Wanting Nothing

Wanting Nothing

I’m the Director of an Insane Asylum located in the woods of Western Canada. This area has a lower population now than it did one hundred years ago. Likewise, I am the only inmate at the Asylum of which I am the chief employee. A book keeping error has allowed me to keep getting paid for almost thirty years now. I’m not about to blow the whistle on this sweet deal.

For the first decade or so I kept the lights on and the doors open in case someone came by seeking treatment. No one ever came. The doors did, on occasion, blow open and the cost of heating the place during the coldest months became prohibitive, so I shut most of it down. On the front door there is a notice asking anyone seeking mental health treatment to call my phone number. My phone has not rung in over twenty years.

I have come up with no good reason to call anyone, so for all I know the phone is no longer in service. Maybe squirrels ate the wire. Maybe an ice storm took down the telephone lines.

You may wonder how I sustain myself here in the middle of nowhere. I am still eating the canned rations that I found on the day I first arrived. As far as I can tell, I would have to live to be three hundred before I consumed all the canned beans, beets, tuna, peas and soups. During the warm weather months, I eat vegetables from my garden, and apples, cherries, pears and apricots from our orchard. The fruits are not doing well. Someday soon, I expect that the last fruit tree will die. They don’t live forever, you know. I have saved seeds from those fruits and will start planting new trees next year, if I live that long.

I’m almost seventy. There appears to be nothing wrong with me, but I know that from this point on it’s not unheard of for people to simply die. Sometimes there’s a warning and other times, not much. Years ago, one of my healthiest friends died from pancreatic cancer when he was in his prime. Three weeks passed from diagnosis to death.

I have never been extraordinarily fit or healthy. Simply puttering about the grounds gives me a modicum of exercise. When I pass, no one will notice. If I have some warning, I think I’ll try to go outside, so my body can be consumed by animals, insects and birds. I would hate to leave a mess inside.

Although it’s hard to imagine now, I used to be quite a party animal. In graduate school, I was the clown who tried to get everyone drunk on a punch laced with pure alcohol. I’d steal ethanol from the lab and a liter was enough to bring a large group to its knees. I thought I needed lots of friends and that they needed me. Now I realize that was simply a convenient fiction. It worked for that time in my life.

I pursued graduate work even after I got my medical license to practice psychiatry. Hospital administration was the wave of the future, and I rode that wave right here, to the woods of Western British Columbia. I had a wife for a brief time back in Vancouver, but we parted ways before I was offered this position. In fact, I never would have applied for such a job if I’d been happily married.

We have a car here at the institute, and I used to drive it into the nearest city, an eighty mile round-trip, back when my sex drive was more pronounced. There was an establishment on the edge of town, a sort of bar with rooms upstairs and women who would accommodate men in my position. After a while, my trips grew less frequent, then stopped altogether. Oh sure, I had the money and could afford it, but the desire had waned. Likewise, I found there was less and less I desired to buy in stores. We had a Fred Meyers store that sprawled over several acres, but I couldn’t find anything I wanted to buy.

When I first realized that I would probably have no clients and nothing to do, I thought about raiding the pharmacy for drugs that I could either ingest for my own entertainment, or sell. But since they pay me well and I have no expenses, I keep accumulating money through the direct deposits of my paycheck into my bank account. Eventually, I diversified my holdings by buying stocks, bonds, and precious metals. But even that activity failed to hold my interest.

Most of the drugs we give psychiatric patients are no fun at all, and run little risk of being used for recreation. As I methodically went through our inventory, I tried to imagine myself enjoying them, and could not form a concrete image that would induce me to do so. If I tried to sell them, I would risk arrest for no meaningful gain. So I abandoned this pursuit, and instead decided to put my energies into exploring the woods that surrounded our Institute.

At night I can hear wolves howl. Most of the time they are far away, but sometimes alarmingly close. Last night I howled with them, sticking my head out the window and looking up at a full moon. The woods are pine and appear jet-black at night, a mass of howling darkness that flows in every direction.

I have a shortwave radio in the attic. In this day of the Internet, it seems horribly outdated, but it still works. I can pick up signals from Russia and Asia quite easily. On a cold night, sometimes the radio waves skip across the globe like stones on a pond. Even though I no longer have a license to transmit, I do, using my call letters from fifty years ago. There’s something exciting about going against the grain and resurrecting an old technology. Sure, I could simply email someone far away, or post on a forum, but what’s exciting about that?

