Donald the Great Born Again as Je Suis Moi


Je Suis Moi, as the reader may know, had been an Existentialist before he perused Pence’s classic, Donald The Great, About Whom Nothing Greater Can Be Thought, which led to his free subscription to the How to Make Yourself Great Again Channel, and, ultimately, to his magic mushroom conversion to Egotism.

He had been a very depressed existentialist at that. He found no joy in the concept that life was meaningless so one should be happy with a menial job providing there was sufficient budget after rent and enough time off work to get a suntan, drink tequila, consort with prostitutes, and smoke hashish. What depressed him all along was the absurd notion essential to existentialism, that existence was before Being because all the misconceptions of Being got humans in trouble, even caused wars.

He intuited that he was not a speck of dirt, a tomato living in the now, or a naked ape with some kind of being pasted on as an afterthought. There is certainly a more essential being, some Being that comes before existence, as we should all know by now, but he did not know who he originally was. If he did, he would have gone home again.

“Existence in itself does not even exist,” he thought during one of his drunken mental masturbations.  “I am someone at least, someone that actually is, that is what comes first, not existence.”

He mentioned his doubts to a fellow kitchen worker, who handed him a dog-eared copy of Donald The Great.

“Don’t be stupid, stupid, read this,” said the short order cook, “everyone else has, and become someone, an independent contractor like the rest of us.”

Sure enough, Donald The Great not only confirmed that he was someone, but that he was whatever he thought he was, and that was always something very, very great, indeed, because he was once very great and could be even greater again, thus he was born again.

It would not be long before he encountered Maya, his alter ego, a dissident from French Welandia, and changed his name to Je Suis Moi. He signed on to the independent contractor program at work, convinced, despite Maya’s advice, that he would be so great again that he would never need social benefits.

He would be promoted to server two years later. He was laid off and found himself without unemployment benefits. The benefits would have been minimal anyway, and not because of his low pay: no more than a thousand workers in Melandia, most of them Welandians with temporary permits to work jobs Melandians did not want, were contributing into the fund.

Maya, once a jurist in France, now reduced to selling drawings of Je Suis Moi on the sidewalks, threatened to leave him unless he got another job. Wherefore he contracted for doorman work at Trump Island, known as “Puerto Rico” before Donald the Great purchased it with a Russian loan after forcing it into bankruptcy liquidation.

His egotistical expectations exceeded his station there and it was not long before the both of them were deported with only each other and the clothes on their backs. They managed to escape from the ship bound for Welandia and made their way to Chania, capital of Independent Crete, where Je Suis Moi took a dishwasher job,  immersed himself in Greek myths and imagined himself not only to be the famous Cretan necromancer, Epimenides, but  the personification of Zeus from time to time.

Such was the tremendous influence of the book Donald The Great that it literally saved Je Suis Moi’s life, for he had decided that a merely existential life was not worth living, and he would have ended his if Pence’s book had not been thrust into his hands on that fateful day in the kitchen.   



Tracey Flagler’s Messiah

Art Revolutions II (7)

Permission Granted Darwin Leon





“I just want to bring you out so you can be more like me, so you can have fun and not let anyone bring you down,” yelled the garrulous young woman into her cell phone at Manuel’s Internet Café On South Beach. She had been preaching at her cell at the top of her lungs for over a half an hour without the slightest consideration of anyone around her, as if she were a mad woman with no one on the other end.

 Not that she was an exception to the growingly vulgar crowd that cares less about common courtesy because they have never heard of it. The world shall soon be a vast phone booth, I thought as she went on and on. There is no room for quietude on this planet: Every place is filled with callous individuals broadcasting their personal business to everyone within ear shot – some of the personal loudspeakers can be heard a block away. Once in awhile there is an exception, someone speaking so softly into their cell phone that you cannot make out what they are saying even when you are sitting beside them, but this lady was definitely not your quiet type. She is the sort of friend you put on speaker instead of hanging up on her, to just let her talk nonstop while you prepare and eat dinner, do the dishes, and go to the bathroom too. And if there is a pause, you say, “Uh-huh, and then what?”.

“You always let people get to you, honey,” the loquacious creature continued, “but you shouldn’t listen to them. They just don’t want you to have fun. And you know why? They don’t want you to have fun because they aren’t having any themselves. They could create their own fun reality like I have if they wanted to, but no, they want to be miserable. Don’t pay any attention to them. Ignore them. They don’t care about you anyway. Don’t let them bring you down. Listen to me. Be like me. I’m having fun right now in South Beach. You ought to come down here and have fun, honey, and I’ll help you put your head together. I had lots of fun last night at Mansions, the most fun club on Washington Avenue. They had a reception for Obama there. Wow, Oprah endorsed him. We’ve got to vote for him now! When he gets elected we will get more stuff to have fun with. Hello? Hello? Mary, are you there? Yes, I was saying, you should be more like me. By the way, you know that fun guy we met at….”

Por que no te callas!” I felt like shouting down the blablative little broad – she was short, squat and broad of girth. But a true gentleman does no such thing, even if he is the King of Spain confronted by a blabbermouth like Hugo Chavez. Of course the King would have his security evict disturbers of the peace; a kingly gentleman without such means would get up from the computer at the Manuel’s Internet Café On South Beach, pay the tab, quietly leave the premises and return to his humble castle.

No doubt the King of Spain has a quiet place to meditate in the royal quarters, and I would too if my abode were not a humble studio in the South Beach ghetto. As it was, my hood was relatively quiet when I got home, so I brewed a pot of catnip tea and proceeded to brood on the usual weighty matters, perusing at first my used copy Edmund Husserls’ Cartesian Meditations. My eye fell upon a passage another reader had heavily underscored:

When, with the beginning of modern times, religious belief was becoming more and more externalized as a lifeless convention, men of intellect were lifted by a new belief, their great belief in an autonomous philosophy and science. The whole of human culture was to be guided and illuminated by scientific insights and thus reformed, as new and autonomous. But meanwhile this belief too had begun to languish. Not without reason. Instead of a unitary living philosophy, we have a philosophical literature growing beyond all bounds and almost without coherence…. The philosophers meet but, unfortunately, not the philosophies. The philosophies lack the unity of a mental space in which they might exist for and act on one another.”

Incoherent, indeed! Everyone is jibber-jabbering and no one is really listening. I put down Husserl and picked up Arthur Schopenhauer’s On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. No matter how chaotic metaphysics might seem, at least in principle we may assume that there is a sufficient reason underlying true science:.

“The importance of the principle of sufficient reason is exceedingly great, for it can be called the basis of all science. Thus science signifies a system of notions, in other words, a totality of connected, as opposed to a mere aggregate of disconnected, notions. But what else unites the links of a system? The very thing distinguishing every science from the aggregate is the fact that its notions follow from one another as from their ground or reason.”

Schopenhauer complained that “a clumsy charlatan like Hegel is confidently stamped” as a “great philosopher…. Thus German philosophy stands before us loaded with contempt, ridiculed by other nations, expelled from all honest science, like a prostitute who for shameful remuneration sold herself yesterday to one man, today another. The minds of the present generation of scholars are disorganized Hegelian nonsense; incapable of thinking, coarse and stupefied, they become prey to the shallow materialism that has crept out of the basilisk’s egg. Good luck to them! I return to my subject.”

The optimistic pessimist returned to his principle in vain, I speculated. Germany was destroyed twice but the Spirit rose from her ashes. The confusion of thesis and antithesis in a synthesis beyond good and evil has had a lot of luck, for its primitive spirit still persists in the creative-destruction of our world. The Spirit has run roughshod over every individual, but each individual member of the Category of One still thinks he has a chance of being the heroic exception to the grinding rule, the Superman incarnate.

“The Spirit like the Sun rises in the East and settles in the West,” I recapitulated Hegel’s progress. The sign of its success is the swastika, Sanskrit for “Good it is.” The Eastern swastika is good luck only when its arms are bent in the correct direction. The world religions arose in the East and gradually tempered the Northern barbarians in the West. Judeo-Christianity is of course an Eastern religion, I recalled. The Spirit rolled over the West. Regardless of one’s faith or lack of it, everyone raised in the Western culture cannot help but be Judeo-Christian. Everyone in effect is more or less Jesus the Christ of Personal Salvation. God has been murdered, but the King of Jews, a form of the Great Spirit, lives through all individuals whether they are aware of it or not. So it would seem that in reality we await not the resurrection of Christ but rather the resurrection of the God murdered by a weird synthesis of Greek and German philosophy.

Everybody might be Jesus incarnate, but our postmodern age does not seem to like Jesus, I surmised, recalling the comments I had received on the last chapter of my living novel, Tracey Flagler, which I had posted on the Internet. I am no Jesus freak, let alone a Christian, but I do believe that Jesus was the sufficient reason that held Western civilization together even when people were killing each other in his name.

Personal saviors have always been expected during troubled times; a single messiah appears, whether on a white elephant, white camel, white horse, white dolphin, or white whale, to rally the forces of lightness against the forces of darkness, and to begin a new age on white desert sands or white glaciers, or perhaps on the white foam of the ocean of milk.

Our postmodern age thinks it is the New Age all ready, that the Aquarian Christ is about to appear, or perhaps is presently living in London or Tehran or New York, awaiting a massive invocation. Until then the message is coming through channels loudly and clearly: the individual is god, and as such cannot die and creates its own reality. The sole objective of this god is to enjoy itself; that is, to have fun without end.

In my opinion, it was that New Age attitude that led to Tracey’s suicide. And after I discovered her alabaster corpse in stiff repose on her bloodstained bed, I felt compelled to expose the body of evidence that belies the novelty of the New Age and refutes its delusions of grandeur. Hedonism, egotism, narcissism, and so on will not save anyone for long. It seemed to me that the god within the New Age individual, whose sole purpose in life is the pursuit of fun or joy, is really a god spelled backwards, chasing its tail around a vicious circle.

Everyone cannot be the savior who saves herself. There must be an “objective” god, a social god or divine focus if people are to get along and be relatively happy. And to that end individuals are going to have to make a few sacrifices, are going to have to suffer from time to time. I presented Jesus in my latest chapter as the person in whom a monopoly over things spiritual was established, and opined that the New Age was profoundly antithetical if not overtly hostile to Judeo-Christian culture. Judging from the comments I have received from New Age cultists, my assessment was correct. Christianity is perceived as a masochistic slave religion, whose leader picked up a cross and participated in his own torture and death.

