3.Avatar Review
     A Review of Poetry, Prose, and Art - Summer 2001

Appendix C, Western Civilization: 1950 to Present

by Eric Woodgates

I was plunking through the channels last night and came across this guy in glasses and an Eisenhower jacket talking to Alec Baldwin, and he said something like, "I've come to realize evil as the absence of empathy." I thought, sure friend, and evil in the presence of empathy becomes lacking the courage to act.

So, I acted. You see, I'd read this article in a Reader's Digest or Harper's, somewhere important, and the whole thing was about a little boy with Down's Syndrome who lived in Missouri and cashed in aluminum cans and plastic bottles, sending the money to an orphanage for the blind. The article went on about the altruism of the weak, blah, blah. I immediately recognized this for the crock of shit it was and wondered how the little pop can beggar could be so arrogant as to believe that blind kids needed his pity and came to the conclusion that I would visit the punk and find out for myself whether he was the second coming or another etch-a-sketch rendering of reality by the modern press. I had my doubts that it would be anything in between.

I packed up the Electra with an extra pair of underwear and some tuna fish and apples and headed up Highway 71 over the Ozark Plateau. It wasn't long before I realized that getting through Missouri was going to be easier than the tabloids had predicted for the year 2000. Three more hours up the spine of the Midwest and I found the - yes damn it, I know - trailer park where the kid lived. He sat in the middle of his dirt lawn pawing through a black garbage bag, empty Spam cans strewn around him like Lincoln Logs.

Before I could get out of the Buick though, the Missouri stillness broke with a commotion piled high in tire screeches, car door clicks and helicopters whomping the air with the familiar sound that had nagged Koresh into self-immolation. It was the FBI. They were everywhere in a matter of seconds. A burly, blue-jacketed agent body-slammed the kid flat, and evidently the Spam cans, knocked helter-skelter, reproduced the sound of a semi-automatic weapon, because as soon as the kid's old lady appeared beyond the screen door on the front porch, a full minute fuselage decorated the trailer with tufts of the woman's back. Everyone was shouting, clear, clear, running through the gun smoke, over her body, and into the trailer except for one little guy, about five foot four, who pulled me, hair first, from the car, and consequently I found myself demure as a debutante, trussed up in tie-straps, stuffed in the back of his prowler.

What I've learned since is the kid wasn't a Down's Syndrome kid at all but an idiot savant who micro-engraved in Braille on the flip-side of pennies national security information gleaned from VCR codes in the T.V. Guide. Unreadable by the naked eye, technological secrets were leaking from the spaces between the columns of the Lincoln Memorial in rolled lots of fifty, destined for an orphanage fronting for the PRC.

It all sounds too pat to me, but that is not the real problem here. Evidently, in 1851, my great-great-grandmother was deposited on a San Francisco pier after several months stuffed in the hold of a packet ship from Shanghai. Proof enough for the FBI of my intrinsic involvement in this national security catastrophe and the reason I am currently writing this confession while a burly, blue-jacketed agent hovers on the other side of the table, ostensibly to prevent me from taking my life with the sharp-edged paper before me.

And I'm thinking about evil and empathy and wondering how far it really flies in answering the question of evil's nature, because if it's true and I am now surrounded by a government agency that like the government itself doesn't recognize empathy as a core instrument in the virtue toolbox then I'm pretty much Spam.

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