I’ve just come to the rather dizzying conclusion that one day, some particularly plucky chicken could come replace me and that no one would even notice. Of course, I would look different and probably smell different, too. But listen: looks and smells aren’t everything. Else we primates wouldn’t love the crotch. And yet we do. In that aspect, we’re more like dogs than ourselves. But enough.
Were I a chicken tomorrow, I’d eat some seeds. Other than that, though, what?
Seems easy to teach a chicken how to be me. All you have to do is—
—well, first, let me just say: I’d usually be more troubled. ‘I’m superfluous in my own life!’ It’s a rather depressing thought. I’ll admit it.
In this case, however, I’m certain it also applies to everyone I’ve ever met. Not that I’m some disposable Jack in their lives, by the way, but that they’re each of them utterly unessential. All of my loser friends and bloated family members. All of them. Chickens! Chickens to them all. They’re none of them significant. (Oh to tell you the truth, it bothers me. It bothers me greatly!)
I’m always on about ‘human accomplishment.’ How Mars is just around the corner.
And how much do I have to do with that?
Were I to give a grand lecture on the microwave, I’d have a better shot explaining it through witchcraft and wizardry than ever saying a single thing about the neuron.
How does my light switch work? At this point, I’m not so sure it isn’t working me.
I use a car every goddamn day and I still don’t know where the gas tank is.
On the left?
Well, at the gas station, I always park it to the right. Habit.
Habit, by the by, that can be learned through study!
I am part of a world I can’t begin to understand. And yet I do. I’ve been taught to maneuver within it.
By use of cutesy buttons and glowing interfaces. Surfaces! Oh my knowledge is so shallow!
I fulfill my nutritional requirements every day.
How do I know?
Because Wheaties say so.
‘Such and such percentage, Vitamin A, you’re good!’
Did I invent English? Or was I drilled into mediocre use of it?
And my looks! My ravishing looks!
How much did I have to do with my face?
Did I pick my eyebrows or pluck my nose?
Was I the one who chose my height?
In my best moments, it’s almost as though it isn’t me.
My best ideas are ‘inspired.’
My greatest athletic feats feel effortless.
Aye, it’s whenever I struggle with a mile it seems like my own two feet.
And whenever I torture a sentence into comprehensibility, it doesn’t read right. Such matters are best left to flow.
What, then, of me is me? What can’t a chicken be taught to do?
‘Just follow your guts.’ Well it does that anyway.
I surmise my mother wouldn’t even care.
As long as it looked sort of like me and she could still call it ‘Rooster,’ I imagine she might even be happier. Because at this point, all she needs is dependability. Somebody to sit down and listen to her. Someone to call ‘son.’ She calls me that now, but only because I’ve usurped her baby boy. We don’t even get along!
And my father? …oh!
Your little man.
‘No thank you,’ with a stern voice. ‘I’m not gay.’ (Is he six gay? Nine?)
He hasn’t even noticed it’s been nine months!
Well I’m out here, pops! It’s a squabble with the peeps and it’s been a real hatch.
I imagine a magical kingdom like one of those lards writes about. Only in this one, instead of a war for the throne or any of that nonsense, the magical denizens of this magical kingdom elect to participate in a magical process: democracy. They vote for their ‘king.’
And I imagine in their primaries, there’s probably always a fiery underdog well behind his more prominent opponents. But he’s a challenger, this fiery one. He doesn’t quit too easy.
He goes from farm to farm, castle to castle, far out-traveling any other candidate. And he makes the most dazzling speeches to every one of his target groups.
To the gnomes, he says, ‘I want you to bite, little ones! I want you to grab them by the ankles with your teeth! Tall men must learn they’re not all men. The little ones are the ones who make this kingdom, inch by wee-little inch.’
To the blacksmiths, he says, ‘Without your swords, we’d be nothing. My opponents are always talking about the size of our military. How—in order to protect our kingdom from invaders—we ought to spend more resources on our soldiers. Well how about giving more to the smiths?’
He goes from inn to inn, town to town, promising everyone everything. The minstrels will get new mandolin strings. The witches will wear new hats. Alchemists will go to school for free, and knights will have weekly jousts.
Apples will taste like peaches, ‘and every girl will lova ya. Every single one.’
At some point, though, I imagine some peasant from the audience stands up. ‘Yes, but…!’ he cries out.
‘But what?’ says the fiery underdog. Within himself, though, he thinks, butt’s the butt that interrupts my speech. You ass.
‘…you’ll make the magic we already have even better. We get that. But what about the drudgery of life?’
‘What about the drudgery of life?’
‘How will you fix that? I might eat a tastier pig because of you. But what about after the pig’s guts are in my guts? Pork’s in my beef and I’m still bored. Again: what about the drudgery of life? Eh? How will you go about solving that?’
And I imagine the fiery underdog looks down for a moment. And I imagine he sighs and says, ‘I’m running for president here, not God! You fix that yourself!’
Let this be a warning to all of you who wish to be inspired: don’t be. Don’t wish for the Muse! She’s a terrible pixie and—and, well, you’ll see:
A wizard once loved and he loved very much. She was a darling girl and they were oh so very happy to Be. ‘Be what?’ Be together; share a joint romance, steal kisses from each other’s lips. It was a joy to hug in the morning, and a joy to hug in the night. Sweethearts! Happy, happy, happy to Be!
They were also happy to Be in the primary sense—that is to say, they were happy to exist. Life felt like a blessing, godsend that it was.
Do notice, though, that he was a wizard. And that she was not. Hmm.
What did this mean?
It meant from time to time, he was capable of astonishing her—truly astonishing her. He was also capable of astonishing himself. Because honestly, the wizard did not know why we was a wizard. Nor did he know what brought on his wonderful spells. Every once in a while—a few times a month—he would awaken with such a tremendous mood…! He would be all mischievous smiles and he would be fast of speech and quick with wit. But most of all, he would be able to manipulate the Order of Things. He could make things levitate, he could make dogs talk; he could duplicate an apple, he could fold a paper into fifty halves. He could, if he wanted to, handlessly grasp his love from the other side of the room and, with a powerful and frightening force, drag her towards him for a peck. They did not do this often, though, as it scared her terribly.
