Continuing on with the story theme of two months ago, here we have a guy who's someone (or somewhere) else. Think of him as appearing out of nowhere into a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits kind of place. But maybe that's jumping the gun. Maybe his experience should be allowed to speak for itself; maybe, even, this introduction is not only superfluous, but also counterproductive, so maybe I'll delete it later on:
He didn't know how he got to this city, or even what his name was, but he had to find a place to stay, a base of operations. He didn't want to end up sleeping in the streets like some of the ragged people he passed by looked like they must do. His first impression of this city is that it has a large contingent of homeless people. But maybe he's just in the wrong place.
The four-floor walk-up at the address advertised in the newspaper ads had a sign in the front window of the first floor that read "Room For Rent." The landlady took an immediate liking to him. He can't remember a single incident from his past, but he knows without question that he's always had a talent for making people like him, especially women.
The landlady directs him to his room on the fourth floor. "I'd show you up," she says, "but I can't climb the stairs." He tells her that it's quite all right, that he's used to finding things himself. He knows that's true, though he doesn't know why. At the third floor landing, he meets a guy on his way out of the bathroom, barefooted, wearing only pajama bottoms, and with a damp bath towel around his neck.
"Who are you?" the guy says. It is not a cordial, get-to-know-you greeting, but rather a challenge.
Now what is he supposed to say? He knows he's not very quick-witted; or, if he didn't, he knows it now. He feels like he should make up a name. "My name is Smith," he says, the same name he gave the landlady, Mr. Smith. He didn't give her a first name and she didn't ask for one, nor did she, fortunately, ask for any references. He thinks it was his natural charm that made her want to give him the room, in any case. But he doesn't think his natural charm will work on this guy here.
Slowly, over the period of a few weeks, as he and the other inhabitants come and go, they take him into their little tribe.
Unfortunately, the story doesn't go much further. As often occurs in Joachin's life, "real world" events that have been festering and threatening to disrupt the peace and calm of his different (kind of) life conspire to derail all "unreal" storytelling, truncating this narrative and thematic trail; a different kind of reality ensues, one that "normal" people think of as the only one. But, before we go there, here are his notes explaining how that story was supposed to play out:
A guy enters an "alternate world" and sees this (current, real-world) society from the other side, except that he and the reader do not know that it is our current society, they are led to believe it exists some place else and only the more discerning readers will understand the analogy.And now, that aborted attempt out of the way, Joachin returns to that other place and life that everyone wants to think is so damn real: It all started this May when Joachin applied for Medicare. He hadn't known what he should do, which options to apply for, so to be safe, he applied for part B as well as part A (part D, prescription drug coverage being automatically covered when you get part B). But he worried all along about having to pay so much for it and how he was going to handle the expense, if he was going to have to take social security earlier than age 70, cash in savings bonds, or whatever, and end up boosting his monthly expenses considerably, or else continue to go along without medical coverage and tempt fate. One major illness could wipe him out.
He shows up in a different city (not unlike Six in The Prisoner). In his former life, he was some kind of researcher and/or professor of some esoteric, semi-scientific discipline (a la sociology, etc.); but he has forgotten all about this and must come to realize it slowly via deduction from the skill sets he demonstrates [spontaneously and automatically, like Claudia Black in the Stargate SG-1 episode where she is kidnapped, given a drug that causes her to lose her memory, and in order to survive, takes a job as a waitress in a small restaurant where, when guys come in to rob it, she beats the crap out of them but can't understand how it is she knows how she did that]. The inhabitants of this boarding house know nothing at all about Smith's former work and so assume that he is some kind of intelligent egghead (which he is), more because they are of the lower classes than because the discipline doesn't exist in this place. (Maybe it does and maybe it doesn't.) They see him as the outsider that he is and one guy challenges him when he first enters, saying, "Who are you?" and not in a cordial manner.
The boarding house is like a space ship in that it's a refuge from the caustic happenings (social, political, corporate, etc.) in this alternate world, which is a crazy place where the boarding house residents are the only sane people around; but all the "normal" citizens think these people are the crazy ones.
Include all the typical criticisms of this society, which also happen to be this society's criticisms of its enemies, projected: evildoers, blind adherence to "fundamental" religious beliefs, etc.
Character: a governor who is corrupt, like the Firesign Theater mayor.
This country has been taken over by a secret cabal that runs the corporations and the government stooges; and all the quisling citizens are complicit.
A Walking Tall take-off where the main character is not proactively self-assertive, but rather a passive-aggressive "coward" [courage is an unconscious recognition of one's strength; cowardice of weakness] caught up in a Farscape-like situation, a weird-world scenario that he has to learn how to navigate and where he must deal with a strange set characters, the likes of which he has never before encountered (akin to aliens; or maybe they are aliens; or maybe he's the alien but doesn't know it). In Walking Tall, Buford Pusser fights the corruption directly by getting elected sheriff. In this story, Smith takes the other route, hiding out in plan sight and becoming a kind of unwilling superhero in disguise.
Other thematic and mood influences: Silent Hill / Jacob's Ladder
Smith's name could be a reference to Michael Valentine Smith. So maybe he could choose the first name 'Heinlein'. Then he could be a "superior" being who must learn how to fit into a different kind of world--somewhat unlike Crighton in Farscape, who is seen at first as inferior, and then becomes sort of equal, except re wormhole technology, where he excels; and except re his outlaw status, which he, merely via the necessity to survive, become infamous among the galaxies; actually, maybe he's a whole lot like Crighton.
In his room, Smith discovers a wall that talks to him and reveals scenes (similar to psychic visions). The information he gets from it gradually clues him in to what's actually going on. But the wall is somewhat unreliable (it becomes a character not unlike the robot in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, except that that robot was not unreliable, but depressive and thus somewhat uncooperative; this wall is willingly cooperative, but the information it provides is not reliable. Smith learns that he must constantly challenge the wall when it makes mistakes and wonders if its further advice is accurate and wise.)
