When I put on my watch it makes me look smaller in the mirror. My wrists shrink, my hand becomes, misshapen, thick-veined, wrong-looking. I can hear the insect sound of the second hand ticking. How many seconds until my hearing goes? How many seconds between this one and the hour of my death? How many thousand, how many million? There are roughly 2 billion seconds in the median lifespan of an American citizen. It’s been about 900 million seconds since I was born. I follow the seconds back like stepping stones, to the year I spent in the office on the fourth floor, sleeping under a desk, with clothes and hygiene products in the bottom drawer. I would listen to the Gospel of John on my computer, trying to gently force myself unconscious.
That time–and the things I came to understand then, the book I was reading over and over during that period–opens before me. I step over the sill of the closet, cross beneath the lintel into the darkness of that time. The light socket screwed into the ceiling is bulb-less. And the book is like a chinese box that folds and unfolds, locks and unlocks forever, for as long as I vainly attempt to fiddle with it.
Some drawers are plain. Some drawers have brass mounts in in fleur-de-lys like patterns of brass, screw dotted petals, capping the corners of each drawer. There are small drawers, and drawers with wide faces; shallow drawers, slender drawers of surprising depth, deep and skinny as the barrel of an arquebus.
I open the drawers, and the drawers in the sides of drawers. I pull out, and swing to the side tall columns of drawers, which rotate on thick iron hinges. And I keep going. I keep opening and unlocking, until I am backed out of the closet. I open cabinets and cabinets within the cabinets, drawers within drawers within the cabinets. In my exploration of the box’s innards, I find a number of interesting artifacts.
The feather of an unimaginable bird, of vivid colors, lies at the bottom of a long slender drawer. It has a tennis ball colored shaft or rachis and canary colored barbs with a dappling or brilliant orange along the inner and outer vanes. In another drawer I find the skeleton of a tiny baby tiger. It’s packed away in a series of labelled manila envelopes: femur, 1st thoraic vertebra, T7, tarsals etc. It takes me quite awhile to reassemble the thing. It can’t have lived long. Deeper in, I find–floating in jars which had originally been filled with different types of baby food tiny reptile specimens floating in formaldehyde. They belong to a genus and species with which I am not familiar. I find cakes of soap in silver-gilt jadeite boxes of octagonal form, with tiny pearls inlaid along the borders of each green plaque. I find fireworks–unexploded ordinance–their gunpowder wrapped variously patterned brocade cases, secured by a sash tied in a bow. I open a drawer–its almost like a card-catalog drawer–whose bottom is buried beneath a thick layer of ash.
All of this happened during the year when I heard the Gospel of John. I don’t mean that it happened during a year when I listened to some section of the Gospel of John at a church service and–due to that oddly assembled text’s profound effect upon me–I therefore remember that year as, “The year when I heard the Gospel of John.” No. When I talk about “the year when I heard the Gospel of John,” I am referring to a period of time which lasted actually a little bit more than a year, when I played the Gospel of John through from beginning to end twice nightly, catching bits and pieces of it consciously, and absorbing every edge and thimbleful of the text in endless repetitions semi-consciously.
That year the Gospel of John sat next to me while I struggled at the edge of sleep, swimming the butterfly stroke between Beta and Theta so to speak, jackknifing repetitively just above and then just below the surface of slumber. The version of the Gospel of John that I listened to–or at least heard–almost every night that year, either once or twice, played about 3 and a half hours from beginning to end. Which means that I was listening to (or at least on some level hearing) the Gospel of John about 7 hours a day, most days.
I would estimate–roughly, very roughly–that I spent around 5100 hours hearing the Gospel of John during a period of about 18 months. During that time the frequency of my hearing the Gospel of John crescendoed and decrescendoed. There was a long period in the middle when I listened to the Gospel of John twice a night, every night, virtually without fail. I would lie down. Turn it on. I would start to drift. When it stopped I would either suddenly realize that, disturbingly, I was still near full consciousness, or if I wasn’t I would wake up at that point. And then I would start the movie over, close my eyes again. When it came to an end the second time, it was time to rise and continue…existing?
