27 Aug 2005
26 Aug 2005
The regular rhythmically fluxing chemical brain is background, taken for granted, and unknown in its unperturbed state. It's the mental ether, water for a fish. But when I put my brain through instant, radical, and artificial changes in serotonin levels and such, suddenly I FEEL what's going on. I feel it in my head and body, the flood of warm, the warp of emotion. And I feel it when the artificially-stimulated influx dissipates and the consequences unfold.
I can see that my cognition is riding on waves of brain chemicals. So the awareness I associate with my ego, the sentient being inside this body, is composed of two things, the physical chemical psychodynamics which can be reduced to molecular structures, and the ethereal reality of the thoughts and feelings that penetrate chemical waves - the other side of the Cartesian dualism. So this mind jazz is perfectly real, just not traceable to the physical world in this current scientific paradigm. I don't confuse the two anymore. I think they interact but not in a way that can be reduced to simple biochemical mechanisms. I don't think the thoughts and feelings ARE the chemical waves, and I'm doubtful they're dependant on them, but certainly highly influenced by them. I think emotions can be reduced to chemical carrier waves, but the thought-patterns are the ethereal material in the waves, maybe non-local hyperdimensional data, or maybe I don't need to start writing pseudoscience to make my point.
So I'm not out to boost one at the expense of the other. I think feelings, thoughts, and chemicals are all co-dependent. A chemical dynamic alone would be hollow sensation without intellectual material to give it meaning - fun perhaps, but seeming empty and stupid shortly after.
But intellectual material on its own would FEEL hollow. I felt PRECISELY THIS during the nasty third crash - still amped up from the speed, thoughts going and going, but the MDMA was wearing off and the desired brain chemicals had drained. So all these wonderful revelations and ideas were still there but they had no support, no PHYSICAL basis. Thus the horrible, almost unbearable feeling of hollowness and fakery - I could go over my ideas and plans with perfect intellectual appreciation but not have the desire to carry them out. Hence, listlessness, depression, confusion, and above all: the dreaded feeling of fakery. Now that's a recipe for a nasty crash.
What we need is the intellectual information that arises from the chemical dynamics (this thing I keep thinking of as mysterious and ethereal) and the very substantial reducible chemical supports to make it feel real - to give it weight, an atomic mass or something. So maybe there's actually some comfort in reducing what I can of the highs and lows to neurophysiology, assuming there's a solution to the chemical equations - whether that be prozac or diet or what have you.
Now this feeling I'm talking about, it's strange and tied to so much. It's mania, for starters. It's feeling overpraised and unworthy. It happens almost as soon as things start going right - too right - something must be wrong. It's feeling over-earnest and not being able to be any other way. It's saccharine and sick, being a goody-goody, fattened up for the good witch, pathetically lacking some basic human texture.
The feeling is the total certainty that we, as sentient human beings, must be in a constant state of delusion/searching (the itch scratching itself) to be happy/fulfilled. The sages see this and laugh joyously, the divine hilarity - but for some reason this realization is intensely negative for me. I ask myself: Don't they see the darkness in this?
I see no other real state of awareness beyond this - no reincarnation, no divine overmind union, just the single role for the eternally-cursed jester. And it's so fucked up because this is precisely the nature of the classic enlightenment raptures I remember from those golden moments of gnosis but now it's somehow gotten negatively connotated!
The mystical revelations used to put a spring in my step - they spiced up life, they made the good things seem better and the bad things not so bad. But now it feels like Alan Watt's blinding all-consuming cosmic light and Sartre's sad little existential cave have collapsed into the same sick shit-brown colored void. WTF?
So when I surmount literary, psychic, and psychedelic peaks to arrive at a revelation like this - when the object of the human endeavor is to keep searching to keep happy (the more obscure and cryptically crazy the search the better it is) what I'm doing is losing the game - finally fucking up, revealing the truth, blowing it on E, burning a hole through my post-Eden garments with the ashes of the rollie marked "do not smoke". Haha - I lose. But isn't it supposed to start again? It doesn't. I'm just doing meaningless surplus laps on the Mario Kart course after the checkered finish flag that won't fade out. It's what Alan Watts described as the inverse mystical experience, the enameled tin revelation - everything sucks! You've gotten to the omega and now what? You've said everything, you've bottomed out, you've won the booby prize. This is the part I can't stand about the E comedown, and all hangovers and manias to some extent. The salvia flash is something like this but so strange and unexpected and neutrally-connotated I can only laugh in disbelief.
I imagined a video game where you're running a brilliantly confusing Escherian psychedelic labyrinth in first person and the object is to avoid the various demonic and angelic manifestations of "truth".
So coming off the speed-laced love drug perhaps only sharpened the razor I cut myself with through cognition, but I'm also understanding it better. Not being hyper happy anymore? I could deal with that fine. Speedy aftermath, that was okay. Physical artifacts, jaw clenching, no problem. Most of the nastiness of my first comedown was thinking about all the crazy things I said and did when I was high. It was mostly just me being silly ("dorky" raz would say). I guess it just bugs me cause I wanted to be happy in a productive collected cool zen way, not as a giggly dorky fool, fun though it was. On some level I know this is fairly trivial, but I still get that sick feeling when I think about it, the tainted ecstasy memories, the things I revel in saying when I know my brain won't reign me in. I hold myself to certain standards of coolness which is why I mope over my perceived failures in this area, but really, I can be quite okay about making an ass of myself as long as I'm sure I'm not making people uncomfortable or embarrassed for me. I hope my e-tarded roll created some amusement and not cringing.
Sometimes I feel the self-imposed contest, slave to the meta-me-master's game. The contest is me being aware that my brain is keeping some kind of score. I've got an upcoming clutch sentence, it's for all the marbles, better be good or at least not bad. Can I, should I say that? The maddening self-interrogation comes too late. I don't think my friends are uncool when they go on about their own psychological clusterfucks. I wish I could view myself through my own judicious filter but I don't. Even now I question whether I should write this or shrug it off and be content to think it, fleetingly. If I was so honest when I said that truth and meaning and torture were all synonymous, I'd take the shortest path to forgetting which would be to not bother writing this. But that devilish scrutiny digs on, right straight to hell.
And it sucks because those E trips needn't feel tainted. I still think a lot of what was said was wonderful and important and not all sap and pap. On the last roll I felt I was reconnecting to a rusty sense of humour I'm so rarely able to make use of. And the drug really did work miracles on minds, empathic and telepathic connections, social phobias ground to dust. None of that was fake, just realized potential - but the post-facto psychic grit does taint the memory, sad to say.
Funny I actually liked the speedy pills, the mellow ones kind of bored me. It seemed a sensible combo. But it made me crazy, put me over the edge, made my future self uncomfortable. There was a mental grit and guilt pervading the long long amphetamine downer - it's a monster, I don't like speed, I see through the self-confidence trip, I can't help it.
But no one need worry anyway, if I go back to the stuff I think I'll wait until next Shambhala. I'll be well rested and fed beforehand. I won't be on a bender of any kind and I'll only do it once during the weekend, I'll pick my day to go hedonistic. I'll try and get pure stuff (forget the speed), I'll take a decent dose but not a crazy amount (maybe 1 or 1.5 pills), and I won't make the trip about me or other people or psychological issues. I'll either just be content to be content, or I'll dance (felt fantastic for the few minutes I tried it at the Royal), or I'll love nature, or just chill in warm bliss-space. I'll resist the temptation to rope the entire world into my euphorious epic. Maybe I'll have a vitamin supplement ready, why not help the brain recharge its love batteries?
So when I come down from the ideal self-managed E trip, I will be something like: "Okay, it's wearing off now. That was a fun four hours and I wasn't a complete E-tard! Horay! Getting back to normal, time to do normal people stuff like smoking weed, shooting the shit, maybe even sleep."
I think it's good to do E either alone or in groups (not one on one), but at least one group member should NOT be rolling and the rollers should be synchronized. If one is peaking later than another, the former will be coming down and entering that hollow drained headspace while the latter is melting into love soup. The drained headspace can be traversed easily with preparation I think, but when you see your recent blissed-out self reflected back at you, the feeling of fakery is awful. If you were synchronized, you'd know it's just genuine affection communicated in ways that won't resonate with the crashing noveau-cynic (sometimes only flowery excess will suffice), but you're not, so you feel like shit and think about how dumb you've been - or maybe just happy? In the drained space, rollers can seem hideous and make the comedown worse. I think groups are good because it helps to be able to feed off someone's energy coming down, someone who is not facing the dreaded crash.
On a positive note, I did gain a real insight into how my mind works with regards to freakouts and panic attacks. I've had incidents of fainting and spontaneous delirium throughout my life stretching back to childhood. They seem to be triggered by detailed descriptions of medical disorders, brain injuries, hypothermia, bulimia, then later by the onset of powerful psychoactives or powerful placebos. The first time I got stoned it happened. A few months ago I was starting on those muscle relaxant pills. I took a double dose and stepped into the shower. I felt a little weak and wondered if it was them kicking in. Then I suddenly got into the nausea-phobia feedback loop very rapidly and recognized it as the delirium trigger. My vision whited out, then I fainted and woke up in what felt like a very malevolent 5meoDMT peak or something, just totally removed from my former life, in something I'd formerly called a "shower". I thought I'd gone insane forever, it was scary as hell. I stumbled out and realized I'd freaked out and calmed down and slept. Then there was that time I fainted in T’s bathroom after taking a large hit off a joint. Drunk combined with THC made me think I was dying or something. It's a feeling, an overwhelming, a dark deathrush, and when it happens I lose myself. But shortly after popping my second speedy E pill outside the Ewok Village, when the feeling hit me and I got REAL queasy REAL fast and I thought: OH NO! ECSTASY IS EVIL TOO! I'M GONNA FAINT AND FREAK OUT RIGHT HERE IN THE DANCE PIT AND THEY'LL DRAG ME TO A FIRST AID TENT AND HUMILIATE ME FOR BEING A PUSSY AND MY MIND WILL BREAK AND I'LL NEVER BE SANE AGAIN! - I realized, I know this feeling. It's just the freakout feedback loop, just a feeling of being physically overwhelmed. I can ride it out, I'm on E, it's supposed to be fun. So I did, and I got over it. Don't know if I can do that on a hardcore psychedelic but I hope so, it would save me a lot of anxiety.
