19. Ordeals are not Normally distributed, they come in clusters

The event was reconstructed little by little, no one ever heard details narrated by those involved. It's no use bewailing this documentary defect, conclusive is the fact that the sequence of events might well have taken place with Harry as one of the participants. Accordingly: on Tuesday occurred an event that has ever since been reflected in the popular notion of Harry Jönsson's character, his ways of acting and reacting.
An event, but not an event like running into a door and getting a knock on the funny-bone; not that kind of firm, robust event. More like watching the moon through binoculars, smelling the scent from orange flowers in the spring breeze, hearing the cuckoo call to the north; esoterical experiences, where the mechanical forces don't tense their muscles. Harry Jönsson was a man who appreciated the active handling of events and objects, or more to the point: a man who sought to persuade clients at different levels to handle all kinds of matters actively, but suddenly it was as if he had got entangled in a web of sounds, scents and sights that didn't seem useful, couldn't be turned to advantage in any rational way. First he felt as if reality itself was assaulted by something like a data virus, an infamous, stealthy deformation of functions and expressions, and he told himself: I have stepped into a trap of pseudo events, one way or another. It was not until the new regime had lasted for a couple of days that he realised how things stood and mobilised his resources, fighting back against a conspiracy that seemed to be directed against him personally, from some unknown agent in his environment.
Things hadn't advanced that far on Tuesday, he was still exposed, vulnerable.

He entered the garden through a gap in the hedge, opened up by the snow clearance in January. That in itself was a deviation from routine, the start of evasion, unavailability. If someone was waiting for him at the gate he would be waiting in vain.
On the rotary clothesline hung a pair of socks that had been exposed to the rain and would never dry that way. The lack of respect for the work invested in the knitting made him feel a surge of irritation; there hung a social transgression that should be prosecuted. Eve would never have such a thing on her conscience, the culprit must be Lars. In passing he swept the matted woollen clumps together, squeezed the water from them and stuck them under his arm. He was following a diagonal across the lawn, arrived at the garage, stopped for a moment, picking up some unfamiliar noise. They came from the inside: cries and moanings, as if a woman was pleading in utmost agony. He took two steps to the side, bent forwards and peeked through the hole for the cord of the venetian blind. Four boys were crouched in front of the TV, Lars was among them. Cigarette smoke lay dense under the ceiling, in such quantity that the smoke alarm should have been activated long ago.
Harry inhaled a deep breath and tested the door handle. The door was hooked from the inside, but he knew the strength of the hook and could put his shoulder to the surface, applying the exact amount of force that made it come loose. On the screen he could see a naked teenage girl, breaking her way through a tangle of scratching branches, her dark triangle contrasting against her white flesh. Behind her ran a hairy lout with a hay-fork held in readiness to spear her. As dense as the cigarette smoke was the haze of bodily odours, lust and excitation in the air. Harry went up to the video and switched it off, next he pulled up the shade and pushed the window wide open. Finally he returned to the video, removed the tape, broke it in half and hurled it through the opened window. It stuck in the hedge, a coil of the tape came off and drifted like a garland with the breeze.
All his actions were practical, self-evident, simple or: symbolic, ritual and highly sophisticated. Under all circumstances: the necessary thing, what must be done.
'Get out of here.'
None of the boys considered for one moment the possibility of rebelling against his authority. If the thought was going to arise that would be much later. They disappeared into the rain like cowed dogs, but one of them made a halt on the lawn and turned around. 'You won't tell ma, will you?'
'You and I are going to have a long talk later on. But get this into your head right now: films on that level are not allowed into this house, it's a matter of principle. Is that understood?

