Copyright Richard Schwartz, 2002
According to your Family Archives you had a cousin
named Elgin. Little of consequence is known about
Elgin's origins, his early life being
indistinguishable from those of
the millions of other people who lived during the
same period. He first drew attention to himself
when he attacked his aunt's kitchen with a
shotgun. Following the shotgun incident his
life was recorded in considerable detail.
The Archives tell you that Cousin
Elgin had been a graduate
student at the University of Ohio, specializing in
number theory. His had made a spectacular beginning
to his graduate studies but by the middle of his
second year he began to drift erratically. He
complained of headaches and loneliness and at night
sometimes wandered outdoors
in his bathrobe.
In the spring of his second year he abrubtly
left the University of Ohio, telling his
advisor that he ``needed to clear his head''.
Elgin turned up several weeks later at his Aunt
Mabel's house, on Easter Sunday. He came to the event
carrying a sawed-off shotgun.
He hadn't shaved or bathed for several weeks.
He paced about the house, periodically asking other
guests the solution to an
elementary problem in number theory. He flew
into a rage when he had determined that nobody
could help him with his problem and proceeded to
demolish the kitchen with the shotgun while
the terrified guests cowered in the living room.
Elgin finally calmed down when one of his younger
brothers, who had arrived late on the scene,
managed to answer his question.
The authorities found Elgin collapsed on the floor
of the obliterated kitchen, sobbing quietly.
Immediately following the kitchen attack
Elgin was sent to the notorious
Ohio State Facility for Deranged Adults.
He spent years in a dank cell with nothing
to console him but the tunes
his cellmate ``Rusty Joe'' picked out on
an old two-string guitar. Elgin gradually
learned to play the instrument himself, and
found some respite in that modest
In the years following his release he took a long
series of menial jobs on one side of the law or
the other. He designed religious trinkets out
of silver and turquoise,
smuggled guns across the Canadian border,
washed dishes in a boarding school for musicians.
Fed up with his hand-to-mouth existence,
Elgin joined the Benedictine Order in 2005,
vowing to dedicate his life to contemplation.
His powers of concentration returned to
him and he reacquainted himself with his youthful
passion, the Theory of Numbers. He worked his way
through a textbook
and then tackled the classic works,
finally raising himself to the pinnacle of knowledge
in that subject.
One tranquil evening in 2010, Elgin heard a commotion
outside the window of his humble abode. He looked
out the window and was amazed to see his former cellmate,
``Rusty Joe'', using the old two-string guitar to
beat the tar out of an angry Dobermann Pinscher.
Neither man nor beast survived the brutal fight
but Elgin was able to salvage the
guitar. It came to him in a flash that he should
use his knowledge of mathematics to study the
When Elgin founded the rock'n'roll band called the
Strumming Monks in 2013, the few people who took notice
wrote him off as a ``holy fool''. The band played
in the local taverns surrounding the monastery and
gradually built a loyal following. During one of
their gigs a crow flew into the window and knocked
over a pitcher of beer. Elgin took this as a sign
that the band would prosper.
By 2015 the band regularly graced the
concert halls of upstate New York, gaining
momentum and popularity.
Their big break
came in the summer of 2016,
with an invitation to open at Carnegie Hall.
Following this, the invitations streamed in from
all over world. Elgin made albums that went
platinum. His picture
appeared on the cover of Newsweek.
People living in huts in the Sahara desert
could recognize him at a distance
of fifty paces.
The Archives show you the scene from Easter Sunday, 2020.
You find it inspiring to see a man as famous as
Cousin Elgin sitting there, again, in
Aunt Mabel's modest
living room. He wears a white
suit and mirrored sunglasses. His
silver-streaked goatee comes to a
point at the end of his chin.
He looks suave enough to be the devil.
Elgin sips from a bottle
of wine so expensive it has no name.
He seems to reach out to you from the hologram,
offering you a drink.
``They called this bottle `Blue Athena' back in
Napoleon's time,'' his reconstructed voice
tells you as he fills the glass.
The scene is so real! You reach for
the wineglass but grab only air. It takes you
a moment to remember that the
Archives are reporting on the life of Cousin
Elgin from the distance of seventeen thousand years.
You like to visit the Family Archives, as a relief
from the incredible boredom of living in the year
19205. Seventeen thousand years of explosive
colonization and technological growth
have brought the human race nothing but
emptiness and homogeneity.
People inhabit thousands of worlds
but on each one they are the uncomprehending
custodians of a vast machinery that caters to their every
material need but does nothing to satisfy their
eternal craving for conflict, excitement and
insight. The effect is simply that everyone
is given a magic wand and allowed to
use the wand subject to the
imposed constraints of safety and fairness.
The Archives give you a glimpse into a romantic,
Before the hologram fades you notice something
new, a disclaimer written into the corner of the
screen. The disclaimer tells you that the Archives
have been revised since your last visit. It seems
that the records from the earliest days of the
Archives were not collected using sound historical
methods. Sources were misquoted, personal histories
distorted. The disclaimer explains that the revision
made according to the information
given by the new probes, which see into the past
with a pitiless clarity.
The revised Family Archives tell you that Cousin Elgin
was not a graduate student at the university but rather
a twenty-eight year old gun salesman.
He had worked in the same gun shop
for a decade, having been hired there shortly after
his graduation from high school.