Now a few words on the acid. That resonance is still there. It's not getting weaker or stronger, it's just there, and it's looking like it's there for good, and I've just gotta get used to it. The "it" is really fucking subtle, but it's basically that the world I'm in just doesn't seem to be the same one I was in before I dropped, particularly visually. It's not that I'm seeing more (maybe I'm noticing different things), but that the emotional and associative responses my brain makes are different. Seeing objects and scenes generate unexpected, seemingly random chains of associations from islands of memory I haven't accessed in years or even decades. It's very eerie. I've heard of stuff like this happening but I never imagined I'd experience it first hand, and have that be a possibly permanent alteration.
And the idea that I'm seeing reality unadorned with a mindfilter residue - yeah, maybe. I could appreciate this idea intellectually before, but having it HAPPEN, FEELING it in emotional response, the incredible unignorable subtlety of it I keep remarking on to myself every few minutes. It's there undoubtedly, but what it is I really can't say. I guess it's okay but there is a loss of a reliable natural high - the euphoria I could get on demand by invoking familiar associations and thoughts and feelings just by revisiting a certain place, like Gyro Park. The reason I can't ignore the reality of this phenomenon is it extents to everything. People places objects music words. I composed music today, trying to invoke recent feelings but for some damned reason, every note I laid down seemed to somehow express the feeling of being bored and tired and cold in a trailer park outside a Marina in Arrow Lakes I used to stay over summer nights when I was a kid - every harmony was a perfect component of this flavor of long-forgotten experience even though what I'd been intending had nothing to do with it and there was no programmatic or impressionistic link I could imagine. The bakery is different, it's like I applied for the job last week. Raz is different. The sky, the mountains, the grass, the feeling of sunlight. So this void is creepy. It's almost existential but maybe I'm just re-imprinting. My brain might be changed forever but in a year I won't notice because I'll have a head re-stocked with associative thoughts and feelings. I can see why some think of acid as a cleansing, maybe you get used to the wipe/re-imprint cycle, and it probably gets less intense the more often you trip.
I suspect it might have something to do with the limbic system in the brain, possibility in conjunction with rogue neuron-firing cascades. The syndrome where brain damaged people insist their family members and houses are doppelgangers is called Capgras' Delusion I think, and I certainly don't have anything that severe. I still feel the warmth I always have when seeing my mom, but there is still that subtle "difference" I just can't define. I notice how much older she looks now. I think of the acid as a rupture of plane, smoother than salvia but perhaps more complex, more psychologically integrated.
The actual trip was intense and fascinating, although I forget the bulk. I remember it was always moving on a serious and solid bedrock. I did laugh a bit around the peak but they were nervous laughs, I wasn't sure if they were appropriate. It was very much about chaos and order. Absurdity reigned, it was the deus-ex-machima godhead intervention except I could only see God as the void. Then I felt the presence of some entity, some quasi-human character with in a black hat, ego distortion but not ego loss.
I think the acid could have intensified that sick-gnosis-mania, getting to the end too soon and not being able to come back. I feel slightly different as a person but at the same time I see my behavior patterns as generally falling into line with the old self, whoever that's supposed to be. I'm sure it could be VERY effective for behavior modification though. I can see why the psychologists of the '60s were so enamored with it. Why aren't they still? Do they know something we don't? Are they opposed to answers that come in blotter form? Hmmm... could Douglas Adams' supercomputer "Deep Thought" have been a metaphor for LSD? Think about it.
I drank coffee at work last night to keep me up and felt the nauseas mania consume me again, tying together all the acid and ecstasy threads. I put on music, most of which continued the parade of strange and long-forgotten associations, soaked with that eerie Capgras disconnect, like they were someone else's. The music that finally got me feeling good was Aphex Twin, something I didn't expect. There was a beautiful desolate melancholia about it that was just right. A little Nintendo nostalgia fit into a deeper soulful framework - maybe I loved that it was so inhuman, I could relate better to mechanically sculpted soundwaves and voicesynths. Then Faith No More came on and I could dig that too - I loved the mediocrity of it - never liked the band that much but they were endearingly cheesy without going right off the cliff into the chasm of bad taste. They symbolized good decent hardworking fun-loving musicians free of that terrible rancid burden of genius and art - no, it was just about having hair and fun and rocking out and it helped me forget the ridiculous imperatives to ultimate truth and the ultimate idiocy of knowing it.
So I had a dream last night that inspired most of these thoughts but it felt so pure compared to this teeth-clenching exegesis. It felt like what I'm searching for in this text, the search itself, the sutra bead. I forget the great idiosyncratic core of the dream so I'm saying it's about Shambhala or something, and deciding which person each character represents. I'm going to turn it into an epic poem. It'll be a zen bridge so people can pass back and forth between the fake and the real at leisure, mingle with hallucinations maybe. I think it'll be understandable at some point.
20 Aug 2005
17 Aug 2005
I drank Jennifer's tequila and smoked dope in the morning until I warmed up. I wandered around, observed the tangled strings of people freaking around me. Later that day, close to sundown, I decided I was either going to head home today or trip out. Okay, I thought, I'll take the acid. Half a hit, since it's supposed to be very pure and 200 mics per hit. I cut up a blotter square and ate half. Gave the other to Brooksy. Awaited the trip nervously.
I was still feeling mental fallout from all the E, and a dazey plateau of stoned sleep deprivation, and as the nervousness faded I laid down on a blanket under the pavilion and rubbed against my girlfriend, talking happily with my friends. Nothing seemed to be happening after half an hour, which was when I started getting impatient. I would comment on my "sober" status at five minute intervals. Jennifer suggested I take a toke to bring it on so I did. I started feeling stoned, but I still didn't feel like I was tripping.
Then I noticed that the colors on my girlfriend's headband were brighter than they should be, and seemed to be glowing and sparkling, the colored stripes interchanging. This was subtle, but signaled the onset. I lay on the blanket and looked up at the pavilion, draped with ornate fabrics. The colors seemed much richer, edges sharper, shades nuanced. Had I ever really seen this shade of red before? It was not quite burgundy, something else. I looked at Tony sitting on the chair. He seemed to sit with purpose, a human hinge in an epic drama that was life - glasses an uber-cool peripheral, omega of style. I felt a moment of timeless contentment. Perception seemed sticky, very mild trailers in movement, higher frames per second, lowering filters in the truest most explicit fashion. It made E feel like fufu brain candy. I told Tony that acid was worth a thousand times more. A wave of euphoria washed over me.
But then the wave of perceptual enhancement dissipated. I sat up with a WTF look on my face, feeling silly for going off on a rapture. I felt nearly down again. No, my field of view was now expanded, a panorama, I could see peripherals nearly as clearly as what was in front of my vision and colors were bright and pure, just not as much as that initial wave. There was a benign confusion and indecision with a buzzy electricity. Felt clean though, my brain seemed to be liking it. After much aimless wandering about the camp, I decided I wanted to go for a walk, the familiar stimuli of the pavilion seemed to be bringing me down. I wanted nature. I walked with Dez. I seemed to be on a plateau of mild alteration. The confusion intensified. What was I doing, what was I supposed to be doing? Where was it going, anywhere? I didn't realize it but this was the subtle beginning of the mind unraveling. The confusion became annoying, where was the clarity?
I wandered around the field away from tent city seeing grass in exquisite detail (also cowpies with swarming flies) but not really caring. I was waiting for the trip to kick into high gear but it didn't seem to be co-operating. I made my way back to the camp whereupon our party decided to walk into the multi-staged rave. I went with them. I was surprised how not-freaked out I was. I knew for sure I was tripping but nothing seemed to be building to anything. Except the frustration and negativity. I decided to take another full hit.
Tony was coming up on his single hit as we entered the forest paths. He was perma-grinning and remarking on the riches of his tracers and perceptual alteration. I followed my group, on the tail end, occasionally wandering off, waiting to tumble into psychedelic tangents that wouldn't come. I reclined on a wooden bench and the others gathered around me. Someone passed a joint around and I toked. It seemed to have little effect. My friends could tell I was not getting off. Where was the other hit? It didn't seem to be getting stronger.
Except - something was different. Something about connotation. Seemed like all connotation had been stripped away. Where before my mind had assigned significance to things it now seemed as if this significance had been destroyed and I was sensing unadorned reality. I didn't reason this out, just experienced it, and it felt like a huge downer. The THEME seemed to be MUNDANITY - not a word I would choose or remotely want to seize on, but remorselessly, maddeningly echoing in my head in fractal feedback loops all the same. EVERYTHING is MUNDANE, HOLLOW, MEANINGLESS, POINTLESS - NOBODY IS REAL - THEY ARE ROBOTS - THIS IS REALITY - THIS IS YOU.
And it seemed like a ridiculous joke... THIS is acid? This is what an acid trip is? What's so fucking great about this? My mind is certainly altered severely but to what fucking effect? Fooock man, holeeey sheit, feck feck feck, yaiaaah (Shambhala lingo - what happened to you last night man?) willfully bending to the smooth, coolified dumbed down version of the gnosis with interlocking highs, interspliced with intellectual cadenzas, ya dude, the shamblahblah isolated oasis novel idiom):
So I'm thinking, I'm not freaking out, I'm not hallucinating, and NOTHING is REMOTELY funny. It's all serious. The thought occurred to me: maybe this is the result of acid tweaking out the seretonin-depleted mind of an ecstasy binger.