Deciphering words through the crackle of static caused by a thousand thunderstorms over the Pacific seems a noble pursuit. It was doing this that I first came into contact with Olga. A medical doctor who no longer practiced, she lived alone in Siberia near Lake Baikal. Her English was quite good. After we talked for a few days, she confessed she didn’t have an amateur radio license either. As crimes go, this seemed a small one.

Because we were simply talking and there would be no trace of our conversation unless someone were making an audio recording, I opened up about my absurd situation here at the Institute. Being used to Soviet and now Russian bureaucracy, she wasn’t surprised. It turns out that unlike many of her friends and neighbors, she was not impoverished. Her late husband had done well in the oil and gas business. Like me, she was somewhat embarrassed by her riches. She didn’t think about them much. It’s only when you have no money that it becomes the central fact of your life.

We talked every evening for over one month when she proposed that she come for a visit. She could fly into Vancouver and I would pick her up at the airport. I had no idea what she looked like, nor did it matter. I told her my age, and so I imagined she had some idea of the old man she would be visiting. Sex didn’t promise to be an important part of the equation.

She arrived the next week. I was pleasantly surprised to meet a trim woman in her fifties who seemed as relaxed and witty as she had been over the radio.

I guess I had been fooling myself about the sex part, because it became the glue that held us together. Once she arrived we jumped straight into the sack and didn’t come up for air for almost a week. It turns out that she had a three-month tourist visa and we could extend that easily by a trip to the Russian consulate.

We were set. We were a couple. Everything had changed, yet we still had nothing to do. As anyone who’s been single for a long time and then is suddenly coupled, being with someone else doesn’t necessarily solve anything.

That’s when Olga came up with a plan.

We will start a group, a cult, a religious society based on high ideals. You will be our head, but you will not talk. I will do all the talking. We’ll invite people from all over the world to come here and live together, working towards some lofty goal,” she said.

What goal?”

I haven’t gotten that far yet. But from what I know of human nature, if you offer people a way out, some will choose to take it. We can start with Russians and then expand our scope.”

It turned out to be just that simple. Within a month of her posting an invitation on several social media sites, we had twelve Russians who had made the journey. Within another month, we had a Brazilian couple, a man from Vietnam, a woman from Malaysia, and a family of four from South Africa. We capped enrollment at twenty to see how it would work out.

She named the group “Revolution from Within.” It seemed a clumsy title to me, but since my role was to be a silent presence, I said nothing. During our meetings I would wear a long, white wig. I looked like Johnny Winter. She would talk about whatever interested her. We would sing simple songs and dance a little. She was very interested in getting input from our members.

Our activities involved working online. Fivver, that sort of thing. Our members wrote articles, did artwork, recorded voice-overs, anything that someone needed to be done and willing to pay for. At first, the money was not much, but then with higher approval ratings they could raise their rates, and they did.

Our first members were a bit lopsided gender-wise, as we had too many females. So we recruited a few more males of varying ages. We advanced cautiously. After six months, we had lost a few members but gained an equal number. Our crowd was a bit long in the tooth. Young people didn’t find us sexy enough and took their communal instincts elsewhere. One of our older men was obviously mentally ill, but so long as he didn’t bother anyone, we let him stay. He was aware of his condition and had been asked to leave other communities, so he kept a low profile.

Two middle-aged Danish women were obviously in a lesbian partnership and all went well until one started to transfer her affections to another woman. The abandoned party did not take it well. She threatened violence, and then threatened us all with going to the police and complaining that we were a sick, sex cult. We let her make her complaint, but the police never came. She left in a huff.

We never grew above thirty members. Our weekly meetings became too tedious and complicated when the group got too large.

I busied myself studying the history of the Asylum of which I was Chief Operating Officer. It turns out that the man I replaced had been quite a colorful character, especially by Canadian standards. In addition to running the Asylum, he was a Boy Scout leader, but ran a troupe that adhered to fundamentalist Christian principles. They would walk on their knees through the woods, and then rub their bleeding knees on a special rug, which they kept in a darkened room under the stairs. They worshiped the statues of the U.S. Presidents at Mount Rushmore, and made a pilgrimage once a year. He was the Canadian yodeling champion and built harpsichords in his spare time. His death was quite unusual. During a summer theater production of the Canadian-Mounty-themed musical “Little Mary Sunshine”, in which he played the part of Mary, he burst into flame onstage. Spontaneous Human Combustion. They brought down the curtain and used fire-extinguishers to quell the flames, but at the end, all that was left in the pile of ash was one femur.

