Tuesday, January 24, 2012

the night shift

(this is one of the more harrowing pieces I have allowed to see the light of pixellation.  I initially scribbled it out by hand sometime in the winter of 2009-2010.  to share some of my own experiences of nihilism and suicidal depression so quickly after my dad just had his own very difficult and yet simultaneously graceful/merciful end...well, it's a questionable move, to say the least.  but maybe questionable moves need to get on better speaking terms with answerable moves-  what do you think?  for the time being, let me just assure the reader that a) episodes like the one described herein are becoming less intense and less frequent and that b) it's because I was able to write about these things even as they were happening that I felt maybe there was still some thread leading out of the nightmare labyrinth.  alot of the writing I've been sharing recently has been stuff from well outside said labyrinth.  sunny and funny and worthwhile stuff, to be sure.  but if this sharing experiment is to have any value, the stuff from the inside has to be part of the picture as well.  (this was advice given to me by my old man on one of his last nights on earth, by the way.)) 

“…yes, Francine, you little ogre-  that is indeed one type of person…I’ll concede that, OK?  duly noted.  duly rendered.  not necessarily my favorite, as you know, but I suppose that even the most flawed or aberrant categories still have the right to exist…they exist nonetheless, don’t they?…they exist outside any commentary…they don’t give a flying f about any expert or medical or political commentary…gosh, I wish they would, but they simply don’t give an f…by the way, I poured the syrups and sauces and powders and honeys and chocolates and mustards into the big cauldron you left here- awaiting the next stage of instruction from whichever electronic medium offers the fastest, the tastiest…you understand what I mean by that, don’t you?  carved for and by and in spite of themselves into the primordial rock face adorning the façade of the mutiplex…the apparatus, the aperture, the orthogonal antenna mount…the nature theater of okayness down on blount street is still apparently welcoming applicants…can you believe that, Francine?…not so much holding auditions but welcoming all and any interested parties… can you play the role of yourself?  well, that’s the only role that they’re interested in!  can you play that role with any conviction?  maybe all of that failure and tedium will end up rounding out the yearbook portrait somehow…rendering the portrait believable…worthy of inclusion somewhere in the time-capsule…in any case, I saw him stumbling down the sidewalk past our home somewhere between two and three in the morning as I was coming down the hallway stairs and caught a quick glimpse thru the window. that sort of person still survives somehow, there isn’t any more guesswork involved; that sort of person still exists or at least pretends to exist or at least gives the appearance of existing and appearances seem to be everything these days!!!  at least in the abstract and what else do we have anymore but the abstract, Francine???  we hold on with all our strength to the quickly disintegrating world of the abstract and that’s probably what eventually kills us, baby- a category! that’s what eventually smothers us! spending so much time by ourselves outside on a bench staring up at the towers of a low-income housing facility; the ice-encased ends of branches swaying and clicking above us, the faint roar of interstate traffic winnowing thru the backyards and assuring us that our contribution is most likely no longer necessary- honey, what if  I wasn’t breathing?  would that be such a monstrous outcome?  what if I wasn’t permanently housed inside that facility?  that factory?  is it just another case of one machine hiding or crouching inside of another?  I realize that I’m what andy warhol, quoting davinci,  quoting jesus, quoting nimrod,  referred to as a “specular nobody” but that’s precisely the role I asked to be cast in- not that my asking mattered so much, but no biggie.

