernice and Tony start their lives over in Muskogee.

Tony: My brother’s place was burned to the ground and the neighbors on either side of our old house are missing. Thank God I listened to you.
Bernice: Mmm Hmm.

So here's to the ancestors, the ones who smelled something funny in the wind and decided it was time to put on the traveling shoes. They straddled that line between brilliant and crazy and just maybe, saved the world.