Olga was doing a good job with the congregation, though a faction developed that wanted to codify our beliefs. What was our creed? On what could we all agree? Since we had no sacred text, it was up to us to create something that would unify us and focus our efforts.

At first, I tried using an application that I found on the internet, which created nonsense phrases that sounded like New Age wisdom. “It’s not about synchronicity as much as it is about a diversity of viewpoints.” “People cherish that which promises entanglement but delivers freedom and obligation in equal measure.” “Death is merely a mode of objective silence in the face of random noise.”

We tried using these to inspire a meeting, but they fell flat very quickly. Instead, we found that simply taking familiar concepts from the writings of Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale, and then rephrasing them in modern language after adding a dash of obfuscation did a much better job of focusing our meetings and inspiring our group. By the way, we never called ourselves a “congregation.” That sounded too religious. We were a “group.” That sounded therapeutic.

I suppose we were one of those watered-down religions that believe that we’re all gods, and no one has any more direct path to the divine than any other. People should be kind to each other and there is no such thing as sin, much less a demand for its forgiveness. On this we could all agree so readily that we never had to spell it out.

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Hidden Kingdom of Lamphun

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Well, it’s not really hidden, it’s just been overshadowed by the more dramatic mountains to the west. Usually I go down 108 to Chom Ton, then to either Doi Inthanon or Hot, on my way to do the four-day ride called the Mae Hong Son loop. This time I took my new “big bike” 500 cc Honda, straight south, down 106, through Lamphun city and then on my way to Tak.

 

I never made it to Tak. It’s too far. But the scenery down 106 is a delight. Spent the night in Li, then headed back up a smaller road, 1184, reconnecting with 106 just south of Pa Song. No traffic at all! Lumyai farms mostly, and rice. Some corn, but not as much as up north.

 

Actually, it’s more fun to ride a motorcycle on Lamphun’s winding two-lane blacktop roads in good repair than torturous hairpin turns up and down steep mountains. Reminds me of the Gold Country of Northern California where I first learned to ride 38 years ago.

 

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Acrid Smoke

 

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Nobody needs to know the truth about what happened here. They wouldn’t believe it even if we told them. Dead people were walking and talking and now they’re gone. That’s all we have to admit. Why they came back from the dead and what they were trying to accomplish is anybody’s guess. We don’t have to get all caught up in making sense of it, or explaining it to people who want to be argumentative. Lots of people get off on being contrary. That doesn’t mean we have a problem. It means they enjoy being difficult and pretending to be more intelligent than us. They aren’t.

The dead people smelled bad. It wasn’t that rotting flesh dead animal by the side of the road dumpster behind a fast food restaurant smell. It was an acrid, smoky odor that surrounded them even if the wind were blowing.

They also whined a lot. You found yourself just wanting to slap them, except you were afraid their head might fly off if you did, so you just tried to change the subject and hopefully they would forget their griping. They all seemed to want someone to fix them, to give them justice, to make them alive once more. Nobody could. They knew that, and knowing it just made them whine all the more.

A lot of us became unnerved by their sudden appearance. Now that they’re gone, we’re doing our best to get back to business as usual. Some people claim the smell hasn’t really vanished. On a humid day, you can still detect that acrid, smoky scent.

My brother is a scientist, and works at the nearby observatory the FBI closed last week. He says he can’t disclose what he knows, but insists that the dead being resurrected is somehow linked to solar flares. Beyond that he won’t say any more. He sold all his stocks and put the house on the market, even though he has no plans to move away. Even though he didn’t say so directly, I got the impression that no place is safe. Nowhere is better than here.

He’s not upset at all about the resurgence of the dead. He’s more worried about bubbles bursting, the stock market, housing prices, the value of the dollar itself. In fact, most people aren’t really that concerned about what happened. “Shit happens,” they say and move on with their lives. The thing most people found irritating was the condescending attitude the walking corpses had when they spoke to us.

It was like they were school teachers or snotty professors. Their leader was a very short woman, probably under four feet tall, who spoke as if we were all not very bright school children.

Around them we became dull and inattentive. In some ways they seemed to have more life in them than we had in us.

Fable

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We never spoke, not even once, but we had the best communication I’ve ever had with a woman. She could talk, I’ve seen her do it with other people, but she and I only conversed with touch. Her touch spoke volumes. That first year together we couldn’t keep our hands off each other.

