Under the Overpass is dedicated to revealing painful truths, and then hiding from them. We believe in the power of the suppressed subconscious to guide us to the shallowest part of the pool, where happiness, along with algae, thrive. We invite you on our journey of muted discovery, and hope you will read and view our offerings with the understanding that it will soon be forgotten. As always, we encourage you to keep your head up, and your chin down.
Letter from the Editor
What I Drank This Month
Vic Abalone – Investigative Reporter
“Real People, Real Stories, Only Interesting.”
Shipwreck of Consciousness
by Edward Casaubon
Merton’s Misbehavior – The Sacred in the Crotchety, Selected Excerpts from his Journals
In late 1967 and early into 1968 Thomas Merton, Trappist Monk cum Mystic-Poet / Social Justice & Peace Warrior is … pissed off. In between moments of contemplative bliss, and communion with nature we find that everybody wants a piece of Merton and its driving him nuts! He’s got bourbon in his belly, women on his mind and the election of the Monastery Abbot brings out the worst in his fellow monks. LBJ is driving the country apart and even his proctologist can’t check out his rectum without picking his brain! But 1968 turn’s out to be a “Beast of A Year” for the U.S. and Merton himself.
October 27, 1967
“…Got home tired after drinking bourbon I didn’t want in dull places – and finally on the way out spent most of my time arguing with [Jim Wygal] and the priest whose name I didn’t get about whether I should accept an abbatial election… ‘With your reputation you can do so much good.’ Bull shit.”
November 1, 1967
“[Rev Dan Walsh] is evidently very much taken up with those who say Pope Paul is hopeless, etc., as if this meant anything particular! The whole institutional structure is questionable: why blame everything on the poor man who can’t help be who he is – a curial official…with a few lively ideas…”
November 28, 1967
“Today my usual routine was turned upside down – lately I have been intellectually overfed and in the mornings I read less and less. Today I read almost nothing at all early in the morning…I can’t cover much ground. The piece by G. Fessard SJ., seems to me obviously insane. What kind of joker is this?”
December 2, 1967
“I feel sad about M–. She has gone to work in Miami. What a hole!”
December 9, 1967
“Found some potato soup with difficulty in the supermarket and when I opened it the can was labelled wrong. It turned out to be some kind of beef soup which I did not like.”
December 10, 1967
“The usual pre-Christmas mail – and a copy of Floating Bear [mimeographed magazine]…The issue hd something by Kerouac: I had forgotten his existence.”
“I am sick of responding to requests for articles for this or that collection that someone is editing.”
December 14, 1967 – In reference to candidates for election of Abbot
“1. Fr. Baldwin seems most likely to get it.
2. Even those who will probably vote him in (which I won’t) are not entirely happy about him. He is simply one of the most likely to be tolerated by the majority. But tolerated grudgingly by many of them…Others are actively campaigning for Dom Augustine…but these are largely the people who want TV and summer vacations, baseball, swimming etc.,…
4. More important – Fr. Baldwin is the favorite of an immature, confused, feminine element among the younger (and not so young) members of the community. This is what I don’t like. It portends a kind of wishy-washy, indeterminate, superficial ‘togetherness’ – a kind of monastic aimlessness and flaccidity…A rather sick and distressing prospect!”
December 22, 1967
“Idiot monastery business. Sunday, I announced tersely at my conference that under no circumstances would I accept the job of abbot. Later, perhaps facetiously, I mimeographed a statement, giving various reasons. I thought the touch was light enough, but today I got an irate note from the Prior blowing off steam about it, saying I had insulted the community, was wildly uncharitable, and comparing me to Bernard Shaw (as a satanic monster of pride). Apparently what troubled people most was the sentence where I said I did not want to spent the rest of my life ‘arguing about trifles with 125 confused and anxiety-ridden monks.’ This evidently threw a lot of people into tailspins, thereby proving I was right.
But in a thing like this it is not enough to be ‘right.’ The fact is the community is full of half-sick people, immensely vulnerable, wasting their lives in petty, neurotic machinations…
It is always uncomfortable to know that you have to live with other people’s delusions about you, of one kind and another. No point in overstimulating their imaginations and their resentments!”
December 24, 1967 – Christmas Eve
With my breakfast I read an appalling article in Italian on ‘The Monk’ in the Church.’ The Church is a big sacramental machine. But aha! There is a problem! If the Bishop is Father of the Diocese and Abbot is Father of the monastery, Saperisti [‘those in the know’]! Two Fathers! Aha…
The whole thing is sickening. The mechanical, cause-and effect, official machinery of Catholicism. Dreadfully dead, putrid. And yet people are committed to his insane validism, this unchristian obsession…A monastery is a place where, though there are more detailed instructions in the bottle, we follow them all meticulously, and the whole Church turns on with our magic tonic. Is LSD more honest?
…The Church is a great treadmill, and when you turn it, it churn out an ineffable substance called grace, and he who gets his pail full is thereafter untouchable, impervious to everything, neither man nor God can tell him anything. He is justified. He is right. He has a right to bash your head in if you even think of questioning it.
