I Meet the Entity My Girlfriend Calls Papa
Episode 6 from Must Not Sleep, a new novel which takes place in shamanic space, a realm of shapeshifting and trance. Check out episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. A free download of Michael Brownstein reading from the novel is available on Podiobooks.com.
After dinner that evening -- a fabulous live feast Georgia concocted which included pitchers of creamy almond milk, a huge green salad sprinkled with raw pumpkin seeds, and heavenly durian pie -- we held a ceremony. We assembled a pile of paper and plastic on the floor in Georgia's front room and sat down around it: bank cards, credit cards, driver's licenses, checks, bank statements, bills, passports, everything we could find that contained our last names.
I struck a match and leaned forward, but at the last moment she pushed my hand aside.
"Wait, Isaac, I'm not sure about this. Without a last name, how are we going to pay the rent or travel? We won't be able to withdraw money from the bank. There's like seventy-five dollars laying around the apartment, maybe a hundred. That'll last for a week. Then what?"
"Money? But no last names means no private property, no ownership on any level." I paused. "Are you scared?"
"Yes, I guess I am."
I tossed the pack of matches aside. We were sitting cross-legged on the floor.
"Remember how the weather changed for us? The power of intention is waiting for us to make use of it. All we have to do is believe in it and we can manifest whatever we need. But if we hesitate, the universe retreats."
"But can't we at least wait till tomorrow so we can withdraw what we have in the bank? Why not make things easy on ourselves? This isn't the sixties, you know. Especially since 9/11. Picture IDs are required everywhere. If we try and buck that, we'll be setting ourselves up for lots of problems."
"Georgia, once we start thinking in half-measures we're sunk. We have an advantage over everyone out there taking things literally because the literal truth is unimportant. There is no literal truth. The universe wants to play. If we can make that jump, magic awaits us at every turn. We'll have all the IDs we'll ever need. Identity's up for grabs anyway, isn't it?"
She eyed me steadily. "All right," she said.
I pulled her to her feet and we embraced.
"I mean, how can money possibly be a problem? Money's just pieces of paper."
I struck a match.
"Now we get to sharpen our intention."
The paper rapidly went up in flames but the plastic bubbled and smoked, leaving little blistered skeletons and a sour smell in the air.
Touching her cheek with the back of my hand, I said, "You're such a beauty." Immediately she grew still. I ran my fingers along her waist and down her ass. She moved her legs apart and I stroked her through her pants until she moaned. Then I reached inside.
"I'm wet," she whispered. "Let's ride it forever."
Hours seemed to go by and then we lay in the dark, exhausted but preternaturally awake, sensing the dimensions of the room, the contours of the furniture, hearing the city's sounds below us. Vague traceries of light came and went across the ceiling.
Deeply at peace, inhaling the nectar of Georgia's body beside me, I listened to her steady breathing.
Nothing can take away this feeling of arrival, of being centered, being home.
And that's when I heard it. The garbled, insistent sound of the television in the apartment below, rising through the floor like a demon, grabbing me by the throat and not letting go:
"Un uh huh uh nuh nuh nuh...UN UH HUH UH NUH NUH NUH..."
I sat up, red energy surging into my chest.
"Who is this motherfucker, anyway? All he does is sit in front of the TV. Day and night. It's maddening. He's sabotaging my life force."
Leaping out of bed, I switched on the lights, found my clothes and dressed. Still naked, Georgia stood beside me in the narrow entryway, her hand on my arm.
"Where are you going, Isaac?" she laughed, trying to make eye contact. "I can't believe you're letting this get to you. What happened to your warrior detachment? You must not be clear of your anger yet."
"Not clear of my anger? What are you talking about?"
I felt the muscles in my neck grow rigid.
"Whatever. We can deal with the fine points later. But I've had it with this guy -- or maybe it's a woman, some old bag, I don't care. I'm going down there."
I pulled away from her.
"I'm going down there and knocking on the door. People need to understand that their actions have consequences, that their stupid compulsions can poison the atmosphere in which the rest of us are trying to breathe."
"Please don't," she said, the alarm in her voice bringing me up short. "I won't let you."