At the beginning of these 18 months, I was losing my mind, marginally employed and alone in an apartment in the midwest at the onset of winter. By the end of this time, I was still losing my mind, only now I was in DC on the fourth floor of an office building near K St., which if that street name is unfamiliar to you, it’s where all the lobbyists hang out in our nation’s capitol. When I finally lost my mind completely, it left me sitting on a stone bench underground somewhere in a tunnel. It was such a relief. People passed in fussy, constantly colliding arcs, whose ends and beginnings would remain forever outside of my field of vision. My hands hung loose at my sides, knuckles on the stone and palms loosely opened up towards the ceilings. What was I supposed to do with my hands? Why should I even have hands, hanging there at the end of my arms? It didn’t matter anymore. I no longer cared. What a sweet fucking relief to no longer have to worry about that. Somewhere up above me, aboveground, it must have been late spring. Nothing meant anything, and everything could just as well have been anything, could have been anyone else.
Why they weren’t that other thing which they just as easily could have been was a question whose answer no longer held much interest for me. I would continue to be dragged along towards my destiny like a dead horse, an iron filing sliding diagonally into place within the quiet flowering of a magnetic field. So I probably got up and rode the escalator up and I bought a hot dog and down the street I spent my last dime on a copy of the New York Times and a cup of coffee and I went to the Circle Club to huddle in amongst the others who’d come to confess.
When I first read the Gospel of John, I was surprised. I was even more surprised when I found that I continued to be even more surprised, with each reading/listening. With each encounter. I would be sitting on my blue couch starting at the plaster stippling the ceiling. Or I would be sitting at my desk, staring across the battered plane of oak at the spines of my books lined up along its edge where it was flush with the wall. And I would feel like there was something else in the room, someone else. And if it was really there, then I was the ghost that was haunting it and not the other way around. I felt like a creature that had developed optic receptor nerves that registered light, long before the eye evolved around the stripped and rudimentary wiring through which it filtered the world. I felt, on the other hand, like maybe those eyeless, microscopic creatures had known something–without knowing it–that I didn’t.
I would burn sage in a tea-ball and wave it around in front of me as I paced the shitty blue carpet. I would return again and again to the desk, to double-check a passage here or there and then return to my pacing in the room. In the room, in the middle of the night, with the lamp turned on, and my reflection framing the darkness and the blue crust of snow beneath it outside the window, on the other side of the glass.
I read a lot of books about the book. About the Gospel of John, that is. There are at least many theories about how the thing was put together as there are scholars. I have never heard a compelling case made for there being a single author that didn’t stink of self-righteous, self-aggrandizing piety, and willful ignorance. The story that makes the most sense to me goes like this:
There was some person who actually knew Jesus. Not sure exactly who, but it wasn’t John Zebedee. It may have been John Mark, the naked boy who ran away the night of the arrest down a dark aisle in Gethsemane. It may have been some random disciple who wasn’t around for much of the ministry until the end, and who wasn’t among the twelve. Probably his name was John, or Yohannon.
He must have given some testimony, or it’s possible that he wrote something down near the end of his life about his experiences with and thoughts about Jesus from Nazareth (Yeshua min Nazareth). This became the skeleton of the Gospel. It was later fleshed out by others. Most likely most of the heavy lifting was done by a leader in a monastic community in Ephesus during the early second century and then bits and pieces were added and the thing was shuffled, a lot of stuff about John the Baptist was cut out and the final version ultimately compiled by a number of people. It would be canonized in the 4th century. It is the only Gospel in which Jesus seems to be explicitly, and more or less consistently identified with deity. However Jesus says at one point, “The father is greater than I am.” He says a number of things throughout the Gospel that thoroughly screw up the whole Athanasian creed about the Trinity. On the other hand the only phrases and passages which could really be considered compelling evidence for the Athanasian creed also appear in John, especially in the first chapter.
It seems to me that the first chapter of John and the Special Theory of Relativity are talking about the same thing.
The Trinity is a word that doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible. Other people made it up, centuries later.
Trinity was however, in point of fact, the top secret code name for the first detonation of a Nuclear device, in an area of New Mexico called Jornada del Muerto. Jornada del Muerto is Spanish for “the route of the dead man” or “the day-long journey of the dead man.” Something like that).
