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Written By: Charles Platt

I doubt there are any hard core rules, figuratively written in stone, which govern the phenomenon known as “good writing.” And thank God for that! But there are some (in my opinion) valid guidelines which, if not followed, could render one’s prose efforts confusing and perhaps even non-readable.

Still, for some reason, George Jennifer, the mayor of the city in which I now reside, keeps asking me to submit written pieces to him for possible submission to what he hopes is his readership. And I always tell him, “With all the literary type people who live in our city, why do you continually ask me to write for you?”

And he usually replies something like this: “I think it’s because, unlike many of the people you’ve just referenced, you grew up near this city. Thus, all your life you’ve been aware of what’s going on here. And the fact that one area of a nation can exist impervious to the problems and basic lifestyles of that nation has always been known to you. Plus, for four years you were in what probably is the ‘strictest’ branch of the American military; and your love affair with the Parisian woman Valerie Danns has been the subject of much speculation. But for this particular written piece, I guess I’d like you to just reminisce about your past, and tell us how ‘everything’ looks from your perspective today. Oh, and if it’s alright with you, our next submission will be from you also. It will be a letter you sent from Paris to my mayoral predecessor Ralph Hawk. And after that is submitted, I intend (having already secured his permission) to republish Joseph Same’s reaction to his encounter with Mona Lisa.”

“Well,” I replied, “that reaction to Mona Lisa is the stuff of legend in my opinion. I agree with you there. But I know that’s been released to the public previously. And, in fact, my letter to Ralph, which you’ve just spoken of, may have been also.”

“Well, if they have been, they deserve one more go around,” said the mayor. And that ended our conversation. So, I guess I have a forum here today. And I’ll use it to illustrate what I call my “investigations into the philosophies of living.”

Oh, sometimes I feel like I’m looking at a picture of myself that's hanging on a wall. And in that rendition of myself, all the images around me are ever changing. But it always appears as though I’m being bombarded by structures of sound and sight. My eyes are closed, and my hands are on my ears. And the heaviest bombardment seems to be coming from behind me. And when I see myself in that portrait, I’m troubled by this question: What is the proper assignment of importance to all that’s been, is now, and may yet be?

And, to be truthful, I find that usually my thoughts are less focused upon the assumptions, beliefs, decisions, and acts of today, and more upon those same four phenomena as they unfolded years ago. But in those bygone thoughts I often feel befuddled and betrayed. Sometimes situations, occurrences, and people from the past that and whom I thought I understood then, reappear in my mind now somehow out of focus, or reconfigured. And whenever I experience that realization of possible falsified or incorrectly interpreted memory, I wonder what effect or effects that non-clarity may have had upon my existence as it is today.

Nonetheless, I also know that many people don’t like to differentiate between what we might term “large” or “small” deeds. To them every act was either right or wrong. Yet, how about this as an answer to what becomes of the judgement of large and small deeds? Let’s say that the verifiably significant actions of all mortals are judged swiftly and correctly by the Master of the Universe, while all such actions as might be termed of common and everyday happenchance, enter what might be called a purgatory of all that’s lesser, there to be analyzed by a panel of equally divided judges, as appointed by God and Lucifer.

When he assigned this piece to me, Mayor Jennifer said it was basically an open forum. Yet, I know he wanted me to say some words about Valerie Danns and myself, Thus, I’ll leave you with what follows.

About three years ago, Valerie and I were honored to meet a writer from outside our city who’d written a poem about us. And I guess somehow he’d become fascinated with the love affair between Valerie and I. And his poem “For Charles and Valerie” will forever touch the hearts of the two of us.

Yet, ours had been a somewhat difficult relationship. I’d met her when I’d been sent to Paris by my city’s then mayor Ralph Hawk. And of course I’d become infatuated with her, and she with me. And it was very difficult for us to say goodbye to one another on the day I needed to leave Paris and return home to the U.S.. She wanted me to stay with her in the city of light, but of course I couldn’t. So I told her that someday, one way or another we’d be together again and…

But then came that day some years ago when Valerie joined me here in the U.S.. I’d been living with my mother on our old farm about nine miles outside “the city.” And I’ll never forget how “overwhelmed” my mother was when she finally met Valerie for the first time. And her first words to her were “I know you’ve heard about that city that lies about nine miles down the road from here. I don’t know if it’s that city’s strangeness that’s brought you and my son together, but I know he loves you, and I’m sure you love him too, and for my part, you can stay with Charles and I here in this old farmhouse for as long as you want. Of course, I’d like it if the two of you married soon, although I must admit that years ago I never imagined I’d have a French daughter – in – law”!

“But there’s one thing I won’t permit here Valerie. Today, just as I did many years ago with Charles, I’m asking you to promise me you’ll never set foot in that city down the road.” (We did move there later.)

And I’ll never forget how Valerie answered her! Although this was their first meeting, she called her mom and said “Mom, surely you know that your son was in that city many times before, during, and after his years in the Marine Corps. And if it hadn’t been for the man who was that city’s mayor then, Ralph Hawk, Charles and I would have never met. But I understand your concerns. How many other cities have some residents who never age? And what other city can say that Jesus Christ actually stopped a robbery within it, and thereby most likely saved a young man (Joseph Same) from a life of crime?”

“Well, avoid it and its influence as much as you can,” said mother.

“We’ll try,” said Valerie.

As I near the end of this written piece, it’s my hope that you as readers will be able to comprehend how emotionally difficult it was for me to have been in love in Paris – especially at such a short span of time after I’d served four years in the Marine Corps. But there’s no doubt in my mind that Paris is the greatest city on Planet Earth. Yet, I’m thinking a lot of its grandeur and mystique would have never been known to me had I not met and fallen in love with Valerie Danns there. But then, that fact often sends my thoughts off in a very different, yet actually very similar tangent. I’m wondering what my life would have been like had I not experienced even some of its least important events and most minor physical and mental images.

And since we’ve come back to America from Paris, one of the things Valerie and I have most enjoyed is simply engaging in conversation with some of the new artistic type people who’ve resettled in our city. And of course I’ve gleaned many diverse nuggets of possible lifestyle alternatives from them. But I guess the one that sticks with me the most wasn’t a great piece of philosophical disclosure. It was simply an observation I’ve long suspected is true. And God, it haunts my soul! “You’re living in the past.”

And yet sometimes I fear the problem here is that I just can’t be sure of what all that’s occurred has really meant. I know we shouldn’t be looking back, still what can one do with a resume that’s haunted? And I guess it’s not haunted only by events and deeds which today we understand as having been evil, but also by what today we know of as having been good, or sometimes even very positive for our future.

And of course the greatest of that latter type of shocking developments has been mentioned by me in print before. The first time I saw Valerie enter that restaurant, and saw her focus those French eyes upon me, I felt a sense of trepidation such as I’d never known before. Even during four years of active service in the U.S. Marine Corps, I’d not known such a jolt upon my being as that.

It was as though a surge of electricity shot through my body from head to toe then. And it seemed then as though my entire being was going through some sort of convulsive wave which caused it to move in all directions simultaneously.

And I knew immediately that one way or another I’d “have” that French girl forever. Either I’d have her someday as a flesh and blood companion who’d share my life, or else I’d have her as an everlasting memory, surely to be the greatest of those bygone thoughts which vex me yet to this day. And then, oh God, on moments like this one, when I’m trying to communicate significant episodes of all that’s happened previously, she’d come back to me! And standing in front of me, she’d ask “Weren’t you and I supposed to be together eternally?”

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