An hour later one Mrs Persson stood in the doorway. Harry took in her appearance: grey suit with satin cravat, gold links hanging from the wrists, string of pearls around the neck, hair in perfect order. Shoes with mid-high heels, not a scratch on the uppers. Was it a human being of flesh and blood, a wax figure, or his bourgeois anima? (Jenny would have expressed matters that way). No, it was the Soap Opera that had invaded his home, the heroines of the perpetual serials of television all had that particular look. Polished exteriors, selfish to excess, boundless abysses of evil. Outside in the street her car engine was idling, that made Harry's blood boil.
'I just want my boy's cassette back,' she said, stretching out one hand.
'Do you realise, Mrs Persson, what kind of products your son doesn't dare to watch at home, but has to worm into other people's houses?'
'I am not here to discuss with you. I just want the tape back.'
He was inclined to continue the quarrel a little longer: 'We could enjoy some of its contents together. It would amuse me to hear your opinion of at least one of the scenes. In addition it would be interesting to hear your opinion on the responsibility of parents for the leisure time activities of their offspring.'
'The tape,' she persisted. 'When I get the tape I'll leave again.'
'Well, it's hanging off the bottom of the hedge, you only have to collect it there. In the fact I intended to eject it into the street, but maybe there is some sort of symbolical implication to the fact that it landed where it landed.'
He couldn't help tittering at the last words, and with the titter mingled a warm joy at the fact that he had been able to retain his calm and employ the pun. The woman kept her calm, too, eyeing him coldly before she turned around and left him standing in the doorway without a word of farewell.

He turned around, rubbing his hands, chuckling to Ruth. 'Now that's the class struggle! When confronted with a dragon like that you know that class struggle is a reality. I would like to hunt that cow naked through a wood with a hay-fork, in the middle of the night, I'm sure she would appreciate that.'
Ruth raised her eyebrows, and he realised that he had given himself away, she wasn't informed. 'The whole matter is a little sensitive... I will tell you when it has cooled off a little.'
'That can wait', Ruth answered. 'But the scene in itself seemed interesting,'.
Half a minute later the woman stood at the entrance again. She held out the two halves of the cassette for him to see. 'It's broken.'
There was no mistaking: she had flown off the handle, holy rage boiled within her. Harry nodded listlessly towards the rack next to the gate: 'The bin is over there.'
'You won't be able to get off without paying for the cassette.'
'Over my dead body', he answered, indolence even more pronounced.
Her voice became shrill. 'You belong to the kind that likes to run the lives of other people, I know your sort! But I am telling you: it won't work with me! Either you pay for the tape or I will have to claim my rights another way! We are still living in a state governed by law!'
'If you want to continue the dispute, I suggest you switch off the engine first! In this area we appreciate not having our atmosphere unnecessarily polluted. Besides we had better not stand here in the doorway, letting the warmth out.'
She examined him from head to foot. 'Now I better better the people who claim that your party is a danger to democracy. You can rest assured you will be hearing from me again, and it will be my lawyer next time.'
Having delivered this salvo she turned on her heel and again left Harry standing alone in the doorway, but when she reached her car she turned to him again, searching for words for a second or two, and finally screaming: 'You should take a time-out, that's what you should do!'
Harry shivered where he stood, he had never had such an evil curse thrown right into his face.

'What was that about?' Ruth asked when he entered the interior of the house. 'It sounded like a better-class brawl. Was she the one you were going to hunt with a hay-fork? How were you going to get her naked?'
The contented smile had left his face. 'I told you. It's the class struggle, or more to the point: the class hate. There are occasions in life when you can feel that you are manning the barricades, and facing you is an opponent thirsting for your blood. Women of that kind make me want to vomit. A terror she was. Although she had style in some way. The style of soap opera, I have seen her in a series somewhere, the black widow that devours the male after the mating.'
'Now tell me what caused it.'
'I had promised not to pass it on. But I guess I'll have to.'
How could a human being go so wrong? Second thoughts were already aching slightly within him. It was sense of justice that had been violated; someone had mobilised her sense of justice in favour of a third-rate horror film. On the other hand he felt himself wronged by the fact that it had been brought into his house, that if anything was a violation of the privacy of home.

