—–We’re in the second floor conference room, at The Colgate Rochester Divinity School, around two-thirty in the afternoon. In this basically empty conference room there are eight red chairs around the coffin-shaped table. The table is swept clean of hand prints, papers–maybe ashtrays, coffee-cups, serving trays, things, like, that (I imagine) maybe once adorned it. Also, two over-stuffed chairs with deep sitting room in each far corner are there, plus a blackboard with a residue of chalkdust in the tray, no chalk, though, and no eraser, and an empty bookshelf near the door with a copy of the Bible dumped there–it seems. It was before I even thought to describe it, that I was already sitting in one of these covered chairs, by the window hung like a picture frame by my shoulder, idly revealing the slouching December landscape outside–which, the outside, is always like . . . a place I have never been.
—–What! Well, this was my vantage point, at that moment, and I was suffering, naturally, sort of suffering but encouraging a kind of retrograde calm–in one of those dangerously lucid, but mindless, states I get into–these days, exactly appropriate to the idea that something colossal, in the shape of the trivial, was about to happen. I was sitting there, mindless, empty-handed, keeping my eye on the door to the hallway, and wondering how much time had passed since I ducked in there. I was waiting, I am nearly always waiting, this time for Paul Hammer, a professor of Biblical Studies, to get back to his office so I could visit with him. Well sure, I thought, something got you here! While the truth was, a little longer and I’ve have trouble remembering–what got me here.
—–It was the conference room, it was interfering with the idea of simply waiting. It was the empty chairs, they were too amusing. I could tell it was another episode forming, in the rollicking backwards story . . . of my life. That’s why, I thought, I bring you with me, and maintain an awareness . . . and I was swooning, practically, I could not remember a single thing, when my eyes fell on, like, the other unused corner of the room. Just when I was most careless, which means receptive to certain doom . . .
—–There were these two green chairs in that corner, near the door–ah!, striking green chairs that sort of leapt into view like unannounced, or suddenly announced I mean, souvenirs of my distraction, objects fit for my useless contemplation, yes!–two green chairs sort of intrinsically green, waiting like for a painter–rivetting, I’ll tell you. And even one chair was more green than the other, or more sadly green, or something. Damn, I thought, that’s vivid, that is absolute–that scene. How can you describe what is right before your eyes, like it just found your favor? That chair there, was like an orphan–it spoke to me like I was it’s father. And automatically then a voice said to me, you can take that with you–you can steal that chair, you can take it with you.
—–I didn’t budge, I admit I was at first frozen with this thought–it was contradictory, and thrilling. Why don’t you just walk off with it?–this voice said to me like a clear command. And I didn’t know how my mind could form such a notion, and give it the clear clarion ring of a duty, yet. I thought to interfere with this idea, I mean I was not in the habit of doing that sort of thing surely, I never in fact heard that voice before exactly–or at least not so clearly. But nevertheless, or therefore all the more, I entertained the concept–like it were the essence of my waiting . . . waiting that grew more and more like a question of . . . waiting for what? I hadn’t done anything yet, but . . . I was dangerously in mind of a total theft.
—–We all know what this is like, when you are bereft of all clear impulse, in the empty room of some detour, when you’re like waiting for your life to resume, and you feel a sudden urge to be expressive. It’s like the thought emerges, right here is where God is watching, the God who got you so . . . stranded and potential. I saw the whole thing develop, in ten seconds of dreaming. You will see how familiar the story is–I thought; I’ll just pick up that green chair and walk off with it to my car–I thought.
—–What! Inwardly, I doubled over in laughter. But there it was, and with that idea my whole life changed, change back on course, when I decided to steal that green chair, abandon all other narratives, and go directly on a course most consonant with my natural thinking. It seemed like freedom, freedom from unnatural odds, I say! Odds of waiting for nothing any longer. And I thought, this is why I came here–to take a piece of the setting!
—–It’s incredible, it’s perennial, the way you’re going to rise like a monolith, a pure man of action and perforce commit the right indiscretion! If nothing else in the world of flat time and weather seems breaking into crisis in this hour, so there is now only to perform this perfect challenging action! Ah yes, without previous scheming, such opportunities, perforce, shall present themselves– why not? It’s the way of sure destiny, a poem in the making, you are bound to what looks like irrationality, but is indeed the cresting wave of freedom and all possibility!