At the same time that he applied for Medicare, since he was checking it all out online anyway, he checked out VA benefits too. He'd been planning all along to apply and see if he'd get accepted, but it seemed like such a hassle to have to go down to the VA and wade through all their bureaucracy. But he found an application form online and decided to fill it out. Problem was, he needed Adobe Acrobat version 10 to open the special type form that won't open with his generic reader, and he doesn't want to download Adobe products because they have such a bad reputation with online security. But he decided to download it anyway, but it turned out that it's a 50 MB file, which would take over three hours to download via his dial-up connection, and about halfway through the first try, the connection was interrupted, so he had to start all over again. He spent a whole afternoon and evening getting it downloaded. The next day, he filled out the forms, but there were three questions in it that he didn't know how to answer, one about spinal injuries, one about net worth, and one about whether he wanted an immediate doctor's appointment or was just filing to prepare for the future. He set the file aside for the time being.
A few weeks later, while he was still operating pretty much according to his normal (if that's what it can be called) anti-schedule, breezing along while managing to ignore the pending worries just ahead, he was approved for Medicare, coverage to begin August 1st, initial payment due shortly before that date. Meanwhile, the yard work was starting to back up big time while he worked inside most of the time trying to get some books finished because he happened across an opportunity to get free books printed by an online publisher. And then Roy invited him over for Memorial Day, which was when it all started to go downhill. Roy asked Joachin to help him go and get a 180 gallon fish tank that he was getting for free; they needed a fourth person to help them move it, it was that heavy. Actually, this was the second request. The first request to help move the tank was made when Joachin helped Roy and his girlfriend move into their new house; but Roy hadn't yet managed to get a crew of four together all on the same day.
Somewhere around this time, Joachin tried to upload the VA application, which he finally got around to finishing; but he kept getting an error message that said it couldn't upload an html file (which it wasn't, it was a pdf file). So he gave up, figuring he'd fill out a paper form and mail it in. But none of his printers were working, so he couldn't print out the form. But a few days later he discovered, by accident as he was looking online for something else, that he could upload a file to UPS and have it printed out and pick it up at one of their local stores. So he decided that was what he'd to do. So he set it aside again until such time when he could get back to it; that is, when, if ever again, he felt like it.
During times that seemed to Joachin to get increasingly complicated, times like this one right now, where complications seemed to be escalating rather than abating, he would normally withdraw and wait it out until most of the "difficulties" had passed him by.
But it seemed to him now that they would only continue to increase, that these were not your ordinary problems that would simply go away without dealing with them. They, most of them, were going to require hard and firm decisions, and he didn't want to make them.
He doesn't know what to do. He's thinking of something specific here, but this has been a chronic problem that's becoming more profound as time passes and generalizes to more and more areas of his life as he becomes aware of how vast the right wing conspiracy really is.
The problem is society, pure and simple. It checks him at every turn and thwarts his every attempt at advancement; that is, he advances despite its machinations, when more "sociable" people use society to aid them in their advancement, developing as social beings. But not him.
He wants the trappings of society without the obligations and commitments; and, generally, he gets them, in a modest fashion, via mimicry: He pretends to be sociable in order to reap the rewards; that is, he passes. But it takes a whole lot out of him to do that; and he doesn't like it.
Right now he has to make a significant life decision whose time has come; and, as usual, he doesn't know what to do. Nothing that has to do with society is clear-cut; everything has to be so goddamned option and contingent ridden. And no matter what you decide, they got you.
The corporate-run American government will determine that citizens will contribute at least a token amount, but more likely a more significant sum, to the shareholders of record when any government service is rendered--unless of course you are dirt-poor and can prove it.
But, if corporate America has its way, that will also eventually become no excuse; because the whole intent of incorporation is to place the burden of responsibility elsewhere, and business will use any excuse to act to this intent, always seeing powerlessness as weakness to be exploited. The primary result of incorporation is reduced necessity for a company to take responsibility for its actions and operations.
It's a relentless mental attitude that haunts him--corporate malfeasance; or even, at times, mere corporate existence. And among the worst of it, in addition to the insurance companies, of course, is the pharmaceutical industry. He resists their every effort to monopolize the physiology and psychology of the American masses, because he fears that they will insinuate their product necessity into his brain like the society at large insinuates its social necessity. He doesn't want to be seduced into the psychological dependency that the pharmacology corporations perpetrate; yet the possibility seems very real that they will succeed, because he requires one of their most basic painkillers to deal with his back pain; and once they got you hooked, they escalate their insidious influence far better than any independent street pusher could ever manage.
When people he doesn't know so well, or even those who do, but who forget, notice that he's having difficulties with his back (he makes it a point never to complain about it, but sometimes the pain will strike him unexpectedly and cause a wince or an obvious postural reaction that he typically manages to avoid), they will ask him about it, and so he will explain, playing it down as much as possible while trying to be honest and direct about it. Usually, they'll ask him what he does about the pain, and he tells them about his exercises and how he takes naproxen (because that's really what they want to know, if he's taking drugs); but seldom does anyone know what sodium naproxen is, so they ask, "What's that?" And so he has to say, "Aleve," even though he doesn't actually take Aleve, but rather a generic brand, which is why he says in the first place that he takes naproxen, to be perfectly correct. The whole point is that people are so tied into brand names and the whole corporate mentality that they only recognize common everyday products by their most successful branding. Kleenex. Xerox. The corporations got people right where they want them, and they know it. And Joachin doesn't like it. Not at all. He wants to do some about it. He wants justice. No, that's not right. What he wants is revenge.
