Mr. Jefferson Goes to Livermore

Thomas Jefferson: Polymath extraordinaire.

When I meet with a proposition beyond finite comprehension, I abandon it as a weight human strength cannot lift, and I think ignorance in these cases is truly the softest pillow on which I can lay my head — Thomas Jefferson corresponding with John Adams 1820

Few fantasies would give me more pleasure than stealing a couple of contemporary hours in the cherished company of that revered forefather and complex Renaissance man Thomas Jefferson. Oh, would that I could lovingly lay before him the fantastic national landscape he carefully cultivated so many years ago. Patriots everywhere herald his Declaration of Independence as the Big Bang in our 236 year old Colonial Chemistry set and I’d thrill to show him all the new elements discovered in our federal laboratory. If only God would grant me a few precious moments with Thomas Jefferson, I’d promise never to tax without representing. I’m not asking much, merely the transubstantiation of matter, energy, space and time. Jesus got to do it. Why not me?

This sensuous scenario usually overtakes me while driving up the Sunol Grade during my half hour commute to work and it’s definitely my only non-sexual fantasy involving someone wearing stockings. My attraction to the man and his ideals is positively genetic. I’m absolutely helpless when that revolutionary tingly feeling starts percolating in my Presidential chakra and the executive heat branches its way up into my flushed cheeks. Once “in the mood” my flight of fancy soars and the next thing you know, me and Tommy are touring San Francisco Bay in a helicopter. Although literally not quite understanding the gravity of the situation, my baffled yet serene forefather surveys the situation below and, after buzzing the TransAmerica building, leans over and politely inquires above the din of the rotors, “Tell me squire David, would not this gyroscopic motivator be manufactured by the DaVinci Rotary Works?”   

I love this guy.

But this historically lusty fantasy always came to a screeching halt at the same time I came to a gentle halt just outside the security gate at work. Eight hours of mental toil later and I’m driving down the Sunol Grade and me and Tommy are at it again; this time jetting under the Golden Gate Bridge in a G5.

And so it went for 21 years as I commuted to and from work; my overly fertilized head sprouting one revolutionary scenario after another on a day in the life Thomas Jefferson. I’d love to turn him on. He’d done so much for me. His vision of an intellectual agrarian society warms the hearts of patriots and tractor salesmen everywhere. His sanguine prescriptions in the face of a welter of societal ills informs my hopeful outlook today. I’d like to take him to Disney’s Hall of Animatronic President’s and replace the robotic Thomas Jefferson with the real Thomas Jefferson. We’d plan the whole substitution prank whereby he’d stiffly arise in character and say something ominous about the pending British invasion. Then he’d break into the Beatles “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Alright, back to the real fantasy.

Jeffersonmania

TJ lived from 1743 to 1826, but with his visionary zeal and propensity for lucid planning he was really a man for our times – kind of like John Lennon but without the LSD. And although Jefferson’s and Lennon’s similarities are not as eerily striking as the assassination coincidences of Lincoln and Kennedy, they do bear some scrutiny. For example, Thomas Jefferson had a daughter named Lucy not unlike the character from Lucy in the Skies with Diamonds (LSD). Concomitantly (great word, whatever it means), if I were to ask Lennon where his sympathies intersected with Thomas Jefferson’s, I’m sure he’d say something like, “Well, we wuz both kind of leaders in our day and always runnin’ our mouths off about the rights of the little people and such.” 

TJ is kind of like an 18th Century John Lennon – intellectually nimble, verbally gifted and utopianly preposterous. They were the rock stars of their eras and both generated fierce followings commensurate with the times. Jefferson and his family sometimes ran out of candlesticks. Lennon and his mates sold out Candlestick. Each, in their own way, said they were bigger than Jesus Christ. Lennon said it directly and Jefferson, who discounted Jesus’ divinity, compiled what is now referred to as “The Jefferson Bible” which distilled the doctrine of Jesus by removing sections of the New Testament containing supernatural aspects as well as perceived misinterpretations he believed had been added by the Four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)[1]. Thomas Jefferson did not believe in Jesus’ divinity, the Trinity, resurrection, miracles, or any other supernatural aspect described in the Bible. Alright, I’ll say this just once. He was a doubting Thomas.

The election of 1800 between Adams and Jefferson is known as the “Revolution of 1800,” as it ushered in an era of anti-aristocracy and pro-agrarianism. In Jefferson’s ideal world, farmers would plow their fields by day and read Homer, written in its original ancient Greek, at night. One can only imagine this country’s course of events had Yoko Ono met President Thomas Jefferson.  The band of states would’ve broken up in a week. Thomas Jefferson and John Lennon were each supremely talented and venerated men who wrote and sang volumes about the rights of man. And yet one repeatedly ravished a slave and the other admittedly hit his first wife. Such were a few of the less noble ingredients comprising the political and musical creative Ort Clouds of Jefferson and Lennon.  

You’ll also notice Jefferson is one of four forefathers on Mount Rushmore and Lennon is one of four Beatles in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Jefferson and Adams had as tempestuous a relationship as Lennon and McCartney ever did. In fact, when viewed through appropriate filters, their collective works were both big hits then and now:

Jefferson                                                      Lennon 

Declaration of Independence…………………Revolution

Virginia Statutes on Religious Freedom…..Imagine

Father of the University of Virginia……..….Come Together

Jefferson valued those three accomplishments so much he chose them for his epitaph. This is truly remarkable when one considers the highlights he omitted from his resume:

Minister to France – succeeding B Franklin

1st Secretary of State – Under G Washington (or more reverently G Daddy)

2nd VP – Under J Adams

3rd President, architect, botanist (friends would mail each other seed packets of various species from all over the Western Hemisphere). At the risk of presenting an overwhelming laundry list of gaudy achievements, I’ll just mention the one area where he had little expertise – Australian Rules Football – and we’ll just assume he was accomplished at everything else. As JFK so famously said when toasting a group of Nobel Prize laureates at the White House:  “Never has such an exceptional assemblage of gifted minds been in this room except when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

TJ’s polymath aptitude laid against the rather dismal state of affairs in early America renders his intellectual luminosity all the more brilliant. Fractally ambiguous, brilliantly contradictory, an affront to mediocrity. Thomas Jefferson was all that. Whatever that thing is which allows one to occasionally operate at 1468ghz, while the rest of us schlep around at 1244ghz – he had it. We’re happy we know the difference between Ashlee and Jessica Simpson and he’s creating America’s template. At his level of awareness you’re practically a separate species and I’m surprised he was able to impregnate his wife Martha Wayles and after her death in 1782, her half-sister and his quadroon slave Sally Hemmings[2].

Thomas Jefferson’s legacy comprises a host of prescient actions such as the decimal currency system, the Senate’s Manual of Parliamentary Practice written while he was vice-president and championing public education at a time when primary education was spotty at best. Besides authoring the Declaration of Independence, his most salient and dramatic national deed is undoubtedly the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. It was fortuitous that cash-strapped Napoleon needed money for his temporary conquests. This civil land grab was a fine example of practical prescience trumping trivial legal limitations. In 1803 it was thought by many, including Jefferson, that the purchase of this dubiously owned land was not sanctioned by the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson however would not let its extra-constitutionality circumscribe an historic opportunity to augment the country and he was not about to sacrifice a deal like this on the altar of tortured sanctimonious legalities[3]. So for $15 million or about 3¢ an acre, Napoleon filled his nation’s war chest and we filled our nation’s breadbasket. Think of it. For about the cost of one tank of gas he doubled the size of the country and set the stage for our union to become a Continental power from sea to shining sea to shining sea.                    