—–Thus,I saw the whole thing in a flash, in a state of near catatonic dreaming, bolder than any criminal I foresaw all consequences–in fact I knew the consequences all too well, this was the moment to call them into into play. All doubts upon the nature of my totally profound life would now have their say–and I’d welcome it! Yes, when I stood up to go through with motion, and lifted up that green chair from its dwelling in the empty conference room and carried it through the hallway, down the stairs, where formerly I had gone as a hapless student, right out to the car–when I imagined doing that, I thought . . . how easy can this be, in the singular light in which I have so instantly plotted it? In that light, I’ve merely come here for this, a delivery man–I mean a pick-up man, like the guy who checks the rooms at night, who really owns the place, who closes down the place while the professors, fat on ancient learning (so imperfectly received), sleep and sleep, sleep timelessly, sleep on, aha!, believing naively in the permanence of the building!
—–Then I was hardly out in the hall, carrying the prize chair in front of me like a shield, when the signal mood of terrible danger sort of dawned on me, again, from the inside. It was like I saw then how in reality I would be stopped, accused, most miserably accused, accosted by well-meaning members of society. I mean, Paul Hammer, my apparent friend and teacher, undoutably would appear right then, he’d be coming up the center stairs and catch me in this impossible act. I saw his face, he’d be like . . . hurt, saddened at how I’d proved to be, within his trust, insane and without recall. No,no, I couldn’t have that–I could dash down the other end of the hall,and take that route–ah, yes, where of course Paul Hammer could just as easily appear.
—–I was just a few seconds into this, and I was trapped in the serial drama of my total downfall.
—–I’d be caught, stealing a chair. And this would expose, alright, my general situation. My long-standing tendency for aberrant thoughts,my unlocated presence in life, my life of pure promise, my so-far controlled, but often erratic, behavior, exhibiting, surely, for any transcendental observer, a desire to overturn all conventional reality, my personal history–it was upon me! I saw the whole thing, it was no simple matter of stealing a chair–this was my souvenir of everything, or nothing!
—–I mean like it wasn’t like I needed chairs, or something–I have more chairs than just about anything else actually. It was obvious I was going to appear to be answering to perfectly absurd commands, like really I’d done all my life. Oh my God! I could see I would try to defend myself, or try to lie just to get past the first defender I met, if it was Hammer, or a student, or the janitor, whomever, because I was out there, I was the gripping the chair to my chest like it was a part of me, and in my imagination I saw myself saying, archly, Sir!, I am going to walk off with this property–it was only chained down by mere habit really. I want it, for subjective purposes you can hardly understand–so out of my way!
—–I was about ten paces down the hall, and I had the green chair in my arms. I wanted it, though it was heavier than I thought–but I was going through with it, I remembered nothing else. In the heaviness of the chair I saw . . .how all the people, who never knew me, would come right in to protest,like in defense actually of the chair–and it’s, like, right to exist in the . . . empty room. And I saw how, like at the trial, how nobody would be found to speak for this action of mine, not this action or any other I ever took, but it it would all come out, that I was an outlaw from birth, finally discovered in this action, an outlaw of a kind for which humanity had not even devised an appropriate sentence.
—–A man who steals flowers from his neighbors garden, who lives while nobody is looking–a man totally on his own agenda!
—–This could not be tolerated. The voices in the gallery were shouting my condemnation. If I make it home, I thought, I’m blessed–and I’ll surely not bring the green chair back. It’s all alright, I continued furiously thinking, maybe this is the desired result (and I was making too much noise, clattering down the stairway, where previously I had gone with anticipation, of Paul Hammer’s lectures on the Gospel of John, who was haunting my brain more–Paul, St. Paul I mean, not Hammer, who I was merely afraid of), maybe–when I fall into their hands, and am cross-examined, this will give me many chances for many long paradoxical speeches, in which I’d cite again the total mystery of life. What a scene this was. I could only hope God was watching!
—–Who is going to dictate the shape of destiny? You have to seize it, when it happens–that’s what I was thinking in the act. You’d take any sidestreet, if it led into the memory, walk down this alley of trees, should it’s branches form a halo, beckoning you. You are waiting for the assignment, and never want to listen to the voice of reason–for that arrives way too late, and is just an explanation, to delay the sorry fate of what is already founded on . . . sinking sands. Far better for a life of action to follow one clear thought. And while this humor lasts–any thought will do! So what if now, when I tell the story, my rights in society are stripped? Alas, I’ve only done what no others can conceive of, an action that is simply a swift action in defense of nothing. I’d say, to judge and jury, to inquiring peers, to children onlooking, I’m a man of souvenirs, man of many souvenirs, reciting scripts of poetry. I’d summon a little girl in a white dress picking flowers, and butterfly dancing in the air around her head, and say I understand from that image that what is transient is what is beautiful in life. Sorry, I’d say, you don’t want me to continue.
