Deep State

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.”

“It is.”

“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:

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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.

The Wall

Recently struck with a monster case of writer’s block, which is in and of itself a wall, I panicked, which never helps. It’s like trying to stop drowning by inhaling more water, figuring that if I drink enough of it, it will no longer be there to suffocate me. It’s times like these when I begin to suspect that I may have caught some artistic viral infection. Writer’s block, like the flu, can be picked up from a handshake, a sneeze, a dirty doorknob, some kind of cross-contamination in any number of public areas. People with no imagination or sense of humor sneezing and coughing in my personal space. I could feel it coming on. The mind goes gray, mental constipation sets in, thoughts are desiccated, impacted, stuck and banjaxed. (Been dying to use that word.)

I did what any desperate writer would do. I called upon a muse, a shaman, a guide to lead me through this scorched wasteland of creative impasse. As Homer invites Mnemosyne to help him sing the rage of Achilles, or Dante uses Virgil to guide him through Hell, or Emerson calls upon Swedenborg, or Thoreau awaits the magic of Aurora, I figured why not?

I decided to seek out Orbaneja of Ubeda, the great Spanish artist who, when people stopped to ask what he was painting, would shrug and reply, “Whatever emerges.”

That is the guy for me. Unfortunately it is a bad time for foreigners in these parts, even great artists that have been dead some four hundred years. Getting him into the country turned out to be an enormous hassle. Immigration and customs officials are on the alert, and I was reprimanded for even trying to get a temporary visa for my artistic lodestar.

“He sounds like a filthy foreigner,” one official told me.

“No,” I said. “He is okay. I can’t vouch for his bathing schedule, but he understands the value of creative impulse and discipline. Plus, a little human stink is good for the sinuses.”

“He is from Spain?” said the customs official.

“Yes.”

“Isn’t that the country with all the terrorism?”

“You might be thinking of Syria,” I said.

“Five letters, starts with ‘S’ is enough for me,” said the official.

I went home, dejected. It’s a tough state of affairs when the ghost of a Spanish painter is tied up in jingoistic bureaucracy. (Actually when I just typed the word ‘bureaucracy’ I accidentally hit the ‘z’ key at the end. What resulted was ‘bureaucrazy.’ Egads I thought. Orbaneja you beautiful bastard. You are already lifting me!)

At least I could walk out of my house and breathe some fresh air, for now. Physically I am white and nondescript and non-Mexican, for that matter, which probably won’t put me in the crosshairs of anti-Mexican sentiment anytime soon, but when the order comes down to detain and scrutinize all those who look like serial killers (the vast majority are white and nondescript and non-Mexican) then I might find myself in some serious trouble. I retreated back behind the walls of my house.

I don’t fear walls. Of course walls are everywhere, and serve an array of purposes. Walls are used for security, punishment, shelter, support, to hang art from, to delineate, to define, and ultimately, metaphorically, to overcome. I tried to rely on a little proximal magic since my pal Orbaneja was stuck in limbo. That is, I blasted Pink Floyd’s The Wall over and over again for the better part of the afternoon.

It was only a fantasy.

The wall was too high, as you can see.

No matter he tried he could not break free.

And the worms ate into his brain.

Yeesh, that is bleak. I skipped to another song.

I am just a new boy…

A stranger in this town.

Where are all the good times?

Who’s gonna show this stranger around?”

Indeed. Much better. I walked out to my backyard and noticed, to my consternation, that my neighbor, a gruff old codger whose attitude and worldview is cut from a sheet of pig iron, was slowly and methodically piling stone slabs between our houses. He was, it seemed, building a wall. I just wasn’t sure whether he was keeping me out or him in.

“Hey Lee, whatcha doing?” I said.

“Bah,” said Lee. “I’m fed up with you. You are a bad influence.”

“Don’t worry Lee, I’ve been having some writer’s block.”

“My son tells me you’ve been drinking whiskey with him and filling his head with crazy ideas.”

“Walls aren’t very good at keeping out ideas, Lee.”

“This one will,” said Lee. “This is a good wall.”

I went back inside. I considered one-upping my neighbor by digging a moat between our houses next week. I’ve always wanted a moat. Fill it with carnivorous fish and dare people to cross it. Maybe that is the solution to the Mexican border issue. Forget the wall. Build a moat. Dredge a huge canal from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.