Here is a video of the Trinity test:
The first hydrogen bomb was 100 times more powerful than the Trinity bomb. The warheads we have today are 4000 times more powerful.
We are broken. We are ontologically broken. We are irremediably, psychically and genetically in a state of self-nullifying contradiction and paradox. Realizing this came as a relief at the time. It still is a relief, when I think about it. At least in terms of its explanatory power as a lens through to look at the universe.
What do I mean? For example:
In the Gospel of John there is no institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Which is a fancy way of saying that the author(s) of John make no overt indication that they were aware of the fact that the night before Jesus was crucified, he passed around bread saying, “This is my flesh,” and passed around a cup of wine saying, “This is my blood,” and told them, “When you break this bread and drink this cup, do this in remembrance of me.”
This is a real problem. Especially for people (such as myself) who are convinced by arguments for the primacy of John. The primacy of John is the theory the earliest draft of John–the skeleton which remains visible but buried inside of the final draft–is the earliest written account and is probably the only account where one of the authors was an actual, living witness of the events described. The other Gospels are based on the memories of later disciples remembering the accounts of witnesses which they may have heard some time ago. Etc. Etc. So if you believe in the primacy of John, you look at John 6, where Jesus says, “You must eat my flesh and drink my blood,” and he seems almost desperate, like he’s trying to communicate but not getting his point across and many of his disciples leave him because they think he’s lost his mind. You look at that, and you think, “Well maybe that’s what really happened, and they just cut and pasted that part into the last supper. Or maybe both? But if both, wouldn’t the message at the last supper have been redundant? So then–did that not happen at the last supper?”
But this brings up a deeper problem: if our understanding of the last supper is flawed, than we can’t know anything. It is the only event where all of the key witnesses and one or more of the actual authors of the gospel are actually, definitely, simultaneously present. It is here where the agitated and probably frightened Jesus tells the disciples: “Don’t you understand? This is it. The thing you’ve been waiting for? It’s happening now. You want to know God? You’re looking at God. You are as close to the center of the universe as you’re going to get.”
To anyone who knows the gospels well, letting go of the last supper is a little bit like peeling the banana and then throwing away the fruit instead of the peel.
But that’s the way it is. The one person who is supposed to be whole, is shattered, is fragmented, is a broken mirror of discontinuities. The one person whose life force flows indestructibly from before all worlds is tortured and murdered. Who spoke the stars into space is not heard, is misunderstood. Unsurprisingly, perhaps. He is broken. There are four Gospels, not one. And more than four authors. And any one of the the authors–even where there is a single, clear voice speaking alone, it will inevitably contradict itself. They are broken things. He is a broken thing. When we look at him, we realize that we are broken too.
I wake up in the dark, and reach for my notebook, my pen. I’m able to find them before I can even see anything, and as I’m getting them situated on the bed my eyes start to come into focus. A navy light come through the long slender skylight that hangs diagonal between the guest bed starts to grade into lighter shades of blue, and within a few moments I can see the untenanted bed across from me. I am aware of my location: the spare room above the garage. I am remembering the epic, supermassive, serpentine dream whose world has just vaporized and been gradually replaced by this room and me trying to break it apart and write down on my cot in the dark. I create an outline and fill in a few points between each sub-heading. I can hardly see the page and I know that my writing in running outside of the lines, but I imagine it will at least jog my memory in the morning.
I wake up with the dawn, step outside walk down the stairs into the slanted mango light and I sit on the porch like a plant, photosynthesize for maybe a half an hour. It’s only later on in the morning that I remember having woken up and written down my dream. I immerse myself in the lake after a long run (during which I’ve remembered the notebook) and I walk back up to the cottage, walk up the stairs to the room above the garage. In my notebook, which rests on the night stand still open to the page I’d scribbled my dream down upon, this is all that I find written, this is the entirety of the detailed log which I’d thought would bring the dream back to me in exquisite detail, in all caps:
THIRD WORLD ORDER
It is early August of the drought year. Friday. Dusk. We drive north through a landscape of spinning windmills and dying corn, rest-stop restroom stall interiors slathered with obscenities, black bands of asphalt, interstates & exits joining and disjointing through the plains stippled with gas-stations and McDonald’s, all roads reeling towards the extinct steel town just northwest of the beach. We arrive at the cottage in the last slivers of twilight. The next morning we’re at the beach. And the next.