“Jesus could have destroyed the Romans and the priests, but he chose to commit suicide-by-cop,” said one commentator. “He did not really die, and the martyrs did not have to suffer, for everyone creates their own reality, and nobody really dies. Everybody is responsible for what they get and they get what they deserve. It is stupid to suffer for others. Our mission is to have fun. You can try to bring us down, but we won’t let you.”

“OMG-D” I exclaimed, after rereading the comment over my catnip tea. “Maybe the Messiah is alive and well, hidden away somewhere in the world after all.”            

Fungus Man’s Slime Cake






“Jim, meet Doc Handley. Doc, meet Jim Jefferson,” 

Thus did Manny introduce me to Doc, who extended his right hand to grip mine like a vise. It had only two appendages, a grotesque thumb and one finger, the index finger. I glanced to see if his left thumb were equally large, but instead of the hand I expected to see, he sported a prosthesis, lifting it up and waggling it at me as if he knew what I was looking for. I mental noted another peculiarity, two half-ears: cartilage was missing on each of them; the edges were jagged, as if the missing part had been bitten off. 

He was a muscular man, bald but for a long white queue tied with a small bow of black silk and draped over his shoulder and down the front of his black silk shirt, which was fastened with white death’s-head buttons with ruby eyes. He had a matching Fu Manchu mustache presided over by a Hittite nose and steel-gray eyes. 

“It’s my big toe.” 

“Excuse me?” 

“You were wondering about my thumb. It’s my big toe. Gangrene got the original, and my left foot to boot, but I managed to save the right one, so I took its big toe and made a thumb out of it.” 

“Oh, I’m sorry, but I’m glad the doctors managed to….” 

“I managed the surgery myself, with Manny operating.” 

“Oh. I’m pleased to meet you.” 

“Your pleasure is mine.” 

“My man,” Manny affectionately exclaimed, throwing his arm around Doc’s shoulders. “What’s up for supper?” 

“I thought we’d have plasmodia pancakes.” 

“Great! I love ’em. Jim, have you ever had plasmodia pancakes?” 

“Can’t say I’ve even hear of them. Plasm? That’s an old term for basic substance of life isn’t it?” 

“Good call, Jim,” Doc said. “That’s protoplasm. The plasmodium constitutes the main vegetative phase of the life cycle of slime mold. It comprises cytoplasm or cellular protoplasm with multiple nuclei.”“So we’re having slime for dinner?” I asked incredulously, imagining the slime mold I had found on my lawn a few years back. It didn’t look that appetizing, looked more like dog puke or dog diarrhea.

“Jim,” Manny interjected, “how ’bout a glass of Kool Aid?” 

“Why, sure,” I accepted.

“I’ll get it,” Doc said, and walked over to the refrigerator – his gait was certainly graceful considering the fact that his left shoe was filled with a prosthesis. “An old acquaintance of mine, Retardo Culo, gave me his Mexican Myxomycete recipe.”

“Retardo Culo?” I queried.

“You know him?” 

“I know a Retardo Culo, a Doctor Retardo E. Culo. He was my chiropractor but he got busted. Good chiropractor, bad insurance thief.” 

“Gee,” Manny interjected, “that name is familiar, something about the E. Oh, yeah, I met a guy in San Diego, a pot dealer by that name, but people called him Mister E, or just E – he carried glossy black business cards with a large gold ‘E’ embossed on them, on its back with the arms sticking up. Weird! He was a friend of his supplier, Paul the Grass Man, a pot dealer from New York who had a fleet of six Mustangs flying loads in from Mexico and through the Grand Canyon. Culo operated out of a rental property in Manhattan Beach owned by a police chief. ” 

“I’ll be,” said I. “Manhattan Beach, you say? That’s the same man. He had a golden ‘E’ on the sign outside his door, but it stood on its arms, like the one that used to be at Delphi.” 

“Yeah, he wanted to get a chiropractor licensed,” Doc added. “You know, he immigrated in a car trunk loaded with Acapulco Gold. He did quite well for awhile. But I recall he was thinking of dropping the marijuana trade after Paul got ratted out while sitting with a load on the tarmac in Columbia. The Columbian police helped Paul’s partner, a guy named Vincento, set him up to rot in prison. Vincento got into the coke trade with them. He bought an Irish pub and eventually became a city councilman in New York. 

“Wow,” said I. “Culo never got a chiropractor license but went into practice anyway. What a small world…. Hey, this Kool Aid is good.” 

I took another swig and smacked my lips. “I thought the FDA made them get rid of the Root Beer flavoring. So Culo gave you the mixo, mixed, mix….” 

“Mexican Myxomycete pancake recipe.”

“Mexicans eat that stuff?”

“Sure. They like it best with chocolate in the afternoons or with cayenne in the mornings.” 

“I hear Mexicans eat so much cayenne pepper that the buzzards won’t eat them,” Manny put in. 

“I don’t know about that, but I do know gringos aren’t too familiar with plasmodia. There was a big alien scare in a Texas border town when plasmodia appeared there.” 

“The slime-mold landed in Moronia, Texas!” Manny chimed in and giggled like a girl—the man is getting silly, I thought to myself, but I was beginning to feel rather odd too, slightly giddy.

“No joke,” Doc persisted. “The sporulation probably occurred on the Mexican side of the border. The sporangia ruptured, releasing the sporangia mass into the surround. A freak wind carried the spores into Texas and by chance into the right environment for release of amoebae, which formed plasmodia, frightening the inhabitants.” 

“Whoa, you’re over my head a bit,” I said. “You’re talking about slime mold, right, a plant?”

“And animal. The Myxomycetes are usually classed with fungi, and fungi with plants, but a fungus is really not a plant.” 

“Fungus I like,” I pronounced—Manny nodded affirmatively. “We got some cool alkaloids out of them in the old days, and I love mushroom and cheese omelets, but I never heard of making slime mold into pancakes. Oh, yummy, mommy, I love Doc Handley’s Slime Cake!”

But I envisioned dog barf again, and felt like barfing.

“So you’re talking about spores here. Maybe the Mexicans got alien spores from outer space!” 

I don’t know what came over us, but at that juncture we all busted out laughing hysterically. 

“Oh, oh, wait!” I got ahold of myself. “I remember the ergot thing, the thing called sclerosis!” 

“Sclerotia,” Doc corrected. “That’s the hardened hypha or purple fungus body that replaces the rye flowers. That’s ergot, though. Slime mold can grow to large sizes as it migrates for food, and, when it starts to starve, it will thicken in spots and rise up into sporangia, or fruiting bodies, to sporulate, or it might dry up and harden into sclerotia, and rest dormant for years. That’s how I keep it, then I grow plasmodia on filter paper wet with nutrients.” 

“So, Doc, what wakes them up?” I asked, emptying my glass of Kool Aid. 

“They love oatmeal.” 


“That’s right. Oatmeal flakes.” 

“Ha, ha, hee, hee, hee, that’s too funny!”

“They really feel their oats,” Manny’s huge belly bounced up and down. 

“Mexican plasmodia from outer space!” 

“Hee, hee, so we’ll get spaced out!” 

“Hey, you guys!” Virginia appeared at the back door wrapped in a towel.

“Jim, Manny, come on! Come get in the hot tub!” 

To Be Continued

Tracey’s Chagrin – She Wants To Be Dead





“Right now I am really mad,” Tracey Flagler, the nice girl next door, scribbled furiously in her diary. “I want a million dollars right away. I want to be independently wealthy so that I do not have to do anything. My life just seems to be so stupid sometimes that I no longer want eternity. Who wants eternal stupidity? Eternity sounds so exhausting! I want amazing things to happen. I want to see myself as amazing. I am angry that I have to work tonight. I am mad that I have to support myself. I just don’t want to do anything anymore. I wish I were DEAD. I want to be free right now, and I mean right NOW, or DEAD.”

Give me liberty or give me death – perhaps the two are one and the same. Tracey finally freed herself from going to work. I noticed that she had not fed the dozen or so alley cats that showed up at her door regularly. I glanced discreetly into her window from my bathroom window next door, saw her nude form on the bed, and surmised that she was sleeping. The next day I looked again; her body was in exactly the same position, and likewise the day after. Something was wrong with that picture. I went across the way, up the flight of stairs to her apartment, knocked on her door and looked into her window. Her body did not move. I tried the door; it was open; her prized cats, the fluffy ones she kept inside, did not race around as usual, but put their heads down and growled sorrowfully.

The odor was ghastly. It was a good thing she had put out plenty of food for her cats, I thought, or they would have eaten her according to the rule, Food eats food. A note to our landlord was pinned on the wall, asking him to get rid of whatever he found in the apartment. After official inquiries were completed and the apartment unsealed, he told Tracey’s fellow tenants to take whatever they wanted before the Salvation Army truck arrived. I was the last to take my pick, but I found a fortune that had been neglected and tossed into garbage bags, namely her literary remains, along with several charming items that have occult properties, and other things I have described elsewhere. I found a book outline that she had penned on 35 pages of an Eden Roc Hotel note pad. The book would include a chapter on reincarnation, but she had written “DELETE” beside ‘Ch.7 – Reincarnation’. Who knows where Tracey is now, or whether she exists at all?

The answer to that question was imagined in my dream last night. I saw her reflection in a bubble that popped up on an ocean of milk. She had resurfaced in a motel room – San Diego Motor Inn, read the neon sign flashing just outside the window, casting an eerie red light across the room. Her lithe, alabaster form was stark naked except for a big black cat she held across her chest as she stood by the bed. Music from Madonna’s latest album was playing on the clock radio. An elegant leather briefcase was on the stand at the foot of the bed. She put the cat down, exposing her enchanting bosom, bent over and opened the briefcase. It was full of money – exactly one million dollars, I instantly calculated in my dream. I was both aroused and amazed by the spectacle. She looked up at me and smiled. Somehow I knew that I could have anything I wanted if I would squeeze her marvelous breasts at the same time, one in each hand, and make a wish. She glided towards me, hips swaying with the music, fulsome lips slightly parted. Now if someone comes at you with their lips slightly parted, you have to kiss them, so I intended to do just that, and to fondle her breasts as well, and of course to enjoy the joy within her at the same time, but as she came near and I eagerly looked at her flat tummy, I awoke with a start – she had no navel! What did it mean?

Unless our lives are dreams we have wished upon ourselves, dreams rarely come true. If only I had kissed her lips and squeezed her magic breasts and wished that I would never wake up to this reality, I might have forgotten the difference between dreams and reality, and enjoyed an orgasmic life with the woman of my dreams – the existential ace cannot exist alone: there must always be another for number one to be. But one must be careful what one wishes for, and it might be best not to wish for anything at all lest the source completely dries up.

