The Lost Sombrero

One Last Bit of Sanity

         I had not intended to write an introduction for my book. Perhaps, like a proud father, I had presumed at the start that the legacy crawling out from my loins would be self-explanatory. There is no mistaking the crying boy in the crib or the impressionistic scrawls and dots on a canvas. The casual observer may be a bit perturbed at the slap across his face, but he is certainly aware of it at the time; and, if it is a strong enough assault, then he will remember it in the crass obscenities that he utters now and then. It is true that we can be lost blissfully in our old and sordid dreams; but it is equally true that, given a caress or a jolt in just the right spot, we can be awakened from our reveries as instantly as we are inclined to indulge in them. 

         But my book turned out to be an exercise in self-indulgence. Well, every book is such. There is no author who does not imagine that he has unearthed in his several hundred pages of poetry and prose “the Great American Novel;” the elusive Holy Grail of every writer who has dreamt that Maxwell Perkins is alive and well, waiting for his bulky manuscript to arrive in the mail, and reminding those who count among the literati that his is the final voice in letters. 

         The difference is that, when I had started my book, I had intended to be humble in how I approached the topic of Gnosticism. Surely, I had a clear point of view; and I had wanted to slap the reader over the head with my side of the debate. But I had intended for the arguments to speak for themselves, logically and, as much as possible, dispassionately. I had assumed the first person voice; but I had not wanted my arguments to be expressed psychologically. I really did not want to be a part of this messy affair. 

         The problem is that Gnosticism is a systematic philosophy. It has its own creed; its doctrines and disciplines; its do’s and don’ts. But it is influential, not so much because its tenets are well understood (even by those who claim to be its masters), but because, of all of the systematic philosophies and religions in the marketplace of ideas, it is most in line with our temperament. We are most inclined towards our own egos. We love to be prideful, even when we stumble, every now and then, on account of our unbridled hubris. We look down upon all those presumed to be inferior (either because of the color of their skin; or the shape of whatever is dangling in between their legs; or the politically incorrect ideas that they may be so crass as to voice in public). Gnosticism justifies all of these excesses. It says that we are our own gods, if only we “open our minds,” or “unleash our hearts,” to the hope and change just waiting to be unveiled. It says that we are not constrained by morality, by our own past, or even by facts that may not go along with our opinions. It says that truth itself is whatever we want it to be at the time. In essence, it invites us to live out our lives, if not in reality then at least in our own minds, as if we are peace, love, and groovy, old Santa Cruz hippies. And who doesn’t want to roll around in the mud; giggling as if a loon unleashed from the Dark Side of the Moon; and wearing nothing at all, but a lit joint clenched in a pair of glossy lips? Who doesn’t want to be a child, and yet also think that, somehow, what he is doing is a “statement” that really “matters” in a far out, groovy sort of way? The alternative is time lost; and real pain; and death; and inheritance taxes paid by the trustee out of escrow. 

         And so we are temperamentally bent on tossing this all aside and seeing ourselves as gods. Gods, after all, do not lose time; experience no pain; never, ever die; and hire the best tax lawyers to take full advantage of the loopholes. Usually, we are gods to the extent of imagining ourselves to be “good enough;” not really needing salvation; able to return to Eden, whenever we are inclined. Sometimes, if we have a more creative mind, we take this “God Complex” a bit too seriously. The result is an Adolf Hitler; or a Jim Jones; or a wavy gravy pot pimp who has “found the answer” in the scribble on a canvas that he insists is a work of art. Regardless, the man who insists on his own divinity loses finally his scant traces of humanity. He becomes a beast: maybe a pleasant, little fur ball who is a regular at the country club cocktail parties; maybe a genocidal maniac who deep throats his own pistol. But that is the unavoidable price; and the old, convenient Gnostic lies do not provide much comfort in the end when the two-legged god is clawing on all fours, or hissing on his stomach at the nubile blond beside the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. 

         I picked at this pus; and, no matter my first inclination to rely on reason and topical examples in arguing against Gnosticism, I could not help but watch as my first person narrator descended from a pompous ass to a mad man. He is always slithering over the line into indecency; an unlikeable snob who is at first right in his arguments, but wrong in his temperament. But, eventually, when in a pivotal moment he fails to persuade his accusers with his sane mind, he drops into the less sane one, the one that had been intimated all along by his boorish behavior. The result is a beast on the loose and a modern day Odyssey that can be tossed aside as just another racist, sexist, homophobic rant; an overwritten mess of broad characterizations and overused allegories; and a yawn that tries to scintillate with an excess of grandeur and gore. 

         I have written the first critique of my own book. That is an advantage of adding an introduction to a book. But, of course, none of this could be avoided in the end. The verbosity, the excess, the indulgence: they are there, front and center, whenever there is an honest account of Gnosticism. Frankly, Gnosticism without grotesque absurdity is like Nazism without the Holocaust. Leave out all of the messy details and the underlying story is just not there anymore.

         And so what is a good man to do? Well, by my own argument, I am not a good man, or at least not “good enough” to hoist my own sails and to reach the Eden just beyond the next horizon. But I would like to think that I am not a sad sack bigot like my first person narrator. For starters, I happen to like Mexicans, and certainly do not think of them as “burritos in boots” forever weighed down by the “sloppy sombreros” on their heads. And I like women too, and certainly think that they are more than allegorical archetypes. And I have never smoked a joint, though I have inhaled. 

         But I protest too much. I fear what I have wrought in this book, because I cannot totally disavow the beast that I have typed onto the page. I know that, now and at the end of times, he is lurking in the all-too-familiar shadows. 

         But mostly I am tired. I am tired of facing the truth of our situation face forward and eyes wide open. I am tired of writing scenes that I would not allow myself even to dream. And I am tired of pretending I have never dreamt them.

The Spoiled Child on a Crowded Bus

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. Genesis 3:19 (KJV)

No verse has been more reviled. We recoil from this decree so much that we are inclined to relegate it into the dark bramble bush in the farthest corner of our minds set aside for discomforting fairy tales. It is a bit of gloom obscured and rendered harmless, if not comical, by the unreal light in which we cast it. 

We hear the words, straightforward enough, but echoing in our minds as if the shrill screams of a cartoonish Queen of Hearts: Off with your head! In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread! Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha! Arrgh!

Dystopian novelists imagine grey futures, where the unseen tyrant (more often an equally controlling and uncontrollable bureaucracy that devises a bold and beautiful front man to tickle the masses at rallies and on late night comedy shows) wipes out those histories or habits that it perceives as “problematic” or “incompatible” with its “revolutionary vision.” For a while, the Winston Smiths avoid the memory holes set out for them, either by scribbling their thoughts on a notebook in a corner somewhere, or by indulging the soft tastes of a woman. Invariably, the apparatchiks win (otherwise, the critics would not label these as “dystopian” novels); and the Winston Smiths are left to shuffle about the ashen alleyways as drones like everyone else. 

These novels are perversely romantic, like the odd appeal of pain from a stiletto boot. We indulge them as a strange brew of fantasy and commentary.

The problem is that the fundamental premise is not true. 

Tyrants do not just “wipe out” histories or habits, though Pol Pot and his genocidal Khmer Rouge came as close to that possibility as we have seen. 

They re-imagine compelling myths as harmless fairy tales. All Souls’ Day degenerates into Halloween, the Virgin Birth of the Incarnate God into cute and cuddly Christmas pageants, the Resurrection into hunts for colored Easter Eggs.

Children can and should scamper about in their playtime. Even the bald, irascible Saint Paul once spoke as a child….

But the tyrants have won, when the adults (from the parents dressing up their terrible twos or scabby kneed sevens as fluffy sheep, to the humbugs who wish the parents to put their littluns to bed, so that the candy cane martinis in Naked Santa cups may float about the smoky den) allow themselves the mental gymnastic of disassociating facts from myths and, as a consequence, of blurring myths into fairy tales. Adults do not think that Fantasia is other than a cartoon.

We see this all the time.

New parents in their late thirties (both “investment counselors” adorned in the same trousers and ties, until the Biological Clock rings, or there is an odd and discomforting oops moment after a night out with their richest clients) who would never condescend to open a Bible now attend Church (any denomination will do, so long as the white steeple is “quaint” and the sermons “inoffensive”) “because it’s a good fairy tale for our child.” 

Silver grandparents in their late sixties (retired “investment counselors” in matching golf shirts and slacks, keeping the Sunday mornings open for a nine hole and a champagne brunch with their favorite friends from Phoenix) who are still ignorant of their Bibles now attend Church only on Christmases and Easters “because it’s a good fairy tale for our grandchildren.”

The childless humbugs which never read their Bibles (except maybe once as “literature,” or “to see what all the fuss is about”), nor step inside Churches (“they are just so creepy, and no doubt full of pedophiles”), are still frustrated at the holidays, “because they’re so full of unruly children and fairy tales.”

The fairy tales may be mildly pleasant or frustrating. They may impart a good, inoffensive lesson, a variation on the Golden Rule; or provide a rationale for family visits; or inflict a bit of pain in an old derriere.

But they are not based on anything that we might call “real,” like a final divorce is “real,” or an overdue tax bill is “real.” 

Certainly, the charges on the credit cards are real. The uncorked bottles of wine make a real mess. The fishy leftovers smell really bad after a few days.

But set aside the gaiety and the giddiness, the children dressed as sheep chasing one another around a playroom, or a suckling pig served by the Mexican costumed as a French maid, and there are no facts behind the fairy tales.   

And we continue pretending that this is the case for the rest of our lives.

The alternative is too difficult to bear existentially. Or perhaps it is just too inappropriate an idea to be ventured in mixed company, a salty joke that is offensive not because it includes a gross word or gesture, but because it carries a ring of truth in the punch line.  

Regardless, the alternative is that we really are in a mess, condemned in virtue of our own sullied conduct (a vague something or other that involves the eating of an overripe fruit from a forbidden tree) into eating bread (the day old kind that may substitute for a brick and presumably has not been smothered by fine butter and jam) in the sweat of our faces (the hot and salty kind that is no longer experienced by the racquet ball players and the union laborers sweating away their hours in the First World, but is a common feature anywhere south of any border). Take away the artistic licenses and poetic metaphors, the pictures in our minds of a nubile nude handing over a glistening apple to her hunky oaf, or of a shriveled, old man writhing in the sand, scratching out whatever crumbs of bread he may find in between the pebbles, and we are left still with the fact that we are in a mess, that that mess has something to do with our own actions (free will) and with the actions of our ancestor (fate), and that, as a result, we really are not altogether good and noble. Or if we are good for a while, or in an aspect of our lives, then we need to keep at it, lest we slip back into our not so good normal selves. We are momentarily good, and even that much takes some clear headed purpose and discipline. Being bad is normal and effortless. 

Is it not better, or at least more palatable and polite, to take the tawdry underbelly (what the old theologians, grizzled gnomes every one of them, used to refer to in their dusty voices as “original sin”) and toss it off as a harmless fairy tale from an irrelevant past? Like a Christmas pageant in a white steeple?

After all, in our time, it is easier with every passing day to shrug off the past as an irrelevant sideshow. More importantly, we are of the mind to do so. 

In a time of instant messaging, what else are we to believe of faded love letters preserved in a chest? When we may install software on a laptop that will produce cinema quality films, what else are we to believe of a frowning, black and white image on daguerreotype? 

In a time of casual “hooking up” among misfits (Snooki and Jersey Shore replacing Annette Funicello and Mickey Mouse Club), where do we fit in the old fashioned rites of courtship? In a time of “gay marriage,” where do we fit in all that has been passed down to us about marriage and family since the sixth day?

The problem is that it is easier to forget the past than to ignore who we are right now. The past is erased by a trick of the mind, the present by suicide. 

Not that we do not try. We spend billions of dollars annually on attempts at slow (and sometimes not so slow) suicide. There are the old standbys: liquor in excess consumption, illicit drugs, loose women (often including combinations of the first two standbys). More recently, we have added into the mix the home entertainment system, the internet (invented by Al Gore no doubt to trick our gullible minds into accepting man made global warming, the inconvenient facts to the contrary notwithstanding, and into buying and selling “carbon credits” in his exchange), and the vast, untamed (almost always medieval) worlds that are populating virtual reality. We do a good job in putting on our masks (profiles in an internet dating site) and, from time to time, forgetting who we really are. 

But not nearly a good enough job to convince ourselves completely that, indeed, the tawdry underbelly of “original sin” is a harmless (even if much too gloomy for the modern ear) fairy tale from a dead past. 

We know that there is more fact in “original sin” than we are inclined to admit, that indeed goodness takes effort, while shabby dissolution is effortless, whenever we look upon ourselves in a dressing mirror (assuming we are at least in our mid-thirties). If we like what we observe, then we shall know that it is in large part due to the seaweed and bran diet with which we have been enduring for more than a fortnight (besides our regular weight sessions with Sven at the gym). If we hate what we observe, then we shall know that we have been lazily roaming the internet dating sites days on end while munching on Häagen Dazs. 

If we have more than a superficial knowledge of the world, then we have had the clear purpose and discipline of reading a lot. If we may recite from our cluttered memory banks entire scenes of dialogue from Jersey Shore, then ours has been the kind of lazy life that will bemoan Cosmopolitan as heavy reading.

If we are wise, then we have had the clear purpose and discipline to love specifically, empathetically, and as necessary sacrificially. If we are overgrown adolescents, shallow tenants (rather than owners) of our own souls, then we do not know anything more about love than is required to identify and to avoid it.

Goodness in body, mind, and heart takes time, measure, and effort, like the cultivation of a garden in dry heat and dead soil. Goodness is so improbable that its very existence hints at something “more,” even “otherworldly,” at play in its growth and harvest. It also necessitates that the gardener at hand, a man not at all dissimilar from the dust with which he has to work, be focused at his task beyond anything else. There is a determined tenacity in goodness, a steely heroism simply in the undertaking, even (and especially) as it is not destined to bear much fruit (or much fruit, but not for very long) in our dry and grey world.

We know intuitively that this is the case. Even if we imagine that we are free from the past, until we let out our final, haggard breath we cannot say the same for the present. And everything in our present moment tells us, no matter how much we fancy otherwise, that indeed we must eat our bread in the sweat of our faces, and that we share in the blame for what ails us. 

But, of course, we do not want this fact. We neither want the myth that emerged over time as the way to remember this fact. We want the thorny stem tossed aside, so that we may enjoy the soft rose petals (even though, without a stem planted into the soil, these soft rose petals cannot but wilt and wail back into the dust from which they sprang) without the slightest thought or fear. We want the myth to descend safely and dumbly into a fairy tale, the kind that will occasion a costume for the children and a candy cane martini with old friends. 

We know intuitively one thing, but we want its opposite. Like the spoiled child on a crowded bus, demanding what he cannot have just then, we cry and shout self-indulgently, no matter how much this may disturb everyone else. 

A Good Enough Man

Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons. Acts 10:34 (KJV)

I had intended in this chapter to elaborate on the spoiled child, but the head turns and foot stammers cannot be ignored in the end. Perhaps I am not a good enough actor, since I am allowing restless shadows beyond the fourth wall to penetrate into my prepared thoughts. 

I sip from a glass of water (not the open container of bottled water that has become so fashionable for public speakers, even those pompous gadflies of a dourly traditionalist persuasion, since our most recent Democrat nominee for Secular Messiah, I mean President, descended from Mount Olympus to hand off open containers of bottled water to fainted femmes in the front row of his fire spirit orgies, I mean campaign rallies). 

I am privately thankful for the fastidious hand that put the glass beneath my podium. He is probably a pudgy swish with a thin, sweaty mustache below a pair of darting eyes. Every pudgy swish in the world is gainfully employed in the hospitality department of major hotels. They leave behind glasses of water and dainty mint chocolates. They are the Good Samaritans of our time. 

I take another sip and look into my glass, fancying that there is a fly that has caught my attention. This is a polite gesture on my part actually, since I am providing the most incensed shadows an opportunity to storm out of the hall. 

Most of the shadows remain, not because they agree with my comments, but because they really have not figured out yet what I am saying (modern day Church goers work their time off from Purgatory by the number of minutes they stare blankly into the void while their pastors drone out their sermons, hearing about half of what is said, and actually remembering less than ten percent) and are hoping that it will get better.

A few understand, but are not angry enough yet to join their brethren in the lobby. They just squirm all over their leather seats, like squished lubricant.

There is a smattering of raised hands. I only call on one of them. I do not need to call on the others, since they are all going to sing the same sappy tune.

The shadow that I call stands defiantly in front of his seat. He is grasping onto the hand of his wife (a Church Mouse type unseen in the darkness, but for her periodic yank on his hand when he says something which she believes could have been said better), as if a defiant child clinging to his overbearing mother. 

He has the doughy face of a boy in a beanie, except that his comb over (or perhaps his toupee) and love handles suggest a man well into middle age. In his slumped shoulders and twitching lips, he gives himself away as a man who is content only when he is lost somewhere in the pack. He may be a life insurance salesman, the guy in the local Kiwanis who takes you out to lunch just to try to sell you a lifetime supply of Nu Skin. He will have a short, perfunctory obituary notice, survived by his wife Gladys and two daughters, Betty and Bunny. 

The doughy face clears his throat several times, while he blathers on and on about how good a chap he has been all of his life. Let’s see: he never begins a fistfight in school (though several times he has been on the receiving end of a pair of closed knuckles); he keeps his virginity until marriage (likely an instance of making lemonade from lemons); he pays his taxes on time (even pens a little smiley face on the top right hand corner of his return); he stays in the same job all his adult life (strangely, does not say what it is, so that there does not seem to be much pride in that arena); he takes his wife and daughters on a two week vacation to Palm Springs every August (must be on a discounted rate, since the stifling heat that time of year makes Palm Springs resemble Hiroshima at 08:15 of August 6, 1945); he pays for his daughters to attend Wellesley (Bunny “opens her eyes to the possibility of love” and later becomes the “wife” of her leather Butch, “and he is fine with that, and so is Gladys”); he volunteers with his local SPCA every other week (Gladys will not permit a dog in their house); and (drum roll) he has voted Democrat in each election, but one (cymbal crash, applause).

He finishes his piece by casting his free fist into the air (his other hand is by now an organic extension of the unseen Gladys) and protesting that it is very much “unfair” for me “to cast such a wide net” and “to sound so judgmental.”

There is a clamor of approval among the shadows. Even the listless ones, which just several minutes earlier had not appeared moved one way or another by my comments, indicate varying degrees of assent. 

I suspect that, but for several of the more testy shadows, they are happy simply for the “entertainment value” of viewing one of their own “stand up” to a “know it all” public speaker. They really do not care why he is droning on and on about how good a chap he has been all his life. They just hope that the back and forth will denigrate into the kind of verbal (and finally physical) melee that had been a mainstay of The Jerry Springer Show

As for the more testy shadows, they realize what doughy face is saying in essence: that unless someone happens to be an ax murderer, a tax cheat, or an unapologetic Republican, we are all basically “good enough” and deserve to be free from the “judgments” and “harsh words” tossed about by “religious nuts.”

When the clamor dies, I lower my glass of water and look thoughtfully at doughy face. I resort to an old debating trick (and a method for winning over or neutralizing a hostile audience over time): I agree with my accuser. This clever device has the double effect of putting my accuser on the immediate defensive (without seeming to be an “attack”) and of communicating to my audience how “reasonable” and “tolerant” I am of “diverse opinions.” Also, since I am readily agreeable, my audience begins to suspect that I am, like them, as interested in being accepted by the pack as the other harmless sheep. I have provided them a reason to be comfortable with me; and, once they are comfortable, they will not arise in frightened protest against anything that I may say or do. 

You are correct, I remark. There are many Pharisees still bellowing from pulpits and sitting in pews. They sit in judgment, when they should be judged. 

We now have a common enemy: the judgmental Pharisee (more ominous sounding than “religious nut,” as it plays into that ancient stereotype of a hook nosed, leering miser condemning your innocent body and soul for no more than thirty pieces of silver). There is no better way to defeat an accuser, and to win over a crowd, than to don the stage as the self-righteous slayer of a bogeyman.

Several shadows remain restless. They have never heard of a “Pharisee.”

Sensing their confusion, I elaborate in more contemporary language: And we know what these “Pharisees” really are (dramatic pause). They are a bunch of rich, white, Dick Cheney loving, FOX News watching Republicans. They judge us from their pulpits and their pews, imposing their God on our Rights, when in fact they and their white bread women and children should be judged (which is to say, should be taxed and regulated until they can no longer breath the same clean, climate conscious air as we do). 

There is an ascending applause. Oh, how quickly the crowd turns….

The doughy face does not know what to say. He shuffles stupidly in place (a boy in a beanie who has just warmed the inside of his own pants), while that unseen Gladys of his yanks temperamentally at his hand. 

He clears his throat and says something or other about how it is still very much “unfair” of me to be “judging his rights.” He starts to repeat his litany of how good a chap he has been. 

Now that I have at least neutralized the shadows, I interrupt him. 

You know, I remark. If you would be just a bit more honest with yourself now and then, you would observe that you have not been nearly as good a chap as you imagine yourself to be. Do not misunderstand me. I am not accusing you of being some sort of ax murderer or Republican. But consider the following:

You never began a fistfight in school. But was it particularly good of you to stand off to the side, and not interfere, when the bullies were picking on the little girl with the buckteeth in the third grade? Would it not have been better, not just for her but for yourself, if you had intervened by shoving them back?

You kept your virginity until marriage. Spare me. How is it good to fancy that your lemons have been squeezed and sweetened into lemonade, especially when you spent so much of your time and effort moping and whining about how many lemons had been allocated to your basket? And how can you call yourself a virgin after that encounter in the men’s locker room in your sophomore year? And was it particularly virginal to frequent nudie magazine shops after hours?  

You paid your taxes on time. But was it particularly good of you to make a point of telling everyone how you did not take all of your possible deductions?

You stayed in your same job all of your adult life. But was it particularly good of you to remain intellectually and emotionally listless, somewhere in the middle of the company flow chart, where the most you ever did was figure out how “to get along to go along” by passing the old buck a little more each year?

You took Gladys and the girls on the same vacation every year. But was it particularly good of you to force the plastic smiles on their faces, as they sat off to the side and watched you stretch into your checkered pants (a bit harder to do with every passing year), pick out your own clubs, and curse that infernal slice of yours? Would it not have been better if you had given your girls at least a little more Mickey Mouse and a little less martinis and salted peanuts?

You paid for your girls to go to Wellesley. But was it particularly good of you to ignore altogether their moral education, so that they were fashioned by years of pop culture and peer pressure into no more than “sitting ducks” for all the “revolutionary” drivel spoon fed to them by their professors and girlfriends behind the brick and the ivy? Would it not have been better if at least they had a chance at critical thought, rather than just soaking in propaganda as sponges?

You volunteer for the SPCA. But, as in your obsequious fidelity to the tax code, was it particularly good of you to make a point of telling everyone in the neighborhood (and, most especially, the dog loving married cutie several doors down with whom you really enjoy “neighborly chats” whenever Gladys is gone)?

You vote Democrat in each election, but one. When you choose to live as a gutless drone in a place like the San Francisco Bay Area, what then is so good about that? If you had been living in Dallas the same time, then you would have been a Republican. More importantly, the one time you did not vote Democrat, and I’ll spare you further embarrassment by not mentioning in public right now which election it had been, was the one time you did not tell anyone, not even Gladys, how you had voted. There is no courage of conviction, when you choose willingly and thoughtlessly to lose yourself in the pack. 

By now, the doughy face is back in his seat.

I do not feel good about what I have done. I too am not nearly as good as I imagine. For one, I am a pompous ass; and what is particularly good in that? 

The larger point is that we all see ourselves as better than we are. Even a strict Calvinist, who has been schooled in a theology that says that we are all reprobates in the eyes of God, and that most of us are predestined by the same God to fall into a pit of fire and brimstone, always fancies himself one of a few predestined for salvation. He may understand as a theological postulate that he is nothing and Christ Jesus is everything, but in everyday life he is no harder on himself than most anyone else. 

I pause. Few among the shadows are going to know what a “Calvinist” is. They will know vaguely that this is a “religious” term and that, by being critical of the theoretical “Calvinist,” I am once again striking at one of those modern day bogeymen, since any one who is so “religious” as to have a theological sect named after him must be as obnoxious as a Republican. I figure that I am home free and that I may begin my story about the spoiled child on the crowded bus.

I am wrong. Another detractor rises to his feet. He is alone, not only in a physical sense, but in the sense of being alone in his own self-righteousness. He is too much smarter than everyone else to be bothered, a real liberal sporting a Salvador Dali mustache and bushy sideburns. He does not wait for me to call on him, but burrows forward with his comment (a cross between a mad heckle and a legitimate criticism, as if every disagreement must be personal and political). 

Ah, Salvador Dali asks, but what about the Puritans? Were they not at all times consumed with their strict religious discipline, crafting in themselves, and among their brethren, a predisposition toward doom and gloom? Certainly, the dour Puritans did not see their conduct as better than it really is.

I am a bit amused that he brings in the Puritans, since leftists today are, in essence, a secular take on the petulant purists. They too are burning witches at the stake, though today the horned and scaled women are conservatives who go to church and talk like they actually hang out in flyover states longer than is necessary to change flights. I respond to his Puritan example. 

Every man will live and die by what he carries about in his own heart, so a blanket statement about the Puritans is as truthful as about any others. Still, if I may be so bold, then I am inclined to find in their doom and gloom as much a pride in their own self-righteousness, as a discipline for self-improvement. 

Also, and more to the point, the Puritans (like any other group before or since) were much more inclined to downplay goodness in others.

Whether we realize it or not, we are slaves to our own egos. The eastern mystic who claims to be “transcending” self is even more of a slave, since what else but ego infatuation induces a man to be so dedicated to a philosophy and a practice centered on self (whether it be self-divination or self-denial)? He may cloak his disciplines in a lot of groovy, humanistic, communitarian doublespeak, but, in the end, he is striving for his own, private Nirvana (self-awakening).

Salvador Dali opens his mouth wide. He is disgusted. He imagines that he has observed me slapping the Dalai Lama and imprisoning him in Dharamshala.

I shall not reach him, but I decide to press on regardless. Perhaps one or two of the shadows will find something useful in our exchange, even if it means that my spoiled child on the crowded bus must be unmentioned a bit longer. 

It cannot be otherwise, because our egos are tied inexorably to our basic preference for survival. If we are not slaves to our egos, our fundamental sense that living is better than dying, then why bother fleeing when a predator comes onto the scene? Why hunt for food when the first pangs of hunger hit? Why fight to preserve our culture (whatever that may be) from succumbing to some other culture? We would have stamped ourselves out of existence long ago, if we had not had a slavish infatuation to our own egos.

Thoughts, words, actions, these are the outward expressions of our egos.

They are the marks by which we endeavor to make our own way, as men individually and as communities, through a hostile world. They remind us of the past, make sense of the present, and plan for the future. 

Because we are tied to our own egos, we place a premium value on what we think, say, and do. That is why we are so easily affronted, or are demanding of space for whatever we want to bring about in this world, or are regarding as a right (right to abortion, right to gay marriage, right to lower taxes) whatever desires we are most inclined to express. It is not good enough that we think, or say, or act; we insist that our own expressions reach out beyond ourselves, the world at large (our intimates, neighbors, community, province, nation, regional sphere of influence, planet, solar system, universe, and finally God Himself, no matter that He alone is the Alpha and the Omega) acknowledging and assenting to whatever we put forward.  

By now, most everyone is lost. Salvador Dali is crossing his thin arms and nodding smugly. He imagines that he has laid out his elaborate trap for me and that, with all of my politically incorrect masculine references and archaic “God Talk,” it is only a matter of time before I am ensnared in it (since of course the Jesus Freak set, to which he has consigned me in his own mind, is too stupid to stand for very long against one of their crafty political arguments). 

I am not concerned with Salvador Dali. After all, I am at the podium, not him; and until there is a pie tossed into my face, I shall continue to be here. In consideration of the others, though, I try to illustrate my points with a common metaphor. I am mindful that there is no communication, if no one is listening. 

If I think that I want to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, then it is my will that the peanut butter, the jelly, the white bread, the plate, the knife, and the napkin be where they are supposed to be. I do not want that particular thought to live and to die as a briefly activated synapse in my grey matter. 

At the very least, I demand that something follow from it: maybe a new thought (“I really do not want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after all”), or a verbal utterance (“I am going to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Do you want one, too?”), or an action (actually making the sandwich). 

And this is why we are inclined to think of our own thoughts, words, and actions as basically good, or at least as good enough, and to paper over what is demonstrably not so good about ourselves. We invest our ego in each and every one of them (an ego affirmation, in virtue of something else resulting from one of our thoughts, words, or actions). We therefore see them as positive, a brief, but real, indication that we are still surviving in this hostile world.

No one has ever thought, said, or done anything, because he perceived it as bad. It may be a demonstrably bad thought, word, or action (a bully thinking how much fun it would be to punch a pudgy in the nose; a husband screaming a gross obscenity at his wife; Hitler murdering over six million Jews); but if in the end he thinks, says, or does it, then it is because he perceives some good in it, if not objectively, then at least for himself. Even a man who commits suicide is certain on some level that it will be better for him to snuff out his life.   

I concede, Salvador Dali relents, that we are inclined, even if only in the subconscious mind, to attribute more goodness to our own thoughts, words, and actions than they merit. We do this, because we are wired for survival, and our thoughts, words, and actions indicate that we are living still in the world at large. So what? Just because we embellish our goodness does not mean that we are not good at all. 

Yes, embellishing something does not erase in itself what that something is. But, I respond, consider this: when you are embellishing something, is it not because, deep down, you know that whatever it is it is not good enough

Salvador Dali frowns. He has a quizzical look on his voice. He cannot tell if I am wandering into his elaborate trap or not. 

When the doughy face (and all of us) embellishes his life, casually (since it is a product of much practice) papering over what is not good, so that he will be able “to assert his rights” as a “good enough man, like any other,” he really protests too much. On some level, he must know that he is not good enough, or else he would not have cultivated over his lifetime such a mental block to what is readily apparent in reflection. 

Salvador Dali smiles. In his mind, he is so intellectually (and, much more importantly, politically) superior to the doughy face, that he is totally fine with my attacks against him, even as he sees that my fundamental point is contrary to his. Like all liberals, he always values his elitism over his principles. 

I notice this and decide to direct my fire against one of his generic icons: the social activist (since the 2008 election, the community organizer). 

The more a social activist insists that some morally questionable action, like abortion or gay marriage, is a fundamental right (embellishing its goodness to the point of demanding its acknowledgment and ultimate assent by everyone else in the world at large, even up to and including God Himself), the more the social activist is showing that, deep down, he senses (and senses correctly) that it is anything but good. 

When a spoiled child is having a temper tantrum (his manner of insisting that what he wants is a fundamental right to which the parent, or his “world at large,” must acknowledge and give assent), it is almost always his self-petulant pursuit of something that, from a more mature assessment, will be seen as bad (if not in itself, then at least for him at that time). The exception: when in fact the adult is so bad that he is withholding something from the crying child that, in all cases, is good for him, so that the child has no alternative but to carry on as he does. But we realize that this is the case (even if we do not know at once all of the facts, we nevertheless know intuitively, like we know that an accused child abuser or wife beater is guilty, a knowledge that is legally insufficient for rendering a guilty verdict in a court of law, but that works just fine in the court of public opinion); and, as a result, we do not view that child as spoiled, but as a victim, necessitating some sort of outside intervention. 

Salvador Dali tries to object, but I continue: And, furthermore, we must know, deep down, that when something is not good enough, it is because it is a mixture of goodness and badness; and, finally, that something that is a mixture of goodness and badness in fact is not good at all.

I bring in another religious reference. What the hell, I’ve lost all but one or two of the shadows anyway. I hope to recapture their interest later with the story about the spoiled child on the crowded bus. 

Theologically, we say that there is a mixture of goodness and badness in Hell. To the extent that anything exists at all within Hell (a factual reality that we may assume just for this example, whether or not Hell actually exists), and only to the fact that it exists (and not to the fact of its history, its motivations, its moral character, and so forth), there is goodness in Hell (because existence in itself is good). But there cannot be any trace of badness in Heaven (assuming the fact of Heaven, and that Heaven is, well, as Heavenly as advertised).

Ah, Salvador Dali insists, you have overstated your point. Not everything that is a mixture of goodness and badness is Hell. 

No, it may not be Hell in its existential totality, I counter, but it is surely enough of a touch of Hell, that we react negatively (meaning that we negate it altogether, or negate whatever it is about it that makes it a touch of Hell, very often by imagining that that touch of Hell is anything but what it really is, as in imagining that a vice in fact is a virtue, or should be treated as such anyway by the world at large, by being afforded the status of a fundamental right). 

We know that when a fruit is partially ripe and partially spoiled, it is, for all intent and purposes, altogether spoiled. We may eat the fruit still, but that will require us to acknowledge that the spoiled part is spoiled and to cut it out from the rest of the fruit. If we are uncomfortable with cutting out that spoiled part (because that will mean making a value judgment, as in assessing that that spoiled part is differentfrom the ripe part, is worse than the ripe part, and, as a result, should be tossed into the garbage can), then we shall imagine that the spoiled fruit has a fundamental right to its spoiled condition, that we therefore must acknowledge and assent to its spoiled condition, and that we must in fact (or at least publicly pretend) to enjoy the taste and texture of spoiled fruit. 

What really is goodness anyway? 

Usually, we make the mistake of defining goodness as our reaction to our encounter with goodness. We encounter goodness; we experience pleasure; we say that that pleasure is good, as in a good feeling.

But, in fact, we do not always experience pleasure, when we encounter goodness. A hero dies valiantly on the battlefield. He dies saving the lives of his brothers, or in defense of a just and noble cause. We say that that is good; but unless we are sadists, or devotees of the war documentaries shown ad nauseam on the Hitler, I mean History, Channel, we do not find pleasure in that death. 

No, goodness is not any particular reaction. It is surely not the warm and fuzzy feeling that leftists (children) experience whenever their “revolutionary” politics is being affirmed in the court of public opinion. 

Rather, goodness is the state of being harmonious in and with the “world at large.” I said earlier that any existence, in itself, is good. That is because, in itself, anything that exists must be in a definite harmonious relationship in and with the “world at large.” Like a note in a melody, it is different from all other notes, but yet fits in with the others (is in its proper place), so that it critically contributes to the melody. The note exists because it matters to a melody. The note would never have been invented, but for being fit into other notes to form melodies. The fact that it has been invented for this purpose, and indeed does what it is invented to do (that is, fits into other notes to form melodies), is the basis from which we say that its existence is good

Goodness is knowledge. When we say that some being or thing is in right and proper harmony in and with the “world at large,” what we are saying really is that it has knowledge of the “world at large” (though a knowledge specific to the being or thing, so that a man knows in a manner that is proper to a human, and a worm knows in a manner that is proper to a worm) and exists as such. 

Salvador Dali smiles. He devilishly rubs his hands together. He is certain that I have stumbled into his elaborate trap, since I am arguing that goodness is knowledge, and we all know that knowledge is a special prerogative of the left (while “blind faith” and “superstition” have been relegated to the conservative corn stalk dwellers in the flyover states). 

If we are totally good, then we have total knowledge, which means that nothing can sneak in and disrupt the harmonious relationships that we maintain with “the world at large,” from which we may be said to exist. We shall see all of the big and small disruptions and snuff them out, before they do any harm to us. We cannot but live forever, if we are totally good, and therefore have total knowledge. 

Theologically, we say that total goodness/knowledge is eternal life. It is not some “big light” at the end of a tunnel, or an angelic sheet of music played atop a cloud; or, to be more precise, it is not limited to any one of these grand images. It is in essence goodness without evil, knowledge without ignorance, an unimaginable experience, but which must be real, if theoretically possible.

Nonsense, Salvador Dali laughs. I can theorize pink elephants all day, but that will not make them any more real than if I never theorized about them. 

No, I counter. You may not theorize them. You only may imagine them. I agree that imagination is the start of science, but it is never its end, unless it is true, as you and your ilk have been suggesting for millennia, that violent bouts of madness, propagandistic lies in support of vague “revolutionary visions,” are more real than what we may know from our senses and reason. If it is true then that politics trumps science, and opinion is to be cherished more than fact, we may as well end the discussion now and give way to the disproportioned images and insane mumblings in a fun house. 

We may theorize total goodness, because we know from experience (the starting point of the inquiry being in the senses, not in the abstract mind) that, in all things and events, there is a better and a worseversion. Some fresh fruit, even if not partially spoiled, is better in taste than others of the same kind. As this is true, and only a mad man would suggest otherwise, then even though we cannot sense total goodness, we know theoretically that it must be somewhere (which is to say, that it must be real), since its effect is felt all the time as the measure by which we may say that this taste is better or worse than that one. 

Nonsense, Salvador Dali persists. The “measure” of which you speak is in our own minds. We imagine this standard, name it “God” if you still insist, and then measure everything by it. Even today, we are close to discovering a “God” gene that, when finally mapped, will show that all is reducible to grey matter. 

 If the “measure” is in our own pretty minds, then how is there so much uniformity, among disparate cultures spread out over millennia, about what we think of as better or worse in the same things or events? I snap back at him.

That’s easy. The “God” gene is common to all….

Curious, is it not, that as there is a common “God” gene, we should have so much more uniformity of opinion about what is better or worse in the same things or events, than we have of God Himself, who is by definition the highest goodness without a trace of badness? It seems to me that, if this “God” gene is controlling each and every one of our minds, then we should have much greater uniformity of opinion about God than about anything else under the sun.   

For the first time in his life, Salvador Dali does not know what to say. He slinks into that “fairness” diatribe that I would have expected from the doughy face. I am disappointed, though not surprised, that when outmaneuvered in the matching of wits, the liberal always resorts to base heckling and angry shoves. 

Well, it’s not fair, Salvador Dali stammers. Certainly, I am good enough.

Are you going to die? I ask him, seeing myself dressed as the Inquisitor. 

Well…well…my politics is going to live forever….

Are you going to die? I am not going to let him off the hook.

And when I finish my book, my words will live on into eternity….

Are you going to die? I admit that I enjoy the role of torturer.

Yes, Salvador Dali concedes. But, I suspect, long after you are gone….

Then, you are not good enough, since if you were good enough, then you would know enough to exist on your own terms with “the world at large” for all times. But since that is not going to happen (and no matter your higher mental conceits, your senses tell you every day that this is so), you are simply not good enough, and neither are the rest of us. 

Salvador Dali storms out in a huff. I hear him mumbling something about “fairness” and “rights,” the throw away words of the left when they have been outmatched. Several other shadows join him in the lobby, not because they are in agreement, but because they are bored with the philosophy and “God Talk.”

He will enlist the sympathies and the support of the stupid and the lazy, because, in the end, the liberal has no other friends for his stuffy self-conceits.

I scan the rest of the shadows. I repeat that none of us are good enough, no matter our pretenses to the contrary. I cannot tell if they are hearing me.

And on that sour note I turn to the spoiled child on the crowded bus. 

Just Give the Crying Brat his Plastic Sword

And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. Acts 9:5 (KJV). 

But it is not hard to kick against the side of a cushion. I know first hand, as I was a passenger on a crowded bus from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara only a week before typing out these words. I already had to contend with my motion sickness (Mexicans drive everything, from their “libremientos” to their loneliest trails, as if the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If pressed, then the pilot, I mean bus driver, will snap: Brakes? We ain’t got no brakes! We don’t need no brakes! I don’t have to use any stinkin’ brakes! Or words to that effect). No matter how much I tried, I could not sleep (my 6’5” 250 lbs. big headed, Germanic frame is not inclined to do very well on anything short of a California King). I had lost all patience for the crying niño kicking against the cushion behind my seat (“Suffer the little children,” notwithstanding) and his self-indulgent (listening to rap on her I-pod; the Son Jaliscience rhythm of the Mariachi set aside for old Mexicans in sombreros and rebozos and for Gringos in Panamas and ball caps) baby mama (if a chica is not pregnant by the time she is fourteen, then she is a spinster, or a “marimacha,” and fated for a nunnery). I had had enough of Hell for a while. 

I turn around and confront the baby mama. One of the indications that a foreign guest is transitioning into a “resident” (I have been residing in Mexico a little over nine months, as of this writing) is that he is less willing to accept the indignities that may fall into his lap from time to time. Unless he is a Long Horn with a Stetson glued over his sweaty head, an American abroad is usually rather conscious about not being perceived as an “ugly American,” even when he is in the right, or is being singled out for a bit of mistreatment because of his Gringo status. He will look the other way, perhaps even excuse the behavior of a local malcontent as the result of “five-hundred years of colonial oppression.” A little peasant in an oversized sombrero can’t help himself, he will think. After all, he sees “oppression” everywhere, even in the prevalence of the subjunctive in the Spanish language (an excuse actually relayed to me by a Gringo expatriate who has been in country for over a decade and who prides herself in living in a bad, crime infested pit that is nevertheless “colorfully Mexican”). I do not play that game. I insist on thinking of my Mexican hosts as real human beings, not as sad, stereotyped “victims,” and therefore I treat them with the same strange mix of friendliness and crassness that I offer to any other group. 

My Spanish is limited. I should know more, given how long I have been in Mexico. I offer no other explanation than that I have not needed to learn more, in order to speak with vendors and to order in restaurants. 

Also, I am just lazy; and a pompous ass with an intellectual inclination is likely to be lazy. Give him one or two spirited minds with which to engage over cocktails every now and then and he is not likely to do more than pass his time.

Still, even pompous asses deserve better than to have their seats kicked incessantly by spoiled children. I say as much in broken Spanish (though correct and understandable, even if no more enlightening than the repartee offered by a four year old) to the baby mama. I provide her my “aggrieved look” (a subtle wrinkling of my mouth and nose, and squinting of my eyes, meant to convey an unwelcomed mix of tiredness and exasperation) and hope to play into whatever reserve of pity and politeness that she may retain in between her earphones. 

Apparently, there is none. She stares blankly at me. I have learned that, even when they clearly understand you, Mexicans will stare blankly, if you are asking them to do something that they do not want to do. They never say no to your face. They just keep staring, until you shrug you shoulders and go away.

I am careful not to address the spoiled child. A baby mama rhythmically tapping her head to the misogynistic rants of a 50 Cent or an Eminem (ignoring, as a result, the incessantly bad behavior of her son) may be stupidly wasting air molecules every time she takes in a breath; but, say something to her niño, and she will turn into a protective lioness. 

There is a reason why cops hate domestic disturbance calls. The shaken and stirred wife cannot see through her swollen, black eyes. She spits up blood, when she tries to speak. But she will pounce any cop who questions her “man.”

So I sit back in my seat and decide to turn this into a teachable moment. I should try to get something of value from these kicks, perhaps even a chapter in my bestseller book, or an ethnically offensive anecdote for one of my future lectures, the kind of “insipid insight” that brings out hecklers and sells tickets.

I set my aggrieved, self-righteous thoughts aside and actually listen for a few minutes to the spoiled child behind me. His Spanish is better than mine (as I would hope and expect) and slurred by his annoying tears. I only pick up a few words here and there. But, after some time, I figure out that he wants his baby mama (my phrase, not his) to let him play with his plastic sword. It is packed in the overhead compartment (buried beneath his “Lucha Libre” T-shirts and bags of Sabritas potato chips). His baby mama is “muy malo” for not giving it to him.

I think that she is “muy malo,” too, and for the same reason. If she just gives him the damn sword, this teachable moment will end. I shall be free then to be aggrieved for some other reason. 

But she will not; and, in a metaphysical sense, she cannot, because fate (the baby mama is a sorry metaphor for “fate,” since fate is so tragically grand and sweeping, and she is so mindless, but she will have to do) cannot reward a man for “kicking the pricks.” If it did, then it would not be “fate” after all. 

Remember what we have learned from the Adam and Eve myth (a lesson that is so undesirable, that we have gone through great pains to pretend that it is no more than a “fairy tale,” a harmless story that can play itself out in art or pageants, but that has no bearing on how we think of ourselves morally, and of how and what we think, say, or act in “the world at large”). Adam and Eve ban themselves from the Garden of Eden (the statement from God that, as a result, Adam and his progeny must eat bread in the sweat of their face is as much then an acknowledgment of what Adam has brought upon himself and his progeny as it is a judgment on Adam and his progeny). We therefore are born “apart” from the Garden of Eden, which is to say “outside” of innocence. We are born into a condition of not being good enough, of not knowing enough, and, as a result, of not being able to escape death. The old theologians call this “original sin;” and Saint Paul refers to death, the end of “original sin,” then as the “wages of sin.”

We are born “apart” from the Garden of Eden, and doomed therefore to the “wages of sin,” because of a transgression that happens long before we are born. We did not have any say in the matter way back when. We have no say in the matter now. Whether or not this is “fair,” this is simply the way it is, as no one but a lunatic would suggest that we are born into an innocent world where we may have the goodness/knowledge to live forever.

As a side note, there is much talk of advances in genetic medicine. Some have speculated that, in a few decades, we shall be able to expand our average life span to a few hundred years. In a century, we shall be able to expand it to a millennium. Even if these claims pan out, which is not at all certain as of this writing, we still are not going to have the goodness/knowledge to live forever, let alone to return to that state of innocence forsaken by our common ancestor and remembered in the Adam and Eve myth. A thousand year old man (or let us be ambitious and envision a ten thousand year old man) eventually dies, just as his one hundred year old counterpart in our generation. Also, there is nothing a genetic doctor can do to prevent a man from being hit by a bus someday. 

From our perspective, this “original sin” is the same as fate. It is a tragic play written out in primordial time, which we actors are bound to perform, and from which we may not deviate in any substantial way. 

Yes, we are free to interpret this or that line. We may rearrange the set, or discard old props in favor of new ones, but the final act is the same: each of the characters is dead, save the fool, who offers a eulogy (interwoven by a few bawdy jokes intended for the groundlings) that the fresh ghosts refuse to hear. 

Like the baby mama, this fate seems mindless, because it is tied to some sort of death: “mindless violence” in a warzone somewhere; “mindless cancer” that eats away at a man who still had so much more to contribute to his family and friends; even the “slow death by a million cuts” inflicted by that “mindless bureaucracy” that seems to be everywhere, or by “mindless politicians” owned by “heartless lobbyists” (every lobbyist but ours of course is “heartless”), or by a “mindless tax code” that “makes no sense” but to the elite class of attorneys and accountants (the “priests” of the “mindless death” for which we are born).

It is also, like the baby mama, impervious to our pleas. It really does not matter how much we scheme, or imagine, or just cry, in the end this sweeping, mindless fate will not acknowledge us. It may as well be lodged in between two earphones, caught up in the misogynistic rants of rap stars, because it is simply not going to lend its ear to our vanities. 

And because this fate will not hear us, and we are too small and weak to climb into the overheard compartment ourselves, we shall never wrap our hand around that great, plastic sword, the device with which we may have a fighting chance against the Grim Reaper, or at least slice out a few pages from the play (if not the final act, then some of the sappy drama in the middle acts) that has been penned for each and every one of us. 

But, nonetheless, we shall persist in kicking the pricks. Like that spoiled child, we are as much slaves to our free will, as we are slaves to fate. We have our egos, our innate preference for survival, and, as a result, we cannot but be petulant crybabies, when it comes to trying to wrap our hand about that sword.

We therefore contribute to our own death, as much as we are fated by a transgression committed long ago. This is the other side of the lesson from the Adam and Eve myth, which we try to avoid by imagining the myth as a harmless fairy tale: that the “wages of sin” are our own, as much as we inherit them. 

We are caught up in this tension between fate and free will. In our own ways, we are kicking at the Gringo in front of us, while our baby mamas pay no attention to our screams. We shall never get that sword (alternatively, because of our free will, and because of fate, we strive for that sword, but reap instead the “wages of sin”), but we persist in our screams because we want to imagine that our free will is just a bit stronger than our fate (a logical enough desire, as our free will is tied inexorably to our ego, and thus to our survival preference).

As you may imagine, this tension is exhausting over time, not just for the pompous Gringo being kicked in the rear, but for the spoiled niño as well. If we imagine ourselves to be good enough (meaning as a result that we know enough to transcend “original sin”), then indeed our free will trumps fate. We get that sword, on our own terms, and on the cheap. This is our most enduring fantasy.  

Way Too Much “God Talk”

For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. Genesis 3:5 (KJV).

I look up from my podium. I allow my latest sentence to linger in the air, as if no more than a brief bit of silence will capture the tragic poignancy of the fantasy to which we give all of our lives. 

I am also very proud, frankly, of how I have interwoven the spoiled child on the crowded bus with my comments on free will and fate. I am hoping for an affirmation, a learned nod from several of the shadows, maybe even applause. 

Instead, as I squint beyond the fourth wall, I count that about half of the shadows are gone. The others are sitting still in stony silence. 

Someone opens the door to the lobby. I am able to hear the chatter from inside the lobby for a few seconds, until the door slams shut by its own weight, but only as phrases bobbing here and there in a general sea of discontent.

Let’s see: “pompous ass,” “so angry and judgmental,” “bet he never got laid,” “white hooded racist,” “must be a Republican,” “religious nut,” “a Bible thumping Christian,” “I never laughed,” “thought this was going to be the Barry Manilow concert,” “makes me uncomfortable,” and “way too much God Talk.”

The last phrase really stands out. Even after the door shuts, and we who remain are encased once more in a bit of dramatic silence, I sense that the last phrase is seeping through the crack in the doorway and spreading like a noxious poison among the shadows. 

One of the shadows stirs enough to edge forward in his seat and raise his hand. He is a fat moon face, a cross between Fatty Arbuckle and Bob Newhart. 

I think that I can speak for everyone here. None of us wants to be showy, or impolite. We just can’t understand why you are giving us a Sunday sermon. 

There is a polite, but noticeable applause. Apparently, most of the “true believers” have left the hall already, so we are left with the soft-spoken fellow travelers, the “moderates” who are uncomfortable about any defined inquiries.

They are the guys who eschew “harsh words” in their local school boards and town councils (and who frown upon anyone else using “harsh words” of one persuasion or another), because political combat of any sort may interfere with a “friendly business environment.” Stupidly polite (avoiding even an occasional off color joke, not from any higher conviction, but from fear of receiving a cold stare from a jowly feminist with linebacker hips and torso), they are all like the Mayor in the first two Jaws films (even wearing the very same checkered pants, tweed jacket with elbow pads, and sensible shoes). 

For them, politics is bad enough. Religion is out of the question, even in a white steeple Church on Sunday mornings. They quietly stop attending, when a new, firebrand pastor preaches about salvation and sin (instead of the typical fare of cheap pop psychology and appeals of “neighborliness” to the “call” of a changing world). If they are mildly of a Democrat persuasion (because they will never be more than “mildly” of any persuasion), then invariably they will find a home for their Sunday observance among the Unitarian Universalists. If instead they are mildly of a Republican persuasion, then they will sit with Episcopalians or Presbyterians (depending upon the size and location of their homes, and how much is in their checking accounts at any given time).

They love the “separation of church and state.” In their minds, it is right in the Constitution (if asked where it is in the Constitution, then they will state inconclusively that “it’s just there,” or “look it up for yourself;” or if they have some bit knowledge of the Constitution, then they will state that it is the “real meaning” behind the Establishment Clause). It is what Thomas Jefferson meant when he wrote that “all men are created equal.” It is “the chief reason for the American Revolution,” since the Founding Fathers, after all, had been each and every one of them “free thinkers” who had wanted none other than to rid their American Continent of the “divisive God Talk” of their own time. 

But all of that is just historical justification, a place to hang their simple bowler hats, so that they do not need to explain or to defend in any real depth the “separation of church and state.” It may as well be in the Nicene Creed, an obscure, but safe, statement of faith that gives them a warm and fuzzy feeling.

For the “mushy moderates,” the “separation of church and state” has no more “depth” than any of their other soft, politically correct opinions. It is just a convenient mechanism to silence public discussion (and, increasingly, private discussion) with which they are uncomfortable.

And they are uncomfortable (indeed mortified) by any and all topics that are “controversial,” especially those that hint of being too “social” or “moral” in character. Even words like “good” and “bad,” let alone those unambiguously religious spitfires like “sin” and “grace,” are un-American and beyond the pale.

I do not believe that the “separation of church and state” excludes from the public square discussions of a religious or moral character, I respond finally to the fat moon face.

For that matter, nor do I believe that that doctrine prohibits our elected officials, or persons in public ceremonies, from invoking God or making Biblical allusions in their public comments. This prohibition, which is not yet enshrined in our civil law, but which is rampant in the unofficial law of public opinion and peer pressure, has evolved over time from a gross misreading of the letter that President Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association.

But, for now, let’s assume that your interpretation of the “separation of church and state” is accurate. 

Also, let’s assume that we are going to sponsor a new lecturer (since it is apparent from the exodus that I am not likely to be asked to lecture any time soon to polite company): the choice is either Billy Graham, the famed Christian Evangelist who has been known to lace his comments with Biblical verses (even those “intolerant” buggers, like I am the way, the truth, and the life, and No one goes to the Father, but through me), or Bill Maher, the atheist satirist who is best known for getting his bits on FOX News by making obscene references to Christians and conservative women politicians (and who never quotes a Biblical verse, unless in such a manner as to satirize the faithful). 

Which of the two lecturers is more in keeping with your interpretation of the “separation of church and state,” Billy Graham or Bill Maher? 

The fat moon face squirms in his seat. 

Both men are “controversial,” in their own manner. The fat moon face is not so sure that he likes either one of them; but, more than anything, he really resents having to choose publicly. 

He says nothing at first; but when the other shadows stare coldly at him, he blurts that the question itself is “unfair.” By choosing between Billy Graham and Bill Maher, we are “setting one idea against another,” rather than “happily and ecstatically celebrating in the sheer diversity of tolerant ideas.”

The other shadows applaud helpfully, like parents will do when they are watching their children perform a “talent show” at a family gathering. There is no “talent” on display in any objective sense (frankly, the comic and music bits inspire more impatient squirms, and troubled glances at wristwatches, than any other reaction). The parents, nevertheless, feel obliged to be supportive, when their children are trying at least to entertain them.    

He smiles sheepishly. He will thank his Unitarian Universalist pastor next Sunday for having imparted these “kernels of wisdom” in her recent discussions on “Mother Earth Sexualities” and “Post-temporal Families.”

Well, then, which one is more religious? I ask, when the applause ceases.

Is that a trick question?

No. It is straightforward.

Well, then, that’s an easy one. Of course, Billy Graham is more religious.

You are an educated man, I may presume?

Yes. I have a graduate degree in psychology, the fat moon face responds as if he is packing a pair of meaty “cojones” inside his checkered pants. This is the one and only time in the exchange where he speaks as if he is a real man. 

Then, may I presume that you are aware of the differences between the “intelligent design” and the “evolutionary” views in explaining how the natural universe has developed over billions of years to what it is today? 

The fat moon face hesitates. He fears that he is being led into a trap and that, at some point, he will be asked to choose publicly between the two views of the natural universe. Even though he is totally confident that educated, well versed, and polite people (including all of the diverse “free thinkers” within his Unitarian Universalist discussion group) accept the “evolutionary” view without reservation, he does not want to be impolite to the ignorant plebeians (like the unwashed migrant worker family, La Familia Sanchez or La Familia Lopez, he is never able to remember which one, that he sponsors by a tax deductible gift of $19.95 each month) who, if they ever are made aware of the debate, likely will take the other view. Ignorant plebeians cannot escape their native innocence.

Sensing the reason behind his hesitation, I assure the fat moon face that he will not be asked to choose publicly between the two views. I have no desire for him to wade into uncomfortable waters. 

Well, then, of course I know the differences between the two views. In a nutshell, the “intelligent design” view is an updated variation on what is known as the “watchmaker analogy.” It says that, like the complex mechanics within a watch, which make sense only when assembled together in accord with a clear, preexisting design, which in turn means that there must be a clear, preexisting designer, so does the configuration of the universe (many trillions of variables coming together in just the right time and manner to create the universe as we know it) necessitate that there be a clear, preexisting designer. 

As for the “evolutionary” view, it posits natural selection as the intrinsic mechanism by which random occurrences over time “move” in the direction of greater survivability and complexity. There is no thought behind it. It is simply that what is fashioned to survive survives, and what is not fashioned to survive, for whatever reason, does not survive.

The fat moon face thinks for a moment and then smiles broadly.

He continues: As a matter of fact, this “evolutionary” view is the mirror opposite of your “original sin.” Both see a “mindless” fate or force at work just beneath the knowable universe. In the case of the “evolutionary” view, there is a random universe, to be sure, but survivability wins out over non-survivability, just because it cannot be otherwise. All that remains at any given time is what has been survivable up to that time; and, in the end, all that will remain is all that has been survivable throughout all times (the most survivable little bugger probably being some sort of quantum level particle wave, the only actual Alpha and Omega when all is said and done). The inexorable force of nature kicks out the non-survivable, in favor of the survivable, death fading away in favor of life (not “life” in a sentient sense, but “life” in a survivable sense, so that, indeed, in the end, the “most living” reality will be that quantum level particle wave in its simplest glory). As for your “original sin,” the inexorable force of nature (or the “natural selection”) is in favor of non-survivability over survivability, which is to say of death over life. Because we are all born “apart” from your precious Garden of Eden, and because all of creation is tied to our maudlin fate (For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together), so it is unavoidable that life should give way to death. In the end, when the last bits of life have passed from the scene, there will be nothing left but that quantum level particle wave to which I have alluded. Except, from an “original sin” view of the natural universe, this last quantum level particle wave is not regarded as the “most living” reality, but as a dead thing, the last nail in the coffin of a life that moves by its own force from outside the Garden of Eden to a lonely grave.   

I lean back on the heels of my loafers. I am startled, to say the least, as I had not expected any one of the shadows to offer such keen insight. I am also saddened to see so much intelligence wasted on a man who will never have the courage to be a public nuisance, let alone a feared and despised threat. 

I look over the other shadows. They are leaning forward in their seats. It is clear that the exchange between the fat moon face and myself has enhanced the “entertainment” value and that, if this continues, at least some of the sour shadows in the lobby will regret that they had exited the tennis match so early.

Impressive, I acknowledge. But let me ask you this: which is more clearly “religious” in its character, the “intelligent design” or the “evolutionary” view?

The fat moon face does not hesitate this time. He is on a roll and cannot see any “controversy” in the answer that he will provide. 

Well, that’s easy. “Intelligent design” is the religious one. 

And why do your say that?

It is based on faith. 

And the “evolutionary” view is not based on faith?

No. It is not. It is the result of meticulous, scientific observations for the past several centuries (ever since we realized that Galileo was right and the old fuddy-duddies in the Catholic Church were wrong, and put our forward thinking science ahead of past superstition and irrelevant faith).

The fat moon face is very smug. No matter if he will not admit it, he has chosen publicly between the “intelligent design” and the “evolutionary” views.

I lean into my podium with the condescending air of a tenured professor, who knows that the inquiring student has taken his stand. I shall slap him down in front of the others, in virtue of the stand that he has taken, and, as a result, remind the world over that bravery in a student is never to be rewarded.

Let me suggest this idea: the “evolutionary” view, indeed, explains best what we see all around us. Like Darwin observing Galapagos Finches, we behold all the time how the “best suited” live on to hunt and to mate another day and the “lesser suited” die off over time. It is clear: some life forms are configured in such a manner as to win, others to lose. But, if there is nothing behind all of this but chance configurations, then how may we presume that this pattern will be the case a millennium, a century, a year, a day, or even a second from now?

Well, we do not know what will be around in the future, that is true. But we can say that, whatever it is, it will have turned out to be more survivable in the environment that persists at that time, than what is not around.

But you presume that there will continue to be variations in nature?

Certainly….

And that the same fundamental processes (electrons in a tug of war with protons; masses having a gravitational pull on one another; energy dissipating over time; Donald Trump’s comb over remaining a sentient life form, long after the last Trump Pyramid has been buried by a post-apocalyptic sand storm) that allow for these variations in nature will continue, as we may observe or deduce that they are happening right now? 

Well, that’s a ridiculous question. That is like asking me if I may be sure that the sun will rise in the east and set in the west tomorrow. 

If there is nothing but chance at the foundation of everything, then how may you be so sure that anything will continue as it is now?

There are the Laws of Nature….

Yes. But consider this: based upon what we observed in the past, and as well what we are observing right now, the Laws of Nature describe what results when this or that happens. It is like stating that, if we drop a watermelon from the top of a building, then it will splat all over the ground below.

I pause for dramatic effect. I continue then by punctuating (a tomahawk chop with my right hand, or a blessing from a bishop inflicted by an odd bout of Parkinson’s Disease, even I cannot tell, and it is my own hand gesture) each of the words in the following sentence:

But the Laws of Nature do not actually make any of those things happen. Just because we can say for sure that a watermelon dropped from the top of a building will splat all over the ground below does not mean that a watermelon is now or will be dropped from the top of a building.

Perhaps, by chance, the Gallagher wannabes of the world, the ambitious watermelon droppers, one day forget their calling. They hug their watermelons by their sides and just walk away from their rooftops, sensing vaguely that they have “lost” some important vocation with which they used to be identified, but soon happy enough to be doing something altogether different. 

That’s not very likely….

Actually, if chance prevails, then it is extremely likely. There are untold trillions upon trillions of what I have called “fundamental processes” happening at any given moment in the natural universe (trillions upon trillions of electrons in tugs of war with protons; trillions upon trillions of masses orbiting each other in deep space; Donald Trump’s comb over ordering take out). For everything in the natural universe to be what it is, and for your “chance” view to be correct, these trillions upon trillions of actions and reactions must continue to be in the next moment what they had been in the previous moment (and for no intrinsic reason, since if there is an “intrinsic reason,” then we are no longer able to say that this is all the result of “chance” or “randomness,” but rather of something else, an “unseen hand,” or God, providing that “intrinsic reason”). 

Statistically (what prevails in any chance game), it is exponentially more likely that at least one of the trillions upon trillions of “fundamental processes” will not repeat the next moment. And, if that happens (if just one electron, for no other reason than “chance,” is no longer in a tug of war with its proton; or a moon just willy-nilly decides no longer to orbit its planet, but to accelerate off into deep space; or our sun, again for no other reason than “chance,” just gives off its energy, reconfigures as a great ball of soap, and falls into your bathtub), then the natural universe as we know it ceases in the blink of an eye. 

To put it another way, it is exponentially unlikely that the trillions upon trillions of “fundamental processes” will repeat in exactly the same manner the next moment, and then the moment after that one, without the guidance of an “unseen hand,” or God, actually putting in effect (and maintaining in that way) what the Laws of Nature simply describe.

So what are you saying? 

What I am saying is that, if you insist on seeing the natural universe as a chance game (the essence of your “evolutionary” view), then you, not me, are the one pursuing a course of blind (statistically unsupportable) faith. Yours is a “religious” point of view, not mine. 

In the spirit of tolerance, let’s avoid insults….

And, I continue without batting an eyebrow, it is clear enough then that, between Billy Graham and Bill Maher, it is Bill Maher who is more “religious” in his blind devotion to an “evolutionary” view that defies common sense. 

In the spirit of fairness, let’s avoid calling either one of them religious….

And so, if your view of the “separation of church and state” is accurate, as we have stipulated for the sake of this polite discussion, then we who are so keen on preserving this “separation” should give Billy Graham the public stage, and self-righteously withhold it from “religious nuts” like Bill Maher. 

I pause again. I allow myself a moment to writhe in my own glory. 

The fat moon face slides from the edge to the back of his seat. 

The “evolutionary” view is a false religion, I continue. It is “false” in the sense that it purports to be what it is not. It claims the mantle of disinterested science, as if neither more nor less than the cold result of scientific inquiry and observation, the data supporting the same conclusion over and over again since Darwin first laid his eyes on those Galapagos Finches. But, in reality, it is just a recent take on an old superstition, clothed no doubt in the fashionable garment of science, but believed because of its psychological utility.

And what is that? The fat moon face mumbles, defeated with the others, but feigning continued interest so as not to be impolite.

It moves the focus of our telescope away from the Heavens, where every now and then we are able to glimpse something or other about God, and points it into a dressing mirror.

So we are peering into a reflection of a reflection….

Yes. We are peering into an image that starts with ourselves; but, since it is a reflection of a reflection, it is large and surreal enough to seem god-like, in a way. It is a trick of the mind of course. But if we insist on believing it, then we really start to think that we are our own gods. 

I’m not so sure….

Of course, you are sure. Indeed, that is the only view of which you allow yourself to be one hundred percent sure. On every other matter, like all mushy moderates, you are an equivocating ghost in a Victorian séance, never deciding if you should speak loud enough for the medium to hear, or if you should do no more than rattle a curtain and slide a chair. 

So I am sure that I am an equivocating ghost? 

No. You are a ghost. But you are sure that you are a god. And, just to be certain that you never stop imagining yourself as a god, you hold onto the tried and true superstitions, or political ideologies, or anything really, that will move the focus away from God and back upon yourself. 

The fat moon face does not respond. He is not sure if he should fold his arms, lest he appear to be closing himself off from what may be a diverse view.

I no longer see the fat moon face. He is lost somewhere in the pack. 

Consider the “evolutionary” view, I remark to all of the shadows. Yes, it is adorned in the vesture of modernity. It is comforting for us, because it seems so dispassionate, rational, like an informational flow chart in a slideshow. 

But it is really an old and dusty bit of nonsense, an archaism that we pull out of the closet when we need to convince a troubling guest (a teetotaler with his simple wife in hand who, after indulging in half a cocktail, starts to belt out the kind of impolite questions and boorish canards that really are best reserved for the gentlemen’s den) that indeed he is a god, like the rest of us. 

You see, the “evolutionary” view is the latest incarnation of what we all used to accept, unquestioningly, as the Ptolemaic cosmology.

Of course, you all remember the Ptolemaic cosmology. It is the view that we make fun of in our pure science textbooks (second only to “creationism” as the butt of our high minded jokes). It says, in a nutshell, that Mother Earth sits at the center of the natural universe and that the moon, the sun, and the stars revolve about the earth. 

The “evolutionary” view is the same. The only difference is that it tosses off Mother Earth and replaces her with man. We are the center of the natural universe. In a chance game, it cannot be otherwise. 

Who else but man may be the statistician, the surly bookkeeper sitting in the back room, who makes the numbers “work” in such a way that the trillions upon trillions of “fundamental processes” just happen to reconfigure every new second in the same manner as the previous second? Who else is capable of such sleight of hand, but a god-like man mentally pulling his levers behind a curtain?

We are not even subtle in insisting that we are gods. Ever since we came to realize the “uncertainty principle” in quantum physics, which says that when we observe something on a quantum level the very act of observing alters what we are observing, we have extrapolated from that point to imagine that, just in imagining some new reality (invariably something groovy), especially if done as a “selfless act of kindness” or as a “mass meditation” (at some point, cue John Lennon’s Imagine, so that it appears to be arising “spiritually,” as if a life force of its own, from “all the people of the world”), we create that new reality now and forever in the natural universe (see the documentary What the Bleep? for a more in depth presentation of this god-like power of ours). 

Forget God and His six days of creation. If we just put our minds and our hearts to the task, we can create whole new realities in just six seconds. 

Ah, if you shadows had not been beaten into submission (a task for which I cannot be too proud, since in the case of “mushy moderates” like yourselves a posture of silent submission is largely self-inflicted), one of you might very well retort: That is nonsense. We are not gods. 

With that statement, I agree, I would respond (in the purely hypothetical case of this conversation actually happening, but which, of course, is not really happening, because none of you wants to pick publicly at this particular scab). 

And then one of you would continue: But if indeed we imagine ourselves to be gods, then that delusion may be swept aside easily enough by meditating on the existence of pink elephants and seeing what materializes in the sky….

Ah, so you are suggesting that we shall be easily enough disabused of our god-like powers just by observing that our wishes do not come true?

And then one of you would conclude: More or less. 

Well, since when do men restrain themselves by observable facts? If your hypothetical mass meditation focuses on pink elephants, and if in the end there are no pink elephants in the sky, then one of them (a skinny guru type adorned in nothing else but a long beard and an unpronounceable Hindu name, his grand words wafting out from behind a groovy cloud of pot smoke) will just smile and say that “the pink elephants are in our hearts.” There will be a solemn moment (the “truth” of what the guru has said then sinking into their hearts, along with the pink elephants and whatever else is camping in there). Finally, in a gesture of “universal love,” everyone will break out into broad smiles and hugs. And an old tambourine (a relic from Woodstock) will be rattling softly somewhere.