But there's no difference between justice and revenge. It's all just a matter of perspective. Revenge is an individual motivation; justice is a consensual collective one. Leave justice for the sociable people, Joachin thinks. He wants revenge--for all of the shit that people of the business persuasion have perpetrated again him (and all of the other citizens, via manipulated tax structures, inflation rates, shoddy products, bait-and-switches, out-and-out scams, etc.); and occasionally he gets his revenge, whenever he manages to rip-off a corporation (which he justifies as revenge; it's okay, in this sense, to rip off corporations; but never individuals) or merely takes advantage of a sale that's designed to lure him into additional purchases, which he never makes.
Finally, after he decides that he has put up will as much (mental anguish) as he is going to, for now, after he realizes that society, via the corporations and their government have got him whether he complies with or resists them, he turns to one of his usual panaceas: he goes out into his gardens; after all, they are one of the problems adding to his misery, and some physical exercize might help.
Every spring, along around the first day of May, after he gets all of the plants out of the house and onto the front deck, especially the two large citrus trees that narrow down the point where the entry gives way to the rest of the house, he appreciates once again the relatively uncluttered aisle space and the extra light that the windows admit. He closes all of that down in the fall, further than nature does it for him with its colder weather and low light levels, by bringing in all of the plants to share his sequestered winter hovel.
Now, outside, with the spring each year getting warmer earlier, he starts to cut and prune. Each spring he promises himself that he will not let the growth overtake his desire to keep it all cut back; and by mid-summer, everything is overgrown and his motivation has all worn away; but not this year...maybe. He works the yard for two days and at night, as he settles into bed, he considers that other great panacea:
The first time he saw her, Joachin knew that Micks was somehow "magical"; that was the word he'd used back then, although he probably meant something more like "attractive." He was walking down the street, heading up to the shopping center on one of his daily walks, back when he fantasized that he might get back into shape again, because he missed his old self who was always thin and fit. Micks was driving the mail truck up the street, delivering the mail. They locked eyes for the briefest moment, and he knew...something, he wasn't sure exactly what. He guesses he knew she was someone special. But every time after that when he tried to make that same eye contact again, she would not allow it, as if that first time was an accident, that her attention had wandered toward him walking along the street, but thereafter she was more wary at his approach and kept herself on guard and fixed her attention straight ahead. That's how he knew that he affected her. If he had not, she would have had no need to not look at him.
After that day, he wondered about her. Was she married? No ring. Was she a lesbian? Hmm. Maybe. As it turned out, she does have that tendency. She's that kind of person who is not so comfortable dealing with people and requires a strict interpretation of social interactions. He's never spoken of this aspect of their shared existence. He's afraid he'll spook her, like he's done to so many other women in his past, afraid he'll reveal too much of what he (thinks he) knows, and, like so many others, she'll object, and end up hating him for the insight he has that she refuses to admit to, even to herself maybe.
But she loves him, or maybe only thinks she does. But what's the difference? If you think it, then it must be true, even if it's only self-delusion. You can delude yourself into loving someone, but that doesn't mean it isn't love. At least that's the way he feels toward her. But he won't tell her, because that's another thing he's learned not to do, just in case she takes it the wrong way; women do take it the wrong way, at least in his experience.
He loves her like Jake loves his girlfriend in Jacob's Ladder. She was a mail person too. He stops and talks to her in the street, still, even after she began to stop by his house for dinner after she got off work, like Jake stops by to talk to his girlfriend at her cubicle at work, even though he sees her every single night at home. He has a therapist in his head who keeps him straightened out like Jake's chiropractor. He realigns the spine of his mind, with words--with ideas, really.
His life is now, like Jake's, nearly complete, he thinks, which makes his primary goal, not all of the stupid difficulties he's been angsting over and having to put up with, but with staying alive past the end of the film. He's trying to make sense of all that has happened to him since, when he was fired from his last job, his life ended but he doesn't yet know it.
His inner therapist helps him to see The Light. When he sees It, the pain goes away for a while. Jake's pain was caused by war injuries, and so is Joachin's; it's just that the nature of the war is different, it's more of a "mental" war. Psychological warfare might be a good metaphor, although the chemical warfare metaphor in Jacob's Ladder holds up well.
He's still at war. No shots have been fired. But battles have been fought, off and on, for over half a century. Yeah, it's just another metaphor; but it's also more literal than you may think. His life is a war. You're his enemy.
His wounds are very real. There is no modicum of imagination. Just because the doctors cannot see and therefore cannot treat them doesn't mean they don't exist. He's torn apart and re-stitched, inside. They did something to him back there, back then, something he doesn't remember. He remembers a lot, but the most significant incident he has been made to forget. It's been a long hard slog, remembering.
When they first talked about getting together (that was what they were talking about, though maybe she didn't know it), she wanted to know who Ursula was. He got a lot of mail addressed to Ursula, who had his last name. "Is she your ex?" she asked, probably wanting it to be true.
"No," he laughed. "My ex's name is Dawn." Ursula is just a name I created for a website because they only allowed women to register and I wanted to know what it was all about. And the name ended up on mailing lists.
She laughed, satisfied; but he thought he detected in her laugh something uncomfortable, like maybe she thought creating a false identity constituted some form of mail fraud.
Lying in bed now, on his left side facing the wall to minimize the pain, thinking about Micks, some of the things he thinks, he realizes, he has spoken aloud. It suddenly occurs to him that he's alone and talking to himself; talking to the wall, actually. Fortunately, though, the wall is not talking back. Or maybe that's not so fortunate.
He's beginning to resent a lot of things lately. And he never used to be that way. He thinks about Royce, how he has shut down and all but given up, how his non-accepting attitude has driven him so deep inside himself that he can't get out far enough to see what other people are all about. His father was the same damn way. Completely closed-minded and non-accepting of people's differences. Intolerant. That's the word. Joachin fears that that same thing is starting to happen to him, that he'll end up closed up inside his house, and inside his mind, that he'll no longer be capable of empathy, or even of merely seeing another person's point of view.
