Written on the back of a napkin, or stack of napkins, at the Wild Pony Saloon.
"What do you want out of life," a new found friend asked? "What would make you happy, Tutor?" Seemed like a funny question, since we were sitting in a strip club off the main street in Waco, TX, working on our third beer, feeling better than I have a in long time. (I was in Waco to provide a pro bono Morals Tutorial to the guy who had purchased the aquifer and cornered the water supply for the Corn Belt. I had not gotten in the door to see the social entrepreneur, but had become friends with his bodyguard who had taken me to the club to see his sister dance.) But anyway, as close as I can remember, below was my response, written down for your benefit after the fact, since you were not there to hear it. Not that a high class person like you, a philanthropist and all, would be caught dead in a dive like that. In no way am I implying that.
"Diogenes," I said in the bar, leaning back on my stool with one eye on the pole, "asked Alexander the Great the exact same question you asked me. 'What do you want?' The great warrior replied, 'I want to conquer the world.' Diogenes asked, 'Then what?' The great one said, 'I will rest for awhile.' To which Diogenes replied, 'Why not save yourself the trouble and sit down beside me here and rest with me and my dog?' Dying at age 33 in Egypt, Alexander said, 'That old man was right.'"
"In those days," I explained to the bodyguard (he had served with Blackwater in Iraq and in New Orleans, and had 34 confirmed kills with no convictions) "a philosopher was said to be a moral healer. But the name for healer was pharmakeus which also meant mountebank, conjurer, miracle worker, or fraud. The pharmakon," I said, raising my finger professorially, "was a drug or poison. The pharmakos was the scapegoat who was burned alive to cure the community in time of plague, or injustice. Diogenes's failed to cure Alexander of his spiritual pride and lust for power, but unlike many of the physicians who tried and failed to cure the physical illnesses of Alexander, Diogenes was not flogged or crucified. He lived happily to old age, dying as he had lived, naked in the public square."
I can't say my friend was listening, at least not to me, since the music was loud and the girl in his lap was giggling, but I was in full stride as a street scholar, the beer buzzed in my head, and I had no intention of backing off, not as long as I had an audience, of sorts. "Diogenes's father," I continued, "was thrown out of Thebes for debasing the coinage. So Diogenes - healer, fraud, trickster, scapegoat - debased the serious subject of philosophy into ribald jokes and gags. From him descend Rabelais, Erasmus, Swift, John Gay, Sterne, Oscar Wilde, Milan Kundera, and maybe Hunter Thompson. The Happy Tutor, known for spanking rich kids to set them right, is a character, depicted in the Holbein woodcuts in Erasmus's The Praise of Folly (by Folly)." I paused significantly, and getting no response, continued. "What makes me happy is what I just said, knowing how insolent it is, how intolerably light-hearted about final things, like inspiration, death, legacy, truth, and justice. Being faithful to that foolish tradition of public colloquy with the wealthy and powerful to heal them and to heal society, though sick myself, and to escape hanging, or a beating, to die of old age that is what I want.'' "Right," my paramilitary friend said, 'the boss would of had me pistol whip your for sure if you gave him some kind of Goddamned morals tutorial and talked all that academic shit."
"Yeah," I said, "I know. That is a risk of my profession, as Morals Tutor to America's Wealthiest Families. Comes with the territory. Most of my clients have bodyguards these days, and not all are gentlemen like you. My happiest endgame," I explained, "is as with Diogenes to accost the wealthiest and most powerful, and their children, and to engage them in dialogue, welcome and unwelcome, leading them to a mind shift (metanoia in Greek, translated in the King James version as "repentance"). That is what I think was meant when the word pharmakeus is translated as healer, trickster, or in plain English, royal-pain-in-the ass. Pharmakos, the scapegoat is what one becomes in being so impudent when the rich meet to plan their legacies in the light of their values, for good or ill. To survive these conversations is the art of the Fool. Diogenes is beloved in this tradition because unlike Socrates (executed), Jesus (executed), Seneca (forced suicide), Cicero (executed), and Boethius (executed), he was still joking at age 90, on his deathbed, or actually death-curb, since he had propped himself up against the curb in the public square. Asked by some passerby if he had ever found the honest man, the one he sought with his pottery lamp in daylight, Diogenes said, 'No, but no one ever stole my lamp.' Pretty good last words, don't you think? Diogenes got the last laugh, though I suppose Jesus did too, but only after considerable loss of blood." "Right,' my shaven-headed friend said, "There has only been one perfect man and they crucified him. You pass those beer nuts?"
I did pass the beer nuts, but I did not shut up which is what he was suggesting. No, I had something important to say, and kept right on, as if blogging. "O, and for good measure, speaking of Jesus, our Lord and Savior" (my thuggish friend nodded reverently) "do you know what feast was once celebrated on what is now called 'the Feast of the Circumcision'? The real feast, till the Church banned it, was 'The Feast of Fools,' a reprise of certain pagan festivals devoted to Dionysus. During the Feast of Fools you might find a woman dressed as the Queen copulating on the alter with a drunken bum, and you might find the King dressed as a Fool, making obscene jokes while toasting the Boy Bishop." (To be honest, I did in fact say copulating. Hearing me, the top heavy brunnette on my friend's lap moved her hips and shook herself all around, from which I figured she must be a college girl making a few bucks on the side.) "We have lost much," I continued for the benefit of my friend and his lap dancer, "in our own Journey as a culture from Success to Significance. We take ourselves too seriously, and leave out the jokes and craziness where the immortal powers that be might intervene from above or below. We know that if any one of us started laughing the laughter would spread as in church, and the whole edifice of wealth and power might totter. Diogenes was, at his request, buried face down so that after the world was turned upside down he would once again be right side up. That day is coming with a little help from his friends. The last shall be first. I hope I live to see it and that I am sober enough to enjoy it too, lest the moment pass like a drunkard's dream."
Well, I think I said a lot more than this, and I believe that it was much more profound, even spiritual. at least it seemed like a primo riff at the time, but that is all I can recall, except for the neon and those TX Show Girls at the Wild Pony Saloon. The lap dancer mock-copulating, and laughing at my big words. The bodyguard's sister high kicking in those cowboy boots. How the hell could anyone forget that? Wish you could have been there. You could have picked up the tab.