There was a gap in History where there should have been a great man. The important events had moved into place, their gears locked, everything was ready but he didn’t show up. At college he had dabbled in campus politics a little and had clearly shown a talent for public speaking but he fell in with a bad crowd and whiled his time away gambling and drinking in the campus bar, got himself badly in debt and finally had to take a job at a gas station to pull himself out of it.
The garage manager found him several times locked in the men’s room reading a newspaper or a paperback copy of Plutarch’s Lives when he should have been pumping gas. Every weekend he gambled his paycheque away, showed up late on Monday morning without fail and in the end had to be let go. When he should have been getting degrees in political science and law, he could be seen in unemployment waiting rooms browsing through old copies of Time magazine and trying to concentrate long enough to read something about Disraeli.
When blind History expected him to be winning over party delegates and gaining confidence, he was lost in some skid road hotel with broken fingers from a bar fight, unable to write home. When he should have been the newly elected youngest leader of the opposition, just married to the department store heiress, he was being diverted into literature and by endless talks with a former junkie who read him Bukowski and W. C. Williams in bars, who whispered, "We are forever about to be interrupted by life!" and introduced him to women who were no good for him.
When History responded to a culmination of forces and parted down the middle ready at last for his handsome face, his right decisions, he wasn’t there. So someone else took his place and things went bad. In consequence, philosophy professors decided to alter their theories on determinism; newspaper headlines had to be reset, their size diminished in proportion to the lesser greatness of the interloper; sculptors of monuments and those who profit from the renaming of streets were temporarily out of a job.
And there he was, sipping a coffee, trying his hand at free verse, painting a little when he had the money, while gargantuan events waited in the wings for him to catch a bus uptown, to browse aimlessly through bookstores, to have a bowel movement which took longer and longer as his diet got worse. Whole uninspired continents turned to gambling and pool, came home late frustrated and cold to fight with their wives who in turn ran off with car salesmen and radio announcers and on some days nothing happened.
The World just dribbled away and the great man felt it too, this absence of himself, the missing voice on the mountain. If it didn’t come soon it seemed as if the globe would tilt and swing free of itself into the sun. He got a good job finally, loading trucks one day a week, and joined the longshoremen’s union. He rose once a meeting and the whole place hushed while he queried in his powerful voice whether or not management intended to install a portable toilet on Pier 26 and the union president said that yes, of course, he would look into it right away, and the rest of the executive whispered to one another, "Who is that man?" and everyone burst into spontaneous applause without exactly knowing why.
The great man was now writing very bad poetry which he was getting published regularly in a local newspaper. There was a strength to his tone that people seemed to like. The country was a mess under the new president who would have made an excellent running-back for the Chicago Bears. Unfortunately, someone had told him a long time ago that he was a born leader. It stuck in his head and he liked the idea because he didn’t want his life to be over at thirty-five and he hated it when it was wet on the field and you slid in the mud. When you walked off the field like that with your backside full of dirt after just getting dumped, it always looked like you’d just shit your pants.