We wandered back to the camp. I hoped I wasn't giving my high friends a contact low. The sun had slipped below the mountain and the light was drab. Everything seemed shadowed in limp-wristed entropy. I thought: I'm tripping out on how lame everything is. And it's just going to get lamer. The sun is going to be gone and I'm facing darkness, cold, death, nothingness. I don't feel like partying in that vacuous glowing going through the motions bullshit. And time is dilated, it's going to feel like years.
When I sat down in a chair under the pavilion I realized how different I was already. My mind was unraveling. I was flailing around, the detonation of connotation had already proceeded to such lengths that I could not connect to any aspect of my previous personality or reality and this was freaky. Although what I saw and heard seemed to be pretty much the same, the mechanism of processing was warped in a way I could not come to grips with. Still felt clean physically but connected to the dirt current of classic baroque boddhistatva wrecks.
I didn't really get off for about two hours, it built so subtly and slowly. It seemed like a ridiculous joke for so long (exactly what Tony said would happen) and then my mind tore apart. The vacuum roared in, the fractal chaos hyperorder surged in the cracks, all meaning was everywhere and nowhere. I felt the disconnect, the impossibility of interacting in any meaningful way with this place and these people and all systems of belief collapsed in cryptic crumbles, a ridiculous monstrous chaostrophy.
I was also losing control of myself and emotions. I felt like a freak out was appropriate and I spilled onto the ground, babbling about my trip. I felt a permanent change in my brain. The flavor of cerebral functioning had changed in some fundamental way. The others sensed what was happening. Tony and Brooksy were also on acid though less. They were veterans. Jennifer told me I'd never be the same again, I believed her. I felt it, past the point of no return, a giddy nausea. I couldn't conceive of connecting back to the habits which were now fragments, fucked up, not quite funny, advertising the idiocity of the entity I'd been and must be. The programming of my animal body had halted in syntax error. Brooksy offered me a cigarette, I declined. Gary summed up the meaning of the universe when I asked him for authority: "Rock on". Sounded good to me. But it was only a sound. But it was only a sound. Visual and auditory distortion was minimal but I was mindfucked to the MAX.
I kept asking how long it had been since I dosed. I was tense but it didn't feel intolerable like the mushroom mindfuck. Just unbelievably weird. No, it was believable, it was the only thing I could believe, it was the truth for better or worse. Huge clumps of old superstitions and baseless fears washed away. I felt I was handling things and there was no need to worry about freaking out as I often do. I was beyond living and death, the words had lost meaning. I was dissolved in quantum nonlocality, arbitrarily connecting to alternate realities and personalities and purposes, or with divine purpose? B said something about acid being an instant path to God and at first it seemed ridiculous, but then I saw God as the void, the ultimate reality that was stripping away all the strange notions I'd foisted on the fragments of the world that had managed to pass through my filters into awareness, and the phrase seemed perfectly apt.
I felt like I could sense the ultimate truth, the oberpattern, the SENSE, the ANSWER in the universe. I could sense its reality and how it penetrated everything in my perception and every possibility branching off that. But it was necessarily out of order. This was the theme of the trip - it's all HERE, the meaning, the culmination, but the pattern is scrambled. That's what life is - a puzzle, to be arranged, ordered by mind, according to a mind's aesthetic. But I couldn't decide if it meant ego control.
Now that all methods of comprehension had been yanked away, I had to impose my own order but the responsibility was imposing. Drifting through the chaos didn't seem to satisfy though, I wanted patterns. New patterns. I chatted with Brooksy about what was happening, feeling terribly sublimely weird. I noticed the others had left. Night was almost here. The light in the pavilion was on. I realized I was on the ground looking up at insects circling the light. I noticed that the fabric was breathing, flowing, melting. I WAS hallucinating! Like a MOTHERFUCKER!
There was something beautiful here in this chaos but with a dark splinter, the dark splinter that was in my brain, perhaps necessary to my mind, my existence, something I couldn't tear out without obliterating my reality. Acid was lifting me beyond reality though. It was ridiculously thematic, reminding me of salvia somehow - like a long layered version of a salvia peak, except goddamnit, it had a PERSONALITY. I felt an entity on the other side, filtering me through its elaborate ontology - the acid entity - male, apollonian, shifty-eyed. Smooth olive skin, brown hat, wild black hair, tall as a mountain, sexual, magical. A wise freak, gowned in translucent veils of hallucination, threads of brilliant diamond crystal poly-puns, handing out esoterica like candy, saving the better knowledge for more worthy perturbators, heroic dosers, saving the best for the order of aliens in league with Satan.
A Faustian theme, was this Mephistopheles in chemical form, the philosopher's stone? What would I have to renounce to continue the trip? Omni-hallucination. They moved like mushrooms with more flexibility and variation, they would build from a seed then explode into unpredictable sequels, surprising, confounding. They would flow from cartoon-like to solidity of unfathomable density - sharp texture, shining true fractals, Mandelbrot rockfaces, sea, air, vapour, bubbles, jungles, rainbows, roads, veins, networks, symmetry, asymmetry, moving in the most bizarre ways, sometimes slow, sometimes fast as a flash yet smooth with a framerate to blow synthetic representations of vision out of the water, on and on and on, soaring through halls, artistic, ancient motifs, futuristic designs, maps, words, TEXT! Machines, alien languages on pages, relentless flood of information I felt I should have been understanding. The POSSIBILITY!
I could see how people could leave the body behind - I nearly had the option. With eyes closed I could almost become my hallucinations, surrender to the flow, let open portals to other planets and branches off the genetic tree and alternate civilizations, go through with gravity, taking me on the starchild trip, life being the springboard.
Night fell and I thought I'd try sensory deprivation to intensify hallucination. I went into the tent where Dez was sleeping. Little did I know I was in for an hour of sexual politics, the hyper-real human trip twisted with fractal hallucinogenic possibilities, inescapable human hangups, damning lack of aggression, perceived impurity. I tried the best I could to put things in perspective, then got out of the tent to a cold wet night, the sound of rave music drifting across the field, fucked up people stumbling around. The night seemed in shreds, dregs, all was downer trying to contrive upper with horrible driven decadence and glowsticks to bury the infant footfalls in the mortar of salvia's politics, the reality of bullshit, a cancerous cluster of cars and RVs, Jesus dying for my sins, Satan sucking my soul through a syringe. I tried to forget all that had happened, I thought I could create a new reality. But reality created me.
I wandered through the rave wrapped up in heavy clothes, keeping to myself. Crazy Sunday night party going on in the dregs and detritus of Shambhala hardcore hippie craques. Good vibes I could not connect to - cast out of the crack binge - so some cynical laughter and supreme confusion - and the cold of night, shivering, waiting for the sun, dilated time, slow centuries of hours, everyone sketched out or elated, unable to connect with humans, tangents multiplying exponentially, fractally.
All seemed contrived and vacuous, I couldn't get into it. I met a couple friends, Jenna and Chad. We talked about the various pills we'd found - how the pink ones were speedy and the green ones were mellow and the blue ones were visual, etc. There was a sadness all around but it felt transient and tied to the environment. I wanted to leave, go home, go to a bar, go anywhere, get warm especially, but I was stuck. I thought about doing some E to improve my mood but I already felt like I'd put my brain in a blender from all the pills (the second roll ended up feeling grotesquely fake as my girlfriend peaked after me and reflected my crazed first person sap right back), plus I didn't know where they were and the crash might be awful.
I went back to our camp, stumbling over strewn-about junk. Nobody was close by. I thought I'd sit in a chair and stare until morning. The sky looked amazing. Stars glowed with colored halos while green lasers stabbed into the night from the middle of the rave. There was also a meteor shower happening (not a hallucination), and on top of that, multicolored lines were constantly shooting between stars connecting them in stellar cobwebs on different layers simultaneously.
I closed my eyes and saw portals to alternative universes, clear visions in high definition, infinite variations of form and motion, switchboard open to interpretation. There was a purity of perversion. I wrote several novels in my head. Epic poems and synesthetic symphonies. Achingly beautiful grotesqueries of the gymnastics of the perversions of the love for what I'm not with, and realizing the prize in front of my eyes.
Then, then - so so much happened - so many twists and turns and I know I'm only scratching the surface. All epic and focused and thematic, shifting strangely, then even more strangely recapitulating, boosting the meaning to a new abstraction then discovering its concreteness, raising the tower of babel to collapse in the morning. I got used to waiting through dilated time, I stumbled back into the tent. Me and Dez tried to warm each other, it was a vaguely satisfying way to spend the night. The sun finally came up.
Our party re-convened, Dez felt better. Tony had a nasty acid comedown. We ate, shopped, packed things up, marveled at the decadence and detritus, the craziness of our three day rave. I was in a haze, burnt out with a bizarre humour, ready to leave. I managed to drive us home. I felt a little insane, like I'd lost my mind, but I was loving the chaos frothing out of the newly-rent cracks in habit and mundanity, fantastically beautiful. I also loved that I was dealing with the trip and not a total basket case.
The day after:
Today I'm looking on everything with new eyes. Nothing seems the same, nothing means the same. I'm not who I was, my personal pattern is scrambled hyperdimensionally. My mood is much improved and I still feel a strong resonance from the acid. I don't know how I'll re-integrate.
It was an instant rupture in personality, life, paradigm. I'm re-connotating everything and I feel like I'm a traveler in my hometown. I went into a coffee shop and gawked at the most mundane objects. There was no mundane object really.
The connotation of everything is stripped and I'm a blank slate, able to re-imprint with impunity. There were many things wrong with the setting but it was still a fascinating trip. I'm eager to try again but I don't want to overdo it, I think LSD demands discipline and judicious use.
10 Aug 2005
6 Aug 2005
Tommy is ten, on a ten-speed. He’s tearing down the steepest road in town. Somewhere between eighth and seventh street, he converts to a new mindstate, actually an old one he hasn’t known in years. He might as well be back under the chestnut tree. It’s spiritual authority, useful for anything, even biking down a slope. It makes a good thing great, almost too great to bear, certainly witness to. It’s a wonderful tool, why did he leave it in the shed for so long? He sleeps through the sect services because they don’t understand about the inner light, they’re looking in the wrong places. He’s heard of a faith that calls itself “The Church of the Inner Light” but it sounds like a contradiction in terms.
