Friday, January 18, 2013

angles of incidence

[note to reader- the following is an example of what might be called a "literary mash-up." I have taken three pieces of other people's writing- ralph waldo emerson's circles, david foster wallace's philosophy and the mirror of nature, and samuel beckett's the end and woven them together into a single, semi-coherent narrative, adjusting the originals here and there as I see fit and adding some connective tissue of my own. reprinted without permission. enjoy.]

The eye is the first circle- ok? The disco ball is the second. The horizon which it formulates is the third; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end. No kidding. You probably think I am but I'm not. Call it a "trust-building exercise"- call it the whirlpool of modernity- indeed, the sleekest emblem in the entire three ring circus.  

I was ordered by Judge Judy, recently transferred to the Oxygen Network, and the ghost of my old pal Franz Kafka to prepare a written statement and read it out loud in public before a randomly selected sampling of my fellow human beings.  Is that ok with you people? My neighbor Samantha convinced me that this is probably as suitable a forum as any.  St. Augustine described the nature of God as a circle whose center was everywhere, and its circumference nowhere. Some of the stuff St. Augustine wrote was pretty whacked out, but his heart was in the right place, for the most part. Forgive him. 

The plan, of course, is to read one very small section each evening until the whole damn thing is finished, at which point I will finally open up about why I decided to auction off all of my most prized possessions on ebay and start a brand new life with- you guessed it- the Swiss Family Robinson!  

This was of course after my divorce from Maria on Sesame Street. That whole crowd over at PBS does not seem terribly eager to hear about my political wipeout and recovery but that shouldn’t and doesn’t come as any enormous surprise.  Clap your hands and stomp your feet if you can feel the excitement. It's a strange suggestion to make at such a late stage in the game, I admit- but hey- I enjoy being back here in the local community. I enjoy observing a select few of the proprieties and ignoring the rest altogether.  I’m not exactly sure what the words “local community” or “earth works” or “handcrafted” actually mean but I’ve heard them all so many times recently that I’m naively trusting that you will grasp the basic purpose of a confession like this, and temporarily suspend your overwhelming desire to see me run for the office of president of the united states of america, a job that I feel that I have become more than sufficiently qualified for during the charges, trials, and convictions of these past several years.  Just because I was not voted the hardest-working person in history does not mean that I am not possibly the hardest-working person in history.  Let that be a lesson to all you young people out there.  

In any case, just as I was being released in late April of 2012 Mother won a small product liability settlement and used the moolah to promptly go get cosmetic surgery on the crow’s feet around her eyes.  Whether I feel this was a proper or improper use of the moolah is something that I am not prepared to reveal at this time.  Our life was said by Bert and Ernie's wardrobe consultant to be an "apprenticeship to the truth", that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.  This fact, as far as it symbolizes the moral fact of the Unattainable, the flying Perfect, the steaming mug of Swiss Miss cocoa on a cold winter's morn, around which the hands of folks can never actually meet, at once the inspirer and the condemner of every success, may conveniently serve us to connect many illustrations of human power in every department.  

I am a simple man who enjoys simple recreational activities such as beachcombing, leatherworking, woodcarving, snow-shoeing, and puttering around alone down in the root cellar hunting for old recipes that may have been used by the previous owners to plaster over the sprawling labyrinth of rat nests.  Even so, the cosmetic surgeon totally botched it and did something to the musculature of Mother’s poor face which caused her to look insanely frightened at all times. No doubt you know the way an individual’s face can look in the split second before they start to scream?  Well, that was now Mother. It turns out that it only takes a tiny slip of the knife one way or the other in this procedure and now you look like someone in the shower scene of Hitchcock. There are no fixtures in nature.  

You probably think I'm fooling around here, but forbear- the universe, so-called, is for the most part fluid and volatile. Permanence is but a word of degrees. Our globe seen by God is a transparent law, not a mere landfill of facts. The law dissolves the fact and holds it fluid. Bert had a real thing for turtlenecks.  Some of my more macho peers used to make fun of me for my beachcombing enthusiasm until the day I found a diamond necklace and was able to sell it on ebay for some pretty serious moolah.  All of a sudden some of these dudes wanted to be my best friend but I felt that I had no choice but to politely tell them to “go take a hike.”  When this request didn’t have the psychological impact I was hoping for, I fell back on the old standard of “eat shit and die.”  It is important for people like them to occasionally take some time out of their busy daily routines and try to quietly reconnect with nature, if there still happens to be any nature in the general vicinity.  Clap your hands and stomp your feet if you feel any connection to nature. 

