Where the Political Collides with the Magical
Episode 3 of Must Not Sleep, a novel which takes place in shamanic space, a realm of shapeshifting and trance. For episode 1, "Waking Up to the Big Time," click here, and for Episode 2, "I Meet the Goddess in the Flesh," click here. A free download of Michael Brownstein reading from the novel is available on Podiobooks.com.
Who is the third that walks beside us?
While trying to get to sleep that morning, Georgia and I decided I'd give up my apartment and move in with her. We'd have preferred finding a completely new space – a large, airy loft, for instance. But where was the money going to come from for something like that? It would have to wait till we burned away all our negativity. We needed to become pure vessels before the universe would give us what we wanted.
Because like everyone else we'd been violated by toxins in the air, in the water, in the head. Saturated with plastics, synthetic hormones, heavy metals, antibiotics. Polluted above all by filthy lucre. Fucked over again and again for nothing more than room and board.
After fifteen years of other-directed toil I had precious little money in the bank. And tending the rooftop gardens of wealthy New Yorkers had left Georgia with even less. Quitting her work may have cost Georgia some thought but for me it was easy. My working days were over. I was finished confining myself to the reasonable fellow who had shown up all those years, his offended spirit impotently plotting revenge.
Ah, sweet revenge:
During the previous autumn – October and November of 2002 – I'd spent my weekend nights spray-painting
MUST NOT SLEEP
MUST WARN OTHERS
on buildings and construction sites all over Manhattan, aiming to awaken people to the perils of corporate globalization. But no matter how many cans of paint I used, nothing changed.
Half the Earth's plant species faced extinction, ninety per cent of the big fish were gone from the oceans, tropical forests two and a half times the size of Italy vanished every five years, native cultures the world over were being erased. The assets of the world's top three billionaires amounted to more than the combined GNP of all the least-developed nations and their six billion people.
Meanwhile we continued in a state of denial. America's protective coating of ironic distance remained impermeable. Don't rock the boat, don't ask questions. Function on a compartmentalized, need-to-know basis – just like terrorist cells and the agents pursuing them.
I became so frustrated that on the last night I went over the top, spraying MUST NOT SLEEP, MUST WARN OTHERS on every available surface. I wept as I ran from place to place, my tear-filled eyes burning with paint fumes. I sprayed parked cars, police station doorways, restaurant windows on the other side of which faces full of fusilli turned to stare at me.
It was a miracle I didn't get arrested. Time stopped for me that night. I entered a zone in which no matter how brazen I became, nobody picked up on it. The can I was using seemed to have a bottomless supply of paint.
As I sprayed and sprayed, possessed, beside myself, my fingers dripping black, the words took on a new meaning. A larger circle opened up.
MUST NOT SLEEP, MUST WARN OTHERS...
It dawned on me that something more than human greed and stupidity must be conspiring to sabotage our future. What we were doing was obviously unworkable and yet we kept on going.
Like how about the fact that bringing the rest of the world to America's standard of living would require four planet Earths for resource extraction? Where would China and India get the gasoline to drive around in their middle-class fantasies? The push to commercialize all of life was a disaster in the making. What was happening?
Another order of reality must be involved. Something was distracting us, feeding off of our unconsciousness. Something unconcerned with our destiny. Something malevolent. I needed to start looking at things in a new way. I had to find out what was going on under the surface.
At one point deep into the night as I sprayed a produce truck on a deserted stretch of Christie Street north of Chinatown, I sensed I was being watched. I swung around and looked up between the branches of two sycamores into the vacant city sky.
I heard giggling. And dry, rasping voices, faint and wavering. "He's still awake, he must be stopped. Still awake, must be stopped."
Then the voices grew louder. "Say hello to the new Americans, sweet earthling. Hello, new Americans. They have no idea what's coming. No idea!"
Row upon row of amiable, intelligent-looking young entities flashed before my eyes. The new Americans...Were they identical? Before I could answer this question I heard the voices again.
"Show him more. Yes, more," they insisted and I felt myself being yanked up into the sky.
With a desperate shout I broke free and ran north into the East Village, not stopping until I was surrounded by crowds of weekend revellers in from the suburbs. Happily inebriated, they surged through the doors of cafes and clubs, warbling cellphones in hand.
What a kick in the head. They're sound asleep.
In spite of these intimations, a week later, in what turned out to be my final gesture as an activist – my final gesture on the surface of things – I printed up five hundred bumper stickers saying U.S. OUT OF NORTH AMERICA and affixed them to lamp posts, windows, and parked cars.
My heart was burning. I longed to free myself – to free all of us – from the ruinous force-field in which we lay enchanted.
When Butch stole the presidency in November of 2000, something shut down inside me. I couldn't look at the thieves in the White House without feeling like I was going to puke. The issues I cared so much about were being ignored.
