Saturday, February 18th, 1989 [Redux]

Saturday, February 18th, 1989, was the beginning of a very exciting weekend for me.


On that day, I was to attend my first, mid-winter convocation of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry.  The previous November I had been admitted to the Scottish Rite and to the appended degrees it provided, including the 32nd.  My first attendance as a fully fledged 32nd degree Freemason was, for me, a great step in my Masonic progress, and I was much looking forward to it.

    But, during the early hours just after dawn on that morning, a more personally moving event happened.  While asleep on that morning (Saturdays afforded my then wife and I a once weekly opportunity to sleep in), I dreamed that I was performing in a four-handed performance on a futuristic piano with one keyboard and apparently multiple soundboxes,  As I sat on the piano bench, a tall slender man appeared, very much resembling the minister who married my then wife and I three and a half years earlier.  But, informing me that he would be joining me for the four-handed performance and that his name was . . . Cordwainer Smith.  Upon waking, and recalling the dream in almost full detail (which only rarely happens for me), I was amazed at the dream's use of our pastor's image in constructing my dream image of Cordwainer Smith.

     Cordwainer Smith (whose biography and science fiction career can be looked up on the internet by the curious reader) was one of the greatest science fiction writers of the late fifties and early sixties.  His short stories---several of which were cobbled into short novels by enterprising editors---described an internally consistent future culture and its collision with and conquest by a revived and triumphant Christianity.  Cordwainer Smith was a pseudonym for the political scientist and scholar, Dr. Paul Linebarger, who was also an adviser to President Jack Kennedy; and was, to my continuing delight, a High Church Christian who came to his high churchmanship fairly late in life.

      The music selection that we played as a four-handed arrangement was a piece of music I had never played as a piano student, either from formal music or attempting to perform it "by ear":  the song, "Be My Baby," which the Ronettes had performed in the early sixties, at the same time Smith was publishing his finest stories.  In the dream, I performed the melody line in the register above Middle C, while Smith performed a bass accompaniment to it well below, of course, the same Middle C.

      Almost upon completion of the full song, I awoke suddenly, and was so bestirred by the dream I could not return to sleep.  Over a glazed donut and a steaming cup of tea, I recounted the dream to my then wife who, as she always did, listened courteously, but put no stock in it or ascribed any value to it.

      Later, I proceeded with her father, then my Masonic mentor, to our metropolitan area's huge Masonic Temple where the Scottish Rite and the various chapters of the York Rite were performed, as well as the meeting place, in their own separate lodge rooms, of several Blue Lodges.  While viewing the degree work, including the rarely-worked "George Washington degree," I could not focus my mind away from the science fiction of Cordwainer Smith.  Until May 19th, 1989,  date which would begin the subjection of my coroporate career to its worst, and most terrifying phase which would not end until February of 1992, I spent every free moment reviewing the science fiction of Cordwainer Smith, and in collecting as many copies, from the fifties and sixties, of his publications (including the science fiction magazines) as I could fine.  My first reading of Smith had been in the early seventies, his story--the very first he published---"Scanners Live In Vain"; my second reading had been "The Ballad Of Lost C'Mell," in early December, 1978; and in January (there's that month again) I acquired J. J. Pierce's edition, The Best Of Cordwainer Smith, which I read to tatters (especially in the college library, while watching the various beauties slip out of their shoes while studying).  In late February, when I sat for a professorial committee for my oral exam in History (required for the granting of my baccalaureate degree), I used the science fiction of Cordwainer Smith as a highly detailed metaphor for the construction of a philosophy of History (such philosophy being one of the components of the Senior Seminar, which I was then still attending; also a requirement to earn the BA).  My oral exam lasted for over two hours.  At my college, in my department, at that time, an oral exam had only three outcomes:  failure; passing; or passing with distinction.  Of the ten senior majors, none failed; but only two passed with distinction, and the two who had earned the distinction had not been expected, by any of the ten of us (who gathered, daily, in Senior Seminar and gossiped about these things) to pass.  I was one of the two to take a distinction:  the other was Sue S--, a delightful sorority member who always wore the most provocatively fashionable socks, and whose shoeless beauty often distracted my concentration in Senior Seminar and elsewhere.  Our two distinctions amazed the rest of the class, and profoundly aggravated one of them.  

   On the Monday Holiday which extended the weekend of February 18th, my then wife and I conceived our daughter, Bethany, who arrived that year in November, and of whom I am immensely proud---not least because she is a front-line caregiver, and supervised the caregiving in my mother's last eight months, and has also supervised some of my medical care.

    Through the next several weeks, I studied every one of Cordwainer Smith's stories of which I could obtain print copies.  Every evening, after work, I eschewed television in order to read my cherished copies, while listening to bubblegum pop music on an oldies station; as well as most of the songs on Debbie Gibson's first album.

     Unfortunately, at that time, my employer was manuevering me into the worst job I had ever held, a job of which, to this day, I still have nightmares; a job which brough such pressures to bear upon me that my daughter's mother blamed our divorce entirely upon the changes that were wrought in me by those pressures.  I was, then, a devout, even a fanatic, freemason; and my immediate supervisor, whose administrative ferocity nearly broke me, and drove eleven employees out of our department over the course of three years, had the gall to flaunt his own masonic identifiers under everyone's noses, while violating the most cherished principles of masonic behavior.  The time I was able to spend with Cordwainer Smith's stories began to dwindle, and then vanished altogether.  I was too exhausted, from the internal squabblings at the office, too read Smith's great speculative vision.

     Then, in the last week of April, 1989, while browsing in a bookstore, I found a newly published science fiction reference book, full of short biographies, synopses of major works, and a few photographs.  In one of those photographs was the face of Doctor Paul Linebarger, PhD, who wrote science fiction under the pen name, Cordwainer Smith.  He looked exactly like our church's pastor; but, moreso, exactly like the man in that early morning dream of a four hand piano performance, on Saturday, February 18, 1989.

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