I love this guy.

 

Thomas Jefferson popularized and instilled in our national psyche, the egalitarian idea that all men are created equal. This idea is often trampled, but remains a bedrock precept that is a powerful countervailing force in a country still fraught with nepotism and cronyism. Alright, enough with the lavishly bestowed idolatrous praise.

I think a lot about Thomas Jefferson – mostly about his constant intellectual curiosity pitted against the dispiriting drudgery of the times. How can you pursue a greater good when there’s no indoor plumbing? How do you overcome only two of your six white children reaching maturity and your wife dying at 34? Most of the uneducated population is eating shredded hay and dressed in burlap, while a few prophetic souls are mindfully arranging the future of America. Of course many of our forefathers were partially motivated by metastatic egos gone laurel hunting. This colonial group of rational hedonists got it mostly right by instilling democracy and rule of law as a basis for society. Quite a stark and elegant achievement considering the society consisted of illiterate, huddled masses who’d trace a trail of corn over a cliff, if that’s where it led. Thomas Jefferson never enjoyed the benefits of electricity, air travel, telecommunications or microwavable bacon, yet his character transcends all kinds of pork. In the course of human events, Thomas Jefferson was a flawed and fascinating character.

Across the Universe

The Fourth of July is, of course, a monumental day for both our country and for Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence. And in keeping with the immensity of the day, let us not forget perhaps the most bizarre coincidence in the history of the United States. The deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the only two Presidential signers of the Declaration of Independence, occurred on July 4th 1826, fully 50 years to the day after they appended their then treasonous signatures to the fabled document. To the extent news traveled and national moods were identifiable in those days; the country’s reaction to this simultaneous eclipse was nearly unanimous; that a providential hand was guiding this great experiment in liberty. As a footnote I won’t put in a footnote, the next Presidential death was James Monroe, the fourth member of the Virginia Dynasty, who came to rest on July 4th 1831[4].

Earlier in the day I’d attended some 4th of July ceremonies in downtown Livermore and that same providential hand seemed to be guiding me. For some reason every time I bought a patriotic trinket, I received a Thomas Jefferson $2 bill. After purchasing an American flag bed spread at the parade for $48, I got a $2 roll of nickels as change, again featuring Thomas Jefferson on the obverse side and Monticello or Lewis and Clark on the reverse side. Finally, at the Carnegie Park barbecue, a little girl inquired if my name was Jefferson.

“No, it’s not Jefferson. It’s Hardiman. Why do you ask,” I queried?

“Well, it’s just that you remind me of my father and his name is Jefferson,” she said. 

“Really. What’s your name,” I inquired?

“Lucy,” she said.

(Off stage we hear the iconic opening chord from “A Hard Day’s Night – Gsus4)

Is This Really Happening to Me?

To celebrate the day and the man, I planned a Revolutionary meditation whereby I hoped to go beyond the pleasurable matrix of user-invoked storylines to establish a very real and interactive relationship with the spirit of Thomas Jefferson. A relationship, I hoped, that sprung from the hearts of each of us and not just my idolatrous attachment. This would assume a lot. Namely that Thomas Jefferson, ensconced in his cabinet at Monticello sometime in the early 19th century, would be meditating similarly. I realize the whole endeavor is implausible and preposterous, but its undeniable appeal drives my actions. It’s like the hungry guy who looks in the refrigerator six times to see if there’s any chocolate cake he might have forgotten about the first five times he looked in there. Well sometimes on that sixth search, there it is – standing right in front of him. In much the same way, I hoped I would find Thomas Jefferson standing right in front of me, speaking words of wisdom. I didn’t want to hold an imaginary conversation with Thomas Jefferson. I wanted to hold a conversation with Thomas Jefferson. For this double fantasy to work I’d have to be thinking about him and he’d have to be thinking about me. Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower carried on their relationship like this for years whenever Ike was called away to the front. Intention, love and focus are all it takes to develop and catalyze any aspiration.

Fully expecting to meet him, I also fully expected the encounter to be unmatched and indescribable. To propitiate the sinews of connectivity, I drew the drapes to darken the mood in my Presidential Library[5]. I then wrapped myself in my newly purchased American flag bed spread while holding volume 6 of Merrill Peterson’s Jefferson anthology entitled “The Sage of Monticello. The stage was set. Reclining in my supremely comfortable Barcalounger, I endeavored to strengthen and animate the bonds I felt for Thomas Jefferson by chanting “li-ber-ty, li-ber-ty.” Conjuring images of broken light that shined around me like a million Jeffersons, the experience was no longer mine, but had broadened and telescoped; obviously belonging to some deeper more real dimension. A momentary wormhole big enough for hope to slither through, appeared adjacent to the presidential book case. Focused by meditation and intensified by love, I experienced a pronounced forefatherian kink in the time-space continuum which amplified the entire meditative event.

Meanwhile, on the 4th of July 1820, not far from Charlottesville, Virginia, tucked away in the cozy confines of his mountaintop plantation, Thomas Jefferson was at the drudgery of his writing table finishing a letter to John Adams on the topic of commerce in New York State now that DeWitt Clinton had broken ground for the Erie Canal (aka Clinton’s Ditch). His arthritic wrist was giving him problems and he grew a tad weary after answering his 6th letter of the day (In his life he wrote over 18,000), so he reposed in his Campeachy chair the slaves in his carpentry shop had made to his specifications. His formidable mind began considering the future of America and what this experiment in republicanism might bring. A continental power? An intellectually agrarian society consisting of small states tightly bound, but locally managed. The might of America’s resources unleashed to improve the condition of all men through advances in medicine, manufactures and spirituality? Except for that infernal Randolph family maybe man was perfectible. What would posterity have to say about him?

Thomas Jefferson pondered deeply and dreamily that special day while warmly ensconced in his sanctum sanctorum (cabinet).

Clearly something other worldly was happening in my environs. I don’t know if it was the change in my pockets or the change in my head, but mystical sounds of static, echoes and jangling change began to fill my library, culminating in an audible pop and a supernatural yet corporeal manifestation of one Thomas Jefferson. Slowly his hallowed hologram filled in until he appeared a man in full – standing right in front of me.

Grace

We both instinctively knew what had happened. We could see it happening from far away except now we were in the middle of it. Oh, what joy! This was not unbridled joy it was limitless joy. We grasped each other’s shoulders and, while he was more reserved, just looked into each other’s misty eyes while repeating; “We did it. We did it.” This was not some Spielberg movie. This was something that had never happened before and we did all those things you do to insure you’re not dreaming, like pinching each other, or asking the other to do something volitional without a cue. It all checked out. Gadzooks! Godspeed! Golly gee! If images, aromas and feelings could accompany these words your heart would be pounding, your breathing would be shallow and your eyes would be watery. This wasn’t anaphalactic shock this was Jeffersonian shock and awe. Me and Tommy were right there, together in time and space. Yowza! Now what?

Carpe Diem, Baby

Like one of those deeply involved relationships where a series of assumptions are already in play Thomas Jefferson and I recognize each other and both of us instinctively know what’s happened. We have only hours before he must return to Monticello and I must return to worrying whether I’m spiritual enough to avoid another reincarnation. Such are the constraints on this special day.