An indispensable asset to modern man is his Ariadne thread of philosophy of history, the red thread by which he finds his way through the labyrinth of existence. When Harry furtively touched his own guiding thread, checking that he was taking a correct position (this was done in the reference to the ramparts), he also confirmed his dependence on this little helper, which no municipal politician can do without. In Harry's case philosophy painted a dual existence with opposites fighting for life or death, much the same as TV-viewers against the licence fee inspectors, home-distillers against law enforcement, poor tax-payers against the state - although there was a bigger ontological appetite, a taste for heart-blood at the elevated level of nations and peoples. Now the Class Enemy had come to his door, pushed the button and threatened to bring him to book, and his guidance had gone glaring red, like a litmus paper indicating the vitriol thrown into his face. Next the Last Battle might be upon him.
This account may seem a bit dramatic, inspired as it is by a doorstep confrontation with strong emotions surfacing. Harry no doubt realized that the guidance of his Ariadne thread was less obvious, for in incomprehensible complication, yes, almost a turnabout - philosophy envisaged how two threads in the fullness of time were plaited into one, the original threads gradually transforming to a historical hawser, taking the citizen in tow and firmly and gently moving him to higher aims. The historical Ariadne thread was no noose, but rather a plaiting thread. On this point Harry entertained strong misgivings; he was unable to imagine how his responsible and considerate guidance could ever be joined to the irresponsible and egoistic one of the strange visitor. When it came to it, cat and dog belonged to separate genera, and one of the two would never climb trees.
Here the time is ripe for a saving clause: The estate was not fully inventoried by establishing the absence of the individual, there was a hidden asset to bring to light and distribute among the heirs. Harry's society knew of formulae allowing its citizens to appear in individual attire, irrespective of what camp they came from. Such a formula was about flying into a "holy rage" - and the holy rage no doubt was an individual affect, it was one single figure who flew into holy rages in Genesis. Once in a while even Harry himself could fly into a holy rage, at such times it might last a week before he reverted to rank and file. In the holy rage the individual appeared in its most pure state of aggregation in Harry's society.
For this reason a question about the "style" of people in Harry's time, or the "atmosphere", or the base chord, required an answer less sweeping, with a saving clause in the document: there were at least one and possibly several sanctioned formulae for initiatives of the kind that in other pitches were called "solo raids". On one hand there was a widespread wish to mind one's own business and shoulder exactly the same load as all other members of the team, on the other hand a wish to know for sure that what didn't behave itself was taken care of and attended to. Basically it was important to intervene when some fellow player had missed a tackle, but over and above that, when apalling conditions cried out to Heaven, it was a divine gift when members of the team felt summoned to overrule the rules, flying into such holy rages that they dared to pull the emergency brake. The long and the short of it was that no one in this marriage between formulaic individuality and consummate collectivity trusted the capability of the others, nor even his or her own. The members of the society were and remained egoists with social responsibility, collectivist egoists, and since egoists were unwilling to shoulder burdens shoved on to them by other egoists, they built institutions to look after what might need to be looked after. Again the institutions were collectives, lacking all individual features; no one could tell "board of health and welfare" from "civil aviation authority" or "national heritage board" by their physiognomies. The result was a ceremonial emphasis on society and collectivity in a nation of thoroughbred egoists, a spoken confession to individualism, or even: solipsism, in a collective of sympathetic caretakers.
Since consciences, or the feeling that things weren't right (was the de-icing of airplane wings correctly executed, did braindead people receive the care their condition called for?), still beset minds at intervals, a continuous battle was also fought over how far collective responsibility should be extended. The result was two movements, one constructive-minded, one destructive, that fought each other and held each other at bay. Here the old barricades were of great use again. This continuous battle created tensions in the population, tensions that reached a climax, were delivered and replaced by a state that pulled in the opposite direction: softening, dissolving. It was like a wave at the waterline, building up, breaking and withdrawing, again and again. The system tensed itself, liberated itself, tensed itself and liberated itself anew. Conflicts weren't avoided at all costs, but great pains were taken to keep them within reasonable limits. Science recounted historic highwaters, the wave of the century, but such phenomena belonged to the past, they could be left out of the calculations.
Harry's indignation over what he had seen in the garage was so strong, that he decided to postpone the talk with the son. Was it necessary to fraternise with evil at all, with violence; was it necessary to play with fire! He had read of ski tourists indulging in downhill free-skiing under avalanche alert, and of others running rapids in roaring rivers; he himself would never be guilty of such transgressions. A responsible citizen didn't ski freely under an avalanche alert, that was one way of wording a dogma fundamental to his society.
And smoking: had the boy not been informed about its dangers!