Along Lake Michigan’s shoreline, from the pier past Stop 38 to the nuclear power plant where the Highest Sand Dune once stood, seagulls are omnipresent and omniscient. You may not see them, but they see you. The seagulls are manufactured somewhere down the shoreline among the hive of smokestacks even beyond the nuclear power plant. The factory that gave birth to them has been decommissioned, but somewhere in their cries–each of which singly sound like a hotel door lock beeping when their card reader recognizes the magnetic strip of its key-mate–there is the memory of the dark mouth at the end of the assembly line, from which they emerged out of cooling chambers and broke their molds, fully formed, and flying out of the open window, with its glass broken out, and the end of the long, high warehouse wall. The shaft of sunlight which shone diagonally from the window to a certain patch on the concrete floor, they followed up and flew out.
In the time when glass insulators were necessary to sheathe various connective passages along the telegraph and electrical lines which were extending out across the country the sand–which piled hundreds of feet in the air to compose the tallest dune down the beach–was taken away in train loads. By 1920 the ground was flush with sea-level and the rails would be torn up and recycled into guns during the second World War. The great sand mound’s absence is the shape of a million inwardly lit chambers scattered across the branching railroads of darkness. Many years later they built the nuclear power plant and the seagull factory, and gradually the town down the shore from them grew from shotgun shacks and small cottages to tidily luxuriant beach homes with multiple levels and architectural embellishments of all kinds as Chicago Commodities Traders suffused the area with their money and their ambitious renovation projects. Property values rose. Seagull production was outsourced to somewhere in India.
Sunday: spend the hours after dawn and before the other’s inside the cottage wake up lying on a cot in the fan’s stream in my guest room above the garage, reading a book and basking in the cool airflow which soothes the skin of my sunburnt back.
This is what it says in my book, translated from the French:
The more our daily life appears standardized, stereotyped, and subject to an accelerated reproduction of objects of consumption, the more [an aesthetic ecology] must be injected into it [or built around it] in order to extract from it that little difference which plays simultaneously between other levels of repetition, and even in order to make the two extremes resonate—namely, the habitual series of consumption and the instinctual series of destruction and death.
Difference and repetition: I think of the seagulls’ million winters, all their dead bodies–a billion dead seagull bodies–decomposing in cocoons of frost, under crusts of snow, falling apart in spring rains. The mindless incantation of seagull bodies across thousands of generations scanning the water for fish, scanning the beach for discarded hot dog buns, french fries. Were they here when the first foundations of what became Chicago were laid? Before the steel-forging furnaces were set up in Gary? Were they waiting for us? Or did they follow along the Eerie Canal and through the eyelets of other lakes to follow us here from New York City? The hundred million year arc across which their wrists and fingers distended into wings. Why/how did they want to stay alive so badly that their bodies became warped in this way? Why did any of us? We are informed that it must have something to do with the sex drive, and doubtless there is some truth to this. But what if it’s the other way around?
Saturday afternoon a storm came blowing in from the Northwest, passing over Chicago’s skyline before it reached us. When the cloud’s threaten we pull the Sunfish to shore and break it down. Drop the boom, yank the mast out of the hull, roll and tie the sail, pull the rudder and stash it in the hull’s hollow. We pull the hull along the water until we are perpendicular with our parking place up the beach and we drag it up across the sand until its nose is parked against the dune-grass.
The dune-grass is littered with the skeletons of aquamarine life-forms, dropped there by the gulls, gutted and flensed of flesh. I remember walking through the dune-grass with little Madeline one day looking for skeletons with her at her behest and she turned to me and exclaimed, laughing gleefully and a little insanely in a swirl of toddler-frenzy, “If we stayed here long enough we’d be skeletons too?” When we laughed too, her laughter became even more maniacal, turning into something more like screaming. Her hair, in the morning, shining with an almost inhuman golden luminosity. It sometimes looks actually metallic. We were pretending to be archaeologists.