Completely sane at the time he was hired,
he gradually succumbed
to depression and mentally instability. He had managed
to conceal his affliction from his employer
until the day of the kitchen attack.
Another guest at the Easter party, Elwood Baines,
was a mathematics graduate student at the
University of Ohio.
A rather eccentric fellow, Baines
had a habit of talking to himself about his work
and once became so engrossed in it
that he left his house in his bathrobe.
Aunt Mabel lived in the
set of houses adjacent to the university,
and Baines was her neighbor. Cousin Elgin and
Elwood Baines had never met before, though the two
men bore a passing resemblance to one another.
Baines' obvious eccentricity made a big
impression on the
people he met at the Easter party, though this
impression was eclipsed by
Elgin's subsequent demolition of the kitchen.
The authorities transferred Cousin Elgin
to the Ohio State Facility for Deranged Adults,
as it was commonly miscalled in jokes.
The actual name was the Ohio State Corrections
Facility. This facility retained an
unjustified reputation as a loony bin because
it had briefly housed a small psychiatric
ward ten years prior to Elgin's incarceration.
By the time Elgin arrived, the facility was
entirely a low security prison, designed for
offenders the state deemed eminently capable
Elgin spent one year in this clean, modern
facility while he received weekly
therapy sponsored by the state.
Following his release, Elgin returned to
society without incident. The members of
his community saw his one lapse as the
outcome of a now-cured illness and
showed considerable largess in welcoming
him back. He landed a
job as the recreation director of the
nearby state park and eventually
married one of the rangers under
Elgin did not have a cellmate. However, several
months after his discharge his cell was briefly
occupied by a talented guitar-playing teenager named
Russell Joe Wilcox.
Wilcox had run away from his home in North Carolina when
he was sixteen years old and had been drifting
around the country. He had earned a modest living
playing his guitar for street audiences and taking
odd jobs as they came, but then was arrested for
vagrancy in Ohio. He
spent a month in prison before his
spiteful father agreed to bail him out.
Russell Joe's inspired playing left a
lasting impression on the prisoners and
guards of the Ohio State Corrections
Facility, and many of them bought the one
moderately successful album he made
nine years later.
Elgin's wife, Carlotta Joan Hilton, had moved to
Ohio only four months before taking a job as
a park ranger. She hailed from upstate New York.
In her youth she had a passion for
making bracelets and earrings out of turquoise
and silver and she dreamed of becoming an
artist. Her dreams never materialized
and, prior to her move to Ohio, she had been
a distributor for a jewelry company that
specialized in religious trinkets. Her
business brought her in frequent contact with
a Benedictine monastery five miles
south of the Canadian border.
Though she had moved to Ohio for a change of
pace, she grew increasingly lonesome there,
for the remainder of her family still lived in
upstate New York.
Five years into the
marriage her loneliness became unbearable and
she persuaded Elgin to move with her back
to her home town. Elgin found
a similar job in his new location and Carlotta
returned to her former position with the
The couple settled into a tranquil routine
which was marred only once. Returning from
work one evening in 2010 Elgin was
attacked by a feral dog.
The dog gave Elgin several serious bites on
his legs before Elgin broke free and shot
it dead with the rifle he routinely carried
on his rounds though the state park.
Elgin spent the night in the emergency
room and then limped for several months
before completely recovering.
The monastery, with which Carlotta
again dealt, had an unusual history. Originally
it had been a religious school. However, several
teachers there also happened to be musicians and
this coincidence of talent
resulted in a surprisingly strong musical
component in the school's curriculum.
The school eventually fell
victim to its own success. Its strong music
reputation diluted its status
as a religious institution, and its
official mission of religious instruction
prevented it from becoming a true musical
powerhouse. Neither fish nor fowl, the place
eventually folded. The monastery
bought the premises in 1992, but allowed some
of the former teachers, who had grown fond of the
place, to retain an informal affiliation.
Some of the musically inclined monks combined
with the former teachers to form a
sort of unofficial music band. The band
occasionally ventured beyond the walls of
the monastery to play in local churches
and convention centers,
but certainly never found its way into the
taverns. Out of modesty the band did not
give itself a name, though the townsfolk
sometimes referred to it as the Strumming
Monks. The band had essentially petered
out several years before Elgin arrived in
upstate New York, though several of the
old members still played together on
The one true success to come out of the old religious
school was a boy named Flynn Crow, a devout student blessed
with a remarkable singing voice. After finishing his
religious school studies, Crow attended Julliard
and went on to become a respected tenor who
sang with the New York Symphony Orchestra.
In 2017 he interrupted
his successful music career to do charity work
in Africa, singing gratis
for people who lived in huts in the desert.
Newsweek once ran an article on him,
as an example of the new spirit of charity
gripping some of society's elite performers.
Elgin enjoyed a satisfying and uneventful old age.
Aside from a chronic eye
condition he maintained good health until his
death in 2047. Starting in middle age he liked to
hide his growing paunch beneath a loose-fitting
white jogging suit. He grew a somewhat slovenly
goatee, which turned prematurely silver.
His eye condition
required him, during bright days, to wear
mirrored sunglasses. Wearing his white jogging
suit, his sunglasses, and his goatee, he looked
vaguely like an aging devil. He liked to pass
the time drinking the locally
brewed beer, which was so common in the area
that it did not require a name.