Monday, November 18, 2013

a message from the Vice-President of the United States of America

dear Karl,

Sorry for the delay in responding.  There were some complications in governance.  Every essential part of our mandate was originally connected to breadfruit, but I've been pulling some strings at the Capitol and I think that the orchard bill will be signed before Congress adjourns in December.  You have your own wandering lifestyle. I get that.  Must have learned the old mythologies and gone on to accept them as true.  Some other way of experiencing or relating to wilderness.  Except that most folks around here don't even know what the word "wilderness" means! 

In a riveting account of Johnny's travels along the Ohio River in 1807-1809, Fortescue Cuming tells of meeting a cattle-and-hog dealer named Arlo Buffington, who a few years earlier had single-handedly killed 435 black bears in only two weeks- skins had been selling for as much as ten dollars each in those days.  If you can, conjure up the vision of a general store, a store that sells general items and eschews all specificity.  The Pig 'N Weasel was its name, and it also served as the town tavern.  Much like yourself and Johnny, Arlo enjoyed conversation, and would embrace any opportunity that presented itself.  With the proceeds from the bearkskins, he treated all the neighboring towns to an old fashioned hoe-down.  Fortescue Cuming reports that it went on for an entire week without pause.  Even Johnny was reported to have gotten in on the action.  He was known to be a master of a obscure and ancient Scotch jig, and would often perform the jig for no reason, just out of a sense of general happiness.  This caught the attention of the owner of the general store, and he approached Johnny and asked him to star in what might have been the very first commercial in our nation.  The owner felt that if passers-by saw Johnny jigging away and exuding general happiness, that would put the association in their mind that the general store might provide happiness also.  This might be one of those anecdotes where it's difficult to separate plain-dealing from fantasy, but the fact that Johnny was a master of a certain Scotch jig has been confirmed over and over.  It's in all the historical literature. 

It seems straight out of Kafka's Nature Theater of Oklahoma, ya know?  "The inner frontier and its taming."  It explores how Johnny's intensity sometimes gets mythologized and doled out to the citizenry. Mostly, though, it’s a tale of two men, one real and one perhaps partly invented; of the times they lived through, the bizarre ties that linked them, the people who questioned their sanity, and the psychological gulf that eventually merged them.  

They enjoyed conversation.  Let there be no question of that.  They had a long-standing tendency to talk about matters pertaining to the primordial wilderness deep and late into the long frontier nights, both of them highly confused by lingering questions of commerce, land rights, comic book culture, and destiny.  And yet, some eye-witnesses said that neither one of them gave an actual farthing for wilderness.  Who to believe?  Where to turn?  Which comic book symbolizes the actual truth?  And most importantly: will the new frontier ever be properly peopled?

Try and understand something, Karl: He has been the subject of a ballet and an opera, a Broadway show, concertos and a cantata, as well as Mark O’Connor’s lovely “Johnny Appleseed Suite.” Over the last sixty years, Johnny also has been featured in a constant parade of children’s books, games, and videos, many of them the spawn of one of the most famous cartoons ever turned out by the Walt Disney Studios, the 1948 classic Melody Time, which I love and still watch to this very day with my grandchildren whenever I get a chance to unwind from pressing matters of governance.  

These are serious issues; issues that are not just going away.  You can resort to conversation as often and for as long as you like, but it won't change the fact that simple Johnny, good Johnny, fair Johnny, natural Johnny, eventually decided to be in the White House production of The Orchard Players  in 2016, and according to the critics who have been allowed in to rehearsal, he has been totally knocking it out of the park!

You know as well as I do that in 2010 nearly 2,500 adult Americans nationwide were asked about four figures from our distant past- Johnny Appleseed, Daniel Boone, Paul Bunyan, and Davy Crockett: Did they ever exist or were they mythic creations? Of Boone and Crockett, there was little doubt: Roughly 92% of those surveyed were sure both men were real figures. Paul Bunyan of the blue ox and mighty ax caused more confusion: 80% thought he never existed, 10% said he did, and another 10% were unsure. Johnny Appleseed, however, walked a more middle line, which, if he were a Buddhist I might make a joke about the subtle joy and solid wisdom of treading the so-called Middle Path, as set forth by Siddhartha in that famous book by Herman Hesse, chronicling the life and times of that clever fellow who lived and taught so many ages back in antiquity.  I enjoy the statuary of that period very much and have several meditating figurines out in our vegetable patch.  I enjoy all the world religions.  The Middle Path business has always struck me as solid good sense.  But seeing as though Johnny was a Christian, that would probably be the wrong reference to make in this situation.  I'm a solid fellow myself, Karl, and I prefer to stick to the facts.  So, as you know, 58% of people surveyed said he was an actual historical figure, while 42% averred that either he never existed (29%) or that they simply couldn't make up their minds (13%).  

Figures like this begin to help me understand your own long-standing confusion, dear Karl.  Waking up with a start in the deep chill and ancient dark of the night, jolted in body and mind by the imminent apocalyptic realities, concerned as you are about orchards, wilderness, bearskins, Johnny's new career in the theater, and the endless conversations you two used to have by the campfire, the sense that "the sky was the limit", and that there was no region on earth or beyond that apple culture could not improve in due course.

I want the dream to be real.  I too would like to see The Orchard Players go straight to the top.  But for this to happen, you have to help me.  I need more access to Johnny.  His disappearing acts after rehearsals have become the stuff of legend around here.  Tell him about me.  Tell him I'm good people, ya know?  Tell him that I have read all the biographies, visited all the historical sites, engaged in near-endless conversation, and compiled a personal scrapbook.  I can speak his language now, Karl.  I make my own applesauce, apple pie, apple fritters, apple cider, etc.  I've even looked into Swedenborg!  Not the most straight-forward reading material, but oh well- I'm willing to learn!  Tell Johnny about this.  Tell him about my connections in Congress.  I can help The Orchard Players gain the momentum and traction it so richly deserves.