THOMAS JEFFERSON ON THE NIGHT
OF JULY 4, 1776
BY DEREK ROLLOVER
The ink had dried on the Declaration. It was done. Just over 1,300 words. A platoon of scribes copied hundreds of drafts in flowing hand conforming perfectly to the exhausted originator’s loops and twists, all these not-so-elaborate lines announcing the intentions of a nation. The scribes, with eyes drawn down into what they read/wrote, knew they were looking into something that would be important, not just for them, but for history flowing forward from this event, this writing, this declaration of independence as the originator called it: they could see the U.S. Mint packaging rolls of nickels with his profile, etc, etc, etc . . . and when the copies were finally written, thousands of them, hundreds every hour, young waifs folded copies into airplanes, bursting through sidedoors to send their crafts into the evening air of Summer 1776; the planes caught by breezes were carried onward up, up, and away a solid eight score years before two kids at Kitty Hawk would finally master the miracle of flight.
Other assistants less overcome with the joy of it all, more attuned to the tones of duty, did as they were told. They scrolled copies into postal tubes, sent them around the territory by pigeon and long-distance runner. Powdered wigs, the whole deal. It was all happening. It was all proceeding from here. He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance. He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. And all of it pulled down pretty damn eloquently by the scribe of America’s Founding Fathers, openly pony-tailed, secretly miscegnative, escorted by triumphant attendants who noticed a sadness in his eyes, an incongruence, call it an apprehension, a look of impending loss, as though when all his fellows had signed it, especially that Hancock, the future had rained down on the expected joy of it, the parade of it ended in postpartum depression caused by all that afterbirth flowing from the words his pen had marked: it was written, it was war, it could be his death sentence.
An attentive handler, a friend and confidant, asked, “Yo, what’s up, Tom? Why so down?”
The Scribe welcomed the distraction. He had spent the day appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, not to mention mutually pledging to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor. He gazed at his handler, with love akin to that of a boxer much benumbed by repeated blows, looking upon the trainer washing blood from places where there shouldn’t be any blood—a look of respect, of thanks, of oh shit man, we’re really into it now. A look that said "I’m glad you’re here." The look was all he managed. It said more than he could put into words; his heart and tongue were equally heavy, alas.
The handlers escorted the Scribe to his chambers. He greeted his wife, kicked off his out-of-fashion buckled boots, got into a swanky four-post bed, made tremendous love in a manner befitting a man who’d just finished a work that would chisel his image into a Dakotan cliff. And it was really great sex, the sex they had that night, despite or perhaps because of all that was now rendered inevitable, all that had to follow, the chain of events that would strap him to the cliff of history, the really glaringly Big Link that he crafted: it would either ensure the nation’s sovereignty or it would swing down on him with the full power of the crown—it would either crush skulls or secure futures.
After the afterglow had faded to a pleasantly lingering brilliance, the Scribe’s heart returned to a sensible rhythm. He left the bed where his wife snored so satiated, lit a candle, and composed two jokes. His troubled soul soared. The affect these jokes had on him must not be dismissed. They enabled him to endure. He had just created a blessed trinity (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) that would churn the air beneath the wings of the fledgling he just helped crack through the egg of history. Life was a given; liberty he’d been working on; but the pursuit of happiness?
That night in early July, he set himself a new task: he would form the basis for the new nation’s humor—he would entertain and enlighten. The first of these jokes revealed an almost Asian simplicity. It would become the original American koan. It would inspire what he knew would become a sprawling land of mutts. He wrote:
Q: Why do dogs lick their balls?
A: Because they can.
So simple, so damn American. Because they can. Because they can. BECAUSE THEY CAN! If it can be done, can do. When the will of a mongrel country meets possibility, things happen. Whether these are good, whether these should happen, whether the distance the neck bridges is a thing worthwhile, these questions require significant elaboration . . . it’s just a joke anyway, no one would hang him for it, and as the ink dried in the flickering light, the Scribe felt a little bit better.
Oh yeah, the other joke. Was not a Q&A per se. A little rhyme, a limerick:
There once was a man from Nantucket
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