Ernst Z. Schreibenfesten was in line in front of me at SueSue's Diner and Rifle Range here in Zen yesterday.
Ernst is the editor and owner of the "Zen Zephyr," our semi-weekly newspaper. Ernst is three Williams (Shakespeare, Faulkner and Loyd Garrison) in one. He's a poet, storyteller and crusader. Many people in Zen hate him. Others fear him. Most just avoid him. Ernst hardly speaks, mumbles when he does, asks questions with very sharp edges, then turns the whole thing into a front-page work of art.
He eats lunch at SueSue's every day, at a table near the window, by himself.
I like Ernst, though in the years I've known him, he's never said four words to me. Still, glibly, I began to blather to him in the line at SueSue's.
"Drmlgr," he replied.
"I've started a blog, Ernst. As a writer, thought you might like to know. It's just a way to write down some thi..." I stopped. His dark eyes focused in on me as I assumed the shooters did on their targets in the rifle range part of SueSue's little eatery.
"Words," Ernst said. "Do you think the world needs more words?"
He wasn't really asking, I knew, but I plunged in. "Well, it's just a way for me t..."
"Words. Let me tell you about words."
"Words make you lonely. You write them or speak them and people attack you, laugh at you, criticize you, argue with you, respond flippantly to you. They take the words you craft, your gift to them, and they twist them and question them. Or ignore them. And they do it with misplaced modifiers and plural pronouns linked with singular verbs and sentences that end in prepositions and by using 'There's' as plural."
"People don't like words. Once when I first took over at the 'Zephyr,' we delivered copies to every home in Zen. And people called the office to ask why I was 'polluting' their driveways with my 'Communistic ideas.'
"And printed words may be the worst. Sarcasm. Irony. Those things don't translate. About the time Watergate was coming to a head, one of our esteemed local 'bidnessmen' here in Zen gave a gazillion dollars to Zen Collegiate University and Beauty School. Dam bidnessman who had been a slum lord here for twenty years or more. Cheats poor people out of their rent and gives the money to establish an ethics chair. An ethics chair? So I wrote an editorial suggesting Nixon be appointed to the professorship since he was soon to be out of a job. And fools stopped me one the street. Half of 'em to tell me it was a fine idea, and half of 'em to ask me had I lost my mind. Words don't have emotions. People do. And they get 'em all mixed up."
Ernst stopped and looked at me for a long time. Then he looked down at the chopped steak on his plastic plate.
"Words. Hfngrh. Schmrn."
He paid for his lunch and walked to his table by the window.
He didn't even ask me for the address or name of my blog.
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