Part Two - Atom Bombs
I once heard a story about a man who spent ten-plus hours one night pulling on his eye, trying to remove his contact lens. Having them almost three-quarters of the way out, he finally gave in and went to an emergency room where the doctor on-call informed him that he wasn't wearing his contact lenses. And for more stories of self-mutilation...
When I was six-years-old, a first-grader to be referred to as Little Boy beginning a new school, I had a teacher who used to tell all of the students that if we did not do our homework, we were going to send "vibes" to President Reagan who in turn would be forced beyond his reasonable will to press the "RED BUTTON" and begin a nuclear holocaust. In my youth, I was too naïve to realize that Reagan probably couldn't have sensed a guided missile landing directly between him and Nancy in bed. This disturbed teacher's own form of trickle-down paranoia continued to infect our impressionable minds throughout the year with McCarthyistic threats of Communism, world destruction and complete loss of national freedoms. One day she spent an entire afternoon discussing the feasibility of the nuclear war made-for-TV movie, "The Day After."v Of course, years later, the idea that the fine, Swedish engineering of Volvo would be the integral factor in Jason Robard's survival seems much less viable. By then, however, I was so beset with the fear that she had instilled in me that I spent the entire time with my hands pressed firmly against my ears, using enough force to totally block off the sound of her voice. When the lecture ended and I removed my hands, there was no sound. Frightened, I began to dig my fingers into my ears in a frantic attempt to clear them out. As I stuck my finger into my left ear, I felt a neatly folded piece of paper deep within the canal. I quickly dug it out and when I unfolded it, the word "solitude" was written across it. This began the initial stages of my media-induced paranoia.
As I grew over the childhood years, I only found that I could seek solace in a brief respite within the encumbrances of my generalized media saturation as the grays fade to a blue harvest. With its fantasy and fairy tale, it displaced my mostly desensitized state, comforting me and retaining its effects today.
A few years ago, in a futile attempt for normalcy, I spent a very limited time watching a girl, believing that she was a jewel in a camel's eye that only those purest of heart could notice. After observing her habits, interests, likes and dislikes, I collected and calculated these things carefully for a short time, compiling a meager list that quantified her life and desires and, oddly enough, opposed my own. With offerings of diet soda, Chinese food and a single yellow daisy, I would attempt to rejoin the human race. When this effort did not come to fruition, I crawled back of the fences, once again lurking behind the curtain. I played William Tell by myself, and my short period of pining ended. In this test of destiny versus free will, my a priori knowledge was confirmed in that my choice to be a participant may not be what is fated. Fate itself is not discovered through the conditions that define its form, but through the Gestalt that these conditions assume through form, indicated by nègatitès. When these conditions are beyond your capabilities, sometimes the lack of control is all you can control. With this eidetic reduction, I am led to my current state. Now, colored by disillusionment, I attempt to hide only from myself by observing other people's lives and not participating in them... living within the intimacy of public solitude.
One evening well after midnight with the quiet and darkness as my veil, slightly drunk on a nameless Sonoma Merlot and a large consumption of tryptophan, I securely lurked around absent of my usual accoutrements but disguised by fiction and metaphor. In my voyeuristic routine, I go to a different office window every night. I calculate the block and street address, using an elaborate set formula that I developed through a combination of Fibonaci's number sequence with Avogadro's formula. The previous night I had spent on 21st Street and on this night I found myself at 34th Street near that Starbucks across from the Gap. While attempting to retain my vertical hold, I stare at a brightly lit office. Brainwashed by media manipulation to such a point that I don't realize that as I glower through this convex window, I am simply watching the fabricated product of Hollywood's plastic culture. I see a man appearing to be in his mid-forties, who reminds me of an overweight version of Sterling Hayden as Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper from "Dr. Strangelove."vi His tie is loosened, his sleeves are rolled up and a thick layer of sweat rolls across his forehead. I've been watching him closely for months now, everyday arriving at this same spot to watch life - this reality TV. I know intimate details and facts about his life as well as colorful anecdotes. For example, I know that he often adopts inherently meaningless adages, clichés, and catchphrases like "less is more" or "you get what you pay for" as personal mantras. He also has a tendency toward the grammatical faux pas of using adjectives when adverbs are required, which I found real irritating. This man, whom I shall refer to as Fat Man, is divorced and has a son in his early twenties who lives with him. His son is mostly solitary and spends much of his time in his room, not often speaking about the six months on his own before coming to live with his father. However, he is known to refer to Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcadevii as his unauthorized biography, only listening to it backwards and on vinyl. The photograph that hangs over Fat Man's desk is of his late father, the source of much of his financial stress. Fat Man's father, a politically connected man, was appointed ambassador to some small, Pacific island country (I don't remember which one) during the Carter administration. He used to strut around the island with his outdated Rhett Butler moustache, wearing a double-breasted white linen suit, ascot and fedora, sipping mint juleps all day and speaking with an affected British accent, while making the natives refer to him as "Kimosabe." Truthfully, he never actually performed any legitimate ambassadorial duties. He was more of a glorified carpetbagger, spending most of his time selling worthless Canal Street knock-offs and knick-knacks for ridiculous profits, palming them off as original designer European and American products. He also used fabricated legal loopholes to con unwitting and uneducated natives out of their life savings.
