Chapter no 12

East of Eden

You can see how this book

has reached a great boundary that was called 1900. Another hundred years were ground up and churned, and what had happened was all muddied by the way folks wanted it to be

—more rich and meaningful the farther back it was. In the books of some memories it was the best time that ever sloshed over the world—the old time, the gay time, sweet and simple, as though time were young and fearless. Old men

who didn’t know

whether they were going to stagger over the boundary of the century looked forward to it with distaste. For the world

was changing, and sweetness was gone, and virtue too.

Worry had crept on a corroding world, and what was

lost—good manners,

ease and beauty? Ladies were not ladies any more, and you couldn’t trust a gentleman’s word.

There was a time when people kept their fly buttons fastened. And man’s freedom was boiling off. And even childhood was no good any more—not the way it was. No worry then but how to find a good stone, not round exactly

but flattened and water-shaped, to use in a sling pouch cut from a discarded

shoe. Where did all the good

stones go, and all simplicity?

A man’s mind vagued

up a little, for how can you remember the feel of pleasure or pain or choking emotion? You can remember only that you had them. An elder man might truly recall through

water the delicate doctor-testing of little girls, but such a man forgets, and wants to,

the acid emotion eating at the spleen so that a boy had to put his face flat down in the young wild oats and drum his fists against the ground and sob “Christ! Christ!” Such a man might say, and did, “What’s that damned kid lying out there in the grass for? He’ll catch a cold.”

Oh, strawberries don’t

taste as they used to and the

thighs of women have lost their clutch!

And some men eased themselves like setting hens into the nest of death.

History was secreted in the glands of a million

historians. We must get out of this banged-up century, some said, out of this cheating, murderous century of riot and secret death, of scrabbling for public lands and damn well getting them by any means at all.

Think back, recall our little nation fringing the oceans,

torn with

complexities, too big for its britches. Just got going when

the British took us on again. We beat them, but it didn’t do us much good. What we had was a burned White House and ten thousand widows on the public pension list.

Then the soldiers went

to Mexico and it was a kind of painful picnic. Nobody knows why you go to a picnic to be uncomfortable when it is so easy and pleasant to eat at home. The Mexican War did two good things though.

We got a lot of western land, damn near doubled our size, and besides that it was a training ground for generals,

so that when the sad self-murder settled on us the leaders knew the techniques

for making

it properly horrible.

And then the arguments: Can you keep a slave?

Well if you bought him in good faith, why not?

Next they’ll be saying a

man can’t have a horse. Who is it wants to take my property?

And there we were, like

a man scratching at his own face and bleeding into his own beard.

Well, that was over and we got slowly up off the bloody ground and started westward.

There came boom and

bust, bankruptcy, depression. Great

public thieves

came along and picked the pockets of everyone who had a pocket.

To hell with that rotten century!

Let’s get it over and the door closed shut on it! Let’s

close it like a book and go on reading! New chapter, new life. A man will have clean hands once we get the lid slammed shut on that stinking century. It’s a fair thing ahead. There’s no rot on this clean new hundred years. It’s not stacked, and any bastard who deals seconds from this new deck of years—why, we’ll crucify him head down over a privy.

Oh, but strawberries will never taste so good again and the thighs of women have lost their clutch!

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