I’d had the foresight to have two video cameras running so I’d be able to capture every precious moment of our interdimensional encounter. Initially Thomas Jefferson was uncomfortable in his new environment. Like a cat when the vacuum cleaner is on, he slunk rather close to the ground at first, but as he familiarized himself with the surroundings he stretched out his lanky frame and asked for some Madeira which I always keep in my Presidential wet bar pending the supernatural manifestation of a forefather. They loved that stuff back in the day and I wasn’t about to disappoint. I mean you don’t attract great historical figures across the universe with Ritz Crackers and Hawaiian Punch, unless you want to educe the likes of Otto von Bismarck. No, like a careful farmer you fertilize the moment with magnetic appeals. And like the thoughtful farmer Thomas Jefferson promoted, I sought to further make him feel at home by massaging the moment with soothing particulars from his domestic environment. I’d prepared a teak table with candles, iron gall ink, some vellum to write on and a compass to help him find his way.

Thomas Jefferson speaks the King’s English with a southern twang. At 77 he still stands 6’ 2” and is robust from eating primarily a vegetable diet where meat is treated more as a condiment. He exercises or “unbends” through daily horseback rides. His dress is simple – pure Republican in the early 19th century sense; ruffled white shirt, blue velvet waist coat and tight fitting pantaloons with white stockings. With his sandy red hair braided into a queue, I wasn’t sure if I was beholding Thomas Jefferson or a member of Paul Revere and the Raiders.

This irrational interlude is pregnant with paralyzingly overwhelming possibilities and we must be expansive if it’s to benefit anyone. We know each other by name and proceed to lay out our strategy for best utilizing our time. We decide to follow the guidelines of John Locke (of the Great Enlightenment Locke’s) and rationally share our knowledge in kind of a pell mell manner, hopefully producing a greater good. So even though I’m addressing Thomas Jefferson the renowned world figure, I decide to relate to him as a bird of a feather – yearning to benefit from my 21st century perch.  Carpe diem – yes! Carping dyad – no!

Words Fail Us, but We Try Anyway

DH: Mr. Jefferson sir, this is unalloyed ecstasy for me and I don’t know where to begin. Shall I tell you about the Beatles, atoms or the Civil War?

TJ: Hmmm. Beetles, Adams or a civil war. We’ll although I’ve studied entomology, I’m not too interested in beetles and I’m already familiar with the Adams family, so perhaps a discourse on this war you describe as being civil would be fitting. We must’ve made great progress to get to that point.  

DH: Yankee doodle dandy. We’ve got work to do. By the time you die the Adams boy John Quincy will be President.

TJ: Land o’Goshen. David, would there be a privy nearby?

DH: A what?

TJ: A necessary. A place for

DH: Oh a bathroom. Yes and guess what? It’s indoors now.

TJ: You’ll likely have to instruct me in its use.

DH: We have running water in the bathrooms and kitchens now.

TJ: Running water. What a convenience. Tell me David when the water gets tired does it then walk?

DH: Well, I mean um…

TJ: Hey David. I’m not made of stone you know. That was a joke.

DH: Actually you are sir. It’s called Mount Rushmore. (show him pictures from book)

We exit the library fully realizing we could stop anywhere and spend the entire time focusing on any one item in our path, such as my electric pencil sharpener. We won’t be waylaid by minutiae however. No this stitch in time would allow for only a survey course in 21st century America. I explain to Mr. Jefferson the wonders of the flush toilet and just before I exit he instinctively asks for something to read. I give him the Bible and he says he’d prefer something non-fiction, so I present him with an historical picture book of Washington DC and he closes the door.

Twenty minutes later, he emerges trailing only a small amount of toilet paper and remarks on his monument, then inquires about “this Lincoln character.”

DH: Well he was a great leader and our 16th President from 1861 until he was assassinated at the end of the Civil War in 1865.

TJ: This civil war was not the pacifist’s dream I referred to earlier was it? I greatly feared the whole ghastly slavery issue would boil over. To me slavery was like a fire bell in the night, whose alarm would only cease when the practice was extinguished.

DH: Ring-a-ding-ding is right sir. The Southerner’s maintained the Civil War, which killed about 600,000 and injured three times that number[6], was really about states’ rights, but the federal government had already agreed to leave slavery unmolested where it preexisted. They just didn’t want to extend slavery into the territories. In other words, what happened in the South stayed in the South. Conscription rates were roughly 60% of able bodied men under the age of forty in the North and an astounding 90% in the South. The South was one monolithic military camp. Dissent was not tolerated. The North protested the war to varying degrees, but essentially they had the resources and they won the war. You’ll pardon me sir if I propound the obvious.

TJ: No no David, as gruesome as all this is, it is necessary to absorb. It’s all part of seizing the day. Please do continue.

Trans-temporal Relocation is Great, but What We Really Want to Know is…..

DH: Well sir, it was self-evident that slavery was a dying institution as Great Britain had outlawed it throughout her empire by 1833, obviously accelerating its global abolition. Now as time is short and truth is virtuous, I must ask you sir, would your allegiances have lied with the North or the South in this irrepressible conflict?

TJ: (With tears rolling down his cheeks he steadies himself and avers) First of all I am so saddened by the organized mayhem of our countrymen, but I’m particularly distressed at the headlong ignorance of its leaders. I am complicit in this catastrophe through my own racial malfeasance. Slavery is a pernicious institution I was born into and attempted to practice with marked gentility. There was a certain paternalistic psychology at work in protecting these untrained and ill-equipped slaves. Due to their degraded conditions, most weren’t prepared for the rigors of regular society. Some viewed it as a duty to protect them from an even crueler fate. I always doubted that Clay’s Missouri Compromise would be workable. You know David when we formulated the Constitution, in order to form that more perfect union, we essentially avoided the slavery question to assuage the southern contingent. In a sense, it appears we merely delayed the civil war.

Now as to my allegiances. As both a strong union man and a states’ rights proponent/slave owner, I am quite sympathetic to each cause. However, if a decision came down to my state or my country, I think the choice is obvious. Our federal union, it must be preserved. My choice is more complicated than that, but history has shown, however cleverly cloaked it may be, oppression can never serve one’s long term designs.

DH: I hope you don’t mind these cameras which are recording your voice and image for posterity. Part two of the slavery question deals with your slave Sally Hemmings. With today’s technology, today being 2012 by the way, it has been determined with great certainty that you fathered five bastard children with your deceased wife’s quadroon half-sister. Bear in mind gentle forefather, I do not ask this question accusatorily. I ask it for the sake of real truth. So, is it true and if so why would you do such a seemingly coercive thing to your human chattel? 

TJ: Maybe I should’ve stayed in my cabinet. You’re worse than Hamilton. As with anyone’s private life, it is my business. However due to the extraordinary circumstances and the fleeting nature of truth I shall answer forthrightly.  Yes, the children are mine. God imbues us with needs and I’m certainly subject to them. Additionally, on her deathbed, my beautiful wife Martha extracted a promise from me that I would never remarry. That promise was sacred to her memory and my love for her. Perhaps it was a misguided vow born of heightened sorrow and exaggerated love, but it was a vow nonetheless. After her death in 1782, I suffered inconsolable grief and debilitating migraine headaches.