And do not imagine that only Hindus and hippies play this game. All of us indulge every now and then. If we are gods, then we are good enough (not just for “government work,” but for our own lives). We imagine ourselves to have a bit more free will than fate, our sword forever keeping the Grim Reaper at bay.

Standing Astride the Troubled Earth as Gods

While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease. Genesis 8:22 (KJV)

A verbal promise is as good as the paper on which it is written, if there is insufficient authority and power behind it. Otherwise, we are not receiving a promise, so much as a good intention. 

As it turns out, we have paved quite a bit of highway on the way to Hell with good intentions. We have included “Good Intentions” Rest Stops (a regular haunt for sexual perverts after hours), “Good Intentions” Truckers’ Cafes (back rooms include “Last Chance” slot machines, so the bleary eyed traveler will not have a silver nickel left by the time he reaches the fiery gates), even a few old “Good Intentions” Motels (hookers on coin operated beds available for an extra charge, along with clean towels and a shower cap). 

So when the vice cops raid the rest stops, the sexual perverts may state in their own defense: “I never wanted to molest boys. I was molested as a child and driven to do it. I have had nothing but the best of intentions.”

And when the creditors haul the hapless truckers into court, the truckers may state in their own defense: “I never wanted to be a gambler. I just wanted to win once more than I lost. I have had nothing but the best of intentions.”

And when the angry wives (always adorned in curling irons and shapeless floral nightgowns) yank their cheating husbands away from the lipstick lips and scarred faces, the husbands may state in their own defense: “I didn’t do it. It is not what is seems. I have had nothing but the best of intentions.”

The Highway to Hell resembles I-5 approaching the Grapevine. No one in his right mind wants to be there. He is always in transit to somewhere else. 

We hate to think that we are bumbling fools, unable to do more with our lives than mumble the same lame excuses whenever we are caught indulging in our addictions, or that we are always “in transit” to a “better place” and never particularly satisfied with where we are right now. 

We are either mischievous boys or tired travelers. Neither option is at all appealing, because they imply that, in the end, we are powerless in the face of someone else (the cop, the creditor, the wife, the man to whom we are driving down I-5 to visit, because he is not driving up I-5 to visit us). 

“Good Intentions” means we cannot deliver. We do not have enough real authority, or power, or just good, old-fashioned moxie. Some other guy will be “delivering” instead, and the most we shall be able to do is to watch him stroll off the field with the golden trophy and to pretend that we are happy for him.

But we imagine otherwise. We imagine that every other driver along this long and lonely highway may be stumbling in his “good intentions,” but that we are “good enough” somehow “to make it work.” 

We can hang around a “Good Intentions” Rest Stop as long as the weirdo who seems to live there. We can follow his example, forsaking razors and soap, staring perversely at the little boys whose parents (or whatever the “adults” in the Winnebago may be) stop for a piss and a smoke.

But we are not weird ourselves, because we are “different” or “special,” impervious to the temptations that draw “others” into bad behavior. 

We can stuff our faces at a “Good Intentions” Truckers’ Café as much as the greasy Stetsons with Oklahoma license plates on eighteen-wheelers. In the early morning hours, we can saunter on back to the “Last Chance” slots (after a round too many, which is to say one round, of Budweiser and chew), reach into our pockets (or into some sleeping drunk’s pockets) for the very last of our (his) silver nickels, and see the grey sunrise as an aching blur beyond the trash bins.

But we are not lame ourselves, because we are “different” or “special,” impervious to the temptations that draw “others” into bad behavior.

We can tinkle our wads into the rented spittoons at a “Good Intentions” Motel as evasively as the other middle aged cheats in disco shirts (mementos of their swinging years, which they hide away in their closets and sneak out every other month for their “overnight business trips”).

But we are not cads ourselves, because we are “different” or “special,” impervious to the temptations that draw “others” into bad behavior.

After all, we talk to the grandmas in tight, leather miniskirts and padded bras (after having greased up their spittoons), as if they are among the “regular people” we chat with at Church coffee hours or in supermarket check out lines.

We even put an extra tip (a card that says, “Jesus Loves You”) in the big wad of cash (no more than is paid by anyone else, but our wad is bigger, as we do not convert the “ones” into “twenties” and “fifties”) that we leave with our parting kiss on the bedside table. 

As soon as we get back behind the wheel, watching the rest stop, or the truckers’ café, or the motel recede in our rearview mirror, we feel slimy again, the same sensation that caused us to stop in the first place (but which we tried to convince ourselves way back when was just a brief urge to pee, or to eat, or to fornicate, a passing sensation having no moral implications). 

On the road, we cannot help but note that our station wagon, our cherry Slurpee lodged into a coffee cup holder, our eight-track (The Carpenters’ Close to You and Only Just Begun alternating with one another), our bumper stickers (AAA diamond and Gone Fishin’) are like every one else’s, more or less. We see the same stretch of nothingness as every one does. We pass a dusty sedan, only to find that it passes us a hundred miles down the road. We find it increasingly difficult to believe that we are in fact as we imagine ourselves to be (Master of the Stick Shift, Legend of the Road, Marco Polo in a 1970 Plymouth Wagon).

If every one else is a slimy bastard, then maybe we are too. 

It is bad enough to be on the Highway to Hell. It is worse to know it. 

And, at a point, that is so untenable, that even the rest stops, truckers’ cafes, and motels sprinkled along the path can no longer disabuse us of the fact that we are headed south and the Grapevine is just around the bend. 

So we do the only thing we can do. We turn around and head due north, not stopping for anything but gas and fast food (the broken English, slurred into an accent that is a vague blend of Charlie Chan and Habib, and shouted angrily from the other end of a scratchy (but rock concert loud) drive-through speaker, does not entice us to abandon the road longer than necessary). 

The slimy feeling starts to dissipate, when we feel that we are closing in on the San Francisco Bay Area. The dull grey gives way to a bit more green. The Carpenters on an eight-track give way to FM sleaze. Sedans replace wagons and feature more bumper stickers (Coexist beginning to outnumber Gone Fishin’).

At some point, we find ourselves staring at the wind turbines near Tracy, a stretch of green energy atop rolling hills that can be sensed from miles away.

The wind turbines call us, like Sirens singing out their soothing lullabies to long suffering seafarers. We pull over to the side and get out of our cars. But for the traffic whizzing by at breakneck speeds, we would dash across the road, climb the hills, and wrap our arms about them, kissing their metallic stumps as if in the gay flourish of a homecoming. 

With the wup, wup, wup of the wind turbines, the blades slicing into the air beside our ears, we are able to consign Hell far to the south of us, no longer reachable, a dying, unreal memory. We know then and there that we are gods.

After all, we whisper in a sort of ecstasy to ourselves, the wind turbines are standing astride the troubled earth as gods; and who but a god may fashion new gods? 

The wind turbines are oracles from on high: their wup, wup, wup forever reminding us that, but for our own ingenuity in forming these metal giants from the dust, and breathing life into them, our Mother Earth cannot long survive. 

We alone are protecting her from the nightmare of a nuclear winter.

We alone are protecting her from the fires of the combustible engine.

We alone are protecting her from the pitchforks of the profit motive.

Of course, we also have created these calamities. The fears of a nuclear winter, the flames from the combustible engines, the folly of people producing goods and services from selfish interests, none of these gross, Dick Cheney-like “assaults” on our Mother Earth would have happened but for our godliness.

Only gods may destroy totally (the Great Flood) and repair just as totally (the Resurrection). We bring Mother Earth to the brink; then, we return her to her virginity. We do it as a kind of self-indulgent sport, as if the gods on Mount Olympus coming down on nubile girls every now and then to father a Hercules.

We have been playing this game since Cain fled “Eden County” two steps ahead of the Sheriff (picture God the Father temporarily setting aside his white beard and Gandalf hood, then donning the garden patch as Gene Autry with his white cowboy hat and six shooters, watching the smarmy outlaw in black gallop off toward the Mexican border). The Bible says that Cain wandered about as an outcast, a man without a real tribe, and then took a wife and fathered a line of reprobates (being called a “Son of Cain” is never a compliment, even today). 

We may debate whether or not this is factual history (though there must be a factual truth at the heart of this story, which makes it a myth, rather than a harmless fairy tale). Regardless, by its own internal logic, a question arises.

Who possibly is the “wife” of Cain? If Adam and Eve are the first humans, and if Cain and Abel are their first children, then from where does she emerge?

I used to imagine that this other woman was some sort of “missing link,” a “near human” from another, preexisting line. Adam and Eve then are the first humans, but “near humans” had been roaming the earth already for some time (tens of millions of years, but metaphorically remembered as “days” before the first man is fashioned from dust on the “sixth day”). 

But, of course, a “near woman” cannot be an actual wife for a man, any more than a dog or a sheep (West Virginia, notwithstanding). Even if the happy lovebirds find a way to make the “parts” fit (a bit of Vaseline and imagination), the facts of nature cannot be denied….

That is, unless man has the authority and the power to deny nature; or if not deny it altogether, then at least bend it to his superior will. He then simply needs to imagine Mother Nature as a batty, old lady, easily subdued by a strong word or a sleight of hand. 

In that case, his “good intentions” are “good enough.” Cain needs simply to “intend” that the grunting ape woman be a “real woman,” as much as he is a “real man,” and voila: the grunting ape woman is his wife, and together they conceive a line of real human beings (albeit disproportionately among the likes of criminals and tax collectors). Cain taking his wife then is the second instance of mind over matter (the first is Adam and Eve indulging in the forbidden fruit).

I am not saying that this story is literally factual (though, again, I believe that there must be some basis in fact, in order for this to be other than a fairy tale). But what I am saying (and what is much more important) is that this story is mythically insightful.

In essence, the mythical insight is that man, from his beginning as a rule breaker and an outlaw (as if born into this world with a black cowboy hat stuck on his baby noggin), has been able and willing to re-imagine himself, his family, his nation, his world, his universe, and even his God in such a manner as to see his own “good intentions” as “good enough.” He is his “God complex,” a foolish fit of neuroses bubbling up from the fact that he imagines himself to be a god, but of course always falls short of the pretense. 

Cain may have been able to tell himself and his sons (and the rest of us, by extension) that he had found a “real wife” in that grunting ape woman, but he must have had his doubts (even if buried deep inside his subconscious mind) when he kissed her hairy lips or rubbed up against her simian belly.

Every now and then, he too must have had the same slimy feeling as we endure on the Highway to Hell, the unwelcome (even if vague) sense that he is not nearly as authoritative and powerful in avoiding the fate that afflicts every one else, as he imagines himself to be. Every one else in his callused feet needs to roam about the earth with neither wife nor home. That is the wretched fate he is pretending to avoid, even at the cost of “hiding his salami” in a hairy ape.

But he must have known that, no matter his pretense, he did not have a real wife and home. At best, he was an actor on his own stage, complete with a make-believe wife, and a backdrop for a home. 

At worst, he was a pervert with a thing for monkeys. Either way, he was driving an old Plymouth Wagon like every one else, whistling the same pathetic Carpenters’ tunes, and enduring that persistent “slimy feeling” in his bowels.

Well, Cain had at least one “God” moment of which we are aware, when he re-imagined a grunting ape woman to be a real wife.

There have been many “God” moments since then, from the obscure and elitist Gnostic cosmologies (which we shall discuss later in more detail), to the Nazi vision of a “master race,” all of which in one way or another involve trying to force a square into a hole to feed a fantasy of godlike authority and power. 

We have our own “God” moments. One is the “theory” (but more akin to a “compelling vision”) of man made global warming, the bogeyman of our time. 

This is the bogeyman that haunts much of the social and economic policy in the industrialized world (the pre-industrial states are too busy trying to arise from the mud flats to pay attention to its ghoulish wail). In essence, it is crying a variation on a tale that we have been hearing since the 1970s: Because of our profit driven, excessive consumption, we are emitting “pollutants” (in the past these “pollutants” were vaguely defined; today, they are defined as a “carbon” or “carbon related” discharge) that are changing the upper atmosphere (in the past, these “pollutants” were going to cause a “new ice age,” presumably by a blocking of the sun; more recently, they are “warming” our climates). Whether a “new ice age,” or a “warming,” the result will be devastating (and will occur within our lifetime): rising ocean levels, dying crops, disappearing species, dogs and cats sleeping together (extra movie points, if you know the last reference).

The good news: our best minds have devised a solution. If we participate in a “carbon credit exchange” (every person or business interest is assigned, by some sort of “mega-government,” so many “carbon units” annually; and if they are going to run over that limit, then they need to sell their excess to a person or a business interest that is running under its limit, or that is able to re-sell its purchase to a third party), then as a song says, everything’s gonna be alright. As you may infer, this is the ultimate of the pyramid schemes; and since we are “gods,” Mother Earth herself hangs in the balance.   

Frankly, man made global warming is even more of a “God” moment for us than the Valkyrian vision of the Nazis. At their worst, the Nazis presumed to be able to “purify” race and culture through genocidal war. Theirs was the old, godlike pretense of turning the profane (“inferior” races and culture mingled in their “superior” race and culture) into the sacred (“inferior” races and culture expelled or murdered, like the chaff burned away from the wheat, thus leaving behind their “superior” race and culture, cleansed and strengthened) through a “ritualized washing” or a “communion” (genocidal war against Jews, first living among them, then worldwide). They were unparalleled in their evil; but, in the end, they saw themselves as in essence the gods of other men and cultures. 

Man made global warming presumes that man is the god of nature, if not of the whole universe, then at least of Mother Earth (though we may imagine a scenario where the global warming alarmists of the future claim that, because of our profit driven, excessive consumption, our “pollutants,” however broadly defined, are spreading like noxious clouds in space, first to the other planets in our solar system, then to the other solar systems). Forget “profaning” and then “purifying” races and cultures. That is “old school.” Now, we can set the whole earth on fire, and then douse the flames. 

Imagine hugging those wind turbines. When the ecstatic moment passes, we may walk back to our Plymouth Wagons and drive further north, but we are never again going to be the same. From now on, when we look out over nature (what we see from our dirty windows, and what we imagine in our dreams), we shall know that the whole earth hangs in the balance, that just a few coughs of smog from our exhaust pipe will tip her into a fiery cauldron. We also know, as our lips contort awkwardly into a smug smile, that we can save the whole earth from this impending doom, just by turning in our Plymouths for Smart Cars, and by voting the Democrat ticket. 

Only gods may engineer such grand consequences from so little action. It is the opposite of Sisyphus in Hades. In Greek mythology, the gods condemn the treacherous Sisyphus to an eternity of slowly and painfully pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to have the boulder roll back down, just as it reaches the top.

In our fairy tale version, we lounge back on beach chairs (the soft fingers of one of our hands swimming daintily over the stem of a martini glass, while a Polynesian beauty massages our warm shoulders and whispers in broken English about how our pulsating muscles “excite” her) and flick at heavy boulders with our free hands. Just one touch catapults the boulders over the mountain. 

The fear and paranoia surrounding man made global warming reminds us that we are gods. That is why it is a “compelling vision,” more than a “theory.” Gods have “compelling visions” and put them into effect, especially when they are bored with their lazy affairs atop Mount Olympus. Nerds in lab coats pursue “theories,” especially when they cannot find dates for Friday Night Bowling. 

Like in all controversies, there are facts that seem to suggest one side or the other. The ideologues hold onto “their facts;” and the mushy moderates, in their typically diffident manner, will say that the whole affair is “inconclusive” or “open to interpretation” (though after claiming their intellectual neutrality, the mushy moderates invariably float toward the “winning” side of the debate, which is to say the side that seems to be the opinion of the casually well bred).

The advocates of man made global warming have “their facts.” They will trot them out, when necessary (usually imbedded somewhere in their computer generated “hypothetical situations” and then displayed in an unending series of charts and graphs). They will stamp them as “scientific” and “official” (and, as a result, “beyond debate”), by having them publicly endorsed by an icon of the casually well bred (in this case, Vice President Al Gore) and loudly seconded by the intellectual organs of the casually well bred (the mainstream media, liberal arts colleges, government bureaucracies, late night talk show hosts). 

But since man made global warming is a “compelling vision,” rather than a “theory,” they will not live or die by them. If “their facts” are discredited (as has happened recently), then they shrug and replace them with “better facts.”

For example, the advocates of man made global warming like to trot out the “fact” that our Arctic Circle is rising in temperature. Much to their chagrin, we have discovered the same occurrence on Mars. 

Either this increase (both here and on Mars) is attributable to the sun (as we know that the sun goes through its own cycles, that affect how much energy it is emitting into space), or the increase on Mars is attributable to the increase in SUVs on the Martian interstates. 

If you are not willing to believe the latter, then this is an example of an “inconvenient fact” that needs to be jettisoned, one way or another. 

Like a dealer swapping out old cards (the facts in support of a man made global warming “vision” that have been discredited) for new cards (the facts in support of a man made global warming “vision” that have been “discovered” by “new techniques” and that, as a result, are even “better” than the discredited facts), they will keep the game going until the last card is dealt. 

And when that happens, they will keep the gamblers stuck to their seats by simply changing the name of the game (the sign above the card table, which used to read “man made global warming,” is replaced with an even glitzier sign that reads “climate change”) and dealing out a new hand of cards. 

The primary strength of a “compelling vision” is that it is not undone by an inconvenient fact (or even a whole slew of inconvenient facts). It has a bold and unstoppable life of its own, because, in the end, it is neither more nor less than the indulgence of a bunch of bored, temperamental gods. It will stop, not by an abundance of discrediting facts, but because the gods choose to pursue a new “vision,” like abandoning a tired game of poker for mumblety-peg. 

The other strength of a “compelling vision” is that its detractors may be burned at the stake as “deniers” or “heretics.” Indeed, when the “vision” takes hold of enough disciples, and the sheer power of opinion trumps truth, no facts can be discredited by heretics, as much as the heretics are discredited. 

And when we watch the heretics writhing in flames, their flesh falling as burnt chunks from their rattling bones, do we not sense our godliness? Who but the God of Judgment may bring His torch to a heretic, and be totally righteous?

In essence, the “compelling vision” is a religion. By allowing us to ignore inconvenient facts, and to burn heretics, it reminds us that we are gods. 

Like all religions, it provides a moral schema, by which the truths of that religion may be reinforced in common, every day behavior.

In the case of man made global warming, the moral schema is simple (an important factor in its mass appeal): what is good is what is green.

Like many religions, it provides a sacrificial priesthood, by which the sins of the many may be cleansed by the spilled blood of the unblemished. 

Here, the priests are the punctilious recyclers and the Smart Car drivers, the little people making sacrifices every day that save the earth for every one.

Like some religions, it provides a ritual consecration, by which a profane thing is subsumed into a sacred reality (analogous to the Roman Catholic notion of “Transubstantiation of the Soul,” which says that, in the course of the Mass, a wafer is subsumed into Christ Jesus, and sin is exchanged for eternal life). 

Here, the ritual consecration is the exchange of carbon credits. There is a man with too much carbon (sin) in his possession. He offers over his excess to an exchange (offertory, before communion). Someone else accepts that excess (communion). The man walks away, feeling morally righteous in the knowledge that he has no more carbon in his possession that may tip Mother Earth into the fiery cauldron (redemption). Of course, this will mean that the “someone else” in this equation now has an excess of carbon (sin), that he will need to pass off to yet a third person (communion), so that he is not contributing to the demise of our Mother Earth (redemption). As soon as he finds his “someone else,” he is also able to walk away with that morally righteous sense of “doing something.” 

This “carbon credit exchange” even has its own versions of the medieval clerics. Abbots and Bishops of old would charge “alms” to the simple mourners, in return for saying prayers or celebrating masses for dead loved ones. Now, we have Bankers and Attorneys charging “commissions,” in return for handling the exchange of carbon credits from a seller to a buyer. 

Every one is invited (or forced by an overbearing government) to be part of this “God” moment, at the very least by accepting without question that the man made global warming “vision” is “fundamentally true,” and even better by participating in some measure (i.e. going green, buying and selling the “carbon credits,” supporting higher taxes and more regulation). No one is allowed to be a dissenter, without losing their reputation, their livelihood, even their rights. 

Since this is essentially a “civil religion,” it really helps to be a leftist, to some degree (either by hearty conviction, or by intellectual laziness, or from a fear of being apart from the pack, as in the case of the mushy moderates). The leftist sees religion and ideology as the same. Everything, even God, is political in the end, so that even our self-affirmation as “gods” will be intimately linked to our pursuit of political ends (however glossed in a pseudo-religious cover). 

We choose to believe that there is no tension between our intention and our capacity for goodness. We are comfortably smug, as we drive northbound. 

The Whole World for A Nickel and A Dream

And the devil, taking Him up into a high mountain, shewed unto Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time… Luke 4:5 (KJV)

I am in trouble. I look up from my podium and squint awkwardly into the old coot darkness that is limping and cursing just beyond the fourth wall. 

Maybe a fourth of the shadows remain. They are the hardcore moderates (balding, middle aged, checkered pants, clinging to a Gertrude or a Vera beside them, as if adrift on a sea with no more than a floral scented lifebuoy).

Chattering their milky teeth, and scratching their sallow foreheads, they are having a hard time deciding if they are bored or enlightened. Their instinct is to tip toe like scared cats to the exit and to join their “fellows” (they are too careful in how they present themselves in public to make any real “friends”). If they make it to the lobby, then they may indulge softly in the safer topics with which they pass the time: bad weather, sports (but never taking sides), flaming back and joint pains, over the counter drugs, discounted cosmetics, and sheep. 

But they do not want to commit the cardinal sin of being rude. And, just as importantly, they are determined, more or less, to find a soft middle ground between disinterest and interest (maybe casual awareness, they are not sure). 

They hate that they need to search out for this soft middle ground. They hate that they hate (since hatred is so much more defined, like a severe nugget lodged into an otherwise creamy mind).

A bit of mild unpleasantness, or even heartburn, would be okay (even, in an odd way, perversely pleasurable). But a jagged, old fit of hatred is so much spicier than bland disfavor as to be tawdry, like habanero chili in a Brie cheese.  

The hatred is bubbling forward from within the darkness and, as if drawn together into its own fire pit, taking on the shape and texture of condemnation (sprinkled atop by just a flavoring of ridicule).

Maybe I should take a more informal approach, I think. It is hard enough for them to hear “harsh words” without having to endure a pompous tone.

I step out from behind the podium. I nod and smile sheepishly.

In my sequined left hand, I am holding a Play-Doh figurine. It is a square headed, balding man, six inches tall, in a white shirt (tiny pocket protector in a square pocket), checkered pants, and pink loafers. It has a startled, stupid look permanently plastered below its oversized, square glasses, like it has just seen a bug in a magnifying glass. 

It is my “Everyman,” its shape and texture like the remaining shadows in the hall. I had stashed it underneath my podium, in case of a dire emergency.

I lift my “Everyman” up to my left ear and wiggle it frantically, as if it is a Nervous Nellie caught in a blender, or a Gay Blade resting his rump on a super charged vibrator, every time I speak in its startled, falsetto voice.

I lift my right hand up to my right ear and shape it into the sharp beak of a bird. This is my “Vulture Man,” the scavenger who is toying with “Everyman,” so as to feast on the pieces that are left behind. It is more aggressive, needless to say, as indicated by my husky voice, and the crisp manner in which I snap its beak, whenever I am speaking for it. 

At this moment in my presentation, I had intended to provide a summary of my points thus far. I decide to carry on with this plan as a ventriloquist act.

Vulture Man: Guess what?

Everyman: What?

Vulture Man (taunting): You’re not nearly as good and wholesome as you imagine, your straight pocket protector and zipped trousers notwithstanding. In fact, you’re just a soiled, little bugger, like every one else.

Everyman: Oh No!

Vulture Man: Oh Yes! But you like to think that you’re better, ‘cause you invest your ego in your thoughts, words, and actions.

Everyman: Why?

Vulture Man: Your ego is your survival impulse, and you want to believe, just like the rest of us, that your survivability can outpace the death cloud that is hanging over your head.

Everyman: Wow!

Vulture Man: So you imagine that your thoughts, words, and actions must be “good enough,” if not “better” than the smelly chap in wet tweed that you rub up against in the commuter train every morning. 

Everyman: Wow!

Vulture Man: (lurching closer to Everyman, as if smelling death) But they are not “good enough,” ‘cause the Grim Reaper finds you, in the end. 

Everyman: Oh No!

Vulture Man snatches Everyman’s doughy legs in its beak. 

There is a brief struggle. For a moment, it appears that Vulture Man will be caught up in the same old blender that has been rattling Everyman since its inception in a clump of Play-Doh. 

But Vulture Man wins in the end. The legs fall harmlessly to the stage. A pump hidden behind the sequined glove spits out a red tomato paste that looks uncannily like the blood of a Play-Doh figurine. 

Vulture Man: If you were “good enough,” as you imagine, then you would be “smart enough” to skip out on death. But you were never an “A” student all of the time, nor in all facets of your life, now isn’t that true, you little bugger?

Everyman: Oh No!

Vulture Man snatches Everyman’s right arm. There is not much of a fight this time, though Everyman manages to scream like a ninny entangled in a rose bush. The drama lasts only as long as is necessary for the arm to fall away.

Vulture Man: No one likes to think that his report card is full of “Cs” and “Ds” and that he has failed “Home Economics” altogether. 

Everyman: Wow!

Vulture Man: So guess what?

Everyman: What?

Vulture Man: Unlike the spoiled child on the crowded bus, who is unable to break free from the tension between his free will (his desire for the sword in the overhead compartment) and his fate (his inability to reach the sword), and who thus has no real fighting chance against the Grim Reaper, you are trying to avoid that conflict altogether by imagining yourself to be a good enough “god.”

Everyman: Wow!

Vulture Man: But this also is a psychological strain, ‘cause you’re not any sort of “god,” but just a little, four-eyed bugger who has lost its doughy pisser.

Everyman: Oh No!

Vulture Man: And so you go through great effort to keep alive your “god” fantasy. You imagine that Man, not Mother Earth, not even God, is at the exact center of the universe, even to the point of positing that chance, rather than a God which stands above and apart from Man, underlies the natural universe. Of course, this is a statistically unsupportable conclusion, a leap of blind faith that can “make sense” only to a pot head at a “mass meditation” rally who is totally convinced that his mind can win out over matter at the end. 

Everyman: Wow!

Vulture Man: Yes, it is a groovy thought. You even go so far as to imagine that you are a “god” over nature, that you can deflower old Mother Earth, and then resurrect her sweet virginity, with just a flick of your finger in this or that direction. Right now, you call this “man made global warming,” and you pursue this with a religious zeal unseen since the Inquisition. 

Everyman: Wow!

Vulture Man: But, in the end, it really does not matter how much you are kicking at the pricks, ‘cause you can’t avoid the last big swat to your knockers.

Everyman: Oh No!

Vulture Man snatches Everyman’s torso. 

There is a ghoulish death wail, as Everyman’s square head dislodges from its neck, and its torso is crushed into gooey clumps of dough. Red tomato paste splatters everywhere, even striking the laps of the old shadows in the first row.

Vulture Man squawks triumphantly, while a clumpy stain that used to be Everyman spreads over the edge of the stage and drips into a puddle below. 

I chortle at my own gross act, like a jester discovering an obscene humor in the tingly bells stitched into his own pointy hat. 

No one else laughs. 

For a moment, there is nothing but stony silence, then a morbid groan. 

I sense that, more than anything that I have said earlier, the old shadows are reacting to the doughy blood and guts splattered everywhere. 

Words live in the mind. They can be “interpreted,” made as harmless as the gibberish from a baby, or as powerful as the gibberish from a dictator, by a long nurtured bias, or a sudden, whimsical mental lapse. 

But doughy blood and guts are unimpeachable reminders that we too are headed for the Potter’s Field, no matter which path we may choose to stroll. 

For the hardcore moderates, indeed for most everyone, this stark display is not entertainment, but a “snuff film.” It cannot but inspire the little devils to come out from beneath their soft veneers of open mindedness and decorum. 

So you don’t believe in evolution, one of the shadows heckles. 

I accept that there is natural selection; that survivable traits will win out over non-survivable traits; but I do not believe that everything rests on chance.

And you are an “ape-ist,” another shadow belts.

What? I mutter absently, as I try to reach back for the podium. 

You know, an “ape-ist,” like a racist, or a sexist, or a homophobe-ist…. 

The word is “homophobe,” I interject blankly.

Yeah, that’s right, an “ape-ist,” another shadow joins in. 

What is an “ape-ist” then? I ask incredulously. 

There is a smattering of laughter from among the shadows, which is soon followed by a rising wave of hoots and howls. They have found their identity, a radiant, supernatural face in substitution for their dark, doughy ones, in a new, collective mind that is just now emerging among them. Whether or not there is such a thing as “ape-ism,” they love how it feels to be “in the know,” and even more so how it feels to lord it over someone who is clearly “not in the know.”

We won’t believe you’ve never heard of an “ape-ist,” someone yells out on behalf of the collective. 

There is a chorus somewhere in the back row that screams out: “Amen.”

Yeah, we won’t believe anything, but that you’re a liar, and a deceiver, and some sort of Rascally Republican in sheep’s clothing, another one bellows. 

The chorus is a rabid tide, spewing “amen” as growing waves of derision.

You said that Cain’s wife is an ape. You also said that she’s not human.

Yes, I said that, I respond sheepishly to no one in particular. 

Well, that makes you an “ape-ist,” a bigot, ‘cause you think that an ape is not quite a man, and a man is not quite an ape.

And, even worse, you persist in your selfish bigotry, even with a smile on your face, in spite of our tolerant and diverse opinion to the contrary.

But I am not smiling now, I stammer apologetically.

And to top it all off, you’re a global warming denier.

And a climate change denier, too….

A modern day heretic…a hypocrite…probably even a hemp hater….

Not to mention a Bible thumping hump hater….

The collective laughs. It is an inhuman sound, like a snarling dragon. 

Yeah, that’s right, you’re not one of us.

And that means you’re infringing on our constitutional rights.   

By now, I am crouching behind the podium. I am sputtering awkwardly, a man drunk in his own apprehensions of an impending nightmare. I sense each of the insults snapping in the air just above my head and know that, if I allow any one of them to snap my rosy cheeks, then I shall be knocked cold to the world. 

At the same time, I feel a sense of joy. It is a dark, brooding fear; but it is perversely pleasurable, because it is centered on me. 

Even if only for a few moments, I am the center of this universe (albeit a universe that does not extend beyond a bit of chatter in the lobby). The insults are being directed at me. I am apprehending myimpending nightmare.

I poke my head up from behind the podium. Perhaps, in a way, my brutal joy will be enhanced that much more, if I allow one of those insults to slap me head on. I realize that this is a martyr complex, a masochistic release in a slow and bitter suicide that is willfully confused (and justified to the world at large) as the “asceticism” of a “suffering servant.” 

I indulge anyway. I am an egoist, and pain is the ultimate glorification of the ego. The pompous ass cannot but choose to cry in his own beer after hours.

I wince. The last of the shadows have left. The last insult is a silent hall.

By the time I gather my scholarly notes, and step into the lobby (leaving the senile janitor to clean up what little is left of my Play-Doh figurine and red tomato paste), no one is there. 

Even the sponsors (two jowly, fat women in identical ties and trousers, a Bertha and a Bernice, followed a few steps back by a small puppy dog of a man with a simple clipboard glued to his right hand and a sharpened pencil stitched into the skin above his left ear) cannot be found. 

Perhaps they will need to explain to their governing committee why they thought it suitable for me to lecture in the “Alternative Opinions Series.” 

After all, the governing committee will remind the fatties and the puppy dog in no uncertain words that “alternative opinions” should never be different from (let alone skeptical of) “dominant opinions.” This is especially true, if the “dominant opinions” are also “politically correct opinions.”

I step out from the building. I dream that the entire city is abandoned.

Perhaps there had been a nuclear war or a plague, while I was offending the shadows. Perhaps the Barry Manilow concert had come into town just then.

Regardless, I walk as a god among his ruins. There is nothing left, but my impressions and bigotries, if not in real life, then at least in my surreal dream. 

I step into a coffee shop. 

It is nighttime; but in my dream, coffee shops with warm pastries remain open twenty-four hours. And they never run out of raspberry and cream fillings.

Sliding into my favorite table, I order my usual poisons: a half a dozen of the raspberry and cream pastries, and a “Café Europeo” (half American coffee, half Espresso). I speak in broken Spanish to the chunky chica waitress. I tip well enough, so that she knows to smile and to nod pleasantly to anything I may say.

Normally, I am the Master of My Universe all by myself.

I expect nothing more than a brief indulgence in coffee and sugar, and a sluggish high that will allow me to feel like a “suffering servant” (the heartburn will have to suffice for nails hammered into wrists) well into the night. 

Perhaps the dream will persist long enough, that I am resurrected into a new hall, while giving my lecture. I want to take the insults head on next time. 

Tonight is different. I am not the only customer in the coffee shop. 

I sense her face, when she takes a seat next to mine. I do not look at her features so much as I know intuitively that she has the pointed chin and nose of the Wicked Witch of the West. 

She turns to me with a broad smile. A greasy film over her teeth reaches out from behind her dry gums. It draws my attention to a tussle of spinach that is lodged into a patch of yellow plaque. 

I gaze up from her secret garden and almost fall into her hollow eyes. 

I am mistaken. They are not eyes. They are two dark potholes sinking by the erosion of years into a sallow, creased mud flat.

Her skin is the dust from which she came and to which she is returning. 

It is as if she gave birth to herself and is now, by her own perverse will, pulling herself back down to her own sad grave, a self-fulfilling fate, a free will synonymous with destiny. 

I am looking into the face of a god. It is a haggard face veiled by crimson red strings of Raggedy Ann hair. Her hair flaps over her face, as if she is forever standing with her back to a powerful fan. 

She is in her mid-sixties going on sixteen.

She is wearing the same hippie granny dress that she wore on the corner of Haight and Ashbury during the Summer of Love. 

Something groovy happened one night. It was mind expanding, man, sort of like time stopping and not stopping at the same time. 

In order to preserve “what happened,” she has neither washed nor taken off her hippie granny dress since then. It is “one” with her body, its sun beauty and nature scent interwoven with her skin folds.

But she has added many bright layers, groovy scarves and crystal beads, so she is not the image of herself from forty-five years ago. In fact, she is never any one particular image, but a kaleidoscope of mismatched fabrics hanging on a scarecrow body.

She is Frieda Kahlo twirling inside of a closet, taking on another radiated adornment with each rotation.

Incongruously, she is carrying a Dolce and Gabbana purse. She must have done well somewhere along the way, or taken up with a Florentine who pays all of her bills at the end of each month. Either way, with the chic leather bag and tassel in hand, she is the image of the self-consciously successful surrealist, the hippie who indulges herself as much a commercial brand as a free spirit. 

She is a dream, every moment a stroke of brash color perverting the soft shade and texture of another. The purse is the expression of irony, the strange, capitalistic wiggle tossed into a painting of rainbow colored sand dunes. 

A nickel for your thoughts, she cackles. 

Apparently, that is all my thoughts are worth, as I unload everything in a few bites of my raspberry and cream pastry.

By the time I finish, and take another bite, I know deep down that I have unveiled my whole world in front of the living dead, the oracle of our times, an ancient wisdom encapsulated completely inside of a fortune cookie. 

She studies my unfinished pastries and “Café Europeo,” like she is a sage reading tealeaves. 

You know, you are not consuming any calories, she informs me. 

You mean “good” calories….

No. Any calories. There is nothing real there, nor anywhere else. 

I do not understand….

Do not. Just feel, and know, and be still. 

She takes my free hand into hers. She smiles warmly. Her cheeks crinkle, like she is my long lost grandmother sitting beside her wood-burning stove. 

You will have many happy sunrises, and few sad nights, if you just listen, just listen, to the whole world chirping joyfully in your heart, she sings to me.

Apparently, that is the fortune cookie oracle meant for me. I am clueless of the meaning. I also vaguely sense, somewhere in my passions, rather than in my mind, that what is real is not the meaning of words, but the moments which they create. It is as if everything under the sun is contained in a Hallmark card.

What a bunch on Gnostic nonsense, my mind responds to my passions. 

But I snuff out that thought. I just want to be groovy for a while. 

Life is Hard, then You Die

Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 (KJV)

By the time we step out from the coffee shop, and stumble absently into a cobblestone alleyway, I am halfway in love with this strange bird. 

Actually, I am not particularly fond of her. She is repulsive sensually (the Haight-Ashbury scent oozes out from every fiber, like a ghostly slap from inside a breathing grave), and she lilts her voice as if every word is a fragile flower, a musical composition of sappy, happy rose petals that, if not cherished each and every one, will fall from the stem and be smothered underfoot.

But I am halfway in love (and totally smitten, as if reliving a “first crush” on a dreamy night that may or may not blossom fully) with what she embodies.

She is a Gnostic. She is everything that we want, even when we convince ourselves that we are living for noble ends, like God, or Truth, or the American Way. She is also the last, stiff drink, before we slink into our Plymouth Wagons, roll down the driver side window for air and exhaust, and careen off the cliff at its highest point. We are thinking of her, when our heads split open.

As much as I am swooning, I also realize that this is a teachable moment.

I imagine that I am back in the hall. My notes are laid out on the podium (the swish with the sweaty mustache putting another glass of water, and a mint chocolate, just out of view), and the fatties in their matching ties and trousers (the puppy dog man nearby, as always, but off stage) have introduced me. 

There is a rapturous applause. Everyone wants to be there, just to listen to my words of wisdom. No one is there on the mistaken impression that I am a warm-up act for the Barry Manilow concert. 

I hold up my hands to settle down their enthusiasm. I nod with a genteel reserve, as if I am the Great Man who comes down from the Very Holy of Holies (my modern suit observed as if it is Moses’ hooded robe) to articulate the grand pooh-bah knowledge that will set them free. 

We remember why we are here, I remark, after the applause dies down.

There is another round. I hold up my hands, and nod “aw shucks,” but it takes a longer time to subdue the shadows. 

I sense that, even though they are there for the truth, they are dreading what I am about to say. The applause is as much an attempt to delay my future comments, as it is a loud acknowledgment and praise of my Great Man Status.  

Finally, the shadows beyond the fourth wall take their seats. I sip from a glass of water, so as to allow the silence to linger poignantly. I add just a touch of academic pretense (clearing my throat), and then launch into my comments:

We are here, because we have lost something. The dusty theologians say that we have “lost” the Garden of Eden, the primordial innocence of life in the clean morning dew, the intimate closeness with God (and with each other) that allows us to remain deaf to the disharmonies in the musical score of a sunrise.

That is an important point. The sour notes always have been there.

It is just that, at first, we were blissfully ignorant of them.

It is as if the Great Composer deliberately pens the wrong notes (at first, unheard, then tinny annoyances to the ear, then skin crawling screeches) into a score that, in every other respect, has been perfectly tailored to our senses. 

Otherwise, it makes no sense that Eden includes before the fall (that is, before Adam and Eve introduce sin and death into the world, by violating God’s commandment) the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. 

Does not the very existence of that tree presuppose that, in the created universe, there is already goodness and evil of which knowledge is possible?  

How can there be evil if Adam and Eve have not yet sinned, unless it has been written into creation? 

And how is this possible, when the all-knowing God beholds the created universe and says that it is “good,” unless it is good somehow that there be evil in the world? 

God creates Man as an innocent. And yet God places Man beside the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; causes that tree to be more beautiful in the mind of Man than any of the others; and then tells Man never to eat of its fruit.

Is it not possible that God is setting up Man for his fall into sin?

This is like a father (not any father, mind you, but a father who is totally good and all-knowing) putting his son in a playroom; putting the most beautiful and desirable toy in the middle of this playroom; and then telling his son not to play with this toy, when he is out of sight. 

Is he serious? Is an all-knowing father so lacking in judgment as to think that he will not stumble upon his son playing with the toy? 

In fact, it is good that we have been banished from the Garden of Eden.

An innocent has no moral character. He may think, say, or do something that we regard as “good;” but we do not say, “he is good,” because we realize that, as an innocent, he cannot knowingly and willfully choose to do evil. 

An innocent is a dog happily wagging his tale, or leaping onto our laps to lick our faces. Even if he does something a bit naughty (peeing on us, while still licking our faces), we may be angry enough to scold him, putting him down and telling him that he is “muy malo,” but we do not think of him as “immoral.”

This is why we love our dog. We reinforce behaviors with which we may approve by telling him that they are “good.” But we do not seriously consider him to be “morally good,” in the same manner as a man may be morally good.

On the other hand, Man has moral character. He not only may think, say, or do something that we regard as “good.” He himself may be good (maybe not “good enough,” as I have argued, but nevertheless in a manner that we realize is “moral” in character), because he is very much capable of being evil. 

Because Man has moral character (which is to say, man has a free, moral choice in every moment of his life), he is capable of love. A man who sacrifices himself (his time, his talents, his concerns, even his life) for some other person (or nation, or principle), but who is forced to do so, is not acting out of love. A man who does the same sacrifice, and who is totally free not to do so, is acting out of love. We have fallen far from the glory of God, since being kicked out of the Garden of Eden, but we have gained so much more than we have lost: first, the capacity for wisdom, then the capacity to love. 

As a side note, we realize that dogs are not “moral” in the same sense a man may be moral (even though, unless grossly mistreated, most dogs are more loyal, kind, and affectionate than their owners); and yet they love us (and also the members of their own pack) in a selfless way, that cannot but remind us of how little we love in comparison. How is this possible? Could it be that, in spite of the “sour notes” written into the created universe (which allowed Adam and Eve to be freed from their innocence), there remains a superabundance of love in all of creation that is reflective of the Creator? Perhaps the selfless love of a dog is a living signature of the Creator, a reminder that, as much as we humans had to free ourselves from our primordial innocence, in order to have the moral capacity to love, the highest love is a selflessness way beyond the moral choice with which we are familiar. Dogs remind us that, while we can love, we remain far from loving in the unconditional way that our Creator loves. 

So much of our greatest literature, our odes before heading off into war, our lullabies before closing our eyes in sleep, has been an attempt in poetry or prose to articulate “the meaning of life.” No one in fiction, or in real life, ever quite grasps it, which is why we have the tragic hero and the comic fool (really one and the same character). And yet no one avoids for very long the question: What is the meaning of life? Why am I here? What really is Donald Trump’s hair?

The Genesis myth provides the answer: the meaning of life is to love and to learn to love better. Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden. It is only then, in taking their first sad steps on a baked soil, in eating their bread in the sweat of their brow, that they learn to love. 

They learn to love from necessity. How can they bare the mental anguish of losing the Garden of Eden, let alone the physical hardships tossed in front of their path, unless they are giving themselves to one another? 

They fall further and further from the face of God. Sin seems to offer for them “a way out,” even if only for a moment. Its consequence is to make their ordeal worse. Another sin seems to offer for them “a way out,” even if only for a moment. Its consequence is to make their ordeal even worse. They have been able to learn to love, but not well enough to defeat the Siren call of a new sin.

Like the loss of Eden, this cycle of escape and capture is also good. 

It is teaching them that they must learn to love better. They may not be listening to this lesson, but it is seeping into their hard hearts. The result is the inchoate sense that the world is just “not right” and that somehow there “must be a better way.” They are being prepared for the onslaught of divine love, the light finally to be turned on in the darkness, the cycle to be ended for all time.

When this happens, they will have the chance to love better.

They will be able to hear the Siren call, but they will be able to ignore it as just a bit of nonsense floating about in a breeze. 

But, until then, the cycle of escape and capture, the preparation for the coming of the light by which they will be set free for all time, is experienced as a terrible burden. It is as if they are writhing in a curse, a death fate slithering around and then smothering the last bit of breath from their free will. 

A flame in Hell is the love of God, as endured by those who reject Him.

A flame in Heaven is the love of God, as sensed by those who seek Him. 

For Adam and Eve, and so for all of us, the cycle of escape and capture, the longing that is never quite consummated, the plastic sword in the overhead compartment that is never quite reached, is as if a flame in Hell.

In our minds, we are not being purified so much as we are being scalded.

Learning to love better is a tough business. We are not at all certain that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. 

Like the Israelites complaining to Moses, we want to go back from where we came. We had been slaves to innocence in the Garden of Eden (just as the Israelites had been slaves to Pharaoh). But at least there our tummies had been warm and full; our tongues had been soothed in a sweet breast milk; our minds had been uncluttered by divisive, hard words; and our simple spirits, no more substantial than airy clouds, had been blissfully ignorant of love lost.  

Instead of focusing on what we have achieved as a result of escaping the Garden of Eden (the capacity for wisdom, the capacity to love), we focus on all that we have “lost.” We bathe in a kind of spiritual infantilism, which attempts in vain to wash away those indications of maturity that we find so ugly or hard. 

So much literature, mythology, and religion, regardless of the culture or the time, share this focus on an idealized past: reclaiming a love lost; finding a fountain of youth; honoring our ancestors; resurrecting our “good old days.”

We are told that, if we want to enter into the Kingdom of God, then we need to approach the pearly gates as if “children;” that “children are closer to God;” that the womb is a warm and cozy place, in comparison to the big world in which we are easily lost. Our eyes needs to be turned backward, if we are to avoid seeing the open grave that is in front of us. 

This is the easy route, to be sure. And, in a way, it seems more intuitive.

We are our egos. Our ego is our survival impulse. It is easier to survive if we encounter less rather than more adversity. What is more intuitive than that?

But this means a “survival” that consists of having our moral sensibilities lobotomized, our intelligence simplified, and our physical body (which reminds us of our mortality, simply by decaying over time) pushed aside as if irrelevant.

Consider H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. Our hero, an English gentleman scientist named the “Time Traveler,” invents a contraption that sends him into the year 802,701 A.D. He goes to a far off time, but he is reminded of his own. 

In that distant future, he learns that men (known as the Eloi) have been reduced by their sheer lack of curiosity and discipline into a harmless breed of child-like mutes. They are happy simpletons, much like our present day images of the “happy camper” teepee dweller; or pot smoking, groovy artist “chanting for peace” at Burning Man; or San Francisco Democrat voter.   

These children are being harvested as livestock for the Morlocks, a savvy and industrious race of ape-like troglodytes living underground. They think that they are free men, living out their simple lives in a narcissistic paradise. But, in fact, they are beaten cattle, their free will an illusion to keep them tame. 

We want to be the Eloi. We want to trade off the strain of life, in return for the simple pleasures of cattle ignorantly waiting around to be butchered.

We wrap this passion in a lot of artistic and mythical gloss (“finding a joy in the inner child”), but at heart it is just an attempt to forget that life is hard.

This old passion has inspired its own philosophy. It is called Gnosticism.  

What’s the Matter with Matter?

Which say to the seers, see not; and to the prophets, prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things…. Isaiah 30:10 (KJV)

Shadows spring up from their seats in another round of applause, as if an unseen force is catapulting them from the primordial mud flats to the Heavens, without allowing them to be touched by the space and time in between. I sense that I am on the other side of the pearly gates, smiling as a smug professor who has the training and the tenure to decide which shadow may be admitted to my classroom. I feel warm and gooey, since most of them will never make the cut, and the few who do will never see the Heavenly Lights as clearly as I see them.

There is a chorus of “bravos” every time I stare into the simple eyes of a doughy shadow and indicate his failure with a downward turn of my thumb. 

The trapdoor beneath his feet opens; and he wails like a tortured cat, as he falls to a stinky swamp somewhere far below us. He has dematerialized into a few clunky strands of protein, by the time he splashes into the algae. 

There is no telling how he will evolve the next time. Regardless, at some point, he will be right back in front of me; and I will be, once again, reminding him that he just does not have the smarts to be with the big boys. 

When the last bit of dough settles beneath the sink, I look over my little band of brothers. There are twelve of them. I shall be the thirteenth, the smug and sublime “unlucky number,” if any one of them should get out of line. 

We are about to ascend into the Heavenly Lights, when a sprinkle of rain stops us in our tracks.

The rain is soon a downpour, so we seek refuge in an airy cloud. 

But clouds do not make good roofs, and we find that we are as wet there as anywhere else. 

The twelve mumble, Is this really the Heaven for which we have been so smugly studying all of our lives? Is this the High and Mighty Truth, which we had the satisfaction of holding over the heads of everyone else? Is this our reward?

Before I can answer, I realize that the twelve have left me. 

There is another professor smiling broadly at yet another pearly gate. He is no more than three clouds to the left, a few seconds of travel in the wind up here. He seems to have attracted an especially long line of shadows (including, soon enough, my twelve). He must be offering a “better” Heaven at a discount, like so many of the newbie profs peddling in ethnic studies and basket weaving.

I crawl out from my airy cloud to give this newbie a piece of my mind. It is my right, not his, to be condemning shadows back into the mud flats. It is my right, not his, to be lording it over those few who make the cut.

As soon as I finish this thought, the downpour increases into a waterfall, a bellow of heavenly cascades beating me into one of my own trapdoors.

I am incensed. One of those damned archangels is peeing in my direction again. Or maybe God Himself is shoving me around for sport. 

Just before I fall through the trapdoor, I manage to turn my face (not an easy task, given the strength of the waterfall pushing down upon my hood) and to address the Highest of the Heavenly Lights: 

God, what right do you have to be denying me my rights? If you were the Good God that you claim, then you would invite me to take your throne, rather than shove me back with the smelly old commoners. 

There is a response. But I sense that it is originating from within my own mind, rather than from the Highest of the Heavenly Lights.

Or perhaps my mind is the same as the Highest of the Heavenly Lights.

Regardless, the response is at once a frightening and an inspiring oracle, like a wind unleashed from before time. Like any oracle, it seems otherworldly, and grandly important, precisely because it is enshrouded by its own mysteries. It cannot be totally understood, let alone transcribed.

Its impact is more important than its literal meaning. It may be the cry of a baby or the rant of a demagogue. But, in essence, the grand oracle replies:

If you were as spiritual as you claim, then my little waterfall would flow harmlessly through you. But you are not. Let’s face it: you are as much pimpled skin and thinned bones as the rest of them. 

And with that, I vanish through the trapdoor. I scream and paw at the air about me, like the shadows that I used to condemn with a flick of my thumb. 

The primordial mud flats are soon coming into view. I vaguely sense that I am dematerializing into clunky strands of protein. 

But I determine in my own mind (what is left of it) that even if I need to bathe in the smelly swamps with the other shadows for a few billion years, I am going to set up a little classroom of my own, among the algae and the amoeba.

Are you okay? She asks in a voice that is so sweetly contrived that it is all but impossible to tell if she is genuinely concerned, or if she is a nymph tossing a rose petal into a pond in a John William Waterhouse dream. 

I had stumbled on the wet cobblestones and fallen face first into a slimy puddle off to the side. I am not injured, so much as humiliated, which is worse.

I feel a sprinkle of rain pushing down against my back. It is strengthening enough for me to realize that I had not stumbled so much as I had been shoved by Mother Nature herself into this damned puddle.

Now, I am more than humiliated; I am incensed. I choke on the mud, and cry aloud: Mother Nature, what right do you have to be denying me my rights?

Are you okay? She repeats, kneeling down by my side.  

I refuse her hand. I am quite capable of picking myself up, thank you.

Returning to my feet, I dash under an antique light pole. It provides only a dim, grey light, just enough to ensnare the baroque facades and wrought iron balcony railings for a half a block in either direction in a ghostly hue. 

It is as if, by the subtle tricks of color and light, I am flailing in a twilight area, lost somewhere between Dickens’ foppish, Victorian London and Zapata’s revolutionary Mexico (much like my ghost hippie friend clutching her Dolce and Gabbana bag, incongruent at first but then seamless, when realized in a certain dim light and after a tawdry affair with half a dozen pastries). 

But I have discovered from similar such incidents that, if I stand directly underneath the bulb (hugging the light pole like a pole dancer), then I am able to get just enough light to scrape the clunky adobe off of my Brioni suit jacket.

I continue down the path, as if nothing has happened. 

Steely indifference is a manly trait, after all (although it is a manly trait, not so much because it implies a silent courage, but because it is oxymoronic).

By the time we have reached the next corner, it is clear that I have been physically injured. I try not to hobble, but my right knee is throbbing like a girl losing her virginity (not sure what this is at the moment, but dimly sensing that it is as uncomfortable now as it is going to be forgettable later). 

Do you want my hand? She asks, while hugging the corner light pole as if a flowery girl playing hide and go seek. It is not clear if she is hiding or seeking.

I do not respond, but this just gives her a license to twirl about the pole.

Soon enough, she has devised a new game. She is a girl dancing in an old lady’s dress and boots; or she is an old lady dancing in a girl’s dress and boots; or, she suggests with a child-like cackle, maybe it is neither. 

I am convinced that she is a freaking nut. In a way, that makes her much more appealing, even strangely sexy. 

I offer her my hand. I am tired of being in pain. I am tired of being tired, and she is offering me a soft and easy out. 

Together, we walk hand in hand toward her casa. 

I identify her casa in my mind, long before we turn the last corner. I just need to wallow in everything groovy, and to set my reason aside, to accomplish the feats of a chain smoking palm reader. 

I was a chain smoking palm reader in my past life, I mutter. 

I have never thought of “past lives” before and am not even certain now that “past lives” really exist. But I am vaguely sensing that, even if they do not exist, we need to pretend that they do, in order to affirm our divinity (since, of course, a god does not die, but just skips over from a tired life to a new one). 

I am a god. I am also a rock, and a rolling stone…. 

She is fostering this self-awareness, without so much as saying a word or even looking into my eyes. It is enough that we are holding hands and that I am more inclined to a sedative than the truth. 

By the time we reach the casa, I do not feel any pain. I do not feel that I have a body, or that I am contained in a particular time or place.

I am back up there in the airy clouds, setting up shop at one of the many pearly gates, imagining all of the shadows that I am going to push back into the swamp. I am also twirling about the light pole, laughing timelessly, and playing hide and go seek with my newest and oldest friend. 

And I am back at the podium, holding up my hand to urge the shadows to retake their seats, nodding “aw shucks” like a Ronald Reagan bobble head doll. 

I bask in the applause; but I look over my notes, as if more committed to the truth, than to the accolades being poured all over me.

It takes a while, but the applause finally recedes, like a low tide.

There is a fey shimmer beyond the fourth wall, as the shadows are much too tired from their cheer to do anything more than breeze into their seats.

I clear my throat again and then continue:

So what is this Gnosticism?

First, let me tell you what it is not. It is not agnosticism.

Agnosticism is the view that we cannot know whether God exists. The dour, gnomish philosophers (who are often implacable adversaries of the dusty, old theologians, except that they both share the same fate of never being able to kiss the pretty blonds under the bleachers) further define agnosticism as the view that knowledge of “first principles” (the unseen foundation of what exists in the observable universe) is intrinsically uncertain. We can only know for sure what we can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. Since, by definition, God is not limited to what can be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched, we cannot be sure of His existence (any statement to the contrary is a mental trick, or a wish in place of a sound judgment, or a hoax being pursued for self-advancement).

Agnosticism puts all of its trust in what we can know from our senses. It says that knowledge is attainable in the sensible world, but never certain if the starting point of the inquiry is an abstract proposition or reality. 

Gnosticism is the opposite. 

Gnosticism is the view that we can never really be sure of anything that is observed in the sensible world. The sensible world is always in a state of flux and, therefore, is “in process” or “indefinite,” in any particular time or place.

The past is moving into the future; the clean into the eroded, the simple into the complex, then back into the simple. Even what we think is immovable, like a giant boulder that has been in the same place for millions of years, is not able “to stand still.” It is “changing” in age with every passing millisecond. It is eroding (however imperceptibly) back into the dust from which it came. It is no different than a moving stream, except that its movement is much slower. As a result, we imagine it to be stationery, when in fact it is (like everything else in the observable universe) “in motion.” 

For the Gnostics, what is “true” is entirely “immovable” (not progressing from the past into the future; not eroding over time; not growing healthier, on the one hand, nor sicker, on the other; not growing more complex, on the one hand, nor simpler, on the other).  

Anything that is “in motion,” in the abstract sense of “motion” as stated here (“moving” as in progressing from the past into the future; declining from a purer into an eroded condition; changing in its structural, mental, or emotional complexity, or in the complexity of its relationship with other beings or things), conversely, is “less true.” If it is “in motion” from one state to another, then it is because it is “lacking” the “truthfulness” of that other state. 

As an example, something that is in chronological time is, in the present, “lacking” the condition of being in the future. A newborn baby then “lacks” the condition of being an old man.

Whatever is “true” cannot be “lacking” in anything. Therefore, it cannot be “in motion” to acquire what it is “lacking” (older age, further erosion, more or less health). Therefore, it cannot be part of the natural universe, which is to say cannot be sensual or perceivable by the senses, since everything sensual, or perceivable by the senses, is in chronological time and occupies space (even, as we theorize, the ersatz time and space that characterizes wave particles in the quantum universe). Therefore, it must be wholly “spiritual,” which is to say not at all sensual, nor perceivable by the senses, and only dimly understood by the abstract mind (and, even then, only by the elite few who have been “gifted” to understand and to internalize into their own lives these “spiritual truths”). 

The polar opposite of the “spiritual” is the “material.” Everything in the natural universe is a combination of “spiritual” (true) and “material” (not true) characteristics and conditions.  

If something is purely “spiritual,” then it is not going to be found in the natural universe, for the reasons stated. If something is purely “material,” then by definition it is “lacking” everything (since, logically, “lacking” everything is the polar opposite of “lacking” nothing), including even the fact of existence in the natural universe (or, for that matter, any other conceivable universe). It is logical, thus, to conclude that everything in the natural universe is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, between the “spiritual” on the one side and the “material” on the other.  

Remember the example of the partially ripe fruit. It is partially good (all of the ripe portions) and partially evil (all of the rotten portions). Because it is a mixture of both conditions, it is “evil” (which is to say, “not good enough” to be what it is created to be, namely fruit that is equally edible and delicious). It is not “good enough,” until all the “evil” portions are cut off from the “good.”

The connotation is that everything should be “spiritual.” 

To the extent it has “degraded” from its “true” character and condition (the fruit that is ripe “degrades” into being partially rotten), it is “material.”  

For the Gnostics, what is “true” is “good,” and what is “not true” is “not good.” This is the extent of their moral vision. It is appealing, not so much as a result of its underlying truthfulness, but because of its underlying simplicity. 

Everything in the natural universe is a combination of the “spiritual” and the “material.” Therefore, everything in the natural universe is a combination of “good” and “not good.” Therefore, everything in the natural universe is “not good,” which is to say, depending upon the peculiar disposition of the man who is making the moral judgment, is either “evil” or at the very least “irrelevant.”

Consider how this philosophy, if adopted as a way of life, allows for each and every moment in the life of a Gnostic to be a potential “God Moment” (not in actuality, but in his own mind, which in his opinion is even better). 

First, the Gnostic need not by bound by nature.

He senses that his own abstract mind is closer to the “spiritual life” than anything else in the natural universe. It is able to unleash, after all, the stellar feats and the petty whims of an imagination unrestrained by the Natural or the Moral Laws that seem to define the natural universe. He senses, therefore, that he is, in a profound way, “truer” and “better” than the natural universe.

He is not totally “true,” because he inhabits a physical body, one that is decaying over time, and eventually will return to the dust from which it came. 

Nevertheless, he is “truer” than everything else in the natural universe, because he alone is capable of abstract thought. 

He may be especially fond of nature (toiling tirelessly to stop man made global warming, to protect the rainforest, or to shut down “big oil” companies, all in the name of “saving” Mother Earth), but he is not limited by nature. 

As an example, he is naturally born a male; but he is not limited by what nature has conceived. By the application of medical technologies conceived by his abstract mind (and the abstract mind of others similarly “open minded”) he can “change” his sex and become female. 

What matters is that, in his own mind, he is female. Therefore, his mind must prevail. He must be allowed the “triumph of his will” (a reference to the 1935 Leni Riefenstahl documentary that idolizes Adolf Hitler in the context of a Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, since Adolf Hitler is the clearest example of a Gnostic obsessed with his own peculiar “God Moments”). 

And, while he inhabits still his physical body, and therefore can never be “freed” from it entirely so long as he remains alive, he alone is able to become more “spiritual,” while the rest of nature is what it is. He can do this by simply “opening his mind” to the “god” waiting to be unleashed within him. 

We see this all the time. Fewer people today call themselves “religious.” After all, religions impose “their” doctrine; “their” discipline; “their” morality, like nature imposing her “Natural and Moral Laws.”

But a growing chorus of people call themselves “spiritual.” After all, if a person is “spiritual,” then he is in the process of “self-discovery,” his own pure and private “god” radiating out as a light from within his own Chakras, and any creed or moral law that he may follow will be entirely of his own imagination.

Secondly, the Gnostic may judge nature. 

There is a scene in Genesis, where God has finished creating the Garden of Eden and has placed Adam at the center of its majestic beauty. He gives His newest and most precious creation the authority to “name” all of the creatures sharing in paradise with him. 

In ancient Hebrew, “to name” means “to impart ones legacy.” Thus, God is allowing Adam to impart his legacy upon the rest of creation. As Adam falls, so does the rest of creation fall. As Adam dies, so does the rest of creation die. 

Animals and plants are morally blameless. 

But glimpse briefly at the contorted road kill on the side of the road (or, as West Virginians would say, glimpse briefly at dinner), or hand over your sick, four legged child to be euthanized, and it is clear that animals and plants die. 

They die, because they are tied into the legacy of Adam; and the legacy of Adam is death. Sometimes the death is pointless (a tiny critter that happens to be snagged by a misfired rifle). Sometimes the death is intended (a big buck that lands in the middle of the crosshairs). Sometimes the death is necessary (a fish reeled up by a starving man who is lost at sea). It is always unavoidable. 

The Gnostic remembers this mythical account, but he removes God from the equation. Man, therefore, does not have this authority in virtue of God. He has it in virtue of himself. He, therefore, not only imparts his legacy; he judges the rest of nature, by the extent to which she conforms to what he imagines his legacy to be at any given time. 

As an example, a man not only imagines himself female. He “judges” the natural universe to be “wrong” in not having conceived him as female. He puts nature in the stockade, inserts his instruments of torture (or, more likely, hires a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon to do the “dirty work”), and defaces her, until in some fashion she resembles the female form. Mother Nature will bend, if she is getting out of line, because such is the sad lot of a prisoner of the human will. 

If we may return to the spoiled child on a crowded bus, then the Gnostic is the child tossing his baby mama out the window. His free will is now the fate hanging over nature. And he can grab his plastic sword whenever he wants. 

Third, the Gnostic may be a condescending bore. 

The Gnostic knows that his imagination is more “spiritual” than anything else. Its flights of fancy are “truer” and “better” than those “Natural and Moral Laws” that prevail over the natural universe. 

There is a recent study that says that babies, as early as six months from the womb, start to discriminate between people who share the same racial and ethnic identifiers as themselves versus people who do not share the same racial and ethnic identifiers as themselves. Specifically, with respect to the former, they are more attentive, more likely to emulate, and more likely to bond. 

One of the researchers comments that this is “bad.” We need to work on finding a way to “overcome” this natural tendency toward discrimination, even if it means genetic manipulation inside the womb, the researcher concludes. 

Certainly, reasonable men will agree that racism is evil. 

Does that mean that we have the authority, indeed the moral obligation, to judge nature as “bad” and to alter her into conforming to our sensibilities of what is “good,” in the issue of race discrimination, or anything else? 

In a smug, professorial voice, the Gnostic will answer, yes. 

And if we may judge nature, then we may judge one another. 

After all, the Gnostic knows that he is more “spiritual” than the animal, or the plant. He may indulge in Mother Earth worship for a while, if he happens to fancy pagan rites (groovy dances around campfires, promiscuous romps with English Majors, tossing buckets of red ink at Republicans wearing fur coats), but he reserves the right to judge her (a slap in the face, when she tries to tell him that he cannot do something new and fashionable, like marry his boyfriend). 

If he is more “spiritual” than the natural universe, then he suspects that he is more “spiritual” than the slob in hot pants sitting next to him on the early morning bus. Whether he is or not, he is going to judge the slob in hot pants to be less “spiritual,” lest the slob in hot pants ever try to interfere with his will.

Therefore, if the slob in hot pants ever gets in his way (as an example, if he joins with nature to say that he cannot marry his boyfriend), then he will be “justified” in pushing him down from the Heavens to the primordial pond scum. 

This is the real heart of Gnosticism. 

It is an approach toward life, which allows each and every one of us, no matter our background, to imagine that we are gods. 

Once we accept that we are gods, we imagine that we may return to the Garden of Eden (however we may conceive of it). We may be blissfully ignorant in an innocence of our own devise, able to encapsulate all the “highest truths” in the bumper stickers we display on our Volvos. 

We may escape the clutches of fate, just by dreaming that our free will (whether ours be the will to live in “peace and harmony” with all of the “naked squirrels, and birds, and clouds,” or the will to live in “peace and harmony” by killing off all of the Jews and other “undesirable creeds and races”) is able to subdue any fate that is not springing up from our own imagination. 

It is like “free will” is a prisoner; “fate” is the prison bars; and all of the prison bars just melt away, when the prisoner decides we wants to roam about the countryside and play for a while. If his “play” consists of feeding the simple ducks by a pond, then that is his “innocence,” in which as a “god” he is free to indulge. If his “play” consists of raping and pillaging the “less spiritual” (and he “knows” who is “less spiritual,” it is pretty much every one else who may cross his path), then that is his “innocence,” in which as a “god” he is just as free to indulge. Either way, as soon as he is freed from that prison, he ceases to be a man. He is a boy in a beanie, or a boy behaving badly.

When we are “Masters of Our Own Universe,” we are free to be and to act, as we want; and anything that may get in the way is simply an irrelevancy, the outmoded morality or ethics of a time when men did not realize that they were gods, deserving of nothing but our laughter and condemnation. 

Therefore, as much as life has been made easier for us, we are justified in making life harder for every one else, especially if we view them as “getting in the way,” or as not “meeting our standards,” the standards of a child god. 

Knowledge is Power

The way of life is above to the wise; that he may depart from the hell beneath. Proverbs 15:24 (KJV)

I am bliss, while the rain pours over my Brioni suit jacket, and my friend, the Gnostic Without a Name, fumbles through her Dolce and Gabbana bag for a key. It is a perverse sense, discomforting in its intensity, equally mind numbing and mind expanding, as if I am the one incarnation of every mob that has every snatched a boy from his bed and torn off his limbs in the town square.

I am a bloody, exhilarating mess. 

I cannot drink enough of myself, as I squirm my tongue against the inside of my right cheek, rhythmically nodding my head back and forth, somewhere in a red light memory or a late night dream. 

A baby mama claps down the cobblestone sidewalk in high heels. She is a native (indicated by the ease with which she maneuvers across the jagged, wet rocks and slimy divots, what we call “infrastructure,” at first with a sly smile on our Gringo faces, then in all seriousness, this far south of the border). She is clutching her ticket to poverty, a crying baby wrapped in a blanket. 

I stare at her rear end. It is hard not to stare. Her bubble butt is literally popping through her tight jeans, a firecracker snap with every sway of her hips.

Just another chica in denim, probably her only pair, I crack. 

Somewhere in my mind, I am standing again at my pearly gate. I look up from my golden ledger and set my quill to the side. 

I smirk. I see no point in even questioning the next one in line. Frankly, I am insulted that she has imagined herself worthy even to approach me. 

She’s just another chica in denim, probably her only pair, clutching even now her poverty ticket, I think to myself, while flipping my thumb downward. 

She does not even bother to scream, when the trapdoor opens. Perhaps, in a way, she has known all along that she is destined for the pond scum. 

I snap back from my deliciously demented fantasy.

I think this way, when I am dabbling in Gnosticism.

So does every one else who plays this game. 

After all, a Gnostic “knows” that very few people are “spiritual,” even if in virtue of our capacity for abstract thinking, every person theoretically should be able to lift himself up from his “imprisonment” in a “material” body (and an equally “material” frame of reference). Most people never indulge in the “finer pursuits of the mind,” with which they may become more “spiritual.”

But the same Gnostic also “knows” that he is one of the very few people who are “spiritual” (just as the Calvinist “knows” that very few are predestined for salvation, but he is certainly one of those very few). 

