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The Tao of Karl Chapter I – Becoming Bandito I knew an interesting man once. And not interesting in a what if Satre had been Hitler’s top military strategist way; but rather, interesting in a what if Carol Burnette and Walt Whitman had a child kind of way. I did not understand him often, and certainly I understood him less often after we had been drinking. In hearing me describe him in this way he would ask, rhetorically, “what does it mean to understand” – and then answer his own question saying “if I have to explain it to you, you wouldn’t get it anyway.” “And there endeth the lesson.” Invariably there was a lesson. There was a lesson even if you didn’t understand it, because that in and of itself was the lesson.1,2 What changed for us, however, was the delivery. In the early evolution of his character impersonations, there were many weapons in his arsenal to choose from: highpitched and soft spoken, stoic and mono-toned with raised eyebrows and raised glass to mark the end of the lesson, full hand involvement resembling a mime in a blender, the lean back ask question lean forward answer own question lean back wait to see who’s watching method. These of course gave way to a predictable character, the Scotsman, fashioned after Stuart McKenzie.3 I suppose that it is not accurate to say I knew him once. Better said, I knew him for a time. During that time, which is marked on either side by empirical changes in zip codes, he was becoming a man; gradually running out of places to hide from responsibility. During that time he was the Bandito, Karlito Bandito to be precise. His Bandito status was not of his own construct. It was an observation of his character and a 1

As a precondition to reading this text* it is important to understand that footnotes will be integral. *(yes there will be footnotes to the footnotes) Historically the word text and the word textile are related and it is the concept of weaving together multiple lines of fabric that yields the basis for what forms a written text as we understand it. Texts then, of necessity, are the weaving together of multiple lines so that one set of ideas will rest entirely over the top of another set of ideas. Visually, that would be too difficult to read, and so footnotes shall do this work. 2 You cannot have understanding if you do not also have a lack of understanding, there would be no benchmark by which to measure the change** in thought. **As compared to the “progression of thought.” It would be truly imperialistic to suggest that understanding is equivalent to progression, because the word progression inherently involves a set of values that may themselves be flawed or in conflict with a perfectly sound different set of values. The word also carries a sense of superlative markers, to understand something is to know it “better” or “more.” The fundamental contrast lies in the distinction between saying that you understand something better and saying that you understand it differently. 3 You may skip to the chapters dedicated to this ubiquitous room-filler.

marquis emblazoned on his expression. Existing as Karlito Bandito was unavoidable for him – he could no more cease to be the Bandito anymore than he could cease to be. In 1994 he took a linguistics class called History of the English Language4, and he was assigned to co-write a paper on the etymology and potential connections, including phonetic and semantic evolutions, of the words mug, muggy, and mucus. Through chance or fate5, I was assigned to write this paper with him. I have no recollection of what the paper said, but I know we received high marks. What I do recall is an introduction to process. We spent time photocopying pages from the Oxford English Dictionary and compiled them into a folder that sat idly by an archaic computer. Meanwhile, twice a week Karl and I would fritter away time under the auspices of research and collaborative writing while playing all manner of games and doing anything but writing. It was cold during one of our sessions, and we were hungry. We were also in college and poor. Karl had rice. He brought a bowl6 to me with a dollop of butter and freshly chopped garlic. I did not like rice. With no other words, burdened with a mouthful of his own, he pointed at me with his chopsticks and made a swirling motion. And so I swirled. In that moment, I learned to like rice. In fact, 15 years later that memory of taste and texture remain at the forefront of my senses, and serve as the measure for what rice is supposed to be. Fully ingested, warmed, and alert now, we agreed that if were to turn in a ten page assignment in less than 24 hours, we should begin to put words on paper. We progressed to Karl’s ancient computer at the end of the apartment opposite where we dined. And it was not an apartment, in common construction. It was a house that had been divided in two. It was an old house, with original hardwood flooring. The exterior was stucco, dirty white stucco, and so its occupants called it the Alamo. The architectural type was, for lack of a better description, early rural bungalow.

4 5 6

Taught by Professor Adam Davis, Ph.D. A distinction which depends on the number of gin and tonics Karl had consumed that particular evening.