But, as I said, the wizard could not control it. Every once in a while—a few times a month—he was a wizard. But every other day, he was not. Try as he might, he couldn’t do a thing if the Mood wasn’t right. He couldn’t even fix a crooked stick. Not without the Muse.
Can you imagine his grief, then, when his darling fell ill? Can you imagine how much he cried as she withered away? Her healthy blush—her dear, little face—now looked gaunt and blue and dead.
As much as he wanted to heal her, he was impotent. Wholly powerless. He couldn’t cure a cough, let alone whatever was killing his beloved.
And when she died—can you imagine the unimaginable guilt he felt?
And do you see why he became so bitter? The day he buried his lovely, he wept and wept. And all of those tears hit the ground and instantaneously bloomed into beautiful violets and gorgeous little daisies and roses and blossoms, too. It was then he could tell the Mood was right, though everything else was wrong.
…I know what you’re thinking. ‘Did he perform the miracle?!’
Ah, but the Muse didn’t let him. No, she didn’t let him. She was a jealous one and wouldn’t raise the dead.
After years abroad, he came back home and KISSY KISSY, reunited with his family. Wonderful time. Old familiar lunches, long-forgotten haunts. The memories!
One day, as he was driving arout town, he spotted a vehicle that made him reminisce. It was white like her’s was, and small, and the bumper stickers…why that’s her right there! Right there! Driving as she always used to drive, two hands gripping the wheel!
But how can it be? She doesn’t look a day older than when he had last seen her. Her hair is just as long, and her little upturned nose….
The man sped away before they had a chance to meet eyes. He was afraid that somehow, she would catch him in her spell. That somehow, they would pull over and embrace and kiss. And that she would tell him, ‘Come inside! Come inside! Come in with me!’ And for all of their eternal lives, they would be happy, happy, happy as only happy teens can be.
It made him sick to think of being sixteen again. After everything he’d been through! No.
Confirm it reader: our man is a weary, weary, man. We can call him old and decrepit, though he is only twenty-five. Oh sure, he runs and jumps and moves about and shuffles. But his spiritual knees crack, if you get what I mean.
For the longest time, a most magical tree went completely unnoticed. That’s not to say nobody ever saw the tree. Nor am I saying kiddies didn’t climb the tree, swing from the tree, or carve their crush’s name on the tree’s bark. I’m not implying people didn’t use the tree for shade when it was hot outside. Neither am I telling you that travelers avoided the tree when it was thunderstorming; if anything, they rushed towards its big, protective shade, however wrong they were to do so. (Or were they? I never remember the rule. Lightning strike, lightning strike…far from the pike? Under the pike? And what is a pike, anyway? The tree? I do suppose it is rather pointy near the top. Either way, the rhyme is useless, as you can tell. We’d be better off learning the incantation, ‘Lightning strike, lightning strike, go for a hike!’)
What I saying is that there never was a person—not even once—that stopped by, stared at the tree, and said, ‘Look! A most magical tree!’
I suppose, then, it would have been best to start the story by telling you the magical tree went completely unrecognized. That it never got its deservéd praise. My apologies.
With that being said, let us go to the winsome girl who has been patiently waiting in the wings. The show’s about to start, girl! CLAP, CLAP! The scene is set and the theatre is hushed! The curtain raises and there’s a very loud light shining on our tree. Go on! Go on! Hurry it up! Hurry it up on stage.
She walks under the tree, heavying it up with sighs all the while. ‘SIGH, SIGH, SIGH! I wish, how I wish, I lived in a most magical world! I’d do anything to see more vivid colors. I want to meet charming creatures and go on the most gallant adventures! I’m tired of this boring life.’
And the most magical tree, kind as it was, shook a bit of pollen off of itself. And PLOP! it fell right into the dander girl’s left eye. She never noticed it, though. Or, at least, not for another few hours. By that point…oh! If I could only explain what she saw out of her left eye! The most wonderful, wonderful miracles! She saw the very potential of every single object. How everything—everything!—bursted with massive energy.
She dearly wished she could find a way to release it all up.
Everything—everything!—was capable of metamorphosis! Splendid transformations! Did you know that chairs can be turned into birds? Oh yes they can! It just takes a little imagination. Which the girl now had plenty of.
But unfortunately, she had no way at all to on it. She felt hopelessly impotent.
One day, walking under the tree again, she was back to her sighs. ‘SIGH, SIGH, SIGH! I wish, how I wish, I could do the most magical things! My left eye always reminds me how very weak and normal I am! How very much I belong to the world the right eye sees!’
And the most magical tree, kind as it was, shook a bit of pollen off of itself. And PLOP! it fell right into the dander girl’s right eye. She never noticed it, though. Or, at least, not for another few hours. By that point…oh! If I could only explain what she could ! She was the most remarkable sorceress there ever was! She could tidy up the bed by scratching her nose, she could bring the moon closer to herself for a bite. She could ride a falling star all the way to the bottom of the sea! All of this, all of this she could do.
Oh! It’s too bad that nobody else could see what she saw, nor could witness what she did. With their dull, uninspired sight, everyone else saw nothing but a crazed girl spinning around, delighting herself with fancy.
By opening herself up so much to the spiritual world, she was no longer of this Earth! She was blind to it. But unfortunately, it was not blind of her.
We will drop the curtain there and CLAP, CLAP, CLAP! and pray that the girl lives in a civilized age.
Some of the monks are outraged.
Others—the gentler types, the kinder souls, the less jealous ones—are staggered with awe. They show their reverence by kneeling and crying their tears of joy.
What’s happening is inarguably a miracle.
Even though he just arrived a few days ago, their newest member is being graced by the heavens! “Look at that!”