My attraction to Miss Hemmings was academic. She was beautiful and available. We truly enjoyed each other in a physical way. I believe our dalliances improved her lot in life. And yes I do recognize the asymmetry of the relationship and its less than savory aspects though on the whole, both parties benefited. What if I hadn’t engaged her? Since she was born a slave I couldn’t take her into my home. Honestly I couldn’t sacrifice my legacy on the altar of miscegenation. Col. Richard Mentor Johnson[7] brought a slave into his bedroom and was forever branded an amalgamationist[8] for doing so.

DH: Slavery really didn’t pay did it? Upon your death everything, including Monticello was sold at auction to pay your debts. Your sole surviving daughter Patsy moved to Washington City where she was revered for having been your daughter. Even Dolly Madison was forced to move there after James death in 1836 and was practically a beloved ward of the government thereafter.

TJ: Martha my dear. I wish I could’ve provided more heartily for her and her children. And it is true. Slavery was neither financially nor morallyprofitable. We mightily endeavored to expunge it from the Constitution, but for the sake of preserving the union we made no mention of it beyond deeming a slave as 3/5ths of a person for apportionment’s sake and abolishing all slave importation by 1808.

DH: Thank you so much. We must move on. Now, to the less lurid, but more significant.

Master of all He Surveys

TJ: Perhaps I’ll move us on Master David. I am of course awed by everything I am witness to in your abode. May I ask you about a few particulars? As our time is limited let us not equivocate and miscommunicate, which I sense we are. It is my apprehension simply based on the marvels of your time that we should focus on more the wonders of your age and less on the known facts of mine. And I say this David with my own undeniable giddy sensation welling in my breast as the wonders of the age are laid before me. Elements in a chemistry set – apropos analogy. Do not tarry in your expression. If you be too effusive or too overwhelming so be it. Our mutual attraction has brought us here and our love of knowledge will sustain us. Now guide me through a tour of your era and spare nothing in your descriptions but falsehoods.

We spend the next 2½ hours discussing everything from the electricity to crock pots, from the Internet to loofa pads, from air conditioning to Slim-Fast. I quickly turn on the TV and click through some random channels. Thomas Jefferson is not at all overawed.

TJ: Is this box a form of punishment?

DH: No. We actually pay for it. TJ: You mean people willingly subscribe to it!  Really? Why?

We sample various shows including “FOX News” and Mr. Jefferson comments: “Interesting. Rather than report the facts, they seem to have chosen sides and prefer to agitate.”

On President Bush: “Mr. Madison once told me that one day in this country anyone will be able to grow up to become President. I guess it’s true.”

On “Girl’s Gone Wild” infomercial: “I understand your dilemma young David. It’s tawdry, craven and degrading. And I cannot stop watching it either.”

I show him how a telephone works and further explain how you can call anyone anytime. He reflects for a moment and says, “Let’s call Jesus Christ right now.” Realizing that we’re not going to stay in the library for 24 hours and that he looks more like a character from a costume drama than someone from the 21st century, I encourage the Sage of Monticello to don some of my more temporally appropriately clothing. We decide he looks like a faded ex-hippie who survived the 60’s. In his case the 1760’s. That will be his cover and we’ll stick to it.

Being for the Benefit of Mr. Jefferson

The time had now come to leave the house. I prep him on all the modern forms of conveyance so he’s more comfortable being transported at speeds above 10 mph. At first he’s incredulous at planes, trains and automobiles, but as he possesses a learning curve almost parallel to the y-axis, the celerity with which he comprehends my briefing is arresting.

TJ: All those aeroplanes you mention, how are they prevented from colliding?

DH: Wow! How did you even think of that? That’s my vocation. I work for the federal government’s executive branch as an air traffic controller ensuring that airplanes remain safely separated from each other. We use little TV screens to see where and what altitudes the airplanes are at and then we issue instructions called clearances to ensure they never get too close. Much like the post office and national defense, air traffic control has been deemed an inherently governmental function.

TJ: I see. It’s like a finely staged aerial ballet.

DH: Well that depends on the controller staging it. We have our command performances as well as our elementary school plays.

As we enter my 2006 KIA Sedona minivan (also known as “The Babe Magnet”), I decide, despite the man’s steely grasp of vehicular movements, I’d better do the driving. Believing a trip to San Francisco would offer the best introduction to 21st century America, we buckle up and head for an eventual helicopter ride at Pier 41 in San Francisco. In the background various Beatles, Elvis, Led Zeppelin, Beethoven and Sting CDs are playing. To avoid a derailing media frenzy, I resolve to video our activities now and explain them later. What purpose would it serve to expose our situation thereby diminishing our experience?

After the initial radiance of things has grown more familiar with time, a certain relaxed camaraderie settles in as “Back in the USSR” followed by “Dear Prudence” plays over our conversation.

DH: How did you all persevere back then competing with any number of morose earthbound limitations. I guess I’m referring to the general ignorance of the age and its lack of conveniences. The medical ineptitude alone must’ve been just bitterly stupefying. Wasn’t it just galling and dispiriting – especially for the enlightened ones?

TJ: That’s really a question for any age. We’re all limited on earth. Do you realize how your present condition doesn’t allow for authenticity, but merely distraction?  We did just fine without air conditioning and anesthesia. We thought that was God’s will. And it was – back then. Limitations are inherent in any society so you simply fold them in and move on. To the extent I believe in an almighty I know he recognizes this and surely doesn’t expect us to become paralyzed by existing circumstances. Sometimes difficulties are just a convenient excuse for indulgence, inaction or even negligence. If I’ve learned one thing it’s that all this duality is an illusion. And although I never wrote or said much about this, it’s God’s love that underpins everything. We are not fear, we are love.

DH: Don’t you austere forefathers ever smile?

TJ You try thirty hours of sitting for a Gilbert Stuart portrait and see if you can still smile. I enjoy humor immensely – the plays of Addison and Shakespeare or the novels of Swift and Defoe. I just finished a most delightful “Rip Van Winkle” by Mr. Washington Irving. Humor has its place, but the crux of my life is to never waste time being unproductive. Dr. Franklin taught me as much. Generally one’s internal governor allows you to discern the benefits of directing energies towards intellectual pursuits like astronomy and architecture or venereal pursuits like Miss Hemmings or in your case “The Girls Going to be Wild” promotions. It all has its place and none should be denied as that tends to create distortions and pressures in other areas. Exercise your whole person.

DH: (“Strawberry Fields” playing) Wow. Jefferson the philosopher. Is there anything you can’t do?

TJ: Yes – Convincing John Adams to trust the people is something I could never do. You know Franklin and I wanted a unicameral legislature elected directly by the people, but the Federalists demanded a deliberative senate. Since both houses are elected directly by the people now, I guess we both got our wish.

Really David, although I complained about the drudgery of my writing table or was frustrated by the lack of adequate creature comforts, I always felt it my duty to improve the lot of others and of myself by keeping an active mind focused on improvements of all sorts. Service to others is obedience to God (“Abbey Road” Ends “ with “and in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love, you make”).

And for this I was labeled a Renaissance man by some and a heretical deist by others, when all the while I was just productively occupying my time. It’s how most of us coped back then and certainly this was more difficult for others who were far less prosperous than I. (he sees a car slowing in front of us while I’m paying rapt attention to him) David, you might want to get in the other lane of this turnpike.

DH: Jesus you catch on fast. I wonder how I’d do in your age. Well that’s probably another story.