—–Such scenarios I entertained, such trials and ultimate vindications, as I went down the center stairs, practically with eyes closed, such victories I foresaw in my ultimate combat, then as I prepared myself against a whole group of people forming in a flying wedge to stop me. Yes, such a career in defense of freedom I began to articulate as, miraculously, this first, hardly real, interference very agreeably parted, in fact made way like I was an important parade coming past with all dignity. Ah, nearly incredible were my images of coming persecution, when in a thrilling near encounter I saw Paul Hammer’s black-frocked back just disappear around the corner, going up the stairs I had just conquered, just a moment too late to greet me in my former–my former lacksidasicical and motiveless–life. Perhaps he will never see me again!–I briefly celebrated the thought.
—–Alright, so dangerous did my mission yet seem, as I got to the first floor scot-free, and there encountered nothing but scattered footsteps and averted faces. Alright, then nearly tripping with tiredness and exaltation, I was at the wide front doors, impossible to push open with this chair attached by my body.
—–Then, who could explain the sudden cooperation of all disparate elements of this environment, which I had thought to violate so utterly in my senseless and total possession of an anonymous chair, just trying to carry it to my car, and then of course drive it to my house where I would have to put it down, comically and with no sense of real triumph, if I got that far, amidst the many other chairs I have, somehow–many picked from the street, all stolen essentially!, though none so defiantly I guess. I mean, how explain these cheerful students now, who actually hold the door for me, and wave me on?
—–I guess they thought I was some unfortunate slave. Moving furniture, after all, is one of the things you go to school to avoid. They were offering to help me, but I resisted, I just remained expressionless, maybe in some pain with this burdensome chair. Absurdly, a movie image flashed into my brain–it was that guy who ran to pick up the cross when Jesus fell under it’s weight. And many students briefly pitied me, but no one hung around to watch my final moments in the parking lot, as for ten minutes I must have been struggling to fit the chair into my car, first through the back door, sort of discreetly, where it got wedged and the seat slightly ripped, and then through the front door, where it almost fit, and finally in the trunk half hanging out and visible for all to see, tied down with a piece of twine still there from last Christmas’ expedition for a tree.
—–Then I had nothing left to do but drive down the sloping driveway there, on this grey December day, to end this visit to the Divinity School, unwatched now, I thought, alone with my prize which, of course, no one else in the world had any . . . passion for. Unless of course Paul Hammer was up there peering out of his office window, watching the whole thing–dialing the phone, or just sadly noting my actions, saying to himself, “what a pity . . . he’s snapped . . . he had such a good mind, too . . . can’t understand it.”
—–Ah, that was just neurotic, I knew perfectly well I had gotten completely away with it. It was done, the chair would never return to that conference room, but it would go on exhibit–in my house, I’d tell stories about it. So what if people pretend I am a simple thief, or a man broken down . . . It doesn’t matter, I am free to testify. I am in the perfect position to speak now, for no one understands me–I’ve committed the . . .unreasonable action! The action that represents a sudden, true, idea. I shall say, the chair I took will be remembered by all mankind, like . . . the sword of Hercules, the speed of Mercury. Replicas will be made of it, and my psychology analyzed endlessly, with reference of course to this very report I so boldly proceed to make, with the chair itself across the room. You will get nothing, you timid onlookers, your death will erase you and all you never did; but I shall create a new, endless mythology . . . consisting of odd household objects, maybe a few bricks from the backyard barbecue, anything at all I christen with my unbelievable attention and fortitude.
—–So what, we’ll be able to say, of conference rooms and institutions? The detour I took when I strode out to my car with that prized unforgettable chair, was a sideroad opened up to the destiny we all should share. I say, every story gets its beginning in mere heroics like this, when men of deathless calm and steady belief break through the long afternoon, refuse to wait any longer in the neutral dim hours, circumvent the appointment that has been driving them uselessly into a mere conformity.
—–Men who commit actions like this, I realized as I sailed down the sloping drive, always live to tell the tale. They do the thing that is a tale–to tell. They’re telling it right away, against the screams of all dull humanity. What, he just took the chair? You can’t get away with that! Sure, I thought, you can–the world is completely unsupervised. Everything you claim on impulse, claim outright without second thoughts, becomes a souvenir like this, existing forever against a static background, a souvenir of the nothing that would be all there was, unless . . . you get away with it!
—–“Purely out of perseverance, ” I was saying, to a visitor wanting to see the many interesting rooms in my house, “I have collected, or fought to obtain, without any financial backing really, things which remind me of life, of my youth, of what I love of this mysterious world.”
—–“I see,” he said, “and this green chair here, is there any story behind that particularly?”