Cause the Brittanica tells me so


Jimmy squinted at Cosmo through the luminous barrel of his Colt automatic. It gave Cosmo — (reading at random from the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, now at Wangaratta, an Australian town at the junction of the Ovens and King rivers, pop. (1933) 4,795 ) — a sort of halo.

Gun parts were laid on Cosmo’s round kitchen table for communal cleaning. Cathy sipped at the communal joint as it made its rounds, copied phone numbers onto a yellow legal pad, disregarded the boys with toys, but she had been in Mississippi, accepted the imperative of weaponry. Edna, Cosmo’s present companion, ignored them, bogarted a joint on the couch, sought hidden messages in the background drawings of a Zap Comix.

“War!” cried Cosmo.

No one responded.

“I mean it. War, it says here, is the use of organized force between two human groups,”

“Is that too human as in all too human?” asked Jimmy.

“pursuing contradictory policies, each group seeking to impose its policy upon the other.”

“What policy?” said Jimmy. “Insurance policy? Seriously. Look up policy, Cath.”

“Look up this, look up that, look up there,” she said but found a dictionary. Cosmo waited, bird on a wire.

“Policy,” read Cathy, “See Police.”

“I told you,” said Hank.

“No you didn’t.”

“I didn’t?

“So much weed, so few braincells,” said Jimmy. Hank — who, Jimmy thought, had come to disapprove of him in some unspoken way since Stop the Draft Week, or since Hank had broken with Shauna and moved out of her house, or since Jimmy acquired the nickname Famous Jimmy O’Shea, or since Hank began to suggest street-fighting as the tactic for all occasions — aimed the trigger assembly at Jimmy and lowered an eyelid.

“Impose a police upon two contradictory peoples,” said Cosmo. “We’re on to something.”

“Aha!” said someone.

“May I get on to sentence number two?” asked Cosmo.

“There’s another one?” said Jimmy, “No you may not.”

Prudence or wisdom in the management of public affairs,” read Cathy.

“Is what?” said Hank.


And speaking of line of sight, the three men were placed at the round table in such a way that Hank marked the intersection of an X, interposed between Jimmy’s view of Cathy and Cosmo’s of Edna. Was that significant?

“They want to do what with their policy?”


“Their prudence upon the other.”

“The purpose of war is to impose prudence,” said Hank. “Thass cool.”

“Policy is police,” said Cathy. “Policy are police.”

“Funny you should say so,” said Cosmo, “for, and I struggle to continue, War differs from the forcible repression of crime only because the resistance of criminals is seldom strong enough to deserve the name of organized force.”

“Police departments are buying tanks,” Cathy said.

“I knew I shouldn’t have paused for breath,” desponded Cosmo.


“Armored vehicles, seriously, with turrets and flamethrowers.”

WHEN,” read Cosmo, “the criminals gather stength, you have the beginning of civil war.”

“Cosmo,” said Jimmy, “how did they go from shoplifting to civil war?”

“There is a cunning sense here, my lord, that doth confound the reason.”

“What does that mean,” said Edna from the couch, but her article was too indefinite.

“Suppose the criminals don’t use force?” Cosmo set down the volume. “What if they live a lifestyle of crimes like weed and fellatio.”

“Sucking cock is illegal?” Edna, shot upright.

“Living together is illegal,” said Cathy. Screwing is only legal if you’re married.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“We just handled a case on it.”

“In San Francisco in the late 20th Century?”

“Novato in 1967. Feel better?”

Living together?”

“In a state of cohabitation and adultery is a misdemeanor punishable by a $1000 fine and a year in county jail.”

“Here I am,” said Hank, “hypothetically engaged in oral sex —”

“I never found hypothetical sex to be much fun,” said Cosmo

“— with a dopesmoking lady legally married to a guy in Minneapolis she left cause he teed off on her head every Saturday and we are in love, and what?”

“15 years in state prison,” said Cathy.

“I thought you said a year.”

“You added oral sex.”

“If I could bring everyone back to the subject at hand,” bellowed Cosmo.

“I haven’t any subject in hand,” Jimmy giggled and shut up.

Conflict,” read Cosmo, “with death for its ultimate sanction, is a universal law of life.”

“What is this man talking about?” demanded Edna.

“Deaths worse than fate,” said Cosmo.

“Name three,” said Edna.

“Unbearable torture,” suggested Hank, “in which death becomes a reward, not a sanction.” Hank spent time in Mississippi’s Parchman Penitentiary for civil rights organizing, carried the weight.

“The true idiocy here,” said Jimmy, aware that he was again interrupting Hank, “is zipping from conflict zoom to death zoom to universal laws of life.”

All individual living things,” read Cosmo, “must find food and defend themselves against germs within them.

“Cosmo,” said Hank, “you’re gilding the silly.”