We have the technology to raise creatures from extinction. Let’s make some dragons. Fill the thing with saurian beasts of yore. Failing that, we could just build a wall with unused bottles of Trump vodka, the bricks of bankrupt casinos and brochures for real estate seminars. Most reasonable people wouldn’t come within a hundred miles of the thing.

Problem solved.

More Alembics to come.

Henry David Thoreau: Bitch Slappin’ Pimp

When I want a serious simulation of violence I head to the game room. There is no better way to go on a blind, murderous rampage than to plug in any number of first-person shooter games. Grand Theft Auto. Thrill Kill. Bullet to the Head. Me Pull Trigger, You Burst Open Sticky…stuff like that. There are a ton of options. The meaning of real life may be elusive, but when the meaning of a game is to carjack as many old ladies as you can, knock them over the head and use their meager social security money to get lap dances at the virtual strip club, a man is finally free from the lingering existential ambiguities of actual life. Nothing makes me happier at the end of a long day of computerized blood-letting on scorched city streets than to have a stripper twerking above me and my champagne bottle.

While I enjoy a good virtual spree killing, I am also a fan of classical literature.

So happy was I to see an advertisement for a game based on Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.” Finally, I thought. The one thing I had been missing from my indiscriminate gunning down of random citizens was the meticulous philosophy of a nineteenth century transcendentalist who sought to “live deliberately.”

I was in a hurry that day and didn’t have time to actually read the particulars of the new game, and in a sense I didn’t need to. I have long considered myself somewhat of a Thoreau expert. My alternative interpretations of his ideas on solitude, economy and frugality are all the rage in America’s prison system. Felons write to me all the time, telling me that my explanations of solitude (or, don’t fuck with me), economy (or don’t touch my shit), and frugality (or don’t use all this shit at once) has really helped them do their hard time with a healthy perspective. I heard they were going to have a prison riot out in Corcoran in honor of me, but the guards got wise and the bloods were pelted with rubber bullets. They will try again, they assure me, as I also counsel about the importance of perseverance.

In the Walden game the character sets about implementing a life of solitude and quiet meditation at Walden pond, outside of Concord, Massachusetts. The character learns to relax and find harmony in the rural surroundings. In the first stage the character spends his time hoeing his garden, his beans and potatoes, all while quotes and suggestions by Thoreau himself are displayed across the bucolic setting. Then what happens, though, in the second stage, is that the character gets fed up with all this sitting around. He decides that there are two ways to enjoy solitude. One is to travel away from the public. The other is to singlehandedly gun down huge swaths of people with automatic weapons. As the game gets more violent, sinister and intense, Thoreau promises, in a voice that gets deeper and deeper, to build his serenity on a road of bones. When a first-person shooter executes an entire community, they will have all the solitude they need. Instead of hoeing a row of beans in the first part, the second part of the game is dedicated to beaning “a row of ho,” slapping them upside the head for talking back and withholding their earnings. Little known fact was that Thoreau had a vast stable of hookers to subsidize his scholarship. As Thoreau was fond of saying, “A man is rich in the number of things he can afford to let alone.” Which, loosely translated, means that sometimes a guy has to slap a bitch to cool her out. When Thoreau warns that men have become, “the tools of their tools,” what he means of course is that a gun doesn’t fire itself, and a bullet saved is a bullet wasted.

What the Walden game inevitably teaches is that a bloody-thirsty mania and a desire for the exercise of arts and humanities need not be mutually exclusive. Mankind is a complex species, rich in apparent contradiction, and the highest and lowest of human potential needs a stage to be acted out upon. Eventually the game player is given the option of dropping the gun, employing the service of a high-powered defense attorney, and watching his own insanity trial from a cage in the courtroom, like raving Russian cannibal Andrei Chikatilo. After the guilty verdict, the player is led down a dank hallway and given a bullet to the back of the head. The player then has the option of starting the game anew.

There is much to be learned from this video game, and I for one applaud its invention. Finally, Thoreau is given his true street cred for being an ass-kicking vigilante who just happened to go off to live among the majesty of the mountaintops, the clear mirror of the lake, the firmament of the stars. When Thoreau poses the rhetorical question, “Why should a man begin digging his grave as soon as he is born?” His answer, predictably, is because he, Thoreau, is coming to town to loot the place and burn it to the ground.

More Alembics to come, bitches.