TJ: David, there appears to be one of those black and white constable vehicles shadowing you. And his lights are ablaze.

DH: Damn a cop car. (He pulls us over while “Lovely Rita Meter Maid” begins)

Cop: Good Afternoon sir. May I see your license and registration please. (I present it to him.) Did you realize you made an unsafe lane change back there?

DH: I do now. I’m sorry, I was deeply involved in conversation and suffered a lapse.

Cop: Who’s your friend here?

DH: Who him? Ummm. That’s Thomas Jefferson {I can’t believe I blurted that out} – Damn it!.

Cop: Thomas Jefferson huh?

DH: Yes sir. {Now I start playing along}  Yup. Thomas Jefferson the third president of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence…among other things.

Cop: Really now. Have you been drinking?

DH: No officer. I mean just this Jamba Juice here. It’s all fruit you know.

Cop: (Peering in) Y’know it’s funny, he does kinda look like Jefferson. (To Jefferson.) What is your name friend and where are you from?

TJ: Greetings constable. My name is uh (remembering something he’d just read) Tupac Washington and I hail from Albemarle County, Virginia. I’m visiting my cousin David who this day is providing me a tour of Saint Francisco.

Cop: Saint Francisco?

DH: He means San Francisco. Y’know San Fran, the city by the bay, we built this city on rock and roll. Cousin Tupac doesn’t get off his mountain top much.

Cop: (looking puzzled) Hillbilly huh. Well I’m gonna let you go this time, but not before I give you a “fix it” ticket for a broken taillight. (writes the ticket. I’m thankful for a non-moving violation.) You two have a fine time in (chuckles) Saint Francisco. If you like it there you might want to visit Saint Joe to the south.

TJ: Constable (looking at the citation) am I to apprehend from said ticket that my cousin has a malfunctioning taillight on this horseless apparatus?

DH: (grabbing ticket from Mr. Jefferson) Thank you officer. We’ll be going now.

Cop: What century is your cousin from?  Alright merge carefully with the traffic on your left and keep an eye on cousin Tupac here.

We pull out onto 580 and continue our discussion while making our way to San Francisco.

It’s the Same Thing only Different

TJ: Tell me David, what sort of enemies does our country face these days? Is it our traditional nemesis Great Britain or has the Oriental man gained some kind of ascendancy? What brand of foreign entanglements is the country obliged to defend itself against.

DH: Great Britain hardly. They are our staunchest ally now.

TJ: John Bull. From implacable enemy to trusted friend. Curious. I was always somewhat of a Francophile. They at least had nuance and an aesthetic sense. Britain’s culinary retardation gave one pause to wonder if the reformation would’ve been more beneficial had it occurred in their kitchens rather than their churches.

DH; Well sir, it’s true. Bubble and squeak[9] are edible obstacles we’ve learned to overcome. Nowadays, besides the general enemies of ignorance, envy and greed, there are specific problems now with Muslim extremists. A clash of cultures if you will.

TJ: We too had our conflicts with them. The Muslim Barbary Coast pirates of Morocco, Algiers, Tripoli and Tunisia hectored and plundered Mediterranean shipping for decades. Its Muslim leaders or Pashas were more about soliciting money than spreading ideology though. The vainglorious Pashas drew tribute from all who plied its waters. When treating for elimination of such tributes as ambassador to France in 1785, I asked Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman of Tripoli by what right they extorted money and took slaves off these ships.

The ambassador answered us that the right was founded on the Laws of the Prophet (Mohammed), that it was written in their Koran, that :

all nations who should not have answered their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman (or Muslim) who should be slain in battle was sure to go to heaven.

By 1800 20% of our government’s budget (about $2 million) went for tributes and ransom to these clannish fiefdoms. This had to change so with the patriotic assistance of Lieutenant Stephen Decatur and others in our nascent Navy we put an end to it by terrorizing their harbors and their shipping till it became unprofitable for them to continue. Truth be told, their truckling was more about money than religion.

The great Decatur was later killed in a senseless duel not unlike Hamilton and Burr’s. Gentlemen weren’t supposed to shoot at each other, but once having confronted one another on this supercilious field of honor they were supposed to fire into the air, thereby discharging their duty. Even so they brought their surgeons with them in case blood was drawn. And it was. Surgeons? They earned their 18th century medical degrees from barber shops. My abhorrence of such avoidable tragedy is only mitigated by its possible cautionary example to others.

DH: Well I don’t know how to present our 21st century example of Barbary Pirates except to say there were 2 one hundred story buildings in New York City they knocked down with suicidal flying projectiles killing 3500 people. 

TJ: And what was your response?

DH: Not very effective. We’ve managed to kill multiple numbers since then at the cost of billions of dollars, only to further isolate ourselves.

TJ: What pray tell would’ve been an optimal response?

DH: I was hoping you might know.

TJ: Well it would seem arms or financial emolument is futile in assuaging them therefore we must take another tack. Do these people feel oppressed? If so what is the root cause of their argument. If it can be met by engaging them with reason and diplomacy it may be peaceably solved. This would certainly be worth the effort. If however they are hell bent on your destruction than extirpation of their leaders is warranted and should be actively pursued. Obviously both tracks need to be undertaken simultaneously to draw them out. We either remedy the situation through some kind of negotiation or perturb them enough so they may expose themselves and you may eliminate them. Do you have any Lieutenant Stephen Decaturs in your midst?

DH: We did. His name was Pat Tillman. But sadly, much like Decatur, he was also killed by friendly fire.

TJ: Remember this above all David: ignorance is the true terrorism.

After observing several ‘Got Milk?’ billboards, Mr. Jefferson remarks, “What is the significance of having milk sloppily arrayed on your upper lip?  I don’t understand what it is motivating me to do?”

A Bridge to the 21st Century

With Elvis’s “I’m All Shook Up” in the background, I use my FasTrak Pass at the Bay Bridge toll plaza and we begin to cross the august double-decked structure. He notes its anchorages, suspended span and the many outsized ships that slip underneath it. I mention the history of San Francisco’s earthquakes including the Loma Prieta damage and he shares with me a story and a prediction, “I’m not unfamiliar with quavering lithography. After a major temblor in Albemarle County, my insensible 30 year old sister Elizabeth bolted from the plantation and the poor thing was later found deceased from exposure while cowering in a ravine. As to this Loma Prieta earthquake, as long as the radiating energy is transferred parallel to the structure and not in a perpendicular or shearing manner its stability should not be threatened.”   

Halfway across the bridge, a flotilla of diverse skyscrapers hoves into view causing the usually prepossessed Mr. Jefferson become slightly slack-jawed and utters, “Truly exceptional – it’s like the opposite of Armageddon.”

By now each of us have expended bundles of energy and while still ecstatic, we’ve grown famished, so I park the car at Union Square and we visit the famous Sears restaurant where the sign reads, “Breakfast Anytime.” TJ takes the cue and decides to order breakfast from the Renaissance.  

I love this guy, but sometimes I wish he wasn’t quite so literal.

We order off the menu and bountiful plates of eggs benedict and johnny cakes (corn pancakes) arrive.

TJ: Are these so-called eggs benedict named after that nefarious traitor Benedict Arnold.

DH: Yes. You eat them then one hour later they turn on you.

TJ: I get it. You’re not made of stone either.

The conversation continues over tea and OJ.

Trés Ben

DH: (Over a Muzak version of “Got to Get You Into My Life”) What’s it like being revered and idolized by an adoring population?