 I saw him the other evening, or morning rather, somewhere between two and three in the deadest, the deepest, the darkest, the quietest...he didn’t appear to have a destination, a direction, a paradigm…look as long and as hard as you care to- if you spent some time in this neighborhood you too would eventually realize: that yes, it’s one type of person, I don’t know why I have to keep hammering on that, a bona fide category of person, the nature theater of okayness understands that, the nature theater of okayness over on blount street is prepared to support and sometimes even promote that- neither the person who has no awareness nor the person who cultivates massive, undifferentiated ambition- either of them, I assure you, would be invited into my home-  from the thirty-ninth floor we could gaze down on the neighborhood and reach our own private conclusions.  later on, if we submitted these conclusions in writing-  well, everything that is currently muddled might become a little bit clearer.  I would understand a little better why he insists on living alone in the boathouse, sitting all day and most of the night at his table by the window with his notebook and binoculars, researching and describing every watercraft that happens to come floating along…a lifetime’s work, he keeps calling it, more work than one could ever hope to achieve in a lifetime.   we wander thru the house late at night, we call it a species of “specular wandering,” we call it “looking for something that we accidentally misplaced between two and three in the morning,” getting ourselves psyched up for the audition even though we’ve already been cast-  keep responding to the person who assures us that the present moment is the only space or flow that the theater asks about- do you imagine all of these affairs ever actually happening?  either on stage or in life?  the human life, if there still is one, the human life actually thawing, unfolding, opening, speaking lines, and then, with a curt bow, withdrawing-  the director decided to bring that scene to a dignified close.  “the suicidal thoughts of god,” (lifted from kafka) it was provisionally titled.  no matter how many times we asked him, no matter how many times we went up to him beforehand or afterwards, the aforementioned director urges us to consider “sharing our 'private world' just a little bit more”, which means our energy, our time, our possessions, just a little bit more, consider doing all or at least some of these things with a little more frequency.  my first response was the obvious one- "even the paintings and photographs that smear their outlines and colors into one pulpy, indiscernible mass?"  and the response was also obvious- "especially the paintings and photographs that smear their outlines and colors into one pulpy, indiscernible mass."  I appreciate the people who wander off by themselves into oblivion.  the downside of that is that there might not be any more communicating with them- shit- they might not even be able to communicate with themselves!  we all hear sometimes about a wheel, about how a wheel rotates in circles, and about how that type of person searches in vain to fix or define his experience somewhere amid that incessant rotation.  there is no fixed point apparently and the person creeps closer, gradually closer, towards an elaborate evasion of…everything!  we didn’t want this to be the outcome but somehow it still turned out to be the so-called and eventual outcome. 

didn’t have the means to communicate in ways that might have at one point been deemed unacceptable.  I suppose it is demanded of each of us, quietly but very aggressively demanded of each of us.  there were very few face-to-face encounters- they were in fact all but eliminated.  if one happened to slip thru the mesh, if one discovered a small laceration or slit in the collection of warm, fuzzy proverbs- didn’t know how to communicate, didn’t understand what this phrase meant: “to communicate.”  a series of pantomimes, usually, and elaborate gestures.  I understand that you were paranoid, that you were being constantly followed, that your thoughts were being monitored and deemed almost 100% unacceptable.  I understand that you slipped into a terrible and seemingly inescapable trap, as all good traps are designed to be.  I understand that you felt that your life was finally being drawn or brought to a premature close, that you no longer went out into public, had not the least desire or even reason for venturing out into public.  some people play stickball, some people go to work in the factories, some people ask you to simply stop paying any attention.  they ask you to stop paying attention because it apparently wouldn’t make the least bit of difference to anyone.  your attention doesn’t mean anything.  your attention will never impact upon anything.   

 I wasn’t sure who to listen to- I thought I had already made that perfectly clear but once again I was mistaken- it wasn’t clear in the slightest!  I wasn’t sure who to listen to, there were so many opposed and contradictory entities clamoring for my so-called “discretion.”  I guess at a certain point I just stopped trying.  at a certain point I just stopped staring and wondering.  I didn’t know what he was saying.  I didn’t know what was happening.  we gave him several nicknames, our favorite being “the local hard worker.”  some of the others were “j-bob,” “the pizza wolf,” and “old smokestack blues”-  (note to auditioners- this is what can happen if and when you accidentally glance up at or gaze out into the audience in the middle of a particularly complicated scene)-  impossible to say at what time he actually woke up and/or rose in the morning but my guess is that it was earlier than anyone I’ve ever known in my life. 

we called him “the local hard worker” and he didn’t seem to mind it at all.  I think back to the old days which in truth are not really all that old in the first place, but it was then that people first started telling me that I deserved to be punished.  that in one way or another I was truly deserving of punishment.  they said it over and over, many times in rapid succession, and they brought evidence and witnesses and obscure city by-laws to bear, over and over, that I deserved to be punished, harshly and without unnecessary delay.  (if you take a close look at the facts it’s hard not to want to agree with them.)  these people are not only educated, well-traveled, and spiritual, but want what’s best for the whole human, animal, vegetable, mineral and celestial family.  I sat down at my desk and began composing what might be called a letter of inquiry.  many of the people who might have come to my defense in the past were now miners or prospectors of one sort or another, working far below the earth’s visible surface for months and sometimes even years at a time without respite.  "worked to the bone," you might say.  there was no way to communicate with them.  communication with them was a thing of the past.  there was enormous financial incentive for a remote privileged few by these “specular nobodies” agreeing to undertake this underground manual labor.  an enormous financial payoff lurked down there somewhere in the darkness, in that near-endless, near-pointless, near-wordless darkness-  underfed, underpaid, underslept, and under-exposed people with head lamps and pick-axes chiseling away day and night towards a mother lode already cashed in, converted, and dumped back into the ocean.