Indeed, the freshest of the novices shines with a holy light. He sits in a sort of daze, knees crossed, hands outstretched. His eyes stare upward and his face shows true terror.
It’s a dreadful visitation from the far beyond. An unfiltered encounter with the Sublime and the Powerful.
“Look at that!”
The novice floats several inches in the air, as though being beckoned right then and there, fully in body, to become a spirit.
One of the furious onlookers has been cloistered away for years.
Nearly a decade spent up in the mountains, up by the clouds! Away from the world and all of its offerings and entertainments. Away from the world’s women, away from comforts of beds and heated homes. Good meals.
Stew and grains! The occasional berry! That’s all he’s had throughout the years.
He’s endured sacrifice this little punk couldn’t even begin to understand.
And yet, not once in all of these years has he even heard so much as a whisper. Not even the smallest inkling that God exists. No gentle reassurance. Not even the blowing of the leaves to subtly say, “Continue.”
He’s been on a diet of nothing but raw faith.
And this is the spit in the face he gets in return?
A mere boy makes the journey and is, at once, One with the Lord? He didn’t even have enough time to introduce himself to all the monks!
The furious onlooker grinds his teeth.
“Why didn’t it happen to me?”
Later that day, the novice finally descends to the Earth.
Happens at sunset, as though guided by the setting light.
The novice is, of course, thoroughly exhausted. Completely depleted.
Without even asking him a single question, the other monks gratefully steer him towards the of living quarters available at the monastery.
This just happens to be where the furious onlooker has been staying for the last few months. Unlike the novice, however, the furious monk has his place through hard work and arduous scholarship.
“Rest, your holiness!” they say to the boy. And they show great concern for his health—something that just doesn’t happen around these parts. In the past, there have been many ailing monks that have been left to die.
That night, as everybody sleeps, the furious monk just can’t help it anymore. Who does the novice think he is?
The monk goes over to the boy and gives him a shake. He wants to question him.
But the boy won’t wake. Is he faking it?
Enraged even more by the boy’s peaceful expression—the deepest of sleeps!—the furious monk wraps his hands around the boy’s neck. And without thinking more about it and risking vacillation, the furious monk begins to squeeze as hard as he can.
A minute later, he has strangled the boy.
Believe it or not, it drains the soul to commit murder. The furious apostate sweats.
And he pants, for the criminal act has withered him. He is now like the novice was moments ago—absolutely emptied of strength.
Thoroughly spent and uncaring about any consequences, the angry man goes to bed right next to his victim.
If anything, he is comforted by the thought he has killed an angel.
“Fool!” He is awakened by an early riser. “You are the greatest fool!”
The murderer looks over at the dead boy. “So what?” He smiles.
“Don’t you realize what you’ve done?”
“I’ve killed your God! So what?” Oh, blessed impiety! It feels so good!
“No. That’s not what happened here. That’s not what happened here at all. You fool! You’ve murdered your advocate!—the angel that came down to secure your salvation; the angel that appeared to . For if that angel was meant for anyone at all, it was meant for you. Not this novice. This novice barely understood what was going on. And it certainly did not come for any of us. We weren’t tempted towards evil like you were. None of us even thought to act like you have. Don’t you see the angel was here to test you? To see if you were one of the elect? The very highest of men? Oh! How miserably you have failed the test!”
No matter how hard the ferocious sinner shook the slain boy, he would not awake. And no matter how hard the repentant sinner slapped the corpse or screamed at it to resurrect, the boy wouldn’t rise.
The fallen monk would not get up.
What a delight to be an angel! But I don’t have to tell you that. In your happiest moods, you’ve already known it. And if you’ve forgotten, go out next sunset and get a glimpse of it. Catch sight of your favorite hour and yell, ‘Stay!’ Now imagine it does. ‘What does?’ Everything. The clouds remain just as they are, the vibrant air never runs out, and the birds are limitless and tireless and bursting with—TAH-WEET, TAH-WEET—their glorious songs. Ah but it’s a useless metaphor. You might not even like the evenings.
Simply put: imagine a place where it’s impossible to feel discontent. Try your best not to dream up anything sordid. But if that’s what it takes—well, then! As the saying goes, ‘That’s why beer comes in different colors.’
It’s impossible to feel dissatisfied, that’s the important part. That’s the crux and the lynchpin detail.
But even in heaven, there are teenagers. And wherever there are teenagers, there is displeasure and disgruntlement. ‘I want to go down to Earth!’ says the teenager to his parents.
‘But why on Earth would you want to do that?’ says the celestial dad.
And the celestial mother, immediately consumed by grief and despair—perish the thought, sonny!—says, ‘You can’t even begin to fathom what you are suggesting!’
‘Oh yeah?’ says the boy.
‘Yeah!’ say his parents.
‘I want to go down and visit Panama!’ says the boy.
‘Oh Lord!’ Perish the thought, sonny!
‘I want to see Japan and walk through China! I want to become intimate with Germany and read all of the French books. All of them! I’d like to saunter about the Grecian woods and encounter a Roman nymph. I need to eat some American food—’
But there he was interrupted, as it was obvious he had grown absolutely ridiculous. American food?! ’Son!’ the celestial mother cried out. ‘Don’t jest! You’re giving me a heart attack!’
And yet, he wasn’t jesting.
One day, when nobody was looking—they were all in reverential worship of Truth and Beauty—the teenager plummeted down to Earth and became one of us. And immediately after coming out of some woman’s womb, he cried and cried and tried to express himself. ‘I regret it!’ he tried to say. But all that came out was—WAH! WAH!—his inglorious wail.
Many years later, having forgotten his past, he still retained his need for adventure. Ah but wherever on Earth he went, he discovered the truth: there’s nowhere you can escape from misery. Everywhere you go, you’ll suffer. It’ll catch up to you eventually.