TJ: Not all is as it seems. Idolatry is understandable, but sometimes it’s just an excuse for limiting one’s aspirations and application because somebody you believe in has gotten there first. Y’know they set the bar and you walk under it. Hmmm. That’s most peculiar.

DH: What is?

TJ: I normally would never use a colloquialism like that – “Y’know they set the bar and you walk under it.” I seem to be absorbing the trends and affectations of your age.

DH: Yes, but just a little. It’s more like Absorbine Jr.

TJ: I saw that product at a Walgreens Shoppe on Polk St. Very funny David. Funny without being ribald. Polk was a President no doubt?

DH: Oh yeah. James Knox Polk is my favorite president – next to you of course. He was a protégé of Andrew Jackson. Under his administration in the late 1840s he made us a continental power by securing the rest of the United States from your Louisiana Purchase all the way to the Pacific. I esteem him so greatly, I named my son after him.

TJ: You named your son Polk Hardiman?

DH: No. But I did name him Taylor Knox Hardiman. I’m a little starry-eyed when it comes to early American presidents. What about you?

TJ: Well I was an early American president so I labor under no such illusion.

DH: No, I mean did you ever feel eclipsed and humbled by anyone.  

TJ: Of course. We all do. I too have been awed and overshadowed by others.

DH: Like when?

The waiter brings the check and asks the pony-tailed Jefferson if he’s ever been to the Fillmore in its hey day.

TJ: No, but I have visited King Louis XVI in Versailles.

Waiter: King Louis XVI? He was king in the 1780s.

TJ: And your point is?

The waiter grins broadly and walks off.

DH: Well how about it then. Did you ever feel eclipsed and humbled by anyone?

TJ: Well, when I was appointed ambassador to France in 1783 I replaced the world renowned Benjamin Franklin. He’d made his name on two continents as the discoverer of electrical fluid and had tamed the wrath of heavenly thunder with his lightning rod. Some of his intimates were the greatest men of the age – James Watt, Voltaire, Cotton Mather and Casanova, among others. I was 40 he was 77 and revered for his homespun sagacity as well as his practical community based improvements in public education, health and our version of technological advancement[10]. Trepidation preceded me as I assumed the post. So when asked how I planned to replace Dr. Franklin in the court of King Louis XVI I responded, “I do not intend to replace Dr. Franklin. I merely hope to succeed him.”

DH: Everything is universal isn’t it?

TJ: Well let’s not get too starry-eyed now David. Everything is universal in the macro sense, but it’s so differentiated by time and circumstance, it’s unique for everyone.

I love this guy. He’s nuanced, but edgy.

Shoppe Till You Droppe

I pay the bill and show him whose portrait is on what currency. He is disappointed with his Edgehill Stuart portrait on the $2 bill, but pleased Franklin made the C-note. Showing surprise Hamilton vaulted all the way to the $10 bill, he’s a bit puzzled Adams is nowhere to be found on coin or currency.

We walk back to Union Square and shop at Macy’s where, in their housewares department, we witness a vacuum cleaner demonstration. After observing its operation, Mr. Jefferson says without any sense of irony. “Hmm. This contraption really sucks doesn’t it?” 

Mr. Jefferson senses my discomfiture and quickly adds, “Hey David. I’m not carved in stone you know. That was a joke.”

DH: Actually you are sir. Remember. It’s called Mount Rushmore. (Show him images from my iPhone)

TJ: I forgot. How distressingly gratifying to see my humble countenance written in stone – a pious Virginian lionized on Mt Olympus. David, do you think our incredible adventure is just a unique confluence of events designed to edify you?

DH: You know, I don’t know what to think. Thinking may not be the most effective operand. I’m moved beyond expression. I can tell I’m moved because my cynicism has vanished.  

We continue shopping at Neiman-Marcus and Niketown (gawking really) where Mr. Jefferson buys a short-brimmed cycling cap. Getting back in the car, we leave Union Square and park at the 3rd Street Parking Garage[11] south of Market, and stroll through the Metreon (a hip nexus of movie theaters, restaurants and cool technology stores) to the SF Museum of Modern Art. At the Jasper Johns exhibit he comments on the state of the American flags.

TJ: So many stars on the American flag. That can only mean one thing.

DH: Yes. Our federal union – it was preserved. Perhaps perverted a bit, but definitely intact and cohesive enough; thanks in large part to you and your collaborative band of brothers.

We meander through the museum whose gamut of expression (this being San Francisco) defies description. Eventually he’s drawn to a small cameo by the English miniaturist artist Richard Cosway (1742-1827).

TJ: Cosway! I met him on the continent in Paris. His wife Maria and I shared many fond days together. Cosway himself was a self-absorbed fop who practically abandoned his wife, but Maria was a lovely, feminine creature at once intellectually gifted and physically striking. I once broke my right wrist trying to vault a field fence just to impress her. She affected my heart and my head. And in answer to your question the answer is no, There are no Thomas Jefferson descendants in Europe. At least as of 1820.

Additionally, I’ve ruminated over this other issue and, after listening to the Beetles music, I feel that judging me on Sally Hemmings is like judging the Beetles on say “Mr. Moonlight” or “Matchbox.” You don’t get a clear sense of either one unless you listen to the whole catalogue spanning our entire careers.

DH: It’s interesting you choose two songs they didn’t write, but only covered. The songs they wrote were more musically creative and infinitely more popular.

TJ: What about “Revolution 9” and “Don’t Pass Me By.”

DH: Let me tell you something about those songs.  No Yoko. No “Revolution 9” and “Don’t Pass Me By” was all Ringo.

TJ: You do love those guys don’t you?

I love this guy.

Forefather’s Just Wanna Have Fun

Introspection and epiphanies be damned. We’re going to paint his town red, white and blue. So me and Tommy rent one of those Zip electric cars and whisk ourselves all over San Francisco: from the Mission District to Nob Hill; from the Ferry Building to the Presidio; from Coit Tower to Golden Gate Park where he is mesmerized by the artwork at the de Young. Later we walk to the mid span of the Golden Gate Bridge and toss two Jefferson nickels into the bay, then lunch at the Cliff House. I avoid touristy dens of iniquity like gentleman’s clubs, bath houses or Fisherman’s Wharf. Mitchell Brother’s Theater is another story. Let’s just say he never knew a pole could have so many uses.

TJ: These many Starbucks offices – are they a political party or a church. Their green and black pagan icon seems to be everywhere.

DH: No they’re actually a caffeine party serving heavenly coffee. With the defeat of the British we began drinking coffee instead of tea and Starbucks vends it to a jolt-needy populace.

As we negotiate the monumental canyons of steel and glass in the Financial District, he remarks on how two Starbucks caffeine brothels, not 75 rods from each other can remain solvent. I tell him for the same reason wine is elevated all out of proportion. In the former it’s the jolt of caffeine and in the latter it’s the pleasant toxicity of alcohol. Take away the high or low of either and you’re selling flavored liquid.

TJ: I think you’re being rather judgmental when it comes to these beverages. For centuries they’ve served most people quite well. You’re an interesting case – one part prude, one part voluptuary.

DH: Yeah. Duality runs in our species, but it sprints in me.

TJ: David, David, David. Didn’t you hear me say duality is just an illusion?

I don’t always love this guy.

