Chapter Twenty Two

“Hello?”

“Hi, Kevin.”

“Alex?”

“Yeah, it’s me – how you doing?”

“Okay, okay. Hey, that was fun last night. You coming to the opening here later?”

“I wanted to talk to you about that. I’ve got a little proposition for you. You still feeling brave?”

“Still brave – what do you mean by that? Why still?”

“I mean after your unplanned swim on Sunday.”

“Oh that. No big deal. Why? What do you have in mind that might scare me?”

“Oh, nothing dangerous. It’s really an ‘only thing to fear is fear itself’ kind of concept.”

“Yeah. Well, I like Franklin Roosevelt, all right. But I always thought that statement was just rhetoric. When he said those words, there was lots of the bad stuff all over the place that people were really afraid of: poverty, bombs from Japanese planes, losing wars to fascists, death camps…”

“What are you really afraid of?” I ask this to prepare him for what I’m about to suggest – make it seem innocuous by comparison.

“I don’t know – clowns?”

Clowns?”

“Yeah. I was always afraid of clowns when I was little.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. I guessed they always seemed so out of control, you never knew what they were going to do next. And those weird red rubber noses.”

I’m glad to see he’s in a kidding mood. Actually, I’ve never seen this side of him. Still I say, “Seriously, though.”

“Well,” he says thoughtfully, “maybe conscience. – You know, Hamlet said, ‘Conscience doth make cowards of us all.’”

This isn’t the direction I want the conversation to go.

“Well, if you can take issue with my FDR, I can do that with your Shakespeare. And I think that was one of Shakespeare’s more bogus statements. The things you mention are a lot more powerful than conscience for turning us all cowardly.”

“Yeah, I admit Shakespeare could be a real idiot a lot of the time,” he says. “But in this case I don’t think he was. He was considering conscience by itself. He wasn’t trying to be categorical. You know – like ‘Conscience doth be one of the seven or eight things that doth make us all cowards.’ Or maybe, ‘Fear itself doth make cowards of us all’ – like if he’d been talking about what was worrying Roosevelt.”

“Hey, that last one’s good – it covers the 1600’s, The Depression, and the Second World War, all at the same time.”

“Maybe. But I think it might sound a little dogmatic today. As you yourself would say, ‘Takes in too much territory.’ Maybe ‘Fear itself doth make cowards of most of us,’ would fit better in these relativist times.”

“Yeah, that would be a safer way to go, all right – but it completely leaves out the clowns. I think, ‘Fear itself doth make clowns of most of us,’ would hit all the scary notes and still not sound too arrogant.”

“Okay, okay – I can’t keep this up. What’s the frightening proposition you called me about?”

“Well, remember, last night, how John Hulton said it was a shame that German Lake wasn’t going to be in William Kahn’s definitive, ‘life’s-work’ show? Well, I was just thinking, that, maybe, you and I might…find a way to…”