For a Gnostic, it is especially easy (an indication indeed of his enhanced powers of discernment) to relegate the baby mamas south of the border to the trapdoor. Every time one of them breaths (her tits nearly erupting out from her low cut sweater, her butt popping off kernels of corn, as she wanders aimlessly by a stalk ready to be harvested), she is reminding any one who may be passing by that she is the menstrual cycle incarnate, a baby making bit of flesh, oozing in hormones and blood that are only partially obscured by her cheap MAC blush.

She is fate, where the Gnostic is free will. She is the cycle of the natural universe, the Natural and Moral Laws in effect to conceive and to raise a ticket to poverty, where the Gnostic transcends the cycle of the natural universe, the Natural and Moral Laws left behind as quaint irrelevancies in comparison to the bits of grandeur and folly that play about in his imagination. 

She is “material,” as are all women and most men. He is “spiritual,” and he loves his opportunities to remind every one else (and himself) of his “higher station” in the order of things. 

The Gnostic Without a Name is a giggling child, as she tries to insert one key after another. She is also a humpbacked witch slithering her open eye a bit closer to the keyhole with each new attempt. 

In this little patch of central Mexico, the exterior is always a nondescript adobe wall broken by a wooden door. There is a mail slot in the bottom half of the thick slab (marked “correo,” even though its purpose is obvious enough). 

The beauty is what waits inside: often a garden and a fountain adorning a courtyard that sits in between the exterior door and the casa.

If the courtyard is in the traditional, Mexican style, then there will be an overabundance of gaudy colors, streams in yellow and orange interlacing with a mess of bougainvillea. The Regina del Cielo will be surrounded by a plethora of smiling suns and dreamy moons fashioned from terracotta. There will be skulls, bones rattling in a burning incense, a strange brew of Roman Catholic piety and indigenous shamanism, like looking at a Frieda Kahlo skirt during an acid trip. 

If the courtyard is more sophisticated, then all of the elements above, in one form or another, will be there; but they will be understated. There will be a preponderance of neutral colors, though some yellow and orange will remain to spruce up an otherwise dull affair. The Regina del Cielo will remain (perhaps smaller and less conspicuous), but much of her entourage will be gone. None of the “Día de los Muertos” icons will be there; they are just too ghoulishly Indian for the sophisticated taste. It will be essentially an English garden with only the barest hints of being south of the border.

Part of the fun is wondering which style will emerge, when the thick slab is finally unlocked and pushed open. They are as different from one another, as the female from the male; the heart from the mind; the fate leaving her scents in nature, only subtly perceptible, but always there, from the free will erupting out from a man, garish for a moment, then replaced by another eruption at the pearly gate three clouds to the left. 

As I observe my friend fumbling for the key, I pretend that the courtyard on the other side is not yet formed. It will assume one style or the other, based on which key manages to unlock the thick slab. 

The key is the Word, the same divine logos encapsulated in shaped brass, which when uttered before time had created the Heavens and the Earth. It has a grand and noble history, to be sure. But in our minds, it has been downgraded into a bit of brass, easily lost in a leather bag, and a simple twist of the wrist.

This is what we Gnostic Gods do: we take the high and mighty, even the Word of God, and tear them down, carving out a new space for our old dreams. 

She unlocks the door. She looks back at me, and cackles like a witch who has just sprinkled the last handful of herb into her steamy cauldron. 

I step out from my own thoughts long enough to return her smile.

She shoves the door open with her left shoulder. It opens with a haunted house creak, followed by a long fart of thick, green smoke escaping from inside the courtyard. 

It is then that I notice that she has a ceiling over her courtyard.

The courtyard floor is slanted upward, subtly at first, but then at enough of an angle to suggest the base of a mountain. This creates the illusion that the ceiling is compressing downward. 

I feel as if I am ascending into a cave. It is as illuminating as foreboding, a strange feat of architecture meant to convey that we are arising into a sacred space, a sad and lonely bit of despair re-imagined as “poignant,” in virtue of its sheer strangeness. 

The Gnostic “knows” that she is alone in her wisdom. She is the one and only “suffering servant,” the weight of her own divinity beating down upon her shoulders. It is hard to be a god, to give so much to those who warrant so little.

But she also “knows” that, simply by drafting architectural plans that, in a groovy sort of way, “capture” her divinity, and then by hiring cheap, Mexican labor to construct those plans, her singular sadness may be the illumination for the whole world (or at least for this side of Calle La Calavera Catrina, an out of the way alley named after the popular Mexican icon of an aristocratic skeleton woman, her skull face and bones adorned by a Victorian floral hat and dress).  

In the suffocating fog, my friend is floating ahead of me.   

Somewhere, there is a soft, heart melody on a sitar. 

I stumble into the left tibia of a life sized Catrina hanging from a rafter.

Startled, I step back. It is hard to make out much of anything within the cloud of green gunk moving in and out of my lungs. But I sense her frigid bones, shimmering down from a clenched noose, her fragile skull tilted off to one side like Christ on the Cross. 

Don’t fret. She’s not real, no more than death is real, my friend laughs.

She takes my hand and leads me around a few more hanging Catrinas.

We stop at a fountain. The bubbling brook sound is hypnotic, a calmness that wrests the mind from its last figment of conscious thought, so that there is nothing to distract from the waking dreams of the moment. 

I relax enough to behold the green, cantera stone base of the fountain, a  “Zea mays” green more peculiar to the “Día de los Muertos” in Oaxaca, than to our part of central Mexico. I imagine my friend floating in a south bound breeze to the deepest, darkest reach of Indian death lore and bringing back this bit of chiseled slime as a memento. I sense that she will keep moving it northward, a little bit at a time, until her River Styx is in the middle of an Iowa corn field. 

Then, even the Midwesterners (practical, High Lutheran Krauts, wearing the same, starched overalls as their grandparents, and not knowing a step more intricate than is necessary to court a “good girl” at the Grange) will realize the “truth” that the indigenous have “known” since the first eagle swept off with a little brown baby in its beak: that death is an illusion; that life is whatever rosy dream in which we play at the moment; and that, therefore, there is no task at hand but to boogie the night away, a bit of abandon before the breaks of dawn.

We sit together on the rim of the fountain. 

She takes my hand and waves it lazily into the bubbling brook. 

We need to forget that we are human, before we may know as gods, she remarks casually, like reading out an old phone number from the Yellow Pages.

She bends forward and kisses my lips. 

I taste the old lady grime on her tongue.

I feel the little girl quiver on her lips. 

She is at once stepping into the grave and climbing out from the womb. I cannot tell if I love or fear her, if I should stay forever or run away. I only know that the dream is at hand and that the last bits of memory have seeped off into the green cloud and the sitar chimes, bubbling away like a brook at springtime.

I am back again at my podium. 

I stare into the darkness beyond the fourth wall. I sense that the earnest shadows have been caught up into the dream that I am weaving.

Clearing my throat, I assume the posture of the “thinking man,” putting my right elbow on the highest point of the podium, and bending forward in the grave demeanor of a renowned scholar who has “something to say,” so that my chin rests on the knuckles of my right fist. I etch a haughty, learned expression on my face, akin to the features of a man suffering from indigestion (since he is so perturbed at having to toss the pearls of his own mind before these swine).

I continue my remarks in a foreign accent (actually, the effete voice of a fey yachtsman at Martha’s Vineyard who has been carelessly toasting the waves there since he came into his inheritance and found his life’s calling in a Kipling verse). Anything foreign is “more learned,” in the estimation of the simple, and a reminder that the prophet indeed is never loved in his own country. 

So, again, what is this Gnosticism?

I allow the question to linger, a foreboding omen. I smile; then continue:

Gnosticism comes from the word “Gnosis,” which in Greek (the sonorous tongue of bearded boy lovers in tunics, capturing the whim of the wide eyed by reciting the travails of Odysseus, a yarn as impressive in teaching philosophical truths as in loosening the belt of an eager student) means “knowledge.” 

The fundamental axiom of Gnosticism is that we are more “spiritual,” to the extent that we have more “knowledge.” 

And not just any knowledge will do. Remember that, for the Gnostic, we cannot learn anything truthful from the natural universe, since it is “in motion” and thus forever “lacking” some character or condition. What we often refer to as the fields of knowledge (natural science and history, as examples) may be of use in living out our lives in this world; but the mastery of any one of them will not make us more “spiritual,” because they are based on observances of events in the natural universe. They are based on facts (such as, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction; and in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue) in the natural universe. For that reason, they cannot lead us to the truth. 

The Gnostic thus will state that there is no truth in facts. 

Rather, the only knowledge that leads a man to a more “spiritual” life in this world is that which begins and ends in his own abstract mind. 

The abstract mind is our closest approximation to the “immovable,” as it is unbounded by the “Natural and Moral Laws,” capable of imagining the nicest or the surliest of pink elephants. It is not perfect, because it is still encased in a physical brain and thus influenced by “material” occurrences (thoughts being directed to some extent by hormones, hormones being the secretions of certain chemicals, chemicals being the building blocks in nature). 

But, we have no alternative means of reaching the “spiritual life,” a life lived in a total harmony with what is “true” and “good” beyond this natural universe, short of an abandoning of our bodies altogether. 

Physical suicide then is the ultimate expression of fidelity to Gnosticism. Moral suicide is the prelude to physical suicide: it sets the stage for the drama of a “poignant” and “stunning” final act, a death worthy of the pathos of ages.

Most Gnostics are not so dramatic. They are content with an intellectual suicide, the kind that says from within a cloud of groovy incense (a sitar chime somewhere off in the distance) that they are more “spiritual” because they are listening only to the “lessons” originating from within themselves.

What they know is not bound by any natural science or history. 

It is self-realized and then foisted into the natural universe by force, the power of their will expressed in a creative or a destructive act of complete and unfettered self-indulgence. Neither moral nor civil law may be allowed to stand between a Gnostic and the forcible construction of his own vision. 

The Gnostic thus will state that, while there is no truth in facts, there is every truth in his opinion. 

Few people have the intellectual integrity and discipline to unearth facts objectively and to pursue where they logically lead. 

In an age of “instant information,” where facts are tossed about without perspective, or are first enclosed within the context of an advocacy one way or the other, it is easier to presume that “what really matters” is which opinion is more “politically correct” or “fashionable,” and that this is the “truth.” 

There is no real power in facts. There is real power in framing opinions. 

“Knowledge” is whatever we imagine sustains “settled” opinions.

Old Lady Sex

And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he came in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. Genesis 38:9 (KJV)

What happens next is a blur. I am not at all certain that any of it is real, or even real fragments of a sad and lonely dream. 

My friend escorts me further into her cave, as if I am an old, blind man, or a child, who cannot find his way. 

I am vaguely aware of the rain outside. It is now a waterfall gushing onto the roof and infiltrating the cave from all sides as a cold mist. 

There is a flush of thunder; then, gurgling hisses that slither drunkenly in the heavens, sliding into one another like snakes trapped in a basket. 

Clamping my own wrist, I sense that I am aqua blue, a soggy goop of skin and bones arising out from a marsh. 

If a little boy sees me struggling to push my way through the slime, then he will let out a terrified scream, a girly wail that reminds him that he remains a safe distance from manhood.

All of the other boys in beanies, gripping handfuls of buttered popcorn in a suspended animation somewhere between their bags and their lips, staring in wide eyed, mindless awe at the flickering screen ahead, will join into this first wail. They are safe in this shared fright, a collective step ahead of the beast. 

I am the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I am also that little boy. 

Or I am a tired man in a drenched Brioni suit jacket and trousers. 

There is no door to the casa. The covered courtyard just flows aimlessly, a nightmare of images caught up in the green cloud and sitar chimes, until it is stumbling into a living room of sorts. 

I know that I am in the living room, because there is a fluorescent Baskin Robbins sign hanging on a chain that has been fastened to one of the rafters. It is suspended in the middle of the space at just about the level of my forehead.

It swings back and forth every time I bump into it. 

Pretty soon, I am seeing all thirty-one flavors. 

My friend laughs. She helps me step over the thick electrical cord that is snaking out from the back of the sign and hissing into an old outlet somewhere.

The next thing I know, I am falling back into a cushion. 

It is a Japanese dakimakura, a full-length love pillow featuring an anime character in a two-piece swimsuit. It farts from the impact of my dead weight. 

My instinct is to curl into a ball and fall asleep. 

But my friend pushes my head, until I am lying on my back with my arms outstretched in a Christ-like posture. 

I imagine that I am smothering the anime character with the back of my Brioni suit jacket and that she really likes it. She returns the favor by licking all of the rain off of my back and whispering: Me want to be your little Nip girl and sucky sucky your shoulder blades all night long….

My friend takes off my wet clothes, like a coroner removing the layers of evidence off from a murder victim. 

I sense nothing, but her wet boots bumping against my left cheek, as she is crouching beside my face. Perhaps she is loosening my tie, or unbuttoning my shirt, or yanking out my chest hairs one by one, I cannot tell. 

I am being stripped of my last bit of manhood. 

I am free to blossom as a god.

But I am not sure that I do much of anything. 

I feel nothing, nothing at all, except perhaps a strange mix of sweat and Ben-Gay smothering over my lips every now and then. 

When all is said and done, I am spitting up soiled bloomers. 

I sit up in the love pillow. A Raggedy Ann wig falls off of my head. 

I sense that it is the morning after. The sun cannot penetrate this deeply into Hell, so there is no change from the groovy green stillness that had wafted in from the courtyard the previous night. 

But the rain has stopped. 

And there is a cartoon on the boob tube in the far corner. 

Love beads hanging down from a broken shelf drape over the screen.

I cannot see much of anything, but I can hear enough from the television speaker to make out that it is a Spanish dubbed Woody Woodpecker cartoon. In this episode, our pecker is beating his beak against petrified wood. 

I look about the room. 

There is the memory of wild abandon everywhere, not the cyclone as it is striking the earth, but what has been left over long after it has declined into a whirlpool gurgling down a pothole somewhere. 

For a Gnostic, it is not the action that matters, so much as what remains in the mind afterward. An action occurs in the natural universe. It is governed, thus, by the “Natural and Moral Laws,” defined by how long is occurs, where it occurs, what impact it has on other persons or things, physically and morally. 

But what remains in the mind afterward is whatever the dreamer desires it to be. It may last as long as he wants. It may fill in the entire length, width, and height of his dream world, or it may be but a pinprick in an altogether new and different dream. It is always amoral, since a self-realized god stands at all times above and beyond the reaches of morality, even his own. 

But anything that is without a clear time, or shape, or purpose is a faint, groovy shadow at best, a bit of surreal nonsense that cannot really capture, let alone hold, ones attention. It may have been stunningly vague at first, but with each passing moment it is just vague, and then it is nothing at all. 

That is the curse for every Gnostic. He imagines that he has stepped out from the curse that inflicts every one else. He is no longer trapped in the death fate of his father, no longer inhibited by his baby mama (fate) from taking hold of his plastic sword in the overhead compartment (free will). He is a god, if not in reality, then in his opinion, which is more “powerful” than anything else. 

But he is a god living in a body in the natural universe. Therefore, sense perception remains intrinsically tied to satisfaction. How a thing looks, sounds, smells, tastes, feels; how long it occurs; where it occurs; with whom it occurs: all of these variables come together to enhance or to detract from his sense of satisfaction. With none of these variables at play, he can never be satisfied. 

He can only sense that “something” bold and beautiful must have caused whatever is left behind, even as the boldness and beauty are no more now than a receding memory, or maybe a bit from his own imagination. He then can only hope that “something” even more bold and beautiful happens the next time. 

He is always in the middle somewhere, between his sense of loss and his realized hope. In that strange twilight, there is not enough lost to inspire a real sadness; and there is not enough realized hope to inspire a real joy. There is an awkward limbo, a loopy smile on a dumb face after another puff on a joint, but no more. This is what passes for life in the dreamy existence of a Gnostic God. 

So as I look about the room, I do not see anything that I sense that I can touch. I see more love beads draping over cushions; dead joints; an afghan with a peace symbol; but I fear that, if I were to reach out to any one of these items just now, then they would vanish into the groovy green cloud. 

Woody Woodpecker is pounding his pecker into the petrified wood, like a jackhammer into impenetrable concrete. He is all smashed, without even a tiny worm dislodged from the wood for his supreme effort. 

It is not Much Ado about Nothing. It is Nothing after Much Ado.

It is old lady sex. No matter how many seeds hit the target, or how many are spilled along the way, they are all treated as misfires. They are not logged; they do not end up as a dusty, old trophy in a womb somewhere. 

The end of the Gnostic Life then is futility. He may imagine the triumph of his will. He may put on his grand shows, directing the bonfire parades to his powered up sound stage. He may even murder six million Jews along the way.

But, in the end, his vision is realized in the natural universe as no larger than a bullet striking the back of his mouth.

As for every one else, it will take a few years; but, eventually, they pick themselves up from their all night binge, sweep aside the messier details, and erect monuments. 

Perhaps their children pay attention to the monuments. But by the time of their grandchildren, the monuments serve primarily as a target of choice for pigeon droppings, until removed for being religious icons within a public space.

It takes a while, but I finally catch my friend.

She is lying back on a dakimakura of her own. Her legs are open, and her hippie skirt is pulled up to her waist. But, otherwise, every detail of her Frieda Kahlo outfit is as it has been since “something groovy happened” so long ago.

Whatever happened last night, it did not separate her one moment from her memories of sun love, carnation blossoms, smiling Hindus, and frolics in the primordial mud flats, the dream fragments that have been stitching themselves into her sweaty, old skin as surreal fabrics and groovy scarves.

In fact, she is always there, in that strange memory of hers.

She has not taken it off since the Summer of Love. 

I remember a wise mentor of mine. He had a knack for the ways of Hell. 

I asked him: How could a loving God condemn any man to Hell?

He looked at me and smiled. 

He answered: God does not condemn any man to Hell. He allows men to condemn themselves to Hell. Hell is the abode of those who choose willfully to spend eternity alone with their own obsessions. 

For a Gnostic God, his vision is everything. It is unrestrained by “Natural and Moral Laws,” like everything else that starts and ends in the abstract mind, and is therefore a reminder of his self-realized divinity (since only a god is able to create something that transcends the “Natural and Moral Laws,” in the sense of being timeless, occupying no particular space, and maintaining no fidelity to any rhyme or reason apart from what the dreamer may impose upon it). Even a vision that starts off as a memory of real events in due time becomes more of a created dream, than a lasting psychological mark from those real events. 

But the vision fades over time. It loses its original splendor, because the Gnostic God, in the end, is as much alive in a decaying body (and interacting in one way or another with decaying things in the natural universe) as everyone of the “material” people over which he tilts his nose. He may imagine his mind to be timeless, but he cannot escape that his mind is living in a beaten, old brain. 

He is therefore obsessive about “rekindling the fire,” returning his vision to its former glory. In that way, even as he imagines that he has skipped out on the fate that afflicts everyone else, he too is consumed with what he has lost. 

When the vision is gone completely, he is left with nothing to amuse his hours but his smelly, old obsession, a bit of fabric and skin hanging forlornly off of his rattling bones, that he imagines even then to be his Brioni suit jacket and trousers. He is hanging from the rafters, like all the others; but he is twitching nervously for just one more feel of the finer silk of a long forgotten night. 

I study my friend, like a lab technician staring dispassionately into an old microscope. The light is dim, the lens cracked. It is increasingly difficult to tell what is being seen, versus what is being imagined. 

Without her Raggedy Ann wig, she is a tired cancer patient, ready finally to stop cooking her flesh and to give way to the inevitable triumph of the little critters spreading over her organs. She is also a baby staring stupidly at a smear on the ceiling, too tired even to call out for her mother to save her. 

I toss the Raggedy Ann wig in her direction.

She does not budge. Maybe she is dead. 

At that moment, it occurs to me that I do not know her name. 

Of course, a Gnostic God does not have a name. 

Sure, he may have been given a birth name, words typed onto his birth certificate form by a surly clerk, and then filed away in a back room. His family and friends may have called him some variation of that name. 

But remember: when Adam “names” the creatures in the Garden of Eden (and, by implication, his descendants), he is imparting his death legacy upon all of them. He is trapping them into that game, where they will struggle to snatch the plastic sword in the overheard compartment, but never quite make it. 

A Gnostic God is not caught up in any of that, or so he imagines. 

He is not going to succumb to the death legacy. He will not die, so much as “pass over” to the “next life,” a life presumably that will be less “material,” and thus more in keeping with his “special gift” for “spiritual” possibilities and self-divinity. If anything, then what we numbskulls think of as death will be, for him and for the few others which are chosen, a painless escape from an illusory physical body, a rebirth as the Very Highest of the Heavenly Lights, a snatching of a fiery crown that will force even God Himself to bend wearily at the knee. 

And, therefore, he has no name. 

He imagines himself a nameless force, the manifestation of his own fine opinions, writ so high atop the natural universe as to command even God.

In fact, he is even more of a sad sack than the common man, because he is caught up in his high pretentions that cannot but fall flat the next morning. 

I stumble to my feet, and carry the soiled bloomers over to my friend. 

I stand over her witchy face. 

The smell from her granny dress is overpowering. It is a death fragrance, but magnified a hundredfold over what I would expect from an open coffin on a hot and heavy afternoon. 

I imagine all of the roses in the natural universe blossoming at once, as if they are the safety valve for the primordial mud flats far below. There is just a hint of softness, the promise of a tender kiss, the vague sense that hope will be triumphant in the flowering of the day.

But what follows is death: a sticky, dry smell that crawls out from some hidden spot inside each rosebud, only to drip off the petals like a rancid honey. It is the tired, old pollution in new life, the certainty of decomposition, before the risen sun burns off the last of the morning dew. 

I cover my nose with her bloomers, but that just intensifies the smell.

She looks up, and offers me a loopy grin. 

Well, at least she is alive, I think, after my gag reflex dies off. But she is not quite there, or anywhere else. 

She gestures for her bloomers, and then sleepily caresses her womb, like an expectant mother who can feel her child in the stretches of her dress fabric.

But, of course, there is no child. Old lady sex is a pecker beating against petrified wood, a sterile bit of fiddle-de-dee to suggest the timeless glory of an awkward, little god. 

There may be a child in her mind, but that too will pass.  

All Too Common

For if a man thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, then he deceives himself. Galatians 6:3 (KJV)

I drop the soiled bloomers by her side, and step back. 

She removes her left hand from her womb just long enough to snatch her bloomers off of the shag carpet. She looks up at me with haughty disdain, as if I am an unruly altar boy who has dropped the Blessed Sacrament onto the floor of the sanctuary. 

I want to believe that I am in a sacred space and that, in a rash moment, I have done something profane. 

I want to believe that there is something “poignant” about all of this and that, in a mysterious way, I am caught up now in something bigger than myself. 

A great man believes in his own heroism, when he is charging the line. 

A little man just muddles into the thicket, hoping to live another day.

Or so I mumble to myself at that moment. 

I watch as she scoots her bloomers up her legs. 

I remember being at a Wayne Newton concert more than a fortnight ago.

The timeless doll is at center stage, his hair colored and greased, his suit jacket a sparkling universe in gemstones and glitter. He seems to have given his face over to the knife, in order to preserve his “timeless” quality, as evidenced in his equally plastic and cartoonish features. 

There is a boyish earnestness in him. I am not just referring to his voice, a preening, falsetto take on the “aw shucks” tone and demeanor first mastered by Ronald Reagan. Even more so, I am referring to his high cheekbones and wry grin, the devilish face of an American Indian selling trinkets who thinks that he has pulled a fast one over Winnebago Whitey. 

We all want to be taken, especially if we are of the fairer sex. 

And he is there to take us. 

Give him just a swig of Indian Water, and he will invite us all back to his little love teepee hidden behind the cactus row.

Winnebago Whitey can sit back in the shadows somewhere, watching the love master at play, perhaps learning a trick or two about how to deflower the babysitter back home. 

The Wife can lay back, close her eyes, and indulge her fantasy of being a “naughty, little girl” with a “dark man,” a “savage” from beyond the Las Vegas desert. The fact that his skin is translucent white, almost albino from the years of sweat inducing spotlights, is lost in the throes of her wild bronco dream.

The timeless doll has his moves. 

They are a bit awkward, like an over the hill belly dancer still primping her wrinkled butt into the air, imagining that the boys are wincing in pleasure, not embarrassment. 

And they are totally predictable. He thrusts his hips, pats his heart, tips his head, winks his left eye, and points out at a teary eyed Lucky Lola buttered inside of a floral nightmare of an evening gown, always at the same moment in every show, for the past half century or so. 

But we love them just the same.  

The crescendo, of course, is his sappy go lucky signature song, a pimpled boy rendition of “Danke Shoen,” that unearths a “burning hunk of volcano lust” in the heart of every fatso Lucky Lola waddling up to the stage.  

They are spitting up “love juice” with their cacophonous screams, their double chins flapping into their bosoms in a hot menagerie of sweaty skin folds, so that they seem more like untamed geysers in the primordial mud flats, than corn stalk wives from Sleepy Town, Nebraska.     

As soon as the timeless doll acknowledges his squaws (the devilish Indian smile, followed by a wink and a nod), the slingshots begin. 

First, there is a single bloomer that opens wide just above his head. It is suspended in mid air for a moment, grabbing the eyes of every one, but the old fatties who are too busy pulling off their own stretched bloomers. 

Then, it parachutes off to the side, landing on the drum set. 

The others follow in quick succession.

A few are misfired to the back of the stage.

But the vast majority coalesces into a blitzkrieg of floral fabrics, hanging in mid air for a moment above the timeless doll, and then parachuting onto his greasy hair and devil may care grin. 

There is a holy communion of sorts, a “special moment,” that binds each and every one of the old fatties to their mustached boy in a tux. 

The old fatty is the Gnostic, awakening to her own divinity, which she is experiencing as the “burning hunk of volcano lust” erupting in her imagination, a dream as powerful for her as the mob in which she is losing herself. 

The timeless doll is the “god” being discovered, a plastic innocence with a sweet melody who stands astride the tumults of space and time, always a few feet higher than everyone else on his stage. 

And the bloomers being slingshot above his face: they are the egos in full force, as inflated as they are ridiculous, presuming to snatch the “inner god” in a dream and to contain him there forevermore.

They want to imagine that this is a one of a kind experience. They really do. The only snag is that the same thing has happened every night for over fifty years of “Danke Shoen” wanderlusts, and will happen again the following night, and then the night thereafter, forever and ever, world without end.

I finish my own thought by mumbling sheepishly, “Amen.”

This is the great irony afflicting every Gnostic. 

He lives today in a Gnostic culture, a society governed by the principles that flow logically from a Gnostic view of the world. Several of these principles are as follows (and will be apparent readily to anyone who looks at our world in a serious, objective frame of mind):

First, the triumph of the will transcends the laws of nature. If he desires an illustration, then he need only consider the preponderance of K-Y Jelly sold and traded among homosexuals and leather fetishists. 

Secondly, opinion is more truthful than fact. If he desires an illustration, then he need only consider the “comments section” in any popular news blog.

Third, force is reasonable, while law is arbitrary. Even though this axiom is the opposite of what we claim to uphold, in fact we routinely consider jurists who side with our earnest opinions to be “reasonable,” and the dissenters to be “legislating from the bench.” No matter our lip service, we do not care about a truly equal and impartial administration of the law. We care about winning first and then, whenever possible, sugarcoating our effective use of force under the guise of constitutional jurisprudence. 

Fourth, religion is out, spirituality is in. As an illustration, consider that a lot of the “Bible Belt” parishes today, the religious homes of the Rock Ribbed Republican Flag Wavers who think that their “Sunday Best” consists of a yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” shirt and a “South Will Rise Again” ball cap, are reverting to the same pop psychology, self-esteem gobbledygook of a Meditation Retreat House in Santa Cruz, California. They may couch it all in the Bible; but they are heeding the soft pap of a Groovy Swami, not the hard sword of Christ Jesus.

Fifth, all prudence has given way to the fashionable flights of fancy. Just look at the limited attention span reflected in our cinema, music, and games, a hodgepodge of sensations meant to deaden, not to inspire. Consider how this is reflected as well in our news coverage, our political choices (imagining that the Teleprompter who repeats “hope” and “change” is the Messiah in whom we are reborn into a “new” world), even our public policy preferences (we are “for” a government takeover of the health care industry, before we are “against” it, as depending upon what headline happens to grab our fancy while we are hustling onto the morning train). We extol the “individual,” but in fact we much prefer to be lost in the mob (conforming to whatever is politically correct, so as to be yet another anonymous voice in the approved chant). The imprudent (at times, downright surreal) behavior of a mob “saves” the individual from his reflective thinking that, if ever allowed to blossom, may engender somewhere in the back of his mind a certain doubt about his self-divinity. God forbid, he may come to value fact over opinion, salvation over selfishness, even God above himself. 

It is clear then that we live in a Gnostic culture. This means that most of us are Gnostic, since by definition most of us conform to our prevailing culture.

We may not be consciously Gnostic, in the sense of joining a Gnostic cult or following the ruminations of Gnostic scholars. Indeed, most of us continue to think of ourselves as “Christians,” or as “Jews,” or as some other identity that is historically antagonistic to Gnosticism. 

But to the extent that we have adopted any of the principles underlying our Gnostic culture, we have started down that path that, if uncorrected, leads to the confusion, and finally despair, of trying to kick God off of His throne and to replace Him with our own pet dreams. 

Virtually all of us are some distance down that path. 

Virtually all of us, then, are Gnostics. 

And, again, this is the great irony afflicting every Gnostic. 

The Gnostic wants to imagine that he is “special,” that his self-divinity is “unique,” that the triumph of his will is going to be unlike any and all others. It is necessary that he think in this way, since he cannot take seriously the notion that he is a self-realized god, unless he is full of himself with which to begin.

But what is so special about being a self-realized god, if indeed virtually all of us are self-realized gods (however we define that for ourselves), or are in the process of becoming self-realized gods (however we define that process)? If virtually everyone has the trophy, or is on the road to winning the trophy, then what value is the trophy, but a dust collector taking up our limited shelf space?

Remember: the old fatties who slingshot their bloomers over the face of their timeless doll may be acting as a collective mob, but each of them fancies a “special communion” with him, that the others presumably do not share. 

There is strain enough in trying to live a lie. But the strain is unbearable, when we realize that virtually everyone else is living the same lie. 

I again mumble, “Amen.” I do not mean that as an assent, but rather as an acknowledgment that the Gnostic God is All Too Common. It may be the “all powerful” Wizard of Oz, but it is found in every little shop and shrine along the Yellow Brick Road, not exclusively or even especially in the Emerald City.      

My friend does not notice. She is once again caressing her womb. 

I am ashamed. I cannot help but notice that I am just as much a Gnostic, as the Gnostics I have been lambasting in my on again, off again lecture. I have wanted my own “God Moment,” even to the point of indulging in “something or other” with a smelly Witch from Woodstock, while trying to imagine that I have been “taming the lusts” of a Marilyn Monroe. 

And now I am left with nothing but a sugar hangover; and, as I step back and hit my head once more on the Baskin Robbins sign, an aching soreness and a tinkle of blood.

Thank you for last night. It was something special, I feel obliged to say. 

I think I’m going to have a baby, she says to no one in particular. 

Yes, of course, I lie, and I stagger out into the courtyard. 

She responds again, just as I stumble into the rattling bones of a hanging Catrina. I am too mortified by a femur to make out what she is saying then. 

Escaping into the narrow alleyway, I am blinded momentarily by the new sun, which is still drying off the last bits of torment from the previous night. 

I hear a Mexican walking past me on the other side. It is an old, plodding step, the signature of a campesino weighed down by the oversized sombrero his grandfather had worn while riding with Pancho Villa. 

He is followed by the clip-clop sound of the little burro he is leading by a rope. The little burro is Eeyore from “Winnie the Pooh,” resigned to a new day of sad poses at the central plaza for jaw dropping Gringos (the same Winnebago Whiteys who had gone to the Wayne Newton concert earlier in their road trip), who are willing to fork over twenty pesos for a photograph.  

The campesino and his little burro have been following the same routine since Adam and Eve first stepped out from Eden into a desolate sand dune. The two will be at it still, when the trumpets blare, and the King returns in glory. 

I am also weighed down by the straw sagging over my head. Mine is not a hat, so much as the “Sleepy Mexican” dream, the vague sense that I have done something “poignant” in my life (in my case, riding Marilyn Monroe, rather than riding with Pancho Villa), but that I am going to lose it, if I do not sleep off the remainder of my years under the shade of a cactus tree.  

I am also compelled to pull the little burro. Mine is a sad and persistent reminder that, notwithstanding my illusion of doing something “poignant” once in my life, my day today will be like every other: a struggle to eke out a twenty peso bill from every Gringo with a Polaroid, which by necessity will prevent me from losing myself in a life long siesta. 

I cannot avoid the fact that, for a Gnostic, every moment is the morning after a one-night stand. 

And this is the essence of the morning after a one-night stand: the sense that I have “scored,” or done something “worthwhile,” is fading too fast in the blinding sun of a new day, a day not at all dissimilar from the previous day, and the day before that one. I just want to slump against a cactus tree and to try to retain whatever I can of that “score” in the form of a dream.

But I cannot. There is a little burro drooping at the end of my rope, and his sad eyes remind me that I have to smile stupidly for the Gringos again today and scrounge enough pesos for a bottle of tequila.   

There is nothing new under the sun.

And this haunts the Gnostic as much as the fact that virtually everyone is his own self-realized god, or his own self-realized god in training. 

If we are gods, then we are not only able to “score,” or to do something “worthwhile,” we are able to retain it in perpetuity. Nothing fades in the mind of a god after all, and this is especially true of that which affirms his divinity. 

But if we can never quite “score” (or if we imagine that we “score,” but fail to keep the experience from fading into nothingness over time), because in the end we are compelled to follow through on those routines that will allow us to survive in this cruel world of ours (smiling stupidly at the Gringos, as we are opening our palms for the twenty peso bills tossed our way), then it is difficult for us to imagine that we are gods. 

The Gnostic conceits are All Too Common. They lose their special luster, when we recognize that our dopey neighbors are as much gods as we are gods.

The day-to-day routines are also All Too Common. They remind us all the time that, unlike the real gods, we must put on our trousers one leg at a time.  

Eden by Way of Guatemala

So He drove out the man; and He placed at the east of the Garden of Eden Cherubim, and a flaming sword that turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. Genesis 3:24 (KJV)

I follow the campesino and his burro to the central plaza. 

Nothing moves there, apart from a wet breeze sweeping aside the fallen branches and leaves. The Mexicans have not yet stirred from their fiesta of the night before (a merengue living on in the downpour until the break of dawn, in spite of the torches smothered and the instruments drenched). 

There are a few Gringos here and there sipping at coffee cups. They are hiding out from the tropical sun, draped in their oversized Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses (since, after all, they envision everything outside of the forty-eight to be a quaint variation on “Blue Hawaii”), and hunched over their brews under bright orange and red striped mushroom umbrellas along al fresco cafes.

The mustached meseros in their starched, white shirts stand at attention in between the mushrooms. They are ready with their coffee pots in hand, just in case one of the Gringos looks up from his daze long enough to mumble, “Más Coffee,” or some other bit of broken Spanglish, which he invariably pronounces with the simple twang of a tongue reared in a flyover state. 

I turn away from the campesino, when he assumes the face of a “Sleepy Mexican” (sad, vacant eyes and pouty lower lip, meant to suggest that he is the dim legacy of “five hundred years of oppression” imposed upon his ancestors by Conquistadores and Yankees, a ruse that works well enough in harvesting a few pesos from the gullible tourists), and pulls his burro up to the Gringos along the edge of the plaza. He will make the rounds with his outstretched palm, before setting up shop at a picturesque backdrop and waiting for the Clicking Polaroids to stagger his way. He has finessed his act, to be sure; but, in the end, his take is the curse of fate: how many tourists sit by the edge, how many tourists walk by his burro, whether the cop insists on his mordida in the shadows of the sun.

There is a park in the plaza surrounded by yellow tape. Apparently, the Mexicans will be returning to the polls soon, since the “shovel ready” projects, meant to coddle the peasants into voting the “party line” by indicating a vague sense of “hope” and “change,” are on full display. The fact that the end results will be the same jerry-rigged infrastructure as before is immaterial. 

I waddle across the muddy lawn to a white gazebo. It is a soft, Victorian throwback, much like the antique light poles and quaint English gardens, which when sprinkled beside the colonial adobes tend to soften the Mexican character of the town. It is as if the town fathers want this little part of central Mexico to be an “international oasis,” a celebration of all men that is peculiar to none. 

In case that purpose is not clear enough, the town fathers have posted a sign near the gazebo that reads: Patrimonio de la Humanidad. 

Like many of the other historical features in this town, this white gazebo (distinguished by an ouroboros, a bronze serpent configured in an upright circle eating its own tail, at the center of a pentagram roof) has been designated by a select committee of peace, love, and groovy global citizens at Unesco as one of their “world heritage sites,” worthy of American tax dollars for “maintenance” (meaning, kick backs for local politicos and leftist groups). 

Its history has been whitewashed. It hearkens back to a time when a few fat cat Krauts from the green hills and oversized cowbells in Heidi Land bought the local haciendas from the departing Spaniards at bargain basement prices (a fringe benefit from the 1810 Mexican Revolution). The flabby throated Germans were as much tyrants as the Conquistadores; but they were less flamboyant in behavior and dress, and altogether unromantic. They were vulgar Goths behind their veneer of refined contempt; born and bred to be oligarchs (and if, by the circumstances of their family history they were unable to be among the class of gentlemen farmers, then born and bred to discover an even more pathetic race somewhere else over which to rule); as inclined by tradition and temperament to build a fashionable gazebo in honor of their imagined refinement, as to beat the brains out of the skull of a smelly, old peasant.

But that history is forgotten. After all, this is a “world heritage site.”

I sneak into the gazebo. 

I am ashamed to be as much of a Gnostic as any one else. 

I am more burdened by my sense (inchoate at first, but crystallizing into a clearer apprehension with every passing second) that my Gnostic conceits are falling by the wayside, that I am losing those flights of grandeur with which I may imagine myself to be in the clean, crisp air above fate and death. 

I am like Saint Augustine: praying for the grace to avoid sin, but not just yet (the would be dieter wanting just one more piece of cake, before giving up sugar for good), and then regretting how the prayer is being answered here and now (that last slice of cake being snatched away, suddenly and uncomfortably).  

I much prefer to wallow in shame, than to toss aside illusions. 

The alternative is to acknowledge that the Wicked Witches of the West, the only gals who ever pick me up at bakeries and donut shops, are not Marilyn Monroes after all, and that, in spite of my fairer color and diploma, in the end I have a lot more in common with that cursed campesino and his droopy burro. 

This is not a pleasant thought. 

So I curl up against a post inside the gazebo; and I imagine, only as far as my innate caution will allow, that I am pulling a sleepy sombrero down over my blood shot eyes and red nose. 

I am soon asleep. 

But I do not dream anything at all. I sense vaguely, even as I am snoring off the rest of the morning sun, that I have had my last dream. It has been left back at the home of my new friend, dropped into the shag carpet beneath that dreadful Baskin Robbins sign, and kicked into everything else that is unreal and insane in the green cloud and the sitar chimes.   

There is a baton poking into my butt. 

Hey, gringo, wake up, a voice calls out to me. 

I am trying to identify that voice. It is a mix of Pancho Villa and Speedy Gonzales, a well-sauced Mel Blanc tossing out several ándeles, ándeles, arribas, arribas, in a cartoon that would be censored nowadays as an ethnic stereotype unfit for children (unlike “gangsta rap,” which is just fine for their pretty ears).

Hey, miester, whaaas sappening? Why you no wake up? 

Now, I am being poked by a burrito bandito, a bad stench in a sombrero, a leathery tortilla hanging limply from a mouth of bad teeth and worse breath. I envision one of the booby extras (Miscellaneous Mexican #3), wandering about the set of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” poking me in the butt right now, because he has nothing else to do before his next on camera cue. 

Strangely, I enjoy his frijoles wrap. 

Perhaps he will squirt in some queso habanero….

Hey, guey, you no wake up, mi puño and su chilito, they be the very best amigos since Tom and Jerry (pronounced “Harry,” but the reference is obvious enough to instill just the right amount of fear and trepidation in any gringo). 

I jump out from my cozy sleep. I strike the crown of my head against one of the posts, and stumble down to the shiny boots of my newest friend. 

He grabs my shoulder and yanks me onto the lawn outside the gazebo. 

I look up at his pudgy brown face.

He is a Mayan in a “Policía Municipal” uniform, a brute scrapping for his next mordida, no doubt justified in his behavior by each and every one of those “five hundred years of oppression” (or whatever else justifies a loopy smile and a handsome bribe between a rapist and his would be pothole). 

I reach for my pocket. I must have a few cincuenta notes somewhere….

Except that it is not there. 

It is back on the shag carpet.

And I am naked beside a Mayan and his gazebo.   

The scales fall from my eyes, as if a torrential waterfall unleashed from behind a dam. I grab my own skin (my raw chest, my tummy, even what little is left of my loins) and sense, maybe for the first time ever, that it is eroding into the very same dust from which it came.

It is like I am suddenly going forward in time. 

The Mayan looks down at me. He starts to poke my chest with his baton.

Hey, mula, you think every day is your birthday?

I am too stunned to respond.

Is this what you gringos call a birthday tortilla?

Actually, it’s my birthday suit….

The Mayan laughs. He pokes my chest even harder with his baton. 

No, gringo, it’s not a birthday suit. It’s a birthday tortilla.

Okay, whatever you want….

And it’s a wet one. 

Yes, yes, whatever you want….

And there’s not a drop of salsa inside.

The Mayan looks down at my loins. He chuckles. 

Not even a mild green chili, he concludes. 

I am trying to scramble back to my feet, but I am stopped with one swift swat from his baton. 

Hey, burro, you wanna be my piñata?

I see the campesino making his rounds. He is still wearing his old “Sleepy Mexican” look on his face, as he pulls his droopy burro along the exterior of the al fresco cafes. He shuffles from one gringo to the next, quivering his palm into their chests, oblivious apparently to what is happening to me right now.

I can explain, I shout, as the Mayan again swings his baton into my heart.

The Mayan laughs. He looks over every inch of my body.

Hey, chica, I wanna see what dulces pop out from your white panocha. 

The Mayan strikes me again. 

As he lifts his baton from my shivering corpse, I glimpse a tinkle of blood draping over his clenched fingers. I do not want to think that it is mine. 

I try to imagine instead that an Indian girl, her dark hair gathered into a silly braid, her eyes blackened in their own dimness, is lying back in a meadow somewhere far from this time and place. She opens her legs and releases all of her menstrual stickiness. Her fishy stew flows out over the pristine earth, like a stream of vomit gathering up what is timeless, and then churning it out as if it is old and beaten. In time, her flow takes on the color and texture of the blood that bursts out from an open wound. 

It is that blood, not mine, into which the Mayan is swatting his baton.

And I can keep saying that to myself, until I cough up my final breath. 

Or I can find a scapegoat. 

Even better, I can find a man of sorrows, the kind of sad sack who has no form or comeliness, a born victim who has been practicing his craft of falling to the sneers and the swords of refined contempt for the last five hundred years. 

He did it, I cry, pointing toward the campesino.

In the rush of violence, the last bits of innocence cracking open like old, rancid eggs in the sun, the face of the Mayan has been transfiguring from a soft and brown pudginess to a green slither. 

He is an uncoiled snake; and like his brethren in the high weeds, he is as quick to snatch something else that hits his peripheral vision, as he is to pounce on the victim right in front of him. 

The Mayan runs over to the campesino and assaults him with a babble of Spanish invective and an occasional swat from his baton. 

The campesino is helpless. It is his lot in life. 

But he manages, nonetheless, to hold onto the reins of his burro. 

I stumble over to them. I am a bloody mess (in spite of my best attempts at imagining an Indian girl with menstrual cramps), and too far from my former breaths to stand upright, but I continue to point accusingly at the campesino.

He did it, I cry again. He tore off my clothes and left me stranded in that gazebo. He may seem like a simple peasant, but he’s as wily as any gentleman. 

It is hard for me to follow their spitfire Spanish; but I make out here and there that the Mayan is accusing the campesino of thievery and demanding that he pay a “fine” to avoid certain jail time. 

The campesino shrugs his shoulders. He has nothing to give, except a few drops of tequila in a flask hidden away in his knapsack. 

The Mayan indulges, and then tosses the flask into the breeze.

He will be back before dusk, the Mayan snarls into the face of the stupid peasant. And when he returns, the campesino will either pay his “fine,” or face the prospect of a cell, a cot, and a novio gordo.

The Mayan laughs at an image slithering about his own mind. 

He turns to me, and pokes me in my chest with his baton. 

Hey, tortilla, if you no watch out, you be joining with this campesino.

But, I did nothing wrong….

And then you two will chaca chaca con El Puto Gordo.

I gulp. I do not like the sound of that, whatever it is. 

The Mayan removes a dirty rag from the back of the burro, and then ties it around my waist. He twists it, so that it resembles a smelly, old fig leaf that has been wrapped around a limp bit of flesh.  

And you no sleep around in your birthday tortilla, you understand, stupid gringo? We have our stinkin’ badges, and our stinkin’ laws, and we can beat you down with them, when your gringo head is soaring like a Mexican eagle in heat. 

He shoves me outside of the yellow tape.  

The park is off limits. 

And so are my grandiose dreams. 

I do not look at the campesino, as I wander away from the plaza, and try to lose myself completely inside the shadows of a late morning sun.

I try to retrace my steps back to the Gnostic Without a Name. 

But every cobblestoned alleyway looks the same to me. 

And I am too self-conscious of my near nudity to ask for assistance of the Mexicans who I pass along the way. 

I sense their pudgy, brown eyes darting away from me, or glancing down at the mud puddle between their shoes, as I turn onto their block. 

By high noon, I have given up the quest. 

I stumble into the lobby of my hotel. I am nearly blinded by the vomit of gaudy colors (bright oranges, reds, and yellows, like the color scheme of a fast food joint, which subliminally inspire customers to take their burgers and fries, and to run back to their station wagons) and overdone floral arrangements. 

In Mexico, “more” is always “better,” unless by “more” we mean “more punctual service” or “more competent results,” in which case “more” becomes a four-letter word. 

I ring the front desk bell, and then retighten my fig leaf. 

A pudgy swish with a thin, sweaty mustache (no doubt a clone of the guy who secretly fed me glasses of water and mint chocolates in the banquet hall in what now seems to be a previous lifetime) responds to the call. 

Like everyone in the hospitality business, he has been trained to pretend that nothing is amiss with a customer. The only sin is to appear judgmental, so long as the customer still has a good credit card on file. 

He is immediately surly with me. 

I guess my credit there is no longer good. 

He explains that the event organizers (the two fatso dikes, followed by a puppy dog of a man) had turned off my hotel tab, as soon as I had pushed away all of the “decent people” with my “hateful harangue.”

I try to protest. 

But he holds up his right hand and rolls his eyes, as if to remark: You’re just talking to the hand, you gringo bitch, so don’t even go there.  

And what about my room?

Your replacement has your room.

And who might that be?

He’s a real cutie Champion Frisbee Thrower from Venice Beach who is on tour to raise “spirit awareness” about the plight of “beach people.”

I notice that a copy of his book is on display. It is little more than a self-published pamphlet with his blond locks and chiseled chest on the cover. There is psychedelic surfer font below his tantric yoga guru face: Beach People, Man, A Spirit Surfer Rides a Wave for the Beach People.

And what about my belongings?

He holds up his right hand and rolls his eyes. This time he punctuates his gesture by wiggling his tight butt, as if to say that the conversation is finished. 

I spend the rest of the afternoon waiting around the lobby, scaring little children with my gaunt face and gurgling tummy. 

Finally, the fatso dikes waddle into the hotel. As usual, the puppy dog is nipping at their heels with a clipboard and a pen in his soft hands. 

I sneak out from behind an indoor palm tree to confront them. 

I barely speak, when the two linebackers tackle me into a side office. 

How dare I show my face, one of them snarls.  

When I am a hater and a denier, the other one continues. 

And a phoba-phobe, the puppy dog joins in. 

We all stare at him, and he glows crimson red in his shame. 

Well, I say, I thought that I had been asked to lecture in a forum entitled the “Alternative Opinions Series.” 

Yes, that is the series, one of them snarls.

And a lot of Americans flew into Mexico, in spite of the drug war and the third world amenities, in order to be exposed to alternative opinions, the other one continues. 

So, what is the problem?

The fatso dikes look at each other. They are incredulous. 

Since when is “alternative” different, one of them snarls, more as a high and haughty rebuke, than as a question posed. 

Let alone grossly unapproved, the other one continues, likewise as a high and haughty rebuke, rather than as a question posed. 

Well, then, what do you suppose “alternative” means?

The fatso dikes stare at me. They relish their contempt of me, as if they have caught me trying to pose a trick question and are determining now how to turn the tables against me. 

But for all of their pretense, the best that they can come up with is that “alternative” means “openness,” and “spirit lust,” and “galaxy hitchhiker, with no map to follow, but the constellations of his own heart chakra.” 

Well, if the whole culture is caught up in this “spirit lust,” since virtually all men are Gnostics, then how may we label this as “alternative” in actuality?

We oppose all labels, one of them snarls.

Only haters and deniers label, the other one continues. 

This exchange continues, nonsensically, until finally I remind them that, no matter their displeasure, I am supposed to be compensated under the terms of our legally binding contract. 

And “compensation” is neither kicking me out of my hotel room, before the final day of the lecture series, nor absconding with my personal belongings.

The fatso dikes stare at me again. 

Then, one of them rams into my tummy, like a football tackle, while the other slaps my head to the floor. The puppy dog man jumps out of the way just in time, yelping like a pampered Chihuahua that has stumbled upon an old nail.

By the time one of them stuffs her knee onto my fig leaf, I am amenable to a renegotiation of the contract. 

I leave the hotel that evening with nothing but a fig leaf wrapped around my loins; a bus voucher; and a signed statement, in which I acknowledge that a bus voucher into Ciudad de Guatemala is “full compensation” for my role in the “Alternative Opinions Series.”

The small print says that I have accepted this bus voucher voluntarily, in sound mind, and with neither duress nor threat in the offer. 

I shall accept that the “wife beating” that I received at the hands of the fatso dikes did not take away from the voluntary nature of my signature. I shall accept that I acted from neither duress nor threat. After all, in a way, I sort of enjoyed the beating, as I was then at the center of their attention, a god being worshipped in the only manner his devotees know how to show their adoration. 

But I shall not accept that I am of “sound mind.” I insist upon my dream.

I am Cain. I am the outcast, looked down upon by my inferiors, and sent off to forage in the wasteland beyond the southern most horizon. 

This is the fate of every Gnostic (ironic, since he presupposes that he has been able to skip out on fate, by the triumph of his own divine will): He cannot but be unsatisfied in this life in the realization of his own divinity. And if he is too strident in trying to realize his divinity, then his peers will judge him to be an outcast. Put too many gods in the same basket, and we have a den of vipers.

The outcast Gnostic will want to crawl back into his “Eden,” the patch in his mind where he indulges his fantasy of being a self-realized god. He will try to re-imagine his Exile as that “Eden,” his very own self-affirming Mein Kampf

I choose to do the same. I am on the path to Eden by way of Guatemala.     

I Am a Rock

I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body I cannot tell; or whether out of the body I cannot tell: God knoweth) such a one caught up to the third heaven. 2 Corinthians 12:2 (KJV)

I stuff the bus voucher and the signed statement into my fig leaf, as I am about to stroll into the lobby of the bus station at the edge of town. 

I am not sure why.

Perhaps it is a revolutionary gesture of freedom, my own way of telling a smelly security guard with a piggy nose that, no matter the law, I don’t need to show my stinkin’ papers (and certainly not in his poor excuse for a country).

And if he manhandles me (trying to exact his mordida, when I do not pull my crumbled papers immediately out from my crotch, and then roughing me up a bit, when it is clear that I have no pesos hidden inside my ass), then I shall be a modern day Rosa Parks, a prime example of freedom in adversity, a legend in primary school text books preaching self-esteem and personal empowerment. 

The security guard ignores me. He is far too busy flirting with a señorita gordita who has been strapped by a swaddling cloth to a wailing poverty ticket.

A typical Mexican: He misses out on his opportunity to be the “villain” in our very own “Rosa Parks Moment,” a bit of groovy street theater that, if acted well enough, could have inspired an awesome “God Moment,” all because he is sleepwalking with his undersized pecker. 

It is like Pancho Villa not showing up for his showdown with “Black Jack” Pershing, because he is nursing his tequila bottle in the shade of a cactus tree. Yes, he is going to lose the war in the end (rebels and outcasts always do); but at least he can fall gloriously, snuffed out in a barrage of bullets, rather than in the queasy pangs of his own alcohol induced vomit. 

The fact that Pancho Villa does not die this way is beside the point. This is my fantasy, and I choose to believe that he last saw his own sombrero sliding down over his eyes, his cries muffled by stomach slime swimming in his mouth.  

And I hate the security guard for not giving me the time of day.  

I feel better, as soon as I walk by a mirror in the lobby. 

The way the papers are stuffed inside my fig leaf (and having not eaten, since my sugar feast the previous night), I resemble a starving prisoner clinging to the barbed wire in Auschwitz who has been outfitted by the SS (every one of them a pink swastika fairy in skin tight leather) in an oversized codpiece. Of all the prisoners being photographed by the Yankee liberators, I am the one who is going to stand out in posterity, my grand manliness, robust even if the face of a prolonged hardship, arising forever as a grainy black and white image inside the hidden dreams of nubile schoolgirls exposed to the horrors of the Holocaust. 

Perhaps this is the real reason behind my gesture. 

I am the walking dead, a “divine life” that is not at all susceptible to the smelly, old death that is all around me.

I am well endowed, a pompous pecker, pimpled and proud, happy in the thought that the little people who do not turn their heads in my direction (who are, presumably, too caught up in their own inconsequential lives to lust for me in all of my glory) are too stupid, or brown, or just plain creepy, to matter. It is like Kathleen Turner once saying: “I know there are nights I have power, when I could put on something and walk in somewhere, and if there is a man who does not look at me, it’s because he’s gay.”

I am as dead, as I am alive. 

What more indicates my self-realized divinity, my life lived out in a way groovy dream, but the surreal blending (the gender bending) of life and death (life is not real, and death is just passing away)? 

I am immersed in my “profound” thoughts, when I stumble into a queue. 

I peer over the half dozen or so people ahead of me. They are all simple, clueless peasants, squatted down in their sombreros and clutching feverishly at squealing pigs or clucking roosters. I can make out only tiny bits here and there in their dim grunts: ay vato, ándele, ándele, arriba, arriba, eek, eek, eek.

I am sickened by the thought that I need to wait in line, especially when I consider who is before me. 

So I thrust a few elbows, and kick an old lady, all the way to the front.

The ticket girl is another señorita gordita strapped to a wailing poverty ticket, except that hers is not swaddled in a cloth, but scampering about at the end of a leash. She is a moon face in a blue work uniform and a beret; and it is all too easy to imagine that, in another twenty years or so, her little urchin will be dressed much the same, and know no other words than Sí, Señor and Pásele.

I decide to poke fun at her. 

It is what self-realized gods do to the simple minded, when they are not exalting in their high mindedness by taking up their plight (“Free Health Care is a Right, even for Moon Face Mexicans,” or “Take Back the Night, even for Moon Face Mexicans,” or “Wages, Not Cages, even for Moon Face Mexicans”).

We are either slapping them down, or helping them to their feet. In both instances, we are in the “God Position,” and they are not (being that, as is the case forever, the simple squat somewhere above dirt, but below contempt). 

I insist in my broken Spanish (she is lucky that I am condescending myself even to speak that much of her inferior tongue, when instead I could be making fun of her for not speaking English) that she reach into my fig leaf and grab the bus voucher herself. 

You’ll find it, I assure her. It feels like a soggy tortilla. 

She avoids my fig leaf like the plague. 

I grab her hand and try to force it there.

She snaps away from me in a huff.

The next thing I know, I am explaining to a security guard how the ticket girl tried to manhandle me. 

It is clear from his expression that he is not buying my story, but it is even clearer that I have nothing on me (or inside of me) with which to pay him even a meager mordida

So he turns his attention to the crying ticket girl. 

After all, if he chooses to believe my version of events (a perverted little yarn that turns the Moon Face Mexican into a Lolita Conchita), then he can very well exact his mordida, or a hand job, or something or other, from her. 

What matters is not the truth, but the truth we choose to follow.

And so, with that thought swimming about my mind, I approach the bus. 

Its name is painted in rainbow colors along the side: Flora de Mayo.

Ah, the Mayflower, I think. How appropriate, indeed, for an outcast god, clad in nothing but a fig leaf and pride, trying to return to the Eden he has lost.

Inside, I see the same simple peasants as everywhere else. 

They are surrounding us, someone says, finishing my thought. 

What? I am startled, then relieved, to hear another gringo. 

The Mexicans, you know, the little people, he answers.

I sit in the empty seat next to my new friend.

Tell me about it, I roll my eyes.

I mean, haven’t you ever realized that you are surrounded by a whole lot of people who are no more than half your size? And they’re all babbling on and on, not making any sense, nor even using real words?

Well, we are in Mexico, I laugh. 

They’re everywhere, not just in third world countries. 

I wouldn’t say everywhere, I counter good-naturedly.

Yes, they’re everywhere. You see, the more your eyes open to the truth, the more every one else gets smaller and smaller.

Incredible Shrinking Men, I offer. 

There’s nothing all that incredible about it. It’s just the way of things. 

What do you mean? I sense that I should not be asking this question, that I am going to be unleashing a memorized speech, as if switching on a crusty old cassette player, which cannot be switched off until the audio reel is finished. I know that at some point I am going to want to strangle the S.O.B. into the dust from which he came; but, at this time, I am more interested in being amused.

I mean a free man is standing always at the edge of his own cliff, he says in a hurried whisper, as if unveiling some secret knowledge.

I don’t understand.

He is a Norse god: suave blond hair; aqua blue eyes; cleft chin; shirtless, so that his tanned, muscular chest is not hidden, heaving and sweating with the glistening rays of the sun; nothing, but cut denim wrapped tightly around his beach balls. He crosses his arms and looks out over his ocean, the sultry waves crashing into the rocks well below his sandals, spitting up steam like inflamed incense before a god. He nods his head and smiles. He knows that he can wipe all of this out in an instant with no more than a puny squat and a fart, like he is Conan the Barbarian, or something. But the little people, the brown munchkins weighed down by their history, resent him. They do not want to replace him at the edge of the cliff, since frankly they cannot even imagine what it would be like to look out over his ocean, so much as shove him onto the rocks below, and make sure that no one else ever stands there again.

How can the brown munchkins be a match for a Norse god?

At first, they are not even aware of him. They are a nomadic bunch, sort of like medieval troubadours, roaming about the cactus plains in search of song and sin. Nothing stops them, but an abandoned bottle of tequila, or the flesh of a half eaten burro, the goodies with which to deflower a prepubescent señorita in the dim light of a lazy moon. They are happy fools, living out their lot in life, ‘till one day they spot our Norse god in the distance. Is he the Great White God of legend and lore? Most of them are too afraid to get close enough to be sure. They just cower in their oversized sombreros, so scared they’re vomiting their breakfast tequila. From a bird’s eye view, they’re like belching beans in sacks, each of them, but one. There’s a crazy spitfire in every tribe, a would be David who wants more from life than an occasional fling with a flat nosed Indian girl, or a swig from the tequila bottle when his papa is snoring off the daylight. This David sees his chance. Imagining his burrito to be a sharp dagger, he sneaks up from behind our Norse god, unties his linen trousers, and humps his leg, sort of like a yippy yappy Chihuahua in heat. Maybe if he keeps at it, he’ll poke a hole in his leg sometime, and then the Great White God will fall. It takes a while for our Norse god to notice the pinpricks in his leg. After all, he is caught up in the awe of his ocean, his freedom spread out before him in a seamless eternity, no horizon but the one imposed by his own imagination. But when finally he knows what is going on, he just smiles, squats, and farts, all in the blink of his eye. It is a small measure for him; but for David, worn out from his incessant humping, it is as if a volcano has been unleashed. Slapped by the fumes, he clenches his throat and stumbles backward. He shrieks: ¡Ay, caramba! Our Norse god laughs, never once removing his gaze from his ocean, but happy enough to show off his superior will. David makes it back to his tribe, and then dies. The others eat his remains, after the fumes finally dissipate, pretending that his flesh is as chunky and sweet as a half eaten burro. It’s like they desire to be in communion with a dead loser. David becomes their icon of half-baked ideas and certain failures, a victim cult to be sure, but one that gives them an identity, a sense of belonging to one another and to this land, which they had never known in the troubadour life. They never travel again. They set up a village: simple huts, so that they do not need to lose their siesta time in building them, and an even simpler code of conduct, so as never to be inspired to do more than frolic and freeload. On the Highest Holy Day, they pick out a new “David” from among them and force him to attack the Great White God with nothing but his burrito in hand. They cower in their oversized sombreros, vomiting their breakfast tequila, and listening for the staggered footsteps of their new “David.” Invariably, when they slither out to fetch him, he is dead. They feast on whatever remains, as soon as the fumes are gone. They are happy campers, every one of them, as their lips smack over leathery strings of flesh, asleep in their communion with loss and hopelessness. 

I look over at my new friend. It is much too dark inside the bus for me to see anything in particular. It is as if his voice is a noxious fume, captivating but deadly, arising by the will of an unknowable spirit from within the darkest void.

After a while, the brown munchkins decide to commemorate the passing of the first “David,” an iconic figure known as “Proto-David” by this time, more an expression of their unity in sorrow, than a limp burrito like everyone else in their tribe. They build a temple at the very spot they found his dead body. It is a burrito stand. They adorn the roof with a plastic cactus wrapped in Christmas lights; and, as a final touch, they hang a sombrero (not any sombrero, needless to say, but the legendary sombrero of “Proto-David” himself, as verified by the last munchkin alive to have known him) over the top of the cactus. On the very night of the Highest Holy Day, they turn on the lights, as a High Priest (always a descendant of “Proto-David” himself, or so he claims) solemnly enters into the “inner kitchen,” mutters hocus pocus abracadabra, and steps out with a bunch of stringy flesh from a half eaten burro, that has been transfigured into the life affirming body and blood of “Proto-David” himself. They no longer send out a “David” to confront the Great White God off in the distance, which is as much a relief to the hand wringing mothers clad in aprons as a missed opportunity for their plucky, adolescent sons. Rather, by this act of communion, every one is a “David,” mystically engrafted into the priesthood of all believers. Over time, as more and more of the munchkins focus on the arcane rituals identified with the Highest Holy Day (the solemn “lighting of the plastic cactus;” the tip of the hat to the “Proto-Sombrero,” while dancing in circles around the burrito stand; the payment of a “burrito stand tax,” which increases every year, to make sure the High Priest is outfitted in “holy underwear” that alone can stifle “burrito fumes unleashed from the void”), they lose sight of the Great White God. As the ritual is its own end, religious fidelity gives birth to nothing other than corruption and scorn. A few reformers suggest that the stringy flesh from a half eaten burro is not transfigured into the life affirming body and blood of “Proto-David” himself and that what really matters is the faith of the munchkin. If the munchkin truly believes that “Proto-David” confronted the Great White God, then he is part of the “elect.” If he relies on hocus pocus abracadabra superstition, then he is not part of the “elect.” Needless to say, the priests and the entrepreneurs (usually one and the same) are not at all pleased. They crush the reformers into silence by forbidding them to sleep off their siesta hours under the shade of the cactus plant, which is a privilege reserved only for the munchkins who have paid their yearly “burrito stand tax” and have eaten from the meat of “Proto-David.” As a result of this flirtation with reform, the powers that be (a caste bound together by their aristocratic blood lineage and supposed identity with the first principle of the tribe, whatever that may have been once) demand from every munchkin a strict observance of the Old Rites and Sacred Authorities. From their first day in school (or “burrito bake,” as a school is called in the new regime) munchkins memorize chapter and verse from the Old Rites and Sacred Authorities. A verse in particular warns the munchkins that they may not receive the praise of their peers, since they must endeavor always to greater feats of humility, unless and until they turn in one of their fellow munchkins as a “religious slacker,” a gross crime that is punishable by death. This is an important development, since it is getting harder every year to find a half eaten burro in the bush. The High Priest starts to mix in the flesh of executed “religious slackers” with what little is left of the burro meat. After a while, he gives up looking for half eaten burros, and just relies on the flesh of executed “religious slackers.” He tries in vain to keep this a secret; but when the rumor spreads anyway, he denies the actual charge but admits that, as a result of “fast changing times,” he is preparing the stringy flesh in a “new and innovative” manner that is most assuredly “in keeping with the original spirit” of the Old Rites and Sacred Authorities. Whenever there are not enough dead “religious slackers” for the Highest Holy Day, the powers that be will offer extra doses of praise for those munchkins who happen to point out a “religious slacker” within the next hour. No one appears to make the mental connection between this increase in the prosecution of “religious slackers” and the flesh handed out at the communal feast, or at least they lower their eyes, lest they be denied admission to the All Night Merengue Dance that follows the conclusion of the Highest Holy Day. In this way, the powers that be still manage even in the times of great scarcity to preserve the festivities, a feat that keeps their coffers full, and their oppressive regime in power.

They are eating themselves for the sake of an imagined god, I comment.