Our Natural Pastime

It is with great anticipation I take him to one of the most magnificent sports venues in all of Christendom – gorgeous AT&T Park where we watch Buster Posey and the Giants defeat the dreaded Dodgers 6 to 2. Tommy loves it. The beautiful irregularity of the brick stadium, the crack of the bat, the flash paper cheering of the fans, the cotton candy, the Orlando Cepeda cha-cha bowl washed down with Ghirardelli hot chocolate, the clam chowder in a bread bowl (2 of them). He ate so much I finally said to him, “aside from the food Mr. Jefferson, how did you like the game?”

But Mr. Jefferson was watching the game intently and at one point with a runner on first and a 2 ball no strike count said. “This might be an opportune time for a hit and run.” How does he do that? After Pablo Sandoval roped one into McCovey Cove, he asks, “Now are the dark-skinned players compensated for their athletic efforts?” I’m at a loss how to respond then Tommy just grins at me and says, “Do not underestimate me. That too was a joke David.”

 DH: That sounds like a joke I might make.

 TJ: I know.

 I love this guy.

 Retrocool

After the game we zip over to that kitschy San Francisco landmark – the Equinox restaurant atop the Hyatt Embarcadero. It rises 18 stories and majestically rotates like a mutant slide carousel, providing a glittering panoramic vista of the grand San Francisco skyline. It’s an almost forgotten relic of the 70’s, eclipsed by ever loftier commercial endeavors. We’re seated and Mr. Jefferson reflexively orders an 1803 Lafitte-Rothschild which they’ll gladly serve to you at $798,000 a bottle.  “How much for just a glass,” I say. “Alright. How about something from 200 years later. A 2003 Opus One perhaps.”

Mr. Jefferson quaffs the wine while I nurse a Reed’s Ginger Brew. We talk animatedly for almost two revolutions (of the restaurant, not geopolitical ones) and after showing him a couple of my stories, I ask him his opinion.

TJ: Well I believe they definitely have their place in American literature.

DH: You really think so? Where?

TJ: The Northwest Territories would be nice.

I tolerate this guy.

A Cable Car Named Desire

On the elevator ride down through the expansive atrium, we converse about Presidential stuff.

DH: Yeah Jackson is actually viewed as the enabler of your ideals. It was called Jacksonian Democracy.

TJ: Jackson! My enabler. That slobbering duelist and martial gorilla. How could he possibly advance my views? Well, did it work?

DH: In the long run yes, but quashing Nicholas Biddle’s Bank of the United States caused the panic of 1837 which depressed land prices and evaporated capital. Unlike slavery, elitism and hereditary privilege were mostly nipped in the bud, so we didn’t have to revisit the issue so calamitously in the future. (I ended the sentence with an unexpected flourish. That’s just the Reed’s Ginger Brew talking.)

TJ: Bitter medicine early on. Good point. Well, well – little Nicky Biddle has grown up. He came from an upstanding Philadelphia family. It was Mr. Biddle who helped William Clark write the narrative of the great expedition he, Meriwether Lewis and the Corps of Discovery made while exploring the Louisiana Territories. I truly hoped they discovered a feasible water communication between the Missouri River and the waters of the Pacific Ocean. When they didn’t I was labeled a utopian adventurer.

DH: Oh, but sir, the Lewis and Clark expedition was a resounding success and is still celebrated today during its bicentennial. (I show him some nickels commemorating same.)

TJ: This astounds me for at that time I was vilified by the opposition press for squandering public funds on such a preposterous venture. I remember stating, among other more accurate predictions, the possibility of great salt mountains 1000 miles up the Missouri River. When these accounts proved negative the Federalist press retorted: “We do not learn that Lewis confirms the account given by the President a few years since, of the huge mountain of salt and therefore conclude it has dissolved.”

That was quite a stinging rebuke focusing on one insignificant aspect of the expedition. I commissioned and organized that exploration and knew full well its direct and ancillary benefits. I’m now pleased to discover it was a significant lever in populating the western territories.

And you say Andrew Jackson succeeded John Quincy Adams to the presidential chair. I must ask. Who succeeded Jackson?

We board a cable car at the base of California Street and climb past Grace Cathedral.

DH: Oh, I’m just, I mean, I can’t …This is exquisitely agonizing for me. I love knowing something you don’t and then being able to bestow it upon you. Like a thunderclap I can close the aching gap between tantalizing anticipation and divine satisfaction. This must be why S&M is so popular. Anyway the president who succeeded Jackson is – are you ready?

TJ: You don’t make this easy Hardiman. Every question you reveal to me cannot be met with such theatrics. We’ve got hours yet. Now more to the point, be direct with me I plead.
DH: Yes sir. Please pardon my giddiness. Our 8th president was Martin Van Buren.

TJ: Matty, huh. Hmmm. Interesting. He did visit me at Monticello recently and seemed rather studious and political.  A champion of the new Canal they’re building across NY State. A suitable choice.

After alighting from the cable car we enter a cozy little Portuguese bistro on near Polk Street called GrubStake. The owner/operators serve 8 items only and do a terrific job of creating an authentically ethnic flavor. I order the caldo verde soup (kale, potatoes and sausage) and Tommy gets the Bacalhau Cozido Com Todos (boiled codfish with potatoes, vegetables and hard cooked eggs).

We’re a little spent and now converse much less frenetically.

DH: Alright, I’m now resolved to just be here in the moment with you and not sully the experience by focusing on its tantalizing irregularity. Let’s play through.

TJ: Your stratagem is likely of great benefit to each of us. I too shall simplify and let our time have its own mood. This reminds me of a little known story about George Washington. As the General had no children of his own, Alexander Hamilton and I were like sons to him and he was pained by our divergent political views. And like a loving father attempting to bind the wounds of his divided family he took us on a three day fishing excursion to a little spit of land called Sandy Hook, New Jersey just south of Manhattan Island. There we were. George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and I, sailing around in Hamilton’s little wooden sloop, drinking Madeira (the General’s favorite), pitching tents and playing cards. We encamped on the shore and caught many sea bass and black fish that happy weekend. Amid the reverie and recreation the President warned us against internecine factionalism and its deleterious effect on our young nation. He implored us to set aside our differences and act cohesively.

While Mr. Hamilton and I professed enthusiasm for his suggestion, we both knew in the long term, it would never happen. We promised to eliminate our sniping and combine our political divisions. But back within the confines of Manhattan Island, soon all was political tumult again and the two party system was upon us.

DH: “It couldn’t really have happened any other way,” I said, slurping my soup.

TJ: And as much as AH detested my politics, it was he who supported me, his political nemesis, in the disputed presidential election of 1800 between myself and Aaron Burr. His unexpected support eventually led to the tragic duel in which that poltroon, Burr killed Mr. Hamilton. So even though, Alexander loathed my politics, he respected me enough to place the country’s fortunes in my hands, safely away from Burr’s megalomania.

DH: I’m not sure I’m following this.

TJ: As the poet once said; “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”

DH: A poet said that?

Smile Away

After dinner on our tour of the Presidential avenues, we walk on his namesake street. He just smiles and says, “It’s not paved with gold but at least there isn’t any horse excrement strewn about.” When I tell him I’m going to take him down the crookedest street in America (Lombard St), he says. “You have a Pennsylvania Avenue out here too?” Man does he learn fast.

Having crammed 3 days worth of activities into 12 hours it’s obvious our time has become seriously warped and we took full advantage of its wayward syncopation in kind of a don’t ask, don’t tell way. We stroll down Van Ness we begin to talk about our oil-based economy.