January 5, 1968
“Nat Turner is nothing but Styron’s own complex loneliness as a Southern writer. A well fashioned book, but littler or nothing to do with the real Turner – I have no sense that this fastidious and analytical mind is that of a prophet.”
[and later on]
January 10, 1968
“This is the key to the dishonesty of Styron’s treatment of Nat Turner. Stryon ‘enjoys’ wrath as indulgence which is not seen as having anything to do with religion whatever. Religion suddenly appears on the last page as a suggested preposterous reconciliation (in purely senti-mental terms). To treat a prophet of wrath while having no idea of the meaning of wrath, and reduce that wrath to the same level as masturbation fantasies! The whole thing is an affront to the Negro…
It reduced me finally to desperation!”
January 26, 1968
Maybe [President Lyndon] Johnson has finally got his big war, but he still hasn’t got the country with him. Never was anyone such an unconvincing fraud! On the other hand if he is determined to have a war in [North Korea], there will be a pile of trouble here at home. I don’t relish the prospect!”
January 31, 1968
“More artillery than usual whumping at [Fort] Knox. It is my fifty-third birthday. We do not have a war – only ‘the Pueblo crisis’ with senators shouting like complete morons about ‘wiping those yellow bastards off the map’ or words to that effect. Complete inanity.”
“The other day I was in town. It embarrasses me. If course, I have to see the proctologist which is always embarrassing – with your down and your asshole up in the air, trying to talk about Mexican Indians.”
February 6, 1968
A sunny day more like spring – after the usual cold night and freezing cold morning. I am not writing letters…So much of the mail is utterly pointless. Except for some that come from kids, high school or college, really suffering from the stupidity and inhumanity of their elders. Some of these people must be real bastards!
March 14, 1968
Ever increasing frenzy, tension, explosiveness in this country. You feel it in the monastery with people like Raymond. In the priesthood with so many upset, one way or another, and so many leaving. So many just cracking up, falling apart. People in Detroit buying guns. Groups of vigilantes being formed to shoot Negroes. Louisville is a violent place too. Letters in U.S. Catholic about the war article – some of the shrillest came from Louisville. This is really a mad country, and an explosion of the madness is inevitable…Total chaos is quite possible, though I don’t anticipate that. But the fears, frustrations, hatreds, irrationalities, hysterias are all there and all powerful enough to blow everything wide open.
March 30, 1968
But last evening I was reading The Essential Lenny Bruce and almost blew my mind. Completely gone in laughter, the kind that double you up and almost makes you roll on the floor. Surely that is some indication of the healthiness, and sanity of this satire which so many people regarded as ‘obscene.’ In reality, it is much more pure than the sinister doubletalk of the ‘moral’ murderers and cops. Lenny Bruce was one of the few who were really clean.
April 6, 1968
I have a week to write about and one of the more turbulent one’s in my quiet life.
…After that I went out to the Gatehouse where four college girls from St. Louis were waiting for me. We are supposed to do a tape interview for a magazine at Washington University…
…As we made the tape we drank beer. Sue S. the girl who was promoting most of it, was very intense asking lots of leading questions on fashionable topics…And we finished the tape in good style and decided to go over to… [Hawk Rogers’s restaurant] for steaks and I got a bottle of bourbon and we made a night of it. …By the time we were going home Sue was drunk and lit into me hysterically…
…Then, after a haunted sort of night in which I barely slept I went down to the monastery in the rain…
…But I remained upset about Sue, her attack, her neurosis, her mini-skirt, buxomness, etc., etc. Obviously the two of us could get in a lot of trouble and make each other thoroughly miserable. I must take care…
[And later in the journal entry, following the assination of Martin Luther King, Jr.]
When I was in Lum’s [Restaurant] I was dutifully thinking ‘here is the world.’ Red gloves, beer, freight trains. The man and child. The girls at the next table, defensive vague aloof. One felt the place was more or less filled with miserable people. Yet think of it: all of the best beers in the world were at their disposal and the place was a good idea. And the freight train was going by, going by, silhouetted against an ambiguous sunset.
So the murder of M.L. King – it lay on top of the traveling car like an animal a beast of the apocalypse. And it finally confirmed all the apprehensions – the feeling that 1968 was a beast of a year. That the things, are finally inexorably spelling themselves out. Why? Are things happening because people in desperation want them to happen? Or do they have to happen? Is the human race self-destructive? Is the Christian message of love a pitiful self-delusion? Or must one just ‘love’ in an impossible situation? And what sense can one make of an authoritarian Church that comes out 100 years late with its official pronouncements?
Two months later RKF was assassinated and by November of 1968, Merton was dead himself of accidental electrocution after a gathering of monastics in Bangkok, Thailand. He was 53. In one final touch of acerbic irony that Merton would appreciate, he the ever-vehement critic of the Vietnam war, had his body flown home by U.S. military aircraft heading back to the states.