Well, our Norse god remains at the edge of his cliff, resplendent in all of his glorious freedom as usual, but the brown munchkins have not seen him for a long time. Instead, they worship and fear their “Great White God,” an inchoate fear that has penetrated into every aspect of their lives, a ghoulish boogeyman that lives on inside their sweaty sombreros, justifying the priests and the pimps behind the oppressive regime. One day, an entrepreneur backed by the regime, a Shylock in a Sombrero, obtains by the worst skullduggery the exclusive rights to a spread of land just beyond the cactus row. He advertises it throughout the tribe as “the West,” a frontier where a simpleton with a señorita and a hoe can eek out a living on a homestead of his own. At first, few munchkins venture out there. After all, the hard work gets in the way of their siesta time, and a rumor spreads that there are no cacti casting shadows under which they can sleep off the daylight. The Shylock has so few tenants that he lobbies his cigar-chomping friends among the powers that be to change the rules of the game. Suddenly, it is an infraction to sleep off the daylight under a cactus plant without paying off an added “cactus protection tax” (besides the normal “burrito stand tax”), and there are few munchkins with the necessary pesos on hand. There is nothing in the whole of Burrito Land that gets a munchkin more angry, and willing to arise from his stupor, than the prospect of losing his siesta time under the shade of a cactus plant. Them’s fightin’ words, they cry. They storm the burrito stand, as that is the symbol of the power of the oppressive regime, and some even throw rocks at the plastic cactus on the roof. The High Priest then stumbles out from behind the counter and, holding up a burrito in each of his fists, announces the resolution: brown munchkins may avoid the “cactus protection tax,” if they are living in “the West.” Needless to say, the Shylock no longer has a problem with finding tenants. The homesteaders in fact are paying as much in supplies and in rent to the Shylock as they had been ordered to pay previously into the “cactus protection fund,” but they cannot tell the difference. In their minds, they won a grand victory, and are able still to sleep off the daylight under the shade of a cactus plant as a “right.” But life on a homestead is not easy. The Shylock sells them knock-off tequila and farm supplies, so as to increase his profit margin. It is increasingly difficult to find a burro that can pull a plow. And the desert sun, the unforgiving crimson ball hanging as a curse over their pathetic dreams, is so fierce as to bake cracks into the hard earth. They have no recourse but to feast on their crunchy, old seeds, to drink their own refuse, and to sell off their bony señoritas to outlaws in search of a hole in which to linger for an hour or two. In these desperate times, the Shylock lures them deeper into the pit with his high interest loans. Eventually, they even lose their “right” to sleep off the daylight under the shade of a cactus plant, without first paying off their debts. Some of them flee back to the burrito stand, hoping that, by paying even more homage to the “Great White God,” they will be delivered from their plight. Others give up their lives to the tequila bottle (the only product that the Shylock sells at a “bargain basement price,” even though he waters it down, so as to preclude his dispirited tenants from becoming revolutionaries), flogging their bony señoritas and selling off their niños for booze. In the meantime, the Shylock constructs a tortilla factory even further our west. He advertises among his tenants: Get Off the Dead Earth and Get Into a State of the Art Factory! Be a Happy Worker in a Snappy, New Uniform! Trade In Your Hoe for a Conveyor Belt! Together, Let Us Join Tomorrow, and Leave the Past in the Dust! The ravenous munchkins forget their “right” to sleep off the daylight under the shade of a cactus plant. That is so yesterday. Now, they have a “right to work,” the High Priest exclaims boldly in every one of his sermons, and there is no better way to improve their simple lives and to keep the “Great White God” at bay. They embrace wholeheartedly the eighteen-hour days and poor wages and working conditions at the sprawling tortilla factory as a “step forward.” There is a “dignity in our labor,” they sing together, while shaping the tortillas along the conveyor belt. When the Shylock decides to increase his profit margin by withholding their pay, he teaches them to sing that there is a “dignity in our slavery.” All is well, so long as there is not another Shylock clamoring to replace the current one. But, leave it to the keen ingenuity of any up and comer seeking to price his stodgy competitor out of the marketplace. He will figure out a way to pool capital investments from a lot of sources all at once, so as to increase his capacity while spreading about his risk to others. And if this “thing” that he forms is designated by the powers that be as a “legal person” (indeed, more of a “legal person” than the slaves toiling off their daylight hours under the shade of a fiery chimney), and if the powers that be promise to “bail out” any “legal person” that they regard, in their collective wisdom, as “too big to fail,” then he and his cronies will not have any risk at all in their venture. Well, as you may imagine, the titans of this “new order” think of themselves as the real gods; and they resent that the slaves (now designated as “shareholders” who are paid in reserve notes backed by the same thin air, as the thin air that they had been “paid” when the old Shylock had decided not to pay them at all) still pay homage to the “Great White God” of a previous era. It is high time that we do away with the old regime altogether, the titans whisper to one another at their exclusive cocktail parties and bohemian smoke-outs. As the self-appointed stewards of progress, we frankly no longer need to share our spoils with the priests and the pimps, in order to keep our lame “shareholders” thirsty for the Kool-Aid that we feed them. We can control their appetites, just by tweaking our advertisements now and then. We can instill in them the heady illusion that they are “free” and “hip,” because we pay them every two weeks just enough of our monopoly notes for them to afford the latest entertainments and fads that we peddle. We can turn them into the foot soldiers of the brave, new world, that we are going to pave over the remnants of the old one; and, as long as they can dance the nights away in our nightclubs, they will imagine that they are as much stewards of this new world as we are. The best way to keep a slave is to convince him that he is free. And that is what the titans then set out to do, as they inflame the munchkins into a mob, and direct their self-righteous resolve at anything smacking of “religion,” or “tradition,” or “offensive totems from a bygone era.” One night, the munchkins storm the burrito stand, tearing it down to the earth with their bare hands, and then stomping upon the plastic cactus. A munchkin in the crowd manages to run off with “Proto-Sombrero” (as the sombrero that had been owned allegedly by “Proto-David” has be called for as long as anyone can remember). It is lost in history, inspiring its own legends, like those surrounding the Holy Grail, or the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg. In the confusion of this “great leap forward,” a planted voice in the mob screams that, in the name of “social justice,” we need to do away once and for all time with the “Great White God” who has been haunting our dreams, and holding us back from our “rights.” There is a divine power in a concentrated mass; and, as if a rallying cry erupting from out of the void, another planted voice then cries: We are the change! We are the future! We are the world! Alive in the cauldron of its own resentments, the mob rushes towards the edge of the cliff, trampling over the last taboo, and imagining what it will be like to tear their sharp teeth and claws into the flesh of the “Great White God.”  

I presume that the munchkins will be no threat to him, I remark absently to my new friend. If my memory serves me, then all he has to do is squat and….

This time it is different. Our Norse god, his blond locks draping like satin sheets over his waxed muscles, is beautiful and strong, to be sure. But he faces much more than a midget in a sombrero. He faces even more than a mob. In all respects, he faces the fullness of government license and largesse, resentments molded over the centuries by religious taboos and cultural norms, and funneled by the nameless titans, the old men pulling the levers behind the curtains, into a mindless force of its own, a beast whose only measure of moral righteousness is the extent to which it can press its boot upon a neck. The beast may pretend to be restricted by the law of its own constitution. It may assume the pretense, as if a debonair rapist who is polite, even charming, as he is sprinkling his toxic powder into the wine of a clueless maiden. But the law exists simply to dull the senses, to lure the simpleminded into believing that there is some grand justice behind the machinations of government. The law is a lullaby; and for those who allow themselves to be cradled to sleep, the law is a surreal dream: that a man is “free” to the extent he is licensed; that a man is “free” when he receives his tax rebate in the mail; that a man is “free” when he earns his special privileges in federal prison. The law provides no room for conscience. Indeed, its supreme practitioners, our mullahs in black robes, inform us in their finest scribbles, the royal decrees veiled as “memoranda of law” and “opinions,” that we all should be so grateful, that the law treats us the same, no matter the moral sentiment beating in our hearts, that instead of having a room for our private conscience, we have “due process” and “equal protection.” Every man has his day in court, they say. But, in fact, it should be said that the court imposes itself, like the blunt instrument that it is, into the nights of every maiden, first as a sweet and wholesome dream, but as necessary as a pair of handcuffs restraining her wrists to a bed post. And then the court, when it is finished with her sedated hips and thighs, sends her a hefty fine and a legal release, like a john charging a hooker for his time. She can smile, though, and tell herself that she is free, ‘cause her neighbors get the same form letters in their mailboxes. So, you understand, our Norse god, forever enraptured, as is his right, in the endless currents of his own freedom, is not aware of the beast. In his innocence, he has no idea that there is going to be a knock on his backside in the darkness of the new moon and that the badges and the batons can and will overwhelm him. He has no idea that, as punishment for his transgressions (whatever the greased cogs within the wheels of justice may imagine those transgressions to be), he is to be transformed into a brown munchkin, brought down to their stature, and stuffed every which way with a limp burrito. And he has no idea that, once he is sleeping in the shade of a cactus plant, like his fellow munchkins, the powers that be will cordon off his former home, forbidding any one from ever again beholding the vast stretch of ocean beyond the edge of the cliff. In time, that ocean will not even be faintly imaginable, not even by the powers that be, and the beast will reign forever. 

When government wins, freedom is the last taboo, I offer. 

Yes, that is quite true. But there is a silver lining to this tale. 

Really, I cannot imagine what that would be.

My new friend brings his lips close to my left ear. I still cannot see him in the darkness, but I sense that the cheap alcohol lazily swimming in his breath is the residual of some sort of syrupy sleep medicine that is obviously not working very well. I just want to punch him in his face and end his self-absorbed misery (if not forever, then at least for the rest of this bus trip), but I am not really all that sure where his face is in the turbulent shadows. 

Well, the silver lining is that, in this case, the government does not win.

So he manages to squat in time….

No. A squat and a fart will not do, not against the unrestrained power of the beast, set loose as a snorting and trampling monster within a mob of pissed off munchkins. As if molded by an unseen hand, the mob contorts into an arrow and thrusts into his ankle. Our Norse god wails. He has never known the sting of pain, nor even mild discomfort, and is not sure what to make of it. He descends to one knee, while the mob encircles him, like ants clad in linen and sombreros swarming around a bleeding carcass. He tries to flick them off one at a time, as if a paid traffic fine here, or a response to a jury summons there, but there are way too many of them. His second knee falls, squishing several irate munchkins in the process, and the swarm climbs his upper legs and pulls at his sexy denim cut offs. He lets off as many farts as he can muster, but the crazed zombies are not even fazed by the noxious fumes. Unable to pull off the denim in one piece (since the denim seems to be in some sort of mystical union with the tight skins and muscles beneath it), the mob tears it off in shreds, as if unwrapping a huge onion. Our Norse god looks down at his manliness and screams. Of course, in his innocence, he has never seen himself. He has imagined beach balls, practically bursting at the seams, bobbing along the sides of a steel pole. But he has never imagined what the beast could do, if it had his beach balls in its teeth. There is an insipid wheezing sound, as the beast clenches its greasy jaws into the snowy white wrapping of his package. For a moment, he believes that he has released his greatest fart yet. He imagines an anal mushroom cloud grotesquely erupting out from his exposed buttocks, snuffing out the pests in one pass. But when the mob does not fall back, he cannot avoid the fact that the escaped air is coming out from his punctured balls, and that his manliness is shriveling into wrinkled, placid skin, like the remains of a burst balloon. Even his steel pipe is squirming in between his thighs. It is a tepid worm trying to slither back into the butthole from which it came. In near delirium, our Norse god pounds his mighty fists into the earth three times. He unleashes an earthquake that drops his portion of the cliff into the cascading waves far below. Some of the munchkins flee back into the loving arms of their Burrito Land, safe and secure in the tyranny with which they have become accustomed. But most of the munchkins fall at once into the carbon sink. Our Norse god grabs onto a rock and floats out into the vast ocean, bobbing about in his own freedom. The munchkins grab sand pebbles, and they too ride the currents off into the distance. Over many years, these munchkins, each clinging onto his tiny sand pebble, manage to bump into one another; and whenever they do, they join their pebbles together to craft a larger surface. In time, all of the munchkins find one another; and they fashion a rock as large as the surface upon which our Norse god is sunbathing on the open seas. They are as tenacious in pursuit as a government bureaucracy with a limitless budget. In their collective mind, it is their moral and legal imperative to snuff out the last bit of non-conformity in the world, the god who insists on being free, instead of being “due processed” and “equally protected.” They will not rest, until he has been kicked off his private, little island, wherever that may be, and compelled into being a tax paying, law-abiding shrub in a sombrero like the rest of them.

Like my new friend, I am miserable and exhausted, but cannot sleep. 

I feel wet and slimy, as if I too had been drowning in the freedom ocean of our Norse god, and am now bobbing about on a rock, listless and alone in the elements. I sense that this is what it means to be “free” (or how my new friend defines “freedom”) and that I am supposed to be enjoying it. 

I look down at my fig leaf.

I cannot see it in the darkness; but I imagine that, because of the papers stuffed inside, it is as upright and firm as a Viagra Torpedo. It is skimming atop the freedom ocean, its beacon searching out for a nubile schoolgirl in soft, pink panties and rainbow lace, ready to be deflowered from her blushing cheeks and downcast eyes. I look down at her tearful, heaving face, just before I thrust my Viagra Torpedo into her balmy lagoon, and scold her with a swarthy wink and a nod. I tell her that this is her lucky night; that the stars over the open seas are shining brightly upon her, ‘cause she’s not opening her legs for any cock in a tie and a pinstripe suit. No, she’s opening her legs for the Freedom Man; and if by chance she feels any pain or displeasure along the way, or wishes that she were back home with her Johnny Mathis records and Ginny dolls, all she needs to do is whisper to herself that she’s with the Freedom Man, and it’s all just groovy. 

I lose myself in this dream for a while; but, eventually, I am as miserably bored with the squirming, crying schoolgirl in my imagination, as with all of the other fancies of my newly discovered freedom. 

Perhaps I should listen again to the medicine breath beside my left ear. 

So while our Norse god is sunbathing, staring up at the endless, blue sky, dreaming that his freedom ocean is reflected perfectly in its cloudless expanse, he sifts his well tanned fingers through the prickly waves. Whenever he fingers a tiny sand pebble bobbing along the ocean surface, he tosses it into a rock pile that he has been building in between his thighs. It takes a while, but eventually the rock pile covers over the shriveled remains of his manliness. It is a pitcher’s mound, then a hill, and finally a mountain, the pointed top resembling the fine daggers in the Himalayans that had inspired the first dream of a winter hunt. In time, the mountain towers above the sun, so that our Norse god is protected in a shade of his own making. He sees the mountain arising from between his legs and forgets the wilted rose beneath it. Now, his is the manliness of a god, an invitation to the ghostly nymphs and winged harlots above the heavenly sphere to saddle his summit and to ride, until their orgasmic wails shake down the last of the columns and decks on Mount Olympus. And when that happens, as surely it will, then the hooded gods from on high (their feet always tripping over their long, white beards) will descend from the ruins of Mount Olympus and make his manliness their new home. He will watch as the hooded gods build their newest mansions on the sides of his manliness; and, just to keep them on their toes, he will knock down one of their mansions now and then with a tiny sand pebble he scoops up from the ocean surface. Our Norse god is as free in this daydream, as if he had never been forced off of the edge of the cliff. He returns to the state of innocence, forgetting all about those rascally munchkins. But the munchkins have not forgotten him. They bob about the sea, searching the horizon in every direction for any sign of their prey. Finally, as fate decrees, they see our Norse god in the distance; and, more importantly, the current is pushing them in such a way that they will pass right by his little island. As soon as we are close, they exclaim, let us leap onto his rock, like the Mexican Jumping Beans that we are, and tear every bit of flesh from his bones. But wait, one of them reasons, what if he sees us coming from a distance? All he would need to do is stand up by his mountain, squat down, and let out a fierce one. Who cares? The others respond in jest. His atomic mushroom cloud did not faze us the last time. This argument goes back and forth, until the oldest munchkin in their makeshift tribe, a blind fool who claims in his cockeyed songs to have been the Son of the High Priest (a swashbuckler of a boy once, who joins the rebellious mob in tearing apart the burrito stand, in order to show his moral superiority to the privileges of his own surname), suggests that they change the game altogether by shape shifting into a school of fish, or dolphins, or even sharks. Then, they can sneak up onto him, and he will never suspect anything, until it is too late. The others stare blankly for a while, as they are trying to figure out his latest cockamamie tale. Finally, as if an unseen hand switches on their collective light bulb, they erupt into fits of laughter and scorn. Do you doubt me? He pleads. He gestures to the freedom ocean all around them and then inquires, Have you never tasted of these foams and waves? They laugh again, and one of them answers: Why would we drink of this salted slime, when we can know the golden sweetness of our own refuse? If you would only get your cabezas out of your own sombreros, then you would be open to something “exciting and new.” Like in the “Love Boat” theme song, an anxious munchkin offers into the fray. Yes, the old fool takes up the suggestion with a hoarse cackle and a spit into his spittoon. It’s like the “Love Boat.” If we just wish long and hard enough, then this patch of rock on which we have been castaways for so long can be an awesome Carnival Cruise. Our refuse can be an “all you can eat” buffet on the Captain’s Deck. And this here freedom ocean, it can allow us to shape shift. The old fool finishes his sermon by stumbling to the edge and cupping a bit of salted slime into his mouth. Every one watches, as all that slime gulps down his stringy, Gabby Hayes throat, and settles as a clump in his wiry bowels. There is the customary pregnant pause, accompanied by a soft drum roll in the heavens. Then, the old fool morphs into a flapping sea bass. He uses his new fins to jump into the ocean, so that he can take in a breath. As he swims joyously about the rock, the other munchkins dip their open mouths into the freedom ocean, wallowing in the salted slime, and morphing into a flapping sea bass. Soon, they are a school of sea bass in sombreros; and they are free to swim anywhere in the endless ocean. But they have not lost the spoilsport mind of a government bureaucrat with a bit of administrative power at his fingertips, nor have they set aside their pride of ownership in the limitless budget that the powers that be have conferred upon them. They zero in on our Norse god, as if the swarm of zeroes skipping over the mountains to descend upon Pearl Harbor on a particular Sunday morning. They snicker (or as near to a snicker as any sea bass can muster), like the wily villains that they are, as they would rather steal the last bits of freedom from our Norse god, then revel in their own freedom. It is with that thought in mind that they encircle his rock and prepare for the kill. But, in the end, what can a sea bass do to a sunbathing Norse god, except take a swipe at his fingers sifting through the waves, or splash the salted slime onto his rock? Our Norse god stirs a bit; but, for the most part, he remains as free as before to dabble sleepily in his daydream of orgasmic nymphs and hooded gods. 

I awaken from my daze just enough to question the “shape shifter” idea. It does not ring true to me. It is much more plausible that our Norse god, mired as he is in his daydreams, is imagining an onslaught of sea bass. 

My new friend must be reading my mind again, because he addresses the concern directly. The problem is that, as he proceeds, his voice cracks several times; and I get the impression that he is a bit too anxious on this point. 

Well, you see, when we imagine something, we are bringing it into some level of existence. Usually, we don’t imagine clearly or strongly enough, which is why our imagination does not materialize in the physical world. It remains as an image in our minds, or maybe as a strange phrase in a poem, or as a splotch of color in a painting. But that is just because we do not have enough real faith in the power of our own freedom. If we just dunked our faces, without reserve, into the freedom ocean, or opened our eyes and our hearts to the reflections of the freedom ocean that are all around us, then we too could redesign ourselves into a bold, new creation. 

Or even call down the gods, I offer, trying hard to be convinced. 

Hell, if a beanbag can turn himself into a fish, then just dream what we can do, when we are allowed to be alone in our moral and creative freedom. In every instance of recorded history, the first goal of the tyrant is to convince his subjects that there is more merit in security than in freedom. Just get real, the tyrant will say, and leave the lofty dreaming to the hippies in the cafes. But, if we look back at the tyrant, and hold up our hand and say, don’t even go there, bitch, then we can be anything we set out our minds to be. 

I look down at my fig leaf. I really want to believe him.

Maybe if I try a little harder, then my last bit of skepticism will fall away forever, like the shadows of superstition before the lights of reason.   

But then I remember the Gnostic Without a Name caressing her womb in the hours after we did something or other together. I remember her looking up at me. I can hear her voice still, as she tells me that she is pregnant with child. 

And it does not ring any more true now, than it did then.

I drop this thought altogether. I am not comfortable with the direction it is heading; and in order to cement my decision, I clench my fists and whisper in no uncertain terms: Ignorance is Truth, and Truth is Ignorance, and anyone who demands otherwise is a goddamned tyrant, imposing his blindness on the rest of us, like one of those Bible believing Christians, or holier than thou Republicans.

I say all of this to myself, but of course I was saying the opposite back at the lecture hall, before the shadows turned against me. 

Before they injured my pride….

Remember the fool in Shakespeare, my new friend continues. He may be a jester, offering bawdy jokes for the groundlings; but he is also the only one in the play who gives voice to the truth. Well, a munchkin turning into a sea bass, or a Norse god calling down the nymphs and the gods from Mount Olympus, the whole story in fact may be a fool’s daydream, but that just means that we’re a lot closer to the truth than otherwise. 

Don’t confuse the truth with the facts, I mutter. 

Exactly, my new friend shouts with unrestrained delight, before settling back into his conspiratorial whisper.  

But I feel no delight. I feel that I am sinking into my own queasy bowels, because I do not believe a word I am saying.

Now, my new friend continues, the munchkins do not manage to stir our Norse god from his daydreams, when they encircle him as a school of rabid sea bass. It is like a Pearl Harbor in some alternative universe, where the zeroes do not manage to drop any of their bombs. They just swoop in low, and scare a lot of ducks, but do nothing to keep the portly four-star from finishing his eighteen holes. But, regardless, they have learned to shape shift. They have tasted what it is like to be free. And so a few days later, they return to our Norse god as a school of dolphins. With their bigger fins, they splash waterfalls of salted slime all over him. He cannot help but notice, as he staggers to his feet, and tries to protect his precious, blond locks from the water. In the mayhem, he catches an unwanted glimpse of the wilted rose in between his thighs and freaks out. He is on his knees, panting and crying, a boy who has had his Star Wars Action Figure collection snatched out from his hands, when the dolphins swim away. He does not know what to do, but again slide his legs on both sides of the rock pile, and try to pretend that his manliness is as long as the sun is high. But that only lasts a few days. The dolphins return, splashing more waterfalls of salted slime, this time even managing to sprinkle water on his hair. He squats beside his rock pile and farts unevenly into the sea breeze at his back, but his fumes do not matter to the smiling dolphins. One of them defiantly screams back (though in the high pitch squeaks of a dolphin, so that each syllable is elongated, and thus treated as its own word): ay vato, ándele, ándele, arriba, arriba, eek, eek, eek. He has an epiphany: somehow these flippin’ Flippers are the same as the munchkins in Burrito Land, the little, brown pests that he had managed to forget. They leave finally; but now that he knows what he knows, he cannot relax again. He must remain vigilant for when they return. And he cannot trust anything that swoops or swims by, as the munchkins are as likely next time around to be a shark, or a seagull, or even a bit of seaweed sticking to the sides of his rock. He casts his eyes upward, avoiding the popped balloon beside his sphincter, and reading the heavens for any signs of what may come next. We have to be on the lookout for the same beasts today, as they swoop down from inside a storm cloud, or jump up from the ocean floor, except that now they go by the name of Bilderberg, or Rothschild, or Mason, and their sharp fangs are “cease and desist” letters from Jew lawyers, or delinquent tax notices from the I.R.S. There is no way to avoid it. The price of freedom is a heavy dose of paranoia, and a packed pistol on the bed stand. Either you pay the price, or you are knocked off of your little island.

Doesn’t really sound like much of a choice, I mutter. 

What do you mean? My new friend is taken aback by my comment. 

Well, either way you look at it, our Norse god can never daydream again.

My new friend falls silent.

He has been speaking for so long, that I am as taken aback by the sudden silence, as he has been by my comment. 

I do not like it at all, because I sense that he is unsure of himself, maybe for the first time in his tired, sleepless life. 

And if this “know it all” shadow man breathing into my left ear is unsure of himself, then there is no way that I am going to avoid the sad disillusionment that has been creeping into my fig leaf ever since I began to crawl back into my own little patch of Eden. 

Actually, he can daydream even more, my new friend blurts out. 

I settle back into my seat. I am able to relax, even if only for a moment, because the dream has not been extinguished altogether. 

You see, he continues in his conspiratorial whisper, he may no longer be a Goliath standing at the edge of his cliff, beholding his freedom ocean in every direction, or lounging upon his private island, bobbing about in the salted slime without a shore in sight, but he is a David. He is a scrapper, pumping his fists at his side, just waiting for the next bump against the side of his rock to inspire in him that righteous rage for which he may be proud. He is not a Norse god, calm and beautiful in his blond locks, so much as a Norse beast, a bitchin’ biker babe riding the waves of discontent, egging for a brawl with the latest incarnation of tyranny. Indeed, he is the real “Proto-David,” like the Anglos are the real Jews, and the Aryans are the real Aliens from Aldebaran. He knocks over his rock pile after a while. He does not need it, and he certainly has no interest in providing a home for a bunch of half-baked whores from Olympus. He uses the sharp side of a rock to slice off what little is left of his placid manliness, ‘cause wherever he is in his ocean, he is the Venus from on high, and the Vestal Virgins, and the Queen of Atlantis, a vaginal douche in a regal robe of waxed muscles and starry eyed contempt, spraying his sweet refuse into the sea breeze as if the eruption of womanly scorn. Most importantly, he is no longer bobbing about his freedom ocean. He is going somewhere in particular. And he has the map to get there.

My new friend pauses. He allows the drama to linger.

I sit up in my seat and gulp in a mouthful of stale air.

I am drowning in my excited anticipation of what he is going to say next.

So where is he going? I finally manage to ask. 

I still cannot see my new friend, but I can imagine his eyes bulging out of their sockets, as he leans his lips just over the frizzled hairs of my left earlobe. 

He is going to the pot of gold, he answers.

A pot of gold, I whisper back, as if unearthing with the subtle movement of my lips and tongue the most ancient and revered of magical incantations, an otherworldly phrase hidden beneath the soil of ignorance, until mankind should be so lucky that I should release it now for all to hear. 

No, not a pot of gold, but the pot of gold…

The pot of gold, I correct myself, but without losing the same reverence that had captured my heart a moment ago. 

Yes, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Like a leprechaun…

Only better, ‘cause our Norse beast is so much more bitchin’ than a wily, green Druid who would rather slurp his tongue in a pint of Guinness than a pair of knockers. With his womanly intuition, he can sense the most beautiful of the pots of gold, like a gold digger can pick out the ideal sugar daddy in a room full of rich and lonely codgers. And once he’s swimming in the pot of gold, he’ll be free of those rascally munchkins forever, ‘cause he’ll be able to pay off tyranny without batting one of his cosmetic eyebrows, or shimmering his rouge cheeks.

So what about the map? I ask, like a child begging his mother to take him to see Santa Claus in the downtown mall. 

My new friend turns on a flashlight. 

He removes a pamphlet from his pants, and unfolds it before my eyes.

Attack of the Ron Paul Nuts

Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we shall say, some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams. Genesis 37:20 (KJV)

I watch as my new friend unfolds the pamphlet.

He moves slowly, methodically, as if opening a sacred document that he has removed from a vault at the core of the earth. It had been put there before the beginning of time, a piece of paper laying on a velvet cushion, last touched by the hands of the Unknowable Spirit from above the heavens. 

In my peripheral vision, I see that the dark shadows beyond the windows are as if waves on an endless sea, the last boundary on the imagination erased, wiped out of all memory, so that there is no horizon. 

And with no horizon, the vision is as far reaching as the sea is endless. 

I am not sitting on a bus, bumping over a third world road on the way to Guatemala, so much as reclining on my private, little island, arising and falling in sync with the waves beneath me. I know that the current is taking me to the Eden of my own choosing, a place as much “out there” as in my own mind; and this “map,” this sacred document opening before my eyes, will guide me about any and all obstacles that may emerge in my path. 

My new friend is on his own private, little island. 

Our islands have bumped into one another for a while, the hand of a fate in unity with free will, so that we are as much star crossed lovers bobbing down the same current, as we are two, solitary men, each willing himself to an Eden as far from one another as our imaginations may allow. 

There are no peasants on my private, little island; and I suspect that my new friend is not burdened by mindless groveling on his, either. 

Like the brown munchkins, the peasants may be “out there,” somewhere far away, assembling their tiny sand pebbles together, so as to create a rock as large as ours. They may be on the look out for anyone who is free, determining in their simple, but devious, minds how to drag down a grand and noble spirit if and when they have an opportunity to do so. 

But I do not fear them. 

I can hide behind my towering fig leaf, my manliness stuffed with papers galore, and reaching up as high and as distant as the midnight sun. I can rest in my own shade, asleep in my daydreams of nymphs, and harlots, and blossoming roses on bosomy hills as far out in every direction as my fig leaf is high. I can….

The bus stumbles over a particularly nasty bump. 

We are suspended in the air for a moment; then we tumble back into our seats, like a gaggle of geese that have been felled from the heavens at once by a barrage of bullets. We end up a jumble of feathers and beaks, here and there a cocked bird eye arising from beneath the mess to glare, dumb and intense, at whatever else may have fallen from the sky.

A spoiled pig leaps out from the arms of its peasant owner. It clamors up and over the back of its rickety bus seat and slams snout first into the lap of my new friend. It is burrowing its oinker into the sacred document, as if Antiochus, the ancient Syrian King, defiling the Temple of the Chosen People of God. 

The flashlight presses up against the chest of my new friend; and for the first time, I am able to see that he is wearing a crop top (the shirt of a gym rat, except that his chest is much too scrawny for him to be a power bottom in the sweaty sphincter set). I am also able to read what is printed in rainbow colored lettering, and sandwiched between two smiley faces, on the front:

I’m a Ron Paul Nut. Got Freedom, Bitch?

I still cannot see his face. It is permanently lost in the shadows.

But I imagine that my new friend is not so much a Norse beast, as a troll, a loony leprechaun who has been drinking for too long from his own spout. I am certain that he is unattractive and all too common. 

He may have been a god once, but now he is just an animal, or maybe an old, dried up string of seaweed stuck to the bottom of a rock on the open seas, a blight that blathers on and on about “freedom,” when he has no idea what he is, nor how far he has fallen. 

I remember years ago, back in the States, when I am serving (noble fool I am, every now and then) as the Grand Wizard and Exalted Cyclops of a County Republican Central Committee. We are smack dab in the belly of the beast, a county of pot smoking, granola eating Socialist Democrats; and given our lowly esteem and laughable irrelevance in local politics, we may as well have been a kook cabal clad in white sheets. We even keep an autographed black and white of Richard Nixon on one of the walls of our ramshackle headquarters, just so as to disabuse anyone who may happen to stumble into our cell (a rare occurrence that raises the penciled eyebrows of those of us who fear being taken over by a “newcomer” to our ranks, much more than we detest losing elections) from the thought that we are normal and sane. 

About the only people who are worse off are the libertarians. 

In a land of polite, do-gooder, soccer-mom socialists, where effete snobs still manage to hold on to enough of the “American Dream” (suburban home on a corner lot; husband working in the “tech industry;” wife working on “woman-speak empowerment” with her lesbian friend, Trudy; and 1.8 children losing all that remains of their sad souls in Facebook chat and Twitter porn) to afford the fantasy that they are “good people” (after all, they vote consistently to impose higher taxes on every one else, and they provide free tortillas and salsa to their “undocumented workers” every Cinco de Mayo), the libertarians stand out as a bunch of bedraggled goons carrying placards in front of city hall. The polite and the smelly actually have a lot in common, especially when it comes to pot (the socialists are the buyers, the libertarians the dealers), rock (a blending of Pink Floyd and U-2 during a late night acid trip), and all things groovy. 

But the libertarians are the wrong class. 

And they like guns.

And so they are shut out, the first to be tossed as smelly hecklers from a town hall meeting, and the last to be counted on election night.

Most of these libertarians revel in their anti-social status. It is a badge of honor for them, an indication that they are so much “better” and “wiser” than the people who bathe every day and drive Volvos. 

But a few of them want to do more than spend all day debating the finer points of Ayn Rand, while transforming their lungs into bags of marijuana soot, and rubbing out the small tick in their crotches. 

They want to be involved in local politics. 

And while they have a lot more in common with the leftist loons who are the rank and file activists on the County Democrat Central Committee, they are not so gullible as to think that they can take over that party from within. After all, the Democrats are actually serious about keeping their preeminent position in local politics. For that reason, they bottle up all of the real power in a small cadre of elected officials and consultants, allowing the loons on the Committee to squabble over the peanuts of money and influence allotted to them in return for their volunteerism in the weeks prior to an election. Even if the libertarians take over the County Democrat Central Committee, swooping into the monthly meetings with their bullhorns and placards in hand, they will not be any closer to taking over that party, in reality, than if they remain outside in the icy, cold streets with the other smelly protesters blathering on and on about “freedom.”

But the County Republican Central Committee is ripe for the plucking. It is an irrelevant sideshow, to be sure; and its ramshackle headquarters would be condemned, if the Democrats who run the local permit office actually believed that the Republicans were relevant enough to be worthy of the time and money that it takes to send off a formal eviction order.

On the other hand, since there are no Republican elected officials within hundreds of miles, and the last remaining Republican consultant is an old timer in a nursing home, who had been a local consultant for Thomas Dewey, there is no unreachable cabal hording the real power apart from the Committee. If you take over the County Republican Central Committee, then you get in the spoils of war whatever real and imagined Republican power exists locally. 

With that purpose in mind, the unwashed masses swoop into our monthly meeting one night. I watch them nervously from my podium at the other end. 

They are a rag tag bunch, a horde of bikers adorned in their old, scraggly beards, unkempt chest hair, and “Don’t Tread on Me” denim jackets and jeans. 

My secretary is sitting to the right side of my podium. She is quivering in her old lady floral dress; and the blue hair bun atop her wrinkled head is sliding down her forehead, and covering over her owl eye glasses, like a well buttered wig that has been unloosed from a frying pan.

She turns to me, while pushing her hair out from her lenses. 

Her eyes are wide open, but so frightened as to be absorbed totally into her bloodless bullet hole pupils. They are black holes, sucking what timid color is left in her long face and tense lips, as if the process of decomposition after a sudden death has been sped up from a matter of days to a few seconds. 

She points in the general direction of the mob, but keeps her black holes fastened on me. She tries to speak with every jab of her index finger. 

Who, who, who, she cries, as a frightened owl. 

I am not sure, I mutter weakly. 

My treasurer springs to my left ear. She is another blue hair, but there is more sprite in her step, and sneering intensity in her eyes (which, incidentally, is the principle reason why the Committee re-elects her each year to the office of treasurer, since presumably the best bag man is a leering yenta who has not lost a bit of her bedeviled wit to advanced age and country club comfort). 

I think they’re Cossacks, she screeches. 

Are you sure? My voice is all a twitter, like a schoolboy being confronted with his first kiss, and we have not even stood yet for the Pledge of Allegiance.

Look at their rat eyes and big noses, she responds. 

I look at them more closely. I admit that they seem to be a scary bunch.

My sergeant at arms shuffles up from the front entrance. She is a retired schoolmarm in bunny slippers; and it takes her a while to reach me, because of the severe crack in the legs of her walker. 

I tried to stop them, she pleads.

That’s okay, I answer. 

I think they’re Japanese, probably escapees from the internment camps, ‘cause that devil FDR uses cheap padlocks, the schoolmarm offers helpfully. 

That’s about seventy years ago, I respond.

They’re tenacious midget monkeys, squinty eyed, but not sleepin’ a wink these past seventy years, wanderin’ about the countryside, mixin’ in with those Mexican migrant types, all the while searchin’ for a few good patriots to pester with their cheap chopsticks….

I think they’re Cossacks, the treasurer interrupts the sergeant at arms.

Damn yenta, the sergeant at arms responds. You can’t tell a Jap from a Cossack, ‘cause they don’t allow either to join your bigoted country club.

Who are you calling a bigot? The treasurer bellows, while nearly pushing the sergeant at arms off of her rickety walker. 

Who, who, who, my secretary joins in the fray.

I stumble out from my fear long enough to push the blue hairs apart. 

One of the unwashed masses approaches me. He is a fat slob, munching on a wiener, and speaking with such a thick, Southern accent that I half expect him to finish his comments with a bloodcurdling Rebel Yell. 

He informs me in between his sweaty wiener bites that he and his fellow “liberty lovers” are here to voice their grievances.

We gun totin’ workin’ class folk have as much a right as any of you damn white collared Yankees to petition the man, he finally spits out.

By “man,” I presume you mean the government, I remark.

Yes, the gobment. It’s in the Constitution, you see….

First of all, the word is “government,” not “gobment,” and….

That’s what I said….

Secondly, we are the County Republican Central Committee, and not to be confused with the County Board of Supervisors.

His buddy shows up. He is a squirrely, bug eyed man. His “NRA” ball cap is larger than his face and seems glued or stapled to his bald scalp. 

You’re a lyin’ son o’ bitch, bug eyes comments intelligently.

Yeah, how’s it feel to be runnin’ cover for the Rockefeller Jews? The fat slob inquires, while chewing down the last bit of his wiener. 

We’re not Jews. We’re Republicans, the sergeant at arms answers.

Speak for yourself, you Presbyterian Poop, the treasurer screeches. 

The blue hairs grab at each other’s old lady floral dresses. 

Before I can intervene, the walker is flying through the air; and the blue hairs are rolling across the cold, hard floor in between the podium and the first row of folding chairs. Their screams muddle together into a strange brew of Old Yiddish and Country Bumpkin, like Woody Allen in a tussle with a Grand Wizard.

One of the bunny slippers knocks over the American Flag. 

The pole falls onto the right foot of the accordion player, who had been setting up to lead us in our triumphant singing of the Star Spangled Banner. He shrieks, and throws his instrument into the air. 

By the time I tear the bellowing blue hairs apart, pick up the broken flag pole, and apologize profusely to the accordion player for his swollen, right foot and broken instrument, the unwashed masses have taken control of the podium and front table. They are laughing heartily with one another, as if swarthy, old pirates who have taken a hold of the booty in a captured ship, and have tossed the blue-eyed captain and his crew overboard.

My secretary hurries over to me. 

She points back at the black beards behind her head without ever taking her owl eyes off of me. She is afraid that if she looks back, even for a moment, she will be turned into a pillar of salt. 

Who, who, who, she cries, as she stumbles into my chest. 

They are “liberty lovers,” apparently, I respond.

And if your old lady pulls up her dress, we are “liberty lickers” as well, a black beard with an exposed beer belly howls. 

Every one of his cohorts roars in approval. If they had been back in their beer hall, then they would have been raising their slippery steins just then. 

Listen, if you want to petition the government, I cry, then you need….

It’s in the Constitution, the fat slob screams back at me.

Yes, of course, I mumble. But what I am trying to say is, you need to go somewhere else. We are not the government….

That’s cause gobment no longer exists, one of them growls from behind a thorny, red beard and toothless gums. 

Of course, gobment exists, Beaver, another one of the black beards says, while hitting the thorny, red beard over the head with a smelly sock.  

The thorny, red beard hits him back, and there is a brief scuffle between them that knocks over the podium. 

It’s the Republic that doesn’t exist, another one of the black beards says to no one in particular, as if a soft light bulb has been turned on in his noggin.

With this comment, the scuffle comes to an end; and the mob once more turns its collective mind back to me. 

A skinny dude with a fox face stands up on the side of the podium. He is waving an unloaded pistol in the air. 

It no longer exists, ‘cause of that war criminal, Abraham Lincoln, the fox face cries in a fake Southern drawl. 

A slithery hiss spreads across the mob. Apparently, this is their reaction, whenever they hear the name of the man they consider to be the Judas Iscariot of the American Republic. 

First, he rapes the homespun dignity out from the Southern Woman, and then when the Southern Man, the Freedom Knight that he is, is tryin’ to protect the Southern Woman from this atrocity, he hits him over the head from behind, the fox face rants, miming the treacherous attack with his unloaded pistol. 

And then he separates the colored from his labors, the thorny, red beard adds to the rant. 

The mob turns on the thorny, red beard for speaking out of turn. 

The fox face jumps off the podium, struts over to the thorny, red beard, and slaps him silly with the butt of his pistol.

We no longer say that part, Beaver, the fox face chides. 

It’s in the Constitution, the fat slob offers helpfully.

The fox face resumes his place on the side of the podium. He leers at me with his beastly eyes, and taunts me with his unloaded pistol, while speaking in his ridiculously garbled accent.

When liberty dies at Appomattox, the Jew lawyers get to work. They sell off our freedoms to the highest bidder, one by one in the third hour each night, ‘till there’s nothing left but the shell of our American Republic. Then, one dark day, when no honest man is lookin’, the United States Congress sells off what is left to the “Corporation,” the fox face intones the last word as if it is a curse.

Another slithery hiss spreads across the mob. Apparently, this treasonous “Corporation” is as demonic a figure within their old mythology as Honest Abe. Perhaps, in a way, they are one and the same thing: the first, a human (though they would say a simian) incarnation of evil; the next, a conspiracy to impose a systemic, extra-constitutional tyranny over and above our American Republic in the fine print of an obscure Congressional Act, and then to trick the generation that follows into thinking that our American Republic still exists, which is much the same evil, in their view, as using the Federal troops to put down secession.

The problem with their old mythology is that this “Corporation” logically cannot exist, no matter how prominent a boogeyman they will imagine it to be. 

It is a simple matter of definitions, I comment after a while. In order for there to be a corporation, by definition there must be a specific statute that is above and beyond that corporation that allows for that corporation to be made in the first place. In other words, a corporation is a creature of the law. But, in the case of our American Republic, there is no statute that is above and beyond our Declaration of Independence and our United States Constitution, let alone a statute that allows for our American Republic to be incorporated. 

The mob charges me; and the next thing that I know, I am being hogtied to the American Flag pole. One of them stuffs a handkerchief into my mouth in retribution, apparently, for the fact that I have spoken heresy. 

The fox face then picks up the podium, and gavels the meeting to order.

Treating me as if I am a Stuart King, the Committee declares that I have “abdicated” the Chairmanship. There must be a new election at once, so as to attend without delay to the good and grand business of the party.

Predictably, the fox face wins, though not without facing a last minute challenge from the thorny, red beard. He is frustrated (even to the point of sad tears rolling into his bushy beard) that “the colored from his labors” refrain has been dropped from their creed. But he does not carry a vote, not even his own.

The votes follow in quick succession. Everything that follows passes by a boisterous acclamation, as if bikers in a beer hall deciding which brews to drink when a certain Country and Western drawl is heard on the jukebox:

They replace our state flag with a yellow and black “Don’t Tread of Me,” which they then hang from the wall behind the podium. The American Flag still flies officially; but it is off to the side, and I am hogtied and muzzled to it right now. I wonder if they will keep it, when it is no longer serving as a restraint for me or for any one else who is not caught up in their song and dance. 

They change our name to the “County Liberty Central Committee,” so as to be a new political home for every placard-carrying idiot still bobbing around in the icy, cold winds outside our hall. The squirrely midget hits the point home by stepping up on a stool and scrawling “Liberty” in broken, white chalk on our portable blackboard. A few of them then push the blackboard outside the front door and call out for any other hobos and stragglers to join them. 

They resolve that our only policy efforts should be to “legalize freedom” (a phrase that, when recited from the podium, elicits a polite applause) and to “legalize pot” (a phrase that, when recited from the podium, elicits a long and wild cacophony of cheers). Someone lights a joint and passes it around then. 

They resolve that Abraham Lincoln is “Judas Iscariot in drag” (when their fox face chairman utters this phrase, at first no one responds, but then when in time they figure out what it means, they erupt into wolf-like howls), and that a host of other Presidents are bad too, ‘cause “Brother Glen Beck” says so every afternoon on the boob tube: Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, LBJ, and that funny guy portrayed on Saturday Night Live, you know, that peanut farmer who pisses Billy Beer in a plant in the lobby of an airport. 

They resolve that the United States Constitution is as good as the “Bible, and B-I-B-L-E, that’s the book for me.” They dedicate this specific resolution to “Brother Ron Paul, who walks the Texas Plains as the Saint Paul of Liberty.”

They resolve that facts should never get in the way of a good truth, and that the “Corporation” is like a “wild Jap sea serpent dressed in a sombrero, so as to trick the youngsters into thinkin’ it’s as harmless as Puff the Magic Dragon or Sanity Clause.” The fox face leers at me, when this one passes. My sergeant at arms joins with them at this point, since any group that is resolved to stamp out “squinty eyes in sombreros” is her kind. My treasurer follows her, just so as to pester the sergeant at arms, when she is not paying attention.

Only my secretary remains at my side. Every one else on my Committee, no matter their superior education and class, is joining in with the sweaty biker gang, ‘cause “business is being accomplished” and “we need action, something exciting and new, not more of the same old faction and inaction.” 

I want to thank my secretary for her loyalty (which will be accomplished by a blink of my left eye, since I can neither nod my head, nor emit even basic guttural sounds, in my current hogtied and muzzled state); but when I look into her face, I am repulsed. She has been swallowed into her black hole pupils; and what remains is inchoate, beastly fear, the ghost of an owl hooting savagely on a tangled branch, as the new moon drapes her darkness over the tombs below.

Who, who, who, she cries into the padded room that is left behind when the new moon has snuffed out the last of the tombs beneath her arthritic claws and blood stained feathers.

I look into the mob and find the face of my sergeant at arms. She is now turning into a schoolmarm biker chick, her floral dress transforming into greasy leather and knee high boots. Her face contorts into that of a German shepherd, when the SS insignia pops out from her heart and stitches itself into the bosom of her new work uniform. 

My treasurer turns into a whiskered rat. She claws over the front table in search of any loose change, and then wiggles her rat nose when she finds some.

Strip away the tyranny, and we are free to revel in the beasts beating in our hearts, the fox face sneers at me, as if responding to my tortured thoughts.

But for them to remain free of tyranny, they must impose it on me.

And so I remain hogtied and muzzled for the rest of the meeting; and, as a result, I never transform into a furry, little beaver, or a slippery sea serpent. 

They finally untie me, when they are ready to leave for the beer hall. 

I am harmless by then, so I leave politics for the lecture circuit.  

A week later, I am sitting in the office of my publicist. 

I stare at his fish tank, while he is lashing his tongue at some one over an old rotary telephone. The several goldfish trapped in the tank, swimming about in an infernal loop from an underwater rock cave to a plastic sea dragon, are as fate allows the only splashes of color in the whole of the office. 

A dull mahogany prevails everywhere else in the windowless back office. It is almost impossible to distinguish the desk from the faded brown carpet and walls. Even the pallid, jowly face of my publicist, stuffed into a starched white collar and mortician’s suit, has taken on the dour hue of his furniture. 

He sets his old rotary telephone aside, looks back at me, and smiles. It is an insincere gesture, like the strained cheekiness of a shopkeeper listening to a loopy customer who is insisting that he bought, and now wants to return for his money back, a rancid mouthwash that has never been in stock. The shopkeeper can either maintain good customer relations and pay him off, or snatch out the sawed off shotgun beneath his counter. He is trying to decide which course to pursue, as the loopy customer goes on, and on, and on….

So this is my idea for a lecture, I finally conclude. We shrug off the “Ron Paul Nuts” as harmless jesters carrying misspelled placards and spouting off the latest “liberty” laced obscenities. But, in fact, they are dangerous, because all of them, in one way or another, are men who presume to be gods. They believe that they have “figured out” what is not at all apparent to the rest of us. 

And, once again, what they have “figured out” is? My publicist draws out his question, as if he is doubled over in constipation. 

They have “figured out” that the United States of America is no longer a Republic, not even in a formal sense, as she has been transformed by a sinister and shadowy Act of Congress into a “Corporation.” We Americans are not free, liberty loving citizens, so much as unwilling shareholders. Our elected officials, from the greatest President to the lowliest Dog Catcher, are not valid, because they do not take their oath of office to the “real” Constitution, but rather sign what is tantamount to an employment contract with the Board of Directors, the Jew Central Bankers and effete Polo Players in high stockings who loot the gold out from the “Corporation” vaults for their own nefarious purposes. They keep us fat, happy, and dumb, by putting fluoride in our water and teaching Ebonics in our public schools, so that we are gullible enough to think that we all reside still in the good ole’ U S of A, all the while they are slithering off to their Swiss Bank Accounts with our last bits of penny and pride. 

Don’t you think this would make a better suspense novel, than a lecture? My publicist inquires, while eyeing his pocket watch, and tapping his right pinky impatiently at a tick on his mahogany desk. 

Except that this is true.

The “Corporation” is true?

No, of course not. It is all paranoid rubbish. But they think that it is true (or at least keep telling themselves that it is true), so that they can believe, as much as their minds will allow, in their own moral and intellectual superiority.

So the “Corporation” is some sort of expression of their God Complex, as you would call it?

Yes. After all, only a god can unravel a long-standing conspiracy that the rest of us do not even imagine. Only a god can “see” the ghost stealing off with the gold in the wall safe, while the rest of us, cooing babies that we are, sleep off our warm brandy and dead cigars in the comfort of our blankets upstairs. 

So the “Ron Paul Nuts” imagine themselves to be gods?

Yes. Of course, we all do to the extent that we conceive ourselves to be “good enough” to grab a bit of heaven on our own merit, to climb back into the Eden from which we have been banned, and to beat back the treacherous fates (even knocking God Almighty Himself from his golden dais) with our own, grand free will. But the “Ron Paul Nuts,” like the Jacobins, and the Marxists, and the whole lot of those who take themselves and their kooky ideas so seriously as to imagine that they have “figured out” the greatest conundrums and conspiracies that the world has ever known, have taken this common conceit and veiled it in the garb of “freedom” and “liberty.” In this way, we are dulled as to their high and mighty pretensions, since after all what good American can be against such grand gestures as “freedom” and “liberty,” the “warm, apple pie” served to us on our white columned porches, as we stare out over our rolling green hills and stooped Negroes? 

You may want to avoid the “Negroes” reference, by the way. It is viewed as off color in some quarters, my publicist interjects absently. 

And because we are dulled, imagining the “Ron Paul Nuts” to be modern day Paul Reveres, we overlook the fact that so long as they (and the rest of us) presume to have the mind of a god, they (and the rest of us) have the impulses of a beast. Give them (and the rest of us) a bit of license; and they will destroy what is polite and humdrum in our world with the viciousness of a rabid dog, all the while inspiring a zombie-like submission by the bah-bah-bah sheep, who are just looking for something fun and glorious to follow for a while. In the end, no matter the ideological cover, every half-baked god is a beast unveiled in greasy leather and boots, or tie and pinstripe suit, depending upon the occasion. 

A god who turns out to be a vampire, devouring the rancid blood that he presumes to sanctify, my publicist blurts out from his semi-consciousness. I see a horror novel in the making, more so than a suspense thriller, something really ghoulish and sexy, like a snuff film discovered one night in an abandoned vault, and then watched by a horny teenager and his blond pussycat as they make out beside a grandfather clock. Inspired by the film, the horny teenager thrusts out his front teeth and gives his blond pussycat a hickey she will never forget….

I am incensed. My publicist has awakened to my ideas; but he is thinking of them as no more real than the glitz and gore in a horror paperback. He is no doubt wondering right now if he can get Roger Corman to direct the picture. 

Look. This isn’t Attack of the Ron Paul Nuts….

That’s a good title.

This is real. I am focusing on the Ron Paul Nuts; but, in fact, most of us, or at least most of us who have the relative ease and luxury that comes from a superior breed and education, fall into this god-beast sensibility. We think that we have it all “figured out,” unless we are so hogtied and muzzled by our past, like the Mexican sleeping in his sombrero, or the African balancing a dead sack atop his head, that we do not have the wherewithal for any such illusions. 

Ah, like when you were hogtied and muzzled to the American Flag.

Yes. Remember, I was the only one not to transform into a beast. 

My publicist smiles, as he picks up his old rotary phone, and dials for the operator. He gets some big wig on the other end, a shady film producer with an unpronounceable string of consonants as a surname; and he lays out his pitch in an excited rush of voice and hand gestures. 

And then the blond pussycat is hogtied and muzzled to an American Flag in a cemetery, frightened out of her wits by the beasts crawling out from their graves, but unable to scream. Finally, her boyfriend shows up; but, rather than untie her, he peels off his facemask, showing himself all along to have been the hybrid son of a vampire and a werewolf. Yeah, yeah, that’s right, then he gives her a hickey that she will never forget, just as the other beasts are crowding in on her flesh. Sure, sure, we can put her in a bikini; maybe even expose her left boob. And here’s the best part. We can call it: Attack of the Ron Paul Nuts. Or, if you prefer: Attack of the Ron Paul Vampires, whatever floats your boat….

As soon as I leave my publicist, slamming the door on his conversation, I snap out from my daydream, disgruntled and dazed.

The pig has scampered away (running down the center aisle, while a sad and smelly peasant in an oversized sombrero pursues him, crying ¡Ay Caramba! and ¡ándele, ándele, arriba, arriba, eek, eek, eek! at the wiggling pig tail just a few inches beyond his grasp), but the illusion has been lost. 

My new friend and I are not Norse beasts on the open seas.

We are more like trolls on a third world bus headed to Guatemala. 

Or, at least, my new friend is a troll. 

As for me, I still want to believe that my fig leaf, long and rigid from the papers stuffed in between my legs, is puncturing through the pearly gates, and tickling the bottom of the feet of God Almighty Himself. I really, really want to believe, that I can be a god, but escape the beastly fate of those Ron Paul Nuts who took over my Committee and the bah-bah-bah sheep that followed them.

But it is hard to hold onto this illusion, when I cannot help but sense that my new friend is frothing at the mouth, and growing troll ears, as he persists in his rant. If the Great Storyteller is no more than a rabid growl, an insensate bit of horror unleashed in the dead of night, then what may be said of the listener? Must he not be as horrific to be tuned into such horror? Is it not necessary that a man be soiled, before he sets out to wax folly in his pornographic pictures by the light of a new moon? Is it not necessary that a man be bad to do bad things?

Or that a man be a “Ron Paul Nut,” somewhere in the fun house mirrors in the back of his mind, in order to indulge in the loopy fantasies of a “Ron Paul Nut,” even if only for a moment? 

Perhaps, somewhere beneath my logical mind, I too really, really believe that, in the fine print of an obscure Act of Congress, our American Republic has been sold down the river to a “Corporation.” 

Perhaps, somewhere beneath my logical mind, I too really, really believe that we are not citizens in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, so much as sold out “shareholders” in a Pyramid Scheme.

We are bit players in a Vegas Death Match the likes of which none of the gamblers can leave the table without losing their last nickel. 

And each of us has been hoodwinked to toss all of our wares onto the velvet table and to convince our family and friends to do the same. 

Because of the fluoride in our water…

And the Ebonics taught in our schools…

And the CIA killed JFK to keep the lid on the UFOs…

And the Universal Studios Execs staged the Moon Landing…

And Dick Cheney planted the bombs that brought down the Twin Towers, because he was looking after the interests of the Carlyle Group…

And…and…and….

Part of me wants to abandon my new friend to his rants, because the old logic in my mind, the sensible side that had been on display before the shadows in the lecture hall turned against me, knows full well that he is a troll rolling in the froth from his own forked tongue. 

But another part of me is afraid of what will be lost, if I put those crazed illusions aside and just accept that I am a guy in a fig leaf on a third world bus.

I Am a Rolling Stone

The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself brings his mother to shame. Proverbs 29:15 (KJV)

I am recoiling from my new friend, as much as I want to hit him in what I imagine is his pointy eared, lantern jawed, whiskered face. 

In my mind, which is all that really matters, he has been swerving as if a drunken codger behind the velvet wheel of his Cadillac boat. The tires swoon a while onto one side, then onto the other, never shifting in spurts from one gear to another, but also never staying faithful to, nor forsaking altogether, the lane that has been dedicated to the grand and noble myth with which he has chosen to identify himself. It is as if the libertarian, in order to demonstrate to himself and to any one else who cares to notice that he is “free,” will not even remain in fidelity to his own liberty, since that too is too much of an entanglement.

As in keeping with his inconsistency, therefore, my new friend has been sloshing along the fine line between a Great Storyteller and a Beastly Nuisance; and, alternatively, I have been loving and hating him.

But now he is just a Beastly Nuisance. 

And I have no idea how to respond to him, or how to imagine myself, as I am sucked into the whirlpool that is all that remains of our mad and sordid love affair. I just know that I am drowning, confused and alone, too caught up in my own little conceits even to cry out for help. 

A gloved hand reaches out from the shadows behind me. It snatches onto my right shoulder and pulls me back from the abyss. It leads me to another seat further back in the bus. 

My shadowy rescuer sits down beside me. It is gentle and well perfumed, but it is otherwise enshrouded in as much of a mystery as my former friend had been before he had switched on his flashlight. 

I am too startled still even to thank whatever it is. 

But that is fine. It is inclined to do all the talking. 

You are so very fortunate to have met me, it says in a faux British accent that is every bit as laughably pretentious as William F Buckley sputtering about on Firing Line. It is far too faint to be masculine, but also far too learned to be feminine. Perhaps the best that may be done is to toss the voice into the shady twilight that flows somewhere in between the two sexes and to presume that it takes on the tone and texture that are most appropriate to the finer occasions.

I am aware of your predicament, it continues. I have taken the liberty to eavesdrop on your recent affairs with that miscreant over there. 

It says “miscreant” with the huff of a gay blade remarking in disdain how his former boyfriend has taken up with a fussy hussy from the wrong side of the tracks. It is polite, to be sure; but there is an undeniable undercurrent of anger and frustration that breaks into its confident bearing every now and then. 

But you have nothing about which to worry, it assures without warmth….

Perhaps it is the ghost of William F Buckley, I wonder, as it is speaking in perfect English, even to the point of never concluding one of its sentences with a preposition. But, then again, for all of his pomposity in prose, the dean of the conservative movement, forever feathered in tweed and cigars, had been most definitely perched on the masculine side of the tree of knowledge (no doubt his claws clutching to a mahogany branch that is jutting out from the trunk as if it is a well tanned, erect penis, the kind of phallic fiddle-de-dee that, when later cut off and carved, passes for “fine art” in the office of a C-grade jock who has turned himself into an A-grade motivational speaker). 

The “Ron Paul Nuts” do not have a corner on the truth, it snickers; they do not even carry an option in their poor portfolios that may give them one day a corner on the truth. At best, theirs is a kind and respectable bit of truth, like a middle class tract home beside a palatial estate, functional enough to be sure when viewed up close, but by comparison no more than an eyesore ready to be swept aside by eminent domain. There is a reason why they are to be found out in the cold, wearing cheap raincoats and carrying misspelled placards, doing no more in pursuit of “freedom” and “liberty” than to scare Republican Blue Hairs into not venturing out from their white picket homes after dark. 

There is a dramatic pause. It wants me to ponder what on earth could be the reason why they are of such a lowly estate within the Great Chain of Being; but, at the same time, it does not want me to come up with any responses that may be different from its own. 

Therefore, it launches back into its monologue, before I am able to say a word. This is just as well. I am still sick from my love affair with a troll, and so I am happy enough at present just to take in the pompous prose with which my shadowy rescuer is adding a bit of self-exalting charm to the occasion.

It is because, no matter how hard they may try, they will never be found among the posh and the plush. There is a hard edge in their mind, an immodest tendency to see the world as black and white, that blinds them to the fact that politeness is a shade of grey, it concludes with a haughty sniffle.

I look down at my fig leaf. Like the Norse god, I want it to be as high and as hard as the impenetrable heavens; or like the Norse beast, I want it to be as fallen away as the sappy bit of skin in between the thighs of a eunuch. 

What I do not want is for my fig leaf to be more or less normal, a polite, inconspicuous shade of grey that never contorts a lip or arches an eyebrow at a cocktail party. That is what I fear, more than the dark shadows forever floating in and out of my view, and certainly more than the sleepy sombreros clutching at their pigs and roosters somewhere far beneath my line of vision. 

So I guess that I too have a hard edge in my mind, an immodest tendency to see the world, or at least my own manliness (which, Gnostic that I am, is the same thing), as black and white. I guess I too am a troll, a loon libertarian with a penchant for conspiracy theories that prove that I am “in the know” and have “figured out” what virtually no one else can see right in front of them. 

But I have hated the “Ron Paul Nuts” ever since I first saw them walking into my monthly meeting. I hated them before they hogtied and muzzled me to the American Flag; before the fat slob with the wiener talked to me about how it’s all in the Constitution; even before my secretary hooted like an owl.

I hate them not because I am intellectually different.

I hate them because I am of a higher class. 

Or at least I imagine myself to be in a higher class.

For an American, reared as he is in a land that is noted for the fluidity of her class distinctions (race, instead, is the impenetrable line sewn into the past and present life of the American people; thus, serving the role that class serves in the Mother Country and most everywhere else), imagining oneself in a higher class and being in a higher class are one and the same. Of course, it helps if the man with a grand imagination also has a grand income stream from the pot that he is growing out back or the internet porn that he is filming in his funky yellow shag “love chamber” (aka his mother’s basement, whenever she is off playing a good hand of bridge with the other gals at the “seniors are people, too” club). 

And my shadowy rescuer gives me a certain license to think that I am in a higher class, because it is such a polite and pleasurable bigot, the regal kind who is never really understood by the groundlings who sweep up the cigar ashes the morning after the cocktail party. 

And I totally believe (or at least really, really want to believe) that I am able to understand every accented syllable and reasoned stutter that is floating out from its invisible smirk.  

My shadowy rescuer continues with its monologue; and as it assumes in substance and in tone the role of the Great Storyteller, I am able to release the troll from my broken heart. It gives voice to the unknowable oracle as follows:

Admittedly, the shade of grey is a tone and a texture that emerges from out of the conflict between black and white. It is born in a cauldron, as is each and every act of the imagination with which we may find a bit of pleasure. The softest soufflé begins in the cracking of an egg. The sweetest act of love begins with an exchange of charming lies amid blushing glances and blooming bubbles at a debutante ball; a warfare in wit that escalates first into a dance, and then into a kiss, before culminating into the soiling of satin sheets. But even if born in strife, the shade of grey is noteworthy as a mark of maturity, as if the subtle life in an aged wine. It is an indication that tact and diplomacy, the measure of a bon vivant who does not want to upset the delicately tuned interrelationships in his little world, can and should prevail over the clarion calls and the glorious banners. What begins as a beastly nuisance, a Molotov cocktail tossed against a storefront, or a mad heckle tossed into the insipid lips of a politically incorrect speaker (all of which is in essence the armies of the black facing off against the armies of the white), evolves into a rational god, a preference for détente over the Molotov cocktail, or censorship boards over the mad heckle. That miscreant troll has it the other way around, since he imagines his Norse god evolving over time into a Norse beast. But what may we expect from the likes of him? He is a groundling. He cannot but know the bitter taste of cold gruel, and imagine that in some primordial past, it must have been the ambrosia of the gods. In his old and worn out mind, everything begins on a cliff and falls to the sea, which is to say begins as some sort of distilled “freedom” or “liberty” and crumbles into a turbulent fit of conspiracy or paranoia. In the past, there had been untold bars of gold in Fort Knox; and the free man beheld the face of God. Now, there is no gold in Fort Knox; and the free man is adrift in the doldrums of devil debt. This pessimistic view cannot but make a man mad, turning him into a beast, like the “Ron Paul Nut” with whom you had been affiliated, before I saved you from the whirlpool in his rabid mind. But, for the man of class and good repute, the glass is not half empty. It is half full at present; and it is being filled to the very rim, not, mind you, with the warm piss Budweiser than passes for “beer” among the “Ron Paul Nuts,” but with the finest German ale to wet the lips of the Prussian Kaiser. In this optimistic view, the Norse beast is climbing up from the seaweed and the foam, shedding the salted slime that had masked his glistening muscles and unblemished skin, tossing out the tiny sand pebbles that had faded his hair from its natural blondness, and acquiring a new and better home atop the cliff. With every new day, he is less of a beast, and more of the god for which he has been destined. And as he is refreshed in the crimson sun, he turns first his aqua blue eyes, and then his chiseled face, away from the crackpot conspiracies and petty paranoia churning about in the waves below, so that by the time he turns his back to the ocean he has forgotten everything that had once made his heart beat a little faster. He neither swoons, nor fears. He neither looks forward to a nobler height, nor laments a tawdrier depth. In his limbo, his shade of grey, he becomes the Norse god. And there he stands, resplendent in his beefcake glory, living happily ever after as a pleasant enough god with no conflicts in his mind.

I have been enjoying the subtle voice emanating from the shadow beside me, not only in the substance of what it is saying, but also in the tone by which it is able to set my thoughts free from my love affair with the troll. I have been feeling more detachedly pleasant, neither a fawn nor a foul, but rather akin to the reserved affability of a good-natured blue blood in a white suit. 

In my imagination, I have been fondling the floral stem of a martini glass (one that, in honor of my shadowy rescuer, is half full and rising), laughing just giddy-giddy at a forgettable joke told by a white haired gentleman wearing the finest white carnation in his lapel, and extending my left pinky into the ray of a dainty, late afternoon sun. 

Forget bobbing about the open seas on a rock. My life is a cocktail party on a fancy yacht in a calm bay, where the bubbles have just enough potency to raise the whiskers and to tip the chins, and where there is no more seasoning in the salmon and crème cheese roll than is necessary to kill off the taste and the texture of raw fish. 

That is, until now. 

The latest sentence spoken by my shadowy rescuer does not ring true. At first, I cannot put my finger on it, except to say that “living happily ever after” sounds a bit pollyannish (even to a Gnostic who is inclined to believe in his own dreams that he is a god, or a god in the making) for anyone over the age of five and three-quarters (the last fairy tale set aside as a lame bedtime story, just as the boy is hoping to receive a G.I. Joe Battle Battalion on his sixth birthday). 

Finally, I realize the problem: How can there be no conflicts in the mind of our Norse god? The shade of grey does not simply emerge out from a conflict between black and white, and then persist as a shade of grey after the conflict has been laid to rest. If there is to be still a shade of grey, there must remain a conflict between black and white under the surface.

I sense my shadowy rescuer seething under its reserved affability, when I interrupt its monologue to voice my reservation. I recall how the worst of the mass murderers almost always are described after the fact as having been mild mannered and pleasant, even if strangely remote, by their neighbors, as if that shade of grey is little more than the calmness at the center of the hurricane, or the methodical prelude to the bloody rampage. However described, the age old conflict is still there, a bit stutter in a tranquil heart, unnoticed and forgotten, but there to erupt someday into a fiery fit of rage or a death by cardiac arrest. 

And my shadowy rescuer is inadvertently proving the point whenever its cultured mask slides away long enough to reveal its savage cauldron beneath. It is, perhaps, not so much an evolved god, as a wily beast still that has mastered the craft of a pleasant voice and has carved out a place for itself in and among the pickled and the polite. 

Perhaps everyone else at the cocktail party, tipping and tossing atop the well-scrubbed deck of the Persephone, is much the same as this beast in drag. This is a dreadful thought, to be sure, which is why everyone (myself included) is quick to fill their martini glass, even when the bitter olives are not at hand.

You should know better than to make a girl blush in mixed company, and there is no greater lush at a cocktail party than the half-cocked who insists on his uncomfortable question, it hisses at me. 

“Half-cocked” stings the most. I am neither a Big Black Bull seducing the blond goddess to saddle me, nor a cuckold locked in the closet. I am not even a voyeur fly on the wall, watching the twisted fantasy play out to its predictable, mind-numbing end (no real satisfaction for anyone involved, by the time an old and shallow sun cracking through the shades bids the Big Black Bull to be on his not-so-merry way, and the cuckold to be released for another day of selling life insurance). I am a season ticket holder who goes each night to the same Kabuki dance, but who expects a different outcome from the ritualized sword fight, as only the “half-cocked” can be so consistently hopeful, but then disappointed. 

I am a guy in a fig leaf on a third world bus.

I am a fig in a guy leaf on a third world bus. 

I am a third in a fig leaf on a guy world bus.

From lame, to queer, to downright nasty, I am falling once more into the whirlpool. I am calling for a line to reel me back onto the good old Persephone.

Anyway, there is no conflict, if simply he imagines that there is not one, it reflects in that indefinable voice that suggests that it is once more kindly and gentlemanly disposed toward me. 

Mind over matter, I mutter to myself, but the whirlpool continues to pull me into the abyss, and no one back up on the Persephone appears to notice, or for that matter even to care. 

I am “half-cocked,” after all, able enough to be sucked into a whirlpool, but not able enough to pull myself out of it, once all is said and done. I require a helping hand to reach down and to return me to my dreams.

And not my own hand, but rather the soft and caring hand (one that has been dipped in Palmolive since before time) of someone who is much more of a gentleman and a lady than I can hope to be…because if I go it alone…and try to save myself…and try to rise to the occasion by my own merits….

Stop masturbating, someone once said, or you will be as blind as a bat….

Thankfully, my shadowy rescuer returns to its monologue; and I feel that I am back on board the Persephone, cold and wet, but handed a monogrammed towel and a dry martini. 

The Norse god is not just looking away from the ocean, it continues with much aplomb. He is looking toward the brown munchkins, as they evolve over a great many years from nomadic ne’er-do-wells to slaves of the welfare state. In the simple mind of that miscreant over there, that may not seem to be much of an evolution. He will snarl, exposing the kind of sharp fangs that cannot but be frightful to a blushing bride in braids, and spit out his normal invective. He will argue that that is an evolution in the wrong direction, as if the brown munchkin in his oversized sombrero is less free, if he succumbs to so many fine laws as to be darkened into a happy-snappy coon on a plantation. But I ask you: Why must we presume that less free means less good?

I am taken by his question. Certainly, good Gnostic that I am, I am trying to reclaim my lost bit of Eden. I am determined to exert my will (or perhaps no more than my perverse fetishes) to enter into my imagined paradise on my own terms, leaving in the dust behind my feet the weaknesses and failures that may have reminded me now and then that I am not as divine as I imagine. 

And, looking down again at my nakedness (save for the fig leaf), I am not going to be held back, even if there is a neon sign stuck into the dirt in front of the Golden Arches of Eden that says: No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service

But, when I am back inside Eden, am I not going to be bound to the same old law that had been given to Adam at the start of this whole mess? I am going to stand before the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, salivating until my stomach hurts for the beautiful fruit that hangs from its branches, imagining its taste and texture against my lips. At that time, no matter my innocence, I shall know full well that, if I pluck off one of the fruits, and try to hide behind a rose bush to savor just a nibble, I shall be booted onto the cracked earth outside the Golden Arches. I shall be a slave to Eden at that point, as much as a field slave on an idyllic plantation who can never do more than watch from a far distance as the finest picnic food is laid out for the Massa and his Missus.  