I had known for quite some time that I had become almost completely surrounded by enemies.  they were well-armed, these enemies.  they were well-trained and well-organized.  they had a lot of innovative ideas and strategies when it came to teaching people like myself important and unforgettable lessons.  they had with them on their team a number of highly paid outside experts.  they subscribed to secret magazines and most likely took secret powders and medicines.

they were my mortal enemies, pure and simple, and they made it perfectly clear that they had no interest in harming me, no, none whatsoever- only killing me.  wiping me cleanly off the face of the earth. I sat down for several hours with the man known as “the local hard worker” because my neighbors thought that I needed to get a few things off of my chest.

(sometimes I notice the way he looks around as he’s nearing the end of his shift.  his co-workers, so-called, have either already gone home or collapsed inert on the factory floor.  they just don’t have the endurance.  they don’t have anything even close to the willpower.  “the local hard worker” is in a class all his own.  all the other people who may have one day been in the same category have gradually died off over the years, and I’m certainly not the first to lament that they’re not being replaced.  does “the local hard worker” feel lonely?  does he have anything left to live for?  do people nowadays even truly understand or appreciate his capacity and appetite for near-endless work?  his absolute devotion to work?  would he ever enjoy taking some time off to quietly walk alongside rivers, canyons, or meadows?  the very notion of that causes such extreme cognitive dissonance that this world we allegedly share begins to ripple or pulse at the edges in the way that is sometimes described by people who have had actual or bona fide seizures, people who are violently thrown to the ground and rendered unconscious in the face of such a complete aberration as “the local hard worker” quietly relaxing by the side of a stream or forest pond.)

there was no more means of escape, I’ve already said that.  there was no more running away.  they wanted to kill me, pure and simple.  they wanted to wipe me efficiently off the face of the planet.  I was completely surrounded.  my body relaxed and went limp.  there was nothing left to attempt or explain or accomplish.  a stark portrait of a human being in the final minute or two of his life.  funny, the things that go thru one’s head at a moment like that- people had always suggested to me that I consider working just a little bit harder.  they didn’t want to hear another single word having to do with "psychological problems."  they’d clearly had more than enough of "psychological problems" to last several lifetimes.  if there was absolutely no escaping it, and much of the time there really was not- well, all the more reason to consider working that much harder and steadier. take “the local hard worker” as your model, they’d counsel me, and frankly, it seemed like pretty decent advice.  but now, as I sprawled there- crumpled, naked, unwashed, numb, and emaciated- out in the open, completely surrounded by enemies, all of them armed to the teeth and hating everything that a person like me supposedly stands for- (or doesn’t, as is often the case)- if I had in fact had any principles at an earlier stage of my life they had been abandoned and forgotten long ago.  I was a human being “in the raw,” human being as “meat,” lacking any and all conceptual or spiritual mechanism.  people would oftentimes tell me, “well, that’s all fine and good- have or abandon any concept  or spirit you like- what we’re really concerned with is seeing you become a more stalwart and dependable worker.”  and after failing in this for so many years, I suppose, I was now completely surrounded by enemies, with no discernible means of escape.  they had all finally caught up with me.  it appeared to be the much-touted or proverbial “end of the line.”  like many people, I had casually used this or similar phrases before but now I finally understood its true and terrible meaning:  any second now, they would all raise their firearms simultaneously and at a curt order from their commander, riddle my body with so many bullets as to render it unrecognizable.  there would be no record of me anymore, there would be no physical evidence.  only a small puddle of disorganized and anonymous meat or physiological matter would attest to anything unusual having happened here recently, but that too would eventually dry up and be blown away in the warm summer breeze.  every life comes to a close.  time and nature march on, hand in hand, in the direction of more interesting prospects.

and as far as “the local hard worker” is concerned?  well, I’m not sure how he fits into this story.  he most likely finished off another 19 or 20 hour shift in the factory, not terribly concerned with what dire consequences a person like myself finally met with.  if I had just taken people’s advice and worked a little teensy bit harder none of this would have happened!  you wouldn’t be reading this story right now.  you would be reading some other, better, more uplifting story.  I could have quietly blended in with the others.  I could have eliminated all this nonsense before it grew to such monstrous proportions.  

