Saturday, April 7, 2007

Used book stores

It's the spring of 1986 and I am in a used book store in Pensacola, Florida; looking through the piles of paperbacks for reading material. I'm a young 19 year old sailor approaching his 20th birthday and the Navy has not removed my love of the absurd and bizarre. If anything the nearly two years of military service has enhanced those senses and given me a wicked and cutting eye for dark humor as a bonus.

I have a large paper shopping bag to hold the goodies I am finding in the musty stacks and I am about to find a small treasure trove. I strike a pocket of books which once belonged to a radical. Someone who held a deep-seated devotion to their belief system. Someone who supported the most celebrated minds of their movement with purchases of their written works. Someone who explored the farthest range of ideas that this system's dogma could be prescibed to. I found the personal library of a red blooded extreme right winger with highly developed tastes.

Among the books were low-level introductory tracts by Goldwater and Schlaffley. There was a larger volume of more advanced manuals that focused outrage at Communist conspiracies and the evils of popular culture. The goldmine was a selection of the most extreme beliefs; books and pamphlets published by the John Birch Society. Even though I did not have a clue as to the precise nature of what these books meant I could still estimate that I had found something unique in nature from reading the back covers. My instincts told me that this sort of find is rare. Experience has proven to me that my assessment was correct.

Looking back on that adventure I realize just how dangerous it was to jump headlong into muddy waters. Had I been a confused and angry young man I would have had a life changing experience that would have led me down a dark road. Had I been filled with hatred, mistrust and discomfort for people unlike myself I would have become a convert. I didn't verbalize these ideas as I read those books but I suddenly began making connections in my mind that the act of brainwashing is a lot easier than any of us suspect. Just as quickly I understood that if this literature had promoted far-left radical ideas the danger would have been equally great. And the same thoughts applied to odd religious beliefs, citizens movements of shaggy birthright and loose definitions of the nature of morality.

I read only a handful of the books from my score over the next few weeks; the ideas were too overwhelming to soak in all at once, especially for a virginal mind to such wild political and social ideas. But that handful whetted my appetite for the time being. They introduced me to a wider world where there was no line to blur and the horizon stretched farther than I could see. I still have these books in my personal library and I have their companions from the other side of the coin to keep the two sides at bay.

In a few years I would learn about slack and Bob. I would find others who also got strange kicks from the act of exposing themselves to the true outsiders of society, the outsiders with whom there was a distinct possibility that they might draw you into their world and close the door behind the both of you. But for now I only knew that there was an unseen, unspoken and rarely exposed undercurrent that ran through all I could see. I didn't yet know how to look for the signs of hidden currents, but my eyes were now being trained.

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