Saturday, September 24, 2005

advocatus diaboli

"What is it to be lazy?" you ask, uncrossing and crossing your legs. Tapping a cigaret on the table. Trying not to light it. "I mean, not your 'I'm just going to take a day off and do nothing' kind of lazy, but I mean really lazy, maybe even capital el Lazy." The cigaret goes to your lips, hangs there for a second, and is snatched away by your other hand. A furious tapping of the table ensues.

"Maybe it's just in a person's nature," I suggest. "Listen, are you going to smoke that or not? I think the time has come for you to decide - you're really driving me quite mad." I push an ashtray across the table towards you.

"No - I mean, not yet," you inform me, and magically palm the cigaret out of view. Your leg begins to bounce. "And what do you mean by 'a person' anyway? Do you mean a particular person, or persons in general?"

"I don't know," I say, "which were you talking about?"

"You know, I mean what makes a person decide he has the right to just do nothing? Say, those guys who live in the train stations - if you ever talk to one of them about it, they come off as though they honestly believe they are entitled to just be there. You know? To just be there doing nothing. Not contributing to society, only taking-"

"-so they're not really doing nothing then." By this point, the table is shaking crazily atop your bouncing leg. I'm steadying my coffee, so as not to have it spill. I'm eyeing you menacingly, hoping that you stop.

"Okay, so they're panhandling-"

"-you've got to stop it with the shaking."

"What shaking?"

"Your bloody leg! You're shaking like a crack addict and spilling my coffee all over - stop it."

"OK, fine, sorry," you say with feigned hurt. "Anyway, so they're panhandling. What purpose does their taking from others fulfill aside from a wholly selfish one?"

"Perhaps their goal is to make others feel charitable," I say, and hold my cup up for the waitress to refill. I smile a 'thank you' and continue. "Say a businesswoman is coming home at the end of a hard day at the office, completely demoralised, thinking the worst of humanity, when she spots a person in need of help - a little way in which she can make a difference. She drops a dollar in the poor bastard's hat and feels like a philanthropist. She's given a renewed sense of purpose. It brightens her day. What's so wrong with that?"

"Believe me, you give these people too much credit with this talk of goals - as if they set out each day with the goal of making others feel better about themselves," you scoff. The cigaret has materialised again, and is being twirled unconsciously through your fingers. It's actually pretty smooth.

I shake my head, and tear my eyes away from your unrealized show of dexterity. "Whether they're conscious of this goal or not, you have to admit it's a step towards legitimacy - they inhabit a rock solid place in the symbiotic relationship between helper and those in need of, between giver and taker."

"But what makes a person just decide they don't need to work?" The cigaret has found its way to your lips once more.

"Ah, so we're back to lazy. Well, I don't know," I say with an exaggerated shrug, "maybe it really is in a person's nature - and I mean humankind's nature - to be lazy. We only work because we have to - not because we want to. As soon as one finds a way to survive without work, one stops working - it's a well documented phenomenon, you know-"

"-don't be smart-"

"-perhaps those guys living in the train stations just managed to discover the secret to happiness a little sooner than most. And perhaps the disdain heaped upon them by the masses is little more than envy." I drop another cube of sugar in my coffee, add a little cream, give it a quick stir, and raise the steaming cup to my lips. "I just love the coffee here - a little cinnamon-y, I think."

"I'm going to smoke this cigaret now. I can't help it – it’s fate, I think."

"Or addiction, at least," I say.

Cigaret dangling from lips, you pretend to rummage through your coat, seeking fire, before looking up at me in mock surprise. "I don't seem to have a light."

Smirking, I flick my box of matches across the table. "You never have a light."

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