The Greatest American Zero by Wendy N Clark
If another place I had sought, then another place I might have landed, but I had not thought about a specific destination for any of ultimate decision, moreover, my clothing was adjacent the middle of nowhere, I was perpendicular to the edge of an unending highway of misinterpretation
This is not your typical roller coaster, as I am not your average thrill-seeker. For all intents and purposes, I had never sought thrills, but I recognized, after some therapy and research, that my brain was chemically wired with action and irresistible manipulation, perhaps to prove that I had to go along with what barriers of thought made someone like you, happy.
Now my mind accepts these powers: I judged you and I let it all go.
I hopped on to the bar and nodded at the stranger sitting to my left elbow. Then I engaged my perspective on the ride ahead of me.
As with all short, terrifying choices may untangle truths as we take a ride on or with them, this brief exercise was not unusual to my expectations. That is until my body washed upon the shore.
I fell so far within your love one cool summer night, and then retraced the trance that I hesitated to replace.
And suddenly, just as many had cried in the unthinkable absurdity of the senselessness, I leaned away.
The most unimportant events usually crept into my prominent speculations whenever my current situations(s) demanded attentive attention. Plenty of life’s events called for one’s absolute focus. I believed I enjoyed a mental scale of the substance of intense predicaments as well as an awareness of my place regarding the manner in which they beckoned me.
The ultimate forecast was awful.
But it could have been even better.
We saw it on Friday on the road to Thompsonville, the wicker love seat, right out there, straddling the centerline. I gaped at Susan and she raised her eyebrows, her eyes wide and she uttered a gasp, which sounded like a high-pitched squeak – the likes of which I would have found peculiar at any time prior to this puzzle. I tapped on the brakes of my old Ford; still we slid on the slushy byway. We pulled to the shoulder about eighty yards past the chair. I looked into the side-view mirror. Susan was already out of the truck, with a very red face.
“I thought she burned it, Bobby!” She said and she slammed the door. Meanwhile, I stiffly swung out caught up to her, buttoning my jacket and pulling my hat down to block the Arctic wind. We both staggered and slipped across the icy interstate as she continued to antagonize me.
“I thought you said the bitch told you she had burned it with all the other shit!” She briskly shuffled ahead of me.
“Yeah, that really burns me,” I tried to joke, but immediately felt ashamed of my usual insincerity.
She whirled back to face me, demon-hell in her acrid green eyes and raised her pointed finger at me, almost like a condescending mother would, “WHY do you have to lie, baby? Goddamnit! WHY are you SUCH A FUCKING LIAR?” And with that she was off again, at least twenty yards in the lead of this race to my wicker chair. I hesitated a moment before moving forward. Maybe I was a liar, but not in this case… I started to contemplate that I couldn’t remember if I had or had not been untruthful or not, despite the overwhelming evidence which pointed to the non-charred wicker love seat covered in snow in the middle of the road.
“Hey baby, come on,” I called Susan with the most tender tone I could summon. Susan didn’t slow her pace. I chuckled under my breath with the nonsensicality of it all, all of it, and I picked up my pace. I held my breath and commanded a somber _expression to my misbehaving facial muscles. Man, she was a enchanting illusion in this hallucination of my existence; her long, red tresses were protesting the gusts of wind, like twitching fingers covered with particles of snow that were also stuck to her black overcoat, her once dark boots were completely white.
I tumbled to the ground twice before staggering to her as she approached the old chair. My gut wrenched sickeningly while I watched her disgracefully started kicking it, and I mean beating the living shit out of it, first with her steel-toed boots and then with her gloved fists and purse. Frozen, I observed this obtuse performance – this display of violent rage – that my girlfriend had launched. My chair was actually being annihilated before me, standing on the barely-visible, yellow line. Damn, that wicker love seat had been with me more than any woman in my lifetime of failed relationships.
“Susan?” I touched her shoulder.
