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E29. Lou Reed's Nephew on Guilt
“There is a special kind of guilt that disturbs me.”
“There is a special kind of guilt that disturbs me,” I confessed to Lou Reed’s Nephew the next day.
“What kind is that?”
“The kind I can’t do anything about.”
“You’ll have to be more specific.”
“Let’s take the environment as an example.”
“We have fouled the planet.”
“I’m holding out for anti-matter,” he said.
“Let’s assume that remains a dream,” I said. “Even if I personally stopped fouling the planet, right here and now, it would have no impact. And even if everyone in this building or this block or this city did the same, the impact would be negligible.”
“Even if I did this to alleviate my own feelings of guilt, it would do nothing to change the situation. My conscience would be eased, but nothing else would have changed. I am implicated in a wrong I am helpless to correct. That’s the kind of guilt I’m talking about.”
“Like tragedy,” Lou Reed’s Nephew said.
“Or sin,” I said. “It’s the kind of guilt that can only be alleviated if I and every single person like me acts in unison. Otherwise, the effect will be nil. It’s like we’re in a gigantic escape room that we’re never going to solve.”
“What’s an escape room?”
I forgot that Lou Reed’s Nephew was not as familiar as I was with people’s need to find things to do and the things they would do to fulfill it.
“It’s what people did before they could throw axes at bars, but after they could have their karaoke performances captured on a vintage Presto 6D recorder so they could feel like Alan Lomax and Muddy Waters at the same time.”
Lou Reed’s Nephew changed the subject.
“I met an actual Communist once,” he said. “He described himself as a Bolshevik, actually. His name was Pete Rose*.”
“That’s funny,” I said.
“A totally different kind of Red.”
Lou Reed’s Nephew stared at me blankly.
“This was just last year,” he continued. “At Camel Toe. He was almost eighty. He had spent his entire life studying, writing about, and advocating for revolution—a real old Trot. But the revolution hadn’t happened, obviously, and he was wracked with guilt for not having brought about something that was clearly beyond his control.”
“Definitely not the same Pete Rose.”
“He was blubbering about it when we met.”
“So not only had he failed in his objective, but fidelity to his lost cause had brought him no peace? What are we supposed to do?” I asked in all earnestness.
“Antimatter for the win,” Lou Reed’s Nephew said.
*A freshman seminar I took on Marx was in fact taught by a professor named Pete Rose. Otherwise, this episode has nothing to do with the man, who appears to be retired. One of the many ways the Internet has changed writing is that writers can no longer hide behind the convenient, “I’m not sure what ever happened to them,” then rest assured that what they write will not get back to those they have referenced. No more veil of ignorance. No more pleasant insulation. But I think he will understand, should this episode find its way to him, that if you grew up near Cincinnati in the 1970s—as I did—had a Marx professor named Pete Rose, and went on to become a writer, you are going to have to use that in something.