Baring Fardels: A Story

Posted on: October 19, 2009
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By David Block

I’m sitting in my high school English class about 50 years ago, and we’re reading Hamlet. They told us in College Bound English that, if we were up to it, Shakespeare could teach us the Human Condition. Of course, we male beats who dress in black turtlenecks always call it ‘la condition humaine’ because we know that a different language gives us a different power. With that power, we have come to believe that we must be allowed to fondle girls who also dress in black and who identify themselves by wearing gladiator sandals. We’re reading this soliloquy aloud, a line to a student at a time. It will soon be my turn to declaim. I calculate that my line will be, “…who would fardels bear….”
What the hell is a fardel? I want to read with feeling – ‘con passion,’ which I told girls was my ‘modus vivendi’, a salutation I also use with girls. I prayed that fardels would be really important, please God. ‘Fardel’ sounded like something my grandmother lightly regretted at the dinner table while we all blanched (from the French) and looked the other way, as my father recalled the weather of the Lithuania of his childhood and my mother would suddenly arise and she went then (like Yeats) to get more chicken. But that couldn’t be a fardel unless – wait a minute! – either Hamlet or Shakespeare, or both, was Juif-ish and my grandmother was actually preparing me for this knowledge expecting that one day I, too, could claim the Bard. For such I called him when perchance I could tell girls that even if I did not like to admit to having any impediments while I was marrying their true mind, in their sandals, and fortunately I did not have a lisp, I would own up to it if I did, to signify my poetry and my physical and spiritual vulnerability. Still, it made little sense and would be an outrageous fortune.
Well, then, do you carry a fardel, or do you reveal a fardel? Perhaps one you hid under your cloak? But you can’t fit more than one: a fardel might be like a Harvard book bag, which I carried so I could shrug it from shoulder to shoulder as needed, and thereby complete the image of either Holden Caulfield or John Gault – depending on what the girls were reading down on Washington Square. Or do you give birth to fardels? Thus, a fardel must be sort of like an imp, or homunculus (which term I used in Advanced Biology whenever I could tell girls about how meiosis “truly means so much more to me” – and then I’d leave it at that, though they might stare in dismay). Who would want to have a fardel for a child? “Fardel!” I imagined my mother screaming coarsely after me as I jumped lithely off the stoop to saunter to the house of a girl named Pamela. Of course, she would put the accent on the second syllable – “far-DELL” – to make it sound more alien, like Superman’s evil twin. Or she would look over to my father and mutter, “Your son is just a miserable fardel! And he will sew buttons in the garment district for our real son, who, unfortunately, was never born! It is The Depression all over again.” My father would shrug, although he had never read The Neo-Objectivist Newsletter as far as I knew.
But it’s my turn, now! Now! I must speak to the class, lecture and declaim. Do I admonish? Do I remonstrate? Very well, then. (It all sounds so Whitman.) I half-close my eyes, and I remove each r-sound from my speech, and I fix the class with a baleful (good!) stare, and a hint of a sardonic grin, while I pull my arms in to my sides so that the sweat stains in my axillae shall not be seen. (Who else knows ‘axillae’ here? Nobody!)
“Who would faahhdels beaahhh?” I intone. It seems to be a success.
“And what does this mean?” asks the teacher.
I think furiously. A straw blows in the wind – it is my answer – and I lunge.
“This line as written is actually an error. In fact, the most famous typographical error in the Bard’s plays. The original printer failed to capitalize the ‘F’ in Fardel and he left out the apostrophe before the ‘s.’ The Bard created it as, ‘Who would Fardel’s bear?’ And it has never been corrected. Never.”
I was on a roll. It was so clear. The girls must sense my Meaning in the very air. They incline their Mary Travers manes (nice ring to it) in my direction. They shake their little bells, as Robert Frost foresaw.
“Who wants Fardel’s bear?” I unzip my volume. “The Bard knew ‘Fardel’ was a hero of Wagner’s ‘Ring-en cycle’.” I gave that ‘r’ all the velar roll I could muster. “Fardel’s bear was the guardian of his treasure. But this giant bear needed special…umm… stuff. He was, like, a burden to Fardel, a special responsibility. He was an impediment to Fardel’s true mind! Nobody wants that. Nobody needs that kind of life. Just like Jung says about the uroboros.” I was spent, revealed.
The teacher, curious now, looked at me. Surprise became admiration in his growing memory. The bell rang; the class poised for flight. One girl giggled. The teacher shrugged. He reached under the desk and retrieved his Harvard book bag. He smiled at me and nodded. “We’ve run out of time now. It’s Friday. We’ll all be back to grunt and sweat under our weary lives on Monday. Dismissed.”
Or so I remember.


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