Alright, alright, so books are great – I’m sure you understand that all by now. To quote Mark Twain, “Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” And let me tell you something, this is the ideal life! This one we’re living in right now. You got another one you can compare it with? I especially like how Twain mentions the “sleepy conscience” part. That sounds just right really – it’s good to keep things loose around the edges. You keep in mind tomorrow’s gonna come no matter what, and then you’re somewhere new. And you always follow your thirst. Now sometimes that thirst gets mighty big; a lot of times that happens. And so you have to satisfy it. You know what I’m saying? I’m saying, get this man a drink!
That doesn’t mean you still don’t pay attention though. As Mr. Hamilton Leithauser of the Walkmen sings, “I’ve got my hands full, most of the time.” And that is pretty awesome. And it really doesn’t matter what you fill them with. I saw those guys the other night at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple. Alright, I thought ahead of time, alright, what is the story behind this place? And always more importantly: in learning that, in learning something new, what tangent and what thought dream will this send my mind upon? That’s something to look forward to.
The Temple was constructed for the Masons of Brooklyn, starting in 1907, when the cornerstone was first laid at Clermont and Lafayette Avenue – apparently as an exact replica of King Solomon’s Temple. You know, that King Solomon’s temple, the one he built in Jerusalem about 3,000 years ago, the one that was then destroyed by the Babylonians. The one in Brooklyn was constructed to great architectural reviews, for a lot of reasons that I don’t understand, including its innovative use of terra cotta columns and its color scheme. The thing is – the building hardly looks like anything remarkable today. It looks like what it is – a giant utilitarian space that serves a lot of different functions for the community. It’s still owned by the Masons’ Empire State Grand Council, and still used as their meeting space as well.
Alright, so who are the Masons? That’s not for me to say really, though honestly, I don’t think it’s as dark or mysterious as has sometimes been assumed. I do like this description though, “a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” That sounds like something most humans in our neck of the world don’t have so much these days. A collective well-spring; shared images that actually signify. Masons aspire to be master builders – in the metaphorical and spiritual sense – and so King Solomon’s Temple represents to them the acme of the builder’s art. It’s what they all aspire towards. Okay sure, they share that aspiration in rooms with linoleum floors, and fluorescent lights, with coffee served in large urns – and the Shriners at least are always driving those little cars around, wearing fezzes (incidentally the full name of that sub-sect of Masonry is called the “Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine” – those dudes who drive the little cars around). But still, there’s something to be said about remembering today a temple so old it was destroyed by Babylonians. I guess religions do that kind of thing most pretty regular. Myself though, I’d take it to heart in a different fashion – to help me hold on to my sleepy conscience; to keep one bit of wakefulness upon the walking dream. This world is changing, sure, just like it did back then. The circumstances may be different, but it’s the act of changing that always stays the same. And Babylon was just a way that people thought.
(Originally posted Dec. 19th, 2008 on Takethehandle.com)