TJ: This petroleum you speak of sounds like liquid gold. It’s tamed explosive properties have allowed for myriad efficiencies my generation could only dream of.

DH: That’s true, but we’re running through this liquid gold like its water. Our whole economy is based on it and even though we’re sitting on a sea of it, we used to sit on an ocean. I’m sanguine about emerging alternative technologies like fuel cells.

TJ: That seems to be your problem though. That fuel sells – all too rapidly.

DH: No sir. I refer to clean or solar energy. We can harness tides and store the energy in batteries or pump water, combined with learning to be less profligate our energy needs will be solved. The truth is America, with only 6% of the world’s population, consumes roughly 25% of its energy.

TJ: Hmmm. That is an inconvenient truth. Well I recall Robert Malthus’ dire predictions of massive famines as population outstripped food supplies and he turned out to be wholly incorrect. Efficient innovation, like the cotton gin or the Internet is central to overcoming limitations.

Our Helicopter Ride

At Mr. Jefferson’s suggestion we hop the Powell Street cable car to Pier 41 where at my suggestion we pursue an aerial route through San Francisco. Mindful that my Sunol Grade fantasies were becoming reality, I was surprisingly calm about 17 years of pent up demand expressed in one beautiful moment.

Fees were paid and we entered the glass bubbled cockpit with the song “Somebody to Love” blaring above the din of the rotors.

Pilot: What are your names again?

DH: I’m Hardiman and he’s Jefferson.

We elevate and soon we’re over water at 500 feet.

TJ: (Gazing at a Boeing 737 flying off in the distance) What is that form of aerial conveyance?

Pilot: That’s an airplane Jefferson.

TJ: And who is playing this music I hear?

Pilot: That’s Jefferson Airplane.

TJ: (Looking puzzled) I’m confused by those answers, but I’ll just attribute it to the times. (Seeing Alcatraz Island) What do you call that Island with the fortress on it?

Pilot: It’s called Alcatraz and it used to be a prison.

TJ: I see. The island of Al Catraz. Do the Catrazas’s own any other nearby plantations.

Pilot: Let’s fly around the Transamerica Building. It’s the one shaped kind of like a pyramid.

TJ: That’s quite a headstone. Is anyone buried there?

We climb to 1500 feet and head south toward the armada of edifices. Although literally not quite understanding the gravity of the situation, my baffled yet serene forefather surveys the situation below and, after buzzing the TransAmerica building, leans over and politely inquires above the din of the rotors, “Tell me squire David, would this gyroscopic motivator be manufactured by the da Vinci Rotary Works?”  

I really love this guy.

The tour continues and Mr. Jefferson is delighted by the Gold Rush stories and earthquake histories. As we exit the helipad, I call him Tommy and he calls me H-Man. I guess we really are products of our times. Even though much of our encounter is filmed I deem it wise to get an autograph of the man. I still keep it in a hallowed area of my library to-day.

Recognition of an Unexpected Sort

As me and Tommy reconnoiter the streets of San Francisco, I notice how many people seem to know him. They recognize me too, but from some 1800’s vibe. I don’t understand it, so I just trust it and move ahead.

DH: So many people seem to recognize you.

TJ: They do recognize me because I knew them in my time and now I recognize their souls in this time.

DH: Poppycock, supernatural piffle. That kind of wishful hocus-pocus could never happen.

TJ: Oh really. And my materializing in your presidential library was some sort of mundane reality-based event?

DH: Point well taken. It’s true. I mean I seem to know you and you certainly recognize me. How is it that I sense the echoes of a time gone by?

TJ: I knew it would come to this. How do I couch this David? You do seem to enjoy my humor – agreed

DH: Yes.

TJ: And I think it would be a fair statement to say that essentially my sallies are met with joy.

DH: Sallies met with joy. Sallys! Sally! Oh no!

TJ: Yes.

DH: No!

TJ: Yes, it’s true. I would state it this way David: I hold this truth to be sacred and undeniable, but Dr. Franklin would probably edit the statement and say we hold this truth to be self-evident; that in a past incarnation your soul inhabited the body of Sally Hemmings and the warm residue of our relationship accounts for the intersecting perturbation of our orbits.

DH: This changes everything. Not that materializing in my presidential library wasn’t astonishing enough, but this…this…well… actually it doesn’t change much does it. It’s all in the past and certainly explains a lot of things. All I can do is tell people the story of once being the concubine of Thomas Jefferson and that he loved me like a demon. Someone’s soul had to reside in Sally’s body and so it was mine. This master-slave dynamic doesn’t exactly gibe with my current self image although it’s not like you were Simon Legree or anything. Then again, in the scheme of things, I’m just some fragment of an unfathomably large process.

TJ: Right. Y’know I’ve been thinking about your explanation of microwaves and how they make things hotter. Well, do they have microwaves that make things cooler?

Sometimes I wish this guy would validate my insights.

Unbending

TJ: Let me just say this David. On the whole, life is really not that grave.

DH: Oh really. Well if it’s not that grave, which grave is it?

TJ: The time has come and I must be leaving now. I’m going back to Monticello to continue my work and father the University of Virginia; maybe with a domed stadium. I’ll be seeing you back at Mulberry Row. I’m sure you’ll recognize me.

DH: I’m sure I will. But if I don’t, we’ll always have San Francisco.

We once again grab each other’s shoulders and say, “We did it. We did it.” With that I walk him back down Jefferson street where he gently dematerializes while from some distant window is heard the haunting strains of “Strawberry Fields.” 

I love this guy.

By David Hardiman and Thomas Jefferson

 


 

[1] From Wikipedia, a source now barred by most universities for serious academic research.

[2] DNA testing proves almost conclusively that TJ fathered 5 children with Sally. Although from his perspective I’m sure conceiving them had nothing at all to do with fathering. Not condoning the action, I’m merely observing a common practice in the antebellum South. And for Strom Thurmond it was a common practice in the postbellum South.

[3] Some might narrowly argue that subverting the Constitution is subverting the Constitution. Well “slippery slope” my ass. When TJ does it that’s one thing, but when James Dobson wants to, that’s quite another.

[4] If this were a bad movie, an organ would play an eerie and ominous chord here.

[5] I’ve actually created a warm and inviting small-scale Presidential library in my den, replete with books, autographs, paraphernalia and all kinds of historical materials collected over 4 decades – from the kitschy to the scholarly.

[6] In 1866, the state of Mississippi dedicated fully 60% of its budget for the purchase of prosthetic limbs.

[7] The Col TJ refers to is a Kentuckian who allegedly killed Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames (1813). He was also a future Vice-President under Martin Van Buren (1837-1841). TJ is dead-on right from his 1820 perch. Col. Johnson did aspire to the Presidency, but southern charges of amalgamation doomed his effort.

[8] Amalgamationist being a euphemism in those days for negro lover.

[9] An English dish typically made from leftover potatoes and cabbage fried together.

[10] MR. JEFFERSON is undoubtedly referring to the Franklin Stove, lightning rods and Mr. Franklin’s success as royal postmaster in getting a letter from Philadelphia to New York City in 24 hours. Information at the speed of hooves.

[11] A structure so pretentious it actually has its own website. I’m not kidding Although in its defense, it is the number one parking garage website on the Internet. It’s also the only parking garage website on the Internet.

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