'By the way: we had an anonymous call yesterday,' said Ruth.
He sat up in bed, turned on the light. 'It seems to me as if the Prince of Darkness is moving about freely, or as if the goblins are sticking their heads out of their pits, glaring at me. Is there some major change going on in the world? Is it an invasion or one last outbreak of some primitive trait, that never progressed and now is calling for attention? I feel snared in some antediluvian way, a way that shouldn't be there and will not be there in the future. Strangest of all: it seems as if I am the prey they are after, can anyone tell me why?'
'You have to do like Luther, throw your ink-horn at the wall.'
His thoughts had already shunted into a new track. 'Think about someone coming from another planet, being forced to try to learn something about us - and the first thing he stumbles into is such a scenario! What would he think about us? He would need to be informed about Einstein's theories, get familiar with Spencer and Stuart Mill and Marx, read Hegel and Russell and Wittgenstein. And you can't do without Luther, he must always join in. The extraterrestrial would have to know a bit about the Taylor system and get acquainted with Ford and Krupp and Nobel, and he would know nothing without being briefed about the United Nations and the Socialist International and the European Union and the World Bank. And the whole of politics, how do you explain that to a Martian! So, what would he meet with when he entered our garage? Big louts hunting small chicks in a dark wood! It's like the swastikas and the Satan symbols at the bus stops: absolute negativity! Holy God! Satan! I want to say: full stop, period! It belongs to the past. Finito!'
'Maybe the alien should see such a film first, in order to learn something about - us.'
'That could never be the party line: sympathy for the devil.'
'You are probably right there.'
'Maybe I should take a time-out. As a preventive measure.'
'Harry, have you really qualified for that?'
Harry sighed: 'You are right: no time-out for me either, and besides, it would set a bad example.'

The time-out no doubt was an institution within time, in spite of the fact that the term suggested transport beyond its realm. If a public person of some standing was caught on the town under compromising circumstances, he or she could take a time-out in order to touch up the spotted image, and time quite likely ran slower for some under this quarantine, but it hardly stood still. The outcast walked the dog, patted the heads of his children and had carnal knowledge only of his or her lawful wedded; all this constituted a sort of pillory in modern society. It was also within boundaries to play bingo, and croquet on the lawn outside one's terraced house. It is not hard to understand that public persons, who had set a high value on the life on the town from which they had been hurled by a medial judgment ex tempore, could age prematurely in their time-out; insofar a time-out rather acted as potentiated time, being and time most definitely were connected in some way.
In the Party there was always a time-out bench numbering half a score of impenitents, this was nothing to cover up and nothing that should cause any eyes to widen either; the nation had this permanent, eternal basis of maids and farmhands, and this cadre had deep-rooted traditions for all kinds of activities. If a finger beckoned from the barn they were quick to climb the ladder, and the bottle went naturally with that particular context, too. Unpaid taxes and bills also qualified for time-out in politics, but here the penalty scale depended on affiliation, on the bourgeois side knowledge of economical sidesteps was kept within the family, if possible, and outstanding bills were paid up without a whimper. In that camp public degradation tended to fall upon the one who pulled in too little money rather than the one who paid out too much.
He thought indignantly: A time-out! The time-out signaled that a politician harassed by the media was down on his knees, the count having reached seven or eight - under such circumstances any sensible person was likely to moan for a time-out! And the Party had never been down even on one knee, although it had heard that wish uttered from the very first day of its existence. As if it needed to be reminded of the fact that its adversaries wished it written out of History, every minute of a day!

22 kB, last corrected 17.10.06, 27.11.08.

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