If this is what I want, so much so that I am willing to sit on a third world bus on the way to Guatemala and to endure the dank stink of sweaty sombreros all around me, then is not the slavery waiting for me at the end of this bumpy road indeed a whole lot better than the full frontal freedom (apart from the fig leaf, of course) with which I am accursed at present?

If I want to be a chuckin’ and jivin’ slave, all smiles and nods for my old Massa when he comes a’ trollin’ out to inspect his goods, assurin’ him that I not be nibblin’ (no siree) from the fruit of his favorite tree in the whole of the Ole’ South, then what can be better, since that is the fulfillment of my deepest and darkest will (or perverse fetish, which for a Gnostic is no more than a semantic distinction from a free will fully realized)?

What matters freedom, when I can have my cake, and eat it too; and my preferred cake happens to be a ball and chain, frosted by red, white, and blue, and finished off with a martini olive?

I sense that my shadowy rescuer is smiling broadly, like a tad tipsy toad.

Is it not better to be a slave, or a cog in the welfare state, if through an abundance of law and custom, even at times a snappy-snappy crack from a long leather whip (administered by the head coon, while the Missus blushes and licks her lips, knowing full well that the Massa will not be returning from town for an hour or two more), the mild and the meek (the “half-cocked”), fashioned by an elite into a snappy-snappy collective, a mass movement, a consciousness, even a zeitgeist shift, may create not just a better society, but a truly great society? My shadowy rescuer asks rhetorically, while maintaining the soft, dispassionate airs of a man fiddling nonchalantly with the olive in his half full martini glass. 

I imagine the tad tipsy toad smile plastered unevenly (contorted by a big and bubbly hiccup now and then) upon the face of my shadowy rescuer growing into the torso, arms, and legs of a Churchill Toad (ribbit, ribbit), clad in a linen white suit, and topped off in a Mad Hatter hat and a candy cane walking stick. I cannot deny that it is as beastly as the miscreant troll (perhaps there is no such thing as a self-realized god; perhaps we are all “half-cocked,” shape shifting as necessary into this or that beast just so as to muddle our way through this dark and lonely world of ours, and imagining that the mental sleight of hand must be the work of a god; or perhaps it will be best for me, if I leave this insight aside, and return to my fantasy, imagining myself again as well endowed as the Norse god on his rock, or as castrated as the Norse beast at high tide). But it is a kind and affable beast, inclined to pour me a last glass of bubbly, before it bites off my head, and for that reason I am as happy as a clam and dip hors d’oeuvre on the deck of the Persephone to go along with whatever its lofty dreams may be.

The Norse god certainly thinks so, it answers its own rhetorical question, and that is why he finds real joy in watching the brown munchkins evolve from nomadic ne’er-do-wells to slaves of the welfare state. Of course, he is cautious never to show too much joy in his beautifully chiseled face. He maintains a soft politeness in his disposition, meant to imply just enough wisdom as will be fine and fashionable for a gay occasion (not too prying, and never judgmental of the biases of others); but, being that he is an evolved god, he cannot but be tickled by progress. He zeroes in on one of the brown munchkins in particular, a simple bean bag in a sombrero, to be sure, but more akin to his own heart than any of the others. He does not bother to learn the birth name of this brown munchkin, since as an evolved god, standing tall and arms crossed in his suave, blond locks and skin tight denim, he will not but hear everything that the brown munchkins say to one another as unintelligible babble. He just knows this sleepy tortilla in oversized linen and flip-flop huaraches to be the Bastard Son of the Shylock, an unintentional addition to the sprawling hacienda that overlooks “the West.” As if a big bully castle casting its lumbering shadows over a feudal village, the fine stone and jewel masterpiece sinks into the cracked earth as an overstuffed, old ogre, a monster whose burps and farts (cackling screams escaping from behind crimson curtains, followed invariably by a sickening scent of dried blood sifting through stale, hot air) remind the tenant farmers down wind that they are very slowly but surely dying within its clenched fists. One hot afternoon, somewhere within the internecine maze of dark, stuffy corridors, the Shylock creaks an old door shut, lights a candle, and sits at one of his many counting tables (which he calls his “altars,” and which are in the far corners of an untold number of cold, tomb-like chambers throughout his hacienda of horrors). He strikes the pose of a tyrant: his fat belly lumbers over his table; his many chins droop like spoiled, warm butter into the gold chains dangling over his beefy chest; and his albino, butterball head leans lazily upon the five rings of his left fist. He fondles a gold coin with his right ringed fingers; but he never looks down, not even for a slight moment, at this amusement. His cold, lifeless eyes sneer at the quivering boob on the other side of the old tomb; and until he has his pound of flesh squishing through the uneven cracks between his arthritic fingers, he will refuse to sneer at anything else. There are no pleasantries in this affair: the boob is far behind in his loan payments already, but he wants just a bit more credit to survive the current drought. The Shylock laughs (though it sounds so much like a cough the boob wonders if his creditor is about to fall face forward into his gold coins and die). I understand that you have taken a wife, he cackles. The boob looks down at the hard dirt caked over his toes. Ah, ate the forbidden fruit, and compelled to visit the likes of me as a result. Well, you should have thought of that before you tossed your best rib to a señorita in a revealing skirt, the Shylock reasons in a gurgling voice that suggests that there is a toad stuck in the fatty folds of his throat. The Shylock lets the boob stew in his silence for a while. Then he slams his right palm into the “altar” and spits out his demand (all the while, his sickly forked tongue is lashing out from behind his gold teeth, as if a nasty frog eager to snatch as many flies as possible): I shall extend your credit, if you hand over your open tortilla. I have a chamber where I can keep her, safe and sound from the mother of my children, until you have paid off your debt. The Shylock picks at a scab beneath his crooked nose, as he continues: But every night, when you slink into your empty bed, just know that if you fail to meet your obligations to me, then I shall have no choice but to reap my pound of flesh from your wife. I have no doubt that, like all the local girls, yours will be carrying plenty of meat in her womb. The Shylock mimes squishing meat in his right fist, while finishing his threat: And, you should know, I have a particular fondness for the taste and feel of raw horsemeat in my fingers. The Shylock shuffles the boob away; or, to be more precise, he calls his oldest son to do the dirty work for him, since he is in no physical condition to be tossing a pair of dusty feet into the dustbowl just beyond his gate. Soon enough, the boob returns with his wife. He is pulling her through the sand at the end of a leash; and, because of her incessant wails, the Shylock dispenses with pleasantries and has his oldest son incarcerate her in his “love chamber.” Well, as it turns out, later that night, when the Shylock comes to her in his linen nightshirt and candy cane stockings, he is completely unable to light anything, apart from his candle. He rolls his naked flesh over her, even trying to add a bit of kink by croaking like a sick frog. But try as he might, he is unable to find his manliness amid the many folds in between his thighs. He tells her to hold the lit candle by his tummy, so that he can peel away the skin folds in the softly fragrant light. Still, nothing pokes up from beneath the sand dunes (not even a mirage), so he slaps her silly and stomps back to his wife. Over the next five nights, he tries to unearth his manliness, while the teary-eyed, skinny girl looks on from afar. He tries to burn off the excess fat with his candlelight, but he ends up setting his nightshirt on fire. He tries to cut it off bit by bit with a sharpened steak knife (liquoring himself up ahead of time, so that he will not feel the pain), but he slices his own fingers instead and spills blood all over the straw mattress. He tries to rip it off by tying a string around his fat, looping the string over a rafter, climbing onto the “altar” in the far corner, and jumping to the floor. He mutters that if this works, he is going to plaster Burrito Land, and “the West,” with posters advertising: “The Lynch Diet…It’s a Synch!” There will be a huge profit margin, since in return for payment up front he will be mailing back no more than a piece of string and an instructional postcard. But this idea goes nowhere, when he is unable to climb onto the “altar” in the first place, as a result of his gargantuan love handles. He is desperate on the fifth night. He has his oldest son bring in an aquarium full of piranha. He lathers a lot of sweet honey over the folds in between his thighs (someone told him once that big fish are attracted to sweet things, and vice versa, which is why the big pockets get the beautiful señoritas, and the inside-out pockets get the fat Indian girls with tattoos), and then lays his tummy and thighs over the top of the aquarium. Not one of the piranha bites, though he develops a rash from the honey. Finally, on the sixth night, he tries to coax his manliness to come out from within the folds (mind over matter, he mutters to himself), by holding a gold coin in front of his waist. When even money does not work, he gives up (but not until he throws an angry temper tantrum in front of his frightened mistress). He decides to follow the Biblical proscription on the seventh night, by staying away from the wailing mistress and “resting” alongside his yenta wife (who keeps him awake all night, by reenacting in her sleep all of the yenta talk she had said or heard that same day with all of her yenta friends). But while he is Biblical, his oldest son sneaks into the “love chamber” and tosses his seed into the fray. Sure enough, the sad mistress has a bun in the oven. The Shylock suspects rightly that the oldest son is the father; but rather than face the clear indignity of acknowledging that he has been cuckolded by his own son, he lets it be known that he is the father. As an added measure, the Shylock adopts the boy into his household, as soon as he is born on the straw mattress in the “love chamber.” The oldest son resents the little runt, needless to say; and he conspires with his mother to murder the boy in his crib. But, at the last moment, the mother has a change of heart; and she tells her husband of the plan. The oldest son is sent off to prison, where he will later lose his life in a horrible “accident” involving a meat cleaver and a mouth full of ice cubes. It is not so much that the mother is fond of the bastard diaper baby; but she is conniving enough to see that, if she forms a close and intimate bond with the boy over time, he can grow into a sharp dagger at her disposal, a living, breathing knife who may be thrust one night into her odious husband. As it turns out, the Shylock makes it easy for this mother-son bond to be formed in the years ahead, because he pays virtually no attention to the bastard. He also gives up the master bedroom for the “love chamber,” where he learns to enjoy being on the “receiving” end of dalliances with sad sack mistresses. Now, do be a good boy, and give your mama a kiss-kiss, the mother says to her bastard son every night, when the coast is clear. He snuggles with his mama, like the good, little boy that he is, until the night of his Munchkin Bar Mitzvah. There was not going to be a Munchkin Bar Mitzvah. The Shylock did not want to spend the loot necessary for food and drink. But the mother insists loud and long enough, and the Shylock finally gives in to her demand (he is growing feebler in his old age, though he is no less of a buttery toad in his appearance and demeanor). At the event, the mother is all smiles, having defeated her husband (a rare occurrence in their many years together), and cemented her intimate relationship with her bastard son. So imagine her disdain, when she sees a big-haired, buxom beauty trot through the front gate whom she suspects is having a fling with her feeble, but still very rich, husband. Why, the trollop, she’s trying to rain on my parade, the mother says, as she scoops another sugar bubble from the punch bowl. She confronts the trollop, tossing her drink into her gaudy mascara, and belting out the loudest yenta yell to be heard in a fortnight. It turns out that the trollop is able to give as well as she gets (though her yenta yell is not nearly as loud, she has a beefy cow torso and thighs that can spring forward with the sudden death power of an All-American linebacker). They end up rolling into the buffet table and knocking over the punch bowl. The crystal heirloom slams mother square in her forehead, and she is dead before the Shylock can figure out how much that broken glass is going to cost him. The Shylock shuts down the party at once and then uses the shortened duration as his excuse to stiff the professional caterers and musicians of at least half of what he owes them. Now, you would think the bastard son to be devastated; but the precocious boy remains emotionless, not only at the scene of the accident, but also at the funeral the next day. He does not flinch when his father attends the funeral with the trollop (her right arm in a sling, as a result of the fallen buffet table, but otherwise as cheerless as ever in her big hair and gaudy mascara) and announces to the mourners (even as his crocodile tears are still streaming down the blubbery fat folds of his face) that he is going to marry the trollop. And not at some future time, since that will of necessity entail the added expense of hiring the caterers and the musicians yet again, when they all are assembled and paid for right here and now. Of course, even the Shylock is not so bold as to acknowledge that he is knocking down two birds with one stone; but that is quite clear enough to everyone in attendance. So with no more disruption than a minor rearrangement of furniture within the funeral parlor, and the band replacing its song sheets, the wedding proceeds at the side of the urn (still warm from the ashes inside). Back at the hacienda, the bastard son is relegated to the straw mattress and water bowl inside of the old “love chamber” (the “altar” having been removed from there a while ago). The Shylock snickers, whenever he waddles by the “love chamber,” thinking that he has inflicted a real injury on his bastard son by forcing him to sleep there every night. But, in fact, the bastard son feels more at home in his solitude than even when he had been snuggling beside his adopted mother. He is beautifully fair in skin and lithe in dimension, a real eye catcher, if only he cares to be. But, first and foremost, he is a brilliant dreamer, so enraptured in his own fantasies as to resent the time and the mental interest that will be required of him in courting the señoritas of his class. He never calls on them, no matter how they scoot up their skirts, or flutter their eyelashes, when they make a point of passing close to him in town. When finally they start to call on him, he feigns sickness; and if that does not work, then he growls rabidly from inside his “love chamber.” The calling señoritas invariably run off with so many tears streaming down the thick rouge on their sad skin, that they resemble Tammy Faye Bakker pleading into a television video camera for more loot. He discovers that he is particularly agile with electronics and computing, even while every other brown munchkin in the whole of Burrito Land is just learning to stand by a conveyor belt at the start of the Industrial Revolution. He converts the “love chamber” into a modern music video room (screens replace stone walls; projectors project surreal videos, that he manages to rip off of the internet by the use of a personal computer that he invents beside his straw mattress; and scores of naked male blow-up dolls hang down from the rafters above, so that the center of the room seems as if a meat locker). He is partial to the music videos of Boy George, and “Karma Chameleon” is so often projected onto the screens that it is tantamount to the background score of his life. He hires a gay hair stylist named Eureka to transform his blond locks (atypical among the brown munchkins) into a rainbow colored Mohawk. He also starts to cut wounds into his own skin, which he likes to think of as “prehistoric tattoos.” By the time he inserts his lip ring (relishing in the pain and the spilled blood involved), he is a Meth Head Marxist, an anti-social beast ready to throw a hand grenade into a crowded theater for no other reason than to watch limbs fly through the air. He has a box of grenades hidden behind one of his walls (his cache purchased online from a website dedicated to the Life, Liberty, and Love protected by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution), and he has mapped out the shortest walking distance from the hacienda to the various theaters in town (none of them movie theaters, since the rest of Burrito Land is still mired somewhere in the late nineteenth century, but rather stage theaters featuring Mexican Jumping Bean gay burlesque shows). But he is astute enough, even in his beastly body and mind, to know that a one-time spectacle that ends up sending him to the gallows is not worthy of his genius. He figures out a way to get his jollies and to pursue his “revolutionary action” (still hazy in his own mind, but enough to justify that he get his wiry hands on the family fortune by hook or by crook). When it comes to the inheritance, he is at the bottom of the totem pole (indeed, as far as his father is concerned, he is not a gruesome face on the totem pole at all, but rather lost and forgotten among the help). So that is where the grenade cache will come in handy. One night, he lures his adopted mother (whom he and everyone else in the hacienda, including even the feeble Shylock, simply refer to as “the trollop,” as in “Would the trollop like a tiny bit more sugar with her coffee?” or “Oh trollop, you are wearing such fine mascara this morning”) into his chamber (which, by this time, he has renamed his “love dungeon,” a phrase that certainly catches the attention of the unsatisfied, but still big-haired and well-painted, adopted mother). She arrives with no more on than a naughty smile and a trace of lingerie. He feigns adolescent awe, even to the point of pretending that there is a living spark in his underwear (actually, a scanty pajama bottom meant for a little squirt not far removed from a playpen that features the death defying exploits of the most popular comic book hero in all of Burrito Land, “Super Sombrero”). The trollop seduces his clean chin with the back of her right hand, while reminding him coyly that it is about time that he show her the same “mama worship” that he had shown to the “big-mouthed yenta” over all those years. He does not say a word; but he smiles crookedly at her, as if he is a blushing, little boy, and that is enough to make her swoon. He walks over to his projector and turns on the music videos. Now, remember that the brown munchkins have yet to see a black and white silent, let alone a wild and wanton music video in full color and stereo sound. The trollop screams and covers her face, as a larger than life image of Boy George fills every wall all at once. In the confusion, he moves quickly to rip off her panties (a whiff of floral perfume from inside her butthole knocks him back several steps), handcuff her, and hang her from the rafters. She is not in physical pain; but she is completely mad in her blind confusion (not helped by the fact that, in the melee following the introduction to Boy George, her big hair has fallen over her eyes and is now sticking to the sweat on her cheeks and lips), and drier than an overripe potato in between her thighs. She mutters that she wants to return to her husband. He then speaks for the first time to her (not only for the first time, since she came into his “love dungeon,” but for the first time ever): Don’t you know, my mama dearest, you can’t get back into Eden, ‘til you’ve paid off the fairy godmother? What? She asks stupidly. You know, he taunts her, the winged gatekeeper with the flaming sword. And with that he stuffs an oddly shaped contraption into her tight anus. It is an old fashioned grenade (though from the perspective of every other brown munchkin this would not be “old fashioned” at all, but instead the death scythe of the future, since for them a vintage Second World War grenade remains well beyond the horizon) rigged with a sparkler firecracker and a silver chained pocket watch. She screams from the pain. It is clear that she has never done the “nasty;” and for a brief moment, the bastard son wonders in silence if she is really such a trollop after all. But he sets that thought aside. His favorite Boy George music video has started, and he wants to time his device perfectly. On the right musical note, he clicks on the pocket watch and steps back. There is nothing for a few seconds (apart from the squirming bleats of the handcuffed trollop). Then, the sparkler spurts out in exact unison with every syllable of the line: Kama Kama Kama Kama Kama Chameleon. The sparks fly out in every odd direction, bursting several of the naked male blow-up dolls nearby, and burning her old pig butt into sizzling bacon. The trollop arches her back and screams to the heavens. She runs in mid air, as if trying to sprint the rest of her body away from her inflamed buttocks. But no matter her prayers, she goes nowhere, fast and furious; and the only response is the stone cold indifference of a crackling, cackling flame in her inner sanctum. The lamb can bleat all she wants, as she is dimly aware that her imminent future will be defined by bursting lamb chops in the middle of a mushroom cloud, followed by the splattering of her goop blood on the beautiful and the damned alike. But she cannot avoid the bastard son of the moneychanger turned temple priest, adorned in his holy “Super Sombrero” chasuble, and awed by his god-like ability to transform the profane into a bold and beautiful spectacle. His justice is his mercy. And, right now, he sees that it is just to launch flesh projectiles all over the “love dungeon.” The last spurt of the firecracker spits a wad of heated dung into the air. Then, the next sound is a ditty on a harmonica, a transition from the chorus to a verse. But while a tiny bit of music in itself, in this context it is the “missing link,” the bridge in a gay dream over which a beast crawls into godliness, and the profane compels itself into the sacred. The grenade detonates. The bastard son falls back into his thin straw mattress. He had not anticipated the sheer power of the blast wave; but, in the split second before his concussion, he catches a glimpse of the grandeur, and imagines himself to be like Moses before the face of God. But, mind you, it is not the distant, unreachable God, but rather the god of his own creation, the expression of his mastery over fate and natural law, so that in a high and noble way (or so he imagines to be high and noble, which for a Gnostic beast is what matters anyway) he dreams that he is able to see himself in the uncontrollable, beastly lusts of a flesh burst. He wonders if this is what a masturbation orgasm is like, and then he falls into the deepest sleep, since Adam gave up his fine rib for the creation of Eve. When he awakens later, he feels instinctively for his rib cage. Every bone is still there. There will be no Eve with which he must share, and then squander, his animal rage. Which is just as well, he says to himself. It is right and proper that a beast is as alone with his blood sport, as a god is with his dreams. And anyone who demands otherwise, in virtue of the soft headed, backwards, moral sensibilities still quivering in her heart, deserves a bit of date rape with a sparkler and a bomb. She deserves it, as she is a big-haired, well-painted, restraining belt on the kind of animal viciousness that is necessary to move a step forward. Anarchy is Progress, the bastard son says to himself; and, at that moment, he realizes that violence is not only the primary tactic of what he refers to as his “revolutionary action.” Violence is the essential creed of this “revolutionary action,” the end as much as the means, for which he is reborn. 

I do not understand. How is the trollop a restraint? I mean, so far as you have recounted, she had never interfered with the bastard son, never even had spoken with him in all the time that they had resided under the same old roof. 

As soon as I blurt out my reservation, I am regretful. I do not want to be in a half-cocked whirlpool again, since I am allowing myself to be too skeptical in the face of a fine and fanciful romp through dreamland. I really, really hope, like a child on Christmas morning, that my shadowy rescuer will be so kind and merciful as to ignore my reservation and to press ahead undaunted with its odd but beautiful story. If necessary, then I want it to snuff me out with a grenade and a sparkler, before I start to set aside the fashionable lies for a bit of truth.

Well, that is simple enough, my shadowy rescuer responds incredulously. She is a restraint, because she is alive. She is in the way of his vision, since she will be receiving the bulk of the family fortune when the Shylock finally slithers under the weight of all his gold to his Maker. But on a deeper level, even if the bastard son had had all the gold in Burrito Land stacked in bars in the corner of his “love dungeon,” she still would have been a pesky reminder that he had not done what he had in his power to do. If he is truly a Gnostic beast, then he will never leave his loaded pistol unfired, just like the mass murderer getting ready to storm the theater with his semi-automatic weapons and bombs will not be so indifferent to his own will as to allow a last second glimpse of an innocent child in braids to dissuade him. There is still space left over in the history books, and he intends to fill as much of it as he can. And if he is caught by the police, and is strangled by the state on the gallows, so what? The good, little librarian, the blue hair who had paid her state and federal taxes on time, and who had given a heaping bag of sugar free, trans-fat free groceries to the church food bank on every Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday, is going to be strangled just as much by her throat cancer. But he will be remembered, publicly hated, but privately admired, while she will be no more than a scratchy photograph and a few lines in the obituary column. In a physical sense, they both end up in the same tomb out back. Fate snatches the old bones, and retains them as trophies of the only part of the human life over which she has dominion. But in the mind, where we may breathe life into our dreams, if only we are so bold, he is in death as in his life a particularly brilliant light among the stars, while her portrait fades on an old mantelpiece and is discarded with the rest of the unsold heirlooms. If I give you an old black and white of Adolf Hitler, you will recognize him, even know a few truths (and a lot of untruths) about his grand and glorious life. If I give you an old black and white of a holocaust victim, you will not recognize him, unless he happens to be a relative, and you will know nothing about his final moments in the “love dungeon” for which he had been destined. If you are not a beast at all, then you pay your taxes on time, and donate your bags of groceries; but, at the last moment, when you appear before Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates, he is not going to be able to find your name in his Book of the Dead. He will look you over a few times; and then, in his old codger voice, he will remark that you had not been alive enough to be now, by contrast, considered among the dead. You had been in limbo then, so you are in limbo now, next…and with that, you have no destiny but to stumble through the trapdoor set aside for losers like yourself and to fall head first into the primordial mud flats far below (where, if you are lucky, some of your DNA will be absorbed into a Napoleon or a Hitler, and then put to good use). If you are a minor beast, like a slithering snake that deceives girls from their virginity, or a cigar-chomping rodent that cooks the books, then at least when you appear before Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates, he knows your name enough to consign you to your time in Purgatory. If you are a big time Son of a Shylock, not just by birth, but by what you really do with the sparklers and the grenades that you conceive in your own mind, then when finally you decide to appear before Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates, he trembles in his old codger fright, knocking over his Book of the Dead, as you make your merry way over to the Hell of your own choosing. And if Saint Peter offers you a first class into the heavens, then you can look up from the Gates of Hell and sneer: Let one of the fairies sit in on the bridge game up there. I’ve got a beer hall putsch to inspire.

It seems by your account that Jesus is the ultimate Gnostic beast, I blurt out to my shadowy rescuer, as if I have figured out that the grand conspiracy in which I am mired is none other than to grow more beastly (and to aid my fellow conspirator in growing more beastly) by accepting as an abstract proposition in the mind, and then by shoving down everyone else’s skinny throats, as many of the condemned heresies as may be imagined. 

I feel cold and clammy, as if my skin is transfiguring into scales. 

And I sense that, if I were to open my mouth, I would be snapping at the nubile girl beside the forbidden tree with my forked tongue, hiss-hiss-hissing at her innocence, until finally she and her Ken doll of a husband had been kicked out by the old codger landlord wearing a cigar and checkered pants. 

We serpents then would take over what is left of Eden, feasting as kings off of the rodents and rabbits, and claiming just a bit more real estate for Hell.

And then we would arise from our slithering stomachs as the newest gods in the neighborhood, like the Norse beast climbing up from the ocean sludge to be reborn as a Norse god atop a towering cliff; or like the bastard son sparkling and then blowing up the big-haired, well-painted trollop, so that he may take a step closer to the god-like power and respectability of inherited wealth; or like Jesus claiming that the Kingdom of God is at hand, so that the chosen people of God may be kicked out of theirs and become in time the Cain of Christendom. 

You are right, not just because it feels good to say something altogether naughty in the deadness of the new moon, when even God Himself can neither see nor hear the conspiracies casting about the shadows, but because the claim that Jesus is the ultimate Gnostic beast is perhaps the one and only instance in which the historical fact of who someone was is in sync with the accepted truth that we have imagined about him. Consider how little we know of His formative years, apart from an account in which He disobeys His parents to stay behind at the Temple. He claims that he must be about his Father’s business. Well, there is no doubt that we have sugarcoated the story over the centuries, so as to see in this an example of fidelity; seriousness of mind; personal commitment, even at the cusp of adolescence, to the cause of salvation. But, really, is this not the snotty response of a self-important kid, the kind of talking back that deserves a swift kick in the shins? Years later, when He is pursuing his public ministry, His family tries to remove Him from the crowd and bring Him back home. The clear implication is that they want to return Him to His senses. We may deduce here that the King of Kings has been an embarrassment all along, and that His family is trying to pull Him back from the loopy brink, in the same way that the Carter family would have treated Brother Billy, if he had decided one day to set aside his piss beer and to preach that he is the Promised Messiah. Let’s face it: Jesus is a precocious, know-it-all, problem child. This is why we know almost nothing about his early years. As a rule, families do not publicize the sad transgressions of an out-of-control black sheep. No wonder James is a sanctimonious, religious do-gooder in the Acts of the Apostles. He has been Jeb to Jesus’ George W; and with Jesus finally out of the way, James tries to restore the family heritage. So then, you may ask, if Jesus is such a beast, then why do billions of people bend their knee at the mention of His name? Why do we prefer to think of Him as the groovy hippie in sandals who preaches the Beatitudes, rather than as the rabble rouser who claims not to bring peace to the world, but rather a sword, and who knocks over the moneychangers in an outburst of beastly rage? Because He is so beastly, conniving and sadistic in how He cloaks His messages in beautiful prose and loving forgiveness, He manages to kill off the chosen people of God Himself to a degree that Adolf Hitler could not even hope to achieve with his ovens and gas chambers. Oh sure, Hitler kills off six million or so souls; but Jesus kills off the reputation of each and every one of them who has ever lived, consigning all of them to the lot of big-nosed ogres eating their own young on Passover, while the Christians emerge as the “New and Improved Jews,” and their Christendom replaces Israel as the regal dais of the living God. Knocking the Jew aside is the same as knocking God off of His throne, so close is the covenant between them even unto this day, so that when Jesus accomplishes this feat He cannot but be heralded as a Gnostic Beast turned God. The Bible claims that Jesus crawls into Hell after His crucifixion, in order to offer salvation to those who had died prior to His Incarnation. But, really, that is as much a gloss, as the positive spin that says that Jesus’ preaching in the Temple at the age of twelve is a sign of higher fidelity and love. He goes to Hell, to be sure. But He goes there not to preach a new salvation, but to unlatch the trapdoors in front of the Pearly Gates for the great mass of men who will not measure up to His supreme example of fiendish power and megalomania. He has buried the Jews. He goes to Hell to bury each and every brown munchkin who refuses to snarl as a Gnostic Beast turned God. 

I hear the words spoken by my shadowy rescuer; but, in my imagination, they sound as if the grunts and gurgles of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I no longer see the Churchill Toad, dapper in his white suit, top hat, and walking stick, but rather a diabolical glare slithering out from inside a scaly head. 

In the past, I would have been terrified by this image; but the fact that I am as much pleasured as awe struck by the dream suggests the extent to which I am following in the footsteps of whatever perverse beast is sitting by my side. 

And then I understand why.

When I had been sitting beside the libertarian, the miscreant troll in his “Ron Paul Nut” tank top, I had been swept up into his ideology. One of the high minded precepts of a libertarian is that a beast is a step away from godliness, a fall from the cliff into the ocean, but that, somehow, the drooling, rabid dog is “more free” and has “more liberty” in his licentiousness and paranoia. 

And while the libertarian is aware that he has “lost” something in his fall from the cliff, he feels the traces of godliness in his beast-life, as if a fool who is aware dimly that there is truth hidden away in his babble, because he knows what virtually no one else knows (i.e. he knows that the American Republic is a “Corporation;” he knows about the JFK-UFO cover up; he knows that a real life Darth Vader, whom we all know and love as “Dick Cheney,” is the terrorist who brought down the Twin Towers). He is thus a happy enough beast, so long as he can keep bobbing about in his paranoia. But the result is that he becomes over time just a bit madder, and madder, and madder, like a Tasmanian Devil who is picking up more, and more, and more speed as he swirls about his own axis….

But I am not inclined towards Tasmanian Devils…

Nor am I inclined towards whirlpools….

But while I have been sitting beside the anarchist (my shadowy rescuer is casually confident enough in relaying the story of the “bastard son” that I sense that it is identifying itself with the character and, therefore, offering a blessing of sorts on the “revolutionary action” involved in sparkling and in blowing up a big-haired, well-painted trollop), the Churchill Toad turned “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” I have been swept up into its ideology. One of the high-minded precepts of an anarchist is that a beast is a step toward godliness, a brisk climb up from the ocean floor. Over time, people fear the drooling, rabid dog; and as a result are willing to give up their freedoms for protection. They embrace the slavery that is handed over to them in return. And with an army of manipulated slaves in tow, the elite may build a “great society,” one with enough laws and regulations that the drooling, rabid dog is taxed and burdened out of existence (much to the cheers of the slaves). What is left is a well-oiled machine, neither glorious nor broken down, but efficient in spreading the wealth among the men in white suits, and an ill-defined malaise among the brown munchkins in sweaty sombreros. This all-encompassing “machine,” and the layers upon layers of fine bureaucracies underlying it, takes on a god-like consciousness. And the favored class, which includes in its proverbial cocktail parties the proto-anarchist, the beast who had ignited the first round of terror that lead to the enslavement of the brown munchkins, well they get to be the “gods” in this whole affair, never again to worry about the consistency of the olives bobbing in their dry martinis.

And so now I no longer fear the cold, clammy sweat pouring down my old skin, as the dead layers peel away to reveal snake-like scales. I do not fret the forked tongue and the hiss-hiss-hissing sound that slithers up from my throat. 

Because I am becoming a god, not falling away from godliness…

And I happen to like white suits on late afternoon yacht parties….

As you may imagine, my shadowy rescuer continues its story, there are a lot of flesh chunks spread about the “love dungeon,” and enough steamy blood to fill a witch’s cauldron, and even icky splotches of smoldering, human waste, dripping down from the screens. The slime mixes into the Boy George make-up on the screens, so as to seem a part of his surreal mask. The bastard son stares at the slime for a while, like an art lover in a museum tilting his head this way and that in appreciation of a Mapplethorpe, and then decides not to scrub it off from the screens. But the rest of the human waste has to go, before the bits of flesh that have not been burned away begin to smell. He shudders like a girl at the thought of cleaning up after himself. He calls for Eureka, his gay hair stylist from in town; and the squat bean with a lisp takes on the task with real gusto, if not perverse joy. While the bastard son is watching Eureka bend over to pick up this or that flesh chunk, he dreams of what he will do to his siblings. He has no doubt that no one will notice that another one of the tribe is missing all of a sudden. The siblings do not speak with one another (instead issuing fine threats to one another through messages delivered by the help), and they gave up the quaint ritual of sitting down at the dinner table together long ago. They share a common mind only with respect to the trollop, in that they hate her and desire for her to be cut out of the family fortune somehow. If indeed they notice that she is no longer strutting around the hacienda in her tight skirts, then they will be happy to see her gone. As for the Shylock, he is a feeble clown act locked in his bedroom, too caught up in counting his gold coins (he has the help shoulder in another overflowing bag every morning), because he fears that his trollop is siphoning off some of the loot to buy new shoes. So with the coast more or less clear, the bastard son takes out his siblings one by one. He begins every murder conspiracy with a simple note, a message delivered to the targeted sibling that claims that he has discovered “new and startling knowledge” about the plots of one of the other siblings. He can only share this knowledge in the secrecy of his “love dungeon.” The targeted sibling is weary at first (everyone thinks that the bastard son is a creepy nut); but after a few more messages, he is overcome by his curiosity. As soon as he lurches into the “love dungeon” (making certain the other siblings do not see him wandering into that far wing of the hacienda), the bastard son knocks him out from behind with a bone recovered from the bloody flesh chunks of the previous victim. The dazed, drooling sibling is then hung up from the rafters, stripped, sparkled (Kama Kama Kama Kama Kama Chameleon) and blown (harmonica ditty between chorus and verse). As soon as Eureka gets off on the clean up, the bastard son focuses in on the next victim. In time, the help start to wonder what is happening. After all, they deliver the food to the bedrooms every morning, midday, and evening; and, later, they bring back the food, cold and uneaten. There is less and less laundry to be washed. There are fewer messages to be delivered. But the help do not speak. They remember the “five hundreds years of oppression,” where the brown munchkin with the wide eyes and big mouth gets the first snap of the whip. Finally, the bastard son has no other target but the Shylock himself. He knows that he cannot coax the loon away from his gold coins long enough to get him into his “love dungeon,” so he knocks on the master bedroom door late one night. When the Shylock does not answer, the bastard son switches on the boom box that he is carrying (another one of his inventions, along with the personal computer, the sparkler-grenades, and a solar-powered skateboard). He plays the Boy George song in its unaltered form (as opposed to the music videos back in his “love dungeon,” which he has altered, so that the lyrics and the musical timing are married perfectly into the timing of his death device, and vice versa). The loud music blares into the door as a surreal assault on whatever senses and nerves may be left inside the room:

There’s a love in your eyes all the way

If I listened to your lies, would you say?

I’m a man without conviction

I’m a man who doesn’t know

How to sell a contradiction

You come and go

You come and go

Karma Karma Karma Karma Karma Chameleon

You come and go

You come and go

Loving would be easy

If your colors were like my dreams

Red, gold, and green

Red, gold, and green

The Shylock is stirred from his dream by the “gold” reference. He should be terrified of the music, since of course he has never heard a boom box before this moment. But, by now, his entire life is a surreal pastiche; a sordid scene in Rumpelstiltskin, where he is the tiny daughter locked into the tower by the old king and forced to spin straw into gold. The gold is now his chore, and he is the suffering slave girl, toiling away the best of his years in loneliness and despair. The old king is just outside the door, screaming “gold,” “red, gold, and green,” “red, gold, and green,” again, and again, and again, forever and ever, forever and ever, forever and ever, amen…The Shylock slips on the gold coins scattered beside his bed. He is dead before his head hits the floor. But not all is lost for the Shylock. When he ascends to the Pearly Gates, he has been beastly enough that Saint Peter finds his name in the Book of the Dead. He is handed his key to the Hell of his choosing: an exact replica of his master bedroom back at the old hacienda; full of gold coins scattered here and there; where the old king croaks “gold,” “red, gold, and green,” “red, gold, and green” from the other side of a heavy door; and where he is slipping and sliding over the gold coins, screaming and wailing like the suffering slave girl he is, trying in vain to reach the rattling doorknob in time. As for the bastard son, he forces his way into the room after a while. He finds the blubbery butterball corpse of his father. He drags it back to his “love dungeon” (clenching the handle to the boom box inside his yellow, rancid teeth, so that he appears to be a hunched over beast with a large, metal chin hanging down from his lips, pulling a load of butter flesh back to his hovel to tear into pieces). As soon as Eureka arrives the next morning, he directs the squat bean with a lisp to cut up the corpse (apparently, the gay blade is a chef, as much as a hair stylist) and to package the bloody chunks into a freezer that he has hidden beside his grenade cache. He has enough flesh to season his food for the rest of his life (a single flesh chunk in his soup, or bobbing about like an olive in his dry martinis, or topping off a slice of birthday cake); and indeed, as long as he lives, there is a Shylock stench wafting out from his bloodied lips and gums. Everyone thinks that he has a bad case of halitosis, an affliction that the whisperers “in the know” claim is the result of spending so many years living in the hacienda of horrors, but of course he knows better. He always knows better than everyone else in the whole of Burrito Land. Anyway, as you may imagine, he grabs the family fortune, even before the ink on the death certificate is dry. He remodels the hacienda into an extension of his “love dungeon” (though, for sentimental reasons, he keeps his original “love dungeon” set apart from all of the other rooms, architecturally and stylistically, as if it is a sanctuary of sorts for surreal madness, a chapel to the gods of loneliness and despair). He decides to clean up his act at around this time: restoring his blond locks, taking a bath, even wearing some clothes over his “Super Sombrero” underwear. He keeps his lip ring, though, and still cuts himself, now and then. But, for the most part, he resembles a casually chic techie in Silicon Valley. He spends ostentatiously; and as a result, he is in the “in” crowd among the foppish sons of the fat cat elites, who are running the corporations that pretty much control everything in Burrito Land. These soft boys have nothing else to do than to be groomed by their fatty daddies to be the “leaders of tomorrow” (once, presumably, the last remnants of the old theocracy have been swept aside in some manner) and to hang out in droves wherever there is hard liquor and marijuana. The bastard son provides a stockpile of both. He also offers a fashion sense and an entertainment that are literally blowing their minds. After all, they are still wearing the big sombreros and bushy mustaches of a Mexican Caballero circa 1910; and the surreal, stereo sound music videos he projects on his living room walls are a very far advance over the black and white silent films shown in town. Of course, they can never really accept him, because of his lineage. But they love his money, his food (no matter what he serves, it is seasoned with some sort of raw meat that smells as strong as it tastes, but that is nevertheless strangely appetizing), his hard stuff, his four-twenty, and his Boy George videos (actually, they do not love them, so much as they find them to be wavy gravy groovy after midnight). So when their fatty daddies put their thick minds together and decide to inspire a mob revolt against the regime, the foppish sons charged with instigating the conspiracy all at once turn to the rich, brilliant, entertaining bastard in skin tight leather and bottleneck sweater. He is happy to oblige, since he has been waiting for a fine, little war, a bit of beastly savagery unhinged, to propel himself and the rest of Burrito Land into the realization of his “revolutionary action.” Now, throughout history, every hush-hush conspiracy that has inspired a war has had its “strange bedfellows,” marriages of convenience that end with one or two of the earnest conspirators dead in a back alleyway from a sharpened dagger thrust under the shadows of a new moon. The bastard Son of the Shylock takes up with the fair, swashbuckling Son of the High Priest. They are practically twins in appearance, height, and weight (though the Son of the High Priest does not wear a lip ring, and is not inclined to cut himself with a razor blade); and that similarity, more than anything, probably inspires the homosexual lusts that they share with one another. The Son of the High Priest is not nearly as beastly as his lover. He is in most respects a happy-go-lucky fellow just looking for something to believe for a while. To the extent that he is caught up in any angst at all, it is to show the world that he is strong enough to disdain the privileges of his youth, by turning against his father and helping to take down the regime his father symbolizes. In the end, though, he is a bit player in the conspiracy, in part because the others do not trust that he is really at odds with his father. The bastard son just wants to use his butt (It doesn’t really fit in there, the Son of the High Priest screams, when the bastard son turns him around for the first time; That’s no matter, the bastard son replies, ‘cause I can force it to fit. All you have to do is squirm and squeal for me….), because he senses that with every thrust of his tool he is that much more beastly and mad. As it turns out, the more beastly and mad he is in the “inner sanctum,” the smaller his tool appears to be. The bastard son really cannot believe it; but with every sex act he is turning into a eunuch, until one day there is not enough of him left to make the Son of the High Priest wince, or even raise an eyebrow. No longer apprehensive, the Son of the High Priest very soon is bored with the whole affair; and he starts to meet with Eureka, the gay hair stylist, back in town. When the bastard son learns of the affair (a casually flippant comment from one of the foppish sons, while the joint is being passed around in his living room one night), he dashes into town, and strangles Eureka as if the gay blade is a bean burrito in his clenched fists. He snarls, as Eureka’s left eye pops out inside his death grip. That left eye of yours is going to be your last erection, he taunts him, so you better enjoy it. Leaving Eureka dead inside his salon, he wants to do the same with the Son of the High Priest, when from a distance he hears that the conspiracy is being put into effect. There is a mob in town, and it is surrounding the Burrito Stand with its catcalls and raised fists. A faceless munchkin in the crowd tosses a rock at the plastic cactus. Soon, there is a blitzkrieg of rocks and pebbles. The bastard son wanders into the melee. It is strange, he says to himself. I would have thought that this would be my great moment, since I have been focused on realizing my “revolutionary action” in an awesome, larger than life manner for so many years. But I don’t give a hoot, if the Burrito Stand falls, he concludes. I just want to wring the wispy neck of the damned whore who has been two-timing me. He finds his target in the mob but cannot get close enough to strangle him. So he picks up a rock instead, making out like he is going to knock down the plastic cactus once and for all times, and launches it at the head of his target. He hits his bull’s eye, just as another rock knocks down the plastic cactus. But, on account of his notoriety, and the showy way in which he picks up his rock, everyone presumes that his rock is the exact one that knocks down the plastic cactus. A gaggle of wild goons hoists him into the air, parading him cheerfully from one pair of shoulders to the next; and for a moment, he forgets his animal rage. The Son of the High Priest staggers away in pain and fright, holding the wound that eventually will result in his blindness and foolish, hobo-like behavior. The bastard son is lowered to his feet, when an anguished shriek from somewhere sends the mob running off toward the “Great White God” in the far distance. He makes out like he is going to join with them in this final assault, but then circles back into town to pursue his other agenda.  

My shadowy rescuer is not finished with its story; but it stops speaking a while, presumably so as to build a bit of dramatic tension for what will happen next in the account. 

I am beside myself in anxiety; and while I try to maintain my composure, it is clear that it senses my inner turmoil, because it laughs triumphantly at my expense and lurches its unseen lips conspiratorially closer to my right earlobe. 

I feel its sour breath rattling the thin hairs on my earlobe; and at once, I am reminded of the miscreant troll. I hate that thought, and I attempt literally to shake it out of me, because if the “Creature from the Black Lagoon” is really not all that different from the miscreant troll, then I cannot be certain if I am on an upward climb toward godliness, or a downward spiral into the turbulent, open seas. Indeed, from this perspective, there seems to be no real difference, in the mind at least, between up and down, like being trapped in a whirlpool in outer space that is simultaneously sucking down and spitting up its tired victim.

If only it would not stop speaking, because whenever it stops, even for a moment, my mind wanders back into the all-too-familiar terrains of self-doubt, skeptical inquiry, and ultimately self-loathing. For a Gnostic Beast (or a Gnostic God, depending upon the perspective), there is no refuge in even a momentary return to the hard bargain of objective truth. Better for him, if he should never stop tiptoeing through the tulips, and never put down his little boy mandolin. 

Thankfully, my shadowy rescuer continues, just as I am about to stumble once more over the precipice. It clears its throat, as if it has swallowed a sticky something or other, and then grunts and gurgles its way through its own dream.

As the brown munchkins are confronting the “Great White God,” dying in droves in this final assault, the bastard son hires a few deadbeats (there will be always some sleepy heads who have no stomach for the great struggles of their time, and these may be purchased on the cheap to perform a bit of labor, or to sneak contraband over enemy lines) to move much of his “home entertainment system” (as he has coined the phrase) from the hacienda to the big stage in the town plaza. When the battle is over, a remnant of brown munchkins retreats to the town plaza, while the majority fall over the cliff with the Norse god. As the returning brown munchkins are hungry and exhausted, they welcome with open arms (Olé, Olé, Olé, they scream at once) the free corn tortillas, free cervezas, free pot (poor quality weed, but still free), and free massages (the bastard son manages to bring over some geisha girls and massage tables from “Sushi Land,” a popular sex destination for the corporate elites “in the know,” who have the time and the money to venture east of the farthest known mountain). When all of them are well liquored up, the bastard son takes the stage, and then unveils (P.T. Barnum would be proud) a giant movie screen. It is the size of a futuristic sky rise. But as impressive as that is, what comes next spellbinds the munchkins into a controlled proletariat: a fast montage of color, stereo sound, Boy George music videos, that ends of course with “Karma Chameleon.” By the time it reaches the crescendo (Kama, Kama, Kama, Kama, Kama Chameleon), the loopy munchkins are holding hands and swaying side to side, like hippies in a mass consciousness rally in Northern California. The bastard son orders them to throw their sweaty sombreros into the air, and to shed their stinky clothes. Freedom, he harangues as if the voice of the unknowable oracle, this is what freedom feels like! While still holding hands, the naked munchkins hold up their fists and respond with an unearthly, animalistic growl, a deep, gravelly murmur that arises from the floor of the ocean into a screaming wave of ancient resentments. In one voice, they are unleashing a mass obscenity, and throwing it back at the winged fates high above the clouds. It is not a human voice; and, in time, it is not even an animal voice. It is a visceral rage, the sound of an enraged, empowering middle finger, held up for all to see at the flaming sword that is denying them their haciendas in Eden. The bastard son then holds up a rock (a beautifully glistening rock that he had found behind the stage, shortly before taking his cue) and declares in a deep, powerful voice (he is mimicking Charlton Heston as “Moses” in the classic “The Ten Commandments,” which he has found online with his personal computer and has watched in small bits in between his Boy George music videos): Behold my munchkins, this is the rock that brought down the plastic cactus! And this is the rock that will bring down any tyrant who may dare to rob us of our freedom and liberty! And, behold, before their very eyes, the bastard son is transfigured into a clean, shaven, even debonair gentleman, not just a good citizen, but the Good Citizen, like a modern day Caesar Augustus or Warren Buffet. He becomes the Incarnation of Charity, and Good Will, and Higher Taxes on the Rich. There is a clamor to make him their king right then and there. But, he has studied the examples of Caesar Augustus (forsaking a royal title to appear as if a “common man,” a scion of reason and virtue, all the while ruling with his iron fist from a back room) and Warren Buffet (filthy rich himself, but denouncing “the rich” as a whole for “not paying their fair share,” and conspicuously driving around in a beat up, old, pickup truck, and wearing a white shirt that looks like it has been purchased from a L.L. Bean catalogue). And so he holds up his hands and denies any interest in titles. He is a servant, he claims; and he demonstrates the point by getting on his knees and washing the feet of every one of the smelly, naked munchkins standing hand in hand before the stage. By the time he resumes his central spot on the stage, he is a eunuch (though this is not apparent to anyone at that time, since he is dressed, his last bit of manliness, a dangling, hairless pinky in between his legs, nevertheless dislodges and slides down his left pants leg). He is lower than the lowliest beast, even slimier than the snake that hunts its prey in the rancid marshes. He is a horned demon. Even better, he is forever and a day the Resurrection of the Omen Child, adorned in his beautiful clothes, his winning smile (he has whitened his teeth, before this occasion), and his fine voices (Charlton Heston at one point, then Audrey Hepburn at another, so that he is neither male nor female, but transcends any and all of the old fashioned, outdated, fuddy-duddy divisions in nature). Only the careful observer is able to see the demonic glare in his eyes, the subtle narrowness in his charcoal pupils that suggests that there is a red-scaled devil whispering its lullabies somewhere within his wildest wet dreams. By the time the festival is done (it continues for six days, so that the seventh day may be counted as “the day of rest,” the day set aside for the commemoration of the New Creation), his iconic likeness is on every wall and street corner. He is no longer the bastard son (though several of the envious sons of the corporate elites will insist in whispers with one another that he suffers from a halitosis that smells a lot like a dead Shylock; and one of them will intone in the course of a drunken stupor that he is a eunuch, because he went a bit too far with his Shylock Circumcision), but rather the Higher Love or the Good Citizen, depending upon the occasion. He renames Burrito Land in a touching ceremony that includes a gift of garlands to a bald midget gimp that cannot even sit upright in a wheelchair. From then on, it is “Higher Love Land” (though references to “Burrito Land” may be found still in the museum that has been set up to commemorate his triumph over tyranny and to promote a vivid, patriotic love of “the proletariat”). Like Peter the Great forbidding the Russian man from having a long beard, he forbids the sombrero and the linen outfit as a fixture from the past. Instead, the brown munchkins wear Hare Krishna hooded robes; and they beat tambourines while passing around their joints. In his later years, he grows his white hair long and ties it into a ponytail; and he maintains a frizzy beard that makes him look like Jerry Garcia. The glare remains stuck in his eyes; but unless watched closely, he looks loopy and punch drunk, as if just another happy-go-lucky Berkeley bum who has smoked too much weed over the years. But, of course, behind the scenes he remains as steely as ever. And he is careful never to lose his animalistic edge, the sadistic beastliness that remains the underlying foundation of his godliness. Therefore, on the anniversary of the death of the big-haired, well-painted trollop, he enters into his “love dungeon” (like the High Priest used to enter into the Inner Kitchen); and he finds a naked munchkin that his deacons have kidnapped and prepared for him. The lamb is always young and beautiful; a rose just about to blossom into what would have been a fine adulthood. He takes his time to observe his muscular adroitness; his unblemished skin; his wavy, blond locks (if not blond in real life, since that is a rare trait among the brown munchkins, then the deacons forcibly dye his hair blond for the occasion). The lamb is hanging from the rafter; and he is far too gagged and drugged to bleat out in fear, or even to squirm in mid-air. Which is just as well, he says to himself. I am a beast, to be sure; but I am also a kindly, gentlemanly beast, and I am not inclined anymore to experience more drama in my life than is absolutely necessary. And so he stuffs one of his classic sparkler-grenade contraptions into the inert buttocks, waits for the right note to sound on the Boy George “Karma Chameleon” music video, and clicks on the timer. Now, he stands behind a blast shield, so that he does not endure a concussion. He takes in the grandeur of the blast, and then he steps out, leaving the clean up to the deacons and the nondescript help. And this goes on, forever and ever, amen.

You mean, he never dies? I ask. I am not incredulous so much as I do not want it to end its story. I am afraid of where my mind will travel, if I am left to my own reason; and I really, really hope, therefore, that my inquiry will prod it into launching another one of its surreal monologues. 

The Gnostic Beast turned God never dies. He just fades away, until he is lost altogether in his loneliest dream, the place where, finally, he can be alone for all eternity with his own obsessions. In the prologue, as much as in the final chapter, that is where the Gnostic Beast turned God really wants to be anyway, it concludes with the dispassionate air of a white suit eyeing yet another bitter olive in his dry martini.   

Apparently, my shadowy rescuer is not going to say anything more. I feel alone, and I sense that at any moment I may be sucked back into the whirlpool.

Well, what’s with this kama kama kama kama kama chameleon? I scream out in the anxious, but vain, hope that my shadowy rescuer will throw me a life buoy, before I am alone forever in the whirlpool that is stirring inside my mind. 

I really do not care what its response is. I just want it to speak, not to me, so much as for eternity, as if the Word striking through the deepest void at the beginning of time, shaking the bulwark between what is real and unreal as a primordial thunder clasp in an otherwise clear, colorless sky. I want it to be right now as much an “evolved god” as the demonic beast I sense lurking inside its own shadows, so that I may be the same in it, as it is in me….

What do you mean? It inquires absently, as if barely hearing me over the clinking martini glasses and fizzing olives, and all those trillions of unseen glass shards and rising bubbles that, when coalescing mystically in the salted breezes caressing the yacht, give birth to the loony cackles and rolling eyes on the soft, pastel deck. It is so oblivious, casually coiffed hiccups beneath an upturned red nose, that there cannot remain even a trace of humanity in its eyes, even if an unsettled bystander were to try to imagine that it is there. 

And yet I persist. I rather would be pulled back into the “love dungeon,” and eaten bit by bit over the course of an eternal lifetime, than left alone to a mind that is capable still of periodic bouts of reason and skepticism. 

Well, when the bastard son is sparkling a victim, the music video intones kama; but when he turns on his boom box, and his father slips on the gold coins beside his bed, the cassette tape intones karma, I elaborate.

As I said, the bastard son alters the music video that is projected on the screens in his “love dungeon;” but then plays the original song on his boom box when he is unable to lure his father into his “love dungeon” and, as such, needs to go to him instead, it answers in an annoyed, condescending tone. 

But I do not understand….

Your problem is that you try to understand. A beast does not understand anything. It is a creature of instinct, a scaly prowler lurching in a dark shadow somewhere that is surviving off its drive to tear into skin and rip out hot, nubile flesh. It is the expression of its amoral freedom, thoughtless sensuality that has no restraint in the cares and concerns of civilization, like an inflamed SS guard, hot and heavy from having put a bullet through the brain of his loving German shepherd back at his training camp, who decides to swing the Jew scalps into a brick wall, rather than just march them, single file in packs of twelve, into the silent, sterile oven. The busted skullcaps make a mess; and the other SS guards need to step around the slimy grey matter and purple blood, as they walk their perimeter; but no one can deny that there is something oddly sexy, juicy, even creative in the crass violence. You are born again hard, a superior officer with a Bavarian beer belly will say to the inflamed SS guard, though you need to get one of the Jew vultures to clean up this mess, before the polished brass returns to inspect our little patch of Hell. From then on, everyone in the unit refers to the inflamed SS guard as Kama, the Hindi god of erotic love; and they dream of his skin tight leather trousers and baton (“born again hard” every night in their REM sleep), not knowing that in fact he is castrating himself with the sharp end of his bayonet, a little bit more each night, until there is nothing left but soft, womanly grace. After the war, Kama will sleep his way up the corporate ladder at Braun, until he is the “razor queen” among those “in the know,” and giving out free soap and razor blades (remnants from the Final Solution) to the brown, smelly races of the world. But he never would have been so capable of charity, if he had not been reborn first as a love devil. But the bastard son is unable to lure the Shylock, because the Shylock is dead in his madness already (giving up what remains of his ghost, even before his head hits the floor), a raving lunatic from his first day as a moneychanger to his final day as a money hoarder, living in his butterball burps and belches only to the extent necessary to live out that ugly bit of karma that he has purchased for himself. And so all he can do is wait outside the door for the Shylock to check into the Hell of his own choosing, and then devour what remains. Though not apparent for a while, the bastard son is actually reborn the next day, when he first munches on his father (kneeling on his thin straw mattress, as if it is an altar rail; while Eureka drops the raw flesh chunk onto his tongue and mutters: The Karma of Christ, to which he responds, groggy from his own headiness, Be it onto me, according to my will). He is Free Will devouring Fate; His Dharma over His Karma; the spoiled child managing, on his own petulant terms, to grab the sword from the overhead compartment and to slay the Grim Reaper once and for all times. 

I am startled. 

How does my shadowy rescuer know about my woeful encounter with the spoiled child on the bus? Did it attend my lecture way back when and hear the anecdote that I had spoon-fed the shadows? 

But I cannot imagine that it was there, among the loser doughfaces; the Salvador Dali mustaches; the clueless Bob Newharts in checkered pants and soft penny loafers. 

Even more so, I shall not imagine that that is the case.

Because, if so, then my shadow rescuer has been with me all along, from before the beginning and even after the end, like a thunder clasp that is not so much breaking through as maintaining the darkest void from which it springs. If this is so, then it is no more than an extension of my own voice, a cry out from my own despair, a life buoy that is not leading me back onto the mellow yacht, but is dragging me farther out to sea, and eventually pulling me to the bottom.

And I do not want to know what is down there….

There is nothing down there, it remarks casually, reading my mind, as if flicking a bitter olive from its martini glass to its lipstick lips. 

Is it a gentleman in a white suit, pleasantly noncommittal for an hour or two, a slight scent of dry liquor and salmon and crème cheese roll, bubbling in and out of a balmy breeze? 

Or is it the “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” hideous and demure, like a big-haired, well-painted trollop found in your bed the next morning, who you suspect may have been the lady you brought to the cocktail party, and who you fear may be tagging along for the next one? 

Or does it make a difference, if it is offering me just more of myself? 

It tosses me one last lifeline, remarking that it wants to show me the old but timeless “map” that the bastard son used to climb up into his own divinity.

I hold my breath, as it lights its cigar, and unfolds a pamphlet on its lap. 

A Kindergarten Lecture for Special People

It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Matthew 4:4 (KJV)

I am so enchanted by the casual cool revelation, the highest feats of the sublime offered from one cocktail party guest to another like the sharing of salt and pepper shakers by a buffet table, that I do not notice the miscreant troll. 

I neither hear his webbed feet scampering down the center aisle towards us, nor do I see his tail flipping aside the little oinkers and cockle-doodle-doos, that happen to be in his way. 

And I certainly do not sense that he has rolled up his “map” in his hairy, right claw, and is twirling it over his monstrous head, like a baton that is about to be slammed upon the head of a derelict paddy in a dark alleyway. 

The assault is over, as soon as it has been launched. 

That is the nature of a firefight (or, as in this case, a duel between two “maps” rolled into batons and slammed upon monstrous heads): it is done, the last bit of sulfur fired, the initial wave of historians taking the field to write up their assessments (CYA documents that always obscure as much as they inform the polished brass), before there is time enough for any one of the combatants or bystanders to be consciously heroic.

This is not to say that there is no glory in war. 

But, to the extent that there is something memorable, it is the result of a split-second decision in the midst of a cauldron, that just happens as much by luck as by bravery and battle smarts to go in the right direction. 

And so, when I land on my rear end in the center aisle, and scoot swiftly to the back of the bus, I cannot tell if I have been moving adroitly to get out of the way, or if I have been pushed, and then dragged, by an unseen angel into a trench off to the side. 

I am torn. Part of me wants to think that I moved myself out of the way, as that then would be a testament to the power of my free will to slip out from the snares of death. But part of me wants to think that an unseen angle helped me, as that then would mean that I am not alone in a dark world full of oceanic whirlpools, the kind of lonely despair that tips white suits off of pastel yachts. 

I slap myself in my right cheek, in the hope that this mental conundrum, and the capacity for reason that allows for mental conundrums, every now and then, to storm the gates within the grey matter, will be knocked clean through my left ear and end up as another stain on the grimy floor. 

But I have no such luck. 

Nothing propels out of my left ear, except maybe sweaty earwax.

I look up in time to see that the two “maps” are flying through the dark, noxious air, like two bridal bouquets tossed simultaneously from an inebriated, crass, whore of a bride in a trench on one side of No-Man’s Land, to a one-man bridal party in a trench on the other side. 

I cannot decide, if I should reach up for the bridal bouquets, or cover my ears, while screaming “Incoming” at the top of my lungs. 

Stuck in my indecision, I cannot do anything but watch, as the two bridal bouquets land in my lap, and then blossom by their own volition before my very eyes into unfolded, wrinkled, battle scarred pamphlets. 

I recognize first the “map” on my right thigh as the one belonging to the miscreant troll libertarian. It is his faded copy of the United States Constitution that has been highlighted, underlined, and folded many ways, like an old pirate treasure map where “X” marks the hidden gold.

I recognize next the “map” on my left thigh as the one belonging to the devil-may-care Marxist/Fascist. It is the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution that has been rewritten to reflect the political situation prevailing in “Higher Love Land” even unto this day:

The powers not delegated to Higher Love/Good Citizen by Himself, nor prohibited by Himself to the Brown Munchkins, are thus reserved to the Brown Munchkins.

I look up. I am surrounded by dumb, brown eyes and gaping gums stuffed into sweaty sombreros, which make me feel like the only bean in the beanbag, the minority of one in a universe of lazy indifference and mental retardation. I am either the Last Lecturer or the Pied Piper; but, regardless, the only ones to follow my lead are “special people,” clutching their teddy bears (in this case, a mad array of pigs and roosters) and drooling over their rainbow colored bibs (in this case, the Frieda Kahlo scarves that are all too common on the common, as if a rich panoply of color and laughter can make up for the periodic devaluation of the Mexican Peso). Or at least this is how I imagine them to be, so that I may make one, final stab at being a self-defined god turned beast, or a self-defined beast turned god, or something or other that allows me to skip out on my mind, before I am lost to that whirlpool, forever and ever, world without end, amen.

So I stand up, and I resume my lecture, imagining the fools around me to be in rapt attention. I even manage to pretend that their outstretched palms, a universal sign of begging that is as ingrained to the Mexican Peasant as the Seig Heil salute to the Bavarian Bratwurst in a skin-tight lederhosen, indicate a keen desire for me to continue with whatever I am about to say.    

I sweep my left arm over the sweaty sombreros, a dramatic gesture that is reminiscent of an iconic portrait of President George Washington. I wait for a sweep of adulation in return; and, when I receive nothing but blank stares, and a codger prune to my left wiping the sweat off of his forehead with a dirty, old handkerchief, I pretend that I need to push back their rapturous applause. 

When finally their voices are so hoarsened by their incessant cheers that they are forced into silence, I clear my throat; look out over the sombreros like Moses first beholding the tumultuous waters of the Red Sea; and speak with the tone and the texture of a trumpet from on high.

You have your detractors, I boom. That is your lot in life. But the greater men, the ones who by breed and education should presume to steal what little talent and virtue you have, and then to discard you with no more than a glance and a nod, are wrong in thinking of you as children. Of course, they mean such a comparison as a put down. But they are wrong to do so, nonetheless, because such is a disservice to children. You see, the special mark of a child, no matter his breed, is not that he is weak (some have the powers of a Samson); nor, that he is stupid (some have the wisdom of a Samuel); nor, that he is inexperienced, oblivious to the fact that, since Adam and Eve have been in exile from their old haunt in Eden, the Devil has been the Prince of this world (some have the keen insight that is born only in the loneliest pit of all, the breathing tome that is an unrequited bout of pain and suffering, as in the case of Job or Anne Frank). No, none of these separate the child from the adult. Instead, the special mark of a child is that he dreams, deeply and often, and is not concerned with separating his dream life from the world about him. He is creating constantly: new worlds, surreal from the view of an adult, but eminently real and rational in his playful dreams and horrid nightmares, arising from no more than a shudder in his right eyelid, or a sucked thumb upon his pillow; old worlds, once enchantingly grand and gay, but set aside in anticipation of something better, vanishing altogether with no more than a shudder in his left eye, or a thumb ejected onto his pillow; imaginary friends; travels through a warp drive; timid pecks behind a rose bush that cannot but transition into love, marriage, and baby in a carriage. But none of this may be said of you. You do not dream. You may wear a colorful scarf, as you manage to scrounge enough pesos to buy one. You may laugh freely, as you manage here and there to take a swig from a half empty bottle of tequila. But, no matter the day or night, you are always clutching your pig or rooster; always pestering a gringo to toss you a peso; always avoiding the cop, so that you need not lose what few pesos you have by paying him the mordida that he invariably demands. In essence, you do not dream, because you cannot afford to do so. It is a luxury beyond your reach, or even contemplation. And, therefore, it is a lot more honest if we say that you are brute animals; not the kind of beasts that in one way or another may become gods (because, in order so to do, you must be able first and foremost to imagine that there is a certain godliness within your viciousness, a creative spark in the violence that you inflict upon the innocent and the weak); but rather the kind that feast off the bugs in the marsh and are then forgotten, when you are torn apart by a faster, stronger predator one day, because you do not have the temerity to insist on being remembered. From the Gnostic point of view, you are akin to nature, which is to say, characterized by the time that is fleeting, and the space that is eroding; and, therefore, you are unreal, or at most inconsequential. Remember: Only spirit counts, because the spirit is timeless, non-spatial, so transcendental to nature as to be approached, however dimly, by the abstract imagination of a man gifted with the knowledge (the special gnosis he unleashes from within himself) to do so. By contrast, the natural, the stuff made up of matter, sensed by the senses, and remembered in the history books, does not count. And, since you are natural beings, you really do not count, either, which is why you are not fit to do more than to polish fine shoes, or to be crammed into gas chambers and ovens by chiseled toe-heads in SS uniforms. You are demonstrations of the heavy hand of fate; born victims, so that, by your example, your superiors (men who in virtue of superior breed and education are less “natural,” which is to say, more inclined toward the higher, abstracted thought by which they may live out their lives in a more “spiritual,” “free,” and “visionary” manner) may be reminded never to allow their freedom to be restrained by a traditional morality, or a religious sentiment, or a culture that is not entirely of their own lofty imagination. You are weakness incarnate, so that they may be stronger, more god-like in comparison, and capable of the self-absorbed abuse of others, or even genocidal madness, from which a newer, bolder world may be refashioned from out of the wreckage of the old. You are the shabby bulwarks targeted for firebombing; the ash from which the Phoenix may rise; the labor and the commodity to be traded within the free market, for the total debasement of yourself, and the enrichment of someone else. I speak, not to enlighten you, because you have no inner light to be emboldened; but to glorify myself to the extent that I am contrasted with you, like the slave owner sitting lazily on his porch, sipping his mint julep, as he calls out to his hunched, bow-legged coloreds with this or that word of wisdom. And, in the end, it does not matter if you rise up and throw me off of my porch; or even if, in a physical sense, you manage to become the slave owner, while I am relegated to the role of a slave. It does not matter, because my superiority is all in my mind anyway; and no matter what happens in history, I shall find a way to imagine that I am a superior man, perhaps in virtue of my higher education, or affinity for the finer arts, or moral restraint, or creative bohemianism, or pharisaical fear of God, or free-thinking atheism. I shall dream, alive in my own eternity, while you find a momentary bit of comfort for yourself from the spoils of war, an unsatisfactory pleasure over time that will do no more than to make you resentful of the mind bliss that I have created for myself. You cannot win. You cannot unshackle your ball and chain. You cannot improve your birthright. Fate has you marked as her bitch, and she is not about to set you free for some other boy toy. And so your only recourse is to drink up, put on a cheerful smile, and dance the night away.

I stop long enough to look out over the sea of sweaty sombreros (most of them nodding with the slow, measured rhythm of a sleeping chest, though I am very careful to imagine that these are “affirming” nods). I am taken by the icky perspiration (the distinct flavor and texture of odeur naturelle); but instead of being repulsed, I imagine that it is their incense being offered up onto the keen nostrils of a statuesque god. I acknowledge the gesture, by holding up my nose, and crossing my arms, like Il Duce on his balcony sending his fine soldiers off to make Roman Love (and, once in a while, even to fight) in the sands of Ethiopia.

