Gas Station Philosopher

It’s about to rain. I pull up to the Denver, Colorado diner around eight o’clock and look around. I’m meeting my friend here for a drink.

I find him at the bar, reading a book.

“Good book?”

He laughs and tells me that the book is alright, he actually just brought it because he thought I would be late.

We buy Denver Pale Ales, and sit down outside on the patio couches and catch up on the past year and a half.

He tells me about his current job as a gas station attendant. He says that people will ask him what he’s reading throughout the day, and he’ll tell them. Sartre, Kaufmann, Heidegger, Nietzsche… some people just shake their head and don’t know what he’s talking about, and then others are like, “WHAT?”

My friend Pat is a gas station philosopher.

He told me about a regular who had recently “caught him”.

“‘Really, you just sit at a gas station all day and read existential philosophy?” she asked.

“Yeah, you can never stop questioning,” Pat answered with a smile.

She’s making him get a new job.

Pat tells me he’s been keeping a journal, along with writing letters and stories.

“I thought keeping a journal and writing things down would help me create structure, but writing things down is more for decisions.”

I agree with him, and tell him that writing has made me who I am today.

He tells me that he tried to change his personality this year.

“I knew how to recognize different personality traits in other people, so why not just act those traits out? If personality is based on social actions, I could easily shape that. I was going to make myself an American style detective as opposed to a Sherlock.

Pat has been reading a lot of detective novels lately, and has determined two themes. One is old school British where the world is a perfect system. Detectives like Sherlock Holmes are not part of the world, so they can see the system from outside of it and restore it to its natural balance. American detective novels however are more about the toughest guy around. Sam Spade, Harlow, these guys are different because there is no perfect system. The detectives have no idea what’s going on, but they can navigate the world. Roll with the punches and intuit their next move.

Pat and I have known each other for six years.  When we met I was trying to “change the world,” while Pat was just trying to let it be and zen out. It seems we’ve met somewhere in the middle today, at 24.

“I don’t necessarily want power over people. Because I still want that individual freedom for myself and others. Or at the very least I want that delusion that I decide for myself. But I feel that I know at least a little bit about how to empower people. And I’d like to be that for others. Kaufmann says that autonomy is enlightenment. You’ve got to decide for yourself. That’s one of the reasons why people don’t actually want to be enlightened.”

I’m I scribbling notes down on a bar napkin and drinking the pale ale in gulps like water.

Pat sent me a short story a few months back detailing a gang initiation he was almost involved in. Finding writing to be the joy that it is, he began searching for something else to write about immediately after the incident. He proceeded to invite travelers over to his apartment to crash. And was provided an abundance of material.

One of the people he met was a horrifying boy who picked up girls at True Value and Walmart.

“You get ‘em high, you can do whatever you want with them. It’s all about appearance, nothing else matters” the kid said.

Pat was concerned, but entertained the kid for a few sentences.

“Don’t you think that most people are just willing to settle for appearance because they don’t want to think about the alternative? That there is something other than appearance within people?”

The kid said, whatever dude.

A week later Pat picked up Being and Nothingness. In it, Sartre talks about the “gaze,” that there is nothing more than appearance.

“I guess the kid was right.”

Sartre states that consciousness is nothingness. But since we only understand nothing because of things, thus we only understand the negation of things, not true nothingness itself.

“There’s no way to have thoughts without no thoughts,” Pat continues. “The universe of everything floating in a realm of nothingness is impossible. You can’t have both at the same time.” 

“…Because they’re the same thing at that point,” I state, pointing to the tattoo on my arm, and finishing my beer.

“You are not anything except everything that’s ever occupied your consciousness. And since you are only all the objects that have ever occupied you, then your consciousness itself is nothingness. You don’t exist, you’re a product of objects.”

I mention that this sounds a whole lot like my theory of determinism, are you starting to shed your free will, Pat?

He tells me Being and Nothingness is actually an argument for freewill. Since consciousness is nothing, it’s free to be anything because it’s not anything in and of itself.

Before I leave, I tell Pat to keep writing.

“I will. And you should focus on harmony with people, Annie,” he tells me.

He’s always thought it was my core skill set, and since he’s writing now, maybe I can work more with people this year.

He grabs a few books out of the trunk of my car in exchange for the Kaufmann book I’ve borrowed from him. And we part ways.

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