Damaged + Joy

SCHADENFREUDE is one of my favorite words. As a reminder, The American Heritage Dictionary defines schadenfreude as “Pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.” From the German schaden meaning “damaged” + freude meaning “joy.”

Schadenfreude is out of fashion these days, but for decades I have been guided by Jack Kerouac’s words: “Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.” I keep the quote posted in my closet as a reminder that a boring pair of well-made black slacks will get more use than some interesting paisley bell-bottoms I once saw at Nordstrom’s.

Along with my wardrobe that changes with the speed of a sloth, my opinions and habits are hard to break. Schadenfreude is an old friend of mine, and I can’t put it away even when the teeming millions cry out that we are a compassionless society. I agree, we are increasingly lacking in compassion, but I don’t indulge in the misfortunes of everyone. I reserve my schadenfreude for the mighty that have fallen.

Pumped up politicians and preachers have always been my target, and those who have taken to the airwaves have been capturing my attention since I was a teenager. I am talking about the Elmer Gantry pulpit pounders who have wailed like hired mourners on radio and television for the gullible to send a few dollars their way to “Keep the Lord’s message comin’ into their homes each week, and to all the foreign lands where the heathen have never even heard of Jeeee-sus!” as they pronounce the name.

One could easily ignore such fools, even when some old crank cries for his followers to buy him a new jet because he believes that Satan co-pilots all the commercial planes, but if there is one thing we have learned by now (or should have learned) is that a deficiency of altruism fed by too much money results in corruption. I’m not saying that every billionaire deviant shops for a private island to practice his sex trafficking hobby, but a lack of financial restraint is dangerous when the rich stop following the rules.

I believe I made this point in 2011 when Moral Ambiguity was published. The Reverend James “Jimmy” Standridge, a composite of several televangelists, founded a church that grew into a ministry, a university, and ultimately a media empire. He got up to a number of exploits in private when he publicly forbade his followers from materialism and sensual indulgence. The book’s protagonist runs across some photos, and Standridge’s intent on recovering the incriminating evidence leads to the book’s climax.

I do not claim to be a prophet, but as more and more photos pop up with Jerry Falwell, Jr., I’m beginning to wonder how closely my imagination is aligned with reality even if it took reality almost a decade to catch up. Each time my phone alerts me to the latest news stories of pool boys, nightclubs, and other Floridian decadence, I feel myself giddy with schadenfreude over Jerry Falwell, Jr.

Junior intrigues me. Actually, anyone who inherits an empire from his father intrigues me. If the world respected the father, it sets out ready to respect the son, and if the world detested the father, there’s not much the son can do to overcome a bad reputation. People stood along the roadside when Billy Graham’s motorcade carried his body to its final resting place, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Franklin’s motorcade covered in eggs when his remains come whizzing by.

In the past few years, society has been catching on more and more. The chipping away at façades, the revelation of secrets, the abuses of power, the victimization of women and children, and the hypocrisy of iniquitous leaders are increasing at a time when societal gullibility is in decline in spite of bizarrely dressed political groupies we may see filling seats at rallies.

After Moral Ambiguity was published, I heard from several readers who asked why I didn’t kill Jimmy Standridge at the end. There was a great opportunity to do so during the bungled shootout over the blackmail photos, but I would never have been satisfied if Jimmy had died. Even though there is a sense of relief when a malignant old fraud departs the national stage, another one will take his place before the body is cold.

Corruption will be with us as long as people devise ways to exploit institutions, but as long as we have a free press and people who wish to expose corruption, the unscrupulous will be pulled from the shadows and into the light. Their stories will be told, and I will again tingle with schadenfreude.

© 2019 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, especially the two featuring Maggie Lyon, visit my author page at: http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1




Trash, Treasure and a Two-buck Sale

I love used bookstores. With the growth of online book retailers and the shrinking of the independent bookseller in one’s neighborhood, I find comfort in the used dealer whom I can speak with and get to know. I can also find books that I missed out on the first time around, and occasionally I can find a rare edition such as a Truman Capote novel or an early Julia Child cookbook. If it’s an especially good deal, I rush to the counter and casually lay it down, hoping that it hasn’t been mis-marked.

When I moved to my suburban community a year ago, I found a great used bookstore. It’s nestled among a collection of shops that one doesn’t find much these days. Next door, there’s a clock shop where one can purchase old mantle clocks or have antique models repaired. There’s a bakery, a drugstore that’s not part of a national chain, and one may even wander into a toy shop where they sell puzzles, kites and model ships and planes.