It would be nice to own a catamaran, wouldn’t it? Yes, nice. Always, always: these stalemated stagnant conversations with my selfishness which is practically otherbodied and lodged in my medulla oblongata. Like a creature all its own, amphibious, spiny, milky-eyed like a cave-fish, many-mouthed, its cartilaginous fingers finned, spread taut & hideously stretching out into my tender places like razor-boned crests of cancer. Martin Luther throwing his own shit against the wall, digging in his own feces and throwing them against the stones of his cell wall. He is alone in his closet with the devil. There is no one there, no one talking back to his taunts and declamations.
Cell’s are called by that name because of their resemblance to monk’s cells. Robert Hooke first made the analogy in his Micrographia, implying that the body was like a huge hive of monk’s cells, a big flesh abbey.
Christen, the eldest sister, is pregnant with 3rd child. We are all expecting a girl–they emerge the one from the other like Matryoshka in this family. In the hammock with her cherubic, blonde daughters Saturday afternoon before the storm, I told them fairy tales; found myself unable to summon a single fairy tale to mind whose plot was not essentially contingent upon infanticide, matricide, multiple beheadings, cannibalism or some combination of these.
What the King says not to do under any circumstances works like a negative prophecy–it will come to pass unfailingly. Elderly unwed women live in gingerbread houses. They have red eyes & can’t see very well but they have noses like the beasts & can smell children coming. The world is the Black Forest and usually when we look into the lives of the peasants living there we find them starving–at least at first. The children whose breadcrumbs we follow are often decoys, contrived as surrogates for post-natal abortions or sometimes children lost to some other form of infant & early childhood mortality. They are sent out into the woods in paper dresses in the winter time. Their clothing is torn off by briars. They are led into the woods & left there. Though occasionally appearing as a King, a Fisherman or a Tailor, it seems that the Father is almost always a Woodcutter. His task is to destroy the Black Forest and to commodify it. Hence the Lost World quality of fairy tales–although inside of the narrative frame the Black Forest remains indestructible.
Sat baffled in a cafe in town Saturday morning with the Sisyphean task of writing a speech about “myself” for Toastmasters on Tuesday. What does that even mean? What on earth is designated by that word? Specifically the assigned theme is self-expression. Express what? Trying to figure out how to say what I felt I cracked Marx for the first time in years and fell in love all over again.
The subject of our discussion is, first of all, material production. Individuals producing in society, thus the socially determined production of individuals, naturally constitutes the starting point. The individual and isolated hunter or fisher who forms the starting point for Smith and Ricardo belongs to the insipid illusions of the 18th century. They are ludicrous Robinson Crusoe stories… They are no more based on such a naturalism than is Rousseau’s social contract which makes naturally independent individuals come in contact and have mutual intercourse by contract… They are [a] fiction. They are an anticipation of a phenomena which only appears in the Civil Society which evolved from the 16th century to the 18th…
In this society of free competition the individual appears free from the bonds of nature etc. which in former times made him part of a definite and limited human conglomeration.
The farther back we go in history, the more the individual and, therefore, the producing individual seems to depend on and belong to a larger whole: at first it is, quite naturally, the family and the clan, which is but an enlarged family; later on, it is the community growing up in its different foams out of the civil society that the different forms of social union confront the individual as a mere means to his private ends, as an external necessity. But the period in which this standpoint–that of the isolated individual–became prevalent is the very one in which the [interconnectivity and interpenetration] of social relations within society are reaching their highest state of development. Man is in the most literal sense of the word a social animal, and not only a social animal but an animal which can develop into an individual only in society. Production by isolated individuals outside society… is as great an absurdity as the idea of the development of language without individuals living together and talking to one another.
Difference and repetition: the seagulls thread through each other in long loose arabesques all along the assembly line of time leaving a trail of bird skeletons and flensed fishbones behind them. We sit under the grid of interstices on the beach.
