Dinner with Voltaire
If you could have dinner with one person, who wouldit be and what would you talk about?
I walk briskly into Taco Bell,assessing the line. It is nonexistent, and I quickly make my way through theshort maze and plant myself in front of the register. Having done this manytimes, I order a number eight, receive my extra-large beverage cup, and fill itwith Dr. Pepper. As I wait for the foam to reede, I scan the dining area. It’searly afternoon, just after the lunch rush, and not many people are here. My eyefinds its way to a lone man eating a burrito in a window booth. He is quite thin,literally a bean pole. His face is pockmarked, his ears large and elephantine,his nose bulbous, and his eyes small and calculating. He is dressed oddly, likeone from the Renaissance. I know immediately that his name is Voltaire.
Ireceive my order and make my way to him.
Only $13.90 / page
I ask if I may join him, and he repliesthat I may. I notice he is reading a book. It is The Prince byMachiavelli.
“Good book,” I say.
“You only read theCliffsNotes version,” he tells me through his burrito.
“Still,it is good.”
He places a bookmark between the pages, and puts thebook aside.
“You didn’t come here to pretend to talk of something youknow nothing about, Michael.”
I chuckle. “You’re right, I camefor lunch.”
“And you didn’t come to exercise a feeble wit,either,” he says. “What shall we talk of, eh?”
“Tellme how you got ahead in life,” I reply. “I want to know how youdid it, so that I may do the same.”
“Do you now?” he says,raising an eyebrow. He leans across the table and whispers close to my face.”I worked hard.”
“Yes,”he says, leaning back. “I worked hard at something I enjoyed. I foundsomething I was good at, something to which I could say, ‘I cannot believe that Iam paid to do this.’ Of course, I said it in French, but that’s neither here northere.”
“But you did more than just write plays,” I say.”You had a more imposing agenda.”
“Reform? Yes, I supposeso. But those were merely ideals. My passion for writing, but most importantlyfor making people laugh preceded that.”
“How do you suppose Ican integrate this philosophy into my life?” I ask.
“What is ityou love?”
“My passion? I suppose the past,” I reply,taking a bite of my Chalupa. “I’m interested in roots. In beginnings andfossils. The history of the planet fascinates me.”
“Why?”he asks. “The past has got nothing on the present.” He holds up hisburrito as a testament to this, as if to make a toast.
“But we areof the past,” I tell him, “Without a past, we have no present, letalone a future. That is what I want to understand.”
“Goodphilosophizing, Michael,” Voltaire says. “Now what will you go aboutdoing with this burning drive of yours?”
“I want to doeverything,” I eagerly reply. “I want to see the Old World, and I wantto lock myself away in the recesses and environs of the old libraries. I want tospeak Latin, Hebrew and Greek. I want to immerse myself in thepast.”
“Sounds like a high-paying position,” Voltaire tellsme. I smile.
“The benefits, Voltaire, the benefits will be more thanenough pay.” As I take the last bite of my Chalupa, Voltaire vanishes in apuff of logic.