"Georgia, what's wrong with you? I mean, I understand about apartment house etiquette and all, but I've been putting up with this asshole long enough. Don't worry," I said. "I'll be a good boy, I promise. I won't explode. I just want to add some awareness to the situation."
I bounded down the stairs and knocked softly on the door. When there was no response, I knocked louder. After that, in spite of myself, I began pounding. By then she stood beside me, her eyes fearful.
"Why won't you listen to me? I'm telling you to leave it alone. Don't you understand?"
I'm telling you to leave it alone.
I looked more closely at her. She was wearing a little white satin sundress and carrying a bright yellow plastic purse. The kind of purse a six-year-old girl might treasure.
My heart racing, I backed away from the metal door on which were spray-painted phrases I hadn't noticed before, including the words SAY YOUR PRAYERS. Suddenly the door opened and a swollen-faced, nearly bald old man wearing glasses stood there looking at me sharply. His chest slumped forward over a heavy, congested body. I sensed malevolence, ill-health, and the most penetrating intelligence all at once.
Behind him, a television set blared in a dim room filled with worn furniture and piles of newspapers, food containers, and trash.
"What the hell do you want?" he demanded. But while he was saying this to me, his eyes never left Georgia's. She froze for a moment and then stuttered, "P-P-Papa, I'm sorry. I tried to stop him but--"
"But he just can't control himself," the old man mimicked her contemptuously. "It figures. What other kind of human garbage would you get yourself involved with?"
This enraged me. I got right up in his face and shouted, "Who the fuck do you think you are? Your cancerous existence glued to that TV screen is worth less than nothing, it doesn't even merit the word human, garbage or otherwise. Meanwhile you're cramping my style, do you understand? I've had more than enough of your insufferable noise pollution. Upstairs, where Georgia and I were trying to sleep..."
"Who is Georgia?" he asked.
At that moment the word "Papa" surfaced in my consciousness. My body went cold. I turned to ask her what was going on but she had vanished. The old man cleared his throat and managed the oddest sort of decomposing smile as he said wryly, "We don't want to disturb the neighbors, do we? Why don't you step inside?"
As if I were standing in the vacuum-lock entry of a spaceship, I felt myself sucked through the doorway into his apartment.
Once he shut the door behind us, a rancid smell materialized which soon became unbearable.
"Can't we open a window?"
He snorted, then said derisively, "What's the matter, baby boy? You seem to be letting a lot of inconsequential things get the best of you. Pussy for one. A little noise for another. And now it's the supposed lack of fresh air in here. Frankly, I'm disappointed in you. I thought you were wild and lawless."
I started to reply but he waved me off.
"Don't tax me with your juvenile reactivity, please. Just pay attention."
His body by turns opaque and transparent, he hovered next to me like an entity returned from the beyond. What was it about him that kept tugging at my memory? His voice, his face -- I knew him somehow, from somewhere.
We stood in front of the television and watched the President deliver his State of the Union address to Congress. Shamelessly employing the anxiety generated by 9/11 to sell his plans for war, he went on in his arrogant, self-satisfied way about the need to invade Iraq because of the dictator Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction.
"Our nation," he intoned, "is all that stands between a world at peace and a world of chaos and constant alarm . . . Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans -- this time armed by Saddam . . . A serious and mounting threat to our country . . . We place our confidence in the loving God behind all of life and all of history. May He guide us now and may God continue to bless the United States of America."
As thunderous applause echoed in our ears the old man laughed and said, with a faint Western accent I noticed for the first time, "Butch is doing a fine job, don't you think? A healthy mix of optimism and the fear factor, plus some loaves and fishes thrown in for the Christians. Iraq's a distraction, a smokescreen, just like 9/11. We're gonna ride this pony for years and years. The military loves us. Everybody loves us. A huge success."
"You've got to be joking," I spat out, my mettle returning at the sight of this fake cowboy with his American flag lapel pin and insufferable grin. "Most people find him disgusting and can't wait to vote him out of office."
Now the old man's voice was softer. "I wouldn't be so sure of that if I were you. The strangest things can happen during an election year. Look for some disturbances as November, 2004 approaches, disturbances that we'll take the credit for handling. Or look for a sudden lack of disturbances... Whatever works. Because of course we're going to win in November. All the bases are covered. We're hungry the way the Democrats are not. We're pitiless and they're cautious. It's no contest. Check out the voting machines, for example."