Sunday morning the wind is hard, and the waves are high. If I stand up, where I am standing in the trough of the wave perhaps 100 feet from where the water falls away from the beach, the water is up to my knees, but at the crest of the wave rolling towards me it is perhaps 12 feet high. I bow down, palms against the sandy bottom, and it rolls over me, pulling my legs out from under me so my ankles feel the slap of its passing. On my knees I open my eyes, and then dive into the fat bottom of the wave to avoid taking the hit. I am following L. further out. I see her catch a wave. I’m not able to catch a wave all day (this is my first time, and my performance in sports that require hyper-attentiveness and coordination is universally poor). A few times, I jump up into a big one just about to break and I feel the hard pull that’s supposed to send me out gliding, but I hit the bottom hard and I’m tumbled in a vortex. I consider that if I were to involuntarily have the wind knocked out of me during these tumbles when I’m spun around on the bottom I might inhale water. If I were to inhale water, I may very well be drown. In which case–it is worth remarking upon though almost impossible for me to conceive of–I would be dead. There is no question of maintaining any kind of illusion of autonomy in the water on a day like this. Your naked contingency is served up to your perceptions raw in relentless, crashing lucidity. I could die at any moment. You could die at any moment. And yet.
Breton: Everything tends to make us believe that there exists a certain point of the mind at which life and death, the real and the imagined, past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable, high and low, cease to be perceived as contradictions.
I bow down, knees and palms dug into the sand below the water’s surface and I’m pulled loose as the wave rolls over. And again. And again.
(excerpted from American Psycho about which book, posts will be forthcoming)
Today’s Patti Winters show was about a device that lets you speak to the dead.
The Patty Winters Show this morning was about narco-submarines.
Today’s The Patty Winters Show is about an activity called “dwarf tossing.”
Talking animals were the topic of this morning’s Patty Winters Show. An octopus was floating in a makeshift aquarium with a microphone attached to one of its tentacles and it kept asking – or so its “trainer,” who is positive that mollusks have vocal cords, assured us – for “cheese.”
This morning on the Patty Winters Show a Cheerio sat in a very small chair and was interviewed for close to an hour.
The Patty Winters Show this morning was about Real-Life Rambos.
The Patty Winters show this morning was about UFOs That Kill.
The Patty Winters Show this morning was about narcoleptic acrobats.
The Patty Winters Show this morning was about girls in the 4th grade who trade sex for crack, and I almost cancelled with Lambert and Russell to catch it.
Bigfoot was interviewed on The Patty Winters Show this morning and to my shock i found him surprisingly articulate and charming. The glass I’m drinking Absolut vodka from is Finnish.
The topic on The Patty Winters Show this morning was Has Patrick Swayze Become Cynical or Not?
The Patty Winters Show this morning was about Nazis and, inexplicably, I got a real charge out of watching it. Though I wasn’t exactly charmed by their deeds, I didn’t find them unsympathetic either, nor I might add did most of the members of the audience. One of the Nazis, in a rare display of humor, even juggled grapefruits and, delighted, I sat up in bed and clapped.
The Patty Winters Show this morning was about women who married homosexuals. Epic.
The Patty Winters Show this morning was about infant drug mules.
The Patty Winters Show this morning was about salad bars.
On The Patty Winters Show this morning the topic was Toddler-Murderers. In the studio audience were parents of children who’d been kidnapped, tortured and murdered, while on stage a panel of psychiatrists and pediatricians were trying to help them cope – somewhat futilely i might add, and much to my delight – with their confusion and anger. But what really cracked me up was – via satellite on a lone TV monitor – three convicted Toddler-Murderers on death row who due to fairly complicated legal loopholes were now seeking parole and would probably get it.
The Patty Winter’s Show this morning was about cousins who marry cousins.
The Patty Winters Show this morning was about the possibility of nuclear war and according to the panel of experts the odds are pretty good it is likely to happen sometime in the next month.
The Patty Winters Show this morning was Aspirin: Can it save your life?
I’m listening to messages on a Pornographic Telephone line and watching on the VCR of this morning’s Patty Winters Show which is about deformed people.
The Patty Winters Show this morning was about Shark Attack Victims.
Talking animals were the topic of this mornings Patty Winters Show.
Best of all, The Patty Winters Show this morning was in two parts. The first part was an interview with Donald Trump and the second part was about women who’d been tortured.
He repeated–as if reminding himself of what he’d just said a few moments ago–“A cigar is just a cigar…sometimes.” He then frowned and looked away, considering something, his lip jutting out.