Used to be, nothing ever bothered him, no one or nothing ever got to him, he could breeze through life without a care, without any person's affect infecting him (like it will often do now). Actually, in this regard, he's not nearly so closed off as he used to be. And he's not closed up inside his house. He keeps his doors and windows open, weather permitting. He still enjoys the great outdoors. It's just that he feels he can't cope any more on a social level. (He never could, really. It took so much out of him to have to go out to a job every day and resist the mostly unconscious anxiety he managed to bury deep within, so that he, himself, the real person that he was, could remain outside.) Nature, on the other hand, is just okay. But that may not be true. He may be lying to himself: Does he still feel that way? Or has nature itself gone too far in its inclemency? No matter. It's not nearly so bad as it used to be, he concludes. He's not closing down, he's actually opening up; although that itself may not be such a good way to be. Maybe he was better off when he was so much more closed down.
He hasn't been at his best for quite a while now. It all has to do, indirectly, with social anxiety--not the kind that affects him when he must go out and interact with people, but the kind where he must make decisions that will eventuate in both interacting at some future date and requiring that he spend a substantial amount of money in circumstances where he is not assured that he will get good return on it, which implies further necessity for social interaction to rectify the problems encountered; all of which he does not handle well, especially right now.
Too many "things" going on in his life right now. He's jumping around too much, too much to deal with. He's happiest when he devotes himself to one thing only, when he is motivated to work at it full time; other "demands" and interests fuzzy the focus, some requiring making decisions, choices, commitments. Oh, the horror. The pathos. The perversity of diversity. Medicare. Dental care. The garden. Jewelry-making. Writing. Writing deadlines! Of all things, how can he postpone those? It's his whole purpose for existence, he rationalizes. He's got to learn to establish priorities. The problem is: Whose priorities? His, obviously. They're all his. He's pretty much done away with others' priorities. He's got to choose "one thing," do it, and then repeat. One thing after another. Or only a few at a time, scheduled. This time of the day for this activity; and then another. First thing, first priority. Next, at the next time slot. Simple. But determining preponderance is impossible. Too many variables. Too many choices. Too, too much.
He wants his life to be clear-cut. Especially about money. Too many companies scheme to make him pay for crap. He doesn't mind having to pay, as long as he doesn't get ripped-off. If he buys shoddy goods and services, he gets extremely pissed. Especially when he has no recourse but to take the loss. His choices are always colored by the rip-off potential. And it seems like everyone these days is a scam artist. His dentist ripped him off. His dentist! How can this be? If you can't trust your healthcare providers, then who can you trust? You'd think healthcare providers would at least...
You hear it said (on tv commercials) all the time: Corporations care about their customers. Bullshit. Suppose you incurred a recurring financial commitment, say a doctor's bill or a utility bill, or whatever; and suppose you stopped paying the periodic payments. Would the firm to whom you owe money care if you didn't pay? Would they continue to provide the products or services? Of course not. They only "care" as long as you pay them to. That's capitalism for you.
He worries that his beliefs and opinions will alienate Micks; but he worries that her not knowing his true beliefs will eventually cause her to reevaluate any good opinions she has of him. He worries like this a lot, when it comes to relationships with women. He has never been able to decide which is the better way to be, totally honest or deceptively practical. Actually, the "right" way to be is probably some judicious mix of the two; but he's never been too good at blending the extremes. He is not normal in that way, and this worries him, but only when he evaluates his behavior as a woman might perceive it.
The problem is not that he is abnormal. That's an aspect of the social illusion, or, at best, conditioning. The problem is that people are incapable of recognizing their own abnormality. They choose to see themselves in terms of social standards and repress those parts of themselves that deviate from those standards; and, so, when they consider Joachin, who does not so much repress the difference, they project their own repressions onto him and criticize him for what they themselves, in one way or another, are. They don't understand. And he always thinks he's not capable of explaining it to anyone.
He worries in this same way about politics. He could precipitate, he thinks, a backlash if he vociferates too much (or even at all). People, especially conservative-leaning people, don't like to be disagreed with; and, worse, they tend to be a lot more retributive than liberals. To wit, the primary legacy of the Obama administration may well turn out to be that it made it far easier to recognize the real bigots among the mindless faux-patriotic sycophants who worship them.
Politics could be an aspect human nature that Joachin believes to have been the biggest evolutionary mistake. He looks forward to a future time when political activity will become a crime, not unlike racketeering. Politicians favor contributors, and to a lesser extent supporters, over the citizenry as a whole. In evolutionary terms, politics has been a necessary system, but so was feudalism in its time. The time is coming, Joachin feels, when politics could easily be replaced with a computerized electoral process to bring about a unanimous direct democracy. Advertising political positions could become a matter of simple public statement on designated free air time, equitably apportioned. (They are the public airwaves, after all; corporations only lease them; so let them donate back some of that largess for public benefit.) All other political activity could be banned. And elected officials could turn their attention full time to working on real problems instead of posturing and spinning their way through the media while trying to get into or remain in office.
Of course, it's not politics per se that is the problem, but corporate capitalism's perversion of the political process. But, then, that's always been the case. Before we had corporations, we had robber barons. And before that we had kings and princes and any number of other similar perversions of the social process. It's just that the postmodern corporations have gotten so much better at it. The blunt force tendencies of the past have given way to more sophisticated and subtle ways of manipulating the masses into doing things the way the power brokers want them to.
Professional organizations are formed to counteract the effect of amateurs and unscrupulous business people ripping off customers; and then the professional organizations in their greed begin themselves to succumb in the same damn practices. But maybe some of that developed sophistication and subtlety is wearing thin as people advance in the understanding of what is really going on: Any more, being a "professional" is coming to mean having a license to rip people off. Joachin is thinking specifically of insurance agents here, but the phenomenon is in the process of spreading across a wide spectrum of corporate and independent businesses. If you call yourself a professional, in any field, Joachin immediately suspects your morals and your ethics. He'd almost want an amateur do the work.
The days wear on and Joachin continues to avoid what nevertheless continues to haunt him, that which he knows he will eventually have to settle down to and get done. But instead he chooses to dwell upon his fantasies and dreams. One morning he awakens from a complex dream about his nephew:
He dreams he's awakening and getting out of bed. Because of a severe pain in his back, when he bends forward, he has a hard time putting on his socks. His nephew Ray, who is the kitchen cooking a pizza, sees the difficulty he's having and asks:
Joachin, half-awake now, says/thinks, "We adopted our modern image of the cross to better correspond to the ancient and powerful psychological archetype of the mandala, the primary difference being that the central horizontal is longer than the lateral crossbar, which, when it is conceived of as being planted into the earth, grounds the ethereal image of the mandala, thereby combining the heavenly and earthly aspects of Jesus' nature." He tries to fall back into sleep because he wants to hear Ray's response to that idea. But he cannot. The pain in his back felt so real to him in the dream because it was actual pain he felt while asleep, twisted sideways into an odd sleeping position.
Despite the pain, he forces himself out of bed, determined to accomplish something significant, or at least something constructive, to counteract the ennui that has been escalating recently. (Directed activity raises self-esteem by creating a feeling of being in control.) After a quick cup of coffee and before he can redirect himself off on a tangent, Joachin goes outside and begins to do yardwork, intent upon counteracting some of the overgrowth:
Pruning plants and trees is no big deal: He cuts them down branch by branch until he fills a barrel, then he carries the barrel up to the back and dumps it on the compost pile--all in his own good time, he thinks; that is, he doesn't have to hurry or go out of his way to do it, it just happens, if he can manage to get himself outside and moving around the yards. And, although he sees it as a somewhat noxious chore, whacking weeds is not a big deal either: He no longer has wide stretches of lawn to mow, but rather just paths between the various garden beds. But trimming the hedges...now that's a different matter: As nice as those hedges look, they've got to go, because that's just way too much hard work to be doing every spring, summer, and fall. Alternatives: 1) cut them down to half their height and width; 2) leave them at the same height but prune them back to a foot wide; 3) let them grow high like trees and prune off the lower branches, like the hedges in the back yards now are, through years of neglect, except for the ones along the sides of the yard that he prunes up along their height so that they look like a high wall; let the neighbors, he thinks, if they so care (which they seem not to) prune back their own side. Otherwise, it'd be a whole lot of work, way too much for him to handle. Suburbia. How did he ever end up here, he wonders.
So, in order to keep his point of focus from spreading out like a fuzzy quantum blob of predicted subatomic particle locations, he (tries to) limit his exposure to diversion, by packing up and storing away projects materiel in conveniently accessible yet out-of-the-way places and by restricting his attention to one or two primary concerns that he keeps closer at hand.
Since he seems to "require" this kind of orientation anyway, he's gone ahead (a long time ago) and applied this same "logic" to his whole life: He does with as little as he is able to. He's whittled down everything he does, especially when it comes to spending money. He keeps a tight rein on the purse strings. He conserves supplies in every way possible. He uses as little energy as necessary to accomplish the task at hand.
It's all a matter of economics: If you tell him you have money problems and you have a tv set that you paid for, then he will conclude that your money problems are probably self-inflicted; even if you paid for the tv way back when you were flush, why didn't you back then put some of that excess aside as a hedge against harder times? People almost always create their own problems, in one way or another.
But people don't listen to him. That's why he writes. When people read what he writes, they tend to listen more closely. Well, sort of. The problem is, you see, he's running out of people who know him. They're all dying off. But don't think he's complaining. He's sorry about a few of the deaths, but overall these people were not that great as friends, and in some cases not even that great as people. In any case, he doesn't want people to know him very well. The better that people know the real you, the better able they are to manipulate you. And some of these people did know him quite well; but now that they're gone, problem solved.
Oh, sure, there are still a lot of people around who think they know him; but they don't. Like everyone else, these people could learn about him if they would read (correctly) what he writes; but they won't. For the most part, they're not readers. Even if they would take the time and go to the trouble (which they would think it was) to slog their way through his books, they're not critical readers. They don't have the necessary mental mechanisms to understand what it is he's really saying. They'll misinterpret his ideas and apply what they think they know about him to his works and end up using the wrong codes to interpret them. So he's relatively safe from their machinations, and every year as the bodies pile up, he gets a little bit safer; because he's not making any new "friends" to replace them. It's not worth the trouble, which is the way that he thinks of friendship now, especially since most people who call themselves friends, his, yours, or anyone's, aren't, really. And you can't go back to that guileless time in your life when you actually did have a few good friends.
There are parts of him, he thinks, that you can only see in his writing. In much of his writing, he's doing basically the same thing as Thomas Wolfe did in You Can't Go Home Again, except that Joachin is perhaps a whole lot more obvious in the way he does it, and except that Wolfe did it, especially toward the end of the book, in a far more conventional (unconsciously acceptable by conventional readers) way; and, whereas Joachin is certain from the beginning (of each book he writes) that he can never get back to where he's never really been, except within the illusion that he believes to have been his life, Wolfe seems to have needed to write so as to arrive at that conclusion from the initial expectation that he just might be able to have managed it.
Joachin is at a point in his life where people, as they age, begin to see pretty much full time through the illusions, delusions, and subterfuge that society creates in order to keep itself functioning; and so they give up trying to appease the forces that would keep them blind to the inner workings. Therefore, society considers itself better off to go on without the participation of its seniors and, while ostensibly acting respectfully toward them, in fact devalues them, seeing them as burdens and potential sources of information that might end up letting the cat out of the bag. Society needs the younger, less experienced citizens, those who can still be deluded or intimidated into working in its favor.
