I hadn't talked to Gregory, leader of The Army of the Young (prominent on the U.S. West Coast and spreading) since the pandemic started over a year ago, so I thought I'd contact him and catch up. Gregory is a political operative and messianic twenty-something. I figured he'd have a lot to say about post-Trump reality. It turned out he didn't.
Bakersfield is our chosen meeting point between Gregory's community near Marysville and my abode in Pearblossom. We sat at the Woolworth's vintage soda fountain, where we first talked several years ago.
It occured to me that Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster might be a cogent contributor to our conversation. He has an uncanny understanding of human politics sometimes. Gregory is not entirely comfortable that I associate with deities and sentient reptiles, so I hid Robert in my "man-bag" and told him to wait for an appropriate moment to reveal himself.
Gregory sighed quietly, it seemed to me, when I asked him his thoughts on "post-Trump reality." He took some time to answer.
Harry, he finally said, I'm sorry, I don't entirely enjoy thinking about things the way I used to. I know I'm the head of a political movement and so on.
Yes, that sounds difficult, Gregory. How are you going to handle your followers? Are you going to conceal that you don't like thinking about things anymore?
For now that's the plan, yes.
So...why don't you like thinking about things anymore?
Well, because a political movement is based on optimism, and, somehow, in what you call the "post-Trump reality," I'm not optimistic.
You mean...you are...
Yes, I'm pessimistic.
Silence ensued as we digested Gregory's words.
Gregory, I'm so sorry, is there anything I can do?
No thanks, Harry. Pessimism is just an emotional/intellectual state after all. It will pass.
Just like optimism.
Gregory, if I may ask, what is it about our post-Trump reality that has caused your pessimism?
Of course you may ask, Harry. I think it's the way Trump took on all our sins- not in a Jesus sort of way, where you die for everyone's sins- but in an ass-hole selfish sort of way, where you actually commit all the sins that most people can't get away with, making fame and fortune for yourself and wreckage for everyone else.
Then why aren't you optimistic because America was able to depose Trump?
Because, just as Satan is supposed to be the source of all evil, we saw Trump as the source of almost all evil, and that temporarily deluded us. We forgot that evil, or, as I like to call it, malpractice, is really everywhere all the time. We don't need Trump for it.
Do you dislike President Biden?
There's not much to dislike, so far. He's right out of a central casting call for "Nice older gentleman." But the war and dysfunction that was headed our way under Trump is still headed our way.
Agreed, but why can't you just celebrate this limited victory for what it is?
It's too limited.
Gregory ordered a root beer float, which struck me as somewhat optimistic. I got a Diet Dr. Pepper. I don't even want to think about what that meant.
Gregory, what do you want Biden to do?
Honestly, Harry, there's not much he can do. The world is filled with millions of young people who have little hope of gainful or meaningful employment. The default option is to send them to war, that or convert them to soylent green.
And look at biotech, Gregory continued, Humanity is going to be refashioned by scientists, and much of the human race will become obsolete by its own hand. There's nothing anyone, including a president, can do about it.
Gregory, some people would call that optimistic.
Yes, Gregory smiled, but Harry, we're not among the elect. I know you are a psychic with unusual connections to the, what shall I call it...spirit world?
Gregory had been seriously unnerved during our last meeting, via Zoom, by a cameo appearance from Betty the Coyote Creator Goddess.
But, Gregory continued, do you see yourself welcome in the coming age?
I'm not sure I'll be up to code.
None of us will be up to code. Remember the "savages" in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World? They were people who still reproduced sexually. "Mother" was a dirty word. The savages were kept in concentration camps in the desert. And don't forget climate change.
Let's hear it.
In order to keep the planet habitable, 20% of the fossil fuel that remains in the ground will have to go unused. That is not going to happen.
I don't know, Gregory. Greta Thunberg's movement has proven enduring.
