The Good declines.
At the local Y the Great guards the Good in a competitive game of three-on-three. He makes liberal use of that disputed defensive tactic, the “hand check,” but his size and forbidding aspect discourage complaints. He hopes to take the contest’s final shot.
Tonight the Great’s great thrashing bursts of semi-sleep are torn into by nightmare scenes of fecal combustion, disintegrating teeth.
By and large the Good sleeps straight through the night.
The armies of the Great pursue Good subversives across war-wrecked terrain, give chase through snow and hinter and up into the craggy passes of the West, along the outskirts of the Capitol, where burning oil derricks and humorous prose poems lampooning the regime—spray-painted over tasteful rampart-murals commissioned by the Crown—testify to the sheer calamitous joie de vivre of these resistless underdogs.
The Great marches on: in camp at night no harmonicas or fiddled airs lighten the mood of solemn purpose among troops seeking nourishment in tin bowls of campfire-scorched beans. There is only triumph—or the march.
But the insurgent element is innovative and sly; even the Great’s heroic general can’t guess what guerrilla tactic will be used against him next.
The Great and the Good agree to settle this thing the old-fashioned way, with a sumo match.
Now the Good has stooped to truly juvenile pranks: the Great showers in the dormitory’s communal bathroom, whistling the theme from M.A.S.H., but in the next stall the Good shakes with vindictive glee, knows it isn’t just shampoo his suite-mate’s scrubbing through his Prince Valiant.
The Great has constructed an indestructible super-station, spherical, with the dimensions of a small moon, a so-called “Death Star.” At last the insignificant rebellion will be crushed, and order restored to the galaxy.
Onboard one small rogue starship, several important members of this ragtag band scrutinize deep space from a cramped observation deck, perplexed. What they’re seeing simply doesn’t jibe with what were thought to be uncompromised star-charts: for one thing, a whole planet’s missing. And where on the map is that small moon?
That’s no moon!
K—— has been on dates with both men, separately.
The Great is unrelenting in conversation, headlong, brash, but masticates with cold precision.
The Good tends to banter with his mouth full of food. He enjoys a good joke—but also bad ones.
The Great suffers enormously with the selection of fare. If history is to be trusted, he will make the wrong choice. When their meals arrive he peers at K——’s plate with rancorous envy in his eyes.
The Good often cleans K——’s plate for her and needs to be reminded about the tip.
The Great stops seeing K—— when he learns of past romantic history with the Good; the Good, in a subsequent telephone chat, proposes a reconciliatory three-way or ménage à trois.
The Great stares at a single misbegotten sentence: He just can’t seem to get it right.
The hot-dog casserole went over well.
But then—unexpectedly!—the Good accepts the Great’s demand to have his honor satisfied—merely the latest such insistence, the tone of these proposals having of late approached hysteria in their monomaniacal fixation on man-to-man combat to the death—by way of sung telegram.
This missive is delivered by a man costumed to resemble a large rodent—perhaps a hamster, or a well-fed rat. Following the brief acceptance-aria’s final note is a coda of considerable length, incorporating unexpected chordal modulations both pleasing and cloying to the listener’s ear. The lyrics do not flatter the Great’s avoirdupoisal mother, Mdme. G——; especially insulting is the overlong—if formally inventive—free-associative riff on the noble woman’s many fleshy chins. Her chastity is subtly impugned.
The Great shoots the messenger with the very pistol he intends to dispatch his nemesis with tomorrow morning before dawn.
Would you say that …?
G: Sure, I’ve got ambition—who doesn’t? I think there’s a part of all of us that would love to see his name in lights. But I think it’s important to maintain a little perspective, right? Obviously this is something of a cliché, but, you know, we’re going to be dust one day—one day pretty fucking soon in the cosmic scheme—and the unpleasant side of unchecked ambition is that it can amount to a kind of dwelling in whatever it is you’ve failed so far to do—a state that honestly strikes me as a kind of needless concession to death. In fifty years—probably a lot less, at the rate I’ve been imbibing certain inimical things—I won’t be able to do anything; why let worrying about the infinitely smaller list of things I can’t do now keep me from at least trying to do what I can?
G: My heroes were all a lot more successful than I’ll ever be—though I I’d like to think I’ve got at least one great book in me.
Who would you …?
G: Oh, you know, the usual suspects: Bill Clinton, Kobe Bryant, Raskolnikov, Einstein, Alexander the Great.
Really? But what about …?
G: Well, I think the thing people forget about Jordan is the size of his hands; a lot of the mid-flight maneuvering through defending bodies to get to the rim simply would not have been possible without that kind of freak genetic gift. To me Kobe, with his average hand-size, has arguably done a whole lot more with less.
What do you …?
G: Paul Thomas Anderson is a fantastic film-maker. No question. But what about Wes Anderson? I thought his last one didn’t get a fair shake.
G: The one where the kid dies in India.
No: I am your father!
An epauletted, seething Great leaves thirteen voice messages with the Good, demands an explanation for his lateness to the scene. At eleven he returns to the chalet, refuses the victory feast his servants have set the table with, retires to his private chamber to pace and to think. He thinks about his new Stealth Bomber.
President Great urges a certain degree of moral accountability in his constituents, the citizens of this great nation. His “Pennsylvania Address” reminds us all of our collective duty to the commonwealth.
Comedic-pundit T. Good, on his popular satirical news program, jokes about the grandiose locutions, and the angle of the President’s lifted chin in the throes of public discourse.
The Great is up at 4 AM. After a quick breakfast of five uncooked eggs, he’s out on the streets of Philadelphia, putting in his roadwork. The title fight’s two months away. There is no inspirational theme song: just Greatness and the empty streets.
You want the Good to take a shot? O-kay! He’ll take a shot! Whiskey will be fine.
The Good has fought hard to secure a concession from a curmudgeonly Republican House: If tax-breaks for the oligarchy won’t be cut, then at least the modest breaks for working families will remain in place.
The Great foresees the failure of the Revolution even as the means of production are seized in factories across the land and gated communities go up in flames. Meet the new boss, he whispers to himself, and retires to his secret cave.
In the end, the canonical works of the Great novelist—those tales of fractured families, the peasant’s burden, war and peace and lonely dying men, beloved by his nation and the reading citizens of the entire world—cannot save him from his fate.
And yet what does Christ ask, but that we give up everything to follow Him? The Kingdom of Heaven can only come when all men live as brothers, when noble and peasant join hands in the harvest fields, dance in communal jubilee.
Raving, convinced that he has thrown away his life on aristocratic drivel, wrapped only in a vulnerable cloak, he lurches into the punishing snow, that famous beard soon frozen stiff beneath his chin.
In one of his more whimsical short pieces, the Good describes a Museum of the Great that houses preposterous monuments to ego and bloated self-regard, humorous hundred-square-meter photographs of the Great scowling down from the walls at visitors reduced to guilt and self-recrimination under the ferocity of that great moralist’s stare.
In six quick but action-laden days, the Great has created a cosmos from scratch. On the seventh he decides to take it easy; the Good, just rising from a nap, sees in these nubile naifs puttering around their vegetable patch a good-natured lark to murder the long afternoon with (the ball-game doesn’t begin until eight). He’ll ply the prettier one first.
The Great goes down with the whale.