The Voice in My Head is calm and assured:
You will know when it is time to act. It will come as a feeling, but a feeling of certainty. No longer will you be tempted to procrastinate, to wait for further evidence, to seek the advice of others. You will know that it is time.
Most people will not approve of your decision. Ignore them. They have their own paths to follow, their own inspiration to guide them. They can’t help you with your decision and you can’t help them with theirs.
I want to argue with the voice. Knowing when to act and knowing what to do are two different problems. Hopefully, the inspiration for both will arrive at roughly the same time. If not, then patience and courage will be called for, in equal amounts.
The Voice agrees. If you don’t try, how are you gonna learn anything? We learn as much from our failures as from our successes. It’s just more pleasant to learn from success. And less expensive. And other people find it more inspiring. Serving as a warning to others is a form of service, but not a sexy one.
My life is living proof the voice knows what he is talking about. I was once a movie star, albeit a minor one. I played the stupid guy who served as a sidekick to the leading male. He looked better and smarter with me by his side. I was good at this, and appeared in many low-budget movies made between 1970 and 1980. Still, my IMDb page is often visited, and although I have not had a request for my services in many years, people still stumble across references to me in anything from movie magazines to scholarly dissertations. I am well known among media studies professors.
My SAG retirement will not make me a rich man, but I will be able to retire in comfort in a third-world country with a low standard of living. There are worse fates!
The only real problem I have now is my heroin addiction. I’ve been an addict for more than thirty years now, and as long as I have a reliable, clean supply, I can do just fine. Take away that, and I’m fold like a cheap suit in a matter of hours. All my plans have to do with making sure that doesn’t happen.
I carry with me several secrets in addition to my opiate addiction. These I rarely share with anyone, because I am looking for neither sympathy nor a solution. I am the only person you are likely to meet who is highly radioactive. This came from an experiment I undertook back when I first suspected I had an auto-immune disorder which I first thought was multiple sclerosis, but I now know to be Parkinson’s Disease. Any any rate, I was going through a phase in which I thought I had been born with innate psychic gifts in the healing arts, and decided that if I ingested a few grams of radioactive cesium isotopes, it would cure me. It didn’t. I was not only wrong, but sorely deluded. Fortunately, I had never offered medical advice to others, so I have no guilt attached to this experience. Shame, yes, but not guilt.
The other shameful secret I rarely mention is my propensity to secretly dig holes in other people’s back yards. I do this at night. What am I searching for? Your guess is as good as mine. I’ve been doing this for years, and although I have not yet unearthed any buried treasure, I have come across several cat and dog skeletons. These I respectfully left in entombed. I am not a ghoul, just a person who wrestles with unusual compulsions often succumbing to overpowering needs to act out in ways the world is not likely to understand. That’s OK by me. I don’t need your understanding, just the freedom to act out as I see fit.
Again, I neither seek understanding or permission to be the person I am today. Even though I am an agnostic, I appreciate those who conclude that God made them just the way they are and they needn’t apologize for it.
In my best moments I am one of them. That which makes me unusual also makes me useful in ways I can’t predict but I have faith exist. I am ready, willing and able to be of use.
Lately I’ve noticed that if I am around plants for long, they change. Some wither and die, while others bloom and surge in growth. I have been told that my radioactivity is not harmful to others, though my expert advice for this matter comes from beyond the veil. Automatic writing, the Ouija board, and various ways of talking with spirits have given me access to a whole new realm of expertise.
I have been assured that a mate for me is on her way, and that once she arrives my current liabilities will change to assets. I try not to waste time wondering about her physical attributes. If she is a soul-mate sent to complete me, then whether she is a pinup girl or downright homely doesn’t matter in the least.
Sometimes before going to bed, when I’m brushing my teeth, I look in the mirror and try to imagine her standing next to me. If the lights are low, my teeth glow in the dark, and I can see her standing in the shadows just behind me. Sometimes a tall blonde, sometimes a short brunette. My soul mate.
