The Gilded Swamp (Part 1)

I’M NOT A big fan of math. True, it’s the language of the Universe, and only a fool would ignore it. Math is essential. It makes things run. It holds things together. It’s precise. It’s unambiguous. In short, math is very important, which is why I don’t mess with it. I’d rather leave it to the experts, the computers, or both. They can crunch the numbers and I, confident in their calculations, will sit back in my languid, dimensionless view of time. Mine is the life of the libertine, the life of the aesthete. I brook no timetable. Categories bore me. Let the record-keepers partition infinity into usable calendar days, I shall float in the vast nothing of the eternal present. 

But, like it or lump it, sometimes math will insist on me paying attention to it. 

Here’s what happened: 

I tend to suffer from what I call Daedalus Syndrome. Daedalus, as all the lovers of Greek mythology may recall, was the architect of the Labyrinth, a colossal maze so complex and disorienting that no one who wandered in could ever hope to find their way out again. And I know what you’re thinking: Daedalus also built a fake cow so a human woman could hide in it in order to trick a bull into humping her. Point being, sometimes Daedalus may have been too clever for his own good. He kind of killed his son with one of his inventions. Strange guy, Daedalus. 

Back to the Labyrinth. 

Daedalus Syndrome, then, is a mental disorder of my own coinage in which my brain turns into a vast enclosure with so many twists, turns and dead-ends that it entraps my core being for hours, days, weeks, months and sometimes years on end. It’s a purely psychological malady. To the casual observer my physical person may appear friendly and functional, but a closer look with some antiquated measuring instruments (astrolabe, phrenology pincers, tongue wench) will prove that the essence of myself is locked away in some abstract perdition, and I must take steps to find my way out. 

Author’s note: This is going to be a really shitty essay, but at this point I must get it done. Like a maze, I just have to keep going, blind turn after blind turn. 

Daedalus Syndrome isn’t something I can solve with a quick visit to my local medical professional. I have to seek out alternative therapies. So I swung by the rural lair of Astrakhan, my neighborhood Shaman, made my way past his ominous boneyard, avoided the voodoo dolls of his enemies hanging in effigy, and thumped on the door of his hut. He emerged, a towering spectacle of chiseled ebon with weeping willow dreadlocks, wearing a necklace of shrunken heads and a bikini made of lapis lazuli beads. He puffed on a billowing calumet. 

“Hey Mark, been a while.” 

“I don’t like to bother you. I know you’re busy” 

“What’s up?” 

“I’ve got another case of Daedalus Syndrome.” 

“You got raped by a bull?” 

“No, no, no. Stuck in the Labyrinth.” I tapped the side of my head. 

Astrakhan invited me in. After some initial readings with his astrolabe, phrenology pincers and tongue wench he sat back and shook his head. 

“Sorry, but this time I can’t help you. You’ve been stuck for too long. You’ll have to go see my Uncle Linctus.” 

“Where is he?” 

“He lives in the swamp.” 

“That sounds like it’s tough to get to.” 

“It’s a millionaires’ swamp. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.” 

“That’s like four hours away.” 

“Trust me. Your case is serious.” 

Unlike many a radical conspiracy theorist, I pay attention to the experts. So when Astrakhan handed me the directions to his uncle’s house, 300 miles away, I told him I’d be headed out first thing in the morning. And here is where I return to the beginning with the idea of math, albeit a rather rudimentary calculation. Once I’d passed outside of I-285, which is a loop that runs the perimeter of the city of Atlanta, kind of like a huge moat, I realized I hadn’t been past this concrete boundary for 21 months. Shocking! Of course there’d been a major plague, quarantines, a coup attempt, a gas shortage, wild social upheaval and a collective certainty that the world was about to end, so I cut myself a little slack. I’d survived it all, up to this point and as I passed out into the Georgia hinterlands, I felt a newfound sense of freedom that only comes with the open land rolling out like an invitation into the horizon. With part of the spell already lifted and a few rays of sunshine illuminating my mental Labyrinth, I sped toward the eastern edge of the continent, eager for Uncle Linctus, and whatever else awaited me. 

End of Part 1…