“Instead of the ring, how about court? And instead of the bell, how about the gavel?” the stranger replied. “Public defamation of character can get you into a lot of trouble.”
“Let me see,” Moxie’s voice was cold as ice, her eyes still locked in on the man, “defamation is the same as slander and means, ‘to harm or ruin the good reputation of someone,’ so … umm,” Moxie put her right forefinger up to the side of her lips and looked up toward the ceiling, mocking serious consideration. “Hmmm … I don’t think I’m really in any danger of being indicted on that charge, especially considering the man’s done a marvelous job of ruining his own reputation for years now.”
“Hence my earlier description of him as ‘infamous,’” Blue chimed in, “which, of course, means ‘well-known for bad character, qualities, and/or deeds.’”
“Now, of course, several people could haul Sloughheart’s fat ass into court on charges of slander, or public defamation.” Moxie very quickly followed Blue.
The very air seemed to be electrified now. All eyes and ears in the Frosty Parlor were trained in on this suddenly very lively debate.
“What are you? Walking dictionaries?” the stranger asked while running a hand through his short, dirty-blonde hair. He was slender, pale-skinned with blue eyes, and appeared to be in his late 20s or early 30s. “Besides, opinions are a dime-a-dozen; they don’t justify maliciously attacking a person’s very character publicly.”
“First, about being ‘walking dictionaries,’” Able somewhat nervously took his turn, but with a confident sounding voice that did a fine job hiding his discomfort, “my friend here,” he motioned toward Blue, “is a well-established essayist, speaker, musician, and lyricist, with an excellent education that includes two Master degrees, one in Liberal Arts and one in one in Research, as well as a PhD in Religious Studies. My very beautiful but dangerously fierce companion, whom you are now quite unfortunately facing,” Able motioned toward Moxie, “graduated from Splinterbit High School summa cum laude, and is now a 4.0 sophomore at the college, where she is majoring in anthropology with a double minor in psychology and sociology. She is also quite an expert motor cycle and small engine mechanic, as well as a black belt in judo.” He couldn’t help but wink at the man.
“As for yours truly, I’ll make no attempt to brag, but I did graduate with distinction from Sloughheart’s church high school,” which seemed to shock the stranger, although a few in the Frosty Parlor remembered him quite well. “I am an artist, who has sold a few of his paintings and sketches, and I have been retained by the Splinterbit Journal for sketches, as well as by my friend here for the illustrations in his forthcoming book. I’m also a 4.0 sophomore at the college, where I am majoring in creative art with a double minor in musicology and, thanks to these two, philosophy. So,” Able slapped his hands, palms down, on the table, leaned back, and cocked his head ever-so slightly with a barely noticeable grin, “I don’t know about ‘walking dictionaries,’ but you’re damn sure not talking to a bunch of ignoramuses.”
This drew some light applause from around the room, with a couple or “whoa-ho’s” and “amen’s,” which surprised Able and Moxie, Blue, and the stranger, who now looked decidedly less confident than when he first broke into a conversation he should probably have left well enough alone.
“As for your bit about opinions being ‘a dime-a-dozen,’ I couldn’t agree more; however, much to the astonishment and dismay of our current culture, I’m sure, there really is such a thing as facts and truth. One really can, if he or she has the wherewithal and is very careful, reasonably assess some situation or person or group, and from that come to an intelligent, valid conclusion.” The discomfort Able had felt at first was completely gone now; point in fact, he was actually enjoying himself.
“And so, as far as ‘maliciously attacking’ this man is concerned,” Moxie jumped back in, “I don’t suppose you would care to calmly, objectively review what we know of his character?”
“Or lack thereof,” Blue added.
“And what do you really know about his character?” the stranger laughed what he intended to be a short, derisive laugh, but the slightly high pitch and faint quiver gave him away (and Moxie now smelled blood.) “And how objective could you be, and who would know? Who would, or even could, impartially judge?”
“You’re not talking to three individuals who know nothing about Fen Sloughheart,” Moxie smiled ominously. “In fact, just how much we do know might surprise you. You were going to haul us into court on charges of public defamation of character, but we have not said anything to defame his character. Yes, this is something I believe we can carefully and reasonably prove, and something someone, or some group of folks, really can impartially judge. At any rate, it’s one way or the other, for sure; either impartial judgment is possible or not, and this includes the courtroom.” Several heads around the room nodded in agreement. “But I tell you what; I’ll make a huge, huge concession here. Impartial or not, how about you be the judge?” This was unexpected, evidenced by the expression on Blue and Able’s faces … and a few others in the Frosty Parlor.
“Yes, you,” Moxie replied seriously. “If you truly believe we have slandered poor Fen Sloughheart, then simply allow us to make our case, as it were, and you pass judgment. One condition, though: whatever your judgment, you must give your reasons for your conclusion. So … how about it?”
“Yes. As we are taught by the Hebrew prophet, Zechariah, let us ‘speak the truth to one another and render here in our assembly judgments that are true and make for peace,’” Blue eloquently added.
“No, I’m afraid not,” the stranger replied. “I’m certainly not going to get backed into that corner, and I’m quite positive I don’t want to sit here and listen to your long list of reasons why you don’t personally like the man. That’s right; despite however rational and logical you might make it sound, it would still be personal, period!” The man was getting noticeably upset. “Nothing more than your personal vendetta … either because you don’t like his theology and teaching, or his perspective on life and the world in general, or maybe his church or school, or even the way he looks and sounds…”
“Whoa, whoa, wait a minute, my friend,” Able held up his hand.
“I’m not your friend,” the stranger replied tersely.
“O.k. o.k.,” Able chose an accepting, friendly tone of voice, “but despite our quibble here, we don’t have to be enemies. And if you don’t want to take Moxie up on her offer – even though we would be succinct and to-the-point in our remarks – that’s perfectly fine, but let me ask you just one question, if I may.”
“No,” the man retorted. “I think I’ve had enough of this…”
“Hey!” Moxie shot in like a hornet. “You’re the one who broke into our conversation! You’re the one who threatened us with court. Now you think you’re…” Moxie felt Able gently grab her hand and just barely tug. She got the meaning, though she didn’t like him suddenly being nice to this appalling intruder.
Blue Poorman, however, knew it was the better strategy; that is, to move away from so much negativity and, worse, from having to almost grossly elaborate on and publicly defend all that negativity. Even better, Able was now assuming a non-threatening, even friendly tone while asking permission to pose simply one question, which kept the stranger on the defensive without any of them running the risk of damaging their own reputations. Blue was also very well aware that all of this was registering with the Frosty Parlor crowd.
“Only one,” Able continued, “and it really has to do with what we were talking about anyway, when you … umm, abruptly entered our conversation. And I give you my word, none of us will offer any rebuttal to your answer. I am really and truly curious … do you believe the Rev. Fen Sloughheart lives the Beauty we were talking about, or, as Moxie put it so well, that Beauty lives in and through him?”
There was silence.