She would not acknowledge me. Brusquely, she seized the chair and sat down sternly, staring straight ahead into the great-big-wide unknown. I traced her gaze, imagining what she was really seeing now. The blowing snow became increasingly more intense; visibility was probably less than ten feet and glancing over my shoulder, my old Ford was nowhere in sight. I wanted to go home now: the fuck with Billy’s funeral, the will, my girlfriend, myself. The hell with it all – all of it. Even the wicker love chair. It was all one huge expanding disaster that never would dissolve in tandem with my constant need to swim – shit, even dive and do the backstroke through these obscure and polluted waters of the beaches I inhabited. True, my ex-wife was a pyromaniac. She often set things on fire when she felt broken. I was one of her broken belongings; I have the scars to prove it. Distractedly, I pondered why she hadn’t set herself ablaze by now. At this image, I uttered a half-snort, half-giggle. Ellen, my old hellion, or “Hell-ing” was an appropriate name for my ex-flame.
The inhospitable wind continued to intensify and I broke from my daze to survey our surroundings. I instinctively reached into my slack’s pocket to retrieve a cigarette, and silently cursed upon recalling that I had quit last weekend. Susan was sitting next to me, crying softly with her face buried in her hands; her body was both trembling and heaving, perhaps because of the subzero wind-chill, but I suspected that was only a fraction of the shivering factor.
Then, through the dense blanket of blowing snow, there were two faint lights coming dead at us. For several seconds I blinked my blurry eyes and hazy mind…
Riddle me this: Alright… let’s see here… um, okay… so you got yourself: two headlights + two yellow lines + an ice-covered pavement + a girl in a wicker chair in the middle of the road, a huge snowstorm…
My heart came to a screeching halt and then I screamed at Susan while I tried to pull her by her sleeves from my tattered chair.
“MOVE!” I cried as I watched the headlights of the nearing truck smile and wink brightly at me. Besides the pulsating beams and the ten-ton weights in my shoes, I recall my screaming, “move,” both to the truck and to the crazy woman I was trying to communicate with in my lounger.
As many a story goes, parallel systems collided.
Perception was no longer within me, if you can attempt to comprehend; the material world with which I had been so habituated had abruptly altered validity, hence nothing substantially existed, intrinsically rocketed into my own mind the most incomprehensible state of every condition – of the preposterous phenomenon of tangible thoughts m
Consider the characteristics or conditions of all the substance in your intrinsic perception, such as the entities which one can identify as a solid state or a liquid state, (or even a gaseous state), and you believe you know by the very nature of the “subject,” to be just what it is, because that truth is fundamental. Now, suppose these primary dimensions of your reality are permuted, a metamorphosis which transforms every element, transcending everything so that it is the not only opposite of what it may have once been perceived as but the same in it’s lack of form and no law of the universe has any law or harmony, (the gaseous factors would really be astounding) and everything is nothing, and all that is or is not, is a contradiction of the same problem.
The concrete is now the abstract.
The trivium is equal to the empty paradox.
Pure lack of time and space.
For no conscious reason, my arms extended buoyantly toward the sky, or so I thought this to be something I did, and skimmed over the highlights of the great big unknown as it would travel with me where it would, with or without me, whatever, amen. This action led to my next transitory side-effect which was (after quickly reviewing the causal theory of epiphenomenalism (physical events have mental effects, but mental events have no effects of any kind) how very useless it was to philosophize at this time, how tired my mind was, then snip-snapping right on back to my strenuously draining brooding of the undetermined unknown and how that unknown was always about to increase in conscious life.
During these mangled, mingled conjunctions of deliberation, of course I saw you step from the shade of the naked and lonesome birch tree beside the storm and closely followed by the truck that symbolized:
There are the places at which you are not, or perhaps where you would rather be, not be, won’t be, the list within the list within the list is infinite, but my point is that the location of where you are (or where you ain’t) is probably the most important place you could ever be. Where you’re not is: any, some, or everywhere you could be, certainly, of course when you have but a critical amount of “time” remaining to reconsider every place where you ever were which led me to this last circumstance in which I was currently entangled, where I was not was anywhere but where I was, at a condition labeled as the end of one’s lifetime; this is the place where you last were, and your mind works itself backwards, instinctively and recklessly, and flashes these excruciating images, words, colors, lines and limits, gaps and speculation, theories, people, pets, regrets, media, motions, accidents, mistakes, recoveries, tastes, dreams, nightmares, mischief, games, fame, humiliation, embarrassment, acceptance, awards, rewards, faith, apathy, remorse, anxiety, true faith, true love, true sex, true blueness of the purest skies, waters, and eyes; good fortune, good graces, all those artistic creations….
