'Shit into one hand and pray into the other; see which one fills up first.'
A lone traveler walked up the dusty road to The Tilted Radish. They say that all roads lead to Rome, but if you happen to be passing by The Radish, Rome will wait while you have a drink or two. And look, the lone traveler agrees! He walks with a rapid gait, cloaking billowing out behind him. Any traveler worth his salt knows that the next drink is miles and miles off, and the sun is already setting.
Inside, it is warm. The traveler, being of sound mind, takes off his cloak and hat. A cheer greets his face – they have been expecting him.
But there is no cheer on his face. His eyes are wide and ringed with dark circles, his mouth drawn, his cheeks pale. His friends press around him, lead him gently to the bar, and press a mug into his hands before assaulting him with questions.
The patrons of the Radish have their priorities straight!
Surrounded by good company and filling with good drink, the traveler begins to recover. Only now do his friends start asking questions:
“What happened, Bill?”
“Where have you been?”
“Would you like another drink?”
Good questions all – Bill has been gone for months now, more than enough time for the good country patrons to forget why he left in the first place.
“All your questions will be answered, friends. I’ll have that other drink, Fred, and all of you may wish to join me. This story may take a while to tell and you will need all your mental courage!” Bill took a fortifying pull to steady his trembling voice. “As you know, I have been in the City these past three months.”
The patrons nodded sagely. Bill often went to the City – sometimes for his family’s business, sometimes for their families’ business, and sometimes for entertainment. Bill was strange in that way. No wonder he looks so ill! Poor soul! Better him than us!
“On my way to the City, I met a fellow traveler. Since the road is long and winding, with very little to pass the time, we talked and walked together. Right away, I knew he was a very learned man, for I could hardly understand a word he said. The only part I can remember is our conversation about flowers – for what happened afterwards was the start of my most harrowing experience.”
“’What we call a flower,’ he said, ‘is not really a flower at all. It is nothing more than the aggregate of the base elements of a flower. The flower itself does not actually exist, only the base elements of the system. Only fools would think that the aggregate itself exists as a single thing!’”
“’But,’ I said, ‘Could we not call the aggregate of the base elements of a flower, a flower? After all, to call it an aggregate also implies it is a single thing.’”
“’A single thing? Bah! To call it an aggregate presupposes it is made of many parts!’”
“’But to call it a flower also means it is made of many parts – petals, stems, roots.’”
“’Bah!’ he repeated, ‘I should have expected as much from a country bumpkin. Be glad you have met me on the road. Had you spoken that folly in the City, they would have laughed you out of town!’”
“While I reflected on this man’s wisdom, he suddenly stopped in the middle of the road. ‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.’”
“’Begging your pardon,’ he said, ‘But I need to stop to relieve myself.’”
The patrons muttered at the learned man’s forwardness.
“But I suppose,” said Fred the bartender, “Natural necessity affects City folk and country folk the same.”
Bill shuddered, but continued his story. “I, course assured him that I would wait a bit up the road so that we could continue our conversation once he finished. I walked a bit up the road to give him some privacy. And then…”
“And then?” asked the patrons.
“And then!” cried Bill, “And then he returned, holding his own waste in his right hand!”
There was a general ruckus of shouts of disbelief, disgust, and refills.
“Was it the First or the Second?” shouted a small old man.
“The Second!” cried Bill.
“Would it have been better or worse if it was the First?”
“What in God’s name was he thinking?”
“That’s what I asked!” said Bill
“What did he say?”
“There must have been some reason.”
“He said, ‘Why, I thought you wanted to continue our conversation. Was it not a grand diversion from this long and weary road? Or has my wisdom been too much for you?’ And then he laughed! He laughed! Hand full of his own shame!”
Chairs and stools creaked as the patrons moved in closer. It was the only sound. Every ear strained to hear what happened next.