The spirit who tells me most of this calls himself “Doctor Pretorious.” I’ve been talking with him for so long now that he feels like family. Although I’ve never seen him, I’ve heard his voice in my head ever since I started my experiments with automatic writing. When I try to ask about her, he refuses to add detail, simply saying “Patience my son. She is on her way.”
A few evening ago I was back to my habit of sneaking onto the property of my neighbors, shovel in hand, and digging for an hour or two. The main house is hidden away behind trees and I am careful not to make much noise. They have no dog. I avoid properties with dogs. After an hour or so, I saw something glowing beneath the soil at the bottom of my pit. At first I thought it was the moonlight reflecting on something shiny, but no, the more I dug the more I became sure it was actually something glowing from below. The glow was deep yellow, custard yellow, and with a few more scoops of earth removed I could see it was a large rock, almost the size of a bowling ball. I lifted it up and out of the hole. It was cold to the touch.
I have a feeling about things that I often can’t explain, but that I put stock in. I follow these gut feelings and I am usually not wrong to do so. My finding this rock was no accident. It was meant to be, maybe put there since the dawn of time awaiting this moment.
Bundling the rock in my jacket, I hurried back home, carrying the shovel with one arm and the rock in another. It was all I could do not to shout “thank you!” at the top of my lungs, but instead I whispered it under my breath, over and over.
When I got home, there was a woman sitting on the steps of my front porch. In the glow that came from the rock, I could see that I didn’t already know her. She was very short, under five-feet tall. Black hair and black eyes.
“I’m Helga,” she said. “Dr. Pretorious sent me.”
“Helga?” I responded, stunned.
“If you don’t like the name you can call me Jane.”
“Jane,” I repeated. “Come in, Jane. I’ve been expecting you.”
Jane is my antithesis. Where I emit gamma radiation, she absorbs it. She is my graphite rod.
We don’t talk much, because we don’t need to. Our silence together is enough. She spends long hours reading and playing solitaire. She listens to early jazz recordings. Anything recorded before 1930 delights her, anything after that date she finds annoying. To me it all sounds the same, like music from a Krazy Kat cartoon, or the soundtrack of a Woody Allen movie.
Jane was once a nun in a cloistered order that observed strict silence. She hardly spoke for over ten years. Then, one night, Jesus appeared before her and told her that it was time for her to leave and go out into the world. The next day she left and took a bus to the city, where she was able to find work as a children’s librarian.
Fortunately, she had received a degree in library science before joining the convent. Through diligent service and by keeping a low profile, she was eventually promoted to head librarian, when the current head was fired for having sex with teenage boys. She said that contrary to popular belief, public libraries were dens of gossip, politics and outright iniquity. Her training at the convent had allowed her to bypass many of the snares that trapped others. But then she fell into a trap of her own making. She fell in love with another woman, also an ex-nun, and their conservative community was unable to handle such a scandal. Happily, they offered her a generous settlement to resign and she moved to Giant Rock, Arizona, where UFO sightings are a frequent occurrence and where Wilhelm Reich once built an Orgone accumulator.
No one is safe. Rich and poor alike are in constant danger. Most people don’t know the extent of the risk they’re taking in simply leaving the house, much less going into the city to shop or work. Traps have been laid. Secret agents lie in wait. A taxi driver, store clerk or doorman may be an assassin, and there are tens of thousands of them in all areas of the country, waiting for a prearranged signal to strike.
Don’t expect to be informed by traditional news outlets or social media of the real level of risk. They have known for weeks, but are under heavy pressure by government and police to not spread rumors. No one knows how heavily infiltrated are their ranks.
Best to simply stay home and minimize your exposure. Read quietly. Stay offline. Don’t answer the phone. Wait for further instruction.
It may turn out that the first sign that calamity has arrived will be blood in the streets, the screams of your neighbors, the glint of sharpened steel as your attacker prepares to strike. Wait. Pray.
The stories coming from abroad are frightening. Mass executions at sports arenas, using anti-aircraft guns. Contests among spectators regarding how many standing in line can be killed with one shot. Stray dogs unleashed to clean up the gore at the end of the day, then seen about town carrying a foot or hand in their mouths. Decapitated heads sold on eBay.
Everyone would like to think it can’t happen here. After all, we’re the word’s leading democracy. Or we were. Our leaders are but trusted servants. Or were. Come to think of it, maybe they never were. Maybe that’s how we got into this mess in the first place.
I have a special suit of clothes I wear when the going gets rough. It’s a toilet paper suit. On special occasions, especially on days when I think I might be having sex later on, I wear underpants, usually made from a trash bag I find on the street. Then I’m ready to face whatever might come my way. Toilet paper is actually an ideal material from which to fashion an all-season garment. When it gets wet it dries all crinkly, like crushed silk. If you need to patch an area, you simply start wrapping again.
I stopped using toilet paper for its usual purpose years ago, adopting a spray gun attached to the toilet plumbing. No more clogged drains, and it’s less environmentally wasteful. Half the forests in North America are devoted to producing toilet paper, paper towels, napkins and facial tissue.
But those concerns will seem distant and contrived as soon as the big collapse arrives. Hard to focus on personal hygiene when the very survival of our nation is at stake.
There are rumors that cannibalism abounds now that Burger King and McDonalds have gone out of business. First there were stories about horse and dog meat, but now that one rarely sees a horse or a dog, there are concerns that it’s people next in line at the meat counter. All our news is heavily censored. For every worrying development, the new state-sponsored journalists must run a wholesome, positive piece. Mobs in Bulgaria are burning Hungarians alive, but a kindergarten class in Fort Collins has put on a show about the Easter Bunny.
Most of us gave up watching television long ago. We’re hiding in the dark, reading by flashlight or candle. We whisper when we share information with each other.
Yesterday, I found a small box on the sidewalk, and in it an earpiece that looks to me like a hearing aid. I cleaned the earwax from the tip and inserted it in my ear and could hear a woman counting in Italian. Since there was no Italian woman nearby, I theorized it was a radio broadcast of some kind. The only control on the earpiece was an on/off switch.
When I got home, I sat in my easy chair and listened some more. Now there was a man’s voice telling a sad story in English. Then he began to sing “You’ve Got Me Crying Again, You’ve Got Me Sighing Again.” The song stopped, then the woman counting in Italian started back up.
That night I took the earpiece to bed with me and listened for a few hours as I attempted to drift off to sleep. A different male voice was giving measurements for something…”2.8 centimeters, 1.4 millimeters.” The lists went on and on. I must have fallen asleep for when I woke in the morning the earpiece was still working, only now a voice that sounded exactly like Jack Benny was saying “Rochester, come here, I want you!” Canned laughter, and then the unmistakable voice of his manservant Rochester saying “Sure think Mr. Benny!” More canned laughter.
I thought, how odd that the battery didn’t wear out during the night. So I searched for a battery compartment, and upon opening a little door, saw there was no battery inside, just an empty space.
Lack of power did not seem a problem for my magic earpiece. At various times during the day I listened in and heard men with deep voices singing in Russian, a child talking to his pet rabbit, and a sobbing woman saying “Todos estan muertos. Muertos!”
I had to give the little machine credit for one thing: it certainly wasn’t predictable. Just before bedtime, it spoke to me directly. It said my name and told me to go to the roof and face East. I asked “are you talking to me?” and it replied “of course I am. Go to the roof and face East.” At that point I realized it contained a microphone of some sort.
Our building has a stairway from the top floor to a doorway which opens onto a rooftop paved with asphalt and gravel. Nobody ever goes up there. I did as instructed and stood facing East. After about thirty seconds I could see someone on the roof of a nearby building waving a green light. I waved back. This went on for less that a minute, then the waving light turned to red. I waved some more. Then the light went out and I went back downstairs. I inserted the earpiece. The voice said “Good job. We’ll be in touch.”
That night I didn’t sleep hardly at all. I avoided the earpiece. In fact, I put it in my sock drawer, buried in pile of mismatched socks and tried to forget about it. Trying to forget about something that’s causing you anxiety is a lost cause. It was as if it were calling to me from the sock drawer.