I was thinking the other day—I was in one of those most pretentious, ponderous moods—how sad human existence is. So very sad. We look at the cows and say to ourselves, ‘Goodness! How is it they are able to do nothing all day but munch on grass? Don’t they ever bore? If I had black splotches on my milk skin as they do, I’d go ins—’ But enough. Because let me ask! What else do humans do? Not ‘man’ in the in the abstract. I’m talking about men you actually . What do they do? For forty years, my father has been working all day just so he can eat and get some sleep. One day, God forbid it, he will die—but hold on. Why God forbid it? If I blessed my father with immortality, he would spend all of eternity damning me for giving him so much overtime.
Such were my thoughts. But then I watched my parents enjoying some television program or another and I realized something important: how precious people are! How so very giving and generous. Because of those blessed people who make television programs, my parents have gotten to know the world, to experience delights and downfalls they would have never been privy to otherwise. Oh sure, watching the United States is nothing like living in it. And every relationship on television—every single one—is utterly contrived; there is nothing true to them. Nevertheless, there is a precious nugget—an itty bit of soul—in each program. Someone, somewhere must have been inspired, if even momentarily, to transform their lives into art. To scream, ‘There! That is the sum of all of my years!’
Is it escapism, then? Are we merely entertaining away our despair? No. I don’t think that’s quite it. Our grass—we cows—is philosophy. And story by story, idea by idea, we ruminate.
Another way to say, ‘What a delightful turn of a phrase!’ is, ‘Ah. So are the limits of language.’ And whenever we are awed by an image—a sequence, a film—we become more familiar with beauty. Little by little, we perceive we gather truth.
Will we ever have an answer? Perhaps, at best, we will feed the grass with the fertilizer of our corpses. But then, at the very least, we will guarantee the existence of more cows.
If I could light myself on fire
And give you all a flame,
I’d do it,
And I’d do it to inspire.
But as these ashes of myself
Would never blaze,
I keep a mouth so quiet,
My words become another drop:
Another water and another flood;
Something else to douse the heart.
Nothing lasts that never sparks—
Nothing that instigates a beat.
If her eyes be like mirrors,
This reflection palls.
Come with your demon’s might!
You transfigure the rotten fruit afresh—
Take the skin of myself and peel it off of me!
Regenerate the flesh and make me something new!
I’ll deliver my blood in a flask
And give you my soul and its years—
Anything, anything, if only she’ll look on me with wonder
And wonder what of me she’s missed.
Oh! I’ll give you myself
If she for a kiss,
To say nothing of some actual lips that touch.
Teen one says to dweeb two, ‘In the future, they’ll be able to manipulate our memories.’ And then, a cautious reply, ‘Yeah, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily will.’ The concern in his voice is almost like he doesn’t want it to happen.
Gasp! They’ll mess around our brains! Oh loins!
And I can’t help but laugh. What kind of world are they living in? Don’t they realize it’s already happened? Might as well worry about the invention of the toilet—how an extensive sewage system could possibly impact a city.
Well flush the shitty thought. It’s already happened. You’re several years too late.
But it got me thinking.
From their perspective, what is there to fear? Why the anxiety? ‘…Doesn’t mean they necessarily will.’
What if ‘they’ do?
Hypothesis: I will be happier by the end of all this.
SCENARIO 1: I am a soldier going off to war. They have implanted a false memory: ‘She’s anxious to have you back. Be quick, be brave.’ Thing is, ‘she’ doesn’t exist. ‘She’ is merely the motivation to fight strong. And it works.
And yet it seems so wrong.
Why? Because I return with plaudits and infinite career opportunities, but damn the world. I want her. The war wasn’t the point.
SCENARIO 2: They actually find a girl this time. We don’t know each other, and yet they program her to love this soldier. To cry tears of joy when I come back. And by an accident of fate, we wind up being compatible. We grow old and I ragefully mourn her death. Our children worry for me.
Strangely, this seems fine. Morals be damned.
But what if we never got along? What if we ‘loved’ each other, and yet couldn’t understand why we didn’t? Hmm. ‘War changes people.’
SCENARIO 3: Enough about girls. What is this sappy shit anyway? I am a bronze man looking to alchemize myself into gold. Well, they have just the thing for me. One operation later, I have infinite confidence.
—Ah, but people laugh at me over it. They call me, ‘Oaf Quixote.’ But I insist they call me ‘Oats Coyote’ instead. For I am a wholesome wolf.
This makes people mock me even more and I just can’t understand.
What is this world that I’m looking at? Is it everyone else’s?
SCENARIO 4: Me and the world agree: I’ve accomplished something mighty grand.
Can’t have been too complicated, though.
I couldn’t have been president, for example. Can you imagine the logistics? They would have to fabricate—ah! But what if they replace with whoever last was president? What if all of us remember his actions as mine?
SCENARIO 5: Wagahai wa neko ga aru. I am a cat. Meow. My goal in life is to lick my anus. Woof!
But enough, enough. We’ve veered too far from the point. What if instead of all that, I’m given a vague memory: meet me at such and such time at such and such place. Eh?
SCENARIO 6: This could happen. It actually could! And if it does, go on and believe in your angels. If my miracles yessed, then why not yours?
I couldn’t tell you how I knew to meet ‘them’ here, but I certainly would not complain if ‘they’ actually came—! No, I certainly would not complain. Here of all places, at these strange hours…! It would be too much of a coincidence. How did I know? I couldn’t tell you! I’m giddy, I’m dancing, I make no sense. But you must excuse me. This is all too wild. Much too wild. I’m almost happy enough as it is. No need for ‘them’ to come. Merely anticipating ‘them’ is…
…but it would be something else, wouldn’t it? If ‘they’ actually came? I could ask ‘them,’ “How did you know to meet me here?” Hee-hee!
It isn’t so cold outside even though it’s February. We’ve been having record ; early spring has turned to a yearly summer. So no, it isn’t so cold outside at all.
I’m several miles up a bike path. I love to grind my feet against the trail. Pebbles and that crunching sound.
Ah, several hours before sunrise, though I can’t see any stars.
Squint and nothing up there.
But why complain?
