Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
This is a work of fiction, written and performed for The Paper Machete at The Green Mill. While all persons mentioned are historical and present-day figures, everything about them is a creation of my brain. As far as I know.
Wander far enough into the palatial sanctuary of Antonin Scalia and you’ll discover a solarium, although in truth this is only how the architect and the realtors would ever refer to it. The master of the estate never enters this room in daylight hours, after all, and upon acquisition Antonin Scalia had immediately required that the tall colonial windows be covered with thick black curtains. It is to this room he retires at the end of his long days, to digest the hundreds of thousands of words spoken in his direction, and sometimes when he stares long enough at his ominous onyx drapery he imagines them to be jurist robes, similar to his own, and thinks that perhaps Antonin Scalia is not himself a Justice, but is instead the personified conscience who dwells inside a much larger Justice, surrounded by eight other larger beings tasked with interpretations of laws beyond his understanding.
On this evening, Antonin Scalia shambles into this chamber holding a pale amber glass snifter of thousand-dollar brandy, collapses recumbent onto an antique leather chesterfield, exhausted to the marrow of every bone, to the nerve of every tooth, to every gap between every synapse. Once again, this week, the Court had been called upon to consider the question of human dignity, this time in the form of marriage bestowed not only between men and women, but between any two consenting adults existing on the vast spectrum of sexuality. He reflects on the disappointing leaps of logic presented by the attorney chosen to champion traditional marriage and the brief, efficient statements of the United States Solicitor. He ponders the facial expressions of Roberts, Breyer, and Kennedy; the body language of Kagan and Alito; the blank, vacant eyes of Thomas, a million miles away in some fantastical self-serving harem. He tries with futility to dispel the memory of the withering, rapier stares of Ginsburg and Sotomayor, drilling through the back of his skull to haunt his every waking thought. They do not know. They do not understand the burden foisted upon the shoulders of Antonin Scalia.
Within a frame upon the wall of this chamber there are mounted three pieces of U.S. currency—a $100 bill, a $10 bill, and a $1 bill. Were anybody in Antonin Scalia’s life granted the personal intimacy to be allowed into this room, they might ask him if there was any significance to the quantity of a hundred and eleven dollars, and were he asked, Antonin Scalia would reply with a prepared, homespun anecdote about his first job in a small New Jersey law firm, an anecdote that would not be true but would sound true enough not to burrow into further. Because Antonin Scalia is smart enough to know that the truth is terrifying to those who are not Antonin Scalia. He knows that they would not accept it when he told them of the day when the faces on these three bills—Franklin, Hamilton, and Washington, most celebrated of the Constitution’s framers—addressed him directly and laid before him the path he must pursue. Be a Justice, they had whispered to him from the billfold in his breast pocket. Be our Justice. And in the years that followed, observers of the court, every Toobin and Totenberg, would label Antonin Scalia “the Constructionist” without suspecting that when he claimed to speak for the Founding Fathers he was being deeply literal.
Equivocate, Franklin would direct him. Equivocate on the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act. Use the phrase “racial entitlement” within your statement, Hamilton would add. Do not merely dissent on the rights of Guantanamo prisoners, Washington would advise. Raise the specter of more murdered Americans. On abortion, on campaign finance, on affordable health care and religious freedom, time and again Antonin Scalia went forth and did the work of the men on the money in the most outraged histrionics he was capable of mustering. The fate of the nation was not being preserved by Antonin Scalia. It was being preserved through him.
But tonight Antonin Scalia is weary. Tonight he feels doubt in his mission, in his convictions. This week he has felt more alone than ever in the company of his peers, even those who he knows will judge the case in the same way he will. Tonight, in his pitch-dark self-styled oubliette, tonight he feels his throat quiver and his lips part and he cries into the void of his ill-named solarium:
“Why me, o you my Founding Fathers? Why must I be the loudest, brashest voice of these opinions? Why must I court ridicule and the perception of idiocy in order to serve your vision?”
The one hundred eleven dollars in the frame are silent at first. Antonin Scalia knows that he has taken a great risk, a great breach of protocol, in calling out to them first, in not waiting to be called upon. But after the tiny eternity, their voices reach back.
Very well, Franklin begins.
It is perhaps time you knew, continues Washington.
It will no longer change anything, concludes Hamilton.
And they tell him, at last, that Antonin Scalia’s career of rage and poor judgment was not engineered to advance the nation to its best potential. No, they inform him, Antonin Scalia was nurtured into the rough beast he now was in order that future generations would have in their history another example of those who lived on the wrong side of it. Antonin Scalia had been made grotesque because the most potent monsters of legend were written as impossible to capture the collective imagination, but then revealed as true in order to capture the collective regret.
You are a Grendel, they pronounce. You are St. George’s Dragon, you are Scylla and Charybdis. You are one of nine creatures dressed in black but only you have managed to achieve the status of Ringwraith. You, Antonin Scalia, are a repeating pattern required to provide the inspiration to break old and painful ideas.
“Then have I never served you?” asks Antonin Scalia, despairing.
Of course you have, they say to him. You serve us by being reviled.
And Antonin Scalia falls to his knees, sobbing. “Thank you,” he mutters. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Antonin Scalia awakes to a pinhole of moonlight piercing through the barrier of his midnight curtains, the glass having tumbled from his hand, the brandy seeping into the rug. These conferences often seemed to take the form of alcohol-infused dreams, he knew, but Antonin Scalia continues to hold faith in the truth that they represent, knows that the dispatches are sent through the gate of horn, not the gate of ivory. He has trouble recalling exactly what he was told, but he clings to the belief that what he speaks from his place on the bench, even when seemingly beyond the pale of decency, are in provision for his country and its people.
He has to believe that, because the alternative is that Antonin Scalia is simply another ignorant jackass who has risen far higher than he has ever deserved.
And Antonin Scalia could never live with himself, if that were the case.