I sit by my window sometimes, of an evening, and gaze out into what I sometimes refer to as the "nothingness.”  people often object to my use of this word in these circumstances because when they look out the same window they see the usual animals, trees, machines, buildings, pedestrians- everything in the known universe is represented in some fun and colorful fashion!  how could I refer to all this as “nothingness?”  they disregard my statement entirely and chalk it up to some form of weirdness or obstinacy, or, at a stretch, psychological "problem" or "difficulty."  they say that if I was in my right mind I would be able to see things as they are, instead of distorting reality in the sick way that I habitually seem to.

they ask “the local hard worker” to leave his shift early one afternoon and come by my apartment to give me a little basic orientation. I hear him talking to people downstairs, I hear him coming up the steps toward my room, I hear the doorknob turning, I hear him pulling the desk chair toward where I am still quietly seated on a ratty couch alongside the window.

“son, how can you call all this a nothingness?” he said, gesturing expansively to the scene outside the window.  “how can you call all of this nothingness?  are you simply out of your mind?  have you voluntarily removed both oars from the proverbial water?  because if you have, we as a society have developed medication for that.  we have trained people who can help you to get that god-damned head of yours screwed back on right.  we don’t want you to keep mistaking the real world for this thing you keep styling 'nothingness."' we want you to see it for what it is and mother-fucking appreciate it!  we want you to venture out into it, god damn it!"

when he noticed that there was no visible reaction from me even after raising his voice and employing obscenity, he stood up and slowly paced around my cell for several minutes.  I still hadn't even looked over at him.  he eventually returned to his chair and continued:

 "there are no more viable religious orders so you can wipe that thought from your mind right away. and son, even if there were, I assure you- you would not even come close to being accepted.   I'm sorry, son, but I happen to know how these things work.  you probably wouldn’t even be granted an interview.  one look at your little application form and the abbot would have to struggle to stifle a giggle.  if he was honest, he would openly laugh in your face.  give you a curt little bow and then get back to supervising his freakshow.  that’s not meant as an attack on your or his character, son- that’s just me stating the facts...

... and yes, in your case most of the facts are pretty unpleasant...  
...I know you sat here at your table for several years making “art.”  good for you.  way to go.  hope you had the time of your life.  but from my perspective it was just your way of avoiding honest and actual work.  I know you don’t necessarily need or want to hear these things said out loud and I’m sure you’re already prepared with ten thousand airtight rebuttals- but dude- LOOK!  LOOK AROUND YOU!  you are completely surrounded by bloodthirsty enemies!  any moment now they will be raising their weapons and on a signal issued by their loyal commander, riddling your body with so many bullets as to render it unrecognizable! even somebody who’s known you your whole life wouldn’t be able to tell it was you!....  you’ve made mistakes, son!  pretty major ones, too!  you’ve come to the end of the line!  I mean,  doesn’t this sort of look like the end of the line, son?   admit it!   it’s ok.  we’re all just trying to help you.  and by the way- sitting down at your table to make more 'art' as a response to all this- well, son, it doesn’t cut the mustard it used to.  in fact, it doesn’t cut any mustard at all!  never did!!!  the mustard remains completely intact!  it belongs in a mustard museum somewhere, for christ's sake!  you pose no threat whatsoever, son.  you are an absolute joke!  and apparently, according to certain government files, you have nothing to offer.  you are completely disposable!  hence, you just turn your ratty couch towards the window and start mumbling this nonsense about 'nothingness.'  if you’d just gotten a real job like we suggested so many hundreds or even thousands of times you wouldn’t be in this predicament.  you wouldn’t be up here in this garret facing immanent death!  like any other normal, hard-working local you’d be at your post in the factory!  at this very minute you’d be there, making a concrete contribution to yourself and society!  I don’t want to hear another word about these so-called 'psychological problems.'  we both know that’s a bunch of malarkey. a bunch of old-fashioned, out-dated, pussified horseshit malarkey.”

at this point he picked me up and carried me out of the room.  I’d eaten almost nothing for weeks and was down to about 100 pounds.  apparently he was accustomed to lifting much heavier loads at his job, so with no visible effort he carried me downstairs, out the front door, and put me into the back seat of his car. 

