NOW IT’S GETTING ridiculous, I know. I was wary of doing a Part 2 of The Gilded Swamp, and now I’m stuck in Part 3. That’s the other reason I don’t do essays with multiple parts—I never know when to quit.
Indeed, I actually tried to get myself eaten by an alligator in the last installment (see The Gilded Swamp, Part 2) in order to force an ending, since being devoured by a big swamp lizard is pretty final. But no. Down the gullet of a modern dinosaur is the easy way out, creatively speaking. I must salvage this piece in the proper way, and with it my own dignity.
Again I’ll recap, if only to remind myself what’s going on:
Suffering from a case of Daedalus Syndrome, which is another way of saying I’d been bored during the pandemic, I dropped in to see my neighborhood shaman, Astrakhan, who advised me to seek out his Uncle Linctus in Hilton Head, South Carolina for a proper mental liberation. Fast forward four hours and four hundred miles, (I drive fast). I arrived at Hilton Head Island by nightfall to a road that dead-ended into a misty swamp, and yes, I imagined myself being attacked by an alligator, because that’s just the way my mind works when I find myself in these situations. In fact, I consider it beneficial to picture myself killed by a swamp predator, or using the flotation device on a sinking airplane, or jumping from a train whose engineer has fallen asleep at the gears, because then I’m prepared for it. The great stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius called it, “Premeditatio Malorum,” which is basically the practice of visualizing the worst case scenario in order to fortify oneself against all possibilities. This technique has fallen out of fashion these days but I find it very practical. If you’re always focused on the best possible outcome, then there’s nowhere to go but down.
Well, this time it worked. Instead of a ferocious alligator, I was greeted by the biggest mansion I’d ever seen, one of those Spanish-tiled palaces that seems to go on and on forever. Hell, the shaman business must be pretty good these days. I struck the giant front door with all my strength and it rang with a mighty reverberation. An elderly man with youth in his eyes and a fine pinstripe suit on his back answered.
“I’m Uncle Linctus,” he said. “You must be Mark. Welcome to the gilded swamp.”
He noticed the surprise on my face, and he laughed.
“You were expecting a house like my nephew’s?” he said. “Bones and animal skins. That’s a sign of his youth and bravado. When you get to my level, all that stuff isn’t necessary.”
Uncle Linctus led me to his sprawling back patio and offered me a chair. He suggested I look out into the tree-shrouded swamp beyond his estate and imagine it as a picture of the world before time, before human tinkering, before people began partitioning infinity into schedules and deadlines. I should do this, he said, in order to expand past the confines of mass expectation. He then disappeared into his stately manor. I was alone.
Pure natural silence has a sound to it, an almost imperceptible bass line. It’s a necessary rhythm that, too often, is drowned out by artificial caterwauling. I walked to the water’s edge. Again my thoughts went to the Greek figure known as Daedalus, builder of fake cows, defective wings and mazes that he himself couldn’t even get out of. How much of life’s problems are self-inflicted? How much is wrought by the power of angst? I remembered that Mark Twain quote: “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
That’s when I saw two golden eyes staring at me from underwater. A predator, after all. So much for my “Premeditatio Malorum” exercise. Maybe it had done nothing but cause me to manifest this creature, watching my every move from his murky abode down below. A gator, to be sure. And before I could decide whether to panic or not, the fucking thing leapt out of the water at me. I dove out of the way, like I was leaping from a train whose engineer had fallen asleep at the gears (which comes in handy for a lot of situations). I looked up. The alligator was suspended in midair, attached to some kind of spring coil. I stood up and hammered on the thing with my fist. It was fake.
And then I began to laugh and laugh and laugh with relief, the kind of relief that almost feels like a narcotic. I heard Uncle Linctus walk up behind me and put his hand on my shoulder.
“You’re cured,” he said.