Monday, November 10, 2003

The City of Wise Men
retold by Guillermo Lopez

Long ago, in a distant land, there was a rather foolish young man. The young man was only rather foolish, since he at least knew that he was not wise. He lived in one of the larger, more bustling, villages, and he was never at a loss for distraction. But he knew that there was much to learn in the world, and when his niggling curiosities grew too niggling for him to stand, he made his decision.

He would go to the city of wise men.

The city did not have a name that anyone knew of. The city did not have much of anything that anyone knew of. The towering, undecorated, gray, walls that surrounded it, cutting off all view of what lay inside, even made it uninteresting to describe.

But the young man was interested. His village had lived in the shadow of the city, and he had seen the wise men come and go through the small gate that was the only entrance.

For it was no secret that whomever was accepted inside would leave with the benefit of all the wisdom of those who came before them.

Only the most promising minds from across the lands would even be allowed to enter the city to study.

The young man put his hand to his head. He did not think his mind felt very promising.

His mind did feel made up, however, and that was almost as good. He was going to get into that city, study, and become wise.

He just didn't know how.

But the young man was not going to let not knowing stand in his way of achieving wisdom. He decided to consult the his own village wise man.

"Oh, wise Master," he asked, "How can I gain entrance into the city of wise men?"

The village wise man thought carefully and replied, "Find the path of wisdom. This path will lead you to the city."

"Oh, wise Master," he implored, "What does that mean?"

"If you truly feel the niggle of wisdom calling you, then follow these instructions: Whenever anyone insults you, you shall pay them five wuzzas."

"Five wuzzas? But as cruel as people are these days, how could I possibly afford to pay each one that insults me five wuzzas? My last job only paid nine wuzzas per hour, and even then I had trouble getting by."

"There is more, young man," the wise man continued, "you shall pay anyone that insults you five wuzzas each and every time they do so. You will do this for the next three years, beginning at this very moment."

"Oh, I get it," the young man exclaimed, "You're trying to kill me!"

"No, you fool!" the wise man snorted, "I'm trying to teach you! This is your path to wisdom. Now go, and return in three years."

"Fine, fine," the young man grumbled. "I'll do it." He turned, and began to walk away.

"Young man, wait!" the wise man called out.

The young man spun around eagerly. "Yes, Oh wise Master?"

"You still owe me five wuzzas."

* * * * *

And so it went. For the next three years, the young man traveled all over the land. For each insult he received, he would grudgingly pay his insulter five wuzzas. Of course, word quickly spread through the village that anyone with an insult could make an easy five wuzzas from him, and he was soon completely out of money.

He would travel from village to village, doing odd jobs, earning what he could, and always having to leave after too many people learned how he responded to their barbs.

Fortunately, he was an excellent dishwasher, and the brunt of his travels occurred during that very profitable, but very brief, period in history where dishwashing machines existed, but dishwashing machine repair men did not.

A busy restaurant with a broken dishwasher would pay top-wuzza for someone who could wash dishes in a pinch.

It was a difficult time for the young man. He had to work very hard just to be able to pay off his insulter, and even harder to live. He bore it well, though, for he was certain that he was on the path to wisdom.

Finaqlly, the last few days of his three years was almost up. He began the journey back to his home village, the village that rested in the shadow of the city of wise men.

On the final day, he approached the wise man's split-level hut. Walking through his home village had been tough, as he had assumed it would be. He had deliberately saved up, since he doubted that he had been completely forgotten.

"Hey, ugly! You look funny!" A kid yelled at him with a hand outstretched. The three-years-older young man silently handed the boy a five-wuzza bill, and the kid scampered off.

"Look who's back!" an old neighbor called, noting the young man's tattered clothing. "Wow, you look a lot wiser now!" The young man nearly slipped on the sarcasm that dripped from that remark, but managed to hand the neighbor her five wuzzas.

He reached the wise man's home, and stooped to enter.

"Oh wise Master, I have followed your instructions. To every man, woman, and child that has insulted me since I last left your sight, I have given five wuzzas. And now I return today, exactly three years from then, to continue down my path to wisdom."

The wise man peered intently at him, then up at the sun dial hanging on the wall. He chose his words carefully, then spoke. "You're five minutes early, jackass."

The young man cursed silently to himself, and handed the wise man his very last five wuzza bill.

The wise man folded it in half and tucked it into a pouch hanging from his belt. "Now, young man, it is time. Go to the gate of the city of wise men, and speak to the gate keeper."

The young man walked steadily along the dirt path towards the city. As he walked, he met several others walking back towards village, away from the city of wise men. In each of their faces was a mixture of horror, disgust, surprise, and shame.

The young man did not speak to them, and they averted their eyes and trembled as they passed him, as if they could not stand to be seen by another human being. The young man did not find any of this encouraging.

As he finally approached the gate, he saw a wizened old man standing in front of it, leaning heavily on his staff. He appeared to be asleep on his feet.

The young man wrestled with his growing nervousness, and did not stop until he stood directly in front of the old man.

"Oh, wise Master," the young man addressed him solemnly, "I seek admittance to the city."

The old man's eyes sprang open with a gleam so fierce the young man took a step back.. He stiffened up, drew in a deep, wheezing breath, and then unleashed a torrent of the most biting, scalding, and downright vile insults the young man had ever heard. Certainly, these insults were terrible enough and delivered with such bile and vehemence that they could easily weaken the knees of even the most steadfast of samurai.

When it seemed that the old man had exhausted every possible profanity in the language, he stopped, wiped some spittle from his mouth, and glared at the young man.

The young man stood in shock for a moment. Then he began to laugh. He laughed until he had to hold his sides. He laughed until tears began to stream down his cheeks. He laughed until he doubled over and fell to his knees.

The old man continued to glare. "Why are you laughing, boy?"

"Because," the young man gasped, "for the past three years, I've had to pay five wuzzas for each and every one of my insults, and you have just given me all of those for free!"

A grin split the old man's face, and the gate behind him opened. The old man stepped aside, and gestured for the young man enter. "The city is yours. Learn well, my boy, learn well."

And, still laughing, the young man went in.


Brenda had called me last night. It was late, but I guess I'm a good person to call when you think no one else might be awake.

She said she was having trouble sleeping, so I sat outside on my car and talked to her on the phone for a while.

She had jokingly suggested that I tell her a bedtime story. I told her that I'm not very good at telling stories out loud. I have to write them down, or I always lose my place. But I told her the basic version of the above story. Despite the simplicity of the tale, I forgot a lot of it and had to make up the parts I didn't remember. I completely forgot where I heard that story...until now, at this exact moment.

Sweet, I had read it in The Art of Happiness by the Dali Lama that Dan R. had loaned me. I still have to return that to him. Wait, I think I might be holding it for ransom until he returns my copy of The Idiot.

I'll have to go re-read the story; see how badly I butchered it.

Whew, I've been writing for a while now. The sun is up, along with the rest of my family. They all found it odd to find me typing away wearing only a towel.

Heh heh, blog, it's starting to feel just like old times.

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