When Congress ordered the opening of the circa 1798 federal time capsule, the House of Representatives spent the rest of the afternoon digging through Philadelphia, looking for the antiquated wooden case that their founding forefathers had buried for them. This hunt and subsequent ceremony, which involved smashing the soil corrugated lock and wiping away the oak munching mold that permeated the box, aired on NPR and I listened to the various bids that museum curators placed upon Abigail Adams’ petticoat and a mint copy of the Federalist #10. One of the items pulled from 1798 intrigued me. Sandwiched between Washington’s farewell adress and the Articles of Confederation, Poor Richard himself had been retrieved from this vessel of history. But no one showed any interest in the wizened founding father, instead focusing upon the Articles, whose paper still crinkled and crunched in a healthy manner. With no bid on the originator of the American Philosophical Society and twenty-seven million placed upon the dead Confederacy, the radio program began to cover a recent short essay published in the New Yorker, promising to return to this exciting story sometime after 9:00.
I turned off my car’s radio and decided to disregard my stock speculator duties, if only for an evening, and instead take the long drive south to Pennsylvania. I had half expected that he would have left the premises, wandering off to explore his bastard nation, finding some 21st century intrigue to capture his ever-rational spirit but there I found him. He stood beside the cavernous hole that the time capsule had been dragged up from. Still unclaimed, his gout festered body lay on the dry grass. The curators warred over a jewel speculated to have once belonged to Supreme Court Justice Marshall’s wife’s cousin and I approached Poor Richard. Had I lived in my ideal universe, not even all the fortunes I had accrued over the course of thirty years of investment would have allowed me to purchase a single day with this epitome of American genius.
My pocket change, two twenties and a dime, was enough. He half smiled and propped himself up with his cane. We ambled to a nearby coffee shop where I bought him a Double Shot Espresso and a Venti Colombian Brew for myself, and we chatted over 18th century economics, the rest of the Starbucks shooting ignorant glances at us. I bore through muddled small-talk and I tried my best to make apt explanations for the new 21st century lifestyle but, principally, I waited and I waited and I waited to procure an aphorism out of Poor Dick, a final taste of his wisdom, a maxim that would propel me forward through my arduous stock speculating days and calm my frantic nerves in the face of frantic times.
And, I almost missed it, then He said it, then he said: “To rest in a rut is no virtue; to rest in a grave is no sin.”
As I allowed the gravity of his proverb to sink into my neurotic mind, my wife called me, inquiring whether to make mashed potatoes for the family dinner or reheat a TV dinner in my absence. I couldn’t abandon the dinner table on a Saturday, not again at least, so I got up from my stool and grave my farewells to Dick who, in all of his circa 1798 solemnity, nodded a farewell back to me. I walked to my car and glanced back through the Starbuck’s windows.
He sat there, stirring his espresso with his decrepit fingers, never taking a sip.