And things only got worse after 9/11. The anti-globalization movement faded in the paranoid glare of the new patriotism. Global capital's Holy Rollers were free to pursue their goals unhindered, no questions asked.
Disgusted, I stashed my television set in the closet and stopped paying attention to the news. It became a matter of pride for me to walk past newspapers for sale on the street without breaking stride.
My rage, I freely admit it.
Because in spite of my big dream which had blown away so much junk, more than two years after Butch's inauguration an indignant red energy still lay coiled inside me ready to strike out at the least provocation. But if I couldn't disconnect from things over which I had no control I'd continue being eaten up by frustration. And the new message I carried would be lost.
Although I knew way more than I wanted to about the perils of corporate capitalism, every cell in my body was calling out now for light and space, for forgiveness, for a change of heart.
But practicing unconditional love proved to be tricky. After all, I'd spent years accumulating the most damning information. I'd become outraged, joining the movement, taking to the streets. I was in Seattle in 1999 at the demonstrations against the World Trade Organization. I got myself arrested in Washington D.C, in New York and Quebec.
By the time of the G-8 meeting in Genoa in 2001, the true colors of repression showed themselves. Beating, torturing, and imprisoning innocent demonstrators. Breaking bones, smashing teeth, shattering skulls. My summer vacation in a fog of tear gas. I barely escaped the carabinieri on the night of July 21 when they raided the IndyMedia Center where I was helping to make posters.
"Red Isaac," they'd called me at work.
Forget about explaining to my fellow employees back in Manhattan that the political divisions of the last century no longer applied, that it was no longer a question of left or right, liberal or conservative. Since their own jobs weren't threatened, they turned a blind eye to what was taking place around them.
In August of 2002 I'd gone to Johannesburg, South Africa for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, a U.N.-sponsored gathering meant to deal with global warming but co-opted by the very corporations which were trashing the environment.
Nothing was decided, nothing was done. This in spite of papers presented by scientists declaring in no uncertain terms that greenhouse gas emission would set in motion large-scale, high-impact, non-linear and abrupt changes in the coming decades.
Non-linear, I remembered thinking at the time, does that mean nothing goes in a straight line anymore? That our cherished notions of predictability and rationality no longer apply? That the world's becoming a barrel full of snakes?
The only explanation for disregarding such information had to be mass trance. But induced by whom? And to what end? I couldn't figure it out. To me, the leaders of most corporations – in thrall to the bottom line, blithely bankrupting the world's resources – were no more conscious than the multitudes they manipulated.
At the alternative People's Earth Summit in Jo'burg I met Uncle, an indigenous shaman from Greenland. He informed me that nursing mothers in his country could no longer feed their infants because of the toxins found in their milk.
"My own niece," he said.
He begged me to inform "your people" that the consequences of their actions were harming innocent brothers and sisters thousands of miles away.
"Up in the North," he said, "we know every day what you in the South are doing. Up in the North the ice is melting. What will it take to melt the ice in the human heart?"
Our long night in Ecstasy's embrace finally came to an end after dawn. Georgia was still asleep when I woke with a start sometime that afternoon. My body sore and stiff, I dressed and threw cold water on my face. Feeling wasted and disoriented, I wobbled down the stairs of her building and bought – in addition to dozens of creamy yellow roses, as many as I could carry – a copy of the Times.
Yes, I admit it. Now and then – although rarely – I fell off the wagon and dived into the headlines. In spite of myself I got curious.
What's happening in this crazy-ass country of mine?
And omigod, there it was, smack on the front page.
The lead article in the upper right-hand column read:
ROCKET, NOT AIRLINER,
SAID TO HAVE STRUCK THE PENTAGON
ON SEPT. 11
"Insisting on anonymity, a senior government official admitted today that there was no evidence on September 11, 2001 of Flight 77 or its dead passengers at the Pentagon.
"Instead, the Pentagon's own security video suggests a Global Hawk rocket was shattered by a missile, he said. The missile may have been launched from the defensive missile system around the Pentagon –"
Starting to hyperventilate, I noticed a bench against the cyclone fence surrounding a playground a block away and made my way toward it. It had rained the night before and the bench was still wet. I pulled out the business section of the paper and sat down on it. With the roses in a heap beside me, I looked again at the front page.
But someone please help me. Because now I was reading, in the same lead column, an entirely different article:
DESTRUCTION OF WTC TOWERS
LAID TO EXPLOSIONS
BEFORE AIRLINER IMPACT
"Compelling evidence exists linking the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001 to an unknown event which shook the ground seconds before the towers started to collapse.