He laughed. "Understand this: even if by some outrageous fluke we lose in 2004, we still win. That's because the so-called opposition isn't really an opposition at all. More social programs here, less environmental protection there, depending on who's in office. Both sides are under our tender loving care. The juggernaut rolls on. Nothing stops us. One thing is certain, though: 2004 will be the last presidential election in American history, at least in any recognizable form. They take too much time, waste too much energy. From now on however people conceive of themselves will be tampered with until they think they're voting while they're sound asleep at the wheel. Or is that the case already? Just look at poor Butch here. I can't understand why you're so hard on him. Where's your sympathy? Granted he's in over his head, but he's trying the best he can and under the circumstances he's been quite impressive."
"Under the circumstances? What do you mean? That he stole the presidency and is working the greed thing overtime, claiming the world's oil for his buddies, militarizing public and private space while he bankrupts the country?"
He raised the remote he was holding and turned off the television set. His eyes became stony as he said, "I mean that by inviting you into my home I was giving you the benefit of the doubt, shall we say, though I'm beginning to wonder about my judgment. Maybe it isn't what it used to be. Still, since you're here, you might as well learn a few things...Let's start with this, baby boy: Butch is dead..."
He stopped speaking and studied me clinically.
As if I represent a species about which until now he's only heard vague reports. A species wondrous in its willingness to be duped. A legendary species, known far and wide in the universe for its gullibility. Legendary because, in the scheme of things, such a quality would normally long ago have insured its demise.
And, I thought, the hair rising off the back of my neck, the species I represent is the human species.
Not taking his eyes off me, he resumed in a flat, metallic voice, a voice crackling and faint as if coming from a great distance: "Once upon a time after 9/11...Claustrophobic and inflamed...Omigod, what happened to Butch?...Butch is dead...A transplant, a cipher, our mole."
In the next moment I was both wondering where I'd heard these words before and surrendering to a nameless panic. I inhaled but my fright became so intense I found it impossible to exhale. As I blacked out, he rushed toward me.
From far away I heard him commanding, "Breathe, breathe!"
He wrapped me in a bear hug and squeezed the last bit of breath out of my lungs so I had no alternative but to gasp for air. As soon as I regained consciousness, the mephitic stink leaking from his open mouth became unbearable. I broke free of his embrace, staggering backwards and falling to the floor. I had never smelled anything so vile. Obviously he was very sick, rotten to the core, in fact, yet he'd been able to marshal sufficient strength to shock me back.
Out of breath himself now, he held a hand over his heart. The left corner of his mouth was turned down in pain. Getting to my feet, I sensed something: metal or plastic parts instead of a living heart. Finally he dropped his hand to his side and I saw a stagnant black hole in the middle of his chest. A dull, dead, frozen place where the seat of his soul should have been.
"Damn," he said, "I wish I had your ticker, your life force. That light emanating from you, it's unprecedented. Day after day I saw it shining right through the ceiling. Why else do you think I got you down here? How easy that was, too, once I pushed the right button."
He grimaced. "I don't have much time left on this putrid planet. The last couple of years have been rough. But we're all given a role to play and I'm what's known as an active link. I have to do it, there's no alternative, really. I just need to hang on a while longer. That's where you come in. Like it or not, you're going to heal me, baby boy. Nevertheless, this sure is maddening. You're so damned obtuse. You think you know everything. As the great Irish playwright so-and-so once opined, ‘Tis a pity, youth is wasted on the young.'"
"Let's start with that rage of yours," he said. "Otherwise, you're going to make my job much harder by resisting me at every turn. Don't you realize that negative emotions hurt nobody but you, that the object of your anger remains oblivious to it? Do you think Butch cares about or even notices your indignation? You've got to learn that, of all the life forms in all the countless galaxies out there, only the earthly human ego takes things personally. Pretty darn interesting, I'd say. Only the human ego takes offense. Meanwhile, what happens happens, regardless of your response."
"I know," I said.
"You know my ass. If you know so much, why were you out there beating on my door like a maniac?"