And looked back at me from beneath the brim of his ludicrous hat: “You know what I mean?” Why was he wearing his hat inside?
I couldn’t see his mouth through his mustache but the mustache moved vigorously when he spoke. I could tell–or at least I had reason to believe–that he had a mouth. That was where his voice was coming from: from his mouth. It existed–I had reason to believe–down there, buried beneath his mustache. His mouth, that is. His mouth was what existed.
“What you’re experiencing is called transference,” he said. He went on to explain, in a string of extremely abstruse, fragmented and meandering syllogisms how I had become convinced–unconciously, of course, which is to say that I was not aware of it–that he (the mustachioed man) was my Mother.
He sat there on the couch like a fat cloud. With a fat head. And fat eyes. He was scribbled in. The few details which, I’d been made to understand, composed his short form biography–the sort of thing he told to women he was interested in, strangers he met in the pub and so forth–it didn’t hang together. His doubled chin glistened waxily, sealed in by skin so diaphonous white that its bulges and folds appeared like balloons of tallow inflated by the pressure hydraulics of his skull, with a slight green hue. Toad throat balloons. “What?” he asked.
“No cigar,” I said again.
“I’m sorry, come again? No cigar? No what-cigar? To which cigar are you referring?”
“The one you were talking about earlier.”
“A cigar is just a cigar?” He asked, paused, added: “Sometimes?”
“Close,” I said. “But no cigar.”
The lights in the hospital’s windows flash on and off in epileptic variations, a time-lapse photograph of the building at night. Like a fluorescent quilt, the patchwork matrix of bright interiors morph and float across the hospital’s facade in unchained arrays as if invisible custodians are making their rounds through passages and precincts of the structure in an opaque algorithm of mop-pushing & floor-buffing that lasts until dawn. Only now, the lights in the hospital are turning on & off in real time.
At the beginning of the sequence light shown from most of the windows, but the pattern was such that the number of lit strips in the grid slowly decreases as darkness and light continue to alternate in a strobing mosaic.
Inside the fluorescents shudder. Orderlies push gurneys & drag IV pumps slung from wheeled two hook poles, pouring bodily out of wards & fleeing down halls as the sterile grid of ceiling fluorescents sputters out.
Rectangular puddles of purplish white light shut down row by row down the long column of a white tiled artery leading towards elevator doors. The cabin of the elevator is overcrowded & many are not able to squeeze in as the doors close. Doctors & orderlies flee down the stairwells, leaving their patients alone in the hall. The darkness catches up with them as the whole hall goes pitch black. Those overtaken by its advancing black wall, will not emerge from it.
Television anchored to the ceilings above the beds still glow but their screens are filled with static. The beds where patients have been left behind are empty. The gurneys in the halls where they’ve been abandoned are untenanted.
The area still lit within the hospital continues to shrink. The doctors & orderlies & the few patients who are able to hobble out of the growing shadow collect in smaller & smaller terminals of illumination.
In an operating room surgeons & surgical assistants look up from the patient spread out on the operating table–instruments still in their hands, unable to move, frozen under the oversize mobile of operating lights that shine down on them–& they gaze at the black hole spreading across the back wall like an inkblot soaking into paper.
When I wake up in the hotel room the television is still on. L. is still asleep. It’s shortly before dawn. I slip out from under the comforter and creep out the door.
The digital bell inside of the elevator dings and the die-cut doors slide apart along their tracks, opening up on the lobby and a long sideboard with our continental breakfast already set-up, spread out along its formica plane. I drift into the drowsy queue pouring themselves coffee.
Behind me as I wait for my bread to spring crisply toasted from the machine, I overhear two obese women–apparently twins–that I’d been looking at from across the room and whom I’ve just glanced at again out of the corner of my eye walking to the beginning of the buffet. They are talking about a reality television show directly behind me, at my 6 o’clock.
The program’s essential concept is familiar to me. Contestants vie for the right to own the contents of storage lockers. The drama comes to its climax when the units are unlocked and the doors thrown open to reveal their contents. Were the bidders shrewd enough to intuit the value of the units contents? Are they making out like bandits, plundering the material accretion of illiquid wealth gathered over a lifetime frozen inside of the sentimental artifacts of a collector who’s fallen on hard times and allowed his rent to go unpaid? All for the low, low price of–say for example–$200? Or have they wasted their money, paying $400 for a heap of clothes not fit for Goodwill, piled in a rat’s nest of magazines and shadeless lamps?