They clothed me and gave me money.  It was a little humiliating, but as my attorney assured me at the time, what other real choice did I have? I had a few unreal choices, sure, but who doesn't?  I had already experienced bankruptcy and homelessness several times in my twenties and I can’t say that I wanted to taste that combined pleasure again anytime soon.  I knew what the money was for, it was just to get me started. When it was gone I would have to somehow get more, if I wanted to carry on in anything like the traditional manner.  The same for the shoes- when they were worn out I would have to get them mended, or get myself another pair, or just go on barefoot, if I still had even the slightest desire to continue moving forward through the space/time continuum.  The clothes were not new, but they fit relatively well.  It will probably come as no surprise when I inform you that I have always had a keen sense of fashion.  For example- the ongoing battle for market share between Lee and Levi brand jeans is one that I have always followed with enormous enthusiasm.   

I enjoy most of the traditional as well as many of the more postmodern mating rituals and have written about this extensively on my blog, the most important social issues in the entire united states of america. Every ultimate fact is only the first of a new series. Got it? Every general law only a particular fact of some more general law presently to disclose itself. There is no outside, no enclosing wall, no circumference to either the strange or mundane possibilities. The man finishes his story- how good! How final! How it puts a new face on all things! He fills the sky. Lo! on the other side rises also a feller, and draws a circle around the circle we had just pronounced the outline of the sphere. Then already is our first speaker not man, but only a first speaker. His only redress is forthwith to draw a circle outside of his antagonist. And so folks do by themselves, astounded to find the most tangled problems neutralized by the most simple solutions. The result of today, which haunts the mind and cannot be escaped, will presently be abridged into a word, and the principle that seemed to explain nature will itself be included as one example of a bolder generalization.  

So then she went and had even more cosmetic surgery to try and fix the damage.  But the second surgeon also totally botched it and the appearance of permanent terror became even worse. Especially around the mouth this time. She asked for my candid reaction and I felt that our relationship demanded nothing less.  It demanded nothing less but I in fact delivered something considerably less.  There were no merry jigs, let me assure you.  

My first campaign manager was one of those legendary figures plucked from total obscurity.  Let it be admitted that he has since returned to total obscurity.   Her crow’s feet were indeed things of the past but now her entire face was a chronic mask of insane and helpless terror.  She now looked more like Elsa Lanchester when Elsa Lanchester first lays eyes on her prospective mate in the 1935 classic of the studio system Bride of Frankenstein. Of course I didn’t feel very well, but they told me I was well enough. They didn’t say in so many words that I was as well as I would ever be, but, yes, that was the overall implication.  Tough shit, tough bananas, tough tomatoes, tough topeka was the general impression they seemed to convey to me.  

Still quite depressed, I lay inert on the bed and it took three nurses to remove my hospital garb and put me into the clothing of a private, anonymous citizen. They didn’t seem to take a lot of interest in my procreative organs, which, to tell the truth, were nothing to write home about- I didn’t take a lot interest in them myself. But they might have merited some passing  remark.  I had always been taught to believe that the organs of procreation were meant to be regarded as one of life’s fundamental mysteries, even if they function in a highly predictable manner most of the time.  

When they finished I got up and completed the process of dressing unaided.  It took me about 45 minutes and I could sense that they were growing impatient.  They stripped the bed and told me to stand there and wait.  Wait for what? I asked-  wait for the shitstorm that is the rest of your life to get up and running, they answered. Fair enough, I thought to myself, having another sip of Swiss Miss cocoa.  And yet I resented the fact that they had not let me just wait in bed, instead of leaving me hunched over upright in the cold, in these clothes that smelt of sulphur.  