As you are brute animals, I continue at last, the Gnostics who squish you every day with their iron fists are brilliant, spoiled children. No matter if these children are twenty or eighty; political activists or non-political artists; beastly bohemians or godly moralists, they care for nothing, not even for themselves in the end, but for the “triumph of their will,” the “freedom” to bring about their “vision” of a just and noble life. And they do not measure success by the result in history, since history after all is “natural” (quantifiable, debatable, and this-worldly by definition), but rather by the extent of their lofty intentions and the do-gooder sentiments that those may inspire. For Gnostics, intentions matter in the beginning and in the end, not outcomes; and if there is a man, or a law, or a set of religious or cultural taboos that gets in the way of realizing their noble intentions, the grand gestures with which they will insist that God Himself give up His Throne, then such is immoral, or outdated, or tyrannical. My means now and forever justify my ends, the Gnostic will say; and if he says it to the masses with a god-like conviction, a booming voice accompanied with an overwhelming sound and light stage show, or if he says it to the masses with the soft blush of a modern day Mother Theresa, a gentle whisper while offering a “senseless act of kindness” to a drooling gimp in a wheelchair, then the people will follow him as the latest in a series of Pied Pipers. History demonstrates time and again the outcome of a mass consciousness emerging from out of a Gnostic God: the dead ashes in Dresden; the radiation burns in Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the end of any faithful, Bible based Christianity in the Episcopal Church U.S.A.; the election of a New Age Messiah Teleprompter to the United States Presidency, and all of the economic and cultural firestorms spreading across the malaise-infested, old prairie pastures as a result. But history is irrelevant; and, even more so, it is so much more fun and pleasurable to be in the “in” crowd; to believe in some sort of “far out gesture” that is ultimately self-affirming (as one Gnostic God said to the mindless cheers of his slaves in the past election cycle: “We are the people we have been waiting for,” never mind that he finishes his grand gesture with a preposition); and just to “hope” that this time the “change” really will usher in the Age of Aquarius, the Land of Milk and Honey for all (“No Food for Profit” or “Democracy Now!” as the living ethos of the New Creation), and the Death and Demise of all things Republican, and Christian, and Just Plain Icky. The Gnostic God can foist his utopian vision into the world, imprisoning, maiming, and even killing as necessary to force the odd shapes into the fine holes he has crafted in his imagination, since he is “good enough,” not in need of salvation, so much as he and his vision are his own salvation, not under the thumb of any other creed or moral code, so much as he and his slaves imagine their own creed and moral code. We call this “progress.” And as for the Gnostic God and his happy-snappy slave followers, we think of them as the “special people” of the time, the ones “in the know” and “defining the zeitgeist” for the rest of us. Oh, the poor Nazi, carrying on his stooped shoulders the weight of purifying the entire world from mixed bloods, and bohemian gypsies, and limp wristed queers (unless they are in the SS officer corps, in which case there is a special dispensation), and Bible thumping Christians, and gold hoarding Jews with horned heads, sneering eyes, and claw-like hands. He is so very “special” in his grandiose goosestep, his high chin, and his cold stare at those truths just beyond the horizon, which the vast majority of men cannot hope to contemplate, let alone fight to put into effect within the ice fields of the Soviet Union or the black forests of Germany. Oh, as we move our gaze closer to home, the poor Episcopalian Priestess, carrying just as much on her hunched back the weight of dislodging the Christian faith from the old time religion, the one that says that the Bible alone is the revelation of God; that His Son, Christ Jesus, is the way, truth, and life; and that the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God should be the criteria by which we create and then sustain our moral code and cultural taboos. She is so very “special” in her soft, rainbow colored chasuble; her sweet voice from the pulpit; and her subtle nods of affection at those dreams just beyond the horizon, the heart melting visions of kind “social justice” and all things “peace, love, and groovy,” which the vast majority of men cannot hope to contemplate, let alone fight to put into effect through gender-neutral Bibles and revised Prayer Books.

I pause to glare out over the sea of sombreros. 

All of the sombreros are caught up in the rhythms of an “affirming” nod, the push upward, the shudder, and then the collapse, each gesture spaced and timed as if a breathing chest in deep sleep. 

For a moment, I sense that they are sleeping, not because they are tired or swayed into unconsciousness by the lazy bus shocks beneath their boots, but as an act of passive resistance. 

I imagine Adolf Hitler gesticulating as a rabid dog on his exalted stage at Nuremburg. There is a spit-foam dripping off of his Charlie Chaplin mustache at one point, mixing in with the sweat from his crisp comb over. He slices his right hand over his mustache, ostensibly to fling it off to his side, but in fact to wipe off the gross annoyance filling in the cracks in his chin. 

He looks down briefly at his hand.

When he looks back up, the worshippers are gone.

There is a mass goosestep off to another auditorium. Apparently, the big cheese over there is offering free beer and bratwurst, besides a typical, Sunday afternoon at the park harangue against the Jews. 

Before he has a chance to tremble, Hitler is back in Munich. It is a cold, blistery, winter day sometime before the Beer Hall Putsch; and he has found an apple crate on which to stand for his harangue. A few startled bystanders stare at him for a moment, not quite able to make out what he is saying, before they dash into the nearest hall and drink away their stale bread money. 

I imagine an Episcopalian Priestess fluttering like a sick bird on her grand pulpit. There is a spit-foam dripping off of her beak at one point, mixing into a tinkle of sweat left over from her hot flash earlier that same morning. She finds an opportune moment to smother her beak into her rainbow stole, while never skipping a beat from her sermon about “Maui love birds” (apparently their love song once triggers in her the epiphany that “love speaks in all sizes and shapes, and colors and creeds, and sexual orientations and alternative families); but, in fact, she wants to wipe off the gross annoyance filling in the cracks in her chin.

She looks down briefly at her stole.

When she looks back up, the worshippers are gone. 

There is a mass shuffle off to another church (as fast as their creaky, old walkers will take them). Apparently, the lesbo over there is offering rich, Napa Valley wines, instead of the normal coffee hour fare of watered down brew and sugar cookies, besides a typical, Sunday morning in the church exercise in kind, touchy feely, Kumbaya, self-affirmation psychotherapy veiled as new theology.

If people can leave, then they will practice passive resistance by quietly stepping out for a smoke and never wandering back into the fray. 

If people cannot leave, then they will check out; and the silence wafting up from their stupefied sleep will be deafening, louder even that all of the old time harangues and soft pussy willow sermons thrown together. 

But I know better. No one of my slaves (the expressions, each and every one of them, of the mass consciousness emerging from out of me) is sleeping in the course of my lecture. 

On the contrary, they are each as riveted to my word, as I am to myself. 

Nature cannot ignore the spirit that is swooping down from the heavenly clouds; sweeping up the sand pebbles into a whirlpool; and transforming within the blink of a dreamy eye a barren landscape into a tumultuous ocean.

Nature cannot stop the unleashing of freedom; the imparting of the high and mighty vision; the triumph of a will that insists on its struggle, its victories, and its melodramatic death in the back room of a bunker somewhere….

Nature is nothing, but a blank slate upon which a free will paints his fine and noble vision, like the damsel who has no recourse but to sit back and close her eyes as the artist ravishes her womb with the abundance of life soaring out from within him. She is the sack carrying his sperm, the tortilla wrapped about a living bean; and, in time, she will be set aside with the rest of the used paper and string, a clutter in the corner that will know no loving caresses, no soft and tender moments, but the crackle of a chaff-burning fire in her own barren pit. 

Or so I want to believe…

I really, really want to believe….

I hear what sounds like a collective snore.

But I know better. No one of my slaves (the expressions, each and every one of them, of the mass consciousness emerging from out of me) is sleeping in the course of my lecture. 

On the contrary, they are each as riveted to my word, as I am to myself.

Or so I want to believe…

I really, really want to believe….

I hear what sounds like air exhaled through dry lips.

But I know better. No one of my slaves…

I clear my throat. I do not like where my thoughts trend, when I am not caught up into my own stage voice and theatrical gestures, as a thespian acting out his life to the deafening applause and loving admiration in his wet dreams.

I dislike even more how I am questioning my own performance, now and forever, even when I am saying my lines properly, and keeping my proper voice for the role, and moving gracefully from one mark to the next…

And noticing that the stage props are paper-thin…

And ready to fall at any moment….

So I press forward, as if I am the first and last sparkle inside the void.

But, oh, how my voice trembles, trembles, trembles, like in the wail of a Negro Spiritual; and I cannot but sense that with every sparkle inside the void, I am losing a little bit of juice, or a sparkplug somewhere is coming undone, so that in time there will not be enough left for me to be seen or heard anywhere.

So now we consider the libertarian, I shout, so as to try to mask over the nervous twitch in my throat. We imagine that he protests on the street corners, holding up his misspelled denunciations of “tyranny” and “fiat money;” dealing out the Maui Wowie and the Colt 45s (the pistol and the beer dealt in the same transaction, since they make such a fine combination) hidden in the grimy folds of his tattered overcoat; and avoiding soap and water as if they are the torture and mind-control instruments perfected by the Rothschilds and the Bilderburgs; as the polar opposite of the Marxist/Fascist. The one side is for non-existent, or at most limited, government; the other is for big government-corporate power and control. The one side reads (and has a secret crush on) Ayn Rand; the other reads (and likes to show their intellectual superiority by quoting in the original German from) Karl Marx. But, of course, what we may like to imagine as “polar opposites” are in fact two mirror reflections of the same reality. God is not the “polar opposite” of the devil. If that were true, then the devil would not exist, since God is by definition totally eternal Reality and Existence, the ontological foundation from which everything else that is real and has existence derives. It is more accurate to say that God is the “most good,” and the devil is the “least good,” but that by definition there is goodness is each of them (though we may presume that, in the case of the devil, he is “good” only in the sense that he is in existence, since all existence is “good” per se). But the unclean, pot-dealing libertarian is the polar opposite of the Marxist/Fascist in a starched shirt; so we must determine what is the underlying similarity between them, the reality for which they are each a mirror reflection, if we are to have any knowledge about the libertarian beyond what we may gleam from the simplistic, political jargons on his bumper stickers, or the paranoid propaganda in his private email inbox.

I inhale deeply. It is increasingly difficult for me to shout; but I must, if I am not to sound like every other fool who is destined at some point (and sooner rather than later) to sparkle one last time inside the void, and then suddenly to black out, like a star that gives off its last bit of radiation to a cold, indifferent universe and is reborn as just another indiscriminate dark spot in the night sky.

So what is this reality for which they are each a mirror reflection? It first must be said that, whatever this reality is, it is amoral. Morality is not a private opinion of what is right and wrong, like a private opinion that says that caramel ice cream is “good” and peanut butter ice cream is “bad.” Rather, morality is a compulsory force, whether imposed by the culture from without in the manner of written laws and superstitious taboos, or whether imposed by the conscience from within, that forms our capacity to judge and to be judged. Because it is a compulsory force, we cannot stop ourselves from being so formed. We can very well choose to accept it without question, in which case we are conventional to the point of banality. Or we can try to resist it, or at the very least to question it as a matter of course (“Question Authority” as the foundation of some sort of alternative lifestyle), in which case we are hedonistic to the point of madness. But, unless we delude ourselves, we must admit that we are formed at least as much, if not more, than we form ourselves, and that we are formed throughout our lifetimes, but especially during our “formative” years (from the initial wails in infancy through the initial defeats in early adulthood), in such a fashion as to be able to judge one another and to be judged. If this does not happen, such as in the case of a psychotic person, then the person really cannot judge whether someone else is committing “good” or “bad” behaviors, and he in turn properly cannot be judged for whatever he does. That person is amoral; that is, he does not have the ability to be formed by the written laws, superstitious taboos, and private conscience into a judging or judged member of society. But most of us, from different influences and to different degrees, are formed over a period of time into “moral agents,” and thus may be counted among the “moral,” or the “immoral,” or more likely a combination of the two. This is normal. This is also natural. Indeed, this is so natural, indelibly interwoven as it is into our mental, emotional, and physical lives, that most of us skip through our lives giving little to no thought to the fact that we are judging one another all the time, from an aversion to the biggest sins to an annoyance with the trifling faults, and in turn being judged all the time. But while natural, the process of being formed into a “moral agent” is also, by definition, restrictive. Nature is forever dividing. The white skinned man is not a black skinned man. The tall man is not a short man. The man is not a woman. By analogy, moral behavior, however defined within a time or a place, is not immoral behavior, as it is defined within that same time or place. It is the very restrictiveness of moral formation, the sense that an act that is “good” cannot also be “bad” (and vice versa), with which we all scoff at one time or another. Most of us do not question that adultery is “bad,” because of the violation of trust, the false hope that somehow the grass will be greener on the other side, and so forth. But many of us at some point in our lives (often in the midst of a “mid-life crisis” or other period of low self-esteem) will scoff at the thought that we cannot dabble in the hot tub behind the rose bush. Why must sex always be “an expression of love,” or “a building of trust,” or even “a respectable act” within the confines of whatever is socially accepted? Why can it not be a simple, momentary release between consenting adults, like a spin on an amusement park ride that harbors neither the seeds of a blossoming love nor ill will? Essentially, we are saying to ourselves: I know that adultery is bad. I do not debate the point. But why must I be restricted, at least this one time? For most of us, the anguishing moment passes. We learn to reconcile ourselves, never perfectly but more or less, to the fact that we are formed, not “formless spirits;” that we are “moral agents;” and that we are and should be restricted, not only by the written laws and the superstitious taboos, but also by our own, private conscience. But, for some of us, the very idea of being restricted is just untenable, because the very idea is a reminder that we are not “good enough” on our own merits (because whatever is “good enough” never needs to be held back by its soft, inner voice from doing what is “bad,” nor prodded forward by the same soft, inner voice into doing what is “good”); that if ever we are going to be “good enough,” then it will require the intercession of some force that is greater than ourselves (in other words, we are all stuck in a “12 Step” program the whole of our lives); and that, therefore, we cannot climb back into our own lost innocence, however we may imagine our little patch of Eden, nor tie up all of our loose knots when all is said and done. Notwithstanding our fair penchant for fairy tales, there will be loves that will be lost forever; there will be special opportunities that will be squandered and never revisited; there will be a grand hereafter, to be sure, but heaven and earth as we know them will pass away in time, and whatever we may have loved about either one of them will be lost to us forevermore. Whenever we gain, we lose. Even when we gain the fullness of eternal life, when we stand face to face with our Father God, we lose sickness, and sin, and death, and even Donald Trump’s hair. We may tell ourselves, as in fact we should, that we shall not miss losing what brings about so much anguish and harm. But, in the very fact of losing, even losing these negative conditions of life, we cannot but be reminded once again that we are restricted, and that only God Himself is unrestricted, eternal life. Indeed, when we are face to face with God, what will be most apparent to us, apart from the absolute fullness of God, is that we are not God. In the end, that is what all of the high and foolish efforts at moral formation aim to teach us: that, however we are able to judge and to be judged, we are not God. His ways are not our ways. And we are fools to imagine that our ways may be His ways.

I know what I am saying.

But I am choosing not to believe a word of it.

Or at least I am really, really trying not to believe a word of it….

Because if anything that I am saying now is true, then I am no more than a brainy fool in a loincloth on a rickety bus on the way to Guatemala…

And not a grand and noble slayer of the fates, hoisting my lofty sail for a patch in the Garden of Eden just beyond the dreamy horizon…

And, perhaps even worse (since the loss of a class distinction always hits harder than the loss of a precious, little wet dream), I am neither more nor less of a “special person” than the other sleepy burritos at the back of the bus. 

But my main problem now is that I am too hoarse to shout any more. 

I press forward once more, even though I know that I can no longer shout over the tremble in my chicken throat, nor hold back the anxious pig farts that will begin to seep through my diaper at any moment.

I press forward once more, even though I know that I am neither the first nor the last sparkle inside the void, nor for that matter the most brilliant and beautiful of the firecracker wads to spit out from the barren space. 

I press forward once more, even though I know…

What I am saying….

But I am choosing not to believe a word of it.

Or at least I am really, really trying to wish upon a star…

And to sit on Santa’s lap one more time…

But while moral formation is very strong, I continue in the kind of sedate whisper that is reminiscent of a man speaking in his sleep, it can never be total in any one of us, because we all are able to dream, now and then. Some dream more than others. But every dream, even if forgotten afterwards, is boundless, while it is a rose blossoming out in odd directions in our mind. Every dream is a release from the private inhibitions and the intellectual snobbery that tell us in our waking hours that we are better off not living out our lives as the “formless spirits” of myths and wet dreams. And with all those reservations set aside, we may pretend that life is as unrestricted and surreal, as when we first learned to speak with our teddy bears and to fear the boogeyman in the closet. We are all very blessed to keep this little bit of childhood with us, even as we take on the tumults and the mindless humdrums of our mature years. It is from this that we have any capacity for creativity, for grand genocides and beautiful poems. The waking hours give us a certain perspective, an ability to put all of this creative wonder in its proper place, since in that time we are reminded that indeed we are not dragon slayers and fairy nymphs. But what if we are so intoxicated with the Land of Enchantment that we choose never to awaken? I do not mean never to awaken physically, but rather never to differentiate in the mind the waking from the sleeping hours. Remember how nature insists on her divisions: the day as different from the night, as the heavens from the firmament. But what if we say that nature is not real, or at least inconsequential; that matter, in the end, does not matter? Well, if we subscribe to the Gnostic Myth, the lovely fairy tale that we say to ourselves in place of our bedside prayers, then we have a whole, comprehensive, philosophical worldview from which to believe just that. There is a sleight of hand in the mind, and then voila: the uncomfortable truth of the situation before us is caught up into a puff a smoke, and replaced with a fuzzy-wuzzy illusion, a rabbit climbing out from a top hat, or a missing spade showing up in another deck of cards. We can tell ourselves all sorts of beautiful lies: the lie that we are causing global warming; the lie that we elected a person, rather than a teleprompter, to the Presidency of the United States; and, important for our story here, the lie that we are “good enough” to live an amoral life. We are able to imagine that we are not morally formed; that we neither judge, nor are available to be judged (or, if we are judged, and locked in the slammer for this or that offence, then the judge, jury, and executioner have crossed the lines of civility, not ourselves); and that, therefore, the only “good” in our lives, and in the world at large, is what conforms with our grand opinion of how things ought to be, and the only “bad” is anything that gets in the way of our grand opinion. In a nutshell, this is the libertarian. He may say that he is a moral man, just as much as anyone else, except that his moral code emerges from his own, private experience of the world, and the voice of his own conscience. But that is just a fairy tale that he tells himself, because deep down inside he continues to know that the amoral life is not particularly good in the end. In fact, he is amoral, as he is not even bound by the moral code he sets up for himself, if such ever gets in the way of his own grand opinion. The libertarian favors his own opinion over fact; his unrestricted freedom over truth; and, finally, his quaint dream that he is self-reliant, an island unto himself without need of governance from without, over his actual reliance on order and salvation. Notwithstanding the lessons of history to the contrary, he believes that he is “good enough” to be completely alone, whether on his cliff looking out over his freedom ocean, or bobbing on a treacherous sea toward the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Theologically speaking, this is the old heresy of Anti-Nomianism, the belief that a sinner does not need Christ Jesus in order to climb up out of his pit and to return to his fine and rightful place before the face of God. The libertarian Christian may not say that Christ Jesus is irrelevant; but he says every day that “Caesar,” which is to say the system of written laws and superstitious taboos that impose the culture and the civil state into the affairs of the people, is not only irrelevant, it is the only “evil” that may be considered as such in our world. Christ Jesus commands us to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s, because the one leads to the other. So when the libertarian Christian disavows “Caesar” in his theoretical worldview, and in his actual behavior, he is setting himself up to disavow Christ Jesus, if and when Christ Jesus comes along his path and tells him to set aside one of his “grand opinions” for the way, the truth, and the life that He offers in Himself. He may delude himself all he wants; but, in the end, his knee-jerk reaction against civil government per se will turn out to be target practice with blanks, preparing him for the time that he will use his real fire to take on the direct, face to face governance by God on His Heavenly Throne. We know then that just as morality prepares a man to live in perfect harmony with God, so does amorality prepare a man to rebel against God. In such regard, the libertarian is the same as the Marxist/Fascist: both are Anti-Nomian, no matter if they are ostensibly Christian or otherwise; amoral, on account of their belief that they are “good enough” to discard written laws, superstitious taboos, and private consciences that get in the way of their “grand opinions;” and, finally, inclined to rebel against even God Himself, if He does not completely submit to whatever visions of “freedom” and “liberty” (the libertarian words of choice), or of “progress” (the Marxist/Fascist word of choice), may be warming the beat of their hearts at the time. The price of amorality is damnation; and such is the price that the libertarian and the Marxist/Fascist are willing to pay, in order to keep alive as long as possible the grand illusion that they are gods among men.

I try to cough out the rest of my lecture. 

But while I have many words left still in my mind, cramming near the old exit door there and waiting impatiently for the signal to elbow one another out into the stale air at the back of the bus, I no longer have a voice…

Not even a sedate whisper…

And so I let the words flow out anyway without giving voice to them.

I mime that I am speaking, launching my arm here, strutting out my chin there, like a Hitler or an Il Duce doll manipulated by the unseen puppeteer into an avant-garde performance of dictator-on-a-stage chic. 

But I really, really want to believe that I can still hear the words…

And that everyone else is amazed at the god-like thunder in my voice….

So what is this reality for which they are each a mirror reflection? Since it is amoral, it is prone to strive for some sort of utopian end. We shall recall in our history books how the utopian societies, the strange “free love” communes in remote locales like Upstate New York or Northern California, or the perverse “end of the world” sects in the deserts of Utah or Nevada, are attempts of one sort of another to form “perfect societies” in the here and now. They claim not to be striving for perfection, but to be perfection, as if the creed of the society or the behavior of its members is the Second Coming of Christ Jesus, the Father (or, depending upon the utopian society, the Mother) God Incarnate. We do not need to wait around for God to return on His terms. We can make Him return in our time and on our terms; that is, if we are so very gifted with the gnosis as to know which of the many utopian societies out there is “correct” and then, with no reservations in heart or mind, to pursue the objectives of that society in the real world. Of course, every utopian society claims to be the “correct” one (or the one and only way, truth, and life); so, by definition, every one claims to be “good enough” to step outside of history, to slay the fates, and to reclaim that portion of Eden that has been denied to it for so long. Returning to my previous metaphor of the spoiled child on the crowded bus, every one claims to be able to take the plastic sword out of the overhead compartment, to throw the baby mama out the window, and to commandeer the bus. This impiety is that much more glaring to the extent that it is “pious” in the pursuit of its objectives, like the impiety of the Pharisee is made manifest in the extent to which he devotes himself and every one under his callused thumb to the exact letters of the law. The “free love” kind of utopian society is as pharisaical, in its own manner, as the “no fun” kind, which is really counter-intuitive. After all, when we think of the average Pharisee in the New Testament, we think of a fuddy-duddy with an angry scowl, an old, stooped man who has not done the “bump and grind” with his mannish wife since well before they canned their first Kosher pickle. But, in fact, the mark of a Pharisee is not attitude, so much as misplaced fidelity (and, in particular, a one-eyed focus on a tangent that permits him to emphasize the letter at the expense of the spirit of the law). Pharisees could be found among the young and the old; the rich and the middling; the dandy and the dour. They shared a predisposition in the mind, a certain blinding hubris that is a lot more common among men than the designation of “Pharisee” would suggest. Well, in the same manner, the “free love” utopian society on the one side, and the “no fun” utopian society on the other, differ in “attitude,” but share among them a predisposition in the mind, a penchant to discern in whatever they teach and in however they act the “be all and end all,” the “final solution” that establishes everything within the society not just on the right course, but once again inside the lost Garden of Eden. So the hedonism in a “free love” sect is “fidelity” to a creed that allows for resurrected life in Eden, and the abstinence in a “no fun” sect is “fidelity” to a creed that allows for resurrected life in Eden. Now, as we said earlier, the moral formation of a man causes him to be restricted in such a way that he realizes that he is not a “formless spirit,” but an imperfect subject of a law, a set of taboos, and a conscience that are collectively greater than all of his free will and boundless dreams put together. Ironically, the moral man is able to judge, and to be judged, precisely because he is so restricted. Morality engenders temperance in a man; and, in virtue of his own temperance, he then is able to measure the good and the bad in others, and to be measured in turn. By contrast, amorality causes a man to imagine that he is unrestricted; that he is in fact a “formless spirit” (or a “formless spirit” just waiting to be released if and when he discovers in himself the gnosis that, when tapped, is the dry wind beneath the wings of the “formless spirit”); and that he is “good enough” (first in his mind, which is what really counts, and then in every other aspect of life) to dispense with judgment and with being judged, and to confuse the “good” in his world with his “grand opinion” of how the world should be. It is clear, then, that amorality is the precursor of utopianism, since only an amoral man may be intemperate enough in his mind as to be certain that the creed and behavior of his perverse utopian society is the Second Coming of Christ Jesus, the Father or Mother God Incarnate. Amorality is impiety, and impiety is the certainty of real perfection in the here and now. Now, as we said, amorality cannot but lead to ruin in the end, as any man or angel who has rebelled against God’s governance may attest from the little, padded room set aside for him in Hell. But, until the man or angel falls from his own mental intemperance, his amorality allows him to imagine that his “grand opinion” can and should be realized in the world, no matter the costs to himself or the consequences to others. He is a mature man who views his “freedom” and “liberty” (the libertarian words of choice), or his “progress” (the Marxist/Fascist word of choice), in the extent to which he is in a mental and emotional slide back into spoiled childhood. And when he returns to his smelly diapers, and finds himself wailing incessantly for the plastic sword in the overhead compartment, and then finds himself shoving his baby mama to the side and grabbing the sword on his own terms, he will imagine that there is nothing to stop him now. He will know, as only the spoiled child can know, that there are no codes of ethics from on high; no written laws (or if there remain a set of written laws to which he is not impervious, then such is not “legitimate” at all, but rather a “tyrannical” restraint on his own “freedom” and “liberty”); no taboos; no traditions; no church; no, nothing. He will know, furthermore, as only the spoiled child knows, that perfection here and now is not only possible, it is defined by what he imagines to be perfection. Let us say, as one example, that an amoral man comes to the conclusion that a humpty-dumpty bit of crass buggery is the “same” as sexual intercourse in traditional marriage. Mind you, I do not say that he is amoral because he comes to this conclusion. Rather, I say that he is amoral, since he imagines that he is not morally formed; that he is a “good enough” chap to dispense with the Law of Nature and of Nature’s God in determining what is “good” and “bad;” and that, being so unrestricted, he has the “freedom” and the “liberty,” or the “progressive mind,” to determine as a “good” whatever is fashionable and chic at that time. In other words, I say that he comes to this conclusion, because he is amoral. Because he is prone to favor utopianism, he will associate his conclusion on this topic with the perfection to which he is driven. His utopian society, whether he has formed one in reality or has conceived one in his imagination, will insist as a line in its solemn creed that buggery is the “same” as sexual intercourse in traditional marriage. And he will oppose any one who speaks out against this “truth,” as if that man is an enemy of perfection itself, a pimple on an otherwise beautiful patch of white skin who deserves no other fate than to be blotted out of the history books. Perfection is always going to invite a genocidal response toward those who are thought to be imperfect. God purges out the last bits of sin in a man, before He allows him to be in His fellowship. The Gnostic God, the libertarian or the Marxist/Fascist, is going to purge the man who would presume to have an opinion that is different from his own, especially if this is an opinion on a topic that he contends is core to his definition of perfection. The difference between the Father God and the Gnostic God is that when the Father God has purged the last bits of sin from a man the man is still available to be in fellowship with Him (Purgatory is never a death sentence, and is thus distinctive from Hell); but when the Gnostic God is finished with a man who would presume to have a different opinion, the man is blacklisted, or taxed out of business, or burnt into ashes in an oven in a remote forest in Poland (Purgatory is Hell, in this case). Ah, you may say, this is true of the Marxist/Fascist, ideologically prone as he is to his “five year plans” and his big government “stimulus bills,” rather than to the old peace, love, and groovy libertarian, ideologically prone as he is to his pot and his hippie folk music. The Marxist/Fascist is predisposed to foist his utopian vision onto society (and, also, to punish severely its non-believers) by the sheer force of coercive taxation and regulation. But the libertarian does not want to foist anything on anyone, as his creed is no more than “let it be” and “pass the joint.” And in terms of severely punishing non-believers, the most the libertarian may do is not pass his joint on to those who insist on misbehaving by the campfire. In response, I contend that the libertarian, amoral as he is, is as prone to utopianism as the Marxist/Fascist who is his polar opposite. The difference is that the libertarian believes that he is his own utopia, while the Marxist/Fascist believes that the world is his utopia (or, if the world is not yet his utopia, then it must be bent into his utopia as an expression of the triumph of his will). The libertarian sits on a rock in the midst of his freedom ocean and, in celebration of the utopia beating in his heart, will avoid eating trans fat and drinking 16-ounce soft drinks, because he determines that this kind of abstinence is what it means to be perfect. The Marxist/Fascist (New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a good example) compels every one else to join him in avoiding trans fats and 16-ounce soft drinks, by the coercive acts of municipal government regulations, because he determines that this kind of abstinence is what it means to be perfect. They both have the same vision of the perfect world; they just differ in how they define that “world.” For the old peace, love, and groovy libertarian, the “world” is himself, his homestead, and his marijuana plants out back. For the Marxist/Fascist, the “world” is the globe in general, or at least the specific civil society in which he has some influence. Ah, you may say, even if the libertarian is caught up into his reverse tooth fairy dream, imagining his adult teeth giving way to baby teeth, his thoughtful words into insensate sounds, at least he is not hurting anyone else, when he becomes so childish as to believe that he is his own happy utopia. In response, I contend that the libertarian, amoral as he is, desecrates the very idea of law. If indeed he is pressed on the topic, then he will say that he does not desecrate the very idea of law so much as he accepts the “law” in his own heart, the “law” that is the result of his private experience of the world and of his conscience, and just sets aside the positive law that others impose upon him. But what he regards as the “law” in his own heart is not really law at all. Rather, it is an accumulation of his many “grand opinions,” his peculiar take on a number of topics for which he has little or no education or training, and his pet conspiracy theories. In his fantasy, this hodgepodge of ill-conceived hopes and fears assumes the high and mighty pretense of the Law of Nature and of Nature’s God (since, of course, he knows Nature and Nature’s God to be just fairies in his imagination). He cannot but stumble into this madness, as he dreams that he is his own grand and noble lawgiver; his own judge; his own jury, and finally his own executioner. Positive law falls by the wayside, either as a relic of a quaint past, when he had not yet shed the last vestiges of moral governance, or as a tool of an insipid tyrant who ensnares others still, even as he can no longer ensnare him. And where there is no longer public law (or where it is illegitimate), there is arbitrary violence and vigilante justice in its place. And, in the end, is not arbitrary violence the chief tool of the tyrant, the mechanism of terror by which he inspires the mass into a blind acquiescence to whatever utopian vision he is peddling? And are not those self-designated vigilante “sheriffs” often enough the first recruits into the new regime, as they will be prone to discard their illegitimate, crime-fighting power in favor of legitimate, crime-fighting authority? As force prevails over law, so is the Marxist/Fascist free to toss the Jews into his heated ovens, or to snatch the 16-ounce soft drinks from out of the hands of mature adults, or to do whatever he sees fit in the pursuit of his utopian vision. Sure, the stoned libertarian may pat his own back and, in between his puffs on his joint, blurt out that he is the unrelenting foe of the Marxist/Fascist; that he alone in his tattered overcoat is willing to lynch the Marxist/Fascist in his Armani, three-piece suit (finishing off the deed by using the tyrant’s own Hermes tie as his noose, and then watching with a sort of pot-induced, groovy smile on his lips, as the tyrant waltzes a few feet above the ground into his death dance, and then farts the last bits of color out of his skin); and that he alone, in defense of “freedom” and “liberty,” is as willing to become a paranoid, rabid beast, as the Marxist/Fascist is able to rise into the glamorous trappings of a god. But by becoming a rabble rouser, a freak with a misspelled sign on a street corner, a heckler who scares Republican Blue Hairs into bolting their doors at night, the libertarian is destroying the last little bit of civility that may allow for even a foggy appreciation of natural and divine law. And with the Law of Nature and of Nature’s God out of the way, there will be no alternative but the boot on the neck; the survival of the fittest; and then the enslavement and the genocidal death (whether efficiently, as in the case of the Holocaust, or slowly, as in the case of socialized health care) of the unwise and the poorly fit. By desecrating law, even if he is too caught up in himself to see what he is doing, the libertarian is the handmaiden of the Marxist/Fascist. I remember back when I was the Grand Poo-Bah of a County Republican Central Committee, the grinning monkey in a top hat and coat trying to corral cats into yet another fruitless political campaign, and our state supreme court had made a rash decision against a state statute defining marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. All but one of us voted to endorse a state initiative on the ballot that, if accepted, would amend the state constitution to define marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman (thus in effect overturning what we considered to be a rash decision by an out of control state supreme court). The checkered pants and blue hairs were on board; but the one holdout, an aging, hippie libertarian who had joined our group not too long before, simply refused to budge (thus denying us a unanimous vote of approval for the measure). None of us knew how to deal with his intransigence, since we had not yet been taken over by the “Attack of the Ron Paul Nuts.” We were as grossly inexperienced in the traits of a libertarian as an adolescent boy in the hairs of an adult lady. We could do no more than respond with embarrassed, downcast eyes, when he said repeatedly that the act of amending our state constitution would be “too much government,” as if government cannot be used even to redress the excesses of a tyrant. Well, I finally said, if you are right in arguing that even the use of our constitutional process to beat back an out of control judiciary is just “too much government,” then the law really has no place in our civil polity. And, if that is the case, then only force, brute coercion among gods and beasts, is legitimate.

I stop as suddenly as I had started earlier, as if the puppeteer above me has decided to take a smoking break. My square chin immediately falls down to my wooden chest, and my frail arms to my ribbed sides, as if I am a reversal of Pinocchio (a boy who wants to be a doll), or a Howdy Doody at the end of an all night bender. There is not enough life in me even to cough out a snore or a fart over the sea of sombreros, so that I am as nothing to them, as they are to me.

I am about to stumble to the floor, when the puppeteer above me grasps a hold of his strings. I pretend to smell the sour stings of tobacco in his breath, as that assures me that he is really up there holding up what little is left in me.

The puppeteer raises my right hand; and while I am punch drunk from an unconsummated sleepiness, a dull malaise that never quite manages to decline into the abyss one last time, I vaguely sense that I am sweeping my copy of the United States Constitution through the stale air.

I am like a zombie preacher with his Black Bible, a spellbinding prop that has been creased into an obscure mess of leather and red-letter typesetting by the sweat in his tight grip and the foam in his loose mouth.

I am Lazarus in a Loincloth…

I am the star attraction in the Night of the Living Dead, Eden Edition…

And I cannot even moan, like a lost soul oozing out of his bandages…

So I continue with my lecture, the words spilling out into the soft spaces inside of my own grey matter, where they are received with as much gratitude, even unhinged applause, as may be imagined by an exhausted wad in a fig leaf.

Now, we may understand why the amoral crackpot, whether he is of the libertarian or the Marxist/Fascist variety, gets caught up in his utopian fantasy. He is self-empowered, feeling as god-like as the moment before an orgasm into a beautiful, nameless blond picked up in a bar somewhere, whenever he is able to dream that he is living inside of a perfection of his own making. He feels like he is Christ Jesus in a leisure suit (gold chains chiming over the silly hairs on His Blessed Heart chest, and mixing into His long, flowing, hippie hairdo), strolling into another bar once He has left the beautiful, nameless blond, and picking up another chick with the line, “Hi, I’m God. What’s your sign?” And the chick just lathers all over Him, spilling her oil over His hair and leisure suit, because on a deep, deep level she senses that He really is the God He claims to be. “Damn, I am good,” He always mutters to Himself, while winking into a mirror beside the bar and escorting His latest capture back to His love den. Intoxicating, escapist fare, to be sure, and he imagines that it is worth the price of admission. Hell is a deferred payment, after all, and perhaps may be avoided in the end anyway, like an old tax bill that is snuffed out of an estate by the subtle shiftiness of an old Jew lawyer sharing a cocktail with the probate judge; while, right now, the brunette bitch picked up in the bar (since the blond for the night has been well packed away already) is steamy hot to be hoodwinked and hook nosed. But the question remains: Why do we allow ourselves to care? I mean, why are we ever caught up in their delusions of grandeur in the first place? The brunette bitch is aware on a deep, deep level that she is with God. But she is aware on the same level that she is about to be pumped and dumped on a shag carpet in a rainbow room. So why does she go along with Him? Is her life so mundane, so bereft of a sizzling color or a smoky texture, that she prefers being abused by a pervert in a hippie hairdo and gold chains, than sipping another cosmopolitan on her worn out stool? Is her life so lame that she is willing to pay attention to the rambling reel of a libertarian unloading his pet conspiracy theories, or be a mindless foot soldier of a Marxist/Fascist rebuilding the world at large into his peculiar image and likeness, even though the end results cannot be anything that she will want to admit to the next morning? Is her life so dead that she is willing to open her legs, knowing full well ahead of time that there is no “morning after pill” when the seedy seeder is a Gnostic God in a leisure suit and sandals? The sad but true answer to all of these questions is: Yes. Real life is like a weekend drill with an uninspired National Guard company: Hurry Up and Wait, followed by long bouts of more waiting, where the only excitement once in a blue moon is firing paint pellets at targets in a back lot somewhere. After a while, even an old sourpuss will be begging for some sort of drama, or comedy of errors, or run in with the law, something or other to remind him that there is blood rushing at breakneck speed through his veins. Well, the Gnostic God is a curious spectacle; and, for a while, he will grab our attention just by spouting out his fantasies, like the odd onlookers staring briefly at Hitler, as he delivers his harangue to the snowflakes on a cold, winter day in Munich before the Beer Hall Putsch. But what keeps us out in the frigid snow, listening in awe even as our ears succumb to frostbite, is our faith that the Gnostic God knows something about which we are altogether clueless; that he is about to unveil some deep, dark mysteries, like the location of the Holy Grail, and the Social Security Number of Donald Trump’s Comb Over Special; and that he is about to offer something “exciting and new,” like in the theme song to The Love Boat. A magician has many tricks in his repertoire; but few are as spellbinding, as likely to keep his audience glued into their seats, as his supposed unearthing of a “sacred document” (he is not only able to open up “Al Capone’s Vault;” he is able to find inside the “Secret Recipe” for Kentucky Fried Chicken, albeit written in a vague mix of Hieroglyphics and Sanskrit), and his unique capacity in interpreting the truths out from the mess of symbols and words. Now, for the foaming-at-the-mouth libertarian, the flasher in his shoddy overcoat and hippie sandals, or the dyke-on-bike in her “Don’t Tread on Me” T-Shirt and marijuana leaf silver belt buckle, the “sacred document” of choice is the United States Constitution. It is old and much heralded, more of an artifact than an antique, which suggests that, while it may be like an archeological find that is dug up out of the earth, it is not of this earth (cue Twilight Zone theme music). If you believe in the conspiracy theory that says that our Republic is no longer in existence, that in place of our Republic there is a “Corporation,” then even if the original United States Constitution still exists in a vault somewhere, it is in essence “lost,” like the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail (which, as a side note, like our United States Constitution, are both sacred relics that had been “carriers” of the Word of God). This is loony of course, but so is the racist nightmare that Adolf Hitler peddles from his high platforms. For a Gnostic God, what matters is not the logic of an assertion (just like he will never confuse his truths with the facts), but the awesome feeling that the assertion inspires, first in his own mind, and then among those who follow him over the cliff. And isn’t it really awesome to know that the United States Constitution has been “lost,” a victim of tyrannical central bankers with Jewish sounding surnames, but that a select few have “rediscovered” its “spiritual truths,” and are right now, even as I speak, conspiring with one another to “resurrect” it from beneath its tomb? And isn’t it really empowering to feel that we are a part of this conspiracy? And if this is the case, as surely we know it is, then is not Brother Ron Paul so much more than a politician? Is he not our modern day Moses; and we libertarians the Israelites; and the United States Constitution our Ark of the Covenant, and gold backed currency the Israel waiting for us just beyond the mystical River Jordan (just as fiat money is the enslavement meted out by Pharaoh back in the Sinai)? But most importantly, for the libertarian, the United States Constitution is not a statement of principles. The guiding lights of our American Republic, the holy creedal statements from which our national consciousness emerges over history (and is still emerging now), are to be found in the Declaration of Independence and not in the United States Constitution. Abraham Lincoln famously articulates that the Declaration of Independence is the “apple of gold” for us. By contrast, the United States Constitution is “the picture of silver” that is, indeed, framed about the “apple of gold.” He goes on: “The picture was made, not to conceal or to destroy the apple, but to adorn and to preserve it. The picture was made for the apple, not the apple for the picture.” I suspect that this assertion, and other like statements that defend the moral preeminence of the Declaration of Independence, are the real reasons why the libertarians hate Abraham Lincoln, consigning him as they do among the worst tyrants. Sure, they dislike his heavy handedness in prosecuting the war against the insurrectionists. They dislike his forced conscription; his suspension of the writ of habeas corpus; and his armed prison camps for captured rebels. But what they really, really despise is how he heralds the Declaration of Independence. They much prefer the prosaic clauses and legalisms in the United States Constitution to the lyrical poems and natural and revealed morality in the Declaration of Independence. And why? Because in a statement with no principles, a statement that is really no more than a guide book on how to conduct the national government and on what the three, listed branches of the government may do (where even the Bill of Rights, the primary exposition on the limitations of government, offer no clear statements on how, and by which set of principles, they are to be interpreted), the libertarian, the Gnostic God in a tattered overcoat and hippie sandals, is invited to read into it whatever “interpretative principles” he may gleam from his acid trips. Like the ancient seers of the oracles, he reads into the words, much more than he takes out from them. And in so doing, he transforms the “sacred document” into just another reflection of his own divinity, so that the United States Constitution, in the end, is no more than a lily pond for Narcissus, or a dressing mirror for John Edwards. Far from being the “strict constructionists” that they claim to be, the libertarians herald the United States Constitution precisely because it is able to be the “living document” of their choice. If they love their pot (as indeed most of them do), then they can read into the Bill of Rights an “implied limit” on the government with respect to an imaginary “penumbra of rights,” and extend the “penumbra of rights” to include a “right to grow bad marijuana in a ramshackle shed down by the river.” If they love their assault rifles, machine guns, and big mama bazookas (as indeed most of them do), then they can read into the same Bill of Rights an “explicit limit” on the government with respect to a “right of a yahoo to join up with other yahoos in a militia in Idaho somewhere.” If there is no principle from on high, then the libertarian provides his own (and especially when he is high). The United States Constitution reflects a lot of groovy truths, when it is laid out on the coffee table, and the libertarians in their old tie-dyed Lew Rockwell Rocks! T-shirts are passing around their “power joint” after dark.

The puppeteer raises my left hand, so that I am forced to read again the Tenth Amendment modified for “Higher Love Land.”

The powers not delegated to Higher Love/Good Citizen by Himself, nor prohibited by Himself to the Brown Munchkins, are thus reserved to the Brown Munchkins.

In essence, this is the same, in form and in substance, with the heralded Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, I continue with my slurred thoughts and voiceless words. We all recall the words. Well, maybe you do not, since you are a bushel of burritos, a busload of happy campers in big mustaches and limp sombreros. But we special people north of the Rio Grande know….

I am startled away from my lecture for a moment. 

Earlier, I had castigated my audience as “special people,” no more than spiritual retards, because of their sad inability to imagine themselves out from their own sordid history. I had said that there was no light in them, that in one way or another they were destined to drool onto their chests, while someone of a superior breed and education robbed from them the little they had to offer. I had laughed at them, because a Gnostic God cannot but laugh at the weaklings in the litter, the half-breeds and no-breeds swept into the fates at their births.

But now I am referring to my fellows, the fair hairs with the fashionable tongues, as “special people.” Obviously, the phrase in this context has a totally different sense and has nothing to do with drooling retards in burrito beanies….

Or does it?

Who is the retard here, anyway?

I sense the puppeteer once again stepping out for his smoking break; and in an instant, I am a crumbled mess of wood and string, kneeling dejectedly on the floor of the bus. I am not even able to raise my dead eyes up from the dirty fig leaf about my waist; so that I resemble a pretzel that is so wrapped up in its own pastry and salt that it is impossible to tell if it is in self-absorbed prayer or in despair, or if in the end there is any substantial difference between the two.

But even in my impending death, I sense more words crowding in front of the exit. I decide to let them flow out into what is left of my mind, as if filling my tummy with a last meal just before I am going to succumb to the old poison already in my bloodstream. 

Yes, we gringos, adorned as we are in our whitened teeth, our sparkling gums, and our rose scented deodorants, recall from when we were in grammar school the words to the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, at once I blurt out into my mind. 

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

But blacken the teeth, bloody up the gums, and forsake the deodorant a day or two, and we gringos see that the words, beautiful and bold in their utter simplicity, are no more than a tautology. What’s my power is mine, and what’s not my power is not mine. And yet the dummies, the brown munchkins, believe that they have been given something in these words, some great shield from all the big, bad wolves in the world. And the Marxist/Fascist is happy enough to let them indulge their fantasy, if by so doing they will hand him the knotted ropes with which he will hang them. A slave is a free man who is too dumb for words.

And, with that, I drool into my chest and stumble into my lonely dreams.

Into the Heart of Darkness

And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I shall destroy them with the earth. Genesis 6:13 (KJV)

I cannot remember anything about my lonely dreams. 

I sense somewhere, maybe as I am awakening from my tortured sleep on the hard floor of the bus, that the more I have fallen into myself, the less there has been to hold onto, until there is nothing, nothing at all, not even the subtle electrical smell left over from the very last light sparkle inside the void. 

It is as if I have broken down my own nature to the quantum level, trying to toss aside anything that smacks of flesh and blood, until there is nothing left but a sparkling light wave, a kiss from the pure spirit that is lingering still in my bosom. But when I break down the atoms, and then slice into the electrons and protons, and finally tear aside the string particles (one dimensional, vibrational strings that, at a further distance, I have known to be the good, old fashioned, zero-dimensional point particles, how far out groovy the change in perspective in the split of a millisecond), there is no sparkling light wave. 

There is nothing, nothing at all, not even the subtle electrical smell…

Actually, there is something. It is the smell of bacon snot…

And, as I arise even more from my tomb, not so much resurrected, as an anguished zombie bandaged in a loincloth, I feel the slimy nostril hairs of a big, fat pig, an oink, oink, oinker nudging its snout up against my swollen forehead.

I am content to remain in this half-sleeping state forever, when suddenly the big, fat pig screeches beside one of my ears (I cannot tell which ear and, at that moment, frankly do not even care), as if its tail has been stomped hard by a big, fat burrito in a boot. It is wailing in as much pain as fear, demanding the winged pig god to oink, oink, oink the burrito boot away from its pink rear end.

I am startled back up to my knees. I feel as if I have been given a shot of something or other, or maybe just a swift boot kick, in my own derriere. 

Whatever the cause, I feel a jolt of ringing pain slithering up my beaten, arched spine from my rectum to my pupils; and everything in front of me is far out groovy, out of focus, like the surreal acid trip at the finale of 2001: A Space Odyssey. There is tie-dye color everywhere; swirls that conform into the image of pigs, then roosters, then sleepy burritos in sombreros, then back to pigs; odd and discomforting changes in perspective, as if I am viewing everything at once from the vantage point of a god (Christ Jesus perceiving all the kingdoms of the world from the top of a high mountain), then at once from the vantage point of a condemned man (Christ Jesus looking up at Golgotha, while carrying his cross to the end of his life). There is no deliverance; no rest for the wicked; nothing, really, but an obscene chuckle from behind a red curtain in a mortuary parlor…

Actually, that is not a red curtain, but rather a red rooster…

And the obscene chuckle is a deranged cockle-doodle-doo. 

I snap out of the finale of 2001: A Space Odyssey (just moments before I descend from all the tie-dye swirls into a white marbled, Louis XV boudoir, the Mexicans morphing into mannequins, and the Merengue Music from the front of the bus disintegrating altogether into strange echoes), and I see that I am being surrounded by mad oinkers and cockle-doodle-doos. 

The beasts are scampering down the center aisle, snapping and swatting at each other in what seems to be an interspecies contest to see which of their rabid bites will be the first to take down my fig leaf. 

I clutch my manliness, as the pigs and roosters attack my loincloth. 

But I cannot feel anything…

Except maybe a vaginal hole, dried and clamped shut in response to the surreal madness closing in on me from every side…

Or maybe because I really am a god…

I swagger up to my feet, kicking the raw brutes off of me, and steadying myself on a sombrero to my left that is nodding still at whatever I may declare. I cannot tell if I am truly heartened or annoyed at the fact that it is still in rapt attention to my god-like presence at the back of the bus. 

I hear a loud snore released from beneath the sombrero.

And I am once again a starving, swollen bit of skin and bone, wrapped in a shriveled fig leaf, and wondering where I am headed after all in this humpty-dumpty, third world, poor excuse for a Mayflower. 

I look through the battered window to my left. 

There is a sleet of rain hitting the glass; but, otherwise, there is nothing, but a foggy streak that alternates from pitch black to charcoal grey, and that is moving in reverse from the abyss in front of us to the abyss we have left behind us. There is a dead, sulfuric stench in this streak; that is seeping every now and then from the old cracks in the windows; and that seems to be replacing the air inside the bus with a stale, suffocating spirit, an omen that we are well passed midnight and on a straight course for oblivion. 

I taste the stench on my dry tongue; and I imagine that there is a bright, beautiful candle in the heavens, a fixture of light beside the left foot of Father God Almighty on His Heavenly Throne, that has been snuffed out by the wing of a Seraphim Angel. The sulfur seeps down from the dead candle wax and blends into each and every raindrop, so that the heavenly mourning is spread evenly in all directions, hitting every little patch of earth as a dreadful harbinger of what is now an unavoidable catastrophe. 

I want to cry out to the sleepy sombreros all around me. I do not want to save them so much as I want them to know that I know what is about to occur everywhere and all at once. 

As they suffocate back into the old dust from which, truth be told, they really had never arisen in the first place, I want them to remain totally clueless as to what is happening to them, but to know somehow that I know (and finally to suspect that I have known all along) what curse has been leveled upon them.

But I still have no voice…

And no matter my thoughts, which ring loudly enough in my own mind at this moment, I cannot slap them out of their “affirming” nods. 

My lecture clearly made an impact, since even in the face of sure death, they cannot be stirred from their cacophonous cheers and heartfelt thank yous.

And then I hear another languid snore…

And a pig snout slams against my right calf…

And I am once again a starving, swollen bit of skin and bone….

I clench my eyes and shudder my head, so that my awareness that I am a wobbly weasel in a tattered loincloth may be strangled, like an unwanted baby in a bathtub. I really, really do not want to know what is after “skin and bone.”

But I have found that it is easier to replace than to eradicate a thought, so I train my mind on the foggy streak that is moving in reverse outside the bus.

The foggy streak is the movement of time, shadowy while falling into the observer from an incalculable number of possible futures, shadowy while falling away from the observer into an irretrievable past. It is the uncertainty of what is to come, and of whether we recall properly what has happened, the chaos in the void that is not completely straightened out when the spirit passes over the darkness and the deep. And, therefore, it makes sense that I observe it moving in reverse. I am returning to Eden; and Eden is as much in the past, as it is in a definite place. I should not be surprised then that I see and hear a sleet of rain beating against the glass. After all, as I have started out my voyage from untold thousands of years in the future from Eden, I should not expect to return there, without travelling back through the Great Flood. And if that is the case…

I stop the rest of the words from spreading out into my grey matter. I do not recall much from Sunday school (actually, I recall a lot more than I want to admit now, since all that knowledge gets in the way of my steadfast desire still to be the god that I imagine myself to be); but one of the stories that I recall in some detail is Noah’s Ark. God gives Noah a head’s up, just before He drops His deluge upon the earth. It is in virtue of Noah’s faith, and good carpentry skills, that he, his family, and two of every kind (though apparently not including the dinosaurs, the dodo birds, and the giants in Genesis 6:4) are delivered from the watery graveyard. Well, have I been given any such head’s up? Have I been mad at work in my garage on an ark? Have I been wandering about, muttering to the animals like a deranged hippie on an acid trip, and urging them to follow me to the ark, while my neighbors pretend not to notice my way too groovy behavior?

Overwhelmed by dread, I scramble toward the driver on the other end.

Midway, I feel the center aisle begin to slant downward; and the rickety sways and bumps all of a sudden are a lot fiercer than what would be expected even on a Mexican Highway. 

I push off from the sombreros in my way, and kick feverishly at scores of squealing pigs and crowing roosters, in order to try to maintain my balance. But my frantic spurts are futile, no matter the triumph of my will, and I stumble to the floor over two pairs of legs jutting out from beneath a seat. 

I cannot see anything above the knees; but I know instantly that they are the legs of the only other gringos on the bus. I cannot tell which pair belongs to the miscreant troll, and which to the Creature from the Black Lagoon. It is as if they have joined together, forever encased in their death grips on one another, and these are the four legs of a two-headed hydra. 

The legs are purplish (and turning blue with every passing second) either because the hydra is a god-beast, or a beast-god; or because the hydra is dead, lost to the foggy streak of time like every other surprise attack launched in one of the countless Wars to End All Wars.  

Again, the pigs and the roosters overwhelm me. But this time, as I shove myself up to my feet, I sense that they want me to deliver them somehow from the death curse, rather than that they want to drag me into their slimy pigpens and foul chicken coops. 

And, for this reason, I love them…

As much as a Gnostic God may love anything but himself…

Because these dim creatures, in their own way, recognize in me the high and mighty godliness by which I may be able to deliver them from a sure death.

I continue down the center aisle, while pigs and roosters scamper out of the clutches of their owners and clog up against my ankles. 

In spite of the melee, none of the sleepy sombreros stirs from their nods and snores. It is siesta time now; the cactus is casting its shadow; and the mind is lost in dreams of burrito fields and winged burros dancing a Salsa on the head of a pin. It is as if the coming onslaught is no big deal, because they have been drowning in their fates from the beginning to the end of all times. 

The center aisle slants downward even more, and I roll the remainder of the way to the front of the bus. The animals follow suit; and we are all soon an anguished mess of hooves and feathers in between the driver and the bus door.

I poke my head up from beneath a wing and a snout; and I manage to see that the driver is laying forward on his wheel, drunk as a well-oiled skunk, with his right foot pushing down on the accelerator. 

I am close enough that I think I can push his foot off the pedal; but, just as I reach out, his empty tequila bottle falls out from his lap and shatters into a trillion pieces against my knuckles. 

I recoil in pain; and pigs and roosters scamper over one another to try to get away from my spilled blood, which only succeeds in pushing all of us nearer to the bus door and out of reach of the driver. 

The bus slopes into a vertical free fall; and we who are neither sleeping, nor dead, converge our fears and pains into a collective wail, something akin to a squealing crow, or a crowing squeal, a new creation in our cauldron of death.

I still do not have a voice of my own; but I find mine in their crazed wail; and, in a way, they find theirs in my silence. 

The bus crashes into what sounds like a blast of sheet metal. 

But when the windows burst open from the pressures on the outside, and the waterfalls pour over the nodding and snoring sombreros (some of which are just beginning to stir), I realize that we are sinking beneath a tumultuous river, one of many thousands of watery snakes slithering through the tropical oases in Chiapas, the southern most province in Mexico. 

In the adrenalin rush of the moment, I find enough power in me to shove myself up from the bus door; to knock the driver to the floor; and to push open the side window by the driver’s seat, which has not yet succumbed to the river.

I climb out the window and onto the roof of the bus. 

The innocent beasts follow suit; and I pull each of them out one by one, until there is nothing left inside, but soapy mustaches and drowned sombreros.

I huddle on the top of the bus with all the innocent beasts; and together we sail down the dark and windy river into the heart of darkness just before us. 

We Hold these Truths to be Self-Evident

Nevertheless, He left not Himself without witness, in that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. Act 14:17 (KJV)

My forehead smashes into a low hanging branch.

I fall back into the roof of the bus, a cold, slimy sheet of iron that is only a foot or so above the river foam. 

The river reaches over the roof now and then, splashing its tingling hand onto the jagged surface and then spreading its sharp fingers, like knives shaped into fans that extend at both ends as they slice across the surface. 

The fingers snap against my ears, like ocean waves upon a barren shore, and I cannot tell the water apart from the iron splinters sliced up by the knives and flickered into my ear canals. 

I want to sit up again, and to shake out the iron splinters, but I am being entombed into the roof of the bus.

I imagine initially that the fingers are pushing me into the sheet of iron; but as I fall further into the embrace, I sense in my hopelessness that the metal beneath my back is in fact creaking and crawling into the icy cracks in my skin. Even my tattered loincloth is no longer a chastity belt, as a slimy nail pushes up through a hole in the fabric and into my butthole. 

The innocent beasts encircle me, like mourners at a grave.

I want to cry out to them from my tomb; something, anything, to startle the wild rage back into their eyes; but I am so immobilized, so strangely savage in my impotence, that I cannot but inspire a knowing sadness in how they lower their beaks and snouts. 

But this is impossible, I try to scream, I am the god at this funeral…

The innocent beasts remain impervious, no matter how much my childish screams echo about the chambers in my own mind. 

But I do not sense passive resistance among any one of them.

Rather I sense that they really do not know me at all, as if well meaning, but distant, parents who hear their children prattle on and on about the creepy boogeyman in the closet, but who fail to listen. 

They fail to listen because, in their practical world, a routine that arises in nature from their instincts to sleep, to hunt, to eat, and to mate, there is no such thing as a creepy boogeyman in a closet. They do not have the high luxury to doodle in ghosts and goblins, especially when there are real life predators in the tall bushes just beyond the shadows. 

And yet the knowing sadness in their downturned faces…

What do they know? That there is nothing to know in me; nothing to hear in my mind; nothing to tell them, let alone to convince them, that the monster is the one slithering out from inside an imaginary closet, rather than the all too familiar predator beasts in nature.  

And why are they sad?

Be of good cheer, goddamn it, I try to scream, for verily I say unto you, I have overcome the world. 

But it is increasingly difficult for me to listen to my own words, let alone expect the innocent beasts to heed them. I am married to this sheet of iron all about me, as much iron as flesh, and the slimy nail poking through my butthole is not going to stop its progress until it is a bloody, red rose blossoming up from the tip of my penis. 

All that I can do is lay back in a mindless stupor, watching as if I am now and forever outside of myself, as my tomb continues to fall farther into the wet and weepy hole. I do not like this vantage point at all, because it is far too real to me, and not at all like the soft, unreal haze that had been in the background of my god-like dreams in the past.

From among the innocent beasts all about me, a Preacher Pig waddles to the top of my head. It stands upright on its hind feet and, in so doing, shows all of the assembled that it alone is clad in a black stole, an oversized biretta, and an unctuous fastidiousness.

I am able to peer straight up into its snout. I am then aware that, while I am floating outside of myself, I am laying back still inside my metal flesh tomb.

So is this salvation? I wonder in exasperation. Is it really no more than an anguished breath sifting in and out of the stale air an inch or two above its own corpse? Are we not ruptured free from our flesh and blood, our tough meat and potatoes life in the here and now, when finally we cash in our first class tickets to the pearly gates of our own choice? 

I guess not, I respond to my own questions, I guess I do not lose myself in the end, no matter how often I have tried in toss my own life aside as just torn trousers and shoddy shoes on a pristine spirit. 

The Preacher Pig wrinkles its brow and sniffles its snout into the weather beaten pages of a black leather Book of Common Prayer. It reads telepathically from the beautifully pretentious prose, as if it is Bishop Cranmer resurrected in all his piggy priggish glory from his old haunt on a burning stake. 

I sense that it is not too far removed from its legacy, as its telepathically projected voice still sounds like bacon fat sizzling and crackling on an inflamed post. Its attempt at mellifluous prose is broken up by its womanly wails, which interject into his speech every now and then like an ornery hiccup. 

It is as if its former self, the esteemed Bishop Cranmer, senses that he is writhing still on his burning stake. So he is renouncing his own Book of Common Prayer, as he did in fact on that horrendous night, by hiccupping as pathetically as a damsel in distress.  

But there is no escaping the flame…

It is either the restful heat of divine love, if we accept it…

Or it is the wretched heat of devilish rage, if we reject it…

But it is never just an abstract limbo; a kind of soft, groovy haze nestled in a far out corner of the mind somewhere; where a spirit freed from its former nature and history may pat itself on its back, remind itself that it is and always has been “good enough,” and indulge its own eternity. 

Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of His great mercy to take to Himself the soul of our dear brother here departed, the Preacher Pig sniffles so loudly as to be heard even by the old codger rooster clucking at the back of the assembly, we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth; ashes to ashes; dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through Our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body (at this moment, the Preacher Pig grimaces at its own pig feet), that it may be like unto His own glorious body (it looks up again), whereby He is able to subdue all things (clears its throat, as if trying to prevent the last part of the sentence from being heard telepathically by the assembled). 

Subdue all things to what? I wonder, as I remember my tiny desk back in the far corner of my Sunday school classroom, and the scratchy voice of the old nun reminding us from beneath her starched wimple that all of the “Protestant Prayer Books” are full of lies, deceits, and skullduggeries that will tear out your eyes, if you should chance to read them. Is it not: Subdue all things to Himself? If I am to be subdued; but not to Himself, nor to anyone else for that matter; is this not the same as saying that I should be annihilated, scrubbed from the rock slate, as if I had never existed in the first place, not even in one of my dreams?

This thought seems to penetrate, as the Preacher Pig looks down all of a sudden from its Book of Common Prayer and studies my eyes intently for a sign, even a twinkle, of sentient life in my grey matter. 

It must have tapped into something, as the Preacher Pig smiles haughtily at me, and asks telepathically: Is that not what you have desired always? Have you no other passion than to be a god who is washed out to the sea, a sparkling fancy in a dream somewhere who floats so high and mighty beyond the horizon, that the little brown munchkins left behind cannot even contemplate, let alone remember, the fullness of your divinity? And if the sappy sombreros of the land can neither contemplate nor remember you, then is not this the same as saying that you had never lived among them? And, in the end, do you not desire to be so unchained from your own nature and history, indeed released from your own boundless dreams, as to be annihilated? After all, have we not seen throughout history (yes, the very same history that you like to regard as irrelevant in direct comparison with your “visionary dreams”) that the man who desires secretly to drown in his own ocean, or to die from a bullet wound in his own bunker, is the man with the greatest delusions of grandeur? More than anything, the imagined hero desires his tragic fall, not so that he may be remembered by those too far beneath his contempt to matter, but rather so that he may be annihilated, torn out from creation as a final gesture of defiance against the God whom he would presume to topple. He would rather not exist, than exist for the God who is not conceived in his own mind. And God, it turns out, is willing to oblige even him.

That’s nonsense, I think. I am a god, and no god desires annihilation.

Actually, the opposite is true; the Preacher Pig sizzles telepathically, as the rest of the assembly converges even closer to our mental duel. There is the Real God. And, then, there is an endless coterie of presumed or imagined gods: the devils, the tyrants, the Gnostics, indeed the whole lot of fine men, who are so lacking in moral restraint that they allow themselves to be consumed by the “grand opinions” and peculiar fancies in their abstract minds. The Real God, by definition, is life eternal. The presumed or imagined gods are not. They are all derivative forms of life, created at some point in time, and then dependent on the Real God. No matter their dreams, which are boundless enough at the time that they play themselves out in the mind, they know that there is a beginning and an end. And when the end comes, as it surely will, their dream at the time will fade to black, and that will be that. Then, they will dream no more, for all about them will be Reality, Self-Evident Reality; and they will have no capacity to pretend that what is there is not there. But they will have the choice to skip out on Self-Evident Reality, not by dreaming, but by ceasing to exist. And those who may be counted among the presumed and the imagined gods will turn into themselves and mutter: If I cannot be a self-existing god, then at least I can be a self-annihilating god. And, with that, they will be gone; not in Hell, mind you surely, but just gone, fallen through the trapdoor that they had imagined once to impose upon others, and erased altogether even from the mind of God. 

Well, what are you, I think, but a once high and mighty Bishop, even the esteemed Bishop Cranmer, burnt into a commoner preacher with a girlish wail, a sniffling snout, and a pot belly to boot? 

The Preacher Pig looks down at its feet again, and blushes. 

Clearly, I have scored a point; but I do not feel any better, especially as I am more iron than flesh, a mockery of a man, let alone a god on the way back to his own patch of Eden.

The Preacher Pig looks back at me. There is a haughty glare in its eyes, a condescending look from a knowing parent to a presumptuous child.

You are correct. I am not much. I had the mind of an officious oink, and the gossipy repartee of a prattling pig, in the Court of King Henry VIII; and, as a result of my political acumen, I came to the position of privilege from which, in astute recognition of the sweep of the Protestant Winds, I could pen the prose, and at times even poetry, for which I am a favorite still among blue hairs in the Anglican Church and fuddy-duddy wordsmiths everywhere else. I am today, as I was then, except that my physical representation, shall we say, is closer to the mark unfortunately (it again blushes, and I almost feel sorry for it). And I carry every scar, every bit of burnt flesh, as if I remained forever on that stake; and, more importantly, I carry the regret of having denied my one real contribution. But, at least, I am what I am (it strikes its chest proudly, and in so doing it very nearly knocks off its biretta), a real man with a flawed nature and a sometimes disreputable, sometimes noble, past. Surely, I am caught up in my pride, which is the curse of standing and education. But, like my fellows here, I accept as an unavoidable character of life that I must sleep, hunt, eat, and mate; that there is precious little time for anything else; and that, as a result, the boogeyman in my mind must play second fiddle to the predator waiting for me in the bush. In the end, I hope for nothing other than salvation; to see God face to face for all of eternity; not to replace Him on His Heavenly Throne; and certainly not to be an obstinate, little twerp and insist upon my own annihilation. If this is the half loaf I am allowed, then so be it. I am a man, somewhere in the middle between the Real God and the Wild Beasts; and so, perhaps, the half loaf is best for me.

There is a thunderous cackle in the heavens, a snap from an angelic whip followed by a gurgling rumble from one horizon to another. It is the tearing off of metal flesh in the sky, the forced opening of a black iron sheet, a revelation.

I recoil from the experience, as if I am primordial man first encountering himself in a reflection in a lily pond somewhere. Later, the primordial man will use his abstract mind to determine that this reflection is an image of himself, a self-projection into a mix of sunlight and water, from which he may dream that he is able to be his own best partner (the ego-gratification that will turn out to be his first real step toward imagining that he is his own god). But none of that is in play in his first encounter. His abstract mind has yet to interject a dose of creative imagination into logic. There is only mystery (and the usual reaction of awe, then fear), followed by a vague sense that the reality staring back at him in the lily pond is its own something or other. And, indeed, that is closer to the mark, because the reflection really is not him, but a confluence of sunlight and water that has little to do with him. Certainly, he provides the final ingredient, the body to be reflected; but the electrons mixing in with the water molecules are not at all mindful of his contribution and, frankly, need not be so bothered.

For the primordial man, the reflection is its own self-evident reality, not because he is too simple to realize that it is his self-projection, but because he is too honest to pretend that it is his self-projection. Like a child growing into a jaded man, he will learn to lie, first to himself, and then to everyone else; but at this time, he simply sees things for what they are. 

He sees reality. He sees that it is self-evidently real. And he does not yet have the amoral sensibility that tells him that something simply cannot be what plainly it is; or, for that matter, that everything that he senses is just a figment of his own imagination, or an expression of his self-awakening divinity. 

As the black iron sheet has been torn off, the heavens unveil themselves in a deluge of rain, each drop as devastating as a bullet shot out from a rifle in an unseen cloud. 

The innocent beasts are wet, to be sure. But none of them fall back; and it is clear that the red-capped hunter in the sky is not targeting them for sport.

But I am not so lucky. Every raindrop tears off a piece of my metal flesh, and sparkles it into the air above me, so that I resemble a crate of fireworks on a black river that is launching one final light show as an act of self-annihilation. 

The fire and brimstone projectiles shooting up from my body are brilliant enough to enlighten the scene into a long string of flashes, so that everything is as if caught up in a flickering film reel. 

In the disjointed frames, I view all of the innocent beasts, except for the Preacher Pig, crowing or oinking off to the front of the bus. They want to avoid the fire and brimstone projectiles raining back down onto the center of the bus and tearing off even more of my flesh. Apparently, what the bullet rain will not do to them, my spitfire will. 

But I find no consolation in the fact that they are desperately frightened of me, and not of the tumultuous nature all about them. 

I find no consolation, because I really can no longer pretend that the fire and brimstone spitting up from my body has anything to do with me, just like a primordial man cannot pretend that his image in the lily pond is a projection of himself. In the cauldron, the Hell pit bursting out from within, the abstract and the imaginary have no chance to interject themselves into the scene, and to be able to turn what is a real observation into an unreal dream. In the cauldron, in the last moments of writhing pain, there is nothing but self-evident reality. 

So even the self-annihilating god realizes, as he is de-materializing in his inflamed spits of glory, that in fact the universe is not caught up in his opinion, his amorality, his “vision” of what God should be. Even then, he is confronted, in a way that he could deny before, but now cannot, with the self-evident facts of his life: that he has never been the center even of his own universe; that his observations and experiences are not just expressions of his own opinions; that the real beat will go on as it has from time immemorial, no matter the Jews he burns in his ovens, or the Africans he enslaves, or the Mexicans he belittles. 

It is as if God delivers one, swift kick in the pants of the self-annihilating god, just as the last bits of his flesh are about to vanish into the ether; and the self-annihilating god looks up, startled by his inescapable awareness, as it is all coming to an end.