Although we were in college, with dinnerware low on the list of priorities, dinner was served in a proper rice bowl – complete with chopsticks. The bowls most assuredly had recently sat on the shelves of an out of the way antique store located somewhere in the central plains. There is an essence to an object that connects it to its past. The positioning of a rice bowl amidst various beat up toys and chipped glass creamers is not, in and of itself, notable. But finding such an object in a rural antique store puts the ontological quest in motion. Consider, further, that such an object is small, and otherwise unremarkable, the simple fact that it was discovered is noteworthy. And in context, the Bandito was a college student, a young college student; a young, white college student in a small rural Missouri town. He knew the shape and purpose of the rice bowl and did in fact serve rice in that bowl. Certainly there were other bowls in his cupboard, but we were having rice. This act of demonstrating a command of purpose and function is the essence of Bandito.

The furnishings were scant and mismatched, but nevertheless resonated an earthy tribal theme. There was only one chair, occupied by Karl facing the behemoth seemingly diesel-powered IBM. The attached printer was likewise formidable such that the marriage of the components occupied the entire desk. My position was relegated to a small corner, where I would stand, read, stutter, read some more, and provide citations when called upon. The entire experience was frustrating—I wanted to write. It was my god damn paper too7. We were hardly friends at this point in our lives—familiar yes, but friends no. Karl’s unapologetic occupation of the lone chair was the intelligencia version of two wolves fighting for alpha male. Except in my case, I was not allowed even a whimper of protest. He commanded control of the environment, and I did not know how to challenge him, the experience was surreal.8 Surely Karl in assuming command of the writing process was not rejecting me, nor did I get the sense that he dejected my thoughts. Rather, his involvement required him to occupy the computer, to physically press the buttons and instantly read the flow of thought as they appeared sequentially in green text on black screen. My presence was not anything he consciously factored into the equation.9 He was to be the scrivener, and there would be no discussion. But I was an all-state athlete, virile and physically dominating, a born leader, I commanded rooms, soldier’s envied me, women swooned, and I could crush most men I met. He was milky and round; his head was entirely too large for his body, and… there was the hair. He had long hair; red and geranium-like in its expanse, which he wore in a pony tail.10 My 6th grade crush also wore a red pony tail, and she was graceful, delicate. Yet, this pony tail, belonging to a bulbous, pasty wretch controlled me. I was defeated. It was intellectual manliness. I had never considered that such an apparent oxy moron was possible. My frustration quickly gave way to bitter admiration and envy. I believe that in that moment, Karl was as surprised as I was by the ease with which he bested me. In reflecting now, I see that in that moment the seeds of the Bandito were beginning to rise up through the surface. The culmination of process as an end—the synergistic offspring of the marriage of form and function—transcended intellectual 7

This, of course, is a reference to Mrs. Doubtfire, and homage to the concept that a text is very much our progeny, that has life, and stages of life for which we are responsible. 8 I would recall this experience later in another class that Karl and I took together with Professor Winying Xiu. The discussion topic of the day had been the “abject.” What did it mean to be abject, the other? Because of Karl, I understood the abject—it is desolate and lonely. 9 The fact that I did not understand the original experience or Karl’s motives until more than a year after the fact is surely evidence of a learning grenade, you throw it out there and it goes off later when you least expect it. 10 See Chapter …. For the hair adventures.

hobby. His assertion of philosophy became a social tool upon which he would construct, refine, and ultimately share. So the point is not lost: it was not the philosophy in and of itself that was of substance for the nascence of Bandito, it was the assertion. The subtleties of his philosophy would later reveal themselves in his tedious stories for those privileged enough to hear them. There was no humility lost in this awakening. I imagine Karl was profoundly satisfied with his action, his deconstruction of the social dynamic. Though I write to preserve the indelible humanity, selflessness, compassion, and benevolence that are the underpinnings of Bandito, I am not mistaken of the arrogance woven within these morĂŠs. The microcosm of the collaborative paper we were “co-authoringâ€? was very much a laboratory in which a small bomb was tested. Indeed, social exchanges between people may result in a wide degree of positive or negative feelings for the participants. In our exchange, Karl, through the assertion of his philosophy, tested a weapon and divined a sense of accomplishment. In that assertion, he drove to the bedrock of his person: that piece of self from which, in spite of the adversity of our circumstance, we draw confidence and hope of survival. The bedrock of his hope was erudition, and so he relentlessly pursued the general and the obscure, and sought to combine them in nearly undetectable themes woven in parables cloaked in stories of the ordinary. In that moment, more than anyone has ever imagined and beyond measure, Karl was no longer contemplative, clever, and analytical, he was by definition profound.

The Tao of Karl  

working draft of a book about Karl Kopitske

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