The worst part, the most awful worst of all the worsts was terrible: The realization of having to contemplate how anything could be even worse than the worst realization you can contemplate. To me it was feeling that I was departing without saying goodbye; abruptly leaving the party early, sneaking out irresponsibly and silently, the one who didn’t even say, “later on,” and never came back.
I was late meeting my mother for coffee again, so I took my time driving across the city and remembered to smoke a cigarette when I pulled into a parking spot that should have been reserved for handicapped people or elderly folks, because of the proximity to the entrance. I saw her sitting near the bar and she was dressed in her usual Sunday best, perched on her chair like an extremely overzealous kleptomaniac, in love with the heart of the silver haired gentleman who sat next to her – the heart she destined to steal to remind herself why she was not a petty thief but a renacassine lady, as graceful as her eyes when they swayed into her victim’s gaze. Men watched my mother’s eyes as if they were a nice, firm ass, or a knee-buckling pair of boobs on a 21 year old supermodel. This was one of the main reasons that I never made eye contact with anyone until my fifth therapist told me she would sleep with me if I would just fucking look at her. I was fifteen and she was a knockout, but I was not interested in that challenge. I looked her in the eyes and told her no. Then I took my shirt off and I swaggered out of her office, telling her I would be back next week, and I didn’t turn to look at her as I left, but I knew she was laughing. The next six days I spent every moment I practicing and exercising my right to a dazzling use of total eye action. I spent a lot of time in the bathroom contacting my own eyes and the rest of the time on my cat. He was a not a particularly good subject because he could not see the vast universe which I was engaging him with my newfound cool stare. My oldest brother told me to watch James Dean to see how it was done, but I needed more direction. I stopped blinking for a day and ended up in the emergency room that next day. The doctors seemed to think that blinking was involuntary, but I thought that the art of making true eye contact was part of my perfection. They mentioned that my eyes would dry out if I didn’t blink. What did I do? I didn’t bat an eye.
I have wanted to tell that story since I thought of the punch line… many years ago.
During the next short phase I determined that eye contact meant that you had to come into direct contact with your opponent’s eyeball. I was back at the therapist in less than six days. She was never bored with my brothers and me when we were allowed to spend time in her office, but she was constantly trying to break us of our natural will to be independent and unusual. I knew better than to get better. I knew that there was no cure for the world I had invented and looking into someone’s eyes was a ritual that I frowned upon. Look all around you, but never gaze. When you gaze into the world, you must remember that what you see is dependent on where you look. I wanted to have reflective eyes, like my dad. He didn’t see anything – not because he was blind, but because he was always listening. He was thoughtful and reflective and insightful.
It turned out that I wasn’t. I saw a new therapist soon after I told him about her cure for my eye contact disorder. Dr. Buck was impossible for me not to make eye contact with, not only because his left eye was blue and his right eye was brown, but also he had no agenda to divert my focus. He spoke to me without suggesting there was any purpose for me to look at anything, and by doing so, he taught me to see who I was. He was the only shrink who ever read poetry to me and gave me the freedom to think in detail about what I saw, but allowed me the distance to let go of my constant anxiety. Aristotle Buck was his name. I think he was my only friend when I was a boy.
When my mother greeted me, she gave me a hug which didn’t actually touch any part of my clothing and a kiss that didn’t grace my cheek. I smiled at her friend and ordered a black coffee and a glass of ice cubes to chew on. I found that ice cube chewing soothed my will to smoke when I was around mother, and also annoyed her just as much. I was as aware of this paradox as I was ignorant, but nothing would happen if I had nothing to do.
