01 February 2009

Super Bowl Weekend and The Capture of Champmathieu

Super Bowl Weekend and The Capture of Champmathieu


Justice Putnam

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

-- Ernest Hemingway
A Farewell to Arms

It is by no means self-evident that human beings are most real when most violently excited; violent physical passions do not in themselves differentiate men from each other, but rather tend to reduce them to the same state.

-- Thomas Elliot

Super Bowl weekend and memories of past glories and defeats percolate in a dim corner of my brain. It is an ancient memory of blood and fire. It is the crisp wind across a cold, chalk-lined field; it is a howl on a hard city street; it is a bayonette-enforced order along a Guadalajaran desert path.

I don't really know why I'm wired the way I am; but I have my suspicions. I come from that place in the genetic code that cannot turn away from an injustice; that will act unflinchingly to right a wrong; that will protect the weak and infirm from the hostilities of man and nature. I come from that place in the genetic code that prizes Community and also Solitude; that meditates on Peace and Love; that will stand against Hate and Bigotry, not with the embrace of naive innocence, but with the calloused knowledge of the bruised cheek.

It is an equal measure of Nature and Nurture that makes us who we are. That place in the genetic code we come from is a powerful force indeed; but the landscape we are born into is a great teacher as well. There is so much brutality in that landscape, though, that the only sensible act is to have Compassion; and if one is fortunate enough to have the brains and brawn to stand strong against the Hate and Bigotry, then it is almost a duty to do so.

I'll be fifty-four towards the end of March. I've been fairly physical all my life, whether it be for work or fun. I tried to play football at Cal Poly Pomona in the 70's and was a semifinalist as a high school sophomore in the California State pole vault championship. I could run the hundred meters in 9.9 seconds. I ran the third leg on my high school's district championship mile relay team. I scored six goals in one game playing in a water polo summer league and was timed swimming 50 seconds in the 100 free. I would never travel without my surf boards and have caught waves from Big Sur to Costa Rica. I bicycled the Pacific Trail from the Sierra Nevada to the Washington Cascades when I was twenty-six. Along the way I scaled the peaks of Mt. Whitney, Mt. Shasta, Mt. Hood, and Mt. Rainier. I sailed along the coast of California and Mexico on a 4-man catamaran the summer of 1974; and was a grinder on a racing yacht during the mid-90's in some regattas on SF Bay.

I dug water wells for schools in Honduras and built free standing Sonoma moss stone walls in Marin and Sonoma Counties. I have built homes and dug ditches. I have planted grapefruit trees and harvested alfalfa.

Of course all that physicality has taken a toll, for sure; four knee surgeries on each knee, a shoulder reconstruction, broken ribs, torn hamstrings, broken teeth and a few concussions.

But these injuries have never prevented me, at any time in my life, from coming to the aid of someone in distress; or turning away a mugger on a hard city street. I could never stand by and watch a woman being abused. I once chased away some toughs who were beating a gay friend. I have faced down racist thugs in Idaho and bayonette-wielding Federales in Guadalajara.

This landscape of brutality seems to exist on every level; from the street to the boardroom. People starve in cold alleys and freeze in hungry rooms while million dollar bonus babies wipe their ass with gold leaf 1400 thread-count cloth.

The only sensible act left is to have Compassion; to continue to help the down-trodden and the infirm. The only knowledge is that derived from that part of the genetic code that causes us to stand against the Hate and the Bigotry.

That is why I feel like crying. I fear that I helped in the capture of a Champmathieu.

I had finished my Night Audit shift at the Inn and rode my bike to the Montgomery station to catch a train back to Berkeley. A couple of months ago, one of the housekeepers was hit on the head with a metal pipe and had her purse taken. Maybe that was in some dim corner of my brain when I heard a woman's voice yell,

"Stop! Thief!"

I was off my bike and could see a guy being pursued by a couple of people. I had the same feeling I've always had in those moments; something is not quite right, somebody is being abused, someone is being taken advantaged of. Someone is being robbed and someone is getting away with it.

It's been awhile since I really head over heel in the air tackled someone. I had that same feeling I had during my gridiron days, whether I was running over someone on offense or tackling them on defense,

"I didn't really mean to hit you so hard, but, here we are!"

I looked up and a half-dozen store security personnel took over and hauled him away. His eyes met mine and he had a look I recognized as not being quite right.

Somebody is being abused, someone is being taken advantaged of. Someone is being robbed and someone is getting away with it.

And then I saw his great robbery; this act that caused me to impulsively act at the mere mention of Stop! Thief! The act that caused him to be pursued by a half-dozen security personnel:

He had stolen a can of fucking Pringles! The man was hungry and I helped his Javerts capture him.

This is the landscape of brutality we live in. Million dollar stock bonus babies need to buy jets and eat sushi off the torsos of nubile twenty-year olds; while a man is charged with the crime of hunger.

Someone is being robbed and someone is getting away with it.

I can't stop crying and no amount of contrition can absolve me.

(Champmathieu is a vagabond in the Victor Hugo novel Les Misérables who is mistakenly accused of being the convict Jean Valjean and taken for trial in the Arras superior court after supposedly stealing a fruit-laden bough from an apple tree, and being positively identified by Javert and three convicts as Jean Valjean.)

© 2009 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen

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vex said...

I just read a similar story, about doing something you didn't mean to, that you can't take back no matter how much you wish you could:


I don't know if this post is your own experience; if so, I send an "Imaginary Internet Friend" hug.

I hadn't been here in a long time. I am glad to see you posting again...

Justice Putnam said...

Yes, this was an actual occurance; and thank you for the link to the story, I enjoyed it.

I've been spending most of my "written time" at Daily Kos and Talking Points Memo; but I intend to administer to this blog more frequently.

Again, thank you!