Then, in the middle of the night, it began to call to me from the sock drawer. It was using the gravelly voice of Rochester, Jack Benny’s Man Friday.
“Go back up to the roof. They’re waiting on you. Go. Hurry up! Go!” Rochester implored, his voice slightly muffled through the layer of socks.
This time when I went up to the roof, it was a different scene entirely. There were laser beams sweeping the sky, emanating from a least two different points. One came from a mountain on the Western horizon, the other from the tallest building in our city. I could hear growling and weeping coming from the street below. I didn’t dare go to the roof edge to look down.
I turned to leave and found a woman standing behind me. She put her finger to her lips to motion me to stay silent. I followed her down the stairs and out of the building. We walked to a nearby parking garage, entered it, then down many flights of stairs, far more than I thought would exist in a parking facility. When we got to the bottom level, I could hear people talking. We entered a large room containing maybe two hundred people, most of them sitting in lotus position on the floor. We took out place in the last row.
The woman leaned towards me and whispered “we meet down here because cellphones and wiretaps don’t work this far underground.” I nodded.
Someone called the meeting to order and began to speak. “We are here to fight back. We are here to save our own lives and our families. Time is running out. We have to act quickly or not at all.”
I looked around. People nodded and all expressions were grim.
I asked the woman what I could do to help. She motioned for the to follow her into another room. Here were tanks of water about the size of refrigerators lying on their side. The lights in the room were dim. I could hear a low frequency sound that reminded me of monks chanting.
“We float. Surrender to the void. A bunch of us floating and surrendering will mean ultimate victory.”
“How long will I be in there?”
“As long as you like. You let yourself in and out. It’s salt water. You float in a few inches of salt water that’s kept at body temperature. There’s no sensation at all. That’s the point of it. Unlike sitting meditation, you don’t have to do anything at all. Not even sit up straight or count your breath.”
“So what do I do with my brain?”
“You’ll find out.”
Turns out you had to be naked to float. I was shown to an empty box and let myself in through the door at the top. It was closed with a velcro seal, so I didn’t worry about being locked in.
At first I was disappointed. I had hoped for pleasantly warm water, or something that might feel good, but there was no feeling at all. Within a few minutes my mind kicked into overdrive and I began to daydream at a furious pace. I forgot my surroundings for minutes at a time.
It was like being in a movie theater, watching a Cinerama movie screen, only I was both the viewer and sometimes an actor in the film. I was always the writer and director. Sometimes the movie was sad, embarrassing, and at other times it was fun or erotic. It kept changing. I could neither control the content nor my reaction to it.
This went on for what seemed a long time. Then there was a knock on the plastic door above my head. I reached up and pushed it open. It was the woman who had brought me here.
“It’s been over two hours. Maybe that should be enough for your first day.” She could have said “it’s been six weeks” and I wouldn’t have argued. She helped me out and handed me a towel. I dried myself and dressed.
“Amazing,” I mumbled. “How is this helping?”
“So long as you don’t obsess about what’s wrong now, you’re part of the solution.”
I wasn’t sure I believed her, but I showed up the next day and did another two hours in the tank. I began to think that I was learning something important in the process. No matter what I was thinking or feeling at any given moment, whether I was aware of thinking or simply caught up in the daydream, it all boiled down to the fact that I was simply a guy floating in a plastic coffin in the basement of a parking garage. My thoughts and feelings paled in comparison to the reality of that fact. I began to realize the importance of the Bible quote “Wear this world like a loose garment.” Don’t get too hung up in the details. Be here now. “Relax, turn off your mind and float downstream” said the Beatles.
Maybe the idea is that if you don’t buy into the fact that the world is falling apart, you won’t be contributing to the process. You don’t have to fight back, or convince anybody of anything they don’t already believe, you just have to realize that everything, everywhere is changing all the time. Nothing is solid or permanent. In my tank time, sometimes I’m very sad, or remorseful, but then thirty seconds later I’ve moved on and am happy again, planning ahead.