I wouldn’t have noticed such a detail if I didn’t just move from the mountains. But enough about me.
‘Them…!’ Strange isn’t it? I couldn’t give you a ‘he,’ or a ‘she.’ I couldn’t give you an age or a relation. A friend? I’m not sure. An old flame? I blush to admit I’d love that. But I can’t get my hopes up. This could be an old, old man—ancient in the nose: droop, bulge, and wheeze—posing as my grandfather. Oh! Isn’t it odd I don’t know more? I should know more.
Mmm. Would be nice. Awful nice.
But enough about that.
Nostalgia is the cruelest feeling. It is enchantment with a witch who never was. By a witch?
No, it’s a hole. Only grows deeper the more one drops.
I’m not making any sense. But that’s because nostalgia doesn’t either.
My heart sinks and I sigh. I’m made bitter by the distance of time. I want to relive it, though I’ve never lived it once.
But at least with nostalgia, you have something. Yeah? A person, a place. A span of years—a childhood, a song, a game.
Here, under the starless night…if I could swallow up the sky, I would. And there would still be room inside of me, so much room. I’ve been gutted. I miss this person so much. Oh, I’ve missing this person. I just haven’t known til now. But who are they? What is it I’m so desperately yearning?
If I implanted a happy memory in your brain—an ecstatic one, a most meaningful one—would it be ethical? Let’s work it out.
What is likely to happen? Satiation? You’ve already done it once. Why do it again, eh? But that’s not how human appetite works. It’s a dog that once has tasted blood, must be shot. Otherwise, it’ll lust for more.
Have you ever hungered for something you’ve never eaten? I doubt it. I don’t expect us to be so dissimilar. When I’m frenzied for food, I’m craving specifics. I bet you’re like that, too.
Before I traveled the world, I was fine within my city. ‘I’ll never leave,’ I said. And I didn’t until I did. And from then on, I haven’t been able to stay put.
So, no. I don’t think you’d report any sort of bloated satisfaction. I’ll put a happy memory in you, and I suspect you’ll want to make it real. Unknowingly, you’ll return to a favorite place you’ve never been. You’ll need just one more kiss with a stranger you’ve never met.
Oh! I’m eager to be reunited with them. But version of them. The soul who inspires these blessed ravings.
It’s love, it’s love. I’ll gladly admit it. It’s love! I want it to be a woman. But what if it’s a child? Somebody I can’t even understand?
No. It’s too painful.
I hear someone walking in the distance. Could be a jogger—sure. But what if it’s not? What if it’s ‘them,’ not ‘her?’
I only want it to be one girl…. And I want her to meet me here feeling the same thing I do. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll claw my heart out. After all this I’ve felt! It’s the only sensible thing to do.
So I leave having discovered something: I love her. And why wouldn’t I? That’s no mystery at all.
Long scenario. Illuminating? I’m not so sure. Let’s try a short one now. What if you think of it like this:
SCENARIO 7: I read a story. It changes my mind about very many different things. I say to myself, ‘This could happen.’ And through sheer will, I make sure it does.
SCENARIO 8: Long, long ago, early in my childhood, I listened to my mother describing the heavenly place. And though I heard it all with astonished ears, time’s a thief and took my mind.
Ah but the heart stores some things forever.
Being in this forest right now, so green by the trees as I am—what can I say other than I’ve discovered paradise? If even for a second…I believe!
But no. I’ve seen! I’ve been!
Could it have happened without me already having visited once?
And so it is I end. By handing you a thought—by telling you a tale—I’m saying, ‘This could be.’ And what is a memory but a, ‘This could be?’ And what is grief but the knowledge, ‘This will never be again?’
Happiness—the belief that, ‘It will be once more!’
‘I regret to inform you I’ve a teensy bitty wee-little mind. I don’t even have the imagination to write you something other than this generic bleat. Hell, didn’t even write it. I just sheeped it from some more renown and popular goat.
‘As I drool from the mouth and have enormous trouble keeping a clean arse, I stopped reading your submission the moment I saw it was like nobody else’s. Sorry. We only do what everyone else does here. Had I more power of thought, perhaps I would have made it to the second page.
‘Alas, they cut off my balls when I handed in my resume. I am no longer a person. I hope you understand. Thank you.’
He was on his way to work, running late. And I wondered, ‘Why even bother?’ He worked at…it doesn’t matter where he worked. On his free time he…well, let’s not talk about that. He was nothing—nothing—this loser. As fat as three stomachs and still growing thick. Small weenus, to boot, and a horrific smell about him; revolting up the nose and a pesticide all the way going down. He was gut-withering. (If only he looked in the mirror more, he might overcome his constant hunger!)
I couldn’t help but wonder why he didn’t just kill himself. He barely earned any money, and he was past the age he could really make something of himself. Oh to be sure, he might—one day—rise to some humble position. But was it really worth it? Long years of extraordinary toil. Enormous sacrifices. Just to rise to stooge?
Why not just get done with it? “Admit defeat and—hey!—you might get another chance.”
I couldn’t help myself, you see. I had to tell him all of this, if only to watch his reaction.
And can you believe what he said? “I know the facts of my life. But there are such beautiful moments, I overcome them. So what if I’m forty and four hundred pounds? Sometimes, I go on a walk and feel such an elated feeling….” But I’ll cut him off.
It is then I understood what a miracle joy is. A flame that ignites from water! Sunlight, though it’s winter’s night! Something inexplicable that shouldn’t be. After all, why should that man still be able to laugh? Why should he be able to feel lofty looking at the stars?
God may know everything that will happen to me and still, at times, feel suspense.
Not that I believe in Him, by the way. A narcissist like me is likely only to have faith in the sublimity of himself. But still. I reject that argument now. ‘God can’t know and love.’
I’m laying sick in bed, days away from my early demise. 25 years old. Young for death, but not so young for life; I’ve seen many things and I’ve been lucky.