We were sitting around a stained formica table in what passed for his kitchen, a small alcove off the main room. The alcove's linoleum floor, like the rest of the apartment, was ankle-deep in trash.
How could the man across the table from me possibly be Georgia's rich and powerful father? Was this his disguise? Was he running from the law? One hostile takeover too many? I couldn't stop wondering where I'd seen him before. Him or some version of him. Then I realized that, standing in front of his door earlier, I'd been so incensed I wasn't even certain I'd heard her rightly. "Papa..." She might have been saying anything.
"So hang on tight," he said, "we're going for a ride. A whirlwind tour of the way things work. Keep breathing. Sense your arms and legs. Slowly count backwards from ten. But whatever you do, please try not to get stranded on moral high ground. It'll serve no purpose except to slow us down. Accept the truth rather than substituting what you fondly wish to be the case."
He snorted. "To begin with, partner, understand that we're in the saddle and we can do whatever we damn well please. America first, the rest of the world brings up the rear, and that's the way it's gonna be for a thousand years. One American death is worth a hundred Somalis, Rwandans, or Kosovars, isn't it? We'll sic the mad dog of patriotism on anybody who dares to disagree. Like this invasion we've got planned for Iraq, the one we're fixing to ram down everybody's throats. Why is the United States going to war? If your answer is oil, you've only scratched the surface. In fact, any answer you give only scratches the surface because -- now listen closely -- it doesn't matter why we're going to war. Do you follow? We're going to war because we can. The main thing is the effect. Shock and awe. You'll be hearing that phrase a lot soon. A darn good one, too, if I do say so myself."
Now he was sounding delusional. I laughed aloud at the idea of this broken-down old guy helping to plan the invasion of Iraq, but he appeared not to notice.
"Iraq ain't even a contest. We know ahead of time we're going to win. Everyone else knows that too. The invasion of Iraq is ritualistic. The whole world's expecting to see bloodshed and destruction, how can we disappoint them? Otherwise, when we do invade, why not spare people's lives while taking out the Iraqi infrastructure without a single building falling to the ground?"
He paused as if waiting for an answer.
"See, we can do that already. Our military has in its possession a focused microwave weapon. An electromagnetic pulse which can fry all circuitry within a half-mile radius including radios, telephones, cars, computers, fuses in artillery shells, firing circuits in missiles, refrigerators, you name it. Anything electronic or electrical. Nobody can fire a weapon, mobilize forces, talk to anyone, find anything or do anything. Nothing is blown up and nobody gets hurt. Bicycles become the sole means of transport. But will we use this new weapon in Iraq? No. Because that's not the way the game is played. Don't you think we know that invading Iraq is going to result in new recruits for Al Qaeda? Don't you think we know the Muslim world will hate us even more? Why do you suppose we're not going to bother securing the munitions dumps throughout the country or guarding the borders with Syria and Iran? All this talk of establishing a democracy to serve as an example in the Middle East is a smokescreen. What's really going on -- in addition to grabbing those oilfields -- is locking in the war on terror for decades. It gives us the enemy we lost with the fall of communism."
"And," he added, "there's even more. Layer upon layer. Nothing's what it seems. But we'll get to that later, maybe. If you behave yourself."
I felt so sad. How could he rationalize away not sparing the lives of innocent people? I no longer wanted to be in the same room with this entity but when I tried to stand up I couldn't. As if in a dream, I was frozen in a sort of force field, unable to move my arms or legs. I struggled in my seat for a moment and then gave up. Was he aware of my predicament?
His poker player's eyes, hard and flat, revealed nothing. His lips were tightly compressed, one side of his mouth lower than the other. I'd ascribed this grimace to his chest pain, but maybe it was a permanent expression of his character.
