Walker Percy Wednesday 62

percycovercroppeaMy only firm conclusion after twenty years of psychiatry: nothing is crazier than life. Here is a Baptist deacon telling me, a Catholic, to relax and enjoy festivals. Here’s a black Southerner making common cause—against me!— with a white Southerner who wouldn’t give him the time of day.

That’s nothing. Once I was commiserating with a patient, an old man, a Jewish refugee from the Nazis—he’d got out with his skin but lost his family to Auschwitz—so I said something conventional against the Germans. The old fellow bristled like a Prussian and put me down hard and spoke of the superiority of German universities, German science, German music, German philosophy. My God, do you suppose the German Jews would have gone along with Hitler if he had let them? Nothing is quite like it’s cracked up to be. And nobody is crazier than people.

. . .

A near breach, an insignificant incident. A stranger observing the incident would not have been aware that anything had happened at all, much less that in the space of two seconds there had occurred a three-cornered transaction entailing an assignment of zones, a near infraction of zoning, a calling attention to the infraction, a triple simultaneous perception of the mistake, a correction thereof, and an acknowledgment of that—a minor breach with no consequences other than these: an artery beats for a second in Leroy’s temple, there is a stiffness about Victor’s back as he leaves, and there comes in my throat a metallic taste.

. . .

The terror comes from piteousness, from good gone wrong and not knowing it, from Southern sweetness and cruelty, God why do I stay here? In Louisiana people still stop and help strangers. Better to live in New York where life is simple, every man’s your enemy, and you walk with your eyes straight ahead.