What else can I say? Every good meal ends. The vacation’s over despite the cost. I can’t hold onto the present, so I’ve got to let that wisp go. What else can I say?
Would I even continue on like this? I mean, if I could? All this phlegm and…no. Forget it. I wouldn’t dare. Let the days speed on.
To tell you the truth, though, I’m not so sure what’s happened to me. It all seems so sudden.
My mother—since she loves me—suspects I’m immortal. Even though the evidence clearly shows otherwise, she has faith the illness will pass and that I’ll stand.
I realize that in this aspect, she is like God. Although she knows it in her heart that I’ll die, she can’t help but think I won’t.
And though it was certain once that nothing existed, everything now does.
Whoever once wrote of the Princess and His Highness Frog, the Royal Ribbit, must have been a prince himself. Otherwise, the story wouldn’t have possibly ended with the kiss. Not with the marriage, either. Because the story really ends with their separation.
Once an ugly toad, always and ugly toad; the feeling remains.
He tortures the Princess despite his sudden good looks. ‘You don’t really love me!’ he croaks. And he doesn’t stop until she feeds him the fly, those maggot divorce papers.
THE SCENARIO: An unemployed loser tries to explain himself to a friend.
THE LOSER. Imagine a dog by the name of Sylvester.
THE FRIEND. I can’t help but imagine a cat named Lion.
THE LOSER. No, really. I’m trying to paint you a picture.
THE FRIEND. Sylvester, though? That’s awful silly.
THE LOSER. Fine. Gus, Samuel. Goose. Whatever you’d like.
THE FRIEND. How about Fido?
THE LOSER. That’s exactly why you have the life you have.
THE FRIEND. What do you mean?
THE LOSER. You’re a Fido type of guy. Wake up five in the morning, be in the office by nine. But not before a morning jog.
THE FRIEND. You’ve really never worked have you?
THE LOSER. Huh?
THE FRIEND. Your cliché’s are outdated by a decade. I’ll stop you before you mention water coolers.
THE LOSER. Whatever the fuck you want, just imagine a dog.
THE FRIEND. All right.
THE LOSER. This dog—now this dog, you see, this dog was meant for the wild. Pack leader type stuff, you understand.
THE FRIEND. Sure.
THE LOSER. That was the dog’s destiny.
THE FRIEND. Sure.
THE LOSER. But for whatever reason, his sorry fate landed him in the suburbs.
THE FRIEND. OK.
THE LOSER. He’s a spoiled dog. Gets everything he wants. Has access to food at all times. Even has his own TV.
THE FRIEND. OK.
THE LOSER. People wonder why he’s so depressed, why he barks at everyone. Why he bores easily and tears up the shoes and chases after mayhem. Why is the straight-tailed doggy so misbehaved?
THE FRIEND. OK. I see where this is going. You’re that dog.
THE LOSER. That dog can’t possibly tell you why it acts out. It feels guilty, though—incredibly guilty. I mean, it has everything it should want. But the dog can’t help itself. It’s in its genes to need more out of life. It will be content in the suburbs. The dog could go an entire life and still feel unhappy. He will never get used to it. And without knowing why, either. Having never even the wild, he couldn’t begin to describe what he’s nostalgic about.
THE FRIEND. You’re that dog, eh? And this place is your suburb? Your wife is your pampering owner? How nice to hear. She must love it.
THE LOSER. There are people born on Earth who yearn for Heaven, my friend. We have never been, but our spirits absolutely pine for it. We will never be happy on this planet.
THE FRIEND. Then why not leave your wife? Why let her work for the both of you?
THE LOSER. Oh we rapturous souls can be on Earth. It’s just, we can never feel at home. I feel fine being here, but I will never thrive.
THE FRIEND. But you can relax.
THE LOSER. That’s right! So let’s rest!
THE FRIEND. I would have to find a wife.
THE LOSER. Then talk about the stars!
Man has made himself ridiculous. I know I am no man to say this, but listen! Man has become a fool, something to laugh at and mock. He holds the most farcical beliefs now, and all because his logic demands it of him! Well what beauty queen is Reason? What great Venus is she? Why must man submit to her?
I know I am speaking in the old style. ‘Man this,’ ‘Man that.’ And I do apologize. I realize if you are reading this, you’re most likely—but no. You’re probably not even a woman. You must be a bot or some divine intelligence. Man no longer reads. Literature, with all its freedom of choice and heroes and follies, is too grounded in reality.
Imagine a congregation of all the animals and animal representatives in the world. The gorillas send their silverbacks, the peacocks pick their dandiest feathers. Alligators choose the sharpest teeth, and bumblebees go with the purest buzz. We elect our scientists—heroes of the age—to attend the assembly and speak for us. The goal of the convention is, by the way, to map out an accurate representation of the world. Somehow, everyone can talk to each other. And somehow, everyone can express their vision of this Earth. The salamanders among them talk a lot of slime, and the lions are all about the roar. Monkeys say life’s about fucking, and other monkeys say life’s about the War. ‘Which war?’ But the roaches interrupt in praise of the Grub. Everyone—everyone—has a perspective. And it is chaos figuring it all out. All present realize the world isn’t just one solid thing. Some creatures can’t even see all the colors. Others can’t even hear the richest sounds. And yet they live on and form a thought on what life’s about. But the thought is wrong, for if the world is anything, it is the accumulation of all these very many perspectives.
In order to sort everything out, the animals agree they have to take turns and lecture on their interpretations. Well, when it finally comes to Man to speak, do you know what he says? ‘I am not free.’ The crowd is stunned and wholly confused. ‘What I mean by that,’ Man continues, ‘is that everything is predetermined. I am merely an observer on rails. And yet, the illusion of choice is a necessary illusion. It an illusion, though, and we must realize that.’ And at once, the entire zoo laughs at Man and his ludicrous religion. ‘You’re not free?’ they ask. ‘Then how the hell do you move your lips?’ Man tries to explain his metaphysics, but the tumult doesn’t let him talk. They deride Man for being so stubborn. He prefers to hold onto his faith than possibly accept reality. Just because his beliefs make more sense to him. Man is a bizarre creature. Man is a mook.