Tracey’s breasts might have shrunk with my every wish, just as did the skin of the wild ass in Balzac’s instructive story, Le Peau de Chagrin – The Skin of Chagrin. Raphael of Valentine, the impoverished young protagonist of Balzac’s story, had discovered the secret of success in the human will, and he had in fact drafted a seminal work on the subject. In sum, he believed in the power of passionate thinking to achieve anything one wants. But his grinding poverty belied his theory, or rather some obscure fault in him rendered him unable to prove it true in his case, so one day he resolved to drown himself in the river Seine, after losing his last gold piece at the gambling parlor. As disaffected youth knows very well, suicide is the most obvious solution to life’s problems, but most of us survive the troubling years.

“There is something great and terrible about suicide,” observed Balzac in Chagrin. “Most people’s downfalls are not dangerous; they are like children who have not far to fall, and cannot injure themselves; but when a great nature is dashed down, he is bound to fall from a height. He must have been raised almost to the skies; he has caught glimpses of some heaven beyond his rich. Vehement must be the storms by which compel a soul to seek for peace from the trigger of a pistol.”

Now the late Tracey Flagler, who was an aspiring author among other things, certainly would have appreciated Raphael’s predicament as much as I do: “How much young power starves and pines away in a garret for want of a friend, for lack of a woman’s consolation, in the midst of millions of fellow-creatures, in the presence of a listless crowd that is burdened by its wealth! When one remembers all this, suicide looms large. Between a self-sought death and the abundant hopes which call a man to Paris, God only knows what may intervene; what contending ideas have striven within the soul; what poems have been set aside; what moans and what despair have been repressed; what abortive masterpieces and vain endeavors! Every suicide is an awful poem of sorrow. Where will you find a work of genius floating above the seas of literature that one can compare with this paragraph: Yesterday, at four o’clock, a young woman threw herself into the Seine from the Pont des Arts.”

As Raphael treads his melancholic path to the river, he encounters two beggars along the way, on old man and a child; they pled for his charity, he flings his remaining small change at them, and continues towards his fate. But he decides to wait until dark to forever extinguish his passionate will, lest he be seen and fished out of the water alive by the suicide-prevention institution, ‘THE ROYAL HUMANE SOCIETY’S APPARATUS’, which has a shed nearby. Much to his posthumous dishonor, the record of his attempt would then be published in the paper.

Wherefore Raphael entered an antique store to pass the time, and there he eventually encounters the proprietor, a centenarian, one of those types that serve artists so well as models for Moses:

“The craftiness of an inquisitor, revealed in those curving wrinkles and creases that wound about his temples, indicated a profound knowledge of life. There was no deceiving this man, who seemed to possess a power of detecting the secrets of the wariest hearth. The wisdom and the moral codes of every people seemed gathered up in his passive face, just as all the productions of the globe had been heaped up in his dusty showrooms. He seemed to possess a power of detecting the secrets of the wariest heart.”

The wise old Jew was iconoclast who wanted nothing, therefore he wound up with it all, including an antique shop full of curious from his carefree travels all over the world. We venture to invent a maxim here – if it has already been penned by another, our plagiary is pardonable: He who wants for nothing has everything.

“I have attained everything,” uttered the old man, “because I have known how to despise all things. My one ambition has been to see. Is not Sight in a manner Insight? And to have knowledge or insight, is not that to have instinctive possession? To be able to discover the very substances of fact and to unite its essence to our essence? Of material possession what abides with you but an idea? Think, then, how glorious must be the life of a man who can stamp all realities upon his thought, place the springs of happiness within himself, and draw thence uncounted pleasures in idea, unsoiled by earthly stains. Thought is the key to all treasures; the miser’s gains are ours without his cares…. The true millions lie here,” he said, striking his forehead.

The wizened wise merchant had something in store, a curio that he felt would be most suitable for Raphael’s distraught state: “Without compelling you to entreat me, without making you blush for it…I will make you richer, more powerful, and of more consequence than a constitutional king…. Turn round, look at that leather skin,” he went on, using his lamp to illuminate the talisman, a portion skin from a wild ass, stamped with the Seal of Solomon, no bigger than a fox’s skin, gleaming on the opposite wall, upon which something was inscribed in Sanskrit. Raphael, highly educated as he was, translated the exotic script into English:


Raphael asked the merchant if it was some sort of joke, or, then again, was it an enigma? The old coot responded, in part, “Before you came here, you made up your mind to kill yourself, but all at once a mystery fills your mind, and you think no more about death. You child!” And, “I am a centenarian with a couple of years to spare, and a millionaire to boot. Misery was the making of me, ignorance had made me learned. I will tell you in a few words the great secret of human life. By two instinctive processes man exhausts the springs of life within him. Two verbs cover all the forms which these two causes of death may take – To Will and To have your Will…. To Will consumes us, and To have our Will destroys us, but To Know steeps our feeble organisms in perpetual calm. In me Thought has destroyed Will, so that Power is relegated to the ordinary functions of my economy. In a word, it is not in the heart which can be broken, nor in the senses that become deadened, but it is in the brain that cannot waste away and survives everything else, that I have set my life.” Moreover, “Is not the utmost brightness of the ideal world soothing to us, while the lightest shadows of the physical world annoy? Is not knowledge the secret of wisdom? And what is folly but a riotous expenditure of Will or Power?”

“Very good then, a life of riotous expense for me!” Raphael rebelliously exclaimed. I had resolved my existence into thought and study, and yet they have not even supported me. I am not gulled by a speech worthy of Swedenborg, nor by your Oriental amulet….” Raphael then proceeded to wish upon the Skin of Chagrin for, in short, a life of boon companions for the riotous enjoyment of fine wine, passionate women, and, it goes without saying, song, culminating in no less than orgasmic joy: “I bid this enigmatic power to concentrate all delights for me in one single joy. Yes, I must comprehend every pleasure of earth and heaven in the final embrace that is to kill me.”

“Joy, joy, joy, joy, joy…!” Tracey Flagler had reiterated longingly during the lonely lucubration before her disappointing demise. The wishes Raphael made came true, and each truth shrank the magic skin along with his life, for that skin of a wild ass was his own ass, so to speak. But Tracey’s wishes did not come true. Her heart shriveled in despair, and she overdosed herself with the drugs her psychiatrist had prescribed to relieve her melancholy, having saved up several prescriptions for a dire emergency.

If only she had met Raphael, and he had become her Balzac, they might have lived a longer life on the average, and had a great deal of fun in the meantime. No doubt the bejeweled Madame Tracey of Valentine would have hosted a most charming Parisian salon. She would not have the billions of an Oprah, but powerful gentlemen would marvel at her breathtaking beauty, as if she were Madame Recamier herself, and, like Madame Recamier’s great friend Madame de Staël, Madame Tracey would probably enchant the likes of Napoleon with her popular gift of gab. Madame de Staël’s books are rarely read today, and are roundly criticized as mediocre, but none other summed up the society of her time so well. Madame de Staël and Napoleon were unwilling to share power over the minds of influential men, so he exiled her – Madame Recamier was charged with the crime of visiting her. Her exile gave her cause to contemplate suicide in her tome, Reflections on Suicide.

“Inordinate misery makes people think about suicide,” wrote Baronne Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holsten (nëe Necker). “We need not be afraid of devoting too much time to this subject –it is at the heart of mankind’s whole moral organization. I flatter myself that I can offer a few new insights into the motives that lead us to suicide, and those that should turn us away from it.”

Like every one else, I have considered suicide. First of all, I desperately opined, it is impossible for god to kill himself. But what could god do with eternity but to create something to break the boredom? I was moved to become the greatest author the world would ever or never know, the author who managed to cremate himself with his own works. At present I am writing the second draft of the seventh volume of my planned fifty-volume suicide note. To whom am I writing? Unhappy people.

“Unhappy people are the ones to write for,” wrote Madame de Staël. “People who have the good things of the world learn only from their experience, and consider abstract ideas on any topic nothing but wasted time. Sufferers are different: reflection is their safest refuge. Isolated from the distractions of society by misfortune, they examine themselves like an invalid tossing on his bed of pain, seeking the least agonizing position they can find.”

“It would be so nice if I had enough reasons to want to be here,” reads an entry in Tracey’s diary. “The idea that there are an infinite number of reasons to live thrilled me at first, but I don’t have one of them for myself. Right now I HATE, HATE, HATE – I HATE being alive – I want to be alive but it sucks to be alive –I HATE this culture based on the fun I don’t have – I HATE drugs and alcohol – I HATE Abraham – I HATE myself for not taking responsibility for him – I HATE being sad all the time – I wish I were dead and I wish Abraham were dead so I could stop loving him – I HATE thinking that I will not love someone so much again – I’m trying to tap into true love and the humans like Oprah Winfrey and Madonna and Jerry and Esther Hicks and Neale Donald Walsch and Jane Roberts and Robert Butts and Pat Rodegast and Judith Stanton and Napoleon Hill, people who have found true love – I know in my heart I’m so good but I HATE myself for not having their fun. Have I had fun here? That is the question. No, I am not having fun now. That is what all the reasons to live are really for, to have FUN! Do I want to be here? No, I wish I were dead, dead, DEAD! But my book makes me feel better. I have fun when writing it. I would have fun teaching people JOY. I know Oprah would love my book, and she would have me on her show, and I would have plenty of money and be secure, and I could finally relax, take a permanent vacation from all these stupid people who don’t have any imagination, who don’t know they can create their own planets and live on them with their own lovers, like my Abraham, and then I would have fun all the time. Joy, joy, joy, JOY would be forever mine! ”

If only Tracey could be around to see Honoré de Balzac appear on the Oprah Winfrey show: Oh what wisdom he would impart to our bourgeois world! It is a world that was already well on its way in Balzac’s day. Balzac cut his literary teeth anonymously, as a potboiler formula writer. The formulas are rather simple, rooted in the motivational principles of human nature, but they are better kept a trade secret, for an audience loves to be deceived, and a disillusioned audience will not maintain the trade. Love does not abhor a secret, and, neither does Oprah, but she would not have to be embarrassed with the revelation that our masterful novelist was a profligate fraud burdened by insurmountable debts due to his spendthrift ways. She would no doubt appreciate a confident man who was able to exchange novels for his staggering debts even before the novels were conceived let alone written.