He smiled. "I can tell I'm upsetting you, but I've never gone in for sugar-coating reality. Face facts, take the bull by the horns, that's the way I operate. I'm a member in good standing of the ruling class and proud of it. Don't make the mistake of thinking we're naive or that greed somehow blinds us. We're masters of deception, baby boy. We know exactly what we're doing. Like the petroleum industry. I happen to know more than a little about that. Been in it for years. Made several fortunes. You don't have to tell me what the oil companies are doing. Like the rainforest in Ecuador, for example. Poisoned rivers, ruinous violence, turning self-sufficient people into little more than slaves. And all for reserves that amount to no more than ten days' worth of oil consumption in the U.S. of A. But it's us or them. Always has been. The history of the world from day one. We happen to be on top now, is all. And the only way to stay on top is to cut them corners real close, to be a hundred and ten percent pitiless. We'll stop militarizing the planet in order to guarantee our rightful share of oil the minute we can monopolize alternative forms of energy and not any sooner. Do you follow? Shit, you think we don't know that global warming's a threat? Do you believe we're ignorant of what burning CO2 from unregulated power plants does to the forests? Do you wonder how we have the gall to claim that chemical pesticides and fertilizers are good for the soil? Understand this: The more fear that's generated, the more those in charge can feed off of it. We're talking about sustenance here, we're talking about survival. Who gets to prosper and who perishes. We're not that different from the ancient Aztecs, a proud warrior civilization like ours. They sacrificed the blood of their prisoners so life could go on. It's either that or the sun stops shining. On us."
"But you're deliberately involved in poisoning the planet," I protested. "You're sabotaging your own future, the future of your children, your children's children. It's fanatical."
The word brought him up short. "Fanatical? Hmm...It's true that corporate capitalism is another form of fundamentalism. I won't argue with that. But we have a big problem on our hands right now, not sometime in the future. There's way too many humans on the surface of the globe. The term 'overpopulation' doesn't begin to describe the situation. The people experiment is suffering from its own success. It's spiraling out of control. Something's gotta give. Can you deny that a great cleansing must take place? These are the end times, baby boy. What else do you think is going on? Armageddon, the Triumph of the Beast, 666. As foretold in the Holy Bible!"
His eyes were twinkling. Was he pulling my leg?
"The end times," he insisted. "Artificial life forms dumped on the planet, compromising the genetic heritage of plants and animals. Uncontrolled nuclear proliferation. Everything and everybody thrown together. No traditions left. Subtract the family thing and nobody knows who they are anymore. No past, no present, no future. Nobody even knows what day it is."
He paused. "Do you know what day it is?"
Feeling queasy, I was at a loss for words. How long had I been cooped up in this dim, airless space with him? There were no windows that I could make out, or maybe they'd been covered. Painted over. Boarded up.
He gave me a long-suffering expression and rolled his eyes. "You and your tree hugger pals go on about economic globalization. You take a stand against the IMF and the World Bank with your civil disobedience, your hand-lettered signs, your green utensils and recycled toilet paper. It's as if you can't see what's coming. Have you ever heard of the Rapture? Try that on for size. Talk about globalization! When the Rapture sweeps across the planet it'll make McDonald's look like home cooking."
The Rapture...That mocking tone.
Then his voice grew strident.
"You have no idea who you're dealing with. Burn down this cancerous shithole, that's what we're focused on. Take it to hell out. A disastrous idea to begin with. The invention of a false god. In that context, how much do you think we care about, like, um, sustainable agriculture?"
We stared at each other until finally he calmed down and shrugged.
"Sometimes I get carried away, you'll have to forgive me. I'm under a lot of pressure, actually. Have to operate on several fronts at once. It's tricky. But don't worry. I can handle it."
Abruptly getting to his feet, he said, "Follow me. And please pay attention. We're wasting precious time."
Whatever force had been restraining me suddenly lifted. Once again I was free to move. I stood up from the table and we walked into the main room.
"I want to show you something," he said. "It'll speed up the learning process. If a picture's worth a thousand words, imagine what a bird's eye view cashes out to. You're already acquainted with this type of thing, I believe. What you call shamanic journeying. Though that term is tainted with a certain whiff of romanticism."
"How do you know I've been journeying?"
He smiled. "Have you forgotten this is a tenement building? I can hear everything going on upstairs. That's how I knew you'd be receptive to what I have to show you. You already understand that the limitations of time and space hardly apply to those who know how to circumvent them."
By now we were standing in front of the blank television screen.
"Open your eyes," he said. "Don't question what's going on. Just look."
Image by Thomas Hawk, courtesy of Creative Commons license.Tweet