"Seismographers in Palisades, New York, 21 miles north of New York City, recorded two huge 'spikes' marking the moments before the towers were hit. These unexplained seismic 'spikes' lend credence to the theory that massive explosions at the base of the towers caused them to collapse. Contrary to the official version of events, the actual collapse of both towers did not begin on the floors where the airplanes struck. Continued on Page 17A"
My hands shaking, I turned to page 17:
"Explosives may have been placed in both towers before the two hijacked airliners collided with them. The explosives could have been detonated via radio by a computer located in Bldg. 7.
"Bldg. 7 itself was a 47-story steel-framed structure that disintegrated instantly, collapsing straight down. For this to occur, all the load-bearing supports would have had to fail at the same time. The 23rd floor of this building was the Mayor's Emergency Command Center which had its own air supply. This, according to unnamed sources, could have been the command center which destroyed the towers."
By this time, my heart was speeding uncontrollably. I almost threw the paper into a trash basket beside the bench, but my eyes were drawn to another article on page 17:
FAMILIES OF 9/11 VICTIMS
ASK WHERE WAS THE FAA?
WHERE WAS NORAD?
"The government has failed to answer basic questions about the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, according to families of the victims, refusing to produce records of the activity of NORAD and certain air force commands.
"Barbara Esterhazy, who lost her husband at the WTC, pointed out in a press conference today that NORAD was not contacted by the FAA until 32 minutes after loss of contact with Flight 11.
"She called 'more baffling still' the fact that fighters weren't scrambled from the nearest air force bases to intercept the hijacked airliners. She noted that planes of NORAD's North East Air Defense Sectors (NEADS) were actually on maneuvers that morning, which should have made them immediately available.
"Nevertheless, at 9:41 a.m., one hour and 11 minutes after NORAD confirmed that the first plane was hijacked, the skies over Washington DC were unprotected, and Flight 77 supposedly crashed into the Pentagon. Fighter jets, she pointed out, were still miles away.
"'Why,' she asked, 'was there a delay in the FAA notifying NORAD? Why was there a delay in NORAD scrambling fighter jets? How was this possible when NEADS was fully staffed with planes at the ready and monitoring our Northeast airspace?'"
I sat there for a long time gripping the cold damp rails of the bench, trying to clear my head. I'd always dismissed conspiracy theories as beneath my consideration and I still felt that way. Their main impact was to obscure the deeper causes of events. But wasn't the appearance of something in the Times proof of its objectivity? And the articles themselves had changed before my very eyes. That fact was indisputable. I'd wanted to look under the surface of things but this was fucking nuts. Or were the deeper causes of events being revealed to me in ways I couldn't handle?
I remembered from somewhere that words glimpsed in dreams changed 95 percent of the time if you went back and tried to reread them. So was I in the middle of a lucid dream? But what about the other five percent? If I fell into that category, was I stranded in the crack between worlds? How could I know if I was awake or still dreaming?
I glanced with horror at the copy of the Times beside me. I couldn't bring myself to open it again, deciding instead to show it to Georgia. Of course, show it to Georgia.
Thank God for the existence of other people!
I gathered the roses in my arms and ran back to her place. Just as I rounded the corner into her block, she emerged from her building arm in arm with a thin, painfully tall man in a shapeless grey business suit. Where had I seen this entity before? Clean-shaven but emaciated, his face was obscured by a sort of mist. Something which moved along with him, hiding his features behind a pearly smear of light.
Dressed provocatively in a little fur jacket, red micromini, and black stiletto heels, Georgia tottered along beside him looking like a fourteen-year-old version of herself, a fourteen-year-old playing at being a prostitute. Even at this distance I could make out the goosebumps on her bare legs.
In the moment before they began walking in the opposite direction she stared up at him, worshipful and expectant, as if in the presence of a god.
I dropped the roses and fell to my knees, the newspaper sailing away into the gutter. I watched as the man turned his head and glanced back over his shoulder at me. His features were readable now. His soft and soulful eyes clashed with a cruel mouth open in an exaggerated, leering grin.
The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the sofa in Georgia's living room holding a steaming cup of mint tea in my hands. Grateful for its warmth, I pressed the cup against my gut and tried to breathe slowly. In and out. In and out.
Bruised and crumpled, the roses lay in a pile on the dining table, and beside them the torn and soggy Times.
What's happening to me?
Every time I asked myself this question my mind shorted out. All I could do was look through the front windows of the apartment at the overcast winter sky. Its flat grey light. Its barely discernible clouds which seemed to be expanding and contracting, endlessly merging into one another rather than moving in any particular direction.
Gradually the afternoon darkened until at dusk I became aware of myself alone in the gloom, unable to move. Where was that warrior, eager and unafraid, who the week before had so decisively taken possession of my life?
Image by fernando, used courtesy of a Creative Commons license.Tweet