Content advisory 18+ Without ever having been a surfer, I remember watching a film a long time ago about surfing. It was called ”The Endless Summer” and it showed (endlessly) the magnificent, bronzed guy surfers (Wow !– if only I were gay !!!) as they sat on the waves, dipping and slanting at just the precise instant, simultaneously gliding, dictating terms to the sea, and then being abruptly devoured, violently engulfed. Artists of August. I guess they were off the coast of California, and you just knew that these peroxided studs had the pick of all the bleached-blond, big-breasted Bir Sur girls. What a summer. And, of course, it would never end. (I sat in West Virginia trying to get rid of my acne).
It did, though. End, I mean. Those gods and goddesses are old or dead by now, and I, who haven’t crunched a ripe zit in ages) I am not laughing at them. Not at all. A touch of sadness creeps in. For now I know that there comes a point in mid-summer, sort of like in mid-life (except we don’t know when that is, do we?) when something tells us to STOP. Look around. Reflect. Or perhaps this pensiveness should afflict (but it doesn’t !) especially those soldiers of youth who one day will find themselves informed, via a single cruel event or maybe only a handful of seemingly innocuous signs, that they have turned a strange corner, and left a boulevard in life which was sunny-copper and warm, only to find themselves on a different street in a forlorn district of abandoned warehouses where no matinees’ are showing, where the crowds are suddenly thin, and on these hawk-like asphalt smears the wind is coughing and belching like a witch.
I have always had the strange sensation that there is a little bald-headed man — a kind of gnome or elf or seriously truncated dwarf, who sits on my shoulder at all times. My shoulder is the lookout tower from which he observes the world and all that’s in it. He is utterly impassive; he just sits there and watches me live my life, offering not a word of counsel, approval, or disapproval. And whereas I am always burning with passion, consumed by this fire or that, my detached and unpretending partner just perches there, sometimes looking almost bored (that’s the only thing close to a human expression I have noticed) as though his hairless head contains all the centuries that have ever been. He does not judge me; he only observes. If I would be hanged, and if I stood sweating on the gallows, with gibbet and halter, the fear of death wailing inside me like a coyote with its paw in a trap, he would simply hunch forward and observe — nothing but a cold scientist until the end. Where he would go after that, I don’t know.
Obviously, there is no such little man sitting on my shoulder. But I talk about him as if he were real. And that is because, in a sense, he is. Let me put it this way: I have never been so drunk or terrified or confused that another voice in me was not saying, a cucumber of calm: You are drunk, terrified, confused. In other words, one part of me always knew what was happening to the other part. A side of me was always watching. Can you imagine, looking back on the horrors of history, what people must have felt like when they knew what was happening or about to happen? About to be disemboweled or burned at the stake? Try that one out to exercise your imagination. Joan of Arc herself must have heard, even as she struggled, the voice of reason, the voice of reality, the coldest voice of all, saying ”Joan, they are setting fire to you.” And the rest, all dying voices, were lost in the flames. All but that one cold cynic wearing the gray flannels of reality. Sitting on her shoulder. Telling her, as it really happened: “It is really happening, Joan!”
To me, this apparent division between Self as Participant and Self as Observer, captures the complementary dichotomy — the yin and yang (the way opposites influence each other in a way that is both antithetical and mutually beneficial) — of my existence, which is comprised of an almost maniacal yearning to participate in life to the fullest, coupled with an equally powerful magnetic pull in the opposite direction, a mechanical state of mind consisting of only pure objectivity. It is as though the stones I originally emerged from possess still a residual control over me.
I note with some chagrin that, as I get older, that cold facts — blunt and unsoothing like a shower in prison– seem to weigh more on my mind than most of the old fictions, suffused as they are with thin hopes and desperate imaginings. That manly country swain of the folktales, that voluptuous (but ridiculously naive) milkmaid that wanders amid the flocks — they always find each other, don’t they? — and after florid adventures live sweetly upon the rocks, listening to the distant horns of the landowner’s fox-hunt, and the baying hounds. That rosy coupling makes for alabaster children, plump and happy. Then come the productive Middle Years of growing maturity, awareness and profit, followed on by a graceful, gentle old age knowingly endured by the seasoned lovers in their stately, austere gardens of elderly, faithful roses. Death, finally, and prayers for the dead. Autumn leaves piling around the gates of the cemetery., nostalgically recalling the goodness of life. But I was never there. It didn’t happen to me. I just stood at the edge of the story-book and gazed in, like someone peering down the deepest well in the world.
In the summer here in the village, the flowers are full (although I see that they bloom and die at different times: tulips in the spring (then they vanish); roses in the early summer (then they fade), and later, so I am told, again there will be roses, a brittle season of ephemeral new roses that will only die again…Strange but I did not know any of that before I came here. I crossed many fields but I suppose I never really looked down or came to know them as I should have…
In the city we learn to keep up with the rapid, helter-skelter, herky-jerky rush of things. We are trapped in the nano-second as we hurtle toward our temporary results, and so we notice, we admire, we identify and associate with only the breakneck-speed aspects of life. And the people we reward the most in this Age of Internet Technology Enlightenment are those who can ‘multitask’ the quickest and most efficiently. Or appear to. But I am not here to argue whether that is good or bad.
Rather only to make note of the fact that in the countryside of Bulgaria one witnesses the apparently stationary growth, or, better, soundless evocation and progress, of living forms that are non-human (neither mammal nor animal, reptile nor rodent), watching them instead rise out of the earth and become whatever they are supposed (I don’t want to say ‘programmed’) to become, without my intervention or interference. We think of them as plants, and they have no brains, therefore they cannot think. Yet they are alive. How peculiar.
I remember once, in Moscow, a dear friend of mine left me with a lot of plants to take care of, as indeed she had taken care of lovingly herself before returning to America.. I had the keys, I could have gone in and watered the plants. But they were ONLY plants, and I forgot. Besides, I was living somewhere else by then. But one day I suddenly remembered that I was supposed to water these plants to which I had been entrusted. So I went there and opened the door (this was a couple of months later), and…what I saw was like the St, Valentine’s Day Massacre or maybe just a concentration camp full of dead and emaciated corpses. These were the dead plants and they stared at me, not accusingly, but with a kind of blank and amazed sorrow. Why did you forget us? How could you???
Take, for example, the sunflowers. During the winter all trace of them disappeared, leaving only the barren, humped sprawl of sloping fields where they had been, brandishing their yellow fire throughout all the hot months. Their renewed potential then lay moribund under the March frost, barely stirring amid the ambiguities of April and the slowly changing face of May. Then in June they came shooting up out of the ground almost overnight, immediately tall and apple green — like the ‘jolly green giants’ of an old American television commercial I remember (advertising peas !)…or maybe one would think of the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale. A multitude of tall green shanks. But not yet gold.
They knew exactly what they were doing. Their backs were turned to me and the dogs as they faced the sun that rises each morning out of the sea. All in the same direction, taking their cue from their sunflower god that sends its rays from somewhere beyond even the epiphanies of carefully wrought poetic words. Faith? Is that what faith is, a sunflower turning to meet the light?
And now they have achieved fulfillment, those sunflowers, and when the dogs and I reach the converging paths at the top of the mountain, we see (or at least I am aware of) the immaculate golden rows of zodiac-shaped sundials that just go on and on and on, like legionnaires in the Roman Empire. Of course they never speak, and yet, somehow, buried in the eon-old annals of their golden circles, I feel that they are privy to a cosmic truth that is beyond the conceptions of human minds. After all, my ancestors came here about 300,000 years ago. The sunflowers were here before the dinosaurs, and the dinosaurs died out 65,000,000 years ago.
What do they really know?
One evening recently, my wife and dogs and I were walking among the mountains. We descended along one of the dusty paths and finally began a detour through a dark olive and emerald woodsy spot that would bring us over to the other side. Everything was going well until my wife suddenly screamed. It turned out that a snake was dangling from a tree branch overhead and I nearly plowed headlong right into it.. I pulled back at the last moment. Probably the snake was not poisonous, and, clearly, it was just scouring the earth below for its dinner. I was not its target; probably I just blew its cover. But what if had been poisonous (like at least four species in Florida where I used to live) — and suppose it had bitten me right in face. Deep in the forest. I might have died.
And who to blame ? The snake? The sunflowers? The wind? God?
Two mornings ago I went out at 5.30 with Cass and Pop just before the sunrise. As we left the road and began our trek through one of the paths leading up into the hills, I saw the houses tucked into the verdurous cloaks among the hillsides amid bands of smoky-silvery dawn mist. On the other side of me, far in the distance, the same mist shrouded over the ancient hills. Timeless. And, to the modern mind, devoid of action. Or, should I say: uneventful? Nothing was happening, it seemed. Nothing the modern businessman’s eye could catch or be attracted to: a fresh memo or a lifted skirt.
But in that melon-like stillness, the dinosaurs were in the process of being born all over again. Glaciers began to melt, continents to shift. The ancient gods were beating their drums and I could hear the drum-roll in in my veins. How? Why ? Because time had disappeared. The earth was excited, everything was set to start all over again ! Yes, and a great beam of glinting light shot against one of the houses close by — or was it just the angle where I was standing that made it appear that way ? A rocket of light whipped its miraculous fire into that one window; it caused the house to seem the focus of all creation, as though inside that building an Immaculate Conception were taking place.
Was it a sign??
I sighed. I shrugged. I moved on.
Yesterday it rained and the fields and woods were sodden. Our neighbors keep pigs for slaughtering and apparently they had dumped a massive puddle of soupy pig-shit down amid the tall weeds. Casper found it and rolled around in it.
Rejoicing, as dogs do in the moment — being, as they clearly are, Happy for No Reason. But I didn’t see. Not long afterwards, I began to smell something subtle and awful that followed us home. I thought I had stepped in a pile of whatever myself or maybe caught a touch of the plague from a mosquito, and so I checked myself out, even changing my clothes. But the odor continued on throughout the house. Maybe the toilets? Maybe a dead mouse? The accusing odor pierced the air like strains from the devil’s own fiddle.
Then I realized that Cass was the culprit. It was silly Casper after playing with the condemned pig’s shit.
The strange little Budda — or whatever, whoever, he is — the One that has been sitting on my shoulder all my life, appeared to smell nothing, even as he himself never smells like anything, is odor-free, seems not to care at all, and somehow appears to go farther back, connecting time to timelessness. Like gas.
Yet this hard little guy’s nostrils inhaled the pungence all right. He can’t kid me. He knows more than all the dead animals could ever remember, more than the dangling snakes could reckon with, more than the sunflowers, and even the sun. Whoever he is, there on my shoulder, he smelled his special salad. He simply didn’t let on.
My wife, finally awake, inhaled the stench just about the time I had finally diagnosed poor, innocent Casper as the culprit, and of course she started blaming everybody and acting foolish, which is not unusual. Casper, the accused, fled. Somehow my wife, this howling human, while seeming basically irrelevant to the situation, imposed her stern will. Noise and more noise came from her vexatious sound box.
Cowering Cass was retrieved, dragged back, scrubbed clean, admonished, and let go. And I caught an earful of blame for somehow allowing it to happen.
The smell of excrement was warded off. The rot vanished.
I left my blustering wife to her ravings and foolishness and fled upstairs, the faithful and now reinstated dogs scrambling behind me. After that, while the little Master of Ceremonies perched in a blank but oddly cocky way on my shoulder, I finally started to relax.
The One sitting there, leaning casually against my neck — he is Death, and to his will I bend. And to his command all dogs run after gargoyles that only seem like foxes, out there amid the winds, until the wind becomes Nothingness.
===Eric Richard Leroy===
Music used while editing and preparation:
Infected Mushroom – Return To the Sauce
Infected Mushroom – Artillery
Infected Mushroom – She Zoremet
Marlyn Manson – Personal Jesus
Amy Stroup – In the Shadows
Adele – Million Years Ago
Eisbrecher – Rot wie die Liebe
Oomph! – Sandmann
Infected Mushrooms – Kazabubu