Nonfiction authors lie a lot to tell a little truth. Great novelists lie a little to tell great truths. In any event, if it were not for the human imagination, next to nothing would get said or done. Honoré de Balzac, like his bureaucratic father before him, fancied himself as entitled to a title, but also the fun life that goes with it. He naturally fell in love with a fabulously wealthy Russian countess, who was so kind as to provide funds from time to time, and to finally marry him after putting her fortune in a trust he could not get at, but who in the end was more interested in shopping for jewelry than in his deteriorating health, as that was his problem, not hers. Oprah Winfrey would probably be much to his liking, and even the more so given their mutual interest in the occult. He wanted millions and lost a great deal of other people’s money trying to get them, but money was not the cause of the monomania he attributed to his characters; rather, there was some sort of energy, an essential force or elemental power underlying reality, and, despite his business failures, he thought that thought concentrated by that force was bound to succeed for good or ill. Yes, the occult power of thinking could be misdirected to negative as well as positive ends hence could be an enormously destructive power – monists speak enthusiastically of the creative-destructive power.

Balzac’s own life was a grandiose wish for love, fame and fortune. His pursuit of happiness despite every failure unto his premature end, has blessed our self-loving, money-grubbing culture with an everlasting self-portrait of great beauty. At the end of the day, human history seems to be a mistake for which we have due cause for chagrin. On the other hand, since this is the best of all possible worlds because it is the only one immediately available, we have cause for joy as well, for without the great expectations that lead to so many disappointments, life would not be worth living.

Tracey Flagler misunderstood eternity, I opined today as I relished some of the chocolate I retrieved from her apartment. Eternity is exhausting, but only in the sense that it relieves us of time altogether, hence we are relieved therewith of our anxiety over the future. Eternity is not time, it has no moments. Eternity does not go on forever and ever: Eternity is immovable. Eternity is that Better Place funereal preachers refer to in order to console the living. There is no stuff to want or to worry about in that placeless place. There is neither North nor South, nor East nor West, in eternity: The rivers of milk and honey in the East and the emerald trees laden with precious gems in the West are exotic fictions piously designed to lure the vulgar onto the exoteric paths that converge at the occluded centre of the universe, the centre that is and is not, the centre that is at once everywhere and nowhere, the pointless point of it all. May we enjoy everything besides the point.

“Take me, and God will harken unto thee!” If the Skin of Chagrin has been wizened by desire down to nothing, then may we have faith in Nothing, the Negatively Existent One. Only Nothing is perfect. The rest is for naught, so let us have as much fun as we can, even though we might suffer for it. Perhaps if we cared less about fun, and stopped making ourselves miserable for the want of it, we would have a lot more of it.


Helene’s Histrionics



Helene’s Histrionics

Chapter from HELENE, Living Novel

By David Arthur Walters

I am that I am, I-am-I, I am Me-Me, My Idol, My Self-Replicating I-Doll. I love Me before all that all may love Me, the All-One, before all others, and preferably only Me Alone, or else. I am the Subject of subjects, the Point of Existence, the I-god, and I, unlike the object-god, am located at the Centre of the universe and everywhere at once because I am the Centre and the Surround. I am the Sun about which My All revolves, and the Brightest Star in My Heavens, the Light in every eye, the One that outshines the others and blots them out at high noon. I am the Morning and the Evening Star, the Sun that rises and sets on the world yet stands still. And I am The One and the only Daughter of My Father within, with whom I am One, He who provides Me with heat and light, and My Mother is My Immaculate Space, the Womb where everything conceived is all about Me. My Life is a Praise-Seeking, Popularity Contest that I must and always will win in the end for My Will shall be done in My Heaven and on My Earth. My World is Video Game roundly applauding My Every Move. Life and liberty without Me has no merit, wherefore My Life is the Pursuit of My Self on My Stage, the Pursuit of My Eternal Life, Absolute Liberty, and Unadulterated Attention. No Wrath can be greater than Mine when I am scorned, or when another is compared favorably with Me, for I am a Jealous I. Behold My Gold Star on My Trailer! Bow down before ye enter or ye shall surely hit thy head! The World is My Mirror and My Mirror is My stage, wherefore rate My Shows well or feel My Rage. What others think of Me defines them, so let them think well of Me, and if My Critics don’t comply with My Truth, that I am the Most Beautiful of them all, then let them be damned to hell, for I really don’t care about anyone who does not serve My Purpose. I take everything personally because everything is Mine and the really Big Shew is all about Me. Behold! The world stage is My Space, My I-Space, My Face Book, My Superficial Super Face and Farce. My Persona, My Personal Project, projects Me. My Mask effortlessly amplifies My Glorious Being so the whole world may wonder at the Mystery of Me, the Very I who am I, the Nothing from which Being flies. Behold! I am I. (The IAMI Chronicles)


“Helene is right,” declared Paul’s old friend, Dr. Sagwell, after hearing Paul out over martinis at the Di Lido on South Beach. The doctor, down from New York on vacation, was a third-generation Freudian analyst with a lucrative West End practice. “You’re the narcissist, and not she as you have described her, at least not in the classical sense. She is, apparently, an histrionic personality.”

“Histrionic Helene?”

“Yes, a somewhat hysterical drama queen. It’s too bad she’s away – I wish I could meet the light of your life.”

“That she is. She has taught me a great deal about myself and the possibility of unconditional love. As for drama, I think women were created to make scenes. They seem to live on their emotions. Aren’t they all hysterical?” Paul posed a rhetorical question, twirling the olive on the toothpick in his martini.

“Many are, when provoked. Women typically have little choice but to act out their frustration dramatically when confronted by dominant male power; that is, to put on a show instead of actually castrating a man.”

“Ouch! After I read about a woman who had done just that, and then drove away with her husband’s penis in the glove compartment, I was afraid to go to sleep when my first wife was awake. She once grabbed a knife and came at me when I got drunk – I had torn a door off its frame. When things were going well between us, she said she thought of using the opportunity to cut me in my sleep, and I feared I might lose my tool, although that might have done me some good considering what I did with it after the divorce.”

“I don’t blame you for fearing her, for one should not tear down doors nowadays. Cheroot? It’s Cuban.” Dr. Sagwell extracted two cigars from the front pocket his cream-colored blazer, and offered Paul one.

“No, thanks, I quit smoking, or rather smoking quit me, but thank you.”

“You are very welcome. You know you don’t have to inhale.”

“I must inhale.”

“All right, then, if you must not, but I am going to smoke, if you don’t mind.” Dr. Sagwell put one cigar back in his pocket, and lit the other.

“Mmm, smells good. You know Fidel banned smoking in public.”

“No! What got in to him?”

“He’s a control freak, of course. They say he and Chavez are lovers, and that Fidel posed in a red dress for him. Anyway, I always figured it was better to bash things than people. Things are worthless, really.” Paul put the olive at the end of the toothpick in his mouth, laid the toothpick in the ashtray, and grimaced slightly. The memory of his first wife pained him – history is a big mistake, he thought.

“You were behaving hysterically when you ripped the door down, somewhat like the woman who smashes glasses when she gets upset. Better not to bash anything or anybody, Paul, you know that. It’s better to be kind to people and not to frighten them. Anyway, times have changed, and the physical symptoms of the war between the sexes along with them.”

“If there were really a war between the sexes, we wouldn’t be here. What we have are battles.”

“Well put,” Dr. Sagwell declared, and took a long pull on his cigar – Paul noticed that it was about eight-inches long, counting the ash, and perversely imagined that his Freudian friend, who regularly conducted “psychological research” in Upper West Side gay bars, was sucking on a brown cock. “I mean to say that men don’t have the upper hand they once had,” Dr. Sagwell resumed after blowing three perfect smoke rings. “Hysteria is no longer a term of diagnostic nomenclature. It was once used to refer to the conversion of psychological conflicts into such physical symptoms as paralysis of a limb, sleepwalking, and the like. Now it’s a pejorative term for the excessive emotional venting of so-called feminine frustration. Liberal males are often referred to as hysterics, cowards who would defend themselves with neurotic government regulation.”

“So the stereotypically hysterical women had a hysterectomy, and hysteria is no longer in the manual,” Paul said smilingly, rather pleased by his rephrasing of the doctor’s academic manner of speaking.

“Yes, Paul, the wandering-womb disorder has been converted into HPD.”

“HPD? Oh my goddess!” Paul’s eye was caught by the bikini-clad bathing beauty passing them by on her way to the pool.

“Histrionic personality disorder – a disorder often confused with narcissism. The histrionic person is a sort of drama queen.”

“Please elaborate, Doc,” Paul requested as he gazed at the beauty’s undulating hips. Her nicely rounded, Sun-browned buns seemed to make a complete circle in her wake as she placed one high-heeled sandal directly before the other, making her way forward with head held high. She had that curious expression on her face, not quite deadpan, but rather zombie-like, or more like a vampire. She must be a model, he speculated to himself. Paris Hilton’s lithe, nude body suddenly came to mind – she’s the only live wire among them, he reflected, envisioning her naughty smile.

“Your Helene wishes to be the center of the world,” Dr. Sagwell nodded benignly. “She craves approval and admiration, and, consequently, is obsessed with keeping up appearances, especially her own. The obsessive-compulsive disorder often appears with HPD. Indeed, OCD appears as her compulsion to play the same part over and over again.”

”She’s a clean bug – everything must be spotless. Dirt calls out to her from behind refrigerators and from inside air-conditioning ducts. She says that what I call cleaning is not really cleaning, just pushing the dirt around. She strives to keep herself clean and attractive at all times, even when she is cleaning out ducts. She’s like the movie star depicted trekking through a dense jungle, clean as Ivory soap, fully made up and with hair set. She reminds people of Jean Harlow.”

“They said Harlow had more beauty than brains.”

“Not a bad thing to say about a woman if she has lots of brains. Helene’s very intelligent, that’s for sure. However, she just does not have her brains cleanly organized, even though for her cleanliness and order is everything. She does look like Harlow sometimes; especially in white surrounded by white, which I think is her favorite color. She uses several gallons of bleach every month.”

“Aha, she would like Russian Suprematism,” Dr. Sagwell, a collector of modern art, denoted. “Malevich’s white square on a white background. White is not a color, you know, it’s all colors in equal proportion, the death of all colors, purity.”

“I know. She’s no square. She’s curvaceous, like the petal of the white Narcissus.”

“And that is the shape of Moby Dick, the great white whale that pulled Ahab to his doom, just as Persephone was pulled to Hades when she plucked the narcotic flower.”

“Ahab is gone for good, but Jonah rose again,” Paul took the cue, “just as Persephone rises every season to fertilize the earth. Helene’s a beauty; at least she is my star. I think the name means beautiful, the shining beauty, or something like that. Helene’s the one who moved a thousand ships to war.”