He's just awoken from a complicated dream: I'm down on Rhodes Road trying to explain to several people how to apply a procedure to simplify their lives by eliminating their money problems, forever; but no one will listen to me. They want to hear what I have to say, and they start out listening, but one thing or another (usually having something to do with their own damn psychologies, their dysattention, or their roving preoccupations, or their interruptions to interject incorrect interpretations, etc.) prevents them from following what I'm saying; yet they keep returning (both their diverted attention and their physical selves when they have wandered away, attracted by some other interest) to me, sincerely wanting to hear what I have to say, believing that I might be able to give them some sound advice, yet being incapable of hearing what it is I'm actually saying. I become increasingly frustrated at not being able to get out the very simple wisdom I have for them. I express the idea in fits and starts and never manage to communicate it. This frustrated attempt at explanation continues on through a change of people and location:
I'm with several buddies. We're in our early twenties, heading out into the woods above a small town, into a productive orchard area, although the particular area we end up in looks like an abandoned, overgrown orchard. We've got baseball bats and gloves with us and we start to play an impromptu game between lines of trees, a space that is actually too narrow to be any kind of viable field. One guy is going to pitch to me and the other two guys go out beyond him as fielders. But the guy doesn't pitch a ball, but rather glass jars. I'm afraid to hit them, not only because they'll shatter and splatter glass all over me, but also because I think I might bat them back at the pitcher and hurt him. But he persists on throwing them and I hit a few half-heartedly and break them without causing any injury, all the while trying unsuccessfully in between pitches to explain my idea:
It is said that you should "pay yourself first." Put ten percent of your income into an interest bearing account and don't touch it. This is good advice, except that it doesn't go far enough. I say, rather, save, religiously, fifty percent. When Joachin tells people this (in his other, waking life), they inevitably scoff. They think it's not a practical possibility, that their expenses are too high and their income too low; but he is living proof that they are wrong, because that's exactly what he did, and he seldom wanted for anything, except for a lot of frivolities that he knew he really didn't need, things that others felt were "necessities."
Next, he has two dreams about db returning to live at his home, after he hasn't had any of those kinds of dreams for a long while now. Both of these dreams were sweet; i.e., she was acting very nicely, not at all change-demanding like in previous dreams. The changes she was making were quite pleasant ones: clean sheets on the bed, etc. And she was acting as if she were willing to sleep with me, although neither dream got that far.
He awakens feeling disoriented, at first, for an instant, even believing himself to be still back in his past and wondering where db is since she's not in bed with him. He's been feeling this disorientation, though not near as profoundly as this evening, for several days now, and he knows that at least a part of the problem has been that his sleep/wake cycle been out-of-sync with his biorhythms: He's just slept all evening and is up at 11 p.m.; and, after an hour or so of reorientation, he feels fine. He's productively working along. A change of sleep pattern, slowly transitioning into full nights of sleep, might bring some (kind of) relief, he suspects.
He's become aware (again) that he suffers from what he has labeled The Ben Stein phenomenon: certain affective difficulties when first awakening in the morning (when that again becomes the case; or otherwise at other times of the day or night). He can't remember exactly what Ben, on a tv talk show, said the cause of his problem was, or even if he ever actually did, but he does remember that it was similar to one of his own, a tendency toward depression, social anxiety, and (self-)doubt, all of which coffee resolves immediately, which also happened to be Ben's solution.
One way that people are prejudiced against the Jews (he thinks of this right now because Ben is a Jew) is by calling them cheap, etc.: That's one way of looking at a particular trait, but it's not justified. A more accurate way to look at it would be to see the Jews as highly competent in financial matters. And why would people hate the Jews (or anyone) for being highly competent at whatever. Well, because they're envious, of course. It's all a matter of denial of their own less competent abilities and projection of their own faults onto others. This is why people are prejudiced against Joachin, when they are, not because he's cheap (though people have also misinterpreted some of his activities and practices in that way also), but because a lot of the time he (acts as if he) is smarter than they are. A lot of the time he is smarter that they are, but does he have to act that way, show off his intelligence and education? Well, he has to be who he is, in any case. Why should he hide his light under a barrel? Fuck the people who dislike him and sometimes feel they must act behind his back against him because they feel inferior. Educate yourselves, you ignorant assholes, and stop projecting your pathologies onto others.
I'm on Rte 22, far out on the highway beyond the commercial district, and at the same time, I'm on business 22 near lower Rhodes Road. I'm experiencing that recurrent feeling of being out in the "world" with nowhere to call home. At an intersection in a small town, which is also, sort of, the lower Rhodes Road intersection, I make a right onto a side street that is the entrance to a residential neighborhood (which reminds him later, awake, of Moonsilver Heights) and then another immediate right into an alley behind a row of stores. I don't belong here and am afraid I might be challenged and even arrested for trespassing, so I find this old vacuum cleaner on the back dock of the corner business, some kind of semi-hardware store, a countrified version of Lowe's or Home Depot, and I start to dismantle it, as if I'm cleaning it out before starting to go about my duties as a contract janitor for the place. An employee sees me, but he takes me for what I appear to be, since, somehow, I've found and put on an old gray uniform shirt. We talk briefly about the unreliability of the machinery we have to work with.
Joachin exports the feelings of non-belongingness and homelessness out of the dream and remembers times in his distant past when he was out on the road hitchhiking, freewheeling, feeling detached. He felt no need back then for a permanent environment to dwell in and call home because he was not at all vested in society, or in the people who populated it. Whatever happened to others happened, as a matter of fact; if it happened to him and he didn't like it, he moved out of its way. Some people would--and did--call him lost, but he never felt lost and, in fact, felt quite comfortable not knowing where he would end up, never worrying that he could get himself into some kind of trouble, never giving a single thought to the future, living in an eternal present. Now, that detached feeling would bother him (like it does in the dreams), now that he does have a real home. He's become quite attached to his place and does feel kind of lost when he's not here. These recurrent dreams recall a time when he treasured a freedom of movement, however naively. You can't roam through the world freely; people will always, sooner or later, challenge you. You must maintain a base of operations, even if it is only one that you pay for temporarily because you have the financial means to do that. People don't want you sleeping in their barns or even in nearby woods. You need to have the proper credentials that verify your "home" address and, if your are not near that home, you better have a good reason for being so far away and you better have enough money or credit to assure them that you are a legitimate person. Because, in our modern societies, like it or not, the legitimacy of poor people is always in question; no one is allowed to be merely indigenous any more.
That alternate universe that is Joachin's past life still haunts him, calling out to him in dreams, enticing him, appealing to him, attempting to lure him back, as if he has not changed at all, or as if the change has been merely a long-term temporary one.
When he was young, he had all the stamina he ever needed to weather any kind of social storm (not to go into detail about how he used his excess energy to super-organize his temporary environments (as well as his mind--in fantasy, a control mechanism to ward off social anxiety).
Now, lacking the staying power of his youth, he hides away from the weather instead. He's become a homebody. He likes it here, where most of the drama and pathos can be avoided. Only his own internal dramas remain for him to deal with (actually, most social dramas are personal ones projected), which is more than enough and each year seems to escalate even further.
This is what his books are all about, really, himself, his past, his more difficult present, his internal drama, more or less disguised, conveyed by phasing into and out of various vehicles, mechanisms, and devices: in some parts they are his literal life itself; in some parts they are more directly about his inner states; in some parts they are ideas that the world introjects, insinuates, or otherwise finds ways into him so that he seems to have no alternative but to regurgitate them; in some parts they are Beckett-like run-on descriptions of a character who is not so much himself as an alter-ego who uses the ideas as its own content to propel itself forward; in some parts it's the writing process itself that takes over and converts inner content into outwardly observable, readable postmodern text for its own peculiar purposes; in some parts, they are psychological discursives, especially insights into others via insights into self; in some parts they are, maybe, a lot of others things, some of which he may have known of but has now forgotten and some of which he may not yet have discovered.
Actually, he kind of wishes he were (still) more like that dislocated self he used to be, oblivious, stonewalling society and even his own awareness of the anxiety it produces in him; which afforded him a "cool" persona. To have remained so detached, so oblivious, happy within his own mind and discontent only when he had to interface, if then; that would be an okay way to be. But he had to wake himself out of his self-imposed stupor of his childhood, when it (society) threatened to overwhelm him and so he shut it out of his mind, to be safe. He had to go and disturb his personal little universe in his quest to know the secrets of the self and universe. Oh, well.
So he's not like he used to be. (So who is?) He's changed. Awareness is a wonderful gift, he believes; but, then again, he wonders if that is really true. In any case, you can find all of it there in his books, if you know how to look for it. And, though he doesn't think you'll succeed, he truly hopes that you will try. Don't become one of those people who don't know how to decode. You're really missing a whole lot of life when take it at face value. Then it's far too late when you pass away.
And still the anxiety continues to escalate. Every time he thinks he's mastered it, it pops up again in a new arena. It's a tricky bastard. His focus, when he has settled down, each morning before he gives up on it again, has been (continually returning to) his (official) "retirement." When he first (informally) "retired," he did so in order to be free of the anxiety (and the stress that aggravated it; let's not forget about the stress). And, after about three years, the chronic stress--which had been building over many years, pretty much since he "settled down" and decided that he was going to have to work (at a job) for a living--began to abate, leaving only a residue of permanant damage, which he began to deal with by establishing a relatively healthy lifestyle, the bigger part of which was remaining relatively out of touch with society for most of the year, putting in token appearances on holidays and venturing out to buy necessities, but otherwise remaining apart. And, as time passed, he realized that this is the way he should have (been allowed to have) remained throughout his life, pretty much like he was when he was a kid, apart, although back then he separated himself psychologically, whereas now, no longer able to maintain that pretense, having learned too much about himself and about the world, he needed to have separated himself off physically in order to regain the "peace of mind" he lost when he decided that he had to interface with society pretty much full time in order "make something of himself" (as if what he was was not enough, when in fact it was all he ever really wanted; but it was not what society wanted).
Now he understands that being separate(d) is how he was "meant" to be. When he remains in seclusion, for the most part, he is anxiety free; and it is only when he must interface, or when he anticipates the necessity for interfacing, that the anxiety rears up again. And his upcoming "official" retirement is threatening him with the necessity for interfacing; and he will have no choice but to face up to it, because if he doesn't, it's going to cost him money or at least prevent him from claiming more of what is rightfully his. So. Sooner or later--and each day it gets a little bit sooner--he's going to have to do it; and each day the anxiety, before he forces it back down, is a little bit more intense.
Add to this situation, then, the normal day-to-day worries he must endure, and the anxiety he thinks he just temporarily escaped from returns, this one particular day in the form of eBay difficulties: As has always been the case thus far on eBay, the recent problems he's encountered have resolved themselves (or, in rare cases, when they have not, eBay has resolved them for him) in his favor. Except for delays during which the money he spent could have been earning interest for him instead of for unscrupulous or incompetent sellers (which isn't all that much money in any case, mere pennies), he has never experienced any financial loss. But the psychological cost of anticipatory anxiety has been somewhat significant.
He hates eBayers (or anyone, really) who make things more difficult than it should be to buy from them (especially in the way they handle problems); even if it's not their intent to make things difficult, yet they introduce an obtuseness or confusion into the transactions via, perhaps, inattention to detail or muddleheadedness [although he's not ruling out the fact that just maybe that obtuseness or confusion is intentional, designed to dissuade customers from continuing to pursue the issue]; and, he believes, he shouldn't have to deal with people who make things difficult:
He invests some of his time writing out contingencies that he never needs to exercise. (In any case, it's good therapy, when he vents his escalating anguish in words that outline a possible course of action, so that, when the time comes, the words are ready to go with all necessary modifications easily done, when otherwise the words might be much harder to come by when he finds himself with the immediate necessity for expressing them but is without the mental wherewithal):
[seller: fashion-bead]Joachin wonders if these sellers who play these games realize that they're losing money by doing so. There are numbers of bids he would have made with certain sellers if he were not wary of becoming embroiled in another one of these back and forth episodes that pique his anxiety and paranoia. Only the previous night, fashion-bead lost ten cents because, although he really wanted two items that were already at the top bid [55 and 56 cents, less than five cents above his top bid of 52 cents each, which means that they didn't up his bids by the five-cent increment, which means there were no automatic bids waiting to be initiated, and since that was their final sale price, no one else came along to bid them higher], he figured he'd wait to see what happens with the postage issues (postage due on free shipping) on items from this seller still to arrive. And, anyway, similar opportunities will come along in the future with other sellers. He's experienced this same thing any number of times in a number of price ranges. If he doesn't trust the seller because of past experience, even though he has ultimately prevailed in disputes, he doesn't bid (in the same way that he refuses to buy from local stores that rip him off or otherwsie piss him off). And there must be others who feel this same way. Greed makes sellers (and everyone else also, but especially sellers) stupid. They play their little games to save pennies and end up losing dollars. Penny-wise and dollar foolish. And all of that is totally glossing over the problem of developing a bad reputation.
"Again, a package received with postage due. "You might want to review your postage scale accuracy and/or mailing procedures."
negative feedback: "Will never buy from this guy again. He delays, cheats, and lies to rip you off."
Or, neutral feedback: "Intentional delays? Postage scams? Lies? I have my suspicions."
[seller: myyun2009, after the claim has been made that the seller has refunded the money and that Paypal hasn't posted it yet.]
"It has been my experience--in fact, I have never not seen this to be the case--that PayPal transactions get posted immediately, and certainly within a day."
"I can understand why, if I wanted to return a product because I didn't like it or for some other reason of my own, I should have to pay for return shipping; but why, if the seller made a mistake and sent the wrong product, should I have to incur further expense to ship it back? It's not my fault, but I should have to pay more money anyway to correct the error???? Doesn't seem fair.
"Furthermore, I'm getting mixed messages from this seller. One email implies that I'll receive a refund, then the next one seems like it's addressing a whole different situation, as if the previous email is being ignored; then back and forth yet again. The seller finally states that my money has been refunded and that I should check my PayPal account, but when I do, there is no record of a refund. What is going on? Am I being deliberately put off in the hope that I will give up and stop trying? I only indicated I wanted a refund on the initial form when I opened the case because the seller had implied that he would do that in his first response. Otherwise, I might have asked for a replacement instead. If he had no intention of doing an immediate refund, then why did he send me an email stating that he had already done so?" [i.e., what kind of game is this guy playing?]
This is what he's supposed to be doing, he thinks as he writes, not those explanations above, which are merely transcribed from his notes, but these words he's writing right now; or, rather, all of it, everything, taken together as a whole. This is his purpose in life. This is what gives his life meaning. Not yard work. Not trimming hedges. Not house repairs. Not even so much all of the various other forms of art, though he actually likes doing that. That's all bullshit. He's supposed to be writing-- books!
Yard work is the worst distraction--because it must be done when it's required, it can't be put off very long before everything gets too overgrown. Society expects compliance with "community standards." The way he's been morphing yard work into an art project is better than simply running a lawnmower over a whole expanse of nothing but grass; but it's still work without any real purpose. Who cares if his yard looks good. And whose definition is "good" anyway. Society's, not his own. And the way he will cut his hedges back severely so that they are far easier to trim is better than expending a lot of time and energy on them, but how good do they look in comparison with leaving them severely overgrown. Six of one... Ultimately, all of that takes him away from doing what he needs to be doing: This! What he's doing right now. Writing. Even though few people ever read what he writes; and even fewer people whom he knows personally.
He's never told most of the people he knows personally about the books he's published because they're kind of strange (the books, not the people he knows; well...now that he thinks about it...) and he'd rather that people who know him not have access to that aspect of himself.
When he's writing prolifically, and especially when he's preparing work for publication, nothing else matters, especially people who might object to what he writes because they might feel that it's too personal (about them, not about him; they could care less about him). When something else does matter, it interferes with the writing process. In order for him to write properly, nothing else can be allowed to matter.
And, right now, every single day, he's allowing other things to matter. And every day brings something else to worry about. It's all piling up.
Later, just as she was getting ready to leave, he said something weird, he can't remember what, something he wasn't so sure he even believed and even thought before he said it that he shouldn't, except that he just knew--or rather felt--that it was the truth in some odd dichotomous way; he almost didn't say it, but he said it anyway, as if he felt he couldn't stop himself.
She thought that was funny. He worried before he said it that she wouldn't. But she did. After she left, he wondered if he'd been intentionally (though nevertheless unconsciously) trying to piss her off. And, if so, why would he do that? Because she was getting too good at reflecting his ideas back at him maybe. Maybe he shouldn't allow her to read what he writes. Maybe she's too close to him, and she may be learning how to interpret his work too well. In fact, maybe she's out-and-out broken the code and he's in the process of trying to retreat from her. Maybe that's the same thing he's done so many times in the past. Maybe all of it was all really his fault after all, like they all said. Oh. well. Just something else to worry, and write, about.