In his later life, when he began to accept religion and fear for his eternal fate, he willed that his ashes be put into an Etch-A-Sketch® and a rendition of Michelangelo's, "The Creation of Adam," be manipulated onto it by a well-known art counterfeiter. Fat Man's father further instructed that it should hang over his son's mantle and never be erased or else his incrementally received inheritance would be revoked. In his eccentric mind, Fat Man's father believed that this might make up for his lifetime of questionable morality. In this last great con, he tried to hustle his way into heaven. Due to an unfortunate accident, however, Fat Man's son knocked the Etch-A-Sketch® slightly on its side, erasing a small portion of the work, making the will null and void.
At this point, totally engrossed, I stare at Fat Man through the convex window. With his ear pressed firmly against his phone, standing up over his desk and screaming, sweat has developed stains under his arms like Richard Nixon during the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debates. Through the white noise and garbled conversation of the street, Fat Man hollers audibly through the glass, 'We will bury you,'viii and begins to bang one of his loafers on his desk. Startled, I jumped away from the window. With the response in my head, "When Hell freezes over,"ix I turned to see my reflection in the darkened window adjacent to Fat Man's office beyond the usual mosaic of cement and barbed wire. Shocked and disturbed, I see what I believe I have not seen before. I have transformed, metamorphosized. I am no longer what I had believed I was. My face is red and flushed. I am drawn and have dark, pronounced circles around my eyes. With scars, blood and disfigurement, I have become a monster. A distant voice utters a phrase that I can hardly discern. To me it sounds like "code red." While continuing to strike the nail that is my head with the mallet of denial, Fat Man seems to break the fourth wall and stares directly at me with a look of fear and disgust.
Feeling confused and frightened, I begin to cower, shamefully covering my face like Max Schreck in F. W. Murnau's "Nosferatu,"x as he hides from the light. I am no longer protected by my media saturation. I am no longer protected by my veils, my darkness, my liquid, my curtain, my distance. Now I am not only the observer, I am the observed, the participant, the performer. Uttering to myself the words "I am not an animal"xi (uh hmm) I run around the corner and stop. There is a crowd. They look at me. I don't know how to react. I cannot close my eyes. It's as though they're being held open by the "lidlocks" used in Ludovico's Treatment.xii I find myself suddenly very aware of my tongue and completely self-conscious. How do I get back to my confinement? Beginning to focus, I look down and see a little boy about six-years old whose mother holds the unzipped hood of his Mighty Mac coat as he pulls away. With his bangs meeting directly above his eyes, we glare curiously at each other, one watching the other. The line of observer versus participant has blurred for me, and without the security of under-standing my current position, I begin to sweat. I am confused. I am no longer in control of my conditions. 'Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.'xiii Like putting metal in the microwave, the "red button" has been pressed and the atom bomb is released.
Along with man's inventiveness and ingenuity, he also proves his self-destructiveness. Over four million years of human development erupted in the world's final invention. Science has revealed something as beautiful as dissonance and treacherous as this. Perhaps this is the one to end civilization and abort the chance for any further societal advancement.
i Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Minister's Black Veil, 1836.
ii George Lucas, Star Wars: A New Hope, 1977.
iii Albert Giraud, 1884; German translation of original French by Otto Erich Hartleben.
iv Albert Camus, Le Mythe de Sisyphe, 1942.
v Nicholas Meyer, The Day After, 1983.
vi Stanley Kubrick, Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 1964.
vii Hüsker Dü, Zen Arcade, SST Records, 1984.
viii Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, reported statement at reception for Wladyslaw Gomulka at the Polish Embassy, Moscow, (November 18, 1956).
ix Adlai E. Stevenson, ibid.
x F.W. Murnau, Nosferatu, 1922.
xi The Elephant Man, script by Eric Bergren, Christopher De Vore, David Lynch, 1980.
xii Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange, 1962.
xiii Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 1885-1886, p.146.
"Wagon Wheels and Atom Bombs," written word, copyright © 2002 by Rob Sbar. All rights reserved.
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