I’ve been underwater for the better part of a month. At first I submerged, on a lark, in a Florida river for what was supposed to be an hour-long dive. I went under to get away from the constant surveillance, the ceaseless wiretaps, the enormous broad net that catches all my secrets, ensnares all my communication, traps all my intentions. Whether it is Russia, Iran, or our own highly technical American spy tactics, apparently everyone is listening all the time to everyone else in order to uncover the true malice in the hearts of men. They are fleshing out the guilty, identifying the dangerous, cornering the evil. They are seeking out and destroying that subversive citizenry who plot and scheme, and rebel against freedom, and plan the collapse of the entire sovereign way of life. And if they don’t find them, it just means they aren’t looking hard enough. Even the president is a victim.
I wanted no part of it.
I was tired of being anonymously preyed upon by satellites, hackers, nosy neighbors, encryption experts and that Julian Assange fellow, living in some musty closet in an embassy mansion in London and yet somehow controlling every country’s sensitive secrets right there in plain sight. The whole setup seemed like something out of a Monty Python sketch.
“Come out of there at once!” yells John Cleese, dressed as an English bobby.
“No!” screams Eric Idle, dressed as Julian Assange.
“Damn. What do we do now?” mutters John Cleese.
“We wait,” says Michael Palin, also dressed as an English bobby.
“Quite right,” says Cleese. “Um, for how long?”
“He’ll get bored and surrender. Give it about five years or so. Maybe ten.”
“That sounds like a bloody long time.”
“Can’t we just go get him? I mean he is standing right there!”
“Actually,” says Palin, “it’s the Ecuadorian embassy. Right there is technically Ecuador. And we can’t just go to Ecuador because if my wife finds out I went to Ecuador without her she might bloody well divorce me! I mean she has been bugging me for a vacation for months, and then to find out I just went to Ecuador without her, and didn’t even bring her back a bloody seashell would be grounds for a ruddy divorce.”
“Well then,” says Cleese, “blast it all. Call your wife down here and we can bring her along on the raid.”
“No can do,” says Palin. “She hates the tropics.”
So I went underwater. I started out in the shallows. Here is a picture:
I’m the cluster of bubbles on the right. Life becomes very simplistic underwater. You feel like you are trapped in Darth Vader’s helmet. The only sound you hear is your own breathing. You move in slow motion weightlessness, like a dream. The fish and other denizen of the deep treat you like the geek at a party of cool kids. Even so, there is a certain freedom to the practice. This is the life for me, I thought. I waved off the rest of my scuba team, found a decent looking school of fish and followed along. Thirty feet. Fifty feet. A hundred feet. Two hundred feet. I kept checking my dive computer, waiting for the alarm that warns I am running out of air. Mysteriously, my cylinder remained at 2,000 psi. What the hell, I figured, I might as well keep going. The pressure above me was fantastic. I felt myself getting light-headed. A little gas narcosis is a fun and easy way to get high. Best of all, the land side news could not reach me. For weeks on end I remained in blissful animation, coasting along like a dolphin. I ate fish, I guess, and drank water, I guess. When I was tired I huddled at the ocean floor like a sea cow. There is no argument underwater. No bombast. No bragging. No emotionally potent outrage. No mendacity. Inhale. Exhale. Eat or get eaten. The bubbles escaped from my regulator. I imagined intelligence operatives somewhere above at the surface of the water, trying to capture these tiny air pockets, looking for subversive molecules. Freedom through scrutiny is a funny concept. The idea is that when everyone knows what everyone else is doing we will all be more free. Which is a complete fuck-around. We don’t really need to know what everybody thinks and does. Most people are as boring as a stale doughnut, and about as predictable as the shape of that doughnut. The fish around me, going out of their way to ignore me, were all too aware of this fact. I was a big, dopey tag-along. I created too many bubbles. Which, in the end, is probably the only real legacy. Fugacious pockets of nothing. Better examine them, just in case.
More Alembics to come.