On the window of the little shop I own on the street of the New England city is a simple description in block gold letters
POSTMODERNIST, FRIEND, ETC.
ALL FORMS OF HELP
And the shop window is sparse and bare, with little inside – you can see into the little place, which is just a room that looks inviting and comfortable and just the right temperature. In summer I have a fan going and daisies in a vase on the table, in winter I have a fire and maybe a few Christmas decorations depending on season. I sit near the back of the room in a corner at a desk, with a typewriter, but some days I write longhand, usually I’m writing, always I’ve got a teacup and tea. If someone looks in the window thy can see me, but only if they peer in, and I look pretty comfortable and happy but not over absorbed and not bored wither, just comfortable and happy.
Occasionally someone comes in; maybe they’ve heard about me from a friend, maybe they pass by every day and are curious, maybe they’re desperate for help, but those are rare. Mostly the visits are fueled by passive curiosity. Maybe someone comes in today, opens the door and jingles the little bell, and walks through the threshold ad looks around cautiously at the comfortable chairs that don’t match and the couch and the mattress further back. Maybe they’re a cynic and they think it’s contrived, but they stay still because it really is the perfect temperature for the weather we’ve been having lately. Also they like the books: there are shelves of them all around. There’s a whole shelf or Vonnegut, they notice, and some religious texts, too, they notice, wary and wry. There is also a globe, a record player with records on a shelf nearby, three yoga mats, soccer, basket, and base, and medicine balls, a broom, a dustbin, a chess set, a duster, a sketchpad, an art set, and a pair of guitars. The room isn’t cramped, though. Everything looks worn and everything looks loved, and they all seem useful and good.
At the sound of the chime I might look up, happy for company, and see my customer. I get up, not too fast but not ponderously. And extend a warm hand and greeting. I say
“Hello,” and they say
“Hi nice to meet you,” and I say
“Chase Gregory, nice to make your acquaintance. I'm at your service!”
“What exactly do you do here? “ they say, or maybe “Can you help me?” if they’ve heard abut this place before or if they’re a little more direct.
“I try to help everyone,” I say. “As you can see, I've got all the equipment. Mostly I'm here just to be a friend. Entirely, actually. Like I said, I'm at your service.”
“I still don’t really understand how it works,” says my customer. “Well,” I say, “You come in here with a problem and we help you make it better. Most people say they just need someone to talk to. If that’s it, I'm your someone. Some people have a specific problem, like a breakup or a smoking habit. I help them too, as best I can. Lots of people don’t know why they need help, they just know they do. Nine times out of ten it’s a meaning problem. I find most people need a purpose.”
The visitor blinks and smiles and disregards most of that was hippie trash, but likes it a little all the same; they idea, they mean. They ask how much it costs.
“What you think it’s worth,” I say. “You pay at the end. You put it in that little brown box and I never know what you put in,” and I point to a wooden box on a table in the window that they missed before. “Some people put in poems, or photographs, or change, or large sums of money. I do ask for a down payment,” I say. My customer raises both eyebrows and says “How much?”
“One good idea, or a story, or something incredibly interesting, or incredibly beautiful, or incredibly ugly,” I say.
“Well I have a story,” they say, and they tell it after I whip out my typewriter so I can type as they tell. I take the finished story about their cat or job or high school date and I file it away in a special place, and I nod, and say, “Good, now, what do you need help with.”
“I guess I'm one of those purpose cases,” they say, or, “I want to learn how to play guitar,” or “My dog died,” or “I've lost faith,” or “Could you recommend a good book?” or “I need a job and a way to feed my family,” and I get to work and tell them to sit down if they’re not in a hurry and have some tea.
There are all kinds of tea on the back shelf among the bookshelves. If it’s a purpose case I give them a chai and let them purchase a library card for 50 cents or for another story/idea/beautiful thing if they don’t have two quarters, and with the card they can pick a book from the shelves that will give their lives meaning.
They ask me what will and I say “Well I'm a Christian humanist myself, and I've always liked Buddha and the Quakers and Universalism and I'm a little bit of a Romantic unfortunately, but we’ve got Nizsche if you don’t like Wordsworth, and Kant if you don’t like Plato, and Jesus and Moses and Hare Krishna, if you want it, and Mohammed too - you can take the Bible of the Torah or the Koran or the Bahagvah Gita or if those don’t suit you the pagan texts might. I have Rah and Zeus and Quetzequatyl, or if you want someone more substantial iv got Franklin and Gandhi, St. Francis ad Lincoln and Caesar Chavez, I have Marx and Engle, or Voltaire or Cummings, and T.S. Eliot and Billy Collins and Mark Twain, I have Handel and the Beatles and Beethoven and Muddy Waters and Vince Guaraldi. and the Clash; I have Washington and Jefferson and Clay, I have Confucius, and some Taoists, too, and Bob Marley and Captain Cook and King Henry and Paul and John and Peter and Mark and Matthew. I have Judas, and Judah, and the Macabes, and Salinger and Van Gough, and Cezanne and Lichtenstein. And if you get done with them and we still don’t find it, I have cave paintings and dinosaur bones, I have old leaves and birds nests, I have the flute or the harmonica, I have violas and violins, and amethyst geodes, I have books in Braille and German and Swahili and mirror writing, books in code; I have cookbooks by great chefs, I have Robert Burns and H.D. Thoreau, the Russians: Tolstoy, Dostoevsky; I have Austen and Bronte and Bronte again, I have ancient Chinese poets and modern New York musicians. If none of that gets you, if that doesn’t get fire in you, there’s Walt Whitman and Walt Disney, there are textbooks and phonebooks and encyclopedias, Grimm’s fairy tales, sunsets, sunrises, mountains, books full of blank paper, films by Frank Capra and sculptures by Michelangelo and jumps by Evil Keneival and speeches by Dr. King and ballets by Tchaikovsky. There are autobiographies and people biographies and antibiographies, there are comedy acts and slave songs and spirituals and hymns, there are protest chants and limericks, and if that doesn't work, gardening, or looking at clouds, or rock collecting or pen pals, and I have blocks to stack and a model train that blows real steam, and watercolors and a giant collection of keys and a colorful collection of bottle caps; we could build a tree house or just do nothing. If that doesn’t work I have the great yogis, and African tribesman, and stories from the Cheyenne and the Iroquois and the Cincinnati and the Navajo, and the Cherokee and the Sioux and the Potomac. I have legends and Einstein, and Newton and basket weaving and Lewis Carroll and books on How to Program a Laptop or How to Write a Song or How to Fold Laundry; I have books of word searches and crosswords, or books on economics or politics or biology. I have old love notes and if those don’t work there’s always Kierkegaard or Vonnegut of course or symphonies by Strauss or small books by people who never did much of anything. there’s Nesbit and Milne, camping and the Amish and the Mormons, or the Scottish or the Belgians or the aboriginals, books by Gertrude Stein and Sigmund Freud and Homer and Socrates and Cicero, books by fathers and mothers and a couple by children, and then you can try quilt making and storm photography and cat’s cradle and tiddlywinks and card games and world peace and chess and if that fails, good conversation, or new shoes, or whatever it is, whatever it is, we’ll find it.”