Get to know D.C. with our daily newsletter
We dive deep on the day’s biggest story and share links to everything you need to know.
Editor’s Note: Earlier this year, Justin wrote Iceland, a blog about his band’s American tour. Justin isn’t on tour anymore, but Iceland continues, twice a week, on City Desk.
“I will be back on Thursday to complete my work,” the chimney-repair specialist informed me. I had contracted this individual to construct an aluminum pipe from my boiler to the open sky. My chimney would be the conduit to vent my home’s excess carbon monoxide. I preferred to expel this invisible, odorless, very deadly gas into the atmosphere rather than poison my neighbors and myself.
“Thursday it is,” I agreed. Then, I looked at my calendar. “I wonder,” I ventured. “Friday might be better for me. Might Friday be better for you?”?
“I’m sorry,” replied the chimney-repair specialist. He looked away. “I must attend a funeral on Friday.”
“I am sorry for your loss,” I remarked.
“Oh,” the chimney-repair specialist remarked. No one spoke. A great silence opened between the chimney-repair specialist and myself.
“I hope you are not too upset by the prospect of the impending ceremony,” I asserted. The chimney-repair specialist did not reply. I considered my comment. In retrospect, the word “ceremony” did not seem appropriate to refer to a funeral. Yet I had said this word and could not unsay it.
“Don’t worry about it….I mean, thank you,” the chimney-repair specialist offered after a moment. “We are all born knowing that, one day, we will die.”
“Yes,” I agreed. I considered the implications of the chimney-repair specialist’s quiet fatalism. I had spent much of the morning reading Arthur Koestler‘s Cold War morality tale Darkness at Noon, and the novel’s unrelenting pathos had smeared a dark melancholy across my psyche. Koestler spends many pages agonizing over ethical questions that, in the face of mortality, seem willfully obscure. Should disgraced Communist Party leader Rubashov affirm Stalinism before he is executed, or should he hold fast to his oppositional views and, as Koestler puts it, “die in silence?” On one hand, Rubashov is the architect of Soviet revolution. If he holds true to his revolutionary premises, he should embrace Stalin, as Stalin is the product of this revolution. However, to embrace Stalin, Rubashov must disavow his own reason. For the condemned Rubashov, this is unacceptable. In the words of Oliver Hardy, Rubashov is in “a fine mess.” However, in the face of this chimney-repair specialist’s grief and need for catharisis, Rubashov’s dilemma struck me as irrelevant and tedious. Fuck Rubashov, his self-absorption, and his vanity, I thought. This chimney-repair specialist—-nay, this man—-struggles onward in the face of misery without making fireworks of his misfortune.
“So,” I said to the chimney-repair specialist. “Thursday, then?”