The seventh street transition starts with a tingling chill in his head which bursts into a full-body shiver like all his nerves are spontaneously spiking electric icicles. It’s a wonderful feeling, immediately opening rusty doors in every brainlobe. He remembers. He’s got a name for the light now. He calls it "heaven". He salvaged the word from Christianity’s wreckage.
Heaven is getting more sophisticated. He’s creating after-death real estate in his head, starting from the simple principle that you get to do whatever you like best… forever. It’s a thrilling concept and one that seems aesthetically true, which is the most compelling form of truth, inseparable from the light. Soon after deciding on this cosmological axiom however, he realizes with some dismay that he’ll probably be an old man when he dies, and he’ll only like boring stuff like doing crossword puzzles and sailing yachts and Grandpa George type stuff, a hellish itinerary for eternity. It would be unthinkable to damn himself to this lame hereafter.
Soon he invents the fingersnapping amendment – the breakthrough of the cosmological constitution: whenever he thinks of a wonderful activity that is beyond his ability to do in this restrictive reality, he snaps his fingers as a physical manifestation of his wish. These wishes will be catalogued by God who will store them up and save them until he gets to heaven, where he will have an eternity of fun things to do, ten thousand narrative paths to bliss that he had, in his wisdom, asked God for early in life, when his notions of fun were most finely honed.
Each fingersnapping wish is, in essence, a prayer to God. And they’re reasonable requests. He’s not asking the Lord to move mountains or make changes to his physical environment. He’s just asking to remember all the things he wants to do in this charged time and have them available after death. This also explains why God saved him from the cough syrup. If he’d died at age four, he’d never have come up with the fingersnapping revelation and would be doomed to an eternity of boring babyish bliss which couldn’t possibly be real bliss anyway, just some paradoxical nirvana and that’s no fun. No, no mashed-apricot Disney delirium for him. He wants his afterlife filled with concrete joys like being two hundred feet tall and trashing a city Godzilla-style or hitting the game-winning homerun of the world series in the bottom of the ninth. In space! In a cylindrical solar-powered baseball colony on the threshold of interstellar war, where the game decides the fates of millions!
Tommy considers himself a connoisseur of fun. No one seems to understand how to cultivate the obviously supreme ideals of fun he houses in his head, fun being formulated as coolness times energy, and the unabashed expression thereof. So his purpose in life seems obvious. It’s to acquire enough life experience to make educated decisions about what a perfectly structured afterlife will be. He thinks he’s about there already.
He’s accustomed to the word "afterlife" but it doesn’t seem a fitting term to describe what will be the meat of existence. The forever time. Forever… such a dizzying concept, even moreso than the rush of reckless riding stunts. The combination is a nauseous carnival ecstasy. He snakes through a stretch of gravel with a slight wobble and careens past a stop sign. A car is heading up the road in the opposite lane.
What if he crashed into it, he wonders? He shuts his eyes and rehearses death in his head as he does often these days: A spectacular collision, a gory interruption, BAM! Brains spill out the skull – fade out – fade in… Reunion with… what? Suddenly the comforting thought-jaunt blunders into virgin territory. An ancient homeland? Whatever it is, it’s not part of the plan and it’s not inner-light illuminated. There is something there, outside the shaft. The image of a clown exiled from mirth and dwelling in the sewers, a sick unfunny clown who took the joke too far, a razor-sharp logical end and a sarcastic cackle. What do you really want, asks a voice from nowhere, everywhere. An association of clean, sterile torment, respirators to prop up painful breath and retrograde life. A hospital drone and transparent plastic suffocation. Where does this come from? Does he want to know?
No, he tells himself, get that out of your head. It’s part of that subversion that’s been popping up a lot lately when the chill of beauty rips through his body and thoughts turn to heavenly concerns. It offers nothing, it’s a blank bastard - probably a churchy relic, he thinks with anger. Black, squirming guilt with no reason. He doesn’t need a devil. He opens his eyes again to make sure he’s not about to swerve into the car. Turns out it’s long gone and he’s passed another stop sign.
He feels like he won this round with the clown but there may be others ahead. Each encounter seems more intense than the last. How long can he hold himself together in the face of this dogged opponent? Not long, he thinks. Maybe the light will save him. It did once, he seems to recall. Hazily. So much more to think about. So many real sensorial riches to string together and add to the light’s aggregate.
Sunday school seems to pale in comparison to his imagination.
When Jimmy was six he got a job hauling bricks.
Jimmy is a child with a name that ends in Y. This is because a parent thought it suited his youthful state. He’s part of a large minority of such children. He doesn’t care too much for the Y, or the extra M for that matter, but he’s too reserved to get it changed.
The workers seem to revel in the Y as they tousle his blond hair and send him on a brick hauling run. "Could you wheel this load to the south side of the complex please Jimmy?" They find it adorable that he insists on helping with his father’s engineering firm and its endless projects. Brick hauling was a task he specifically singled out. No one knows what the appeal is but they found a small barrow to suit him. His hands are steady and his stamina keeps him at it for hours. He comes in after school and on Saturdays. When he’s not hauling bricks he likes to survey the frame of the building-in-progress. He likes to see things go up.
He used to come in to work with his father but the big man is at the office most of the time now, so he shows up early with the chief and pours coffee for the crew. He takes home a wage comparable to the official hires. Nobody knows what he spends it on. Toys? Candy?
"Want some licorice?" asks Tommy.
"No thanks," Jimmy says.
Tommy’s got twenty strands, ten red, ten black. He bought them at the corner store, the only place that sells the kind he likes. He’s riding with his friend Jimmy in the Salekin Construction company car. They’re on their way to the downtown site where an arena is being built from the wreckage of old tenements. They should make it down there by six thirty. The sun might be up by then.
"Do you really need all that candy?" asks Mr. Salekin from the front seat.
"Yeah," Tommy says, and bites into the ends of two sticks at once. "Hey, I bet you could buy like a million sticks of licorice with all the money you have," he says to Jimmy.
Jimmy smiles. "More like a billion, probably. But I’d rather invest it."
Mr. Salekin chuckles. Tommy doesn’t bother to ask what investing is. He asked once before but Jimmy seemed uninterested in shedding any light on the subject. It’s outer light stuff if it’s light at all. It sure seems to light up Jimmy’s mind though. He’s a money kid. Tommy’s a candy kid – he goes straight to the source. Forget the middling money changing.
The sky is an overcast purple, filtered sunrise buried below the buildings of the downtown core. Saul Kirklin, the long haired painter, has shown up early. He’s been waiting for them. He’s got a tall, high-strung looking co-worker with him. Saul strides up to Mr. Salekin who appears ready for anything.
"I just came here today to tell you I’m quitting and I’m going to sue you into the fuckin’ poorhouse," Saul says. He’s shifting his considerable weight from one foot to the other like he’s in a boxing match, just shy of hopping. Not hopping mad, Tommy thinks. Pretty close though.
"Don’t use those words in front of my boy," Salekin says. His voice is a stern sigh which reminds Tommy of a crime boss he saw on TV once.
"I could give a shit about your kid."
Tommy can no longer keeps his eyes on the exchange. He lowers his head and studies the tracks heavy machines have made in the mud. He finds it uncomfortable hearing adults swear. All the grown-ups in his life are calm authoritarians with strict standards of verbal civility. Swearing is for petty little rebels like him and his school friends. Unrestrained language in this context is weird and scary – it heralds chaos and crumbling. Jimmy has just gained another five or six cool points with Tommy for handling this environment on a daily basis.
"Go ahead and make a scene if you want," says Mr. Salekin, "but you’re embarrassing yourself. You have no case, do you realize that? There is a certain way things work. We can’t rearrange the whole system for your personal benefit. Do you think you’re playing Sim City?"
Jimmy starts giggling. Saul seems taken aback, like he didn’t expect the owner of the company to defend himself. Tommy is less scared now. Equilibrium seems to be snapping back. Mr. Salekin will take care of things as he always does.
"What the fuck are you going on about? I don’t play games," Saul says. His friend is squinting at Mr. Salekin and his earlybird entourage.
"You’re wasting your time, he doesn’t care," says the thick-necked Chief, returning from the coffee maker. "You might as well explain gravity to a squirrel monkey."
Saul is about to storm off but his friend turns his squint to Jimmy and makes a connection. "You know what?" he says in a shrill voice. "That little twerp ratted us out. He was asking all sorts of questions about the union!"
Jimmy says nothing but stares back hard.
"You’re both fired, get out of here!" the Chief growls.
The former employees put on their best smirks and take their exit. Saul stops to turn around and flip them off. His friend quickly follows suit with a fuck off stance, then they storm across the mudfield to the temporary parking lot. A minute later, a car engine starts and struggles to a piteous idle with sick high-pitched overtones. They sound like the whimpers of a fallen squirrel monkey, fucked over by gravity. The car speeds away leaving the site in eerie calm.
"I knew they were trouble" says Jimmy.
Tommy has to ask. "What was that about?" He doesn’t feel it’s his place but damned if he’s going to be out of this loop.
"Disgruntled workers," Mr. Salekin explains. "We’ve had to weed some out. Things’ve been running pretty smooth on the project until last week."
Tommy turns to Jimmy. "He said you… ratted him out?"
Jimmy leaks a smile.
"Saul was the agitator," Mr. Salekin says. "Jim was able to infiltrate the group and single him out. Break the faceless collective into pieces. In situations like these we need a leader to make an example of. Jim was able to get him for us. Did it of his own initiative too. That’s my boy."
Jimmy’s smile widens to an "aw-shucks" grin.
"Example of?" Tommy asks, feeling dumb.
"Well we didn’t have to do much in this case. A little provocation did the trick."