Even if I weren’t meditating like this with these people, what is would be the way it is and the future will work out the way it will. There are so many factors at work that it’s pure arrogance for me or anyone else to think we can control the outcome. We can avoid contributing to the problems by resigning from the debate. Be here now. I remembered what she said:
“So long as you don’t obsess about what’s wrong now, you’re part of the solution.”
This morning I took a strong pharmaceutical stimulant and will use the added energy and my newly focused attention span to write a novel which I will complete by tonight, when the drug has worn off. Now I am experiencing elation, my mood is soaring, and I can hardly type fast enough to keep up with my thoughts. Yes, I must remember to tell the story of that time in Los Angeles fifty years ago when I came upon a coffee shop full of transvestites. And the altar boy story, don’t forget the one about the time I fell through the ice, or the cave in Mexico that was full of human excrement, and the monkey that broke into my room in Nicaragua. All this must be preserved and fitted neatly into a narrative!
Plot and structure do not come easily to me, but colorful details are a dime a dozen. Obviously the protagonist should be a thinly disguised version of me, and all the zany characters and outlandish happenings can easily be summoned from my memories, which now swirl about me like colorful mists.
The climax will involve a near-death experience, when I am comforted to learn that the soul persists after painlessly passing through the veil. In this novel I will experience true love, meet my soul mate, the one who was conceived with me in mind. I will be tempted by fame and fortune, but reject both in favor of more substantial and long-lasting pleasures.
As I write, I can imagine the movie that will be made. Johnny Depp can play me. But who will play me as a boy? As an old man? I can’t deal with that now, I have to keep typing.
To whom will my protagonist disclose his deepest and darkest thoughts? A sidekick. Dennis Hopper would have played him in the movie, but he’s been gone for a while now. The new American Friend. Weird little guy who is humble to the point of maybe being retarded. A good listener. He doesn’t judge. At the climax he is suddenly and unexpectedly killed in a horrific accident. “Good-bye little buddy. And thanks.”
Will any of the women who come and go throughout this story be virtuous and honest, or will they all be deviously addicted to silly dreams of soul mate romance? Will they all be in therapy, or will one reject the popular paradigm? In order to appeal to modern readers and viewers, at least one female character must prove to be strong and decisive, but there is no need to make her a romantic interest.
Oops, I’ve done it now. My thoughts are racing so far ahead that I’ve lost track of my center, my core. My monkey mind is all that I can access, and it’s chattering away like bad talk radio, like a taxi dispatcher’s radio squawking constantly even if no one is listening.
Maybe Jack Kerouac had ingested a different form of speed when he wrote “On the Road.” The continuous roll of paper that fed through his typewriter kept getting inked., but my digital diary is winding down. It sputters, and then it stops.
If there were ever a time to take action, it’s now. The time for normal score-keeping has elapsed, and we are now into Sudden Death Playoff. The next team to score wins the game. This may happen very soon, or after a while, but it will happen. The game will end.
If you’re a baby boomer who has always wanted to try something completely different once you’ve retired, then you have a limited amount of time to make that choice. Not choosing is a choice.
I’m not talking about going on vacation, but rather about relocating. Moving somewhere far away from your comfort zone in order to experience much more of the world before you die. You are going to die, right? I’m not suggesting you dwell on that fact, but being in denial about it isn’t going to get you where you want to go either.
Indeed, unless one is already content where one is, how does one choose and then get where one wants to go?
Through trial and error.
Chances are it will take some time and money, but that will be time and money well spent in the long run if you find someplace truly exceptional. Wouldn’t it be great to find a spot where you’d be glad to spend the rest of your days? More expensive than anything is wandering aimlessly, vaguely discontented and convinced there’s somewhere better just around the next bend in the road. Sure no place is perfect, but only you can determine what you want. A few years back I tried internet dating. I described myself as someone who enjoyed travel. I kept meeting women whose idea of travel meant taking cruises. I thought to myself, that would be absolute hell for me, everything I don’t like distilled, concentrated and pre-packaged.