The conversation between my mother and this stranger ignited that slow fire of tediousness in my stomach, where the coffee and ice cubes met briefly and then mutated into their separate energies; both of these substances made me have to go to the restroom quite urgently. I excused myself from their conversation and asked the cute redheaded barista where the men’s room was. She gave me the look that said, “We only have one per gender in this little restaurant, so try not to eat a bran muffin with your coffee here, sir.” I knew that look. I made more than eye contact with her – she spoke to me with her attitude. I wanted to be an omniscient character suddenly, and wished she was telling my story rather than I was, so I decided to talk to her before I went back to sit down and she wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t know. Plus, she used the word, “you” as if it were her own personal pronoun and nothing is worse than second person narrative. I asked her out for a drink and an autographed photograph of Martha Stewart that my sweet niece gave me when she was visiting me in the Catskills that last summer; she claimed I needed some decorations in my tent. That photo has been in my wallet ever since, and it is just what the women who find me interesting need for me to prove that I am not so keen. She frowned as she handed the picture back to me.
“That’s not her autograph.”
“Like hell, it is,” I replied and briskly snatched it from her fingers then carefully folded it and rattled the picture at her. “You are to blame for the trouble around you,” I said and stretched my arms over my head, letting them fall to my sides in a loud slap.
She actually turned away and farted at me, leaving my mouth agape and my heart pounding. I sat back down and ate my spinach eggs and watched my barista fall in love with some young college kid with an Ohio State sweatshirt on and watched myself the same way I watched her and everybody else. My lack of action and my impulse to act were constantly conflicting. I enjoyed my breakfast and decided that I would come back here some day and the young, gassy sass would let me love her.
I ordered myself a cake to go and was delighted to be somewhere alone, at home, with no one to tell me how things happened that day – no one to all me how the story changes when I am the narrator, and I was ready to be in my own fictional thematic park where I could write about the fiction I saw and plant my own imaginary garden in my little space at my sacred place.
Under the April skies….
The Jesus and Mary Chain
One day and a half shy of my brother’s “A Month Among the Living” party, my mother’s title for the enormous gathering of the most influential folk in the state of Arizona, to celebrate the anniversary of thirty-one days out of the psychiatric institution where he was condemned to a year of physical and socio-psychological rehabilitation, or imprisonment as he labeled it, Digby committed suicide in my mother’s dining room. Digby was never fond of that room, and as soon as I shook his stiff leg to rouse him for our lacrosse game (we were well on our way to becoming 3A State Champs that year), three major ideas consequently clanked in my cluttered head.
- It doesn’t appear that he is going to get up without me wrestling him to his feet.
- The dead man impression has either gone too far, unless, he is dead!
- Jesus! He looks dead! He cannot play like this!
- Why the hell would he die in this awful, cold room?
I pronounced my twin brother, Digby Atticus Best, dead at 12:32 pm on Saturday, the f
irst of April first. Cause of death: Suicide. Evidence: The suicide note taped on the antique étagère.
I folded the note and placed it into the inner pocket of my jacket. Systematically ignoring the passage of time, I kneeled by Digby’s side for an inconsequential series of non-moments, only passage revealing my beingness was defined by my vague awareness of the icy marble underneath my tender knees as they ached and trembled and shuddered slightly intermittently between my extensive non-thought. I angled my shoulder toward the ground and let myself fall softly next to Digs, then I stared intently into his absurdly calm, grey eyes; I tousled his long bangs and repeated the process in my mind. Where am I? I imagined him asking himself.
Interrupting his silent treatment, I asked him directly, “And so, what the fuck am I supposed to tell mom?”
I leaned back onto my elbows and fixed my eyes on the prismatic chandelier. I smiled coaxingly and nudged his shoulder, “and you know that I don’t want to play today either, man,” I looked at him out of the corner of my eye then back up to the floating pyramids of light floating above my head. A sudden reckless insight amused me and I cleared my throat. It felt like little pebbles were dripping down the back of my vocal chords.
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