Salekin’s speech is smooth and assured. Sedating. This disturbs Tommy because it reminds him of the blank. But it seems to make things work. It’s the voice of competence. Everything seems to tick in time to its syllables. He feels power by association. He’s with the winning team. He can venture another question, the team will educate him. "What’s a union?"
"Employees getting together to try and screw my dad out of money," Jimmy answers.
"That sucks," Tommy says.
Salekin lets out a hearty laugh and says: "Jim you’ve helped out a lot, more than I would have asked of you. How’d you like to attend an executive meeting with me?"
"Sure dad," Jimmy says like he’s ringing up a sale.
Several cars pull into the lot behind them and less-agitated employees converge on the site. Jimmy is talking quietly with one who towers over him. Tommy tries to hear the conversation but he can’t make it out. He wanders off to the sloping edge of the mud field where most of the interesting construction detritus lies. If Jimmy is busy he can have fun by himself. He’s been collecting materials. He picks up a straight length of metal pipe, admiring the sheen and his distorted reflection. He likes to come up with names for things, forget the conventions. What would he call this metal? Reflectium. Yeah.
"Tom, don’t play with that stuff," Jimmy calls, jerking him out of his reverie. "Some of the pipe ends have got a toxic sealant on them - plus we’re having to use leftover materials because of…" Tommy tunes out. He drops the pipe back on the mud, then catches the end of Jimmy’s casual rebuke: "…supply and people have been just taking stuff."
"Fine, whatever," Tommy calls back and swallows hard. Last week he’d taken home several lengths of pipe to adorn his treefort. Jimmy drifts away and gets to brick hauling, occasionally breaking for other tasks. Tommy walks circuits around the site, waiting for something. He doesn’t know what. Everyone’s busy. He can make out no conversation but a general air of rough talk as the activity buzzes about. Every now and then Jimmy pops into sight, moving with purpose, the fixture of the force. Whatever Tommy’s waiting for, it doesn’t seem to be coming. If he can’t even grab himself a pipe or two he might as well go home. He’s got better ways to spend the weekend.
The third movement arpeggios are not going smoothly no matter how many times he repeats them. He’s got the pattern in his head but the wrong notes somehow continue to fall under his fingers. He’s hit the wall again, the technical wall, virtuosos thriving at the top, amateur splatter crusting on the concrete cliff. He tries to bootstrap himself to pianistic proficiency by trying a two-handed quadruple octave C sharp harmonic minor scale. The plastic keys are unforgiving, his claws will not acclimatize to the cursed instrument. His teacher is going to lecture him about this. But that’s not for three days and the sun is shining so who cares?
Tommy’s had enough Beethoven for today, maybe forever. His imagination seems better served by speculating on heaven’s ever-growing real estate market. He leaves the sonata pages on the music stand, bathed in sunlight, and leaves his bedroom, heading for the kitchen’s back door. His parents are out visiting friends, thus unable to enforce piano practice, and they wouldn’t know a well executed C sharp minor scale from a poorly played D major arpeggio anyway. And he has that yardwork to do on top of the increasingly lame piano regimen. He knows he’s more likely to get berated for shrugging off the yardwork than abandoning the music. Is rote learning really music making anyway? Only in the most technical sense, Tommy decides. And that’s what Glenn Gould and player pianos are for.
He was planning on straining through the Beethoven ten times, then playing some X-Men on his game box and leaving the yard chores for tomorrow, but having a dull practice session frame a radiant spring day has compelled him to head outside, something he rarely does post-Nintendo, and he feels he should complete at least one of his chores if he’s not going to do his laps around the sonata. Anyway, he’d rather water the garden and plant some sod beside the brick path than play another note.
Tommy leaves the house, pulls the sod-heaped wheelbarrow out of the shed, and gets to work. Thoughts wander as he labors at a leisurely pace. He realizes that today is typical of his increasing inclination to abandon intellectually-challenging chores for simple physical work. At least he knows how to pack sod. The mysteries of wielding a commanding arpeggio with stubby-fingered hands seem too much trouble to bother with. He’d rather seize on the bird-in-the-hand of five dollars an hour than the bird-in-the-bush of a career playing piano, an unfortunate instrumental commitment. Five is a pretty good wage for chores he wasn’t getting paid to do at all last year, he thinks. It’s not Jimmy money, but Jimmy’s on some other plane of reality so it’s stupid to make the comparison. Besides, he’s not making any money practicing piano and he sure didn’t make anything being trotted out to stuffy recitals to take his place in the line up of kids and their botched bagatelles.
He still dreams of wowing the crowds with blistering renditions of hard-core repertoire but it’s sweeter to dream than play an arpeggio thirty times in a row and have the thirtieth try sound as good as the first if not worse. That’s rather sour. His friends says he’s got to be a rebel and take risks but he’s not the lottery playing type – let the suckers blow their allowance money on that. If he’s going to rebel, he’ll do it by opting out of the status-seeking game.
He’s had passion for the piano, wild uncontrollable energy with a clownish lunacy, sometimes downright scary, that can express the inner light in its idiomatic rightness, but now it seems that it can’t be contained within an eighty-eight-key instrument or any configuration of strings and reeds. The passion is more true and intense reflected in the grass and leaves and patterns of bark on smooth rippled birch to counterpoint the gnarled gnosis of fruit trees. This is where the light collects. By the time it’s so removed from the source as to take the form of something as oblique as a Beethoven sonata, it’s barely worth acknowledging. And yet the yard stimuli delicately arrange associations that matter, synthetic offsets of organic precursors. Like the concert fantasies – from stately pine to solo piano mastery. The connection is twisted but pianos are made of wood – trees, in their ecological origin, being lumber for the intricacies of mind-dipped reveries that take place in concert halls and clubs, what Tommy thinks of as the elite concrescence of nature, foliage compressed to its dense musical destiny through metal frames and ivory keys and thundering octaves and resonating strings. He appreciates something that can generate a good fantasy.
Tommy screws the hose into the tap by the tomato plants, untangles the length of it, and connects the other end to a sprinkler in the center of the garden. His thoughts turn to heaven again and that earthly mechanism of heaven, the finger snap. He feels guilt about the Beethoven sonata pages discarded above the keyboard but he can amend the gap here and now by snapping his fingers, which he does, in a deliberate gesture set against the purpling spring sky. He needn’t be a slave to the admitted righteousness of the concert pianist ambitions – this pale life will never be able to flesh them out anyway. He must wait until the flesh is gone. Leave the ambitions to compost in the garden. He will cultivate a concert fantasy, an underdog journey, something unexpected. Scriabin, hardcore repertoire, give the crowd what they didn’t know they wanted, high art, reflecting the supreme textures of nature. He knows what his mind is good for. The inner light is as bright as ever but increasingly pitted against inexplicable spots of blank.
He’s found a useful strategy for coping with the blank lately, a focus which is not hard to maintain. His thoughts turn to the girl who sits next to him in homeroom class. Seventh grade has brought with it a whole-hearted focus on the opposite sex. He’s somewhat disgusted by the hormone driven fixation but he’ll grudgingly acknowledge it’s a form of righteousness, even if it’s one he feels more slave to than master of.
He must snap his fingers again because there’s something to save for later, something that would be a shame to forget. Forget Playboy, forget Hustler, forgot the club-hopping lust-freakos. He’s got the best fantasies and ideals, the ones generated by people and arranged by him through his divine filter’s high definition texturizer. There’s nothing finer than texture, bark, the pores of Margaret’s soft skin, wisps of girl hair barely there, curly blond locks and small lithe body, a modest dress that cloaks kinky secrets. Tommy notes with a sigh that she’s probably a bitch like so many of them have proven to be but her worth is sublime skin for him to stuff, fill in what’s blighted and lacking, reverse the bitchy polarities and realize the essence of Margaret, perfect name for a face, a face for him to inflate to fully-fleshed-out external penetrable beauty beyond the shaft, beyond the door, beyond the bitch in this life to the possibilities tailored for him by him, marked by his mind. Margaret is marked, assumed bitch factor rendered null and void, fed to the blank, something for the bastard to chew on so his mind won’t self-cannibalize. The times they could have, would have, THE time, the neverending time, stuttering trajectories of lusty love looping in on itself. He would be understood, he would understand her, she would be understandable, integral with a feminine raison d’etre he can’t comprehend pre-heaven. No, it’s all preview now, the time of acquiring.
"Son, are you telling me you believe that the universe is a big automated machine set up to take care of your every whim after death? I suggest again that you do as I asked and take up your Bible. Start with the Old Testament."
Tommy doesn’t discuss cosmological matters with his parents anymore.
He’s growing his security claws again. He threw the nail clippers away to make a point. He doesn’t play piano anymore. He snapped the melodies and harmonies away for future reference.
He grows security claws because people make fun of his fingernails and he takes pride in that. It means he’s on the right track. And he feels good with claws, sharp on the sides, naturally. They’re a physical and spiritual tool, a ceremonial weapon and orange peeler. He doesn’t have a lot anymore. His friends are in different circles, concentric circles, while he’s in some overlaying square, angular and anxious. He doesn’t really have friends anymore and he doesn’t have cool. He’s been stripped of his cool credentials in increasingly strained dealings with social groups. He must be well into the negative numbers now. But there is a beauty to the negativity. And he has his body to fall back on, his unconventional aesthetic, his hair, his stare, his deadly fingers. He’s more, at his core, than they’ll ever be, enamored with branded superficialities. He snaps his fingers every once in a while to remind himself of the ways in which this clawed core can manifest. He doesn’t have to slice up the locker harasser for stealing his gym shoes and tossing them across the hall. So much more civilized to consign vengeance to the afterlife. Snap.
He feels secure in his claws. Nobody better get too close because then finger snapping won’t satisfy. He’ll have to be here and now and carnivorous.