“As a matter of fact, the histrionic person is naturally more attractive than others. She may be quite successful in show business or some other showy type of work – they can be great salesmen, entrepreneurs, and might even preside over large companies. Unfortunately, speaking of lithe bodies, the histrionic person’s excessive concern with her appearance may take the form of anorexia.”

“What kind of friends would the typical histrionic woman have?” Paul wondered what category he was in.

“Well, let’s see…. The histrionic woman often tends to associate with friends whose uncomely appearance accentuates her beauty; she is personally insulted if they are compared favorably with her. Not that you are ugly, Paul, but you are a bit of a slob.”

“Just the usual white trash that blows down to Florida for the winter,” Paul said, nodding towards the bleary-eyed and disheveled panhandler stumbling along the boardwalk and yelling curses intermittently. “So the wandering womb has wandered afar, perhaps to take up a professional acting or sales career.”

“Indeed, and in that career she careens from role to role, wandering far and wide. Beware, she can be extraordinarily seductive.”

“But she rejects sexual advances.”

“Then she has something in common with Narcissus. Perhaps the mirror no longer flatters her. How old did you say she was? She might need more confidence in her body as she ages, or rather in her lovemaking ability. Still, she keeps you on the hook, eh?”

“Tell me more about the histrionic personality.”

“The descriptions are redundant,” Dr. Sagwell declared after taking another pull on his cigar, “but I’ll go on pedantically if you please. The histrionic is flighty, emotionally shifty and shallow, and tends to panic. Easily bored, she cannot sit still, she is impatient and demands novelty at all times. She does not have the patience to follow procedures for long, to concentrate on mathematics, for example, or, for that matter, to hold a regular job for long, for the master-servant relationship does not suit her grandiose notion of herself.”

“I think you’ve got her pegged. Funny, I really get a kick out of her. She is somebody, an eccentric.”

“So are you, my friend. Since she craves approval, she cannot stand the slightest criticism, flies into a rage over the slightest slight. And she tends to blame others for anything that goes wrong – and a lot does go wrong, for her protagonist role requires crisis after crisis, one tragic scene after another. That is very exciting of course.”

“She drinks plenty of wine.”

“Ah, I would like to share a few glasses of fine wine with her – I’m sure the experience would be enormously entertaining.”

“Her wine has gotten cheaper and cheaper, so I think it’s the alcohol she’s after,” Paul stated.

“Aren’t we all? But then there’s the culture.”

“She will only drink out of the right kind of glass.”

“Good. A histrionic person may use alcohol or prescriptions drugs to bolster her sense of power, her self-esteem – illegal drugs will not do since they are contrary to the authority she complies with for its approval.”

“Yes, that’s my Helene, all right. She said anyone who smokes a joint or toots a line of coke can’t be a friend of hers, although she says she tried coke once and liked it so that would be her drug of choice if she did drugs other than the prescribed pills she pops.”

“If she is as you have described her, she matches the general definition of the histrionic personality. We’ve all got a bit of that in us. It’s all the rage today, the culmination of modern individualism.”

“She cannot help the way she is. She is only manic in public – she says she is terribly depressed when alone.”

“She is deeply wounded and battle scarred. Be careful, Paul, for the deeper a relationship with a excessively histrionic person, the more pathological it can be. But I think you can handle it as a narcissist.”

“How rude! I daresay I am not a narcissist!” Paul haughtily emphasized, feigning indignation although he felt only slightly insulted.

“Ah, there you go, my friend, with your own histrionics.”

“So what’s the prognosis, doc?”

“Not good. The social trend, with its self-esteem movement, feel-good religions, the therapeutic faith of the self-help cult, fosters and bolsters the histrionic disorder associated with narcissism or extreme ego-centrism.”

“Yeah, but people can change. Otherwise you wouldn’t be in business.”

“This is a hard case to crack, Paul. It’s nearly impossible to get them into psychotherapy unless they believe it’s their own idea and that it will boost their self-esteem. Unfortunately, self-esteem for its own sake does not improve performance. If someone actually believes the world revolves around them, why should they change?”

“I knew a dancer once, the most arrogant and vain person I’d ever met, totally caught up with himself in the mirrors, always upstaging the rest of the company on stage. Man, what a show off! On Christmas Eve, his girlfriend came around to the studio, asked him to close his eyes because she had a present for him. He did, and she pulled a ball peen hammer out of her purse and smashed him three times in the face, breaking his jaw and giving him a concussion. She was sentenced to five years in prison, and it took him a long time to heal, with jaw wired shut and all. After that, he was the nicest sort of fellow around, a humble, sympathetic fellow, always ready to help out.”

“What in the world did he do to her?”

“She was a Born Again. He took her to a Dianetics meeting, where she said she was brain-fucked by Satan himself.”

“Hmm, that is most fascinating – thanks for telling me that story.”

“So maybe a big shock will cure histrionic people. I would not want to see Helene hurt – she’s been beaten down by the rich bastards she married – but when she gets depressed, she is easier to get along with. ”

“Maybe she is easier to dominate when she is down, so you prefer that? To beat hysterical women to humble them, or even to give them a good slap as in the old movies, is no longer Kosher – scientific shock therapy is seeing a comeback, however, because it really works.”

“What about group therapy? She loves groups.”

“Group therapy provides an audience and aggravates the tendency to put on a show.”

“What about drugs? Her M.D. gave her a prescription for Zoloft but she wouldn’t get it filled.”

“Maybe there is nothing wrong with her, maybe she’s just under-medicated!” Dr. Sagwell exclaimed with mock exasperation. “As I said, it is unlikely for someone with the histrionic personality disorder to submit to therapy in the first place, and drugs that purport to alter the personality are rejected out of hand. Anti-anxiety drugs are acceptable, anything that elevates the feeling of power. Again, a few drinks might do the trick. Would you like another martini?”

“Three martini’s a crowd,” retorted Paul.

“I’ll have another,” Dr. Sagwell said and flagged a waiter. “Your South Beach portions are much too small. Cognitive behavioral therapy might do your friend some good. One histrionic analysand of mine, a man, practiced focusing on mathematics and symbolic logic, and that helped. Art therapy is useful if disciplined, but then again that can reinforce the obsessive-compulsive habits. We are dealing with deeply ingrained characteristics here, with so-called bad habits. I would recommend several years of deep psychoanalysis.”

“I’ll bet you would.”

“I regret she is out of town. I would be charmed to meet her, I’m sure.”

“She is extraordinarily charming. You should see what happens when she grandly enters a ballroom and walks across the floor. Before she heads for an exit, she has in fact become the center of that little world. It is amazing how the power gravitates toward her – every potentate in the place head towards her for an audience.”

“Then she might make good use of her habits, make peace with her eccentricity and become a successful star, or the head of her own company, but even then the interrupting bouts of depression will not go away, for her heady flights will cause her balloon to burst with the slightest prick. Perhaps you could hold her down, as you are in love with her, and make mad passionate love to her.”

“I used to think of that. I was afraid that I would not perform well for her, that I would come before I came, and she would laugh at me, put me down. But she has put me off so many times that I have grown cold on the idea. Sometimes I think she is a lesbian.”

“She probably thinks you are gay by now. You both might prove otherwise. Believe me, she is bringing you out of your narcissism, Paul. She does not get the attention she does without knowing something about people. She has social skills. She knows you are a narcissist. Her social perspicacity recognizes your retreat into writing as an art for the sake of art for what it is, a preoccupation with yourself. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?”

“Never, but sometimes I get horny when I am writing, and have to take a Vaseline break.”

“There you go, and with a modern convenience – Dali would be proud of you. You once wrote that what one writes about really does not matter, that no matter what the subject matter is, the art produced is a self-portrait.”

“Yes, but of course the art may do more to conceal the self than to reveal it – in any event, may it be finely done. Besides, who really wants to know himself, as the Delphic oracle advised? I am thinking of writing a story about a portrait painted so true to the self that its subject takes his own life in horror.”

“Ah, shades of Dorian Gray, the beautiful youth with a rotting soul. But I recall that he murdered the artist who painted his portrait – stabbed him in the neck several times, I believe, and lost no sleep over it. And his remorse over the actress Sibyl Vane’s suicide was merely momentary, for the hedonistic narcissist lacks empathy – he must distract himself from his self with his art of living, which might include committing every sin known to man and piling up treasures from the four corners of the earth.”

“But no matter how pretty his portrait, it is bound to express his cruelty in one way or another, to reveal the awful secret of his soul,” Paul added, impressed as always by his friend’s literacy. “Yes, the picture changed after it was painted, I recall, and revealed cruelty around the mouth, and then dripped blood, did it not? Alas, I forgot that my story had already been authored.”

“It is a prehistoric story. You might write it another way.”

“I don’t think of myself as a writer. Writers are a lot of scribbling scratchers. I am Paul Bowman, the greatest author the world will ever or never know. Authors are augmenters, founders, fathers, impregnators.”

“My, oh my – so writers are just scribbling scratchers, and authors are self-moved creators. Paul, just admit it – you are a narcissist through and through. You don’t care about your subject matter or substance, or humankind for that matter, but only for the illusive unity you see in your reflections, in the illusory unity of your individualism. Helene saw right through you, and perhaps it’s the style of your vanity that she understands and admires…. Oh, dear, please do not grimace like that, my friend. I mean no offense.”

“I appreciate your analyses, but this one is too close to home. I don’t like being analyzed by a friend when the portrait drawn is that of a selfish bastard.”

“I did not call you a bastard. If an author is a founding father etymologically speaking, at least you are your own father. Still the truth should be told to one who loves the truth. You have often said that every great author loves the truth.”

“That depends on what it corresponds with. I prefer my truth to be consistently coherent with the high regard creative critics have for authoritative authors.” Paul was yet again amused by his phrasing as the vodka loosened his tongue, and he thought he might author an experimental novel in a drunken state, or author an illustrious epic while stoned on opium if he could get his hands on a cache of the lustrous green waxy paste. “I’ll have another one too, with two olives, please,” he announced to the waiter, who had tardily arrived.

“Ruthless Tamerlane loved the truth – however it could only be told by the elders of a special tribe – anyone else was beheaded for its telling.”