What harm would it have done to let me sleep until the very last moment?  I would most likely be needing the energy.  I would most likely be needing to store up the energy.  I would be needing energy bars, energy drinks, energy pills, and energy ether.  I would have to carry a tank around on my back for a couple of months, while I wandered around attempting to reacquaint myself with the local community. She was involved in yet another complicated lawsuit and when she regularly took the bus to the attorney she had chosen’s office downtown I would “escort”  her.  We rode at the bus’s front in one of the two longer seat areas which are aligned sideways instead of frontally. We had learned through experimental method to not sit further back in the rows of more regular seats which face frontally because of the way certain fellow passengers would visibly react when they board and perform the seemingly reflexive action as they start moving down the aisle to a seat of briefly scanning the faces extended backward through the bus and would suddenly see Mother’s distended and soundlessly screaming face appearing to gaze back at them in pure animal terror.  My sense is that it caused quite a bit of unnecessary confusion.  Our fellow citizens were often thrown into confusion and panic. They approached us, retreated, doubled back, started whispering.

Conversation could be referred to as a game of interlinked circles. In conversation we pluck up the termini which bound the common of silence on every side. The parties are not to be judged by the spirit they partake and even express under this Pentecost. 

To-morrow they will have receded from this high-water mark. Crouching down, drinking from what might be called "the primordial source."  A man came in and made a wordless sign for me to follow him. In the hall he gave me a paper to sign. What’s this, I said- a hall pass? It’s a receipt, he said wearily, for the clothes and money you have received. What money? I said. It was then I received the money. The sum was not large, compared to other sums, but to me it seemed large enough. Chances are that I would blow it all at the Apple store.  

I gazed around one last time at all the familiar objects, my companions.  Yes, believe it or not, I had become friends with certain inanimate objects! The folding chair, for example, dearest of all. The long afternoons spent together, waiting for it to be time to be allowed back in bed. At times I felt its aluminum life invade me, till I myself became something akin to an anonymous piece of aluminum.  Cool to the touch, oblivious, quietly at rest near the window.   

I have always enjoyed soda pop and I drank quite a bit of it during those first few weeks of recovery.  With a Dr. Pepper in one hand and Sargent Pepper on the rec room stereo, I reviewed my entire previous life down to the most insignificant detail and resolved to never make certain types of mistakes in judgement ever again. As a future president of the united states of america, the margin for error is now significantly smaller. And n

o, just for the record, it is not as if actively speaking I could be said to “enjoy” riding the bus with her while she exerts all of her effort trying to not allow the embarrassment caused by her permanent expression of absolute horror to make her appearance even more horrified-looking. Or that I can truthfully “look forward” to sitting in a would-be reception area reading People magazine two times per week.  I probably care as much about Brad and Angelina as the next individual, but it is not as if I do not have other things and studies to occupy my time. But what is one to do, the terms of my probation involve Mother’s sworn statement to assume liability as my custodian. 

And yet, anyone observing the daily reality of our life together since the second procedure would agree that the situation is more or less the other way around because due to despondency and fear of others’ involuntary reactions she is all but incapable of leaving the house alone and can answer the attorney’s wheedling summonses to his office only with my presence and protection throughout the long journey via public transit.  

Our bodies sometimes feel like nothing more than mere freight that needs to be hauled around from point A to point B to point C to point D to point E to point F to point G to point H to point I to point J to point K  and so on and so forth, moving all the way thru the rest of the alphabet, which represents the course of a typical day, only to begin again the next morning back at point A or thereabouts, heavy freight needing to be trucked or shipped or flown around so that the global economy can proceed on its merry way to permanent recovery.  I had always been the sort of person who enjoyed most basic activities, but something seemed to be changing.  I was consuming more energy bars, drinks, pills, and ether than was probably necessary but I was determined to win the nomination for the highest and most coveted office in the land.  If there was not as much time left over for beachcombing and snowshoeing, so be it-  I am the hardest-working person in all of human history and I am not ashamed to admit it.

Even so, I am greatly obliged to you, I said to my keeper- is there a law which prevents you from throwing me out naked and penniless? 

Sir, that would damage our reputation in the long run, he replied somewhat wearily. 

Could they not possibly keep me a little longer, I said- maybe I could make myself useful.  

