Paul Greenberg

The old man in a rumpled linen suit at the end of the bar stood out like a weed at a garden show. All around him the young couples and swinging singles, so impressionable and so eager to impress, went on laughing and talking about whatever they laugh and talk about. The old man might as well have been another fern. He seemed not so much lost in thought as found in it, nursing the dregs of a tasteless house white.

"Why, don't mind if I do," he said on being interrupted by the offer of a real drink. "Make it a Scotch. Single-malt. Laphroaig 10 Years Old, if they have it. I realize, sir, I might look like a bourbon man in this disreputable state my 79 years have brought me to, but appearances can be deceiving. Once I, too, was going to be Atticus Finch out of "To Kill a Mockingbird," but the malice of time intervened. Now I am the wretched sight you see before you -- less Atticus than Seb Cooley courtesy of "Advise and Consent," only without the high office and low oratorical skills."

The old man smiled no smile. As if he were just locating himself scientifically in a catalogue of moth species. "Scotch has been my comfort and downfall," he reminisced, "since I outgrew Early Times my freshman year at Ole Miss. And I was such a promising student, too. Still am. Just never graduated to prosperity. Just as well, just as well. Wouldn't know what to do with prosperity if I ever bumbled into it the way I do everything else. It would doubtless be wasted on me, as poverty is wasted on the poor. We live and don't learn. Here's to you, generous sir, and to the last gentleman. I think his name was Walker Percy."

The old man took a tentative first sip and savored the peat. "You know, it's strange. My so-called specialty at law (my card, sir) is that of analyzing, explaining and generally mucking about with trends new and used. And yet I've never really been good at explaining things, especially the inexplicable. I can, however, cast a fraudulent air of understanding over what was never meant to be understood, just accepted. I love a mystery and would never disturb it. Which is why I never darken the doors of a modern mainstream church. I don't want explanation, just faith. I want to believe again, like from minute to minute. No renewal, no faith. No conversion without its being continual. No ice, thank you. Well, one sliver of a shaving of a suspicion, just to set the aroma free."

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Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.