“Ha! They should have told him not to go north, like Napoleon did after him. I must say that his towers of skulls were certainly truth in advertising. Truth sets the soul free inasmuch as it kills the beauteous form celebrated by Oscar Wilde, who said Form was the beginning and the essence of everything, and set Beauty ahead of Truth and Morality. I remember that it was the truth about Love – that it needs illusion – that killed Sibyl Vane; for when she gave up acting to love Dorian Gray, he found her simple love revolting, and he callously spurned her. It was her dramatic portrayals of heroines that he loved, and not her substance, although her physique, like his, was most beautiful to behold. In any case I am insulted that you would side with Helene’s perspective, that I am somehow immoral, and your implication that I am perverse like Oscar Wilde and his self-portrait, Dorian Gray; that I am, in a word, a narcissist. What is your motive, anyway? Was Freud right in his pessimism? Your diagnosis seems sadistic to me.” Paul’s face was turning crimson; he felt like assaulting his old friend – the alcohol was taking its toll. There was some truth in the doctor’s friendly analysis, enough to twinge his conscience – Wilde said the conscience makes egotists of us all.”

“There, there, I meant no insult. Still, you might be right about my motive, for there is a god and a devil in each of us.”

“Dualism is the more logical explanation of holy ambiguity, as the Zoroastrians knew very well,” Paul could not help noting. “Theodicy is casuistry compounded, the most absurd excuse for hypocrisy ever conceived to justify the Vanity of vanities.”

“Freud, as your Intellectual Excellency must know, placed love’s headquarters in the ego, and thus libido explains not only the id but everything, with the pleasure principle. Freud’s concept of narcissism held that the motivating power of libido or love-energy was withdrawn from objects and placed in the self. The narcissist is psychologically immature: he is an adult baby. Of course the narcissism of the child is necessary for its development as an integrated individual, and the adult is never rid of narcissism – indeed, our culture cultivates it in everyone, and having fun or pleasure, the pursuit of happiness, is the sole aim of life nowadays. But the pleasure principle failed to account for the will to destruction, so Freud posited a death instinct or destructive principle. I apologize for giving you offense, but such is human nature, and it is our nature to overlook faults in our friends, Paul, and even to love them for their faults, for what is the category of one by itself but nothing notable in itself?” Dr. Sagwell calmly put down his cigar and clasped his hands together in a church-steeple, a habit formed during the conduct of his séances.”

“Okay, that’s really a mouthful. But the sadist in you may not destroy my ego, leaving me with hardly a stick of the raft over troubled waters to cling to. The ego is a fiction – the ego does not otherwise exist, nor does the superego and id. You may enjoy that familial trinity if you will….”

“Why familial?” Dr. Sagwell interjected curiously.

“Chant the name of the id or mother, the superego or father, and the ego or son, amen. But never mind that. I hit the bottom of Being long ago. I, sir, settle for Nothing. Nothing is good enough for me. In fact, Nothing is perfect. Just think about it if you can: Nothing is permanent and non-denomination. Yes, I have faith in Nothing, not in Being. The rest is Art, so put your pleasure in the capital Ego if you wish, but I shan’t. Note well that my Nothing is capitalized.” Paul was wounded: he was quite the skeptic, more than capable of making bad of good and good of bad, but he could not stand nor make good of negative criticism himself, and, when his touchy ego was touched, he withdrew into his sacred Nothing to lick his wounds with vacuous ignorance.

Dr. Sagwell frowned with patronizing concern for his friend. “If only you could see yourself.”

“My self is, is, it is nothing! And that’s good enough for me.”

“Perhaps we should change the subject to something more trivial.” Dr. Sagwell was not about to change the subject – he was enjoying the mental calisthenics, and he believed the exercise would do his friend some good. “You have a beautiful mind, Paul, and, as always, I want to take advantage of it. For me, you are therapeutic. Anyway, there is nothing immoral about narcissism, although it is not appreciated when taken to the extreme. After all, narcissism is the norm: Every one is fascinated by his own self, and each secretly harbors the notion that he is the best person in the world, well-deserving of its acclaim from time to time.”

“But I don’t think I am a narcissist! My god does not say, ‘Thou shalt love Thyself alone.’ I do not love my self alone. I have a great deal of empathy for people, at least in the abstract – I seldom give beggars a quarter, but I am sorry for them. I certainly hate seeing people suffer, except in fiction, and I switch channels when they are hurting on the news.”

“Paul, again, I speak of the classical sense of narcissism. And I mean no offense, so please rest easy. We need fuzzy logic for fuzzy terms. These labels have fuzzy edges, and we all have our share of the elusive definitions, no matter how abnormal our bit parts make us seem to be. Think of it this way: a histrionic personality is an extroverted narcissist rather than an introverted one.”

“By classical narcissism, don’t you mean the Freudian sense?” quizzed Paul, after taking a deep breath and relaxing back into his chair.

“No, I mean the mythical sense of Narcissus, the beautiful son of the nymph, Liriope.”

“Liriope – what a lyrical name. Narcissus was the fruit of her rape, eh?”

“That is the gossip. Ovid simply said she declared the mighty river-god, Cephissus, to be the father of the child, conceived on the banks of the river that goes by that name.”

“You are certainly are well-versed,” observed Paul.

“Ah, my boy, you are well versed yourself. Would you like to hear a sonnet from Millay? South Beach brings it to mind – it is so lovely hear.”

“Yes! Please recite one!” Dr. Sagwell had introduced Paul to Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poetry many years prior; now he gathered himself together, took a deep breath, and recited:

When Man is gone and only gods remain
To stride the world, their mighty bodies hung
With golden shields, and golden curls outflung
Above their childish foreheads; when the plain
Round skull of Man is lifted and again
Abandoned by the ebbing wave, among
The sand and pebbles of the beach, - what tongue
Will tell the marvel of the human brain?
Heavy with music once this windy shell,
Heavy with knowledge of the clustered stars;
The one-time tenant of this draughty hall
Himself, in learned pamphlet, did foretell,
After some aeons of study jarred by wars,
This toothy gourd, this head emptied of all.

“Thank you Doc, that is truly lovely. You amaze me. What an amazing memory you have for lines, and a well-rounded education, too. I know you studied acting at the university – maybe you should have taken up the stage.”

“I did not like the limelight – I’m too much of a narcissist. It takes one to know one, my friend, and I am one myself, as I tried to warn you many years ago, when I got out of advertising and found my dear self in psychoanalysis, but you did not know what I meant. I don’t need to tell you that we must do our best to acquire and maintain a well-rounded education, based on our historical cultural foundations, of course, and to do that we must remember these things well. Ovid’s Metamorphoses, by the way, is a work of great beauty and substance, a happy conjunction that the poet, incidentally, noted his Narcissus lacked.”

“Come again?”

“Ovid’s version of the Narcissus myth upheld the correspondence theory of truth, the notion that truths affirmed must be verified objectively to be true. Narcissus was beautiful, but the beauty he loved was not his own substance or self but merely his reflection in the pool. He loved form over substance, the insubstantial form he could not embrace in itself, for its abstract beauty was destroyed by his slightest touch – his delusion could not stand reality, hence the blind seer had told his mother at the outset that her child could not survive the recognition of his self, and would live long only if he failed to recognize himself.”

“What is the self?” Paul asked, a bit tipsily. “Is it a myth? Does it exist at all, in the sense of substance? And what is substance without form, or matter without something material in hand, except nothing? Is not the self a vain concept, and otherwise than that, nothing at all? How can it be experienced, except by reflection, flying ahead of every fleet-footed thought that would recognize or apprehend it?”

“Paul, it’s a good thing these martinis are small, because I can see we have a ways to go to get to the bottom of things.” Dr. Sagwell sighed. “The self is a myth, but that does not mean there is nothing to it – otherwise I would be out of business!” he laughed. There is a great deal of truth in the myth,” he reflected, “although we might not know precisely what that is, given the ambivalence and ambiguity of our nature – every affirmation is upheld by a denial.”

“So the truth is what we say it is? Was Narcissus the only one who believed he was beautiful?”

“Everyone believed he was truly beautiful, especially his most trusted friends. But his beauty was sacred, untouchable, and when admirers wanted carnal knowledge of his bisexual beauty, when they reached out to him, he vanished into the woods, and then he found his reflection in the pool when he stopped to drink of it. He did not know that he was in love with his own reflection. He would willingly have died to unite with it, but that unison would have destroyed his body and its reflection. And in the end it was his fate to die as foretold, for when he touched the pool and his image was distorted, he realized he loved his own shade, had been deceived by his own reflection, but his image returned to order, and he was doomed to be consumed by his passion.”

“From nothing he came and to nothing he went.”

“Precisely, Paul, and I find that quite comforting.”

“But how can you, as a Jew?”

“As a Jew I have a choice, and I choose no afterlife. And by temperament I am more of an orthodox Buddhist than a Jew.”

“I’ll drink to that.”


“Sigmund Freud was keen on the classics,” Paul catered to the doctor’s profession.

“But it was Anna,” Dr. Sagwell reflected, referring to Freud’s daughter, who had mentored him briefly, “who got me keenly interested in Narcissus.”

“She introduced you to Marilyn Monroe?”

The good doctor, disturbed by the sudden mention of the star’s name, fumbled with his cigar, shook his head negatively and said, “I regret that I mentioned that to you. Please never write about it. I would rather let all that rest in peace, her death being a black day for psychiatry. But since you mentioned her, it occurs to me that your friend Helene has certain characteristics in common with her. I hope I have a chance to meet her some day. You said she is in New York? What is she doing there?”

“She went up to see if she could obtain funds from her children’s trust.”

“So they are well off, but what about her fortune?”

“Yes, according to the trust provisions, they are both prospective multimillionaires, but their father had made no definite provisions for Helene. She sacrificed her alimony when she married her second husband, whom she believed to be wealthier than he.”

“But of course. What about him?”

“He turned out to be con man, and he in turn, indicted after pulling off an Enron swindle, left her high-and-dry in a Texas hospital near the President’s ranch, beaten to a black-and-blue pulp. She returned to their Ft. Lauderdale mansion and got a retraining order, but the estate was seized by the court. She was ordered off the premises, and landed in South Beach.”

“Fascinating!” exclaimed Dr. Sagwell. “And I presume she seems undaunted?”

“How did you know? Seems is the word. She acts the part of the stoic noblewoman. She suffers terribly when alone, but she holds her head up high in public. Her social life seems to be one grand accident, of which she is the leading lady. She does her level best to make a go of it alone. I am proud of her, but want her to make a living at socializing because it is too much of a farce as it is, so many of the cast are phonies, really.”

“Has she any professional acting experience?”

“Well, no, but when she is bragging about the great reception she receives everywhere she goes, even at the scenes of her automobile accidents, I humor her and suggest that she take a screen test and few acting lessons as well, so she will become not only famous but rich as well.”

“And her response?”