Listen. You may think that geometry and other maths belong to some impersonal, objective truth. That if one wants to speak with God, one must learn his symbols and squiggles. Nonsense. Nonsense, I say. Even though you’re likely abysmal at calculus, believe me—if you want to study the , study math. Math is how the world makes sense to man. There is nothing out in nature that resembles a house. Windows and—what the fuck? Thatches and doors and floorboards and cellars? Where in the nest, what in the hole?
And do you know what man’s version of the bird is? An engine on heavy, inflexible, unflappable wings. Go ahead and talk to an engineer. Ask him how frustrated he is the world just won’t cohere to his blueprints. How much easier his job would be were there predictable tectonics. How shapes should stay shapes, precise angles and all. How the mounds and the hills ought to be smooth and planar. Well fuck you, you square. The world is something else. Get used to it.
Who do the blacks think they are? ‘The white man’s history is a history of subjugation and violence. In order for white history to exist, it had to paint itself with the blood of the black man’s back.’ Point fingers and before long, they’ll call your a narcissist. Not because of anything else, either, but the fact you spend so much time addressing the mirror.
What but vice is life, black man? You’re disgusted with whites. You can barely contain your hate. And yet, it’s entirely misdirected. Be more ambitious. You have a small talent for pessimism. Hate the white man, but only in the way you hate your appetites.
Should we die at thirty-three, how much better life would be! We’d come to the end at the peak, never fearing the stoop ever after. We’d accomplish and we’d die—and life, this chore, wouldn’t ever drag.
Kill me, God, at twenty-three, when hope still pumped my blood!
Stop my heart at twelve when I was wholly promise!
Never let me be; keep me as the universe!
‘I think, therefore….’ But let’s not be so quick about it. Do I really think? Truly? Let’s be honest about it. Come on.
Right now, of course I’m sure I think. I’m doing it right now. You want proof? All right. ‘Think of a zoo,’ and I thought of New York. There’s even elephant people! Hippopotamus girls! No need to bring subways into it. Americans are—but enough about the fat bunch.
Back to the subject: think.
Do I? Well, whenever I look back in my life, I’m certain I never did. As a child, I was a mimic. As a teenager, I was a part of the chorus, though I felt I was the star. Not once, though, did I express something extraordinary. My material has always been materialism. I have always spoken in a way that echoes what I’ve heard. I wouldn’t be surprised if my bit about New York came from the news.
How to make a computer an individual: instruct it to duplicate, but not perfectly so. Allow its replications to have plenty of errors and nasty mistakes. Misinterpretations and ideological distortions. Permit the bot humanity.
I cannot speak for ‘man.’ Whenever I do, I lose the way. Conviction becomes contrivance. Whatever I sincerely believe embarrasses me. When speaking of ‘man,’ I feel I ought to be lofty and loving. One must, after all, look after one’s children. And what is ‘man,’ but my own invention? My own kid of the mind?
I’ll speak for myself, then, and spare ‘man’ the abuse.
If I could somehow go back and convince my mother not to have me, I would. I absolutely would. I’m certain I would spare her this grief that is her current life.
And if she could convince her mother? I only hope she’d be tender enough. Selfless enough.
How many of us feel this way?
If enough of us do, let us be visionaries. Let us put a stop to it now and assume our babes forgive us.
Why have they banned the lottery in Japan? Let me tell you the story of a self-ruinous man and you’ll see why. You’ll twice see why and you’ll thrice agree. In fact, you’ll protest they don’t shut it down here, wherever it is you fuck call home.
The story goes, “Not too long ago, in the poorest parts of Osaka….” And here I must interrupt before it even begins. Rather than playing along with the tale and dealing with abstractions, it’s best we give the place an absolute location; a concrete image the mind can walk around inside and gasp.
GASP! What a wretched place!
Have you ever been to Tennoji Zoo in Osaka? No? Well it’s as horrible as you’d imagine any Eastern Asian zoo to be. There are cheetahs there that are kept in a coop so small, even a turtle would exclaim, “Hey! Where the shit’s all the space?!” But enough about cats and amphibians. It’s the area that the zoo is at that’s meant to disgust you. Because if you ever stay in one of the hotels nearby…well, go on and give it three nights. Won’t cost you much. Ninety bucks? That’s practically a cup of coffee. And you won’t mind the roaches anymore. Small price to pay to get over a fear of bugs. Well, that’s all I’ll say about that.
It’s inside of one of those absolutely dreadful places our story takes place. But not in one of the hotels or hostels, mind you. In one of the sorry little apartments around the area. A place people actually live inside and reside in for more than a few nights. Can you imagine a month of that? A year? By then, spiders would be your preference, if not your nostalgic need. But enough about that, enough.
In one of these apartments in the one of the most vomitous parts of Osaka lives a married couple. The young lad, he’s something of a loserish cad. She, of course, is not.
They’re both Americans living in Japan. She has her visa from a local school board, so that’s how she’s covered. Teaching English to a bunch of kids every single day, despite the fact they hate it…that’s how she makes her dues. He—well, he does nothing. Absolutely nothing at all. He’s covered only because she’s covered. Somehow, the Japanese government is stupid enough to grant spousal visas to sluggish foreigners. Ah but there you have it.
The young lad, loserish fellow, eventually becomes possessed by the idea of winning the lottery. Sometime after his wife threatens to deport him back to America, sometime after his wife mentions she’ll have to prostitute herself to afford the bills, sometime after much despair, the idea drops into his mind like a sterling gift to unwrap. And he unfolds it and picks at it for days and days at a time. He becomes positively obsessed with it. “I’ll win the lottery!”
His hopes become so feverish, he convinces himself he’s all but won. And this is before he even buys a ticket, too!
He imagines flinging half a million at his father-in-law. “There, old man! There’s everything you’ll ever get from me. I want nothing to do with you!”