The Preacher Pig lowers its snout into my face. It is scared into a woman by the stake that is still burning inside of its own past life memory, but it is not at all fazed by the burning stake that I have become. It separates the real from the imagined, in a way that a Gnostic God refuses to do. But, for all of its piggy pompous prose about relegating boogeymen in the mind to the second fiddle, it is clearly more frightened by its own imagination, than anything I can muster in my final moments. 

And I am then confronted with yet another self-evident fact: no one else is as impressed with me, as I am with myself; no one else is as impacted by me, as I presume that I impact them. Hitler could burn the Jew flesh; the Southern Gentleman could shackle the African flesh; I can call every Mexican that I see a “burrito in boots;” but none of that will matter, when the victims of rage carve out a moment of time and space to be in the throes of passionate love with one another, or to nurse one of their newborns, or to send off their loved ones to a new life somewhere else. We can yell and scream all we want, even putting on a temper tantrum of god-like proportions; they will go on with their lives (or, if we take everything from them, then their children and their grandchildren will go on with theirs), and whatever they have sown by their own trembling hands, the wheat and the chaff they have added to the ground, will be reaped in time.

I cannot avoid the Preacher Pig’s snout. I cannot avoid anything at all.

It is chewing on an inflamed coal, like a delirious child on a jawbreaker; and it is about to lower that coal onto what is left of my lips. 

Woe is me, for I am undone, I blurt out into my own mind, as I recall the Sunday school lessons about Isaiah coming face to face with God in the Temple.

Is this not your choice? Is this not your dream? Do you not crave to be all undone, forever and ever, world without end, and to try to imagine, even unto the final moment, that you are all undone in virtue of your own triumphant will over nature, and history, and God Himself? The Preacher Pig telepathically asks me, in such a manner as to be its final and forever ultimatum. 

I do not want to be annihilated, I scream into my own empty chambers.

Yes, you do, the Preacher Pig sneers into my mind.

I do not want to be annihilated, I repeat even more loudly than earlier.

So are you saying that you are not a god after all? 

I do not want to be annihilated, I repeat again, and again, and again….

The Preacher Pig smiles, as if it is watching a fly in a trap twitter its tiny wings and kick out its legs in its last, futile attempts to get away from its sheer agony and certain death. There is a strange mix of joy and rage; of a genuinely noble kindness and a fastidiously gay condescension; in its queer facial gesture.

It lowers its eyes into mine, while still chewing its inflamed coal no more than a startled breath above my forked tongue. 

When you discover that your grand opinions and loopy dreams, your high and mighty vision of the perfect world realized in the knowing nod of your head or in the fashionable way in which you style your hair, in fact have never meant anything to the rest of us, what else can you desire? When you discover that all the boundless fiddle-de-dee playing out in your own mind is incomparably small to self-evident reality, what else can you desire? 

The Preacher Pig cackles in my mind, like it is about to toss the last bit of spice into its brew, and then continues: And when you discover that, as God Himself is eminently sane, so is His Angel of Vengeance, His Pompous Piggy clad in a biretta and stole, stark, raving mad, what else can you desire? And when in the glare in its eyes, and the fire in its teeth, you see that the Pompous Piggy is a lot more surreal than anything you ever imagined in your groovy grey matter, what else can you desire, but the flick of the switch and the electrical charges?

I am not a god, I scream aloud. 

The Preacher Pig is taken aback. It had not anticipated that I would talk again with my throat; and, for a split second, it does not know how to proceed.

But it returns to its own mind; stumbles forward; and drops the inflamed coal onto my lips and tongue. It steps back from me, and then waddles away to be with the other innocent beasts at the front of the bus. 

The searing pain from the coal is gone, as soon as it is delivered, so that I am left with nothing but a numb, light feeling, a strange sensation that I later understand to be relief from stress. 

The fire and brimstone stops. The rain no longer tears off my flesh. 

And I am no longer entombed on the top of the bus, or anywhere else.

All Men are Created Equal

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. 2 Corinthians 5:10 (KJV)

Well, that’s not really true. I am still entombed in my fig leaf, I mumble to myself, as I awaken suddenly from a deep and penetrating slumber. 

I sit up. I am still on the roof of the bus, and the bus is still flowing down a snake-like river somewhere in Chiapas. 

But the pace is a lot slower, like that of a Mexican snail; and the gangly, gnarled branches and leaves arching over the old river are so much thicker than earlier that it will not be too long before they bunch up against the front of the bus and stop its forward motion forever. 

And then it shall be a Mexican snail caught in a web. 

I lean my chest against my upraised knees, taking up as little space as is possible; but I still need to push away a knotted branch every so often. 

I also am swatting away flies, lots of them; and in so doing, I very slowly become aware that the rain has stopped (I am so wet, that I feel as if I still am being drenched by buckets of slimy water tipped over by a cackling angel above the clouds), and the night has given way to sunrise. 

Well, anyway, it is sunrise somewhere.

As for here, the cloud cover is so thick, and the sickly burps gurgling out from inside of it are so darkly menacing, that there is little chance of sunlight in the thicket. At most, there will remain a grey malaise; a hazy, remote sensibility; a sadness broken up only occasionally by a gooey vomit of color. 

In time, we flow into a wall of sticky fog; and the hazy sadness descends into a crass, maudlin grief. The gnarled branches take on the appearance of old and somber mourners in a Victorian funeral parlor. They are long, flabby chins, pulling down upon upturned noses, as if faces cringed, and then melted, by the melodrama required for this affair.

The leaves prattle in the breeze. Such is the rustle of a ruffled skirt on a bonneted grand dame, a wrinkly witch who lives on in her cackle and scorn and who has become a fixture at the funeral parlor. With the mortician by her side, she stoops unevenly into the midday and the evening caskets, trying to discover which one of her bridge partners has forfeited her hand.

I had been inclined to observe all of these as characters in a dream; but, now, that inclination seems strangely infantile to me, a way to pretend, rather than to take in what is visceral and true.

No, I mumble to myself, the ghosts are real, at least in these parts. And, one night, I shall be joining them in their muffled chants and cries, living on in a crack in a wall somewhere, or in a soft shadow cast by a dying light bulb in an abandoned attic. 

And with that thought I realize that I am on the River Styx. 

The slime skulking along the surface of the river is a brew of entrails, an unctuous blend from the remains of those who have sailed down this same river in the past. It is slithery grease intended to remind every traveller that, even if he is hearty and brave now, he too will be held back by the fates in his maudlin hour and forced to watch as his flesh is shed from his bones.

And we are all travellers on the River Styx, no matter our finest breed or education. We cannot cross over from one side to the other, and forget the sad truth that is born from our brutal, short spurt of life; but we can and do slither and slosh down the middle, where the reminders of our cursed mortality are so apparent that even a mind ripened in its learned abstractions and fairy dreams cannot hold back forever the unwelcomed insight.

I look over at the innocent beasts. They are huddled together on the wet roof nearer to the front of the bus. There is a dull wildness in their eyes, not at all like the knowingly downturned faces from the previous night. 

And not one of the pigs is wearing a stole and biretta; nor clutching onto a Book of Common Prayer; nor standing upon its porky feet above all the others in stature and in skullduggery. 

I suppose that it too had been a dream, I remark wistfully after a while.

Tell me about dreams. They are all just delusions of grandeur; the poopy fairy tales that the commoners indulge, in order to keep on insisting that a fair-haired king does not bleed like the rest of us, a tempestuous voice responds to me from among the innocent beasts.

I look closely at each and every one of the pigs and roosters in view, but they all seem as wild and stupid as any other beast that is fated to be the meat in our late afternoon supper. 

It takes a while; but, finally, a rooster steps out from behind the others, and scampers over to my right side. Its gangly, gnarled neck is bent forward, so that its beak scrapes the roof. 

Until I saw its tiny head clucking in and out of a water puddle beside me, I thought that it was a rooster that had had its head cut off one stormy night.

And who are you? Oliver Cromwell? I ask casually.

It is clearly disturbed that I am not in more awe. It puffs up its chest (an awkward attempt at pride that only manages to raise the beak a centimeter or two out from the water puddle) to reveal its ornamented breastplate.

When I remain insufficiently impressed, it kicks up its left foot (an even more awkward gesture that nearly lands its butt in the water puddle) to reveal that it is clutching a miniature sword. 

I prefer to be called “Lord Protector.” Or if you are one of my beloved in arms, then you may call me “Old Ironsides,” it replies in a testy huff. 

Ah, so you are Oliver Cromwell, indeed. Exhumed for the sin of regicide, then posthumously beheaded and held up on a pole in front of Westminster Hall for all to see. Any man who should pass by your severed head, from a Restored Crown to a toothless groundling, could not but be cursed by your example of all that avails a noble crusade for an ignoble cause.

A bloody pit, to be sure, it acknowledges begrudgingly.

And fit that you should return as a chicken…

A red rooster, it interrupts me.

Especially as you endeavored to hide your political canards, and wanton brutality, behind the soft chicken feathers of moral and religious purity, I state contemptuously. After all, is it not true that, in the end, the tyrant is a rooster who pretends to be a hen? Does he not assure everyone that he has no mind but to lay an egg of progress, and to protect its shell, until nature takes her course?

Last night, the church straightens you out; so this morning, you presume to straighten out the state, it clucks back at me just as contemptuously. I take it that you have never heard of the separation of church and state in your time.

And this said by the Presbyterian Pope Himself? I smirk.

I am not a god. I am his servant. I have no call but to lead the people of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland to the righteousness of an agrarian paradise, a dreamscape unblemished by the likes of popery, hard ale, and barn dances. I am feared and beloved, as mine is a story worthy to be told.

Well, then, answer me: If a fair-haired king bleeds like the rest of us, as you made the world to see, then why is your story really more worthy than any others? At least, when you beheaded the king, his blood flowed as a living spirit in his subjects, a call for restoration and reform; but when they beheaded you, your blood already had seeped out from your corpse, leaving nothing behind to shower upon the men gaping up at your severed head.

The Lord Protector stops for a moment. It is not used to this kind of talk from the other roosters (whose cluck-clucks may be interpreted as simply, “Get out of the way,” or “I want to share in whatever you are eating”); and it wants to consider its next response.

When the Roman punctured Christ Jesus, He did not bleed, it remarks at last, while once again trying to intimidate me with its ornamented breastplate.

I thought you said that you are not a god.

I am a suffering servant, it clucks defensively.

You are a fool, like the rest of us, I remark, as I look away from the Lord Protector and instead watch the fleshy slime splashing over the sides of our bus and slithering into the jagged cracks in the iron. 

The Lord Protector edges closer to me, like it is slyly bringing me into its confidence. But since it cannot raise its beak from the water puddle, it ends up whispering its dreamy conspiracy into my right hip.

Let us face reality, it seduces…

I am, I interrupt it, as I continue to stare at the fleshy slime.

We are not like the others, it continues. We may disagree on this or that fact of history; but your lips and my beak speak the same fundamental truth, in the end. And that is: We are able to be the great equalizers; the killers of kings and popes; the Falstaff who shoves Prince Hall into the slime of the groundlings and then, for pleasant sport, convinces one of the paupers that he is the prince instead. We are the purveyors of the ruse; the poisoned silk wrapped about the necks of merry maidens; the pious chicanery that seems so beautifully sublime, until the fall of the axe on a throbbing neck. This may all sound like the surreal sophistries peddled by the devil; and, perhaps, in a way they are. But they find a noble end, in that by keeping everyone on his toes, where no man may be too sure that his head is not next in line for the hooded executioner, they maintain men in an equal station with one another. No matter what we may presume for a while, we cannot be equal in race, or sex, or piety, or intelligence, or talent, or virtue; but we can be equal in our fears. We can all tremble at the last steps to the execution block. We can all make a show of prayer, just before the men confine our necks, in order to mask the blood terror in our eyes. And, yes, just as the axe is swishing in an arch through the still air, we can let out a faint sob or a grunt, something to punctuate the moment before, and the memory after, our collapsed head coughs up a spray of blood from within the bowels. This is a noble vocation, because there cannot be a Christ Jesus, unless there is first the conspiratorial Caiaphas and the political Pontius Pilate, the holy church and the regal state manipulated from within to soil the grand and to redeem the lowly. Yes, we are the great equalizers, since we are so much greater than those who we would presume to make equal before the brilliant face of God Almighty and with one another. A hen may lay her eggs; but it takes a vile red rooster, a fine knave in a breastplate and sword, to pluck out the unborn chicks and to devour them, not for food, mind you, but for the sake of keeping all the hens in place, equal in their fears of the vile red rooster, equal in their anxieties about death.

Should not the great equalizer be as much example as executioner?

Of course, the Lord Protector readily agrees with me. All the great men, no matter the different religious or ideological sentiments between them, have assumed the speech and dress of the commoners, so that the little cluck-clucks imagine that they are just among the faithful, at the same time that they know that they are the incarnations of the faith. Christ Jesus assumes the lowly form of a suffering servant, a man of ill repute who is no more worthy than to die on a cross between two common thieves. And what is the result? We imagine He is right beside us in the pew, holding our hands when we cry at a funeral, nodding gently when we tell him our worst fears and lowliest crimes. At the same time, we know that He is apart from us, an icon on a cross to be worshipped from the other side of the sanctuary, a blessed body hidden from view in a tabernacle. If we look at Caesar Augustus, we see much the same: the first Roman Emperor, a man of great valor and virtue, assuming the look and feel of an average citizen in Rome, so that the people see him as one of them, as much as they adore him from afar. President Calvin Coolidge wore an Indian headdress. Even Hitler, not noted for his humility, could be seen wearing his lederhosen, now and then. All the kings know how to play the game, as all the pawns know how to be played.

How interesting that you compare yourself to a king, I tease the rooster.

It is only a metaphor, it stammers pathetically.

There are two types of men: the king on the throne, and the pretenders to the throne. Notwithstanding all your nonsense talk of “republicanism,” “the rights of man,” “the freedom of the Anglo race from anything that even smacks of popery,” you spent much of your life in one category, and a brief span in the other; and, like every king and pretender, in time you were dropped into a cold ditch somewhere, hated or beloved, depending upon the tide in the ocean, and then forgotten altogether. 

But I made a difference, it clucks awkwardly. Like I said, the kings know how to play the game, and only the kings know, while the pawns…   

Ah, but there is where you are wrong, I snap scornfully. As you know, on a chessboard, a king and a pawn are chess pieces. Indeed, the pawn is usually a lot more important than a king, since it can be moved in so many more ways on a chessboard than a king. What matters is the unseen hand playing the game of chess. He is the great equalizer. And he is the real example of equality, unlike a charlatan tyrant putting on a clown costume for the masses, since he is just a regular; unassuming; sometimes smart, sometimes outsmarted; deadbeat, poor excuse for a man, like the man that he is playing, and like the men who happen to be watching the match in the bleacher seats off to the side. He is everyman, somewhere in between the Real God above him and the wild beasts below him, a queer mix of nobility and perversity, of good and bad, that is his mark in life. And as every man is “everyman,” in some capacity; so are all men equal to one another; each man having a desire to improve his lot and a certainty of failure, and as much a capacity for self-governance as a necessity for the restraints of a government outside of himself.  

Nonsense. You make it sound as if we are not needed to make men equal before God Almighty and with one another; that equality is the natural state of all men, since all pieces on a chessboard are played; and that, therefore, there is nothing to be gained in beheading a king; or in exiling all Jesuit provocateurs of popery; or in otherwise spreading mischief and misery, and the very common denominator of fear, throughout the republic. If we cannot fashion men into an image of perfection, in emulation of God fashioning men to be in His image and likeness, then what is the point of the murder and the mayhem?

There is little point, I reply bitterly, apart from a confiscation of wealth; a settling of old scores, and a buttering of the ego. Murder and mayhem cannot change the minds and the hearts of victims, so much as they can, momentarily, allow for the personal aggrandizement of the perpetrators. An American caught up in the spirit of Manifest Destiny may say that he prefers the killing of Indians out west, so that the “would be white men” inhabiting the red skins and bloody tomahawks may have a chance, in the aftermath of a grand slaughter, to crawl out from within the primitivism of the race; but, in fact, he has no real purpose in mind than to feel empowered by seeing every one else diminished or dead. It is a fundamental fact of history: the more we attempt to sell wholesale murder and mayhem under a lofty banner, a crusade or an ideology, the more we mask our petty ambitions. We have abstract minds, boundless imaginations, a chance at each and every moment of our lives to obscure uncomfortable truths with an alluring veil of wispy lies. We do not want to admit that men are born equal, so we insist that we can make them equal: equal before the law, whatever that is going to mean at any given time; or equal in outcome, no matter how that may be shown to be implausible economically and socially; or equal in fear, as yours and other tyrannies have perpetrated. You speak of the commoners insisting on their delusions of grandeur, and of the necessity of a “great man,” or perhaps a cabal of “great men,” to cure the commoners of their delusions. But, I declare, the man or men who would presume to be the cure for everyone else is more to be feared than the men who need to be cured. And that is because, in the end, a reformer is a tyrant without power, as a democrat is a demagogue without a loud speaker, and as a doctor is a Mengele without a Jew strapped to his table.

I admit that some of the “great men” have wandered off the reservation in the pursuit of their noble aims, pursuing those methods that are not properly restrained by moral probity and religious purity. But how can you back up your dubious claim that men are born equal and, therefore, do not require the grand gestures of “great men” to make them equal? 

Well, you are quite correct in saying that not all men are born into equal stations in life. Whatever the reason, whether it is race, or sex, or nationality, or tribe, or ethnicity, or religious conviction, some are born with a silver spoon in their mouths, others with a brass chain about their ankles. Men will not have equal outcomes, no matter the efforts of the Marxists. Men will not have equal devotions to the state, no matter the efforts of the Fascists. Men will not have equal intelligence; neither will they have equal talents, nor equal capacities in the arts of love, affection, and sexual gratification. And, notwithstanding your purist, terror regime, they will not be equal in fear, as even you must admit (if your ego will not allow you to do so openly, then at least in what is left of your own chicken heart) that there were some among your numbers who feared your temperament and your tactics less than others. So how are we born equal? We are equal in our standing before God, because we all fall too short of the glory of God to merit salvation by our own bootstraps. We are all the sons of Adam in sin and, if we so choose, of Christ Jesus in salvation from sin. We are all under the curse; bedeviled by a fate that is stronger than our free will; and, as such, inclined to the kind of self-delusions, the rationales and the prevarications, by which our “good intentions” may turn out to pave the road to Hell. In the end, all “great men” wander off the reservation, because indeed all men wander off the reservation. The difference is that the “great men,” in virtue of the wealth and the power at their disposal, are able to do so much more harm to the weak men beneath their thumbs, than the slobs skipping out on their mandated child support payments, or the wife beaters who have had too much straight whiskey with the guys. The difference between the Virgin Mary and Adolf Hitler is really a matter of degrees, as in degrees of sinfulness, rather than in kind, as in Mary is some sort of extraterrestrial alien who has no sin in her bones, while Hitler is the poster boy for sin (of course, on this point, the Roman Catholic Church very strongly disagrees, as their doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary insists that Mary is born without “original sin”). Because all men are born into sin, all men are born equal. Furthermore, we may declare that all men are created equal, not in the sense that God created men as sinners (since that will be incompatible with the fact that God beheld His own creation and saw that it was good), but in the sense that God enabled Adam to sin, and since we are all the sons of Adam we share equally in the wretched legacy of his decision to sin.

I stop to take a breath. I look away from the slime on the roof of the bus to the slime gurgling and burping down the river as interwoven sheets of fleshy grime. I really want to forget the cockle-doodle-doo tyrant beside my right hip.

It looks as if the river water is falling further and further below the slimy stew, so that in essence the bus is floating on top of a waste vomit. I imagine it to be the refuse from a midnight bash; a sparkle of self-indulgent excess before the foggy hangover has had a chance to set into the cobwebs; as if the one and only guest at the party (who also happens to be the one and only host) manages at the third hour to insert a sparkle-grenade contraption well into his own anus (a slippery slide between two cheeks, that requires him to bend forward as if a well stretched Gumby gymnast, so as to keep the contraption inside the muddy love tunnel), to click on the timer, and to let it blow like the unchained winds.

Now, there is nothing left but the refuse; burnt butt chunks wallowing in urine and blood, what remains after a self-absorbed tryst in forbidden love; the fleshy grime gurgling and burping down an intestinal tract, a river flow, that at the end will converge with other intestinal tracts to create a black whirlpool, a final flush, a bottoming out and a wiping away, once and for all times to come.

I look back at the Lord Protector. It is a ball of flimsy feathers, breathing in the haggard spurts of a dream that will not end, and crouched so tightly into my right hip as to seem like a cancerous mole growing out from inside of me. It is a disgusting holdover from a dreamy, unreal past; a fancy freak show with its gangly, gnarled neck looping its beak into its own rear end; a fiddle-de-dee the rest of the world had feared, but now has forgotten, like a specific wave along the shoreline the day before yesterday. 

There are iron shards floating in the fleshy grime on top of the bus. They are bits and pieces dislodged in the recent melee, like teeth scattered across a floor of an old, dingy bar the morning after a drunken fistfight and a visit from an oink in a police uniform.

Without further thought, I grip one of the shards; elongate the loop neck of the mole growing out from inside of me; and slice off its head. I feel like one of those hooded, Al Quaeda terrorists with a Chicken Jew squirming in pain and fright from his slices, as if Ishmael cutting out the last bit of Isaac, or the chaff sawing away the last traces of wheat from its field.

I throw the dead mole into the river of slime, though I keep the severed, red rooster head by my side, as a final reminder of what I have done to myself.

Wiping the chicken blood onto what is left of my fig leaf, I look down at my hands; and I see myself for what I am: a cursed weed; alive, but a poison to all others; a bastard Ishmael in a foreign land, since the world is no longer a set in one of my ersatz dreams, or defined neatly and nicely by one of my opinions.

I am about to cry, when I see two bodies dislodged from inside the bus: a father clutching his son, bobbing up to the surface, and then lost again forever.  

Endowed by their Creator with Certain Unalienable Rights

So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him, male and female created He them. Genesis 1:27 (KJV)

I am stirred from my preoccupation with the river slime, whenever I hear metal grinding from somewhere deep inside the bowels of the bus. It is a bitter gnashing of iron teeth, followed after a while by a sound that reminds me of an old, tired kitchen cabinet collapsing internally all at once, smashing the brittle, fine china of a past generation into ashen shards. There is then a sloshy thump, a feeling more than a sound, as if a muffled mallet in an underwater basement bobbing into a wall, knocking out the block that had kept the infirm cough of a family home from falling into the clutching slime waves beneath its foundation.

And then there is the cringe of gooey vomit sputtering out from behind a collapsed, green tongue, except that in this case the tongue is a bottom half of a window pushed out by the impact of the crash, dangling and flapping stupidly into the underwater graveyard, and turning ever more green by the wet strands of grime stuffed into its cracks and edges. 

The gooey vomit is a thick, greenish fog of slime and soot; tumbling stew that seems to coagulate into the form of a human body; slippery strands of old, dead skin in some places, and exposed bone elsewhere, all turning from purple to blue against a backdrop of algae green.

The coagulated forms would mix into the fleshy grime that predominates in this underwater graveyard, and become unobservable (except every now and then as a blue undertone to the gunky green), except that they are still clothed in zippered jeans and laced boots. And some of them are donning still their wet noodle sombreros, as if a continued defiance of the loss of their name and face to the suffocating flow of time. 

There is just enough water in the fleshy grime to form air bubbles in the shirts and jeans, so that the forms are pulled up through the grasping gunk to a more sinewy surface. 

Even then, the gunk hangs from the skin and hair of the forms, as leaden weights on cheap cardboard. It tears down on whatever it is grasping; crackling out the last bits of air from the inner cavities; and ripping the clothes into soft, wet shreds, so that they are no longer able to contain the air bubbles that had floated the forms up to the surface in the first place. 

As such, the forms begin to sink, as soon as they bob up to the surface of the slime river; but, even so, I am able to observe them as distinct corpses and to offer a nod of respect to whatever had been the musical tenor of their lives.

While I cannot discern the skin color that they had had in their lifetimes, as the race of every dead man entombed in a slime river is the same distasteful purplish blue, I sense from the overdone expressiveness etched onto their dead faces that each and every one of them is a Mexican. Sometimes, they are elder farmers staring out all by themselves at the great vineyard in the clouds finally to be harvested. Sometimes, they are parents clutching their children into their chests; the exposed infant skulls in the process of collapsing through what little skin remains between themselves and their parents’ hearts. Once, they are two lovers embraced in a kiss; the skin washed away from their upper faces, so that their two foreheads are bone plates, tapping into each other repeatedly in such a manner as to sound like a love telegram being sung to one another in a Morse code; and their crimson red lips still clutching feverishly at whatever youthfully romantic dream had been beating in their hearts when the waters fell on them.

I am looking at corpses; but, for the first time, perhaps in my whole life, I am seeing them as real men, women, and children. I no longer smash them as indiscriminate beans under my heel, nor do I treasure them as beloved works of art in my mind. The moment for sentimental illusions, one way or another, has passed; and I cannot but see them for what they have been always: a strangely beautiful blend of good and bad characters and ambitions; of grand charity and silly selfishness; made in the image of God, but never far from the wild beasts.

This is repeated every few hours, until the late afternoon is long. 

I sense that, by then, every Mexican has been dislodged from his seat on the bus and vomited out into his graveyard. 

Only the two gringos remain inside the bus, smashed underneath a seat, and collapsed into each other’s death grips. 

They are not going anywhere. They are in their eternal restlessness, the last two passengers on a Mayflower that will never be reaching a Promised Land out west, a Kingdom of Milk and Honey that is forever beyond the next horizon.

And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation, I mumble to the unseen and unheard gringos, who are somewhere far beneath my golden throne on the roof of the bus. 

Golden throne? I inquire suddenly…

And then I see that I have released a stream of warm pee into my grungy fig leaf. It has soaked through the fabric and is now turning my seat on the roof of the bus into a sickly golden yellow stew. I suspect that it will seep through a crack in the roof; meander into the slime underneath; and eventually waft into the nostrils of the two mad gringos. 

I stumble onto my feet; but the branches and leaves are hanging too low for me to stand upright, so I lower my knees into prayer.  

The innocent beasts crowd around me. They are oinking and clucking, as boisterously as their limited strength will allow, asking to be relieved finally of the throbbing pangs in their stomachs. 

I sense that, for them, this is a kind of prayer as well. 

There is no greater indication of God Almighty on His Heavenly Throne in the here and now, and in the fullness of time, than the lame futility of our own actions, and the utter hopelessness of our own cause. 

And among all of our many and sordid weaknesses, hunger alone reminds us that we need to be fed, like an infant in a high chair, or like innocent beasts crowding around a near naked man on the roof of a bus.

I am helpless to do anything for them. 

For the first time, perhaps ever, I break down and cry.

Oh, God, I wail, deliver me from myself, so that I may deliver them…

I repeat that same plea, over and over again, until my slobbery tears are suffocating the last sparkle of wakefulness from out of my old, bloodshot eyes.

I have no recourse but the sleep of a penitential. I never dream, so much as I continue, even while I am snoring into the snouts and the beaks that are in solemn mourning about my colorless face, to watch my own tears from afar slip and slide from my tear ducts to the most remote whirlpool in my mind, a black, shapeless void in which even the ego has no reference with anything else. I am no longer even aware that it is cold and lonely down there; or that there is any reason to fear whatever may be darker still; or that there can be any substitute for the natural faith and hope implicit in a heart that, in spite of everything, is able still to stumble forward, however clumsily, from one tiny beat to the next.

I awaken from the river slime splashing up against my ears. 

I stumble back up to my knees. It is pitch black, well after sunset on one of many snake-like rivers in the heart of Chiapas; but in spite of my momentary confusion, I am able to sense that the bus is sinking deeper into the slime.

Apparently, the innocent beasts sense the same, as they are scampering and prattling about in anxious spurts by the front of the bus. The pigs oink for a winged pig god to descend from where pigs do fly and to carry them off, one by one, to safety and food. The roosters cockle-doodle-doo for a majestic red, the rooster god who watches over his angelic hens from above the clouds, to do the same for them. In this moment of shared anxiety and purpose, it is really hard, if not altogether impossible, to differentiate the two species from one another; so that if in response to their prayers a majestic red should happen to descend, then the pigs would be just as willing as the roosters to accept salvation from it right now, and vice versa. If the curse unto death is our great equalizer, then a plea for salvation, however that may be said in the end, is our common voice.

I make out in the shadows that there is a small clearing to my immediate left. It is no more than a few jagged boulders at the base of a steep hill; but it is more substantial than the thin, interwoven branches that are reaching down from tall trees like legs from insects hovering in the clouds, and the flat, sloshy banana leaves flapping in the howls of the night. It is the only bit of substantial land left in the universe, the one and only rescue buoy that will be thrown into my despair, demanding by its stark presence that my weary soul finally choose.

I choose to be weak and to flee from my golden throne. I cannot sense at that time that, indeed, I have never made a more courageous choice in my life, as I am too preoccupied with snatching onto the momentary chance at security, not just for myself, but for all the innocent beasts that have been tossed by the fates into my feeble hands. 

Stumbling palms forward into one of the jagged boulders, I erupt into an anguished cry, as the stony knives puncture my feet and wrists. I try to push my dead weight up from my own puddle of blood; but I manage only to stumble my back and butt into the slick hill. I lay there, my arms outstretched, and my feet together, the image of Christ Jesus on His Cross, wincing from my own pain and watching the innocent beasts in my charge float away. 

I have no right, but the duty to do what is right, I mutter weakly into the dryness of my own lips. For what right does an image of God have in himself, as he is dust from dust, and ashes from ashes; but the obligation to pursue what is perfect, as His Father in Heaven is perfect?

I tear myself up from my own cries, and stagger across the hard boulders to the innocent beasts. I listen to each and every one of them calling out to me from the left side of the roof of the bus.

Even though it is a great strain for me to lift my arms up from my sides, I manage to pluck each of the pigs and roosters from off of the roof and to place them carefully onto the side of the hill. 

I am about to turn away, when I see the severed rooster head floating by my golden throne. I snatch what remains of the Lord Protector (glaring eyes on top of a crooked beak, plastered into a skull of feathers that has been smeared and disfigured by repeated slaps from the river slime); and, without any popish pomp and circumstance, I stuff it into what is left of my fig leaf, giving it reign to puncture a few pinprick holes and paper thin scratches into my inner thighs.

It takes a while to figure out how to climb the steep hill; and, at the end of each one of my misguided attempts, I slide back into the stony knives below me, opening up more streams of blood from my feet and legs. 

I am about to cry out for my own death, when from the corner of my left eye I observe the pigs and the roosters huddled beside my puddle of blood. This is enough to shake me free from my despairing thoughts; and as I stumble back to my feet, I finally see the path up the side of the hill that will work for us all.  

The innocent beasts keep close to my blood stained ankles, as I endeavor to lead them up the harrowing slope and into a thicket of penetrating shadows.

Once I am certain that the last of the innocent beasts has stumbled over the hill, I lean back against a pile of leaves, and watch absently as the pigs and the roosters, one by one, scamper off into the jungle. There is a sick feeling in my stomach, a throbbing ache that reaches up to my heart, as I realize that, no matter what they have done for me, there is nothing that I can do for them. All of them will be dead by the morning: stumbling into an unseen ditch; or wailing inside the clenched jaws of a predator; or withering away from their starvation (as the food readily available in the slime that passes for soil inside the howling jungle proves to be too acidic, if not outright poisonous, for their domesticated palettes), where the scavengers may scurry off with what little, sinewy meat is left on their bones. They are destined to be prey, eaten and discarded to allow for another to carry on its pursuit, because in the end no one’s life is his own.

I know only that I am their brother, and they are mine.

And so I stagger up to my feet, and further into the jungle, not so much in the hope of finding food or shelter, as in the hastening of my own death. Am I going to fall into a ditch, oblivious even to the sensation of descending rapidly through mid-air, until I crack open my scalp against the blunt side of a stone at the bottom? Am I going to be snatched by the claws of a hairy animal, dragged back to its cave, and compelled to watch in horror, as it methodically tears out my innards with its ravenous teeth? Or am I just going to succumb to starvation and stumble meekly off to the side somewhere? 

I suspect that starvation will finish me, before the unseen ditch and the hairy animal. I have not eaten anything since my sugar feast from what appears to be a lifetime ago. I cannot hold back from clutching my empty stomach, and wallowing in my salt tears, in reaction to the aching, hollow beast inside of me.

I lose my sense of distance and time, as I wander further into the jungle. Every branch that I sweep aside, in order to clear a path for my uneven steps in the darkness, is exactly the same as the branch behind me; so that I wonder if I am not stumbling about in a circle, restarting my internal time clock with every new rotation, and making neither more nor less headway than if I had remained on the sinking bus. I also wonder if there is any difference, if indeed I am in the process of moving in a straight line further and further into the jungle. 

After all, what is the difference between a circle and a straight line, but perspective? And if by one perspective I may see that they are “different” from one another, then by another perspective may I not see that they are much the same fiddle-de-dee? And how does “perspective” matter anyway, when there is an aching, hollow beast inside the stomach linings, clawing into slithery shreds, and pushing out through the butthole, what few scattered innards populate the bowels? In the end, these questions do not matter much to a bit of fecal matter dropped out from an emaciated skeleton clad in nothing but a tattered fig leaf.

But something matters, even now, I mumble insanely, as the wind howls arise suddenly into deafening screeches from above the clouds. What matters is that, so long as I remain alive, I have an unalienable right; an unalienable duty to do what is right; and that is…that is…well, I’m not sure what that is, except I shall know it when I see it, as Justice Stewart knows obscenity when he sees it, because there remains a bit of conscience still not wrecked by my past dreams.

And with that refrain, I push a branch aside, and I almost stumble over a bleating lamb tied to a tree. It is a pathetically thin creature; its wool torn off in large clumps from its skin and bones, so that it appears more like a rodent in patches of fleece. It looks straight at me with its sad eyes and bleats with what little strength it has left in its chest. 

There is a sharp stone beside it. I can take that stone; kill it; and maybe figure out a way to devour it. Or I can cut the rope and release it, even though I know that it will be dead in this jungle before the break of dawn. 

My unalienable right…my unalienable duty to do what is right…

I cut the rope, and I watch absently as the lamb scampers into a thicket.

And Among These Are Life…

I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. John 6:35 (KJV)

I look down at my bloody hands and feet. I am several gushing streams of purplish blood; a life giver from the core of my bowels; and yet the blossoming, red roses spurting out from the cuts in my veins are swallowed into a wasteland of screeching winds and gnashing teeth; a holocaust for the weak and the lame; a thorny thicket stretching out in every direction for as far as any eye may see, that entangles and squeezes out altogether even the remote possibility of love.

Faith, hope, and charity, I mumble to myself, while dropping my gushing hands back to my sides. The three faces of the one God…maybe somewhere…an oasis of peace, and prosperity, and purple people eaters just beyond the last of the horizons…maybe He is the God over there…but not here…surely not in these parts…because here there is nothing, but skin and bones clawed out from inside a thin wall of fleece, and anguished bleats that are unheard in the final chomps and burps…Here there is just unblemished reality…sparkle dreams laying by the wayside as no more than brittle bones scavenged of the last bits of sinewy flesh and blood…but at least this is real…freed from a self-styled god haze, and all of the wavy gravy groovy, and the high and mighty opinions that pass for facts in a mind that is lost in itself…it is altogether impossible to get lost in this thicket…

And with that bit of mumbo jumbo slipping out from my famished tongue and cracked lips, I stumble into a barbed wire fence. 

I manage somehow to push myself out from the steel cobweb, and to fall back into the thorns of a dead rose bush. 

Before I can make sense of anything, I am sprouting blood from out of an untold number of cuts at the top of my forehead. The thick, purplish waterfalls ooze over my eyelids, so that I am blind to everything but the syrupy blood goo plastering over my pupils.

And let there be no light…and so the angel snuffs out the candlestick…

I try to flick off the blood, like a windshield wiper at maximum force in a thick, purplish snowstorm, but that only allows me to make out surreal snippets here and there: a gnarly branch that snaps as a spiked whip; a banana leaf that lands a backhanded slap; twigs hurling through the air and striking the ears in a way that is reminiscent of burly toughs teasing me from all sides; and as a coup de grace, rusted spikes from the barbed wire fence screaming through the wind and planting themselves as a crown of thorns into my squishy melon of a scalp.

I swat back at the attacks; but that only inspires them all the more, until I am nothing but a beaten bruise, crouching into my fetal position, too sick and tired even to suck my thumb. 

If I had any free will left, then I would have stayed there forever.

But a screeching wind lifts me to my feet, and wipes away the goo blood long enough for me to be able to read the sign on the barbed wire fence just in front of me. The words are written in an Old English font and punctuated below with a yellow smiley face: Abandon Hope Gardens. Got Food, Not Bombs, Bitch?

Another gust of wind slams a long, thick branch into my right palm; and I use this makeshift staff to push down the barbed wire fence before me, and to hobble over to the other side. 

I cannot see much point in doing any of this. 

But I am driven by the fates; no longer even able to imagine that I am in purchase of my own free will; a slug on the end of an unseen rope, being pulled this way and that, but never away from the primrose path that leads to my own patch of Golgotha, the cross from which I had escaped back at the hill, but that will claim what is left of my skin and bones, when all has been said and done in the final breathe sifting out from my collapsed lungs. 

I do not even have the freedom to be a man of sorrows, as damp gusts of wind spiraling up from the surface stop me from settling my blood soaked eyes onto my swollen feet. 

Instead, I am forced to stumble forward, as if an innocent babe adorned in a spiked baby bonnet and a streaming coat of thick, purplish ribbons, making his very first steps from the cradle to the grave.

Or perhaps I am going backwards from the grave to the cradle…

The jungle dissipates over time, until I find myself tottering down a thin row of evenly spaced marijuana plants. 

As much as the winds will let me, I look from side to side above the tops of the plants. There is pot growing everywhere; a wet dream for a Ron Paul Nut from one far horizon to the next; a sea of groovy green over which the hazy sun can never set, sort of like the old bit about the sun never setting on British soil.

So there is a sun, I mumble in some amazement. 

I last observed the sun when stumbling into the gazebo, after leaving the green cloud and sitar chimes of the Wicked Witch of the West behind me. 

As this is now the morning of the third day, the sun has returned from its dance with the moon to shine upon my new life bobbing about the groovy green sea in a soiled diaper. 

But it is not a brilliant light, so much as a colorless, lukewarm haze, the kind of soft twilight that prevails in a limbo. The effect is to let me see far and wide, but also to shade everything as cardboard thin and pale, as if we are very far along the path toward the cold emptiness of the starless cosmos at the end.

And with that thought, I stop in my tracks. 

How is it that I am at the beginning and at the end at the same time and place? How is it that I am an old man and an infant at the same time and place? Is reality no more than a loop of something or other, bobbing about a colorless, lukewarm limbo? If so, then how is reality any more real than the fancy dreams with which I used to indulge?

And if the third day in this loop is Easter, then does that necessitate that the sixth day in this loop is Good Friday…and the ninth is Easter again…and the twelfth is Good Friday again…forever and ever, world without end, forever and ever, world without end, forever and ever, world without end…so we say amen?

Just smile, and you’ll make the sunshine brighter, a little girl voice sings from behind one of the plants a few paces in front of me. 

The girl jumps out from behind the plant and giggles. She covers her lips with her hands, and folds her left leg over her right, like she is having a period.

But she is not the age of a girl, at least not physically.

She is a gangly tomboy in a butch hairdo, an oversized tie-dye, featuring a peace symbol over her flat chest, and a cut off denim. She is not wearing any shoes, but her feet look strong and dexterous enough to skip over any obstacles in her path. She is a stirring force in nature, to be sure; but the bobbly manner in which her head stumbles upon her lithe neck suggests simplemindedness and heartfelt naivety. In essence, she is a Northern California granola chick dancing about on a pot farm, ready to open her legs for a groovy idea and a peace song.

I stare long enough into her face to realize that, indeed, she is the same Wicked Witch of the West with which I shared something or other back in town, except forty years younger. 

And as I listen more closely to her incessant giggle, I hear the barest hint of an old lady cackle, an aura left over from the past, as much as an indication of the future. It is as if her girly voice is progressing backwards and forwards at the same time, so that her pitch is the subtle twilight between future and past.

She runs up to me and grabs my left hand. 

In our closeness, I am able to see that her face is boyish, perversely hard and gangly at the same time, as if a swimmer jock in his senior year. It is all so incongruent with her girly girl voice as to be downright hideous. 

Ah, I could eat you up, pits and all, she giggles. 

She pulls at my hand, and I sense that I cannot but follow her. 

The back of her tie-dye features the words: The End. These words are in the same Old English font as on the sign. There is a squiggly arrow, shaped like a small intestine, extending from these words to the bit crack in her bony butt.

I hear a sitar chime in the distance. 

At first, it is no more than a subtle ping in the wind; but as we proceed, it coalesces into a recording of The Door’s “The End,” the haunting intonations of Jim Morrison reverberating through loud speakers still out of view. 

For a while, I cannot make out the words of the song. Only the despair in the bowels, erupting out from the throat as a primordial yell, wafts through the air, as if a poison released from on high.

Then, the words soar upward as an outstretched hand and slap me silly. I see the fireworks exploding in my mind; sparklers blazing against the void for a brief moment, then dripping downward into long, arching insect legs not unlike the branches back in the jungle; and I nearly stumble to my knees in a perverse kind of prayer. If I cannot worship myself, and if God Almighty is nowhere to be found in these parts, then perhaps I may indulge in primal screams and flashes, the psychedelic excesses that weave selfless loves with Helter Skelter mayhem.

The killer awoke before dawn; he put his boots on

He took a face from the ancient gallery

And he walked on down the hall

He went into the room where his sister lived,

 And then he paid a visit to his brother,

And then he

And he walked on down the hall

And he came to a door, and he looked inside

Father; yes son; I want to kill you

Mother…I want to…WAAAAAA

I manage to smile, as I stagger back from the impact of the words.

They are real words, each and every one of them…

I see a green cloud arising from within the horizon in front of me. It is an intense barrier, more akin to a breathing wall deliberately planted there by an ancient farmer of souls so as to obscure whatever is on the other side, than the burping storm clouds breaking up in the hazy sun. I am as drawn as I am scared, wondering if indeed it is the wall for which I have been searching since the first beat startled the rest of my body into existence, the blank slate upon which all of my hopes and fears may be pinned for all the world to see…and to forget…

I do not want the Eden that is beyond the wall.

I want the Eden that I may pin up on the wall…

And then lose again, as soon as the wall shifts a little in the sunlight…

And if that is true, then nothing is true…

And the beginning is the end, the same old loop-de-loop in every turn…

And life is death, the same old dust and soot in every breath…

Except, I suspect, the rent to be paid every month for the privilege of a blank slate on one side, and a ravenous wasteland on the other; a groovy green sea below, and a hazy sun above; is always increasing. It takes a bit more juice to generate the green cloud; an extra few breaths to climb the ladder, so as to pin another set of hopes and fears; one more joint to make up for the fact that the pot is just not as strong as it used to be. 

Limbo is not really standing still, so much as declining into the last death so slowly, so imperceptibly, as to seem to be an eternal present. It is a trick of the mind, like inflation hidden when the same package and price contains a bit less food than prior, until all of a sudden one day there is nothing inside the old package but a soft dream eating away at what is left of an empty stomach. It is way far out groovy, while indulged, and then it is as nothing as everything else. 

This is the end

Beautiful friend

This is the end

My only friend, the end

It hurts to set you free

But you’ll never follow me

The end of laughter and soft lies

The end of nights we tried to die

This is the end

I follow my guide as well as my awkward steps will allow. 

She looks back at me every once in a while, giggles, and gestures for me to keep up with her, as if this is all a silly game of tag or hide and go seek. She kicks up the soil playfully with every hurried step, an untamed bronco set loose in whatever may pass as a passion of the moment. 

We approach a fountain in the midst of the groovy green. 

I observe that it is the same “Zea mays” green, cantera stone, the same, peculiar tribute to the “Día de los Muertos” in Oaxaca, upon which I had rested and then discarded my moral mind with the Wicked Witch of the West so many unknowable moons ago. The only difference is that this particular fountain is so much bigger, more akin to a civil works project than a movable art piece in the foggy courtyard of a casa. And it seems to be so much earlier, as if a primordial reality in comparison to which all of the others are smaller similitudes. 

The bubbling brook is more than hypnotic. It is the song of a Siren, a soft enchantress that blends her charm into the sitar-infused death blaring out from the still unseen loudspeakers, so that she is at once caressing your cockles, and pounding your forehead into the ocean rocks. 

I beg to rest for a while, and my guide sits on the edge of the fountain.

I take her hand and sit next to her, as if we are the oldest of friends. 

You know what you are? She gushes. 

I’m not sure that I care as much as I thought I did. Perhaps all that really matters is that I know what I want to be when I crawl back into the old womb, I respond with a tired, beaten whisper that is sucked into the air, before it even has a fighting chance to penetrate the granola stuffed inside my hippie guide. 

You know what you are? She repeats, giggling incessantly, and tilting her head to her side, as if she has not heard a word of mine. 

After all, ever since I have embraced reality I have been a bloody mess, I struggle to blurt out. Though, I suppose, I did earn my crown in the process…

You know what you are? She repeats, though she is barely able to mouth the words of her question through her uncontrolled giggles and head boggle.

I give up. What am I?

You are a way far out groovy coconut, she blathers. 

I see…

You are so ripe that you fall off your big coconut tree in the sky; and you hit the head of little, hippie chicks like me; and, boing, you crack open enough to spray your coconut milk all over the place. 

Well, I guess so…

But don’t worry. I can be your vacuum cleaner and suck up all your milk, no matter where you spray it. ‘Cause we like to keep a tidy shire here, in case, you know, a snoop comes strolling down our way. 

We? I am startled so much by the revelation, I almost fall into the brook.

And don’t forget: Just smile, and you’ll make the sunshine brighter…

And with that sentiment, we hear the footsteps of a giant. It is a vicious fury raining down upon twigs and fallen leaves, a repetitive pattern of a stomp, and a crunch, a stomp, and a crunch. The mind behind this pattern is either an unequaled intelligence, in that it is in perfect harmony with the one, two, one, two count underlying the motion of the stars, or a thoughtless zombie. 

Regardless, as its footsteps are in perfect rhythm with the death beat in “The End,” I cannot help but imagine that it is a sad hybrid of Jim Morrison and Andre the Giant, a Frankenstein monster that had been burped out from one of the loudspeakers and is now a lonely misfit lumbering down a row of marijuana plants, in the end just another sparkle of dust hanging out in the green groovy.

The giant steps out from behind a plant. 

In appearance, it is the same as I had imagined the Norse god-beast, and for that matter the Norse beast-god: long, curly locks of blond hair falling from the top of a chiseled face and a goofy grin, and draping over a chest bursting in waxed muscles; a petulant look in the eyes that appears to call out, Don’t hate me, because I’m beautiful; and limbs that look like they could be the branches of glistening white oak trees, or fleshy mallets in a leathery skin meant to beat up gabbing girly girls who interfere with his crazy ass arm curls and leg presses.

But, incongruously, he has a fatty midsection that makes him resemble a woman ready to go into labor. And with the green eyeliner and ruby red lipstick smeared over his face, he resembles a drunken whore at a cocktail party, ready to go into labor, but insisting that she have a chance first to tease a gentleman suitor with the way she sips her strawberry daiquiri. 

He is wearing the same tie-dye as the granola groupie beside me, except that “The End” is featured on his front side, and the squiggly arrow shaped like a small intestine is pointing at his crotch.

His cut off denim is flared at the bottom. Another checkmark in the “gay blade” column, which along the spectrum of life is far to the left of a middling, versatile “bubble bi,” a bit more to the left of a “Texas steer queer,” but not a full fledged “twinkle toe” or “fairy feather” at the blackest tip of the rainbow, an all-important distinction to be made that must mean something or other.

And he is carrying what appears to be a leaf blower. Okay, so be it. That relegates him to the “twinkle toe” or “fairy feather” side of the balance sheet, especially as…well, let’s face it…a leaf blower is a full blown kink toy, is it not? 

Gym Bitch, what have you got here? 

My granola groupie looks back at the Teutonic Tootsie lumbering over to us. She needs to shield her eyes from the hazy sun halo behind his sacred blond locks; but she manages to boggle her head adoringly nonetheless, as if she is in the presence of the Beefcake Body of Christ released from His Holy Tabernacle, for all the world to see and to love.

Our very own coconut, she responds giddily. 

And there are pits still in the milk. I can taste them, she says back to me with a wink and a blush. 

The giant stands over me. He dips his chin into his chest; stares intensely into my weak pupils; and flares his nostrils, as if a bull humped by a kinky cow.

A coconut is only one-half of a dumbbell, he reasons slowly. 

Just smile, and you’ll make the sunshine…

Gym Bitch, don’t mess with a man whose flexing his muscles, he snaps.

My granola guide shuts her mouth at once; but as she cannot restrain her insane giggles, she continues to be an annoying hippie-dippy. 

Pissed off, the loony giant swats her off the side of the fountain with his leaf blower, and watches as her bruise bleeds for some time and then congeals. 

But she continues to giggle, even as she is swallowing clumps of soil from the wet earth near the fountain. She is a cackling goon living in her Woodstock. 

He turns back to me and resumes his stare, as if nothing has happened.

Well, maybe if he feeds me, he’ll do for a night, he states after a while.

I say nothing, as he then swats me into the fountain with his leaf blower.

I only remember bits and pieces of what happens next. 

And that is because, after I am pulled out from the bubbling brook, I am either so young that I have yet to form lasting impressions of the world outside of my mind; or I am so old that I am unable to hold onto any lasting impressions of the world outside of my mind. Regardless, I am where dreams prevail; and in the beginning, dreams are surreal snippets, until the soft dawn brightens to the light that allows for a more comprehensive assessment of the world; and in the end, dreams are surreal snippets, until the soft dusk dims to the blackness that disallows even a brief or disjointed assessment of the world. 

Inside the fountain, the water is clear at first, as if the undiluted light of the sun taking on a physical form; a white shimmer with just a hint of blue; and the silent calmness when the last rays from the last star have burnt out in what will be then the end of measureable space and time. But then, further down, it is darker, murkier, an expression in form and texture, like the spirit whispering into the void just at the cusp of time. And from this is a ripple within the water that spreads out from an unseen point nowhere in particular. And when in time the ripple reaches the surface above, and the depths below, there is the father of all waves above, and the mother of all currents below. There is a new ripple born out from the old; and several from that one; and then a countless number in every direction. Then, there is the outline of a beautiful woman crawling out from her own fins; a mermaid singing a lullaby; soft, sweet bubbles spiraling to the surface above, like the fizz in an uncorked bottle of champagne, and to the depths below, like the drunken tears dropped into a lonely flute. Then, the old and the newborn bubbles converge about the head of the mermaid, so that her hair appears as hissing snakes, and her kissable lips as a menopausal snarl. And, at that moment, the mermaid transfigures as a gorgon, as if revealing her truer nature. The last bit of light is gone, so that the water takes on the purplish hue of blood oozing out from insipid wounds. And then there is undiluted blackness, the silent calmness when the last rays from the last star have burnt out in what will be then the end of measureable space and time. 

And then this is all repeated in reverse, as I am pulled up to the surface.

I cannot tell which version of this grand performance precedes or follows the other, as it is as accurate to say that I have sunk to the depths below, as to say that I have arisen to the surface above. 

Does the beautiful mermaid in time transfigure into a gorgon? 

Or does the hideous gorgon in time transfigure into a mermaid? 

And if life is a loop-de-loop, instead of a chronologically straight line (as seems to be the case, the closer that I travel to the obscure, green cloud at the end of the road), then why suggest that this comes before that in time? Or that this is better than that, in a strictly moral sense? Or that this is truer than that, in a strictly ontological sense? 

Frankly, why ask any of these questions at all? Why not just take it all in, like the fireworks raining down from the void in an acid trip? Why not just turn on, tune in, and drop out, while passing the joint around the sparkling campfire on the crest of a still and senseless night?

Why not just indulge in surreal snippets, here and there, like a new baby or an old man on his hands and knees? And have nothing else to say or to think, as the images are flashing incomprehensibly against the void, than perhaps “far out,” or “groovy, man,” or “wow, dude, pass the joint,” or something similarly expressive of all things Woodstock and Birkenstocks?

And so I am crawling in between the Teutonic Tootsie and his Gym Bitch, until I am so young (or old) that they need to drag me the rest of the way. I am able only to cry every now and then and to suck on their fingers. 

And they lay me down in a clearing, not far from their Hobbit house, and wink and giggle a lot, while removing their tie-dyes and their cut offs. 

And I stare at the green cloud that is only a hundred meters or so behind their Hobbit house, trying to imagine what is beyond it, while their tongues are crawling into the cracks of my skin, and their teeth are tearing out the old pits.

And when one is on me, the other is slithering in the sands beside me.

And she lifts her head up from me, and crunches the pits in her cheeks.

And he flares his nostrils before my eyes, and spits the pits to the side.

And as they share my last morsel, I bask in the womb of the noon sun.

And Among These Are Liberty…

I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. John 17:23 (KJV)

Groovy, man, I mumble into the spit drooling out from my open lips.

I am laying in a bed of hot sand; arms outstretched, feet together, like a cross between Christ Jesus and a Beach Bum; and immersed in the hazy glow of a sun that seems to have stopped its trek at the crest of the sky. 

This is so way far out freak, I blubber into a bubble of blood that pops at the right corner of my mouth. 

I am having an epiphany. It is the first in my new life, and there is a soft tingle in my groin that tells me that it is not going to be my last insight. 

You see, in my past life (which is now a few scattered snippets of images and sounds, bobbing as dead corpses back at the fountain), I had imagined that as I neared the end of my journey, the chronological timeline would be curving a bit with every step of mine, until it became a perfect loop. 

And what I had imagined is what I had wrought. 

But now, the last of the old me having been eaten away by the Teutonic Tootsie and his Gym Bitch, I see that the loop is really not a loop at all. It is an arbitrary, misplaced point, unnoticed until you manage to crawl back into it on your own terms. Inside the point, Easter is not followed by Good Friday in three days; and Good Friday is not followed by Easter in three days. Instead, Easter is Good Friday; and Good Friday is Easter. 

I am Christ Jesus. I am the Forbidden Fruit.

I am a Rock. I am a Rolling Stone.

I am life. I am death.

And who else but a god can be all things at once? And, let’s face it, I am not referring to some sort of phony baloney “inner god,” like the soft stirring in the bowels that the New Age Gurus and the Yoga Masters insist is not a stomach flu, but rather an ecologically sound, divine, light energy. I am not referring to an “experience” of the divine, like a fat, menopausal woman on a cliff in Santa Cruz, California will have one day that convinces her that it is a “calling” to be a whale who could not attract a lay if she was the last vagina on earth. Instead, I am thinking about “the” god; the big enchilada; the hunky monkey conductor inside the tight caboose, whatever it takes for me to float serenely above all of the outdated moral considerations that restrain me still from becoming my god.

And so I lay here in a bed of hot sand, triumphant over any morality that does not arise effortlessly from my own imagination. Here, anything bad can be “good,” if I so will. If some timid angel in the conscience remains unconvinced, sourpuss that he is, then it is easy enough for me to say that the bad is no more than a “life experience;” or a “change in perspective;” as harmless, in the end, as donning a new hat for the weekly stroll through the rose garden. If the timid angel persists, then I can remind him that here, where the sun stands still in its perpetual high noon, the only power is the word, the opinion adorned in truth.

And I spoke; a timeless utterance in a breath or a fart; and it was so…

And so the world is standing still; struck right where I want it to be, like a phonograph needle repeating my favorite note, in the best single, on the best record; forever and ever; over and over again; until I am raving mad in my own peculiar pleasures. All this, since I am a freak, when I dream I get what I want.

Like the Wicked Witch of the West, who is still wearing her Woodstock in her fabric and skin, I am in the fabric and skin that I choose. The blood wounds are mine. The bruises are mine. The crucifixion is mine, not even for a fire and brimstone Father in Heaven, and surely not for the pointed fingers down below.

But what about dispensing with the wavy gravy groovy in favor of actual, unimagined, non-abstracted reality; no matter the pain in admitting to yourself that you are not the god you have dreamt yourself to be; no matter the humble pie in acknowledging that the burrito in boots, the sappy sombrero squished by the weight of his own history, is as much a man as you are; no matter the sting in knowing deep down inside that you will never manage on your own accord to grab the plastic sword in the overhead compartment, to shove your baby mama aside, and to slay the dragons of fate and of time? What about your scared-out-of-your-wits admission to the Preacher Pig? What about your savagery in cutting off the chicken head of the Lord Protector? What about protecting the innocent beasts from the sinking bus, and setting free the injured lamb, even though you knew that they would be dead before dawn? You know, all that talk about your unalienable right to do what is right; and all that life-giving blood gushing from your veins into a wilderness wasteland; and all that jazz in the summertime? 

I never would have made it here, if I had not discarded all of that reality back in the fountain, I respond to the last bit of self-doubt still whimpering and whining in a corner of my mind. It was like a lead ball chained to my left ankle, pulling me down to the bottom of the fountain. It had to go, in order for me to be as fully self-realized as one of the far out illusions shimmering in the ripples and the bubbles. Let’s face it, reality had had its turn; but it was not nearly as freeloading fun and fancy-free as it was all cracked up to be. And who wants to be a bleeding mess out in the wet and the cold, when you can step into the old pot farm in your mind and take a toke from your own wavy gravy groovy ocean?

Take a toke and join us, the Teutonic Tootsie insists. 

He is standing over me. He is far out naked and stoned. 

I imagine that he is holding his erect penis in the shade cast by his porky pregnant belly. But, in fact, it is his oversized joint, which he is swaying before his waist as an enticement for me to scramble up to my knees. 

Kneeling in front of his waist, I wrap my lips about his joint and puff, as I am peeking up at his demure face through the wavy clouds of pot smoke. There is a loopy grin plastered on his face, and his eyes are rolling into his head, as if he has just released the biggest fart in history. 

He helps me to my feet and pats me on my back. As he is congratulating me, I feel like a little leaguer who has been handed his plastic trophy and a big slice of pepperoni pizza. 

He escorts me to his Gym Bitch, who is lounging on the stretched, cotton cloth of a wooden framed reclined beach chair. She is giggling up at me, all the while twisting a doobie in her fingers. 

I notice then that we are in a circular space that has been filled with hot beach sand. It is the blindingly white kind that is found in Cancun; and as it is a difficult task right now to think, let alone to conceive the particulars of how all of this sand could have been transported out to the middle of nowhere, I dream that it is a gift from the clouds, just dropped here one morning as if the manna provided the chosen people for their sustenance. 

The Hobbit House is at the twelve o’clock point along this circle. I notice at once that its one door is padlocked shut and that its windows are drawn very tightly. It is swamped in the foreboding air of having been cut off from the rest of the world; a nightmarish haunt in a haze; a chest of memories never again to be mentioned, except implicitly in the insults and smears tossed about in lurid, drunken rages. It is a snoozing ghost; but it is prone to pounce as a beast at the slightest provocation, a possibility that instills a certain dread beyond its white walls and mushroom roof. 

There is a straight path of sand that juts out to the right from the three o’clock point along this circle. It is a corridor to another circle that is the same size as ours, so that from the sky the whole configuration of circles joined by a path would look like a crop circle shaped as a dumbbell. 

The difference is that there is no sand in the right circle, and it is slowly but surely being strangled by sticky weeds back into the primordial nature from which it came. It is as if one-half of a dumbbell has been lost, and the remains of the right circle are the dead scars left behind when grace has been removed once and for all times. 

There are three wooden framed reclined beach chairs, side by side, near the middle of our circle. They face away from the Hobbit House (and the green cloud behind the Hobbit House) and towards the groovy green ocean. There are no beach umbrellas; but that is not a problem, since the hazy sun provides only enough light and warmth to inspire a peachy glow in the skin; a pleasantness in color and texture that is burning off the skin, to be sure, but that is burning so imperceptibly as to appear not to be burning at all.

I am invited to take the center chair…and the unlit doobie on the seat…

Staring up into the sky, I see that the last of the storm clouds have been burnt away. There is nothing above but a clear reflection of the green below it, so that I am able to dream that we are entombed in a womb of leafy marijuana plants; a reefer paradise that can be a wet dream scene in a Cheech and Chong flick; or maybe a way groovy oasis visited by the crew of the Yellow Submarine.

I clench my lips about the end of my doobie, and I lay back on my folded arms. I expect either the Gym Bitch to my right, or the Teutonic Tootsie to my left, to be the groovy groupies that they are and to light my fire. 

But they do not light a match for me.

I look over at the Teutonic Tootsie. He is smoking his half-baked joint. It is the same joint that I had puffed, while kneeling before his well-shaded waist at the spot of my own, personal, little Golgotha. While its end could be used to light my end, there does not seem to be any inclination on the part of the giant to awaken from his own reverie long enough to do so. 

I look over at the Gym Bitch. She is laying back with an unlit joint in her lips, giggling at something or other in her loopy day dream, apparently waiting for Godot to drop by one of these days and to light her joint for her.

Do you have a light? I ask finally of either one of them.

They are way too groovy to answer me. 

Really, do you have a light?

Again, there is no answer, so I recline unto my folded arms, and emulate the Gym Bitch to my right. Maybe when Godot arrives he will light mine too, as frankly that would be the so way far out groovy thing for him to do for his freak brother in need. Maybe he will stay around for a while, and light our joints, one after another, until the purple pigs in lace fly to the south for the wintertime…

Just smile, and you’ll make the sunshine brighter…

At first, I am not sure if the Gym Bitch is speaking into my right ear, or if I am imagining her silly girl voice. Or maybe it is some sort of far out telepathy, and she is the little witch from Escape from Witch Mountain.

Go ahead. Just smile, and you’ll make the sunshine…

Be quiet, Gym Bitch. You’re invading my beauty sleep.

That is definitely the snarl of the Teutonic Tootsie. It is not coming from out of my own imagination; and I am forced to sit up and to acknowledge that, in spite of the groovy smoke petering out from his joint, he is directing a fierce rage towards the Gym Bitch on the other side of me. I feel like a misfit who has awakened in a no-man’s land, as the Huns are launching shells onto the French.

Gym Bitch giggles, but she does not finish her sentence. 

Or maybe I giggle, and I do not finish my sentence.

You’re a god now; just like we are, the Teutonic Tootsie says to me once he has settled down to his relaxed groove. And like any god in the heavens, you can command the sun and the wind to do your bidding. So just lay back and tell the sun to light your fire. 

Why doesn’t that work for her? I ask, as I gesture over to the Gym Bitch, who still has an unlit joint dangling out from her incessant giggles.

Well, she’s not really a god. She’s just a girl, the Teutonic Tootsie snaps. 

I do not want to pick at his scab, so I let his snap linger for a while in the smoke without offering a response of my own.  

Instead, I plaster a goofy grin onto my face; and I watch as the Teutonic Tootsie is caressing his own fat stomach, as if there is a baby tootsie stretching and kicking inside of his tight skin. I cannot see his penis (or even if he has one) dangling from his waist on the other side of the mound. 

As if catching up with my goofy grin somewhere in the haze above us, all of a sudden the Teutonic Tootsie turns to me. He is folding his thighs together, so it is still impossible for me to make out what he may have in terms of gangly manliness. He lounges his left arm over his side, like a queen in a demure pose, waiting petulantly for a slave to feed her a sour grape plucked off the old vine.

She’s a cock tease, he laments. Frankly, for the life of me, I have lost all memory from where she came. Maybe she’s been with me all along, like an old pain in the gut. Maybe one night, when I was a far out freak in a dream, she all of a sudden popped out from inside my bowels; and then I discovered her in the early morning dew swimming about in my blood and stool. We gods really need to be careful of what we dream, because our dreams always crawl out from our asses and, sometimes, at the most inopportune moments. But, anyway, I never imagined that she would be such a cock tease. I have no idea where thatcomes from in the end. Maybe she’s a cock tease in the same way that she’s a giggling goon or is unable to light her own joint. Maybe it’s all because she’s stupid and weak, like how all the burnt races in the world walk about with big ass grins on their faces, and can’t seem to light their own dreams if their lives depended on it. But the real question is: Why am I bothered? Think about it. God Almighty is on His Heavenly Throne, surrounded by His Seraphim, and with His Martyrs, and Confessors, and Sappy Sack Virgins singing forevermore, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, Heaven and Earth are full of thy Glory,” maybe throwing in a fine Alleluia chorus now and then, but for the most part never changing their praise hymn to a disco beat or a rhythm and blues wail. Well, He really may dig it for, I don’t know, maybe the first three million years. But then what about the year three million and one, huh? Don’t you think He might just be a little bored with the same old refrain and verse by then? Or maybe by the year five million, two hundred thousand, and fifty three; or the year ten billion, thirteen million, two hundred thousand, and sixty three; or who knows? There are a lot of years, one after another, in everlasting praise. And how must all that praise prattle sound in His head? In comparison to His own perfection, it cannot but sound tinny and out of tune, forever and a day falling short of His own glory, like Mozart sitting before a rendition of his best opera sung by a litter of half-baked wiener dogs.

The Teutonic Tootsie yawns, and I see that the gold teeth at the back of his mouth are as shiny blond as his curly locks. 

He reaches over with his left hand and caresses my leg. There is a loopy, lazy feel to his touch, as if he is unaware that my leg is separate from his own.

At first, I comforted myself with the thought that the cock tease was my own shadow. But the shadow does not extend far enough at high noon; and it is never going to extend any further at perpetual high noon. It’s going to remain a little bit of shade by your ankles, nipping you like a wiener dog, and yapping all noon long about this or that. And then there are those cursed giggles. Someone once said something or other about having a helpmate. He said: You haven’t so much lost your screw, as gained your drywall to be screwed. But whenever I am forced to listen to her giggles, I cannot but be reminded that I have lost, well, I don’t know what, but something. It’s like reclining on your beach chair; looking out over your own, personal, little ocean; lighting your very best joint; and yet knowing all that time that the pot has lost its former savor. That you’re such a beach bum you’ve allowed yourself to be tricked by your dealer into buying the subpar shit they sell to darkies and first timers. It’s like losing your potency and then giggling about what you have lost. But does God Almighty on His Heavenly Throne giggle, when He realizes how tinny and out of tune is the choir huddling about His toes? Does He think it’s funny to be surrounded by His inferiors, like a gentleman who awakens one morning to discover that he has been wandering in a jungle, and being watched by a bunch of nasty Mayans? Cursed, no. He growls some epithet (which is so far above the understanding of the simpleton singers at His toes that they mistaken it to be a heartwarming sign of divine love for all the furry critters in the marsh); snaps for one of the Seraphim to fetch Him His bag of tricks; and hurls fire and brimstone, or torrential rain storms, or re-runs of Jake and the Fat Man, upon the loopy and the lubed alike. And as for a blue-eyed gentleman in a fine, khaki suit, he knocks up each of the Mayan chicks he snags in the bush with enough of his syphilis to father a race of munchkins; and he thrusts his bayonet into the bubble butts of the Mayan men, turning them all into grinning desk clerks at resort hotels, and wiggling pool boys who fetch your martinis. And why all the folly and fuss, you may ask? ‘Cause when we gods are of the mind to knock a few heads, we can create little oases for ourselves, sort of like how God Almighty on His Heavenly Throne strikes down the dummies far below to provide more harpists for His Kingdom of Rainbows and Clouds; or how the blue-eyed gentleman in a fine, khaki suit burns down the Mayan temples to make room for cathedrals and beach hotels. Sure, we may suffer the pangs of a guilty conscience, now and then. So we pay sugar-free tribute to the sad sacks, which we have vanquished. God Almighty on His Heavenly Throne allows for all the dead to have their tombstones and bouquets. The blue-eyed gentleman in a fine, khaki suit will put up a touching display in the lobby of one of his hotels in commemoration of the Mayan Calendar, and sell two-for-one fruity cocktails by the pool on the Last Night of the Mayan Calendar. As for me, I stop myself from turning the Gym Bitch into a Punching Bag; or, at least, I sometimes manage to stop myself. Anyway, I let her nip at my ankles; and when I am out of earshot, I let her giggle as a gaggle of geese. But, for the most part, we do not suffer the pangs of a guilty conscience; and so we are free to perfect our oases, crafting a wall here, draping a curtain there, so that we may more or less forget what we have lost; block out the tinny and the out of tune; and relish in the wavy gravy groovy dream that, in a perpetual high noon, the pot will never lose its punch.