“She agrees. My facetiousness goes over her head. To admit otherwise, or to suggest that she is a frustrated hysteric, would knock her off the high horse she likes to ride. ”

“I don’t think so. She would patch herself up and get back on. She knows she is histrionic, just as she knows you are a Narcissus,” Dr. Sagwell declared.

“All right, I am confused. What’s the big difference, anyway?”

“Unlike the histrionic personality, who needs an admiring audience, Narcissus did not need anyone at all. Indeed, he rejected his lovers, withdrew from society and loved himself alone.”

“But is not that the case with us all? For whom do we really love when we love another but our own self, and what else is life but that love?”

“My point is that the mythological Narcissus did not need other people to supply him with admiration. He was born beautiful, he was virtually the god of beauty, much admired and desired by the loveliest members of both sexes, but he would not love any one of them. Indeed, he could not stand his many admirers, or rather none of them were as beautiful as he was, and he wanted and must have the best to himself, namely himself, so he withdrew from them and pined away over what no subject can have in itself, his own self as an object, for the only way one can know and love oneself is through others, wherefore he withered up and died for the lack of a self. On the other hand, the egotistical people commonly called narcissists cannot bear to be by themselves. They cannot live alone, although they usually wind up alone because people cannot bear their vanity. Although they seem to love themselves, they are driven by self-contempt to seek the praise of others. And keep this in mind, that….”

Paul was no longer listening. He had eaten only four olives all day, was woozy from the vodka, felt like vomiting, and he suddenly leaned over and did so, which attracted attention and disgust all around, for South Beach may be famed for its hedonism, but it is no puking Oktoberfest beer hall, especially not on the Di Lido Hotel’s beach patio.

“Paul, what’s the matter?” Dr. Sagwell was concerned, reached over and put his hand on Paul’s shoulder.

“Oh, I was hungry and I feel sick, I’ve got to, I’ve got to….” Paul tried to get up but slumped back in his chair, then leaned forward again.

“No, no, don’t try to get up, relax, breath deeply, don’t worry, it’s all right. We’ll get some food in you pretty soon.”

“Oh, oh, I’m sorry, oh God, it’s the blackness, got to get to the bathroom, please….”

Dr. Sagwell went to Paul’s side, gently pressed him back in his chair, and helped him put his feet in another chair.

“Paul, listen to me, you’re going to be all right but you’ve got to take it easy for a few minutes.”

“The blackness, it’s the blackness, the uh….”

Paul went limp. Dr. Sagwell stood over him and raised Paul’s eyelids wide with his thumbs and did not like what he saw. He took his cell phone from his beach bag and dialed 911.


Photo Credit: Betty Davis & George Brent in Dark Victory (1939)

General Peace and Happy Hats


Return of Reason by Darwin Leon




“Madame Huong, my name is Walter Davidson, and this is my good friend, Helene Hartmann.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Madame Huong said, her face beaming. “Thank you for coming to our peace exhibit. Would you like some Russian tea?”

“That would be nice,” Helene accepted.

“Mary, bring some tea for our guests,” Madame Huong directed a member of her staff. “Are you here for the peace meeting?”

“Well, no, we are appreciating your art,” declared Helene.

“We must appreciate peace.”

“It’s very sad, really.”

“And beautiful,” Helene added.

“Art happens when your tears connect with my tears.”

“I was recommended to you by Martin Berdinger,” I explained. “He said to mention general peace and happy hats, so I thought I would drop by your opening.”

“Martin! He is a good lawyer – he helped me with my estate planning.”

“Excuse me,” Helene said, “I’m going to walk around a little more, and enjoy your art.”

“We are having a peace meeting here, at eight. We can stop the violence, and we must stop it so we can live in peace and harmony.”

“We did not know about the meeting, and have made other plans,” I said, noting to myself that anti-war peace was obviously out of vogue, a least in hedonistic South Beach – the exhibit hall was deserted.

“We must plan for peace,” Madame Huong persisted. “We must unite in peace and harmony.”

“May I call on you tomorrow?” Helene asked. “I believe we may agree on one or two of your works.”

“Of course – I will busy at the peace demonstration on Lincoln Road until four, so come after five.”

“Good. I’m going to look around, Walter, do take your time.” Helene sauntered off.

“Madame, how much is the art here worth? My guess is five million.”

“Your guess is good. Five million is the insured value,” she responded. “But we are not here for money. We are here for peace.”

“But of course,” I agreed and nodded at the suited fellow at a computer behind a counter adorned with VISA and MASTERCARD ‘Accepted Here’ signs. “But sometimes we must make war to defend ourselves. Even Mahatma Gandhi agreed with that.

“Why war? War produces nothing. We must not fight each other. We must fight for unity. We must fight for peace. We must fight violence. We must fight our vices and weaknesses.”

There it is again, I thought, the ubiquitous word, “fight.” There always has to be a fight instead of a persuasion or conversion. The hundreds of millions of war dead prove that there are all sorts of unities to fight for, and that not even a world war to end all wars can end wars. The other side of unity is division, and without division there is no such thing as unity except in Nothing.

“Who is going to protect peaceful people like you, Madame, from rapists, murderers and thieves? Evil is multiplying in your world today. The police and soldiers protect you. Someone wants to break into your gallery, steal your art, and rape and kill you if you are there. Maybe someone just hates the peace movement, or enjoys hurting people. But the police protect you. The police and soldiers must guard the peaceful ones as the circle widens, until everyone drinks of the loving cup. They might have to kill people to defend you, to support your peace movement.”

“Soldiers and police come to see me and they go in peace. Man has a good heart. All people really want peace. If given a choice between war and peace, people will choose peace.”

“But Madame, history proves that people choose war because they love violence.”

“We must fight our weakness. We must fight against war.”

“But how can you fight war without war?”

“Just say no to war. Just stop the violence. Just stop it, that’s all. We can just stop the violence. Think peace. Everybody must think peace. There will be peace.”

“Your art is amazing, Madame. Still, the war pieces are very depressing, and drown the peace pieces in an ocean of blood.. But maybe it’s good to remember the violence, just like the Jews remember the holocaust, so people will want the opposite, and not deny the horror and bring it about again, thinking such things can never happen.”

“The holocaust was a long time ago,” Madame Huong retorted dismissively – I detected a jealous twinge in her tone. The Jews keep talking about the holocaust. They must get over it. We must come together under one tent and forget the Jews and separations. We must think about the future. We must think peace.”

“The Vietnam War has also been over a long time. I guess you are just sick and tired of hearing about the white man’s holocaust – he doesn’t care about Asians. Still, I wonder if it does any good to show violent images no matter what they are about. I think people get sexually and violently aroused by pornography and violent images.”

“It’s not the violence I hold up. I hold up the nobility. I hold up the noble faces of the victims looking up at the sky in pain and crying blood. I see myself in their faces.”

“You are noble,” I tried to flatter her.

“Not just me. Everybody is noble. We must all get together, come to meetings, and think peace and act for peace. We must end the separations and hatred. Here, take this,” she ordered, holding out a black Magic Marker. “Now write something on this painting. Don’t worry. Go ahead. Write something, whatever comes to mind.”

I was at a loss for words, but finally scrawled, “I am sick of war.”

“You must sign it.”

I spontaneously signed, ‘General Peace.’

“There, now, your name is General Peace.”

“Professor Berdinger said you had happy hats to market. What are they?”

“He means our peace helmets. General Peace of the World Peace Force needs peace helmets so his troops will be protected from bad vibrations. They can tune into peace and make themselves happy. We have developed a prototype. Mary,” she called to her assistant, “please take General Peace to the dressing room and show him our happy hat.”

“So you are General Peace.” Mary sang matter-of-factly as she led me to a back room. The buxom, long-haired young woman was wearing a pink T-shirt upon which an image of a large peace sign made of hemp was emblazoned; her designer tennis shoes and low-cut jeans were fashioned with a raggedy look; she wore no makeup and smelled of Ivory soap. I got the impression from her confident bearing and gait that she was a professional woman who dressed-down, like a hippie, to suit peace demonstrations. Her hips fascinated me inordinately, having a hypnotic effect as her rear swayed from side to side like a pear on a pendulum as I followed her down a long hall to the rear of the building. I was feeling slightly ecstatic, and wondered if the Russian tea had been spiked with something. She entered a combination on a keypad by the door at the end of the hall, and gestured into a room awash in pink light.

“Come in,” she beckoned. “Please sit down. Good.” She extracted a key hidden deep in the valley of her bosom and used it to unlock a shiny hatbox, apparently made of black plastic, sitting on the table. She took out a rainbow-hued, diamond-like helmet and handed it to me. It appeared to be made of a brilliant, translucent crystalline substance, veined with thin silver wires. I examined it closely: the crystals were tetrahedrons.

“The red is dead, the rainbow is rising, let there be peace and prosperity in the world,” Mary sang. “Here, let me put it on you,” she said, and leaned over me.  There was something very appealing about her. She was short of stature, and when she approached me to put the helmet on my head, I felt tempted to bury my face in her T-shirted bosom, put my arms around her, grab her bottom and give her a hug.

“I know what you’re thinking. Don’t worry, that’s how people feel about you after you wear the Peace Helmet There, now” she placed the helmet on my head. “That’s it. Enjoy. The red is dead, the rainbow is rising. Be happy.”

“O my god, oh, uh, ah….”

“What does it feel like, General Peace? Do you feel good?”

“Oh, yes, yes, it feels like, it feels like I’m going to, I mean….”

“Like an orgasm, like your whole body is going to cum?”

“Yes, yes, oh yes!”

“Yes, relieve yourself of yourself. Let yourself go. The rainbow is rising.”

“Oh, man, I feel so good,” I moaned. I was in a state of continuous relief, of perpetual peace, if you will, and everything was crystal clear. Mary had levitated: she was hovering slightly above me, basking in an aura of multi-colored light. I noticed that she had no navel but thought nothing of it. Indeed, as I let myself go, or came, so to speak, it was as if I was some other I, as if someone were thinking and feeling for me, playing my body like a musical instrument.

“General Peace,” Mary proceeded with a singsong, “People shall assemble throughout the world as one in many to invoke your peace. They shall call upon you to lead them on the way to supreme peace, and you shall come, and your mouth shall speak glad tidings, your hand shall write good news, and your feet shall bring peace upon Earth. The peoples shall cry with joy, for sorrow and sadness shall be nevermore, and joy and gladness shall be evermore. The nations shall recognize their wrongs and come unto you for peace. Their leaders shall close their mouths and open their ears, and you shall fill their minds and hearts with eternal peace. Tyrants shall hang on your every word, lay down their weapons and have them destroyed or converted to peaceful uses. Earth shall be perfected and shall serve up her abundance according to the generosity of every one towards every other.”