Passing by the staircase crowd on the way to biology class, Tommy swears he hears something said about unions and possibly busting. He knows Jimmy is nearby, telling his tales. He can’t successfully tune out because Jimmy is a painfully compelling peripheral. He tries to avoid the Jimmy vibes rippling through the milling masses but absorbs them anyway. Jimmy’s gained a strange form of stardom Tommy never would have dreamed existed: he’s a nerd with respect. It’s no paradigm shift but a niche that belongs to Jimmy alone. No one knows what to call it but everyone knows it exists.
As Tommy approaches the staircase loungers he catches a glimpse. Jimmy looks back – there is a moment of mutual recognition quickly followed by mutual aversion and the pretense by both of never having seen each other. This happens when they pass in the hall. It’s awkward for Tommy but he doesn’t know how Jimmy feels if he feels anything at all.
Tommy hurries past the crowd, catching bits of the argument between Jimmy and a couple of boys. Seems there are questions floating around about Jimmy’s manliness or manual labouring ability. Tommy catches the old cliché: "never worked a day in your life".
"Hey, I was hauling bricks when I was six," Tommy hears Jimmy say in his unmistakably clear tone.
Somebody responds: "Ah, is that when your mom was thirty-six and went back to turning tricks?" There is laughter and a chorus of "ooohs".
"No, that was when you were sucking on your uncles’ pixie sticks," Jimmy counters and the crowd guffaws.
"Sticks?" someone asks.
"It’s plural – two uncles."
Tommy cracks a smile in spite of himself. It creaks on his face. He used to be at ground zero, part of the laughing chorus, a side role but better than exile.
"I don’t have any fuckin’ uncles so fuck you," the original taunter says and there is a hushed murmur. Somebody’s in trouble. The offender doesn’t know whether the retribution will be goons or a sudden drop in status. One thing Tommy knows about Jimmy is that he’s a master of intangibles.
Not Jimmy anymore, he reminds himself. Tommy has defiantly kept the Y at the end of his name, refusing to adopt the "mature" Tom. He was born Tommy and he’ll die Tommy, as ridiculous as it sounds. It’s his Y. An extension, like his claws. Jimmy is no longer Jimmy. He’s Jim and everybody knows it. It’s also known that he’ll whack anyone who refers to him by his childhood title. Mob movies are popular here. What does "whack" mean in this case? Tommy doesn’t know. He doesn’t care to speculate either.
Further down the hall is the marketplace, the morning CD trade where money is exchanged for digital items of all varieties: music, movies, TV, pornography, software, console emulators, and computer games. Jimmy’s vendors line the halls. There is no competition, it was muscled out long ago, back in the chaotic days of tenth grade. Things seems to run more smoothly now. Tommy sighs as a vender approaches, crowding him against the wall before he can escape the market and make it to class.
"Hey dude, you into games? We got the new batch in today. Six CD set, or we can burn you tailor mades. Cash up front for that."
"No, not interested."
"Bullshit man, I know you, you’re into all that Satan stuff. Hey we got metal albums, full clean rips."
"Don’t know where you get your information but you ought to bug somebody else."
"How bout some acid, you like to trip?"
"I thought Jimmy didn’t deal drugs."
"Hey who says this has anything to do with Jim?" the vendor says, suddenly looking nervous and flighty. Tommy uses the kid’s consternation to make his escape but a hand grabs his jacket from behind and tugs violently. Adrenaline floods in. Will he have to use his claws, oh, he doesn’t want to use his claws, why’d it have to come to this?
"Hey, if you say anything to Jim about this," the vendor threatens, looking more frightened than menacing. There is no inner light to save Tommy, only this political hyper-reality, mortared with the blank. He can use the blank here, although he’s loathe to ally himself with the bastard. Nevertheless, he blanks himself. Stares through the vendor until he sees no vendor. But he can’t get out of the blank. Until someone bumps into him, someone who’s not the vendor. A big girl who storms off with a snort of protest. The blank is being filled in and he’s claustrophobic in the crowd. The bio-lab will be more spacious. He turns around and continues on to the classroom.
His mind’s on games though, and all the hot new titles he could have if he was willing to part with a few bucks. But he’d rather be a sucker and pay ridiculous retail prices for electronic entertainment than deal with Jimmy’s mafia and the high school realpolitik. It does hurt to be a sucker though. His ego throbs like a half-sucked dick.
Jim Salekin sits in the back of the English room under the flickering fluorescent light. He’s quiet, hunched over his table, programming his calculator. Tommy’s in the front, penciling geometric designs into a looseleaf margin. It’s all been downhill for him since he fell out of Jim’s circle but he can still make graphite do his bidding. The tentacles of blank, casual, a causal malevolence that surround his lost friend unfurl, curl quietly, flank him, reach to the front of the room where he sits. They put words in the mouth of an arbitrary drone nearby. A quick and nasty takedown line: "Hey girly boy."
He racks his brain for a retort but there is nothing except the blank, reflecting mockery. Is more insult coming? Will he have to use his claws this time? Maybe today’s the day. But the tentacle retracts, jerks itself off to the tune of a Sugar Ray song. "Put your arms around me, baby", fuzzing out of discman headphones. Tommy’s fists clench. He digs a claw into his hand. He imagines his thumb is the taunter’s head and cuts into it with his index nail, drawing a line of blood. That’s the prick’s face caving in, he’s slicing right through the eyes, cracking the bridge of the nose, tearing into the brain. He’s going to recycle the gray matter for fertilizer like the Khmer Rogue. He doesn’t respond to the insult, it would only makes things worse.
Tommy’s hair is long. That’s why they’re calling him "girly boy", it’s the new moniker. It changes every few weeks. They’re not calling him a satanist anymore. They’ve graduated to sexual politics, an order of insult Tommy hadn’t previously imagined. He looks over at Kenneth, the boy who sits next to him at the front table, to see if this tentacle of insult has made an impression on the one student that doesn’t seem willing to join in the pogrom. Kenneth is deeply immersed in his bible. Or is he? No, it looks like fake immersion, a strategy to which Tommy can relate. Maybe Kenneth is cringing for him. Probably enjoying it too, being a relief from cringing for himself. Hard times at the loser table, you’ve got to take what you can get.
He never hears the girls being taunted for being "boyish". If they’re feminine that’s great. If they’re masculine they’re going beyond the call of duty so that’s cool too. Tough feisty fems. So they seem to have it easy. He never outright wished to be on the opposite side of the gender divide – certainly never snapped his fingers for it but the hypothetical situation does occur.
"Debate time!" says Mr. Sullivan, striding in to signal the start of class.
The students glaze back at him, resume their conversations. Kenneth turns back to his bible, Tommy thinks about the woods, Jim never looked up in the first place.
"Remember I asked you all to think of topics for today’s debate," Mr. Sullivan says. "Did anyone remember?"
Collective negative until someone says: "Ultimate fighting."
"Okay, let’s start tallying these up. We’ll take a vote and then separate you into groups. When we draw your names from the box you’ll be assigned a topic and a side."
"Can’t we choose which side to argue?" a student asks.
"No, that’s not the way debating works. The debate is the point." There are some protests. Mr. Sullivan takes a piece of chalk, divides the board into columns, and writes "ultimate fighting" in one of them. "Any others? I can suggest some if you’re lacking ideas but you’ll probably find mine boring."
"Uh, how about the WWF?" asks a hair-clogged stoner.
"What about the WWF?" Sullivan asks.
"Uh, real or fake?" Laughter.
"We already have ultimate fighting on the list, that’s close enough. We need controversy but we also need substance. I’d like to have some real issues on the board. I’d like to suggest genetic engineering." He writes this down. "Let’s have some more."
"Capital punishment," a girl says.
"Good. What else?"
Tommy’s been looking forward to the debate. He thinks he can run verbal circles around these sheep. The only problem is choosing the battle. On what ground will he lay waste to his enemies? What is significant? He puts up his hand.
"How about, is there a god?"
A murmur ripples through the room. Even Jim looks up from his calculator. Tommy is surprised to find he’s stirred something up. He thinks he hears "satan" whispered somewhere, obviously in reference to himself, but he’s not sure. So hard to tell paranoia from the real thing nowadays.
“I don’t know about that one,” says Mr. Sullivan. “We want something that can be proved or at least argued decisively, not a subject that philosophers have been debating since the birth of philosophy itself.”
"Hey, that sounds cool to me," someone says.
"Yeah, let’s do philosophy," snarks another.
"Naw, what about the religious people?" a girl says. Eyes turn to Kenneth who studies his bible with spirited fakery. It’s open to the part about Christ’s gory death on Calvary. "They can’t, like, argue against their beliefs or whatever. So what if they get picked for the other side?"
Tommy groans until Jim’s voice startles him from the back. "They can play devil’s advocate," he says with just the hint of a smile. "Might be good practice for a career in the hereafter."
"Your sarcasm won’t get us anywhere," Sullivan says, then adds with a grin: "Might be good as terror tactics in a debate though. I can see you’ll be skilled in that area."
Jim doesn’t even appear to acknowledge the compliment. He shoots back: "Why should the religoids get special treatment?"
“Look, religion is a sensitive subject in this political climate. People have to be careful, especially educators.”
“If you believe there’s a god you should be prepared to defend yourself,” Jim says and a wave of nods fans out from his position at the back of the room. “They could at least be assigned to argue in favor.”
"Well let’s take a vote," the teacher says. "I promised democracy in this classroom. But I also promise I won’t force anyone to argue against their religious beliefs on this issue if it gets in the debate. That will be the only exception." He writes "is there a god" on the board under "capital punishment" and says: "Show of hands for the god question." Three quarters of the room raise their arms. Sullivan draws a checkmark beside the topic.
"Alright, we need a couple more."