The Teutonic Tootsie finishes his joint by blowing his last cloud of smoke directly into my face. He grins dreamily; returns to his back; and flicks the stub into the first row of marijuana plants in front of us. 

We are all silent for a while.

And I go back to imagining Godot, now clad in a fine, khaki suit, stopping by to light our joints. I cannot quite picture his face. Instead, I relish in his soft and gentlemanly manner, as if he is a matinee idol in a silent romance bending over to kiss the giggling damsel, and then with a subtle wink and a nod offering the same to me. I blush; and I am about to take his fire, when all of a sudden…

The Teutonic Tootsie flares his nostrils. He is a pissed bull again, though this time his ire is not directed at the crazed giggles by my right side. He has to contend with a much greater problem; something large enough in his own mind anyway to force him out from the comforts of his beach chair and to the rear of the Hobbit House behind us. 

I am drawn to follow him. I continue to dangle the unlit doobie from my mouth, as I stumble out from my beach chair, and hop over the glistening white sand to the rear of the Hobbit House.

There I find the Teutonic Tootsie hunched over what I had thought to be his leaf blower. Instead, it is a fog blower connected by a snake-like hose to an odd-shaped, biodiesel-fueled generator, a claptrap that looks and sounds like a hybrid cross of an accordion and a trash compactor. 

And beside the monstrous machine is a wooden post wrapped in chains.

I recoil from the wooden post, folding my hands anxiously, and shuffling my swollen feet into the sand, like the Preacher Pig trying in vain to stomp out its past-life memory of a burning stake. I am as frightened, as I am ashamed, to be affected still by some memory or emotion from my previous life way beyond the green groovy. I wonder if I left everything behind at the fountain after all…

What’s the problem? I ask the Teutonic Tootsie apprehensively, like I am a wide-eyed boy approaching his frustrated father and anticipating a firm spank when all has been said and done.

The Teutonic Tootsie glares back at me.

I stop cold in my tracks, as if I am about to be scolded.

He finally gestures toward the green cloud in front of us, and returns to whatever he is doing with the fog blower.

I look into the green cloud. It is a wall reaching up from the earth a rock throw away from the twelve o’clock point of our sand circle. From this close of a vantage point, it seems to be touching the crest of the clear sky, and tickling the bottom rays of the hazy sun.

At first glance, it is as it is meant to be: a grand gesture against our past memories, an impenetrable barrier to those ghosts who arise, now and then, to remind us of what we have squandered.

But, as I look more closely, I see that it is dissipating. I can trace, barely at first, but then more clearly with every passing moment, the faint outlines of a mountain. And then a lush garden at the base of the mountain; an awesomely beautiful jungle of untamed beasts and foliage, cascading about a fruited plain as if a living song of praise for the timeless mud and stone reaching up into the heavens. And then a bubbling brook, twisting in and among the untamed beasts and foliage, not as a stream unto itself, but as the tranquil rhythm for which all of the rest of creation provides an unimaginably moving melody. And beneath it all is a heart rhythm; and beneath that a spirit tone; an unheard note that is in and for all of life; a rapturous possibility, as deeply soulful as it is lightly airy; a first break of sunlight from behind the farthest horizon, beyond where even the imagination dares to tread, undiluted by the grand opinions of the fairest men. 

What is that? I blurt out, like a wide-eyed boy finally getting to the front of the line and witnessing the long, white beard and cherubic cheeks of a Santa Claus in a bustling department store mall.

The Teutonic Tootsie is annoyed. He flares his nostrils, and snarls his lips into an unheard epithet, but then returns his eyes to the fog blower.

Isn’t that Eden? I ask timidly, as if I am aware suddenly that I am not in front of a Santa Claus in a bustling department store mall, so much as a shallow breath outside of a sanctuary, and a tabernacle door upon an altar before me is slowly creaking open by its own accord.

Like an unleashed bull with his head in his chest, and angry spittle flying out from his nose and lips, the Teutonic Tootsie flares at me with his heavy fog blower in his hands. He slams it into my stomach, and knocks me into the post.

He leers over me; a brute beast that behaves as if he has a new creation spewing vomit inside of his fat stomach; holding his fog blower, metal stiff and upright, in between his muscular thighs. He has a stupid look on his face, like a disjointed string of thoughts is flashing somewhere within his foggy grey matter over which he has neither control nor comprehension. 

When he is tired staring me down, he slumps his shoulders and lowers his fog blower to his right side. He stares into the green cloud for a sacred moment (though the spittle dripping down from his chin makes him look much more like a dumb cow staring off at a bale of hay in the distance, than an intelligent man acknowledging, however dimly, his past), and then lowers his eyes to the white sand pebbles in between his toes.

Sure, you can call it Eden, or Shangri La, or Timbuktu. It is Guatemala, a step across the barbed wire fence at the end of the line, he comments wistfully while returning his flog blower to the generator.

I pull myself up on the chains wrapped about the post. 

But as I am too beaten to walk, I lean against the post and stare into the green cloud, clamoring in my broken heart for nothing more than a brief sense, a soft flutter from a passing breeze, of the grandeur that had caressed me only a few minutes ago. I long now even more than I had beheld then; and a distant, unwelcomed cry in my mind tells me that this is the way of the world, that loss triumphs over gain, and despair over hope, and death over life, no matter what green cloud we may generate between ourselves and the truth just steps away.

And so I see the faint outlines of a mountain and a jungle. I even manage to make out a bubbling brook, snaking in and among the beasts and the foliage, and offering a sort of tranquil base to the flurry of life above it. But there is no music there, no heart rhythm, and no spirit tone. It is beautiful, to be sure, but no more so than the wilderness behind us in the depths of Chiapas. It is eroding a tiny bit more than it is blossoming. And in tens of millions of years, it will not blossom at all, but fall into the cracks of a volcanic eruption, or be swept aside by the winds of a hurricane. And then it will be forgotten, even within the high and mighty grey matter of the Divine Mind Himself. 

The Teutonic Tootsie is focusing so intently on the white sand pebbles in between his toes that I wonder if he is counting every one of them. But even as he attempts to avoid the ghostly impressions bleeding through the green cloud, it is clear enough in the wrinkle in his brow that he is caught up in his memory, and as mired in his loss as freed in the world that he has created for himself. 

He turns back to me, and he gestures with his fog blower in the direction of the green cloud. There is a blank sadness in his eyes, as he blurts out his one and only song in a voice that is as cardboard thin as the hazy sun above and the groovy green sea washing up against his sand circle.  

Over there, I was a prince among thieves. As hated by the competitors in the trade, as loved by the peasants in the fields. I leveraged well; invested in a chain of fitness clubs; won “Señor Guatemala” a few times, even though it was obvious enough that I was a Gringo from Nebraska; and charmed the stars away with the likes of Latin First Ladies in my right arm, and Debutantes of the Night in my left arm. I had it all, man. I had it all. Even my Gym Bitch, well, she just didn’t annoy me over there. She didn’t talk so much. And she never giggled, at least not so often. And she could handle the hard stuff, better than any bitch in my shaggy doghouse, like she was some sort of atomic-powered Hoover finished off with a Debbie-Does-Dallas suction cup for a hose. Then, one day, the hippie cock tease introduced me to a “friend” of hers. I should have known better. He was a snake-in-the-grass dealer with a waxy mustache and a law degree. And in the end, he turned out to be an undercover agent. Who would have thought the Mayans in Pinstripe Suits were going to start to enforce their own laws; and not just enforce them in general, but against me? I ended up in exile; my life saved in return for an everlasting debt of service to a cartel on this side of the border fence. My Gym Bitch tagged along, and she started to giggle, and to become an annoying shadow of mine. And, then, I recognized that she was not the same as the hippie cock tease I had known way back when. I don’t know. It was like she was a new creation, born out from the ache in my ribs, an extension of my own sorrows. But then I recognized: If she was a new creation, then I was a new and improved creator. That was the first day I saw the hazy sun at high noon, and it has been there ever since. But I still harbored the sorrows. After all, my old life in Guatemala remained a few steps away. All would have been lost, if I had not savored a particularly fine joint one night. I fell into the deepest sleep and had a crazy ass dream that seemed to snake all over the place. But, as a sign of my godliness, I managed to put all of the pieces together. I had a blueprint formed in my mind of how to build an impenetrable wall with a fog blower. I had to do a lot of fast-talking to get the cartel to provide me the parts. They think it is a natural wall to hide our trade from the Mayans in Pinstripe Suits (and also from their allies in the United States’ Drug Enforcement Agency). They have no idea; none of them; that the real reason for the natural wall is to restrain Guatemala from imposing itself on my new life. I rolled another joint from the same leaves and, in another hiss of a dream, figured out how to build a replica of my shaggy doghouse and to carve out a monument to my bodybuilding prowess. I can be a god, I said to myself. I can be a pretender to my own past, and a proper heir to my own future. It only takes a little bit of know-how and elbow grease, and not to be forgotten a particularly potent strain of pot to clear the mind of all those inconvenient facts and moral absolutes. I am, as I dream myself to be (he says, returning to his fog blower); and I am not going to let anything stand in the way of that (he finishes, switching on his fog blower and walking toward the cloud).

I continue to lean against the post, heaving still from the black and blue plastered across my stomach, as I watch the Teutonic Tootsie carrying his loud, obnoxious fog blower into the green cloud. In the distance, the hose connecting the fog blower to the generator resembles a chain stretched to its limit, so that the Teutonic Tootsie looks as if he is chained to whatever sentient mind is alive and well inside the wheezing claptrap by my side. 

For a god-man intent on hiding out from his past; transforming his loss of Eden into little more than vague images shimmering in and out of a green cloud behind his Hobbit House; he has indulged in his memories a lot just now. I wish that I had not heard his life story (particularly the part about him being born in Nebraska, since the idea that he had been raised as a simple farm boy, adorned in his goldilocks and overalls, frankly takes all the mystique away from his huge muscles and bullish violence), as I now question if I am as close to Eden as I had imagined. How can a god-man be so defined and burdened by his own life story playing out in his mind; his own mortality remaining a discernible mark, even in his boundless dreams; if he is only steps away from Eden? Would not the aura of Eden still reach out to him, dulling in him his wretched feeling of loss at having been exiled from his glory? Must it be the darkest, when it is nearest to dawn?  

And I wonder if ever he will smoke the right joint and dream up a way of building a green cloud inside of his mind, so that his memories may vanish into the same groovy haze that prevails everywhere else. 

You know, I swallowed every one of your pits, the little girl voice teases from behind me. 

I turn away from the green cloud to see the Gym Bitch walking up to my side. She is giggling, as always, and the unlit doobie continues to dangle lamely from her mouth, as if held there by the same unseen force tickling her tummy.

I notice that I too am clenching still on my unlit doobie. Strangely, it was not knocked out from my mouth, when the Teutonic Tootsie swatted me to the earth. It is as if the same unseen force is manipulating me, though in my case it is not giving me the giggles, so much as a vague sense that something is terribly off so near to Eden (or maybe not so near to Eden) and that I should be careful.

I’m glad I tasted well enough, I comment playfully, while trying to figure out what is behind her overwrought grin and loony giggles. 

She slithers her flat breast against mine, and nudges her boyish forehead into my face, so that the ends of our unlit doobies kiss one another. There is an awkward sweatiness in the gesture, like two adolescent boys in a stall blushing warmly from their indulgence with one another. 

She steps back, and looks over every inch of my face. 

I feel as if I am being raped, much more so by her scrutinizing look, than by whatever happened between the three of us in the morning hours. 

You were a fine coconut. But now you’re one of us, as much the crunchy pits in our stomachs, as we are in yours, she reflects with a hideous cackle that resurrects the Wicked Witch of the West in my mind. 

I don’t understand, I stammer.

Just smile, and you’ll make the sunshine…

Gym Bitch, what have I told you? The Teutonic Tootsie interrupts with an ugly snarl, as he returns suddenly from his lonely trek through the green cloud, and switches off his fog blower. 

Wow. I can’t see anything, the Gym Bitch comments approvingly, looking into the green cloud in the manner of a little girl at a Christmas store window. 

I glance over in that direction. The green cloud does not look any thicker than before, and I wonder if the Teutonic Tootsie accomplished anything at all with his fog blower inside the shimmering wall, besides making a lot of ruckus.

Yes. I added enough shimmer and shine to keep the old ghosts out of our hair for a while, the Teutonic Tootsie struts, shoulder pressing his fog blower in the air above his blond curly locks as an indication of triumph.

But I’ll tell you what I have seen, the Gym Bitch gushes into his muscular chest. Our third here is more than a coconut. He’s one of us; our long lost boy.

I know, the Teutonic Tootsie responds, without even looking at me.

And with that, he drops his fog blower into the sand, snatches me by my arms, and pulls me against the post. I am too weak to resist, as he ensnares me in the chains; and I am too disillusioned, even to offer a little prayer to myself.  

And the Pursuit of Happiness

I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. John 10:9 (KJV)

Something opens inside of my own mind. I am not sure what it is. I know only that it terrifies me even more than the wooden post to which I am chained at the moment, as it is a living, breathing beast from my own primordial past.

It is a memory. I am at the podium, looking down at my notes, preparing to lead the blue hairs in another muddled rendition of the Pledge of Allegiance, and then to cue the accordionist to launch into the Star Spangled Banner, when the Ron Paul Nuts burst through our door. I am not sure what happens next; but in the end I am hogtied and muzzled to the American Flag way off in the corner somewhere, a spectator at my own pageant, a girl waiting in the shadows for a beautiful boy to scrawl his name on her dance card. 

This is what happens when doors are opened.

And then the next thing I know, the Teutonic Tootsie is standing in front of my face. He is flaring his nostrils, pushing his air into my nose, and releasing a guttural sound that reminds me of the spirit bubbling up from inside the void, as opposed to the spirit descending onto the void.

It is chaos giving birth to order, rather than order burying over chaos. 

And as we are wrapped in a perpetual high noon, a groovy haze that is as suffocating in the midst as it is dissipating along the edge, this inverse creation is real, and the creation that prevails everywhere else is imaginary

The ghosts are bleeding through the green cloud, haunting the groove to instill a recurring shudder of fear, or a spark of violence, or a gaggle of giggles. And from out of this chaos, there is a kind of order; perhaps not the kind that is going to make any sense outside of this new creation, except here and there as the playful splurge of a surrealist, or the wry abandonment of meter and rhyme by a radical poet; but the kind that cannot but prevail for we who choose to be a few steps outside of the Eden from which we have been exiled (or, as may be the case, as far from the Eden from which we have been exiled as is imaginable in a far out, wavy gravy groovy mind). And from out of this kind of order, there is a suffocating dread; imperceptible stillness; but over time, squeezing out the mindful peace of a slumbering god-man, in deference to the mindless horror of an awakening beast-man. And the dread is this: that we are as much the ghosts as the ghosts that are haunting us; as weak as the weakness we belittle; and as dead as the death we avoid, no matter the green cloud, or the padlocked door, or the drawn drapes, or any of the other contrivances inspired inside a lit joint.

I name you Legacy, as there is nowhere else for you to run, the Teutonic Tootsie snarls into my lips and tongue.

He is so out of breath that he is barely able to whisper. But his omen hits me like a vicious slap to my mouth, an abusive rage that is thinly masquerading as an act of parental discipline. And like every swat hidden in a caress, it is the first lie in a lifetime of lies; because in the beginning, as in the end, the father may strut about, as if he is freely naming his son; but he is as fated to give him the name that he does, as the son is to live out that name.

Ghosts beget ghosts.

And the weak beget the weak.

And the dead beget the dead.     

The Teutonic Tootsie steps back from me. He looks over at his Gym Bitch and smiles strangely, as if he is imparting to her one of the unspeakable secrets that has been bottled up for as long as either one of them can remember. 

I’m going to fleece him, he announces, trying to resurrect his own voice, but still so out of breath that he manages no more than a ghostly whisper. 

The Gym Bitch leaps forward in delight. 

She is about to wipe her tears into the chest of the Teutonic Tootsie; an ecstatic gesture that would have been reminiscent of a good, little girl on early Christmas morning finding the same beautiful doll under the Christmas Tree for which she had longed in the Christmas Store window; when he smacks her with a look that says, Don’t mess with my curly locks, Gym Bitch. 

And so she turns to me, and smothers me with her giggling sobs.

You’re going to be fleeced, she bleats through the stream of tears falling from her eyes and over her gangly chin.         

Sheared and salted, the Teutonic Tootsie adds menacingly.

So we can eat you again, and again, and again, the Gym Bitch concludes, wrapping her arms around the post and caressing my heavy chest with her own.

The Teutonic Tootsie hunches his chin into his chest; looks into the sand in between his toes; flares his nostrils three times; and walks off. He is a bull in pursuit of his prey; a beast-man bleeding through his god-man exterior, as he is more consumed with his unspeakable hunger at the time, than in whatever fine and measured purpose he may attribute to his own action.

In the end, even Pontius Pilate is caught up in the blood cry of the crowd and discovers that there is a queer, but savory, taste in his mouth; and an odd, but excited, quiver in his eyes; in response to each and every one of the lashes inflicted upon the King of the Jews. 

The Gym Bitch steps away from me and dances in a circle, swaying both of her arms above her head, and hissing through her clenched teeth at the hazy sun above her. She is a goddess awakened, but alive only in her animal lusts, so that she also is a beast-woman bleeding through her goddess-woman exterior in a surreal splash of wretched beauty. She is about to unveil her sacred story; all that is dead about to be stirred into a dreamy similitude of life; a solitary, grey rose about to blossom into whatever beautiful red she may imagine for herself. 

I glance over at the green cloud. It is dissipating more quickly with every passing second; so that, by now, I am able to see the luscious wilderness that is just beyond the border, as if looking through a grainy film. Everything is readily observable, except the colors seem to be muted by the passage of time.

And then I remember what I had realized back on the bus: If this is Eden; or, to be more accurate, if this is what passes for Eden in the hazy imaginations of the Teutonic Tootsie and his Gym Bitch, then this is the past.

This is what has been lost…

This is what is fleeting in an inconsolable mind…

And the abundance of life over there is a chorus of ghosts…

And with the swaying of her arms, and the hissing through her teeth, the Gym Bitch is conjuring each and every ghost to assemble about her dance circle and to pay homage to the sacred story she is about to tell.

And she is conjuring me…

Since I too am a ghost…

A ghost in chains…

The Gym Bitch swoons down to the exact center of her dance circle. She sits upright; crosses her legs; and inhales deeply, as if drowning her lungs in the sweet hallucinogen from an invisible peyote pipe. She whispers, as if she is now inside of herself, and considers that place to be the first and the last sanctuary in the whole of the universe.

I knew happiness once, she intones to her assembly. After I awakened to my new life on this side of the fence, my man knew me in a soft shadow; an old and out of the way hole of water and dust shaded by a pair of enormous leaves; like oversized fig leaves; or like overlapping wings of a Seraphim Angel. It was a Good Friday; or perhaps an Easter; I don’t know, all the days are as if the same day. We crept into the hole of water and dust, because we were ashamed of all that we had lost. And from out of our tears came a boy; kicking and screaming; hating the womb in which he learned that the unimagined life is really no more than a prison for the stupid and the weak. He crawled out in a stream of blood, determined not to cower to the prison number that had been invisibly tattooed onto his back before the beginning of time. And when my man first looked into his eyes, and saw the rebellious grit inflamed in his pupils, he knew that he had been born directly of his own loins. My man turned to me and pronounced in his typically loving manner: You had been no more than a fleshy receptacle; a soft and gooey patch of soil in which to plant my living seed; and, therefore, I want this boy to be known as Loins. And, indeed, Loins waxed strong as his father. In time, he learned the trade so well, that he became our farmer, thus freeing my man to smoke and to dream in the haze of the high noon. He despised me, as it is his freedom to do. But he adored his father; and they knew each other in the same hole of water and dust in which he had been conceived…

For a moment, I mentally step out from the assembly. 

Neither one of my captors seems old enough to be the parent of a grown man. I had thought that they were each a decade or so younger than my thirty-nine years, and really no more than babes in mental and emotional acuity.

Perhaps my own lying eyes deceive me. Eden is the past, when observed from the outside. But it is timeless inside. And is it inconceivable to the dreams of a self-awakened god, that some of that timelessness should sprinkle over the fence and onto those who would presume to live steps away (or, as instead may be the case, to live as far away as imaginable)? Are not the living dead the very expressions of the fountain of youth; forever alive to a sun that is standing still in its own haze, forever dead to a moon that waxes and wanes among the stars?

And then, one day, my man turns to his Loins and says with a wink and a nod: It’s time for you to learn how to be a god. They both look at me and smile like two Cheshire Cats. I fall into a spasm of giggles; so many I can’t remember how they each take me by my right hand, like their giving me away at a solemn wedding ceremony, and walk me over to the hole of water and dust. Oh, I am a hippie-dippy, to be sure, so much so I could not pull aside the leaves and crawl into the “love space” untouched by the sun. I am rolling my eyes and giggling a number, so my man is forced to go back for his fog blower and to swat me upon the side of my head. All the while his Loins is whispering to me: Just Smile, and you’ll make the sunshine brighter. Soon enough, my ear is swollen from the old love swat, and I can’t hear his Loins whispering to me. Poor, innocent Loins, he is forced to yell in between his pointed thrusts: Just Smile, and you’ll make the sunshine brighter. But, for all his shouting, I don’t hear anything, except maybe a garbled hiss that sounds like the pee of a constipated geezer, a spit-spit then a wail of silence, followed by another spit-spit, or perhaps an all out spurt. And I smile and giggle the whole time, but the sun never makes so much as a polite meet-and-greet at our little cocktail party. Later, I figure out that the rhythm method does not make a whole lot of sense, when the sun does not move. I have to tell my man that his son is going to be a father…and a brother…sort of like a West Virginia family reunion that consists of only one person. My man flares his nostrils, looks down at the sand in between his toes, and blurts: Oops. And that is the name of the tiptoe twerp who stumbles meekly out from my prison cell. I bundle him into my breast, but there’s not enough milk there to feed a snail on a starvation diet. So my man and his Loins look at each other, smile again like a pair of Cheshire Cats, and say that they’ll feed him plenty of milk. And not just any old milk, but the protein fortified kind, shot straight out of the spout. Each and every time they feed him, they look at each other and say “Oops” and then fall into fits of laughter. Well, Oops hardly grows into a child. He is really just a scrawny mess of downcast eyes and flapping wrists. My man says: Oops is never going to be more than a girl in a boy’s body, so we’ll let him play with the little sheep that wander into our groovy green sea from the wilderness. His Loins just smiles and says: Bleat, Bleat, Bleat…And I giggle non-stop, ‘till my man sees fit to hit me over the head again with his fog blower. The little sheep that wander into our groovy green sea never last more than a few days. They are torn apart; bleeding innards wrapped in patches of fleece; what is left behind to die alone, when the predators have abandoned them to claw at something meatier within the bush. But Oops pays attention to each of them, as if they matter, and holds them close to his chest when they are struggling to take in their last breaths. In the end, he drags them back into the wilderness from which they emerged, and buries them just beyond our fence. I know, ‘cause I followed him from far away whenever he started to pull at one of the dead sheep. I’m not all that sure why I felt the need to follow him. I guess, in a way, I was pursuing happiness; just a warm and fuzzy something or other that had nothing to do with feeling groovy; whenever I skipped out on my man and watched the scrawny boy tugging at the head of the dead sheep and swatting away the flies. One day, it really occurred to me: From a distance, Oops looks like a boy lost at sea; and his tugging at the head of the sheep makes him look like he is bobbing on the waves; except that, in a way which I cannot explain, he is the only one among us who is really going somewhere. He is not lounging, or cackling, or toking on a joint (my man makes him try once; but his scrawny lungs can’t take the smoke; so he coughs as much as I giggle; and my man is forced to knock him aside with the fog blower); he is not caught up in the haze of an endless high noon. I began to observehim from a farther distance each time, so that it would be that much easier for my little, hippie-dippy mind to imagine that he is the one and only sailor going out to sea to bury his friend. My man observed me oncecovering my eyes, and holding my breath, to search the horizon for the lonely sailor. And what are you looking for now, Gym Bitch? He yelled into my bad ear. I giggled, so he pushed me aside to look for himself. And when he saw what I had seen, he smiled and called for his Loins to look as well. They winked and nodded at each other. It occurred to me that they resembled a pair of oversized munchkins, who had lost their beautiful sombreros a long time ago, and did not want anyone to wear a sombrero if they could not. They would be like gods, if they could snatch off any sombreros from heads that were scrawnier than theirs. So they ran out into the groovy green as if little boys splashing in the waves. I watched from a far, as they pursued their pinprick dream toward the horizon. For a long time, they were apart from each other, bobbing about aimlessly in the narrow rows of marijuana plants, and not getting any closer to their target than if they had stayed back in the sand circle with me. But then they bumped into each other; joined hands; and appeared to develop a method for not retracing their old steps. In this way, over time, they cut down on the area of the groovy green still to be covered; and they mentally transformed the infinite into the manageable…and then the managed…since far out munchkins in pursuit of their pinprick dream will take what they can have. I wanted to pursue as well. I wandered into the groovy green and, slithering near the ocean floor so as not to be seen above the waves, went in a straight line to where I knew the lonely sailor would be burying his friend. I came out from the sea on the other side and hid behind a large leaf that hung down from a branch like a curtain. I remained on our side of the fence, but only a breath away from the makeshift sheep cemetery. Oops emerged from the bush, pulling the corpse in his care like a burnt slave dragging his cotton home. He was about to step on the fence line at a point where the barbed wire had been cut away, when from out of a whirlwind my man and his Loins descended upon his scrawny limbs. We saw you sneaking away from your freedom, my man yelled in between his deep breaths. Why would a scrawny tiptoe twerp renounce his freedom? What do you think, Loins? Loins grabbed Oops by his head; twisted his downcast eyes into his own; and screamed: Bleat, Bleat, Bleat…And I had to slap myself to stop my old giggles from resurfacing at that moment. Managing finally to control his breaths and to stand upright in all his glistening glory, my man continued: Loins said all that needed to be said. Were you listening just now? Oops cried in silence, as if trapped inside of his weakness. Were you listening just now? Oops attempted to spit out his reply, but failed. Were you listening just now? Oops’ knees buckled, and he fell out from Loins’ grip into a hole of water and dust beside the corpse. My man stood tall over the whimpering weakling. Just like a girl, he said after a moment, at a loss of words the one time you are told to speak. My man shot his old Cheshire smile over to Loins and then knelt on one knee beside Oops. Truly, Loins said all that needed to be said, he commented. Loins took this cue; knelt beside my man; stared down at Oops; and screamed: Bleat, Bleat, Bleat…and a line snapped somewhere; and my man and his Loins fell onto their backs in wild convulsions of laughter and lust. When they returned to their feet, my man had an idea, which he communicated to his Loins with no more than a queer look in his eyes. Loins nodded in agreement; lifted the corpse upon his shoulders; and, ascending his wild eyes into a solemn prayer, screamed: Bleat, Bleat, Bleat…He then stepped over the fence line and laid the corpse over a stump. You’ll never be a man; but maybe, if you watch, then you’ll learn what it means to be a god in heat, my man said to Oops. Loins fingered the fleeced butthole staring up at him from the stump. He turned back to his father for approval. And then he did what he had been destined to do since before time…

So on the other side of the freedom ocean, we meet our fate, I mumble, looking away from the sacred storyteller for a moment to stare in anguish at all the beauty beyond the border. We pursue our freedom, but then discover on an unfamiliar shore that it is not ours at all. We pursue our happiness, but we reap sorrow. We pursue life, but we stumble absently into the grave reserved for us. And all this, because a fallen angel decided as a joke once to create the whole universe and then to use its sticky, black wings to bend it into a repeated loop.

I am drawn away from the beauty beyond the border to a sand pebble on my right toe. It is one among many thousands; but, in my mind, it is the one on which to focus, because it alone is the singular point in which the black-winged angel resides. And if I magnify this singular point in my mind many times, I view a black-winged angel sitting on a throne. Its white trousers hang over its ankles so that there is nothing to obstruct it from its self-indulgences. And if I magnify this scene in my mind many times, I view a sticky spit-spit dripping out from its spout every now and then; sinking into its white trousers; and disappearing into the fibers of its white socks, before it has an opportunity to congeal as a sticky puddle beside its fashionable loafers. And if I magnify this sticky spit-spit in my mind many times, I view the universal loop as in fact a singular event; so that it is not correct to say that freedom loops into fate, and fate loops into freedom, as to say that freedom is fate, and fate is freedom. The idea that freedom and fate are in opposition to one another is just that: an idea; an illusion; a trick of the mind; a bit of play with which the black-winged angel passes its time on its throne. Any and all oppositions are illusions; therefore, reality is dream; fact is opinion; life is death. There is no progression, as if we are not in Eden already, but progressing toward Eden. There is no awakening, as if we are not gods and goddesses already, but awakening to our divinity. We are at the end, before we begin. We are annihilated, before we are imagined. We are a seed masturbated into a dead sock, before we are a seed planted into the living soil. Where there is no opposition, there is only futility; the limbo haze of a perpetual high noon; and a story that is as sacred as it is profane, and as inevitable in its conclusion, as it is free to unfold in one direction or another. 

Only a god may look at a single point and imagine a black-winged angel…

Or a madman may look at a single point and view a black-winged angel…

And my creeping fear is that I am shifting from the former to the latter…

Or have been the latter all along…

I drop my chin into my chest. I know that there is no point in listening to the sacred storyteller any further, as I cannot learn anything from her that I am not already. I am in Eden; I am near Eden; I am far from Eden; I never started a trip to Eden; I am incapable of being aware that there is even an Eden to which to travel. And all of these ideas are true, as nothing is truer than anything else.

And so I have no alternative but to find peace in my madness, rest in my fears, and life in my deaths. I have no alternative, as there are no alternatives. 

And so I listen, as attentive as absent, without a preference for fact over fancy; or truth over opinion; or hope over despair; or life over death. I listen as a god in his crown of thorns, but, even more so, as a madman in his silver bells.

And the sacred storyteller continues, even as we are all at the end now…     

Loins held his own beast in his hands. It had waxed stiff and strong, as a result of the pursuit. Now, with his own sweat bleeding down from his forehead and falling off of his chin, he buttered his beast. And when he looked up, there was a strange quiver in his left eye from the sweat on his eyelid. He opened his rancid mouth, awkwardly and to the left, as if he had been slapped by a stroke all of a sudden. And he hunched his chin into his chest, perhaps in emulation of his father, but without the bullish grace and charm of my man. Instead, he had the appearance and the bearing of an Igor seeking affirmation from his beloved Doctor Frankenstein. Loins dropped his beast, so that it dangled stiffly between his thighs, and turned back to the stump. He had been so vibrant and vicious all of his life, but now he approached his task with the melancholy of a tired beast trapped in a cage and forced to eat the same tasteless gruel it had eaten all of its life. I did not notice the first thrust. I do not think anyone noticed, not even Loins himself. It was like, after a while, he was humping the butthole of a dead sheep beyond the fence. It was like something to do, in between squatting in a bush to pee, and picking berries for a pie. Loins tried to add his personal charm to the occasion. Every now and then, he lifted his sweaty chin into the air; held his beast back from the dead butthole for a moment; and wailed into the froth in his mouth: Bleat, Bleat, Bleat…And, on one occasion, with his beast thrust in sticky and tight, he looked back at his father; snarled his face into a gruesome, twisted menagerie of emotions; and howled like a beaten werewolf. But he lost more than he could claw out from the dead butthole. His sweaty skin, once the proud image and likeness of his father, devolved into a clammy snakeskin, as if the sickly leather of a serpent that has been slithering through the wet marshes to avoid its predators. It is stuck somewhere in the middle of the natural chain, with the biggest predator on the top, and the smallest prey on the bottom. And it is falling along that chain with each and every one of its thrusts into the dead butthole; assuming a grey, ghostly texture; heaving awkwardly in its chest; and sticking its tongue out and off to the left side; because, in the end, the lowliest prey on the natural chain is death itself. Death is prey, even to the maggots. It is trapped where it has fallen into the water and the dust; there to be raped by the fates, until its last sinews of flesh have been torn off from its bones; and it is nothing but a cold and eerie rattle in the night breeze. And when the last bit of bone has been swallowed up by the wind, then even the rattle stops; and, in its lasting glory, death is as still as the hazy sun at our perpetual high noon and as incorporeal as the smoke snaking out from our joints. Immovable spirit, it is, as much as God Almighty on His Heavenly Throne. Death becomes Him, my man remarked. And, careful still to restrain my stupid giggles, I could not but agree that death is the godliness awakened in a man, crawling out from what tiny bits remain of his beastly flesh, and slithering off into the grey twilight. When Loins had spit out the last of his seed, he slumped over the dead sheep. He could not move for three days. My man kept a vigil for him on our side of the fence, and I squatted behind my leaf. Oops did not climb out from his hole. In the first haze of the third day (or so we each surmised, since on our side of the fence there is only our one, perpetual high noon), my man beheld his Loins stir groggily; push himself up from his pillow of rancid fleece; and lurch out from beneath the old blanket of sticky flies that had wrapped itself over his back. The corpse slid off the stump; and Loins staggered this way and that, as if a drunk pulled over at a sobriety checkpoint. My man would not step over the fence to retrieve his Loins but rather gestured excitedly for him. Finally, Loins stumbled face forward into the barbed wire, and then cut himself again when he hobbled over the line. He was being resurrected before our very eyes in the purple streams gurgling from his forehead, wrists, and feet; from the quiver in his steps; and from the hunch in his back. My man held him up from one side; and I leapt out from behind my leaf to hold him up from the other. I restrained myself from giggling as stupidly as a hippie-dippy granola girl, even though I was so excited. And together, as a family, we dragged his Loins back to our sand circle. Oops crawled out from his hole and followed meekly from well behind us. Forty days passed, or so my man and I surmised, and the cartel sent one of their snoops to check in on our trade and to demand a little side action. Loins ascended from his bed rest. He put on his white suit and gave the snoop a tour of our vine. He offered the snoop what he suggested was his best yield. The snoop sat back; looked very suspiciously at Loins; and ordered him to burn a handful of his best yield in front of him. Loins did as he was told, and the snoop inhaled the incense wafting up from the little fire. The snoop was not impressed. Is this your best yield? He spit into his bushy mustache. Loins counted the sand pebbles in between his toes. This is the lame stuff we sell to the zoo animals in the ghettos, the snoop cried. The snoop then turned to my man and threatened to shut down his trade in retaliation, when Oops leapt out from nowhere and gestured for the snoop to follow him. We had to restrain ourselves from laughing at his feeble plea; but when the snoop bent down, and looked into his eyes, he saw something we did not. So he followed in close step behind Oops into the wilderness beyond the groovy green; and, after a while, my man and I did the same. Loins stayed back, and continued to count the sand pebbles in between his toes. Oops brought the snoop to an injured and malnourished sheep that he had rescued from the wilderness and had tied to a tree just beyond our fence. My man and I heard the horrified bleats, one clunky cry after another, as if they were the mindless thumps of two skintight, leather straps rippling through a wavy gravy groovy haze. By the time we reached them (though we were careful to remain on our side of the fence), there was a sticky stream of sweat dripping down from the bushy mustache. And there was an odd pattern of mud stains on the trousers hanging over the ankles. And there was a wet fleece beard dangling from the mushroom head of the bloodied, but erect, beast. And the snoop had staggered back from his own seed. The sheep did not bleat any more. But it was squirming mindlessly into the rancid bark of the tree to which it had been tied, as if literally trying to merge into the tree, and to be separated from the creamy goo dripping out from its own butthole. As if caught in a nightmare, every now and then its writhing torso erupted into a convulsion of spasms, and its soft putty head pounded into the tree. The snoop focused his eyes on the creamy goo drip; and he seemed to wince in pain, every time a tiny drop managed to escape the tomb to which he had consigned it. The pain in his bowels seemed to increase with every new drip; so that after a while he totally cowered into his own spleen, like a man going into labor. He stumbled over the water and dust beneath his feet. And as he rolled over the earth, we could see that there was as much mirth as anguish in his bloated face. We observed Oops in our peripheral vision. He was sitting in his own, little circle, looking down at the ground, and crying in silence. Ah, the great equalizer, the snoop remarked, stumbling up to his knees. His beast remained as erect as before; so unfazed as to seem unreal, like an idol shaped from clay and hardened by fire. It occurred to me just then that his beast seemed disjointed from the rest of his body, as if a power of its own floating upright in between his thighs, and that therefore he looked as if he was worshipping his beast. I have something on you; and in turn you have something on me, he continued. And, really, is this stalemate not the most gratifying fit of violence? If I have the advantage, then what may come of it, but the pleasantly forgettable cocktail, the fine but momentary satisfaction, of taking one of your vines and strapping it around your neck? And so I observe your corpse swinging in the wind? Eventually, your corpse stinks; and your flesh chunks fall in silence to the water and the dust beneath your feet; and your old bones rattle; and then the vine strapped around your neck is too brittle in time to keep your skull and bones suspended in midair. And when you splatter to the ground, you are no more than splinters in a dust cloud. And what may I do, but cast down my eyes, and shuffle my feet, when my victory is as dead as you are? But if we have no advantage over one another, then the soft cocktail flares into an unquenchable cauldron; and the satisfaction is as orgasmic as it is unending; since there is nothing other than that all-consuming, maudlin horror that one is going to get the upper hand over the other someday. A hot war is over, when a final soldier succumbs to a bullet. But a cold war is never over, so long as there is a hardened heart, and an intemperate mind. And a cold war matures from an historical, political crisis into a vicious spirit, a life of its own, that has little to nothing to do with its origins. It is creative: a god-man crafting a raw demon in his own image and likeness. It is destructive: a god-man undone by his own raw demon, like a man cooking himself in his own cauldron; or popping his old heart out from his heaving chest, in the course of an orgasm that never stops. And, in the end, is not that stalemate between the creative and the destructive indeed the real essence of violence? Are we not the gods of war, as we are the demons of peace? Are we not the players on both sides of the chessboard, more so than any one particular king or pawn, equal in measure, and immovable in our rage? Nothing is born from a stalemate, to be sure. But nothing dies, either. And who may claim to be the Alpha and the Omega, neither born nor dead, but the man who knows he is a god? The snoop crawls over to the squirming sheep and raises its butt into the air. And who may defile the inner sanctum; forcibly shoving his death seeds into the living soil, so that death is as much a checkmate upon life, as life upon death, but the god who knows he is a man? The snoop erupted into a spasm of giggles; fumbled the sheep out from his fingers; and crawled into an ancient bush. Oops walked up to us. For the first time, my man looked upon his face as worthy of affection; and so we three turned back to our sand circle… 

I look up from my desolation. I am not arching my neck upward; rather, I am being moved by a gust of wind blowing up from the sand pebbles below me. I am not even focusing my own pupils so much as I am a blank slate upon which an image is being projected. 

And the image is this: the sacred storyteller has moved out from her own circle; her face is pressed up against my own; and her lips are moving mine, so that the rest of her words are as if my words; a dream imparted, because there is not enough of me left to demand that my own voice be heard among the sad wails; a door opened, because there is not enough of me to resist.

As we were returning, Oops tired along the way. So we stopped upon the side of the fountain. My man faced Oops and said: I demand of you to be reborn from my spirit. And with that, he pushed Oops into the blue; and watched with a grin plastered on his loving face, as the last trace of feminine weakness arose from the bottom and bobbed upon the surface. When we pulled Oops out from the blue, we sensed that there was nothing left of him, except maybe a feeble pulse in a wrist somewhere. We had to drag him the rest of the way; and surely by the time we returned to our sand circle, there was nothing left of him at all. And so we ate of his flesh, and drank of his blood; a communion in the dead, as much as in the reborn; as we did with you; and as we shall do with others, who try to return to the Eden from which they have been banished. And Oops waxed strong in the image and the likeness of his father. He tended the haggard sheep beyond our fence; and always kept one tied to the same tree, so that the snoop could indulge whenever he came by our sanctuary. We would hear the terrified bleats from across the groovy green; and whenever Oops returned with streams of blood pouring down his arms and legs, we would presume that the snoop had waxed his mustache a bit too much this time. Oops continued to be gentle, and even passive, in his behavior. My man thought that he had not yet awakened to his godliness; but somewhere in my heart, I knew better. My man saw freedom, even if unformed. But I saw fate in his sentimental sighs and downcast eyes. My man looked upon Oops and saw that his beast had matured well enough. So one day he snatched Oops and tied him to the same post to which you are tied. And he breathed into his nostrils and told him that his name was Legacy. He told all of us that the following high noon, Legacy would find a dead sheep; carry it out to the same stump on which Loins had been resurrected; and be fleeced…

The wind no longer blows up from the sand pebbles, and my chin falls to my chest. In my imagination, I am as tied to the stump, as I am standing with a proud beast in hand before the stump; as much a ghost, as a new creation; and as terrified of my indulgences in freedom, as emboldened by my chains of fate.

Now, Loins seethed in his envy and scorn. Therefore, just minutes before the next high noon, he invited Oops to accompany him into his old vines. And in the soft haze of the high noon, he hit Oops over the head three times; and then unceremoniously buried him inside the same hole of water and dust in which he had been conceived. My man heard an anguished cry of vengeance. It reminded him of streams of purple blood gurgling out from the ground. He confronted his Loins; and the leathery snake hissed out: Am I my brother’s keeper? Or am I my son’s father? No more than I am, my man insisted; and no more than any of the other self-awakened gods. Loins spit into the face of his father. Surely, you are slipping, old man, he hissed, because it is clear enough that you are responding to his cry of vengeance. You are mistaken, my man stated. I care not a whit for his cry of vengeance. If he is not able to remain alive long enough to be fleeced on his own stump, then he has never had a chance to be so hard and heartless, as to be worthy of vengeance. A devil kills for a prince, not for a pauper. No, it is not the cry of vengeance, which moves me. Rather, I am tempted into action by the protocols of Hell; a code not at all dissimilar from what prevails in Eden. In Hell, there is room aplenty for countless seducers; but there is room enough for only one murderer. The average killer, even the genocidal maniac, is really a seducer. He fires his pistol; or thrusts his dagger; or turns on his poison gas in the death chambers; or signs the paperwork that allows for all the purple blood to be shed; but he is seducing his weak victim into the pearly gates. He charms his victim into suicide and then offers the way; because, let’s face it, no one is going to die at the hands of another, unless he chooses. Oh, sure, the homicide victim may kick and scream; but at just the moment that the trigger is pulled; or the knife is pushed; or the Kraut guard orders him to step into the blackness, he will cast his eyes down; shuffle his feet; and relent. But the murderer robs a man even of his chance to choose death. He denies him his legacy. He prevents him from knowing the wages of sin; the sting of judgment; and the sour incense of hellfire. My man gestured out to the wilderness beyond the groovy green sea and then continued: Out there, it is taught that Christ Jesus is the one and only murderer. And, perhaps, that is so. But in here, I am the murderer. I am what I am. And I aim to keep it that way, forevermore. And with that, my man was so caught up with his own spirit, that he tackled his Loins to the earth. There was a fierce struggle; and, hippie-dippy that I am, I could do nothing but cower in a hazy gloom off to the side and giggle mindlessly. My man prevailed. He pressed his right foot onto the neck of his Loins and, staring down into his devilish eyes, said: You are banished. From henceforth, you will mold your bread from out of the sticky thorns; and sip your milk from out of the charcoal black mud; and be an outcast in the arms of a treacherous Mayan Negress. And she will sing to you in the wind; and caress your skin in the rain; and hold you in the leaves hanging down from the trees; and, when you’ve been a naughty boy, smack you in your lily white butt in the branches snapping in the tempests. At first, you will know the charm in having leapt over the fence and in carrying on an illicit affair; but when you are handed a hoe with the rest of the animals, and given nothing but the same, old gruel when the Massa and his family are tucked inside the hearth for their fine, Thanksgiving supper, then your Mamie Mistress will not appear as delightful as when you first wallowed in her black butter and cream. And when the cotton that you are carrying on your back transforms into a stone; and your wilderness plantation into a jungle pyramid; and your Mrs. Butterworth into Ms. Pocahontas; then your disappointment will dip into despair. There is a fine line between despair and madness; and you will not know on which side of that line you are drooling. Who knows? Perhaps you will run into the snoop someday; and then you two can take turns playing sheep and shepherd with one another. And with that, my man lifted his right foot off the neck of his Loins and then shoved him to the edge of the groovy green sea. Catching his breath, Loins turned back to his father and snarled: Perhaps when I find the snoop, we shall join our dirty lips together in a conspiracy against you and your new creation. After all, what are devils, but angels in rebellion against their maker? My man laughed; but, no matter how much he swayed his blond, curly locks just then, he could not pitch that thought out from his mind. Loins smiled, and then leapt into a sticky thorn bush off to the side. My man returned to the sand circle with a heavy heart and a downcast eye. He knew that if he did not forestall rebellion, then in due time he would be the willing victim of it. And so he wandered beyond the fence now and then to make sure that a sick sheep was tied to the tree; and when the sick sheep died, then he buried it with the others, and found another sick sheep for the snoop. As he wandered beyond the fence, so the green cloud protecting us from the Ghosts of Guatemala started to deteriorate. My man had to spend the bulk of his time rejuvenating the wall with his fog blower. And this is where he is today: his new creation hangs in the balance; and the possibility of rebellion is never far from mind. And I do not make it any easier for him with my giggles. I do not do anything, really, except whatever may inspire his loving swats to my head. And soon, you will not do anything either, as there is nothing to be done.

The sacred storyteller steps back from me.

She breaks the spell with an inane giggle; a spit of groovy granola that is quivering from her mouth, and blushing her cheeks crimson red; so that, by the time she stumbles back into the sand, she is once more the Gym Bitch. 

And there is not enough left in me to feel any pity towards her, even as I know that her man will be beating her over the head yet again when he returns from the other side of the world. 

So we just sit there; a giggling goon cross-legged in the sand; and a Jesus freak chained to a stiff post; listening absently to the thump, thump, thump of the last of the giants approaching from the distance. 

It’s lost to us, the Teutonic Tootsie moans, as he comes from around the other side of the Hobbit House. 

What? The Gym Bitch inquires anxiously, jumping up from the sand, and embracing her man about his heaving chest. 

But she knows what is lost, just as much as we all do. 

The Teutonic Tootsie is as incensed as any giant would be by her obvious lack of sincerity; and so he responds by shoving her away, and slapping her face repeatedly, until she is a shimmering shade of purplish bruises and blood trails, where her gangly, groovy face used to shine. 

The Gym Bitch melts to his feet and is transformed into a blunder of odd snorts and giggles. She seems to be clawing sand into her vagina, and spitting it out from her mouth, as if a worm slithering in one spot of a dead sand dune.

The Teutonic Tootsie stares down at her for a while. He does not strike a triumphant pose so much as appear tired and perplexed, as if a bull that is too beaten to finish off the bullfighter writhing in laughter by its hooves. 

He looks at me; digs his chin into his chest; and snarls.

There is nothing to be done, but what is right and proper for this solemn occasion, he intones bitterly, as if spitting out a curse that splatters against my crown of thorns and drips down my wan cheeks. 

I remember setting the sheep free…

And saving the animals from the sinking bus…

And seeing how the dead man still clutches his son…

And there is a jolly voice from my past that chides: Do remember, there is no good deed or poopy sex act that goes unpunished. Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha! Arrgh!

I look over to where the green cloud should be. 

It is gone, and there is no indication that it was ever there.

The Teutonic Tootsie grabs me by my neck and smothers my bloody face in his chest. He is suffocating the last bit of strength out of me; taking me into himself; while glaring at the Ghosts of Guatemala beyond his non-existent wall.

I had presumed that the sheep would be there; tied to the tree; and that it would be dead. And if it had not been dead, then I would have strangled it in the same way that I am caressing you right now. I would have carried it back on my shoulders; dropped it in front of you; and forced you to carry it back to the same spot. And then you would have been fleeced; resurrected into the Legacy imposed upon you; alive in your death, dead in your life; the word spoken in an eternal haze, like smoke lifting up from the void and sifting no where in particular, the Teutonic Tootsie intones in a whisper that seems more directed at himself, than at me or at the Ghosts of Guatemala. 

He looks away from the non-existent wall and stares deeply into my eyes for a long time. He then smiles strangely and continues to speak to the peculiar phantom in his own mind.

But that’s not going to happen, now is it? 

The Teutonic Tootsie releases his grip, just as I am about to black out of this nightmare for the last time. He steps back from me, and reasons out loud.

There is a petrified stump near where the sheep used to be. And there is a hole in the wood that sort of resembles a fleeced butthole. So perhaps, if we all imagine hard enough…

But the Teutonic Tootsie never finishes his thought. No matter his blond, curly locks and glistening, muscled chest, even he finds it difficult to believe a petrified stump can pass for a dead sheep. 

A violent act is the surest antidote for disbelief. The perpetrator sets his moral considerations aside, so that he is able to see truth in whatever high and mighty opinion had justified the excesses in his behavior. And as for the victim: well, if he survives, then he is happy enough to believe in whatever totems and taboos will keep the bread and the whiskey delivered on time. 

So with the surest antidote in mind, the Teutonic Tootsie unshackles me, and he shoves me toward the groovy green sea…and the petrified stump beyond the distant horizon…

He kicks the Gym Bitch, while we are passing her. 

She stumbles out of her odd snorts and giggles, and falls into a mindless march by my left side. She seems to know well that she will never giggle again.

We all know that a petrified stump can bleat…or so we choose to know…

And if it does not bleat, then the green cloud will be gone forevermore…

And the Ghosts of Guatemala will haunt the new creation unrestrained…

And the two outcasts will return to knock god out from his sand circle…

I am stumbling forward with my head in front of my knees. I am too tired even to lift my eyes to the hazy sun in the sky and to assume the melodramatic look and bearing of the Man of Sorrows. I suspect that, even if I had the powers still to strike a pose, I would not see the hazy sun somewhere above me; rather I would see that I am surrounded on all sides by the clear, white water that is a bit below the surface of the Sea of Golgotha. And I would know that I am in the process of drowning; falling a little deeper with every passing moment; sensing the darker blue, and then the purple, and finally the blackness that are waiting for me even farther beneath the waves. And I would feel the dead salt water in my chest; puncturing through my lungs; and weighing down the rest of my frail organs, so that by the time I bob into my shore I am a puddle of blood and pus.

But before that can happen, we stop for a moment at the fountain in the midst of the groovy green sea; and someone lays me beside the bubbling brook.

The Teutonic Tootsie steps in front of me, so that I see nothing at all but the curtain of blond locks draping over his muscular back and tickling the crack in his firm buttocks. His hair is like a ray of sunshine beating into the sea, and…

There is a smack in the air from a rifle…

And the Teutonic Tootsie jolts backward, as if punched in the face…

And there is purplish blood gurgling out from the back of his head…

And, for a brief moment, it looks as if he has a third eye awakening from a deep slumber in the back of his head. It is spitting out blood, and blond, curly locks, and rancid meat chunks that resemble feces that have been sitting in the sun a long time. It is spitting out all this refuse, so that it is able to see better…

There is a scream in my ear, and the Gym Bitch pulls me away.

And then another smack in the air…

This time, the bullet punches into the waistline and out the butthole. As it escapes from the corpse, it bursts like a firecracker and spits out dried feces and blood in every direction. There is a surreal sparkle in the haze immediately behind what is left of the buttocks, as fat and organ bits dance in the sunlight a moment before falling into the bubbling brook. 

The Teutonic Tootsie stumbles backward, while lifting his arms in praise. His head arches back, so that he is staring straight into the perpetual high noon above him, and his new third eye is bleeding into the liquid tomb beneath him. And then his head flaps forward, so that he is once more the bull, clenching his chin into his chest, and glaring at the earth in between his toes.

But in spite of his head, he continues to be pushed backward by the two punches that had penetrated his glistening skin. In his final steps, he relents to the fates, so that he resembles a puppet being pulled back by an unseen string.

He trips over the side of the fountain, and is lost beneath the waters. 

And the spirit sinks back into the deep from which it came…

It is amazing what an adrenaline rush will do. I not only manage to stand upright and to observe everything before me, as if I am inside a film reel that is moving in slow motion, but to snatch the Gym Bitch by the hand and to run out of the scene in double time. 

I do not look at her bruised and bloodied face; and I do not feel her hand in mind; but I know that we are in step together; kicking up the mud behind us; extending our stride with every passing breathe; and focusing our final hope on the sand circle at the end of the row. We look forward, but the sand circle is as if a mirage fading into the high noon haze just beyond our grasp; so that in the end, as in the beginning, the hope is mingled into despair, and life with death…

Are we extending our stride to a sand circle in hope?

Are we reaching out to a fading mirage in despair?

The questions snap and sparkle in my mind; one after another, repeated in an endless loop; without enough time in between them for the barest chance of an answer. It is as if the unanswerable question is the only true statement in the whole of the universe.

And, suddenly, from out of nowhere, it is as if I remember Job hitting up against the ceiling in his cross-examination of the divine; and God looking down from on high and snarling: Let me ask you a question, counselor. And where did you happen to be hanging your shingle, when I created the firmament upon the earth? And when Job is speechless for the first time ever, God answers His own question: Oh, that’s right, you were not even a twinkle yet in my own sparkling rouge. Pity. Pity. I guess you will not be getting any farther then in your quest…

And with that, we reach the sand circle, and trip over our wooden beach chairs. We have so much wind in our sails by that point that we cannot prevent ourselves from sliding across the white sand and into the padlocked door of the Hobbit House. We can feel and hear the powerful thump, as our bloodied heads and shoulders crunch into the door; but, in spite of our collective force, we are not even able to chip the outer layer of paint.

We should be unconscious, but the adrenaline continues to spurt through our veins to such a degree that we manage to sit upright in the shaded doorway without acknowledging any physical pain. 

We need to get inside your home, I scream anxiously.

The Gym Bitch looks at the door beside her for a brief moment, as if she is not certain where she is, an innocent first awakening to the evil in the world. 

She buries her head into her knees and moans inconsolably. 

Listen. We need to get away, I insist.

No, no, no, no, no, she cries.

But, we need to try…

She looks up at me, and blinks frantically from behind her purple bruises and bloodstains. She is at once a baby huddled in her own womb; and a beaten, old lady too crouched over in her pain and sorrow to exhale anything but a final cry of despair. And so she is the Alpha and the Omega, forevermore and a day…

Don’t you know by now that we can never get away? She blurts out from her hollow cradle and tomb, knocking me out for a moment from my own mind.

But, we need to try…

No, no, no, no, no, she cries.

We can hide inside your home; and then, when it is safe outside, we can get away from here, I try to reason through my anxiety. 

She again buries her head into her knees and moans.

I slap her against the side of her head.

We can hide inside your home, and then, when it is safe…

No, she screams. We are not allowed in there…

What do you mean? I plead, glancing breathlessly at the door beside me, as if I half expect to observe a snake slithering out from the rusted padlock and snapping its forked tongue into the side of my head.

No, no, no, no, no, she cries.

I slap her against the side of her head so hard that I almost slam her into the side of the door. I am about to slap her again, when she startles me with an anguished cry that seems to be gurgling up from the loneliest depths in the sea.

What is inside there? I demand, holding up my open palm like a weapon.

No, no, no, no, no, she cries.

What is inside there? I scream with the guttural voice of a chained beast.

What we managed to take with us…

Oh, I see, I hiss, lowering my hand to my side. So you managed to steal a little souvenir from Eden on your way out the door. And no sooner did you have it stuffed inside your fig leaf, you worried about how to keep it secret, lest the old snoop find out what you had managed to swindle out from him. And then as time passed, and you figured out how to keep the old snoop occupied in his sad and perverted lust, you worried about how to keep it secret from yourselves, lest you be reminded of what you had lost. That’s the thing about a keepsake in our chest. It is always so much less than what we have lost. At first, you are able to smell your grandma’s Chanel No. 5 on the ring that she had handed to you, just moments before she gave up her ghost. It is even warm still, from how strongly she had gripped it, as if trying to hold onto her disjointed memories of how her grandma had handed it off to her so long ago. But then the fragrance sifts away with her ghost; and an open window somewhere lets in enough of a draft to kill off the warmth. So by the time to take the ring home, it is an expression of the memories you hold dear, really more about yourself, than about your grandma. And then, when you lose your memories, it is no longer anything at all, but just a trinket mixed in with the costume jewelry. The ring does not change. It is its own limbo. And yet it is less and less with every passing moment, until it is not even a thing at all, but a rock bobbing about the waves in the Next Great Flood or a bit of charcoal spewing up into the sky with the rest of the Great Volcano.

I grab her neck, and hold her face up from her knees, so that she cannot avoid my glare. I am determined never again to let her hide behind her maudlin wails, just as her former man had never allowed her to hide behind her giggles.

But the same, old sun is shining a new light today. And in this new light, the wall behind the house is tumbling down; and the door is opening; and those prankster ghosts just beyond the legal line are coming back to claim their own. And so we have a choice; free boys and girls that we are; and that is either to fight them to the death; or to lay back, open our legs, and throw in a few little moans of pleasure, as we stare off into the clouds. And that is the free will we have in life: either to die quickly, or to die slowly; and to imagine inside of our wet dream that somehow there is a real choice between the options. Well, now we’re going to make a choice; and we’re going to make believe it matters; and then sometime, maybe now, maybe later, we’re going to hoist our sails to Hell. 

There is a smack in the air from a rifle…

And the rusted padlock bursts like a lit firecracker. 

The Gym Bitch and I slam our heaving chests into the sand in front of the door. We are so overwhelmed by how the bullet had punctured the air between us that we are unable to breath for some time. It is as if we are being strangled at the bottom of the sea and all about us there is nothing but the syrupy goo of dead, black water. It is the liquid tomb that awaits each and every one of us; a final embrace in water pressure that crushes the last sinews and bones; so that there is nothing left behind to be hidden away in a chest. 

And turning around to be on my back, I see in slow motion how countless rusted padlock bits are spewing out from the bullet hole, like a sparkler from a lit firecracker. I sense then that we are not being smashed at the bottom of the sea so much as floating inside the point on a sand pebble, where the prankster, black-winged angel is busy on its throne. It is spurting out handfuls of petrified, black void; looking into its many reflections in an imagined mirror; and stupidly chuckling that the rusted padlock bits spewing everywhere are as much the big bang creation as whatever it has been ejaculating. And so, on one of those bits, there is a new world forming; a civilization of tiny rust men; who live out many generations from their vantage point, but only a millisecond of explosive power from ours. And, if that is the case, then I am as much an unknowable god to all the tiny rust men on that bit of debris, as God Almighty on His Heavenly Throne is to me. This is my “God Moment;” and, like everything else in limbo, it is over as soon as it is everlasting; a moment lost to the past, as much as preserved in the haze of the high noon sun. It is far out groovy; it is the last note of despair.

And so everything is lost in history, smashed beneath the waves…

And so everything is preserved in limbo, afloat in a sand pebble…

The force from the bullet had pushed the door open. 

I scramble to my knees and crawl hurriedly inside the black womb. I kick enough sand with the back of my feet into the face of the Gym Bitch that she is stranded behind me. I vaguely hear her scrambling to wipe the sand away, as if she is presumed to be dead, but is pushing back at the sand shoveled over her.

I am inside the Hobbit House. It is pitch black, but I can sense that it is a circular room with a floor of padded, white sand that is squished from above by a mushroom ceiling. It has the feel of a suffocating cave. And it seems to shrink in size and to suck out the air from my lungs, as I crawl further toward its core.

I know that I have reached the exact center of the Hobbit House, since I can no longer breath. I clutch my neck; crunch into my bowels; and succumb to the snares of a deep and lingering sleep. 

And I have not yet awakened…

But, at some point, my eyes open.

I acclimate to the severe darkness, so that I am able to observe what the Teutonic Tootsie and his Gym Bitch managed to sneak out from their own, little patch of Eden across the border. 

Nothing.

There is nothing inside the Hobbit House, except myself…

I glare back at the open doorway. 

The Gym Bitch is there; standing on her knees; looking inside the Hobbit House, but too frightened to crawl into that wavy gravy groovy destiny that she and her former man had hidden away for themselves. 

I am inside your home, I snarl, beating my chest like an alpha ape that is intimidating his mate into her last submission.

The Gym Bitch lowers her chin into her chest and sobs.

I am what you and your former man stole from Eden, when the old snoop turned his eyes away for a split second. I am what you stuffed away in your soft fig leaves. I am the reason for which you built this house: first to hide me from the old snoop, then to hide me from yourselves.

The Gym Bitch clutches her stomach, like she is going into labor.

And so, in the end, as in the beginning, what did you actually snatch out from Eden? I hiss rhetorically. Well, you snatched out what every other man has managed to steal from his own bit of innocence, and to hide away in his private chest somewhere: everything and nothing. 

The Gym Bitch stumbles into her own bowels and moans inconsolably.

Turn on your own divinity; tune in to your own eternal present; and drop out, man, just drop out through the trapdoor in the clouds, and splash into the freedom ocean that you have imagined for yourself. And then, when you’re sick and tired of bobbing about your freedom ocean, then just inhale enough of the old salted slime to continue your descent into the water and dust. And then, as the last bits of your flesh and bone have been crushed, and even your old ghost has been smothered into a maudlin silence, there will not be enough of you left to remember what you have lost. And then you will be like God, because there is no loss in God, let alone a memory of loss, but only the radiant abundance of what He chooses to have and to remember. From nothing is everything. And so, from everything is nothing. Smoke a joint for a while, and that will make sense, I conclude, erupting into a gaggle of giggles, and rolling jerkily about the floor.

And then another smack in the air…

This time, the third eye appears just above the nose. 

It is awakening to what is inside the Hobbit House; vomiting out the grey matter that has been sloshing about the inside of her skull since before she was born; spitting out shards of bone and, here and there, the pits that she had had the pleasure to eat our from me; and gushing out a purple waterfall that covers over her gangly nose and contorted lips. 

And, for a brief moment, when all of the gunk and goo have been forced out from behind the shattered skull, it is a perfect, clean hole; the top point in a triangle of eyes; and it sees as only a god may see; and it knows as only a god may know; so that it is the expression of its own divine life in death, like Christ Jesus Crucified, and Christ Jesus Resurrected, in the same eternal present. 

The Gym Bitch falls forward and is lost forever inside her Hobbit House. 

And I leave her corpse there, because I sense that the next bullet will be directed at me. I favor a slow death; a suicide by a million and one conceits in front of packed lecture halls, where the soft chocolate mints have been hidden for me inside the podiums, and the air conditioners have been set to lukewarm.

I run at break neck speed to where the green cloud used to be.

And I lose my fig leaf on the old border fence, as I stumble into eternity. 

Prologue and Epilogue

And He said unto me, it is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. Revelation 21:6 (KJV)

And there is nothing more to be said, I conclude, folding my hands on my lap and staring dispassionately at my publicist across his simple mahogany desk.

He does not return my stare. He swivels in his chair, as if to concentrate on the colorful goldfish in his aquarium.

He has invested in a new tank, since I last argued that I should be added to the list of lecturers sent to speak before the American expatriate community in central Mexico. This tank features a miniature Atlantis (a surreal hybrid of an ancient Greek acropolis and a futuristic space colony), arising up from the sand as a mix of Athenian columns and Seattle Space Needles, and glowing from the inside with the pale, green hue of a ghost city. It is as dead in its own past as it is without hope for its own future. And the goldfish have nothing else to do but to swim in a mindless loop from its deserted plaza to the sea surface and back.

I don’t know, he mutters. 

What do you mean? I ask.

My publicist reaches down and picks up a long hair, Shih Tzu show dog in between his legs. He looks into its eyes for a while, as if the two of them are in a conversation of their own, and then strokes its blond and white strands out of its knowing eyes. He snuggles his well-behaved dog to sleep in his starched lap.

He still does not look at me; but he finally shrugs his shoulders, as if that alone will suffice as a response to my question. 

I remain outwardly calm, but I insist on more of an answer to my request to be added to the list.

Well, they heckled you, and then you fainted, he says after a while. The rest of the story seems, I don’t know, far-fetched, sort of like something out of a dream. I guess the details don’t really matter, because you are always caught up in the same, old cross fire; always stumbling this way or that with your frilly panties in a wad in between your ankles; mumbling about your rights, and your liberties, and your pursuits. In the end, who cares? Your story just isn’t all that heroic, let alone sexy, even if it is as true as you claim. I suppose I could sell it as a Movie of the Week. But no expat is going to buy a ticket to hear you drone incessantly, as if your odd bit of self-indulgence matters more than any other. 

I clench my hands together, and bite my lip, but otherwise show no signs of displeasure at the verdict. I tell myself that I must have known all along that there is no other possible verdict; that a starched mortician really cannot know the corpse in his own care; and that, therefore, the god-man who crawls out of his own tomb must be content to roam the mortuary without his guide at hand.

He looks back down at his dog, and I step out of his office without word.

And so I condescend to go to central Mexico on my own dime. 

One morning, as the storm clouds from the previous night break apart in the haze of a lukewarm sun, I stare longingly into my dress mirror. I am as nude as when I had crawled out from my womb. And I am certain that the very same leather will be stretched over my body, when I crawl out from my tomb.

Somewhere, in the distance, I hear the familiar sound of the Mariachi. It is too early for the Mexicans to be stirring out from their sloppy sombreros; and so it must be a leftover from the festivities of the previous night. Neither sleet, nor storm, will keep a Mexican from his Merengue. There is always a revolution or a saint to be celebrated; a reason to dip into the bean and salsa; and a song and a dance step to give life to the tequila dreams. 

Little, brown munchkins oblivious to the god among them, I snicker, as I finish ironing my lovely white shirt, and wink flirtatiously into my dress mirror.

When I sneak out of the hotel, I am a dandy in a white suit and a Panama hat. I can hear my polished loafers squeaking against the cobblestones beneath my feet. I smile, because the duck in a marsh sound is totally drowning out the annoying peasant babble bubbling up from beneath the wet sombreros in town.

I find the Mayan bubble butt by the wharf. 

I toss him a fifty-centavo, as I am in a generous mood.

Leaning against a wooden post, I observe him from behind preparing the motorboat for departure. He squats beautifully, like a jungle animal in heat, as he carries my valuables from the wharf to the vessel.

I clear my throat, when he is done; and he dutifully takes me by my soft hand and guides me into my padded seat on the motorboat. 

Remember to avoid the choppy waters, I comment. I felt a bit queasy in my tums the last time we motored out, and I would prefer not to indulge again.

I chuckle, because I know that he has no idea what I am saying. 

The Mayan bubble butt starts the motor, and we are soon chugging down yet another serpentine river in the heart of Chiapas.

I gesture for him to light me a joint. 

I cannot recall when I acquired this “gentlemanly vice,” as I much prefer to think of it. I only know that I am an expert now in blowing fine smoke circles over my hat. I watch each and every one of them vanish into the hazy sunshine.

Whenever the sunlight bleeds through the leaves in a certain way, I have a sense of déjà vu. And then I giggle, because every moment in my soft mind is as repeated as it is new; as fated as it is free; as dead as it is awakening to life.

Every few minutes, I remove the pocket watch out from my jacket.

It is not high noon yet. It is never quite high noon.

But, when it is, I am sure that my Eden will be right around the corner.

And as I am blowing out one of my smoke circles, the motorboat passes a fleck of dust among many trillions of others skipping along the side of the river.

And if I were to magnify that fleck of dust, I would see that the whole of Burrito Land is on its surface. 

And if I were to magnify it even more, I would make out one of the little brown munchkins rummaging through the old family heirlooms in his back shed.

He has no idea that his distant ancestor had been the munchkin who had run off with the “Proto-Sombrero” hidden beneath his poncho, while the others were still assaulting the burrito stand. 

And so he tosses the lost sombrero aside with the rest of the clutter. 

It is so dirty and torn he will just give it away at his rummage sale today.

Processing…
Success! You’re on the list.

Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: