Some Avalanches Go Up

I GOT CAUGHT in an avalanche the other day. It was unexpected, since I’d been sitting in my writing room trying to get a hold of some inspiration. I wasn’t careening down the side of a snowy mountain, or climbing up one. I was on a flat surface, which is generally regarded as a low risk site for avalanches, so when the wall exploded and a hundred tons of mud and snow swallowed me up in its path, well I was goddamned surprised.

It’s hard to believe, I know, but then again it’s hard to believe that the entire city of Atlanta was brought to its knees by two inches of ice some years back. It’s hard to believe that a six-lane freeway collapsed because of a homeless man’s barrel fire a few summers ago. It’s hard to believe that two men escaped Dannemora prison by watching The Shawshank Redemption. In short, there are all sorts of surprises from the universe’s bag of curiosities, and so when the avalanche came rushing through my office I just went limp and rolled with it, which is rule number one when it comes to avalanche survival.

It wasn’t long before I got used to the slide. I was up, down, and all around, but my computer was still in front of me so my typing was uninterrupted, and the deep rumble of the massive swell was actually soothing to my state of mind. I’d just been reading about a stuntman named “Mad” Mike Hughes whose homemade rocket had crashed out in Barstow, California, killing him on impact. By the end of the article I’d decided I liked him, would’ve enjoyed a beer with him, and was sad about his death. And then, the avalanche.

It’s the era of the avalanche, after all. Things have become brittle, and the foundation has eroded. Technology has wired humanity so tightly that one tremor anywhere in the world can end up in an enormous collapse due to the sheer weight of hysteria, speculation, misinformation, disinformation, cruelty, and general idiocy. The modern system of mass communication that once promised an intellectual liberation has locked the global spectatorship into a handful of emotionally charged issues, destroying the imagination as thoroughly as a mudslide decimating a hillside village during the rainy season. 

So much for that avalanche, which I try to avoid. This new avalanche, though, the one about Mad Mike, I welcomed. I admit, I’m drawn to the weirdos. Here’s a guy out in the southwest United States just launching himself all over the place for no reason at all, which is the best reason there is. Mike had grabbed some headlines years back with the proclamation that the Earth is flat, which is not even close to the weirdest idea that’s come out of California, considering Manson’s Helter Skelter philosophy and bars that charge for oxygen.

I remember reading a section of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, the original scroll, specifically a part that did not make it into the final book. Kerouac is sitting on the corner of Hollywood and Vine waiting for a bus and he writes his observation that, “Somebody had tipped the American continent like a pinball machine and all the goofballs had come rolling into L.A. in the southwest corner.” How that didn’t make the final manuscript I will never know, but if that was my line and my editor cut it out I would’ve stuffed him into a rocket and shot him over the horizon. 

In marketing, it only counts if it’s memorable. Therefore If some California goofball  declares the Earth to be flat and then straps himself into a rocket to go confirm it, he has won, regardless of how it all washes out.  “Mad” Mike even allowed for the possibility that the Earth was round. He just wanted to see it for himself, he said. Which makes him a strict empiricist, in modern parlance, although “Mad” Mike has a lot more punch to it than “Strict Empiricist” Mike. So he decided to build a rocket to head out into space so he could get a good look at the giant thing he’d been clinging to, like an inquisitive flea trying to figure out the breed of dog he’s been gnawing on all this time.

So there he was, in Barstow, California, at the edge of the desert. This line rings familiar to me, as it’s the starting point for Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

…We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold…

Hunter goes on to describe a sky full of imaginary bats swooping down on him. If he’d been on his journey fifty years later he would’ve actually seen a huge rocket come crashing out of the sky, which is much weirder than a flock of bats in a desert.

 I was in Barstow once, taking a pit stop during a drive from Las Vegas to Redondo Beach. It was all part of a weeklong bachelor party for a friend of mine, although in retrospect it may have been more of a preliminary funeral for him, of sorts, since the only thing he succeeded in doing was getting the ball rolling on his first divorce, after which his wife drove a stake through his heart, and his bank accounts. Why did I bring this up? Oh yeah. Due to about twelve beers, the raging desert sun, and my own carsickness, I remember being on my knees in the dirt on the side of the road, retching my guts out while our party bus idled about twenty feet away. From that close a vantage point I’d have to agree with Mad Mike. The Earth looked pretty damn flat. I was so out of my head that I saw the flat world, and a flock of bats, and a talking iguana, and a hundred shiny rockets crashing out of the sky, and a million angels dancing on sunbeams, and Jim fucking Morrison, and the lost tribe of the Clock People, and the rhythmic frenzy of the Tarahumara drum circles, and every other mystery that the desert holds in its vast emptiness, and reveals from time to time as an invitation to a seeker with the proper type of mind. That’s why I salute Mad Mike. In a world of rehash and formula, it’s nice to know some folks are doing their best to shake loose the tedium of predictability, and put a little movement under our feet, and we can go with them on the big slide, and improbably elevate to a place where the air is sweet, and the view is beautiful.

Cheers, Mad Mike. I’m going to drink your beer for you. You would’ve wanted me to, I know.

More Alembics…

Blanking My Own Blank

(Warning: This essay contains what used to be strong language.)
I’m quite the fan of absurdist drama. Whether it is Jean Genet’s The Balcony, Francois Rabelais’s Pantagruel, Tom Robbins’s Jitterbug Perfume, Nikolai Gogol’s The Nose, or Anthony Scaramucci’s Leakers, Paranoiacs, and Oral-Onanism, I am impressed with the creative stretching and bending of raw reality. Western civilization needs artists like these to offer us a glimpse of our own potential, and in this fashion, the impossible becomes possible.

I believe it was the ancient philosopher Pliny the Elder who lectured, “Quam multi fire non posse, priusquam sent fact, judicantur?” Well said, Pliny. I heartily agree with the sentiment. How many things are considered impossible until they are actually done? Pliny’s words inspire my own imagination, or in other words, blank my own blank.

We pedestrians, rooted in reality, need certain “human telescopes” to help us peer past the horizon of our own limitations. Whether it is space exploration, gene-therapy treatment, or the improbable ability to bury our own heads into our crotches, the modern surrealist demonstrates that nothing is beyond reach. I can become my own masterpiece, or in other words, blank my own blank.

We admire the runner of a marathon, yet we look on in astonishment at the acrobat who seems to defy the very laws of gravity that everyone else must humbly obey. There is a difference between an artist that can paint down to the finest detail the exact likeness of a warty old king, and the artist that paints an enormous tongue rising like a tsunami to taste the tips of a sprawling metropolis. The former is the slave to reality, the latter its master. Each, however, follows its own muse, or in other words, blanks its own blank.

Not all hedge fund managers can be great artists, and they are rarely contortionists. The only things they are usually good at bending are the rules for risky investment. So it was doubly impressive to witness one of the modern surrealists questioning the limits of human gratification. In what will become known as quintessential Scaramuccian, I watched a brash Long Islander (hometown boy) put his foot in his mouth, his dick in his mouth, his asshole and everything else in his mouth and then spray it across the national consciousness. Not since Petr Pavlensky nailed his balls to Red Square has an act been so shamelessly grotesque. The Mooch was right, though. He wasn’t “trying” to touch his foreskin to his uvula. He was “effortlessly succeeding.” Job well done, Patrick Bateman. Now go murder a hooker.

Many artists have very volatile, short life spans. Dylan Thomas lasted thirty-nine years. Thomas Wolfe, thirty-eight. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, all twenty-seven, and Anthony Scaramucci, for all intents and purposes, lasted eleven days. It took him a little less than a fortnight to dig his own grave, or in other words, blank his own blank.

He suffered for his art. Join the club, Bubba.

Out of the moldy bread comes the penicillin, though. I’m more inspired than ever to blank my own blank. In blanking my own blank I can create my own bliss, and I invite everyone to do the same.
Blank your own blank. Build your own castle in the sky.
Blank your own blank. Resist your own demons.
Blank your own blank. Listen to your own sense of decency. Fill in the empty spaces with something that will lift others to a higher sense of social obligation. It will be a nice change of pace.
More blanks to blank.