Tommy flexes his claws. He tries to channel Machiavelli, conjure Mephistopheles. So what’s he taking? The pro side of course. After all, he is a spiritual authority. Back from the dead. He still knows about the inner light. He’ll always have that connection, whatever else they strip away, whatever cool points they revoke – true blue coolness past the shaft where light is chill radiation, radial possibility in quantum decay. The thing about the inner light is, it’s always framed as a God question. For some reason. So he’ll argue it like that. God, inner light, heaven, synonyms really. Christian noise just gets in the way. He can pare the issue down to its essence and no one will be expecting that. No one excepts the Tommy inquisition. He snaps his fingers, this time not for any fantasy but for future re-living of the sweet victory that awaits him.
The teacher is well into assigning subjects. Only now it occurs to Tommy that he may not actually be selected for the topic he suggested. Let alone get the desired side.
"Tom Lewis," Sullivan says, finally drawing his name from the box. "For the importance of personal hygiene. You’ll argue in favor." Tommy flashes red as a surge of laughter builds from scattered titters. He can’t remember anyone even suggesting that topic but when he looks to the chalkboard sure enough, there it is, in Mr. Sullivan’s script.
Hilarious – the hairy, long-nailed loser is debating the pro side of personal hygiene. How brilliant of them to pick up on the irony. It was handed to them on a platter.
"I’m not debating that," Tommy states.
"You don’t get to choose," says Mr. Sullivan.
"Forget that topic," Jim intervenes. "We don’t have enough people to cover them all. Let’s drop it and fill up the god one. I’ll take up the con side if that’s alright."
"Alright Jim," Sullivan says. "Tom, will you argue the pro side? Will that work for you?"
"Yeah, it’ll work," Tommy says, a little flustered. He feels Jim’s tentacles again but he’s not sure how they’re moving or for what purpose. He never is. He doesn’t feel he even has the capacity to conceive it. That outer light, or outer darkness perhaps (the yin side of the mountain?) is a rival to his vast imagination. It’s the concrescence of the external, the point of attraction – detraction for him, nexus for everyone else, including the teacher. Jim moves mountains from the yin side, dictates the terms of the debate. He seems eager to plunge into this theological issue. Tommy will need his security claws for this. He imagines them popping out from his fingertips, stiff, sharp, and ready for action.
"Only two names left so the last students will be in your group," Sullivan says. "Kenneth for the negative?" There is more laughter. "Oh right," Sullivan says, fixating on the student’s bible. "You can partner with Tom. "Ainsley, will you go with Jim?"
"Sure," she says.
"That’s my lil’ atheist," quips her boyfriend.
"Alright, for the rest of this class, you can use the library for research and preparation. I’ll see you all tomorrow, same English time, same English channel."
Groaning laughter. "That joke never gets old," Jim says, packing up his books.
Tommy knew he’d be assaulted with Nietzsche, that was predictable. What he didn’t expect was a non-Christian blitz. The easy, predictable line of attack Tommy was prepared to repel does not seem to be forthcoming. Jim is going for a full bore secular attack on religion in general and god in particular. He’s being tricky but how else would he be?
It’s a weird feeling, facing off with Jim who he hasn’t spoken to in years – who he’s hardly even looked at since their ambiguous estrangement. Weird but somehow entirely, terribly fitting, like the purpose of their old, inexplicable hookup is being revealed at last. A psyche-evaluation to inform today’s takedown.
Tommy finds himself backed into corners, somehow tricked into defending churches and the existence of blasphemy. Kenneth gives him an "amen!" and Tommy collapses in embarrassment. Kenneth is happy to be the Christian martyr in this slaughter. He’ll go down with his bible clutched tightly in hand, carrion for the legend-devouring Sugar Ray scavengers, the psycho bible-boy and his girly-boy androgifriend trashed by Jim, were you there that day?
Tommy’s wonderful rational mathematical arguments are gone, their sense evaporated. It’s like they were build from sand all along. They’re blown apart in Jim’s existential duststorm. He’s reduced to metaphysical masturbation.
"I’ve seen –" he realizes he was about to say "seen the light" which he knows will send the crowd into hysterics. Why is he playing for an audience anyway? "I’ve experienced the reality of God. I had a near death experience. There was heaven and hell. What I learned from it is that there is something beyond this life, an infinity, and it’s perfectly rational to assume that it consists of every possibility, filtered through a personal aesthetic, one that prefers joy. Substance beats absence." He’s trying to exude zen serenely but his voice betrays his unexpected mounting panic. Something huge is on the line but he can’t define it in the heat of battle if he ever could at all. He swears he can hear the clown laughing at him. He hasn’t heard the fucker in months but it’s back, louder than ever. He presses on. "Nothing in this life makes sense without heaven."
"Isn’t that anecdotal evidence?" Ainsley says, parroting Mr. Sullivan’s rundown of logical fallacies. "That doesn’t hold up in a debate."
Jimmy is letting Ainsley throw the softballs, then he launches disorienting, nimble attacks that leave Tommy flustered. Sullivan gives a nod to Jim to signal his turn for rebuttal.
"You’re obviously threatened by the idea that the universe can be reduced to things, constants and laws," Jim explains, sounding like his physics teacher Mr. Fukuyama. "You said earlier: ‘I don’t trust infinity to science’. You can’t deal with the finite so you invented a heaven for yourself. It’s what Plato predicted, more or less."
Sullivan beams favorably at Jim during the Plato reference but he doesn’t notice. He stays on attack: "People who are successful don’t need those pathetic fantasizations. We focus on what we have and what we can get. We don’t need to cling to theories and dogmas concerning any afterlife. Heaven is for losers."
There are some hoots of approval from the class. Tommy interrupts, bright red, stammering: "Yes! That’s exactly who heaven is for. The last shall be first and the first shall be last. You can have your oblivion if you want it. I’ve faced death, I know what my birthrite is."
"It’s Jim’s turn," Sullivan scolds.
"You’re simply betraying the fact that you can’t deal with reality," Jim says. "You’d rather tear down the elites and build castles in the sky with flimsy rationalizations than work to better yourself."
Christ, I’m trapped in an Ayn Rand novel, Tommy thinks. How’d that happen? He’s only peripherally aware of the author but he’s retching by osmosis. He’s got that "virtuous" greed and the finger-snapping drive to realize it, but it’s greed based on the immaterial, and that won’t fly with the Salekin Industry titans. Of course the class is piling on in atheistic glee while he babbles on about the inner light, trying to make them understand. Why? Why is he casting his pearls before swine?
"Success is the only objective we have," Jimmy lectures. "If you want a god, objectivity is it. When I pay attention to what is, I get things done. When you waste your time waiting for the impossible you get taken by the doers. People like you are the ones we use – servants. Someone’s got to employ you or you’re wasted flesh. It’s always been like this, it’s objectivity’s plan. Our reward is riches in the real world. Things we can use."
"Jesus said it’s easier for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle," Kenneth says, "I mean, a camel, I mean, uh, I had that backwards."
"You won’t be laughing when you end up in hell," Kenneth tells the crowd with pathetic sincerity. Shut UP you zealous moron, Tommy screams in his head. He imagines clubbing Kenneth to death with his own bible.
"Hell is other people," Jimmy says. "Particularly Christians."
Nice setup asshole, Tommy thinks at Kenneth. There’s something loud, a noise in his head. It sounds like the clown, the crazy laugh that’s never really audible and deafening all the same. Tommy has thus far been able to dullen the razor the clown is trying to cut his mind with. Today the edge of the razer is slicing into the dark folds of hate he’s got twisted up in his neural net, spilling out contained masses of black tar in an uncontrollable flood of malice rampaging through a cross-section of cognition. The almost tangible hatred has the effect of being so real he can see its reflection, and what he hates in himself – but he will shut his mind off – he will turn the blank to his advantage – he will not think about hate. No inner light here in the blank though. Nothing is as good as he can get. Sullivan is saying something to Kenneth.
"No interrupting. You’ll get your rebuttal."
"Like it would do any good," someone wisecracks. The laughs and jeers have run together. They’re an ashen-gray secular haze swirling around the room in a hurricane cloud, a vortex to what he won’t believe in. He’s long past the point of salvage, on a trancing to the nearest convenient moment of lucidity. Someone seems to be asking him a question, is it a teacher, debater, or student? He can’t distinguish. He won’t respond.
The trance carries him through stuttering jittering stimuli, an odd conclusion to the debate that is first greeted with hilarity (that it’s been taken to this catatonic extreme), and then disquiet as the creepiness of the trancing dropout hushes the room. Tommy is back at the loser table with his notebook. Kenneth’s back with his bible. Tommy grabs a stick of graphite and adds to his drawings, occasionally flinching a dark jab through a delicately ordered arabesque when lightening strikes him from the secular stormhaze and the quality of the chunky classroom banter suddenly, momentarily takes on the flavor of being about him. What are they using him for? Can’t they keep to their oblivion if they must scorn his light?
Another stutter and he finds himself in the hall, a bad place to regain sensory awareness but the crowd seems benignly homogenized so the evil is faceless and blank, an insectile stare. Jim is there, cutting through the fog. He’ll probably always be in the crowd now, the user, editor of the source code of every word said. Every decision made. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if he were to… Tommy snaps his fingers before wording out the thought but there is an image of Jim slumped against the wall in the middle of the stairwell with a bright ringed entry wound in his forehead and a vertical splash of blood behind extending five feet above. A spray of bullet holes around the sagging, shattered skull. People stand where they are, frozen. They don’t know what to do, how could the user have met this brutal real fate in the middle of it all? Their programs fail, they stand petrified. The killer has ushered in the ice age. It’s so vivid, for a minute Tommy can’t remember whether he’s alive or dead, is it real, is he re-living this wish in the afterlife?
Then he snaps back, as he tends to do, thinking: Be careful what you wish for. But he is careful, he reminds himself. He’s only serious when he snaps his fingers. He wouldn’t wish torture on Jim. Not for anything he’s done yet, anyway. But death, death is easy. He knows how easy it is.
The little finger-snapper fantasy helps sooth the pain of that ridiculous defeat in the English room. It was a silly debate anyway. He doesn’t need God, he has his fingers. He knows what will cheer him up. He’ll spend his lunch hour in the library reading Karl Marx. He’s been meaning to finish Das Kapital. It warms his heart.