He erupted in laughter and it went on for about 25 minutes uninterrupted.  

Oh well.  The countless times over the years I had said something vague about trying to make myself useful- probably best not to start that little song and dance all over again.  

Then cometh the god, and converts the statues into fiery men, and by a flash of his eye burns up the veil which shrouded all things, and the meaning of the very furniture, of cup and saucer, of chair and clock and tester, is manifest. The facts which loomed so large in the fogs of yesterday-property, climate, breeding, personal beauty, and the like, have strangely changed their proportions. All that we reckoned settled shakes and rattles; and literatures, cities, climates, religions, leave their foundations, and dance before our eyes. And yet here again see the swift circumspection! Realize, if nothing else, that a

bus’s circular steering wheel is not only much larger but is set at an angle of incidence more horizontal than any taxi, private car or police cruiser’s wheel I have seen and the driver often turns the wheel with a broad all-body motion which is resemblant of someone’s arm sweeping all the material off a table or surface in a sudden fit of emotion. And the special perpendicular seats in the bus’s anterior segment comprise a good vantage from which to watch the operator wrestle with this gigantic transport vehicle.  If the appointment is AM then this individual sometimes keeps a newspaper folded up in a hutch by the automatic coin or token box which he tries to peruse while idling at stoplights although it is not as if he will get much of his daily reading done in this way.  Every now and then I notice fellow passengers wearing ear phones of some kind and quietly bobbing their heads up and down in time to what I assume is some sort of rhythmic speech or music.

After he had finished laughing I cleared my throat and tried to put on what my mother used to call a winning smile. Perhaps, I said, they would consent to take back the money and keep me a little bit longer. This is a charitable institution, he said, and the money is a gift you receive when you leave. When it is gone you will have to get more, if you want to go on. Never come back here, whatever you do- he said sternly- you would not be let in. And don’t go to any of our other branches either, they would only turn you away.  Are you playing the part of St. George, the dragon, the bystanders, or what? I asked.  Come come, he said- and anyway, no one understands a tenth of what you say. I’m so old, I said. You are not so old as all that, he replied. May I stay here just a little longer, I said, at least till the rain is over?  There was a good 3 minute pause. You may wait in the cloister, he said- but the rain will most likely continue all day.  And then a 2 minute pause.  You may shelter in the cloister till six o’clock- you will then hear the dinner bell and at that instant you must depart and never even think about entering these premises again.  And then a 45 second pause.  He looked at me with a kindly twinkle in his eye and said “I may not be the most powerful person in the universe, but I am capable of making occasional exceptions to to the general rules.  Be well, and enjoy the shitstorm that is most likely to comprise the rest of your earthly existence." The only lighthearted interlude was that when they brought her the mirror and the first surgery’s bandages came off then one could at first not ascertain whether the face’s expression was a reaction to what she saw in the mirror or if it itself was what she saw and this was the stimulus causing the loud noises of panic and psychological distress. Mother herself who is a decent-hearted if vain, bitter and somewhat timid 69 year old female specimen but who is not a colossus of the rhodes of the human intellect, to put it mildly, could herself not ascertain at first if the look of abject terror was the response or the stimulus and if it was a response then a response to what if the response itself was the expression. Causing no end of confusion before they finally got her sedated.  

A delicious irony, I thought to myself- the young, vigorous 40 something needing to be constantly pumped full of energy bars, drinks, pills, and ether while the older, weaker near 70 something needing to almost be put in restraints, so overpowering was her confusion and disappointment in the results of the cosmetic adjustment. The surgeon was moaning and leaning forward with his forehead heavily pressed up against the wall, a behavioral reaction which clearly signaled to all those present that yes, there was indeed an objective problem with the surgery’s results.  That no, the surgery had not gone exactly according to plan.  That yes, there would most definitely be a follow-up plan or “plan b” formulated immediately.   (FYI, the bus is because our car is no longer running dependably, a situation this new attorney says he can now remedy in spades.)  