Then we stopped all physical contact, and merely communicated with our eyes. We gazed and understood what the other was thinking. Sight told us everything we needed to know, and with absolute certainty.

When she became blind, I still had my vision, although with her out of the picture it didn’t take long for me to join her in perpetual darkness. We were both surprised to find that we knew the other’s whereabouts, and what the other was thinking. By now, we seldom ventured from the house, so it was only a matter of keeping track of which room we were in.

When she died, I knew it within a few minutes. The air grew cold, there was a strange mechanical sound that seemed to come from everywhere at once. I stumbled across her body at the bottom of the stairs. It was then that I began to tell her everything I hadn’t told her, and it took me days until I felt I could stop talking. Then my sight returned.

She appeared younger than I remembered her. Rigor mortis had come and gone, but her complexion had always been pale, so that wasn’t what I found shocking. It was her expression. Her face was frozen into a horrible scowl. The lips were drawn back, exposing her sharp incisors, which made her seem more like a vampire or a predatory cat than the sweet person I once knew so well.

Just Another Shmuck

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When you take a long view, it’s obvious that we are all in this together, though often we feel alone. Our concern is mainly centered on ourselves. “How am I feeling right now?” If we could change this, we could change everything. If we could ask “how are we doing?” we might actually engender good will and get somewhere.

When artists create, are they mainly motivated by a desire for self-expression, or a desire to make the world a better place for others? Hard to know. Maybe a little bit of both.

In the long run, those who are not self-obsessed have an easier time of it. They find they are propelled by the power of a group. Sometimes that group can be large and influential.

When you’re an egomaniac bent on self-promotion, you’re just another schmuck screaming “look at me!” Your voice is already drowned out by the cries of the hundred million people you’re standing with. It’s Day of the Locust. It’s the beach at Coney Island on a summer day in the forties. It’s Chinese tourists at the Louvre.

Sodomites with Attitude

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My older sister was not a nice person. Being mean earned her a certain amount of respect, and both men and women were afraid of crossing her. She would make you pay for any challenge or disrespect. Oddly enough, men found that alluring. She had more boyfriends than any one woman could use.

When she smiled, which was almost never, she could be attractive. When she looked at you like she wanted to dissect you, which was most of the time, she left an impression. She was without a doubt a featured player in nightmares all over town.

At first, no one would believe she was my sister. I am passive to a fault, meek and humble. My major failing is that I’m too nice a guy. But I have limits. I can snap, and have in the past. Those people in South America were threatening us. Even though I couldn’t understand what they were saying, I could sense their vehemence.

If she had been along on that trip, I probably could have restrained myself. But she wasn’t. It was just me and my niece and nephew, and somebody needed to protect them. Anyway, that’s the past. There were no consequences, at least for us. We have moved on.

I’ve been told that I’m quick to point out the flaws in others, but slow to do so in myself. That’s probably right. I can tell you that my sister is a player, a manipulator, but I probably do the same only in my own perhaps more subtle way. I could have been a salesman if I’d wanted to work, but I have never wanted to do so. Thank God our parents left us a substantial inheritance!

We are sodomites and proud of it. Although we don’t choose conflict, we are surrounded by those who want to judge us. Some want to save us, others merely choose to condemn. No matter how hard you try, you will never convince us to change. We don’t try to change you, so why do you try to change us? Are you so unsure of your convictions that you need us to agree with you?

Yesterday, a big man came to our house and began to pound on the front door. We watched him through the curtains and waited for him to go away. He pounded for ten minutes at least. Maybe fifteen. After he left we were nervous and whispered among ourselves. Would he come back? Would he bring others with him? We have a video surveillance camera that recorded him if we needed to give it to the police, but in our experience we are better off leaving the police out of our affairs. They do not favor Sodomites.

Our parents practiced an antique religion, full of oppressive ritual and pointless sacrifice. When I think of all the innocent birds and reptiles who shed blood to allow my parents and their friends to feel they were supplicating evil spirits I feel nothing but shame. Fortunately, when they passed their religion passed with them. They called themselves “The Old Believers of the Dolorous Path.” Somewhere on YouTube there is a low quality video of one of their ceremonies. You can clearly hear the howling of frightened animals and the weeping of children mixed with the gruff chanting of the elders. It is a dark video, with splashes of red illuminated by candlelight.