“son, we’re going to go on a field trip.”

It was quiet for awhile, except for the sound of the traffic and engine.  we drove out past the mall and mutiplex and he eventually turned off on an obscure unmarked road.  pretty soon we were out in the country.  it was calm there.  at a certain point he contined thinking out loud. 

“. . . son, you’ve made some errors. . . yes indeed. . . you’ve made some pretty serious errors. . . I don’t especially like being the one who has to tell you these things, and frankly, I can’t believe that someone or even multiple people haven’t told you already. . . in any case, you can only get away with a certain type of life for so long. . .  at some point it catches up with you, son. . . it’s impossible to predict how or when. . . but it seems that in your case there is no more denying it.  you’ve come to the end of the line.  no more places to hide.  you’ve ferreted them out one by one, and not without a certain intelligence.  that’s probably why you’ve been able to hold out for as long as you have.  but along with that intelligence was an equally strong self-deception.  you’ve lost track of reality, son.  you’ve lost track of your place in the over-all scheme of things.  I’m well aware that you never aspired to be a traditional worker.  I know that you dropped out of college and trade schools more times than any reasonable person could expect to keep track of.  I know that you abandoned your childhood friends one by one, and that at some point you were diagnosed with serious psychological problems.  this is all perfectly clear to me.  it’s all right there for anyone to see on your permanent record.  I’m also aware that you’ve gone to great lengths in an attempt to doctor those records and were caught every time, and eventually spent some time in jail as a result.  so not only are you lazy, deluded, ungrateful, and downright deceptive, but you’re a criminal, son.  a common criminal, if you don’t mind me saying it.  an embarrassment to your family and anyone else who has ever attempted to help you.  I’m only here today spending time with you because I’m being paid a large sum of money to do it.  to be entirely honest, people like yourself make me sick.  I regard you all as lost causes, pure and simple, who should be put out of their misery.  If you’re so obsessed with this “nothingness” maybe we as a society could help you to get there a little bit quicker.  expedite the process, so to speak.  it sounds harsh, I realize, and I’ve taken some flak for it.  but I’m looking out for society, son.  do you even know what that is?  to look out for society?  when it produces people like yourself, who, instead of getting up early in the morning and driving or bussing or cycling off to work like the rest of us, choose to sit alone by a window mumbling god-knows-what about a “vast field of absolute nothingness” or “ontological vacuums” or whatever else your sick little mind has concocted-  well, I’m sorry, but a mind like that probably needs to be shunted off to the side.  theoretically we could just warehouse you for the rest of your life, but that’s just too expensive given the current state of affairs.  we can’t afford people like you anymore, son. I’m sorry.  you’ve reached the end of the line.  you’ve simply run out of options.  you’ve refused to shoulder your burdens for so long now that no one else is willing to do it for you anymore, and I can’t say that I blame them.  I’m sorry, fella.  that’s how it goes.  you can’t challenge natural law.  I don’t necessarily take any pleasure in bringing up the notion of survival of the fittest but it really does seem to apply in this case.   you’re not one of the fittest, not by a long chalk.  you’re going to be wiped off the face of the earth and there’s nothing I or anyone else can do to prevent it.  it's just nature taking it's course.  it's the way god intended it. . .  

(a few minutes of silence)
. . . I’m gonna take you back home now where your enemies are still patiently waiting for you.  they’ve got a job to do, son, just like all of us.  I suppose your job was to fail.  to set a clear example for others, especially youngsters, as a way not to do things.  A leads to B leads to C leads to D.  they need evidence.  thanks for playing your part in the experiment.  now that it’s almost reached its conclusion you can relax and enjoy the final leg of the journey.”

the “local hard worker” stopped talking.  the november sun was low
in the trees.  there were very few other cars out on the roads. I looked out the window for what was probably my last glimpse of the countryside, but as might be expected, all I could make out was another version of my old buddy "nothingness."  maybe I was finally about to get what I really deserved and desired.  beautiful how these two things hang together sometimes.