“They didn’t find anything in the storage unit?” asks the one in my right ear, the one who’d been wearing the Mickey Mouse sweatshirt even though it’s 90 degrees at 7am.
“There wasn’t nothing in there!” says the other. They laugh. Their voices sound exactly the same. As I gaze down into the red coils glowing in the toasters two slots, I imagine their double chins jiggling–genetic echoes of one another. After my toast pops up, I take a seat in the center of the plush couch in front of the plasma screen.
On the TV in the hotel lobby, “The father of a girl with a flesh-eating disease speaks out.” The anchor asks something asinine along the lines of, “Is your daughter going to be okay now that she’s lost her leg & both hands? Will she be facing challenges?” The standard script read from in the mind of the interviewed goes like, Yes she will face challenges, but ultimately she will overcome these challenges by having a positive attitude and/or faith in God. The father’s face looks flat & amazed & like he has a lump in his throat. He looks like he may have a lump in his throat for the rest of his life.
As he’s stumbling through some kind of answer to the anchor’s question photographs of this stunningly beautiful young woman flash across the screen in place of his pale wall-eyed countenance, turkey necked with grief. She’s gorgeous, honey blond, in cap and gown at her graduation, leaning back against the railing before a backdrop of molten dusk, she’s up to wild sexy shenanigans at a dance club with her sorority sisters, she’s melting into the arms of her beau at prom.
Her father stumbles over words to the effect of, “Moving out of the ICU and now out of the hospital to a rehab center, my daughter feels the same accomplishment that most of us might feel graduating from high school or from college.” His response is broken up, muddled, delivered in a Forrest Gump accent. It takes awhile to get it out.
“My daughter’s come to peace with this,” he says, choking a little. “She told me yesterday.” Pause. “She told me… I was holding her hand. Of course she doesn’t have a hand.”
They show a picture of the girl–she is actually grinning–with her father in a wheelchair, her stumpy wrists in bandages, her leg wound up and she looks like a different person. Not a different person as in, ‘She looks transformed by her trial,’ or ‘She looks like herself only older, without make-up, haggard behind her smile, trying to be brave.’ It looks more like one actor has been replaced by another, as when a popular movie becomes a television show and the A-List major talent protagonist is replaced by some B-List minor talent and the one guy from the movie who did take the Broadcasting Station up on their offer of a 3 season contract pretends like he doesn’t notice a difference.
The leper scene from Ben Hur plays through in my mind. It’s been so long since I’ve seen it–decades, I was a child–that I’m sure its distorted. The two women, touching each others rotting faces in a low roofed shelter in a filthy encampment talking about their long lost son and brother who is listening to them from a discrete distance. He stays away–he does not want to shame them. Something like that.
The newscaster wraps it up. “Truly an amazing & inspiring story, ” he says. “Thank you for being with us,” he tells the father. The father nods. The camera angle changes, showing the newscaster’s long desk, and several other people sitting behind it. Next up, a famous American soul singer apologizes for doing a Burger King ad.
Looking away from the screen and out the window, it occurs to me that the strip mall across the street is completely gutted and shuttered except for the fast food restaurants floating like islands in the parking lots. The bypass to jump back on the highway is less than a half a mile away. There are a million little junctions like this spread out all over America. Hotels and fast food chains clustered around the point where the highway intersects the edge of town. Sometimes a Walmart.
In the red centers, flayed away from the skeleton that carried it, meat travels down conveyor belts. It sizzles under the bright orange coils up above, twenty thousand pounds an hour, one hundred twenty tons a day. We are traveling in pieces down the conveyor belt. We have abandoned our memories along with our bodies, and are traveling down the conveyor belt towards a time of meat-pink tunnels. The mouth of time, who does not know us. Who does not acknowledge us. Who could not even imagine us if it cared to try.
After its all over a show where the Navy competes against the Army in a reality TV, Iron Chef style showdown, to determine who can make the most delicious 4th of July meal.