So only your idea of fun will apply to you. That’s why you can’t easily and readily search it out without actually going places and finding what you don’t like. After one of my many trips to Nicaragua, I was back in the states playing Scrabble with friends, and telling stories about Central America, when a woman we were playing with asked me in all sincerity, “where do you go to the bathroom down there?” At first I thought she was joking, but then I realized from my descriptions of Nicaragua, it sounded like a place she wouldn’t be able to relax and go to the bathroom.
She wouldn’t have liked it there. She also had a miniature poodle that wouldn’t have liked it any better than she.
By the time I was in my mid-fifties, I realized that this was probably as good as it was going to be “career-wise.” I wasn’t ever going to be “discovered.” My hidden genius would never be revealed. Whatever good fortune had already come my way was maybe all I was due. OK, I could handle that. Now what?
So I started asking myself questions. If this wasn’t what I wanted, what did I want? If Iowa wasn’t where I wanted to end my days, where would I rather be?
I began by letting Internet travel sites show me cheap fares to exotic places. The first ticket I bought was to Nicaragua.
The flight from Des Moines to Managua was highly affordable and mercifully short. Compared to the flights I would end up taking to Asia, flying straight south four thousand miles from the Midwest was a walk in the park. I had traveled enough to realize that the capital cities which house airports are never the place you want to be, so I took a cab to the small city nearest city to the airport. This strategy has served me many time in many places.
I liked Nicaragua a lot. Affordable and interesting, not the least bit ruined by tourism, I found the people to be sweet-natured. Apart from Managua, it was safe, and although the developed areas were nothing to write home about, the natural beauty was often astounding, I ended up going there twelve more times before I was introduced to Thailand.
Thailand and Nicaragua have a lot in common, climate and vegetation-wise. They’re the kind of places where banana trees grow likes weeds in vacant lots. There are, of course, big differences. Nicaragua has volcanoes. Thailand has Thai massage. Nicaraguans eat red beans and rice, Thais eat the most amazing variety of foods I’ve ever sampled.
So I chose Thailand, where I live now. In the interim, I lived for a while in Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina. I like those places, too. I also visited Mexico, Peru and Ecuador, which I concluded were nice places to visit, but the place I chose to call home was and is Thailand.
It’s not perfect, and I have no intention of persuading anyone to move here. The main reason I’m here is because it’s much much much much more affordable than the United States, and that’s important to me. It might not be important to you. But there is probably someplace on this planet that trips your triggers, and unless you’re already there, it’s time to get shaking.
Places I could also dig living: the West Coast of Ireland, Bergen, Norway, the mountains of southern Chile and Argentina, Colombia, New Zealand, Tasmania, St. Petersburg, Russia but I’d have to do some serious planning to move there and since I’m not that motivated, I’ll probably just look at pictures. It’s amazing how many people with great cameras have recently visited these places. The Boomers are everywhere, snapping away with their top of the line Sony mirror-less cameras. Google images has it all, millions and millions of high-resolution, color photos. For free.
They’re the people who never prospered enough to get a real retirement account. Many of us are artists. Some of us got MFA degrees (Master of Fine Arts) which we knew at the time would not entitle us to tenure-track teaching jobs, but we didn’t care, because we thought we were going to “make it” as artists.
Few artists “make it,” at least financially. We are the MFA Boat People who have cast our fate to the winds and emigrated to foreign shores hoping for comfort mixed with adventure. We don’t want to be on Food Stamps back in the States.
Most of we MFA Boat People are working on a novel. All of us are writing blogs. Every person who has exiled himself from his home country seems to be writing a travel blog. I’m not sure if anyone is reading these blogs, but they’re being written. Google’s WordPress seems to host most of them. There’s no pressure to make money, because it’s free.
I am writing five different blogs, but for three of them I pay eighteen dollars a year so that I can own the domain. Those are geezersabroad.com, retirecheaply.com and dancoffeypost.com
I keep waiting for someone to contact me and offer me thousands of dollars for one of my web domains, but the longer I write these blogs, the less likely that is to happen. I attempt to drive traffic to the sites by linking to my Facebook account, but no matter how hard I flog my poor Facebook Friends, readership never soars above fifty souls. Google will not be sending me big money to put ads on my blogs.
But I write anyway. What else am I going to do?