22. One night, a long time ago, I was drinking, drinking liquor as a matter of distilled fact, with a philosopher.
I was writing a dissertation at the time, the topic being literary as a matter of inertia, as I hadn't moved from my interest in reading since I'd been 9 or 10 years old.
My dissertation's most signal strength, perhaps, was that it would be completed.
The parents of the philosopher had named him, but he'd changed his name to R.L. Redcairn. R. and L. stood only for themselves, like facades on the set of a movie which creates an illusion that its action occurs in a "Western" "town." Nothing lay behind the abbreviations, so they weren't abbreviations. Nonetheless, "R.L. Redcairn" seemed like a name with which to conjure. The philosopher called himself simply "Redcairn," but I called him "R." because I believe he and I were on a first-letter basis.
Sometimes I scribbled parts of my dissertation in the bar, but not if Recairn happened to be there, for Recairn was a garrulous sort, a man who liked to drink indefinitely and talk combatively. Listening could be achieved in his presence, but not writing. Redcairn was working on a dissertation in philosophy, which is one way of my saying he wasn't working on a dissertation. It was sometimes said of Recairn in that precinct of academia that he was working on a masterpiece, but it was also widely known--to the extent anything can be known, as philosophers sometimes say--that he hadn't written a lick. So R. tuaght a class or two of intro-to- philosophy each term, and he drank, held forth, and composed, so to speak, the dissertation of himself, "Redcairn."
One night, a long time ago, when the self-named, voluble Redcairn and I were drinking, he his dark brandy, I my translucent vodka, Redcairn confessed, "My friend, the symbolic logic of poker eluded me last night, and I lost much currency. That is to say, I'm a bit short on funds. I should have mentioned this before you opened a tab, but I wonder if you could cover the price of my beverages this night."
"Of course, R.," I said. In the summers, I usually got myself a construction-job of some sort, so I often had what one of my aunts liked to call "walking-around money," in addition to the small stipend we graduate students received. As far as I was concerned, investing in small containers of alcohol that was imbibed during discussions of great ideas in small bars was a wise use of this money.
Several brandies later--to the extent a brandy is a unit of time--Redcairn said this:
"Reality has no idea what I'm thinking. What's more, it's not interested. So I think my thoughts, which is what one does with one's thoughts. Sometimes little flakes of reality drift my way--a bus, a book, a breeze, a brown liquid. What of it? I do not deny reality, my friend. I am no Berkeley, sir. I am no wishy-washy Kant. Redcairn is his own Heraclitan fire." And a boon companion, I thought to myself, in spite of Redcairn's chronically thin wallet. Redcairn continued, "What if the whole universe were something that had been discarded? How cool would that be, my friend? I throw down a searing shot of insignificance, sir, and I chase it with absurdity. For I am Redcairn."
"You certainly are, R.," I said.
Redcairn assaulted his throat with a gulp of brandy and winced with pleasurable pain. He continued to speak, as I knew he would. "If there's one thing I know for sure, I doubt it. My friend, here's what I've always wanted to say to meaning, which is a different thing from reality. Yes, this is what I wish to say to meaning: Go fuck yourself!"
The bartender, whom I assumed to be an Aristotelian, said, "Keep it down, fellas." Redcairn was about to protest, but I suggested another round, and the suggestion placated him. Sometimes I think of Redcairn, and I wonder what he is doing. I raise a glass of cold milk, and I toast R. and ones like him. Here's to the ones in life who hold forth. Here's to the self-named such as Redcairn, a philosopher, a bullshitter, a boon companion. In spite of his quarrel with meaning, Redcairn managed to mean something, especially after two or three glasses of brandy.