He imagines buying the zoo and releasing all the animals onto the unsuspecting Japanese salary men.
He imagines buying the Osaka Universal Studios theme park. Or, at the very least, the Hard Rock just right there by the entrance.
He imagines all the very many positive things he’ll do with the winnings. So many things, in fact, he would require billions, not millions. But let’s not mention this. Let’s not take away his daydreams and hopes. They are all he has.
Eventually, he actually goes out and buys a ticket. Can you believe it? He’s invested. He has a stake in it. An actual sign he needs a winning. Not just the mist of an intention anymore—an actual ticket!
Well, the night of the drawing—hours before the numbers are picked—he goes to sleep to pass the time. And can you believe it? He actually weeps! He starts to cry. “This is my last night in poverty. One way or another, this is my last night.” He wipes his thick tears from his nasty cheeks. “Without even knowing it, I already had my last meal. My last breakfast couldn’t have been any grosser. And my last evening was obscured by all of the rainy clouds. But alas, alas, they are my last memories. And they are memories good enough to cherish! For they are my last! My very last!” And as he openly weeps, he promises himself if he doesn’t have the winning ticket, he will hang himself with his belt that very night. Right after a brief nap, he will go to the convenience store, buy a bottle of wine, and make the noose.
Yes, it was either that or success. (He looked towards God with a threatening eye. Ha! As though God was old gum stuck on the ceiling.)
The young man dug through his bag and tried to look at his ticket one last time, but it wasn’t there.
Where was it?!
He looked everywhere, everywhere. Absolutely tore the whole place apart. Pillows on the floor, lamps taken apart—you get the idea.
But the ticket was nowhere to be found.
“Stolen!” he proclaimed. “And those were the winning numbers!” He was certain of it.
Anguish couldn’t possibly begin to describe what he felt. Oh I could go through the thoughts that plagued him, of all of the foolish schemes he conspired. But it would be like talking colors to a blind man. Like reading the Gospels to an atheist. A deaf one, too.
You have never felt such agony.
So I’ll speed on through his night at Gethsemane and say: after much deliberation, the young man grew dignified and proud. Every misery—every single misery—has the potential to become a treasured piece of gold. The soul is an alchemist, and the more it suffers, the more material it has to transform.
Crazed, the young man rushed out to the convenience store. And instead of getting the promised bottle of wine, he withdrew all of his savings at the ATM inside. “They say one ought to die for one’s dreams!” he screamed to nobody in particular. And walking up to the counter, he yelled out, “And so I die!”
And can you believe it? He bought as many tickets as he could, eager to replicate those numbers he had lost. Because they were produced randomly by a machine, he had failed to memorize them. But he felt upon seeing them a second time, they would almost glow from off the page. And he would know. He would know he had won!
And here I must determine your philosophy, dear reader. Does it change anything if I confirm that first ticket to be the winning one?
But why is it despite my griping and grousing that life isn’t worth anything, heroism affects me so much? Why does my heart love the gambler? The man who gives his life for a single victorious moment? Why do the Greeks of Marathon inflame me so? I’d give the minds of a thousand logicians for the soul of one of those soldiers. I’ll surrender myself to an eternal falsity—just give me one instant of truth, of triumph!
Does no one understand the point of Rumplestiltskin? Really? It’s not so much about defeating an imp, you know. It has more to do with the killing of magic, the murder of spontaneity. Rumplestiltskin was only Rumplestiltskin that week. At some other time, he might have been a she by the name of Stella Skulduggery. It just so happens they caught him in a particular moment and were able to bottle him up. Or, that is, define him.
Besides, Rumplestiltskin wasn’t much of a villain, was he? Truly, tell me: what did he do? He said, ‘I will give you X in exchange for Y.’ And the bigger your need, the bigger his greed. Tit-for-tat. That’s business, not malice. A nasty little locket for a spindle of gold? Perhaps not even business. Perhaps generosity!
‘Can’t step into the same river twice,’ he said. Flux and all that.
And it’s true— when you first meet a person, my god! What a holy creature! What an infinitely interesting personality! Why were they never in your life until now? She’s such fascinating stories to tell. And she’s such individual quirks! ‘My god!’
That’s the first week, at least.
Within a month, though— oh, Heraclitus! Stare at the sea! Nothing about it is different. Not in all these thousands of years. Not with all this drastic climate change. Seagulls and fish. It’s still just seagulls and fish.
I listen to her talk, but to my deepest woe, I realize I’ve already heard it all before. And that special wave of the hand? After the twelfth time that day, it grates my nerves. I want to cut it off! Reform the damn bitch! Do anything to alter the insufferable, tedious twat. She’s always on about the same damn thing! But enough. If I keep it up, I’ll become like her. On and on and on…. My god!
The thing about Columbus is he didn’t insist hard enough it was China he had landed on. The story he offered there wasn’t sufficiently compelling.
Now that whole bit about the ‘New World’— what stuck. what people have loved to listen to for hundreds of years. In these modern times, our prime educators strive to rewrite the history books. ‘The Earth was created over billions of years. All of the continents are equally boring and utterly un-Edenic.’ But still, even now the people believe (with starry eyes!) in that Neverland—that undiscovered, freshly-bloomed America. A paradise in the pages of the heart marked in an ink that can’t wash out.
Take your talk of palimpsests elsewhere, teacher. This is blood we’re dealing with. Not so easy to manipulate. Not so easy as the materials you’re so used to: thin and paper.
To create a story of a land is to colonize it. To make myths of its natives is to take everything that’s theirs and make it your own. As long as you get people to repeat your tales, reality doesn’t stand a chance.
And so it is that Columbus’s savage spirit roams not where there’s adventure, but wherever it’s so desperately boring, a serious revision and imagining is needed. And hey! Ahoy!—isn’t that an apt description of life itself? Something that cries for a retelling? So go on and be Columbus. Be terrible, friends! Contaminate! Spread your lies and tell me this life’s worth living!