When Tommy was only four, he drank eight ounces of Nyquil and passed out on the floor.
He’s awake and he’s not supposed to be up, but he’s not one for rules. His crib is a thing of the past. He’s not afraid of the dark but the night-light sticking out of the hall socket helps him find the bathroom. He scales the toilet and hoists himself onto the sink from the closed lid. An orange glow cuts into the room at a steep angle.
The medicine cabinet swings open on its creaky hinge revealing a shelf of potions NOW accessible to Tommy’s discerning palate. He goes for the green bottle with the clown face. There’s something about that clown. He’s seen it in dreams. The clown is a friend with a sweet tooth who likes to share. The clown gives him candy.
The bottle with the clown on it was impossible to open before bedtime but NOW, somehow, he knows what to do. He twists the lid with downward pressure, popping it off. It was a spirit, he thinks, like the holy ghost they told us about in church. A spirit helped me. He giggles at the idea of having a spirit helper. His parents won’t believe him. They never believe anything. They don’t see ghosts either. They go to church to pray to invisible ghosts. Holy ghosts. And they only move forwards in time like they’re stuck on a train trip. But here he is, little Tommy Lewis, full of the spirit of the lord, sticking his finger past the rim of the bottle to sample his reward.
He knew the stuff inside would be sweet but this is a new order of sweetness, an intensity he’s never experienced before. ZANG! Licorice is nothing to this rush. He dips in another finger and sucks off a thick coat of purple sludge. It’s like maple syrup with a bite. A buzzy bite. It makes him feel buzzy. And there’s a whole bottle! He dips in another finger, slopping syrup on the sink. Before long he’s buzzing around like a bee and sucking up nectar. He feels like flying. He thinks he can fly.
He doesn’t know where he got to but it looks like the dollhouse from the fever. He’s on the floor. Everything is gigantic. He’s not himself anymore, he’s a bug, and his old self is going to step on him. That’s how it works. The floor is scrunching up – it stretches to a horizon at the end of space and coils around him at the same time, curdling in grotesque wrinkles and mockeries of perspective. He doesn’t like the floor being alive like this but he can’t do much about it. He understands that his parents and his house have ceased to exist and there is nothing anymore but a breathing floor blanket that doesn’t like him and is trying to throw him off. But he can’t get off. Or up. Silent paralysis panic.
He sees the green medicine bottle roll away, the clown face spinning into view and out again. Finally it rests against the wall. Tommy stares at the clown face and barfs. It just comes out, no warning. The clown face floats off the bottle and grows larger and larger. It’s coming at him. Tommy tries to scream but dribbles puke instead. The clown face enters him. He is the clown now and he’s not sure how he feels about that. The spirit is a demon. The demon is his spiritual self. There is a split of some kind. He is too much person for one body. But he can barely feel the body anyway. What he can sense feels like poison. The clown lied. But he’s the clown. Why would he lie to himself?
Liar lair, pants on fire. No, they’re wet and squishy. He’s on his side. Things are too heavy. He feels like he needs to throw up again but his body won’t cooperate. He’s going to sleep. He must rest his head on a pillow of puke. He doesn’t feel a thing anymore.
A blank. A bastard blankness answerable to no reality or concept. It frames trans-physical pain, cycling from confusion to comprehension of the finite loop, keeping it real, unreal, maximally terrible. Hell. Where else but hell? Here. For drinking the forbidden medicine. He wasn’t sick. Now he is. Sickness. The ness of sick. So sick it will have to end soon. And they think a child can’t know death. When it comes knocking, every living thing knows.
After a million years and a thousand lives he re-enters – something. Something in the middle of a life in progress, a very familiar-seeming life. Tommy! A whollop of deja vu! It’s Tommy’s life, yes, but it has hardly anything to do with the tiny dreamy lego-master he was for four years. This is a new domain to add to the vocabulary. This is the hospital, that much is recognized, but later he will come to associate this memory with the "emergency room". It comes into definition as a bright overhead light. Shadows move in the fuzz. They’re his parents, he can tell by the contours. The two-torsoed beast has come to save him! Bring him back to earth! His eyes tear up and his mouth tries to call out to them but something is blocking the voice. Does he have a voice anymore? There was some titanic transition, God knows what he’s retained. The fact that time has returned is amazing – an exotic movement. But he can feel his body again. It’s faint. The clown is still with him. Part of him. The clown’s eyes tear up like his do, the makeup runs down the face in smeary clownish superposition, and yet he giggles, guilty. GUILTY. The clown’s power is frightening but it’s a stuck power, a beast in a cage and he’s trapped in that cage, at the mercy of the beast. Underlying this is a sense of vast good-for-nothing alien wisdom, emanating from the clown, inapplicable here. The situation is flush with meaning that Tommy can’t find words to describe and will soon forget.
His parents save him from this vision. They’re clarifying as his exterior vision comes back in a flood of terapixels and although their faces are wrenched with worry, their figures emanate angelic grace. Tommy can see the yellow aura of their Christian faith like he’s never seen it before. The overhead light is dim in comparison. Mom and Dad glow stronger than the entire cathedral on Christmas. He knows they prayed for him. Pulled some strings. Pulled him out.
Mom bursts into tears as Tommy blinks back into the world. Dad is stifling a similar reaction. Mom lunges over to cover his face in kisses and he still can’t speak. He realizes with horror that he’s hooked up to machines. He wants to cut the cords but he’s not ready to interfere with this world on that level. Not yet. And he can’t move. But he’s back, he’s really back. And he can stand a battery of maternal smooching for a while.
"Christ saved you", Dad whispers as he drips holy water into the font from a slack pinky. Mom says it was God that saved him. Tommy is more partial to the latter, the impersonal. He doesn’t feel the holy ghost anymore. Something has shut down inside him since the syrup but he can’t put his finger on what that mysterious something is or was. Something evil probably. He’s saved now.
He takes the God stuff seriously and pays close attention in church. Father Fred is sermonizing. Tommy tries to understand who God is, but this sermon is no more enlightening than the last dozen. It seems an appeal to house pets, contradictory for a thinker. Mercy and vengeance, heaven and hell, cattle prod and a carrot on a stick. He hasn’t derived much satisfaction from Mom who’s always vague on the subject. Dad just prattles on about Jesus, a man Tommy doesn’t understand. What did he die for? His sins? What would those be? Sneaking out of bed to watch TV last night? Did he kill Jesus by doing that?
Tommy is lying in the front yard under a tree, the day after a disappointing eighth birthday. He should be playing Nintendo right now but there isn’t one. He didn’t get anything he really wanted. He needs more friends so he can get more presents. But here in the Sunday morning sunlight, skipping church, he gives himself the best present he could ask for: spiritual authority.
He finds himself thinking back to the syrup incident for the first time in who knows how long. He doesn’t remember much but his parents told him he "overdosed", just like the guy who stuck a needle in his arm and ended up convulsing on the floor in the DARE video they showed at school. He’s the only person he knows who’s come that close to death and returned. And somewhere during the half-life was a feeling that recurs. He remembers it better than he remembers hell, which only haunts him in the weekly nightmare. The good feeling is the experience his dad calls "infinity" – what he knows is really God.
He sees it as a thin shaft of light beaming out from the crack of a black door on a black field. The shaft is an emotional sum transcending imagination. It contains every Easter morning chocolate egg hunt, the tingling anticipation of Christmas Eve, the sublime silliness of the pretend adventures in the real forest, and the couch forts when every flailing spontaneous body-spasm communicated that perfect energy – rising above friends or roping them into the game where he was master, the game that becomes a hard series of inflexible rules when the light goes out. Why does the light go out? The shaft is the punchline to the best jokes, the best times with coolest folks, the last day of school when you don’t do any work, just celebrate the coming of summer vacation. All expressed in light. It’s also the luminous overmap of every candy he could have tasted, every joke untold, the righteous comebacks to mean jerks thought up a day too late, and the adventures he’s been unable to embark on because of some stupid law of people or nature. The shaft accounts for that. The shaft shines with joy and every potential joy that’s passed through his ken, attached like temporal tentacles to his eight years of life. When he imagines the shaft he can bathe in it and warm himself from any chill.
But the door is open a crack. He can never visualize beyond the door because that is where infinity awaits, beyond his life and all possibilities branching off it. His shaft is a tiny ray beckoning the observer toward the crafty sun behind. How can the door be open a little but not all the way, he wonders. How can his brain keep the light of the real sun, the source of all energy, from spilling out? He knows it’s there but it’s restrained. Maybe that’s what a brain is for. It’s like the dark glass they gave him at recess to watch the sun through during the eclipse. When his brain was dead during the overdose ("clinically dead" his dad had said before going on the miracle rap again) he connected fully with the source. Entwined with it his short history and infant fantasies and ghost story realities. But this is a fact he recalls and not a feeling.
The sun shines through the canopy of the chestnut tree. He grins at its adorable audacity. He knows it’s a star, and a cheap doppelganger for the sun inside, a projection the inner sun likes to cast on his pretty little cumulous cloudscape. The inner sun gives the outer sun an orbit, celestial purpose, astronomical properties. But it’s nothing more than a spark.
The real sun is what creates the illusion of darkness and the brown color field behind closed eyelids. The blackest black is still a pixel alight somewhere in the energy field of the real sun. Tommy is content to contemplate the source without actually joining it because the shaft alone is a handful, an idea to bask in, tear off fantasies from. These fantasies are so much more defined than the source, so much more useful, so much fucking funner, in full four-letter word bad-assery. He thinks it would be a thousand years before he’d even have to peak inside the door and dip into infinity.
He’s about given up on having the inner light explained by Father Fred. He’ll have to describe it to himself. Someday he’ll write a great book about it, he thinks, and people will understand. He’s an authority on God because of his near-death experience. He’ll hypothesize the raw testament material on his own while Father Fred quotes scripture in a soothing drone.