When I first heard this I attempted to slap a high five with the person waiting with me in the checkout line, but he politely declined and continued bobbing his head in time with whatever was going on in his earphones.  I contented myself with energetically pumping my fist several times in the air.  There’s a right and a wrong way to interface with strangers out in public, I’ve learned.  These are all social skills that will come in handy when I’m running for president of the united states of america.)  

Finally done with my cocoa, and once again back out on the streets, does it come as any surprise that I soon became hopelessly lost? I had not set foot in this part of the city for a very long time and it seemed greatly changed. I did not know exactly where I was supposed to be going. I had the great good fortune, more than once, not to be run over by motorists.  My appearance apparently still made most people laugh, with that hearty jovial laugh so good for the health and the spirits. By keeping the red part of the sky as much as possible to my right I came at last to the river. Here all seemed at first sight more or less as I remembered it. But if I had looked more closely I would doubtless have discovered many changes. And indeed I subsequently did so.  

Bert draws on his gator skin boots to go through the woods, that his feet may be safer from the bite of snakes; Ernie never thinks of such a peril. In many years neither is harmed by such an accident. Yet it seems to me, that, with every precaution you take against such an evil, you put yourself into the power of the evil.  I am not careful to justify myself. Bert and Ernie can do what they like. I own I am gladdened by seeing the predominance of the saccharine principle throughout vegetable nature, and not less by beholding in morals that unrestrained inundation of the principle of good into every chink and hole that selfishness has left open, yea, into selfishness and sin itself; so that no evil is pure, nor hell itself without its extreme satisfactions. 

Lest I should mislead any when I have my own head and obey my own whims, let me remind the reader that I am only an experimenter. You may think Grover and Cookie Monster are real flesh and blood creatures, or you may just see them as puppets. Do not set the least value on what I do, or the least discredit on what I do not, as if I pretended to settle anything as true or false. I unsettle all things. No facts are to me sacred; none are profane; I simply experiment, an endless seeker, with no Past at my back. In one or two regrettable moments of insensitivity I have joked about taking the bus all the way through into Studio City and auditioning Mother as an extra in one of the many films nowadays in which large crowds of extras are paid to look upwards in abject terror of a special effect which is only later inserted into the film through computer-aided design.  She didn’t seem to appreciate this litle wisecrack of mine, and looking back, it’s not difficult to understand why.  After all I’m the only support she has, in a sense.  

Once I am elected president of the united states of america I’m hoping that the secret service will pitch in with some of the daily chores around here. Whereas Hitchcock and other classic directors used only primitive special effects but to more terrifying results, I would argue.  I have always enjoyed spending time on the internet and I hope to be doing more of it as I continue along down the path of recovery.  Clap your hands and stomp your feet if you are a lifelong learner as well.  

My bench was still there. This is probably going to be somewhat hard to believe, but it had been carefully shaped by the manufacturer to fit the gentle curves of the seated human body! It stood beside a watering trough, gift of a Mrs. Maxwell to the city horses, according to the inscription. During the short time I rested there several beasts took advantage of this monument.  Water is a healthy and refreshing beverage which all living creatures should try to relax and enjoy from time to time.  The one thing which we seek with insatiable desire is to forget ourselves, to be surprised out of our propriety, to lose our sempiternal memory, and to do something without knowing how or why; in short, to draw a new circle. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. The way of life is wonderful: it is by abandonment. The great moments of history are the facilities of performance through the strength of ideas, as the works of genius and religion. "A man," said Oliver Cromwell, "never rises so high as when he knows not whither he is going." Dreams and drunkenness, the use of opium and alcohol are the semblance and counterfeit of this oracular genius, and hence their dangerous attraction for men. For the like reason, they ask the aid of wild passions, as in gaming and war, to ape in some manner these flames and generosities of the heart.  

The iron shoes approached and the jingle of the harness. Then silence. That was the horse looking at me. Then the noise of pebbles and mud that horses make when drinking. Then the silence again. That was the horse looking at me again. Then the pebbles again. Then the silence again. Till the horse had finished drinking or the driver deemed it had drunk its fill, and requested in some kind of code that the beast continue on down the path.  The sound of the iron shoes and harness gradually fading away into the nothingness.  People walking by would occasionally pause and ask me if I was all right.  I told them that I was not quite prepared to answer that particular question.