“Am not.”

“Are too.”

“Am not. Look.” He held the volume out to Hank.

“He’s right,” said Hank. “Germs or other forms of life of which the survival threatens their own.”

“`Of which the survival threatens?' ” said Jimmy.

“Prose is too important to leave to the generals,” said Cosmo.

“What's wrong with germs?” said Edna. “They live in a symbiotic relationship with humans.”

“I can’t believe my parents inflicted this Brit encyclopedia on me at 13,” said Cosmo. “How could they do that?”

“You do see where the metaphor is going,” said Jimmy. “The objects of war are criminals and bacteria.”

“Trees!” Cosmo shouted.

“Get a grip, man,” said Hank. “Don’t be shouting Trees! whenever someone mentions a metaphor.”

“Even among closely planted trees the stronger growth of some upwards toward the light will often stunt and finally kill some weaker or less fortunate specimen.”

“The Brit has gone too far,” said Jimmy.

“Upwards toward the light....” said Edna.

“Trees At War,” said Cathy. “Is this some kind of satire?”

“Tis the fellas what inflicted the British Empire,” said Jimmy O’Shea with Irish sentiment and accent. “They takes their polytics serious they do.”

“Brothers and sisters,” said Cosmo. “We are only at the second paragraph.”

“It gets worse than war among closely-planted trees?”

“Almost all animals must compete actively, while the flesh-eaters must continually kill others in order to live. MOREOVER, [loudly to interrupt interruptions] an active struggle for life tends to keep creatures up to the mark.

A collective vocalization of stoned horror.

“Who is my best friend? My worst enemy: he keeps me up to the mark.”

“My Tanta Ruchela used to tell me that,” said Cathy. “She adored Cossacks.”

“Tell your aunty,” said Cosmo, “that surveying the struggle for life in general, the old Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote, “War is father and king of all; and some he made gods and some men, some slaves and some free.

The doorbell rang.

A sweeping of gun parts into a shoebox placed under the sink, a rubdown of the table with Windex™, while Cosmo pressed the door buzzer and stepped into the hall to peer down the balustrade.

“It’s Bear,” Cosmo called into the apartment. “The Third.”

And sure enough, Augustus Owsley Stanley III appeared in the hallway, handcrafted wooden briefcase in hand.

“I was in the neighborhood —” he said.

Which meant the Dead House on Ashbury.

“—and had the feeling you needed substances. How are you, Jimmy?”

Jimmy rose, they shook hands, there was something ceremonial in it all.

“Found The Girl?”

“No, but as you see we’re fast on her tail, I mean trail.”

“Cleaning guns.”

Jimmy was nonplussed, ultra. Cosmo tapped his nose with his finger.

“Gun oil,” said Owsley, “it’s not my thing. An unnatural oil. Not that petroleum is unnatural. Which raises the interesting question of what millenia of decomposing dope would be, compared to Mr. Rockefeller’s hydrocarbons.”

He placed the case on the table.

“I thought you might be in need of anodyne.”

“Before that,” said Cosmo, “I was reading on war. With you here maybe they’ll listen.” Which seemed to Jimmy rude toward everyone.

“For you, of course, Cosmo.”

Jimmy did not know Bear and Cosmo were on a for-you-of-course basis.

Without authority there is no life,” Cosmo read, “for societies must always struggle against criminals who if unchecked would destroy them. Thus force is a necessary corollary of government. Somewhere there must be a head to compel obedience, as is true in the smallest ultimate group, the family. We may compare the weakening of the monogamous family based upon permanent marriage in the Protestant societies which limit or abolish the legal authority of the husband as head of the family.

He closed the Ency.Brit. like a gunshot.

“Thank God,” said Owsley, “We Protestants finally get credit for something. Everyone blames us for the capitalist work ethic and the decline of magic.” He opened the sample case to display rolled joints strapped to the lid and base, organized by categories, arrayed like tiny Havana cigars.

“For the fantods or the willies, I recommend a Baja variant. These, the Panama greens, for the blues. Green and blue. For the crazies, nada, a sleeping pill.”

“Crazies all over,” said Jimmy.

“Worse. The Man’s working on stuff, crystallized cocaine, amphetimine mixes. Mental defoliants, the psychic equivalents of 2,4,-D.”

“What have you got for two paranoids cleaning their guns?” said Cathy.

“For reality-based paranoia I suggest a Yellowstone Jewel Combo, very mild. It reminds you to stand quietly and let the changing relations work for you.” He took out two joints and laid them on the table.

“We’re short on bread,” said Jimmy, who lapsed into hippie lingo when addressing the counterculture.

“Pay me when they find you innocent.”

“Thank you, brother.”

“That particular blend,” said Augustus Owsley Stanley III, “synchronizes well with the Book of Changes.” He rose to his short height.