Every so often, I feel compelled to walk by, and before I go in, I always look at the cart of reduced price books, which sits on the sidewalk for everyone to see. I once found a history of the Borgias for a dollar, and I’ve found various other books like a later edition of an E.F. Benson novel, which I’m thinking of giving away at some point. I’ve seen Hemingway and Fitzgerald on that cart, but mostly it’s loaded down with things that I’ve never heard of.

Imagine my surprise as I paused in the doorway the other day to scan the titles when my eyes fell upon a familiar book. The binding was instantly recognizable, but it took a second to register. I saw the title, and then the author’s name as a warm feeling came over me. It was Moral Ambiguity written by me! At first I was delighted to see my book in the shop. There it sat, ready for someone to discover it and yet no one would have any idea that I, a pedestrian walking by, was the author who had carefully laid out the story, labored over it for years and finally held the copy in my hands like a first child.

I was delighted that an independent bookstore owner had thought enough of it to stock it and sell it. Then the reality set in. This was a used bookstore, and it was on the markdown cart. I pulled it out to find a red-orange $2.00 price tag staring up at me. Without a second’s hesitation, I opened it up to see if I had inscribed it, and if the inscription had been made out to a friend.

How I saw the lone copy of my book at the used bookstore.

How I saw the lone copy of my book at the used bookstore.

I only know of five copies I’ve distributed in my current town, and thankfully there was no autograph. Everyone here is off the hook, but I was still stinging from the $2.00 price tag. Furthermore, I happen to think that my book is a keeper that no one would ever want to part with, but with the Hemingways, Fitzgeralds and Flauberts filling the shelves, I shouldn’t be surprised that someone would part with a literary masterpiece.

I put the book back on the shelf, and walked inside to say good morning to the owner who was sitting in her usual spot behind the high counter.

“I was amused to find a book on your sale cart outside,” I said.

“Oh? Which one is that?” she asked.

“My book; the one I wrote.”

“What’s the title?” She seemed genuinely interested.

Moral Ambiguity. It was my first book.”

“Really? How interesting.”

I continued by saying that I was going to take a look around to see what was new, and then I rounded the corner to the literature section to start scanning the shelves in hopes that something I couldn’t live without would pop out. After a few minutes, nothing did, so I moved on to mystery, cooking, philosophy and “new arrivals.”

I wondered when my book had been a new arrival. I hadn’t been in for about three months, but prior to that, I’d never spotted Moral Ambiguity on any shelf. I hadn’t been looking, but I wondered how long they’d kept it before deciding that it was taking up too much space and needed to be cleared out. Additionally, how odd that I happened to stroll by and see it before some thrifty reader snatched it up for that amazing price and sprinted home to dive into the story of Kevin Gregory and Jimmy Standridge.

There were a few books that interested me, but since I’d wandered there on foot, I didn’t think I needed them so badly that I would walk two miles to my home with over ten pounds of books. I headed toward the front of the store and paused for a moment to comment once more on my earlier discovery.

“I must say, you made my day providing a great laugh. I still can’t believe I saw my own book on your sale cart.”

“Mmmm,” she replied with a smile.

Mmmm. My mind jumped immediately to the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s (based on Truman Capote’s novel) when Paul Varjak, played by George Peppard, and Holly Golightly, played by Audrey Hepburn, walk into the New York Public Library to find a copy of his book. Holly convinces him to sign it, and the librarian is furious, even though Holly thinks the library should consider it a wonderful thing to have an autographed copy.

"Moral Ambiguity" is still a fun read even though it can be found on the occasional shelf at a used bookstore.

“Moral Ambiguity” is still a fun read even though it can be found on the occasional shelf at a used bookstore.

Was I really so taken with myself to think that the bookstore owner should have hurried outside the second I pointed out to her that Moral Ambiguity was on the markdown cart? Did she need to take advantage of the fact that an actual real-life author of one of the books she had in stock had happened by, and get his signature in order to pump up the value? She could explain later to her husband and co-owner that something so fortuitous doesn’t happen every day, and that bag of magic beans they’d tossed out the door was actually potential treasure for them.

She did not make such a request. She didn’t even bother to ask me about the plot. I rounded the corner and headed home. At some point, it occurred to me that one person’s trash is another person’s labor of love—a multi-year project that finally came to fruition with the hope of ending up on millions of bookshelves—and yet another person’s two-dollar sale. At least my book was twice as expensive as that nice history of the Borgias.

© 2015 by Patrick Brown

Visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1 to learn about my books “Moral Ambiguity” and “Tossed Off the Edge.”