That is the only movement that will count. The adult movements are weakened by uncertainty. The moment of Thunberg's vision has arrived. Yet that 20% will be pumped into the sky.
Jesus, Gregory, your pessimism is getting to me. You know, I'm a blogger. People don't want to read bad news unless it's funny. How am I supposed to make this funny?
I don't know, Harry. My calling asks me to be serious, which for me requires optimism. Looks like we're both in the shit.
Gee, I wonder what you can do about it, thought Robert (to us) from my "man-bag." I had almost forgotten he was there. Gregory gave me a skeptical look.
Gregory, I'm so sorry, I said, I know you aren't comfortable with my outreaches to non-human realms, but perhaps I could change your mind. May I introduce Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster?
Hi Gregory, thought Robert as he stuck his head out of the bag and stared directly at Gregory, whose look turned from skepticism to disgust.
Gregory, Robert continued cheerily, don't forget I'm psychic. I know you're not enjoying meeting me.
No...I, I'm happy to hear what you have to say, Gregory stammered, Go on please.
Well, I'll do my best, but I should explain that gila monsters do not have a sense of humor. I've tried many times to understand what Harry means when he says something is "funny," to no avail. I do know from my study of human physiology that laughter is a response to the reconciling of the left and right hemispheres of the human brain- which represent, roughly, literal vs. figurative thinking- mediated by the corpus callosum, a bundle of nerve tissue that connects the hemispheres. As the c.c. sifts through the streams of the two interpretations of the environment, it finds esoteric matches. The c.c.'s brain decides which of these matches is "funny" (from Middle English, fon, fool). The matches are sent to the brain's humor centers (there are 15 million). If enough electrical charge is accumulated in the humor centers, a feedback loop with the c.c. emerges, and this triggers a spasmodic choking response in the upper body. The experience, though highly valued by your kind, is mercifully denied to mine.
FYI, Robert, I retorted, what you just said was funny, but, as the saying goes, it was so funny I forgot to laugh.
Actually, Robert, said Gregory, who appeared considerably more relaxed, your ideas are intriguing. I'm not much of a humorist myself, and I often wonder about laughter. Since Harry went out on a limb to bring us together, maybe your analytical abilities could help him find the humor in the highly pessimistic scenarios we've been mulling.
Wow, thought Robert, another human willing to listen to me. The world just keeps getting better. Let me think.
Robert started his purposeful thinking by chewing softly on the rim of my leather bag. His thoughts were guarded, but sometimes we picked up stray, fragmented sentences. They were not funny.
Finally Robert stopped chewing on my bag and looked up, directly into Gregory's eyes.
Try this, Harry, Robert thought, still holding Gregory's gaze:
A rabbi, a Catholic priest and a pantheist are walking together when they come upon the final 20% of Earth's remaining fossil fuels.
The rabbi says, "Hey you two, why don't you go in with me to buy this last 20% of fossil fuel. Then we'll pull it off the market and save the Earth!"
The Catholic priest says, "That's a great idea! Count me in!"
The pantheist says, "No! This may not happen! The Earth God is freezing to death and wants the surface of the planet to ignite and warm him!"
We gathered that Robert had come to the conclusion of his "joke" because he was shaking spasmodically in what I understood to be his first experience of humor and laughter. Gregory looked pale and a bit disturbed.
Robert, I finally said, Please snap out of it. That was not funny.
Really, Robert spat, You obviously didn't get it.
Gregory and I decided not to belabor the point. We made our goodbyes and headed to our cars. On the drive back to Pearblossom Robert told me that now that he understands humor he is going to write a book called "Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster's favorite jokes." He says he will forward the jokes to me as they develop.
The ride home was uneventful, punctuated every few minutes by spasmodic sounds in Robert's throat when he managed to get his corpus callosum to fire.
[For background on Gregory and his movement, and for a peek into the 2044 U.S. presidential election, go to http://www.gregorysarmyoftheyoung.com/]