“Earth shall be perfected and shall serve up her abundance according to the generosity of every one towards every other.” I repeated spontaneously.

“Hunger and disease shall be no more, and the desire for joy, peace, love, and eternal life shall be satisfied in mutual service.”

“Hunger and disease shall be no more, and the desire for joy, peace, love, and eternal life shall be satisfied…” I reiterated.

“You are General Peace.”

“You are General Peace.”

“No, you are General Peace.”

“I am General Peace.”

“Yes. You shall marshal the forces of peace and lead the lords of liberation with words of power from the source of oneness. You shall focus consciousness on peace and love. You shall make the Unknown One known. You shall command the reconstruction company, and the world shall be home again to the homeless. Say this: I shall make the world home again to the homeless”

“I shall make the world home again to the homeless.”

“Say I feel the joy of service, and I am crystal clear.”

“I feel the joy of service, and I am crystal clear.”

“Joy is in service, not in selfishness.”

“Joy is in service, not in selfishness.”

“The red is dead, the rainbow is rising.”

“The rainbow is rising.”

“All right, General Peace,” Mary confirmed, alighted on the floor and took the helmet from my head – it was glowing with color, as if a prism had cast spectral rays upon it – and put it back in the gleaming black hatbox.

“What happened? Everything was so clear, but what was it that you were saying?” I started slipping out of crystal clarity into the usual confused consciousness.

“You were happy. You will remember everything soon enough, offer it to the world, and the words of power will have good effects.”

“It should be a bestseller. I remember feeling very good. I remember the rainbow, and you seemed to be floating towards the ceiling. I don’t believe I ever felt so good. I still feel good, joyful, and very peaceful.”

“The feeling will last for a few days. But please keep quiet about this until the marketing campaign begins.”

“That’s a real happy hat you’ve got there, lady.”

# #

Paul’s Last Stand – His Suicide Essay May Be His Best

Painting by Sebastian Ferreira


The author’s suicide essay may be his very best

Paul Bowman, the greatest author the world will ever or never know, takes pride in the enormous inventory of unpublished essays he has written since he quit his perfect job and moved to Paradise to devote himself to his writing career. His rose soon grew thorns. He thought his savings would be sufficient for him to ramp up to fame and fortune; alas, he has now fallen pathetically short of his imagined fame and fortune: he has sold only two of his brilliant essays over the last five years, both to a Catholic journal. It is not that Paul’s work is worthless; he is just not cut out to be in any sales department, let alone be his own marketing staff of one.

Needless to say, Paul is a rather bookish man. Albeit he lives in Paradise, he is often in the library, his Heaven on Earth. He calls his library “the Ark of Civilization”, and claims that it is a shame that only two or three people besides vagrant wayfarers are on board on any given day. But never mind, for who has time to rub shoulders with the locals when one has the intimate company of the greatest minds that ever thought?

Mind you that Paul, despite being a bookworm when not writing, is not really standoffish: he is in fact gregarious when not engaged in literary pursuits; but his gregariousness has little social support. You see, Paul is a member of a race even more despised over the centuries than the Jewish and the black race; to wit: he belongs to the intellectual race, which can be Jewish or black. He is fond of ‘vulgar’ people as people, as well as the intellectual elite as people, but the feeling is far from mutual. Many people get a college degree not for the liberty of a liberal education but to get a better paying office job. Paul takes his liberty too literally. Arrogant anti-intellectuals have no interest in his merely ‘academic’ liberty, thus his discourse sails over their heads. He cares little for sports. Although he enjoys sex, he doesn’t care to discuss the most popular topic, ‘pussy.’ To make hanging out with the guys even worse, he does not get racist jokes, hence they think he is a stupid intellectual.

Since there is little love lost among the violently clashing wits of his own kind, the library is actually the ideal place for Paul – his vision of a stately throne is a private author’s desk at New York Public Library. The library in Paradise is a cool and empty place to be on muggy days. The books love to be read and to have notes taken from their pages. Once in awhile a new security guard, seeing Paul around so often and wondering if he should be discriminated against, asks him if he is homeless, to which he replies, with a smile, “So what if I am?” He gets no answer, except, “Never mind.” The librarians are quite nice; the only thing he likes about the current U.S. president is that he had the good taste to marry a librarian.

No, Paul is not homeless, at least not yet. But homelessness is looming ever more near as the days pass. Again, Paul’s sales are not ramping up to his production schedule. He is the greatest author the world will ever or never know, but he is not a salesman. Therefore he has been seeking work lately, as a keeper of books, of course. He has fine credentials, including glowing letters of recommendation concerning his proven abilities as a controller, accountant, and bookkeeper.

Paul applied for part-time or temporary work at first so that he could keep up his furious research and writing pace. Since no such engagements were forthcoming, he applied for 412 full-time jobs. He managed to get five interviews and one job offer, for $10 an hour, which he declined because he thought he could do better than twenty-percent of his last pay rate. He has had occasion to regret turning down that job, for now he is on the verge of eviction and is willing to take up anything for any income. Times are especially bad for unemployed liberal writers since the Republicans took over; for instance, car thefts in Paradise are up forty-five percent this year. Nonetheless, with his excellent references, what is Paul’s problem? He doesn’t know for a fact. On the one hand, he thinks he is having a bad run of luck. On the other hand, he supposes the hypothesis of cause and effect might provide a commonsensical explanation, hence he has speculated on the possible causes of his help being so unwanted. For one thing, that he is an off-color stranger in Paradise, and there is not much Paradise to be shared with those who are far from flush. And that he is over fifty but not eligible for Social Security; thus he falls into a sort of limbo pending his warehousing for death. His age-bracket, a bracket that in traditional cultures is associated with experience and wisdom, is a bracket young managers and executives have small interest in. After all, after leaving home and getting a job with the corporation, who wants to hire someone who reminds them of their dads? Anyway, he has had his chance and he is not a top executive or retired to Palm Springs already, so there must be something terribly wrong with him.

Fast-paced companies today are looking for career-minded people who have three to five years of experience and who must have pushed the latest sequence of buttons many times. These detail-oriented, highly motivated people must be able to independently follow instructions in order to meet deadlines under pressure while making sacrifices. During his second interview, Paul was asked what sacrifices he would be willing to make if he were asked to work overtime. He said, “I would be willing to sacrifice at least one chicken. I would sacrifice a wife, but I don’t have one at present.” The interviewer, one of the many thousands of under-paid women in Human Resources, grimaced; end of interview: a sense of humor was definitely not wanted by that firm, a rather large one whose operating attitude reminds one of the United States Army.

But Paul is not giving up. This very morning he is sending out more resumes, and he will make calls until he is blue in the face and his ears are sore – he does not have a speaker-phone. Then he will write late into the night until he is exhausted. Then he will go to bed for a couple of hours. He can barely sleep at night because he is tormented by the looming prospect of houselessness. Just before he went to bed last evening, he witnessed an absurd scene on his 13″ television:

A woman of thirty or so had found her husband sleeping with another woman; there are no kids; she got the house and alimony. Now she enters her abode. She misses her husband, looks at his photo, and is obviously depressed. Maybe she made a bad mistake, and now she is all alone. Tears stream down her face as she walks through the luxuriously furnished rooms of her home, and finally throws herself onto her huge bed. She takes up the fetal position and moans. Fade out.

Woe is me, thought Paul. What numbskulls these people are!

In the good old days, homelessness was not a curse but was a virtue to wise men. In those days, Confucius himself would sleep in the dirt with the crook of his arm as a pillow rather than work for the wrong prince. Some of the Greek wise men would not work for any prince or price, for they in Truth were already wealthy, powerful and free citizens of the Cosmos. As far as they were concerned, poverty consists in desiring things, in wanting fools’ gold instead of wisdom. And if poverty is a lack of temporal things, then, at least for Franciscans, Poverty is a Lady to be loved. Indeed, how can someone who is busy chasing after the things of the world become wise? Worldly people did not despise such wise men very much providing they did not get in the way. People even felt obligated to give them alms in India. But never mind: nowadays homelessness, or rather houselessness, is considered the worst of all curses, and homeless people are despised and feared as if they were Dr. Frankenstein’s monsters.

In any event, Paul Bowman is no young man today; and this is not the Sixties where bohemians took some pride in vagrancy; nor is it the Great Depression where hoboes had the comfort of numbers even though the bulls beat some of them to death for loitering. There is plenty of food and shelter to go around, but this is the day when everyone has the duty to work, even at the production of junk, trash and garbage, just to get something to eat and shelter from the elements and the spite of people who fear homeless people.

Paul once wondered why people in This Great Nation of Ours, Leader of World Civilization, have a duty to work but no right to work. He asked the president, “Why?” But of course, since Paul is still a nobody, not yet the greatest author in the world, he got no reply. He thought, If the almighty president himself cannot provide me even with a meaningless, wage-slavery job, why should I care about the president and his damaged Pentagon? Or, for that matter, the commercial system it protects? After all, it is a system that intentionally makes things scarce in order for the few to make enormous profits. But never mind that, Paul told himself, for I am willing to cooperate, even though the culo with the great job on television says six-percent unemployment is just right.

Paul is not lazy. As a matter of fact, he works up to 70 hours per week without pay. He wants to belong to society, even if that means holding down a meaningless job so he can do his meaningful work in his spare hours. Just as Ssu-ma suffered castration to complete his history, Paul is willing to kowtow to become the greatest author the world will ever know. Alas that he gave up his job for the American dream. Now alas that nobody presently wants his mind or body in any form, either at the drill press or adding machine, or at his writing desk. Yet again, he has not given up. He rejects homelessness as an alternative. He understands why another man in similar circumstances is planning suicide on Thanksgiving Day. And why not suicide instead of a slow death on the streets? where the false Christianity causing the problem wants to deprive people of their real opium? As Seneca said, “Do you like to be wretched? Live. Do you like it or not? It is in your power to return from whence you come.”

A man’s individual life is his last private refuge, Paul thought, and the state that makes suicide a crime commits the ultimate invasion of the liberty of privacy. How absurd it is that those who would kill each other in war would not allow a man to kill himself! Paul does not blame others or himself for his bad luck; he is not disposed to go on a killing spree at a useless employment office. But he loves his freedom and he does not want to be a despised houseless man without means even to continue with his beloved work. Therefore Paul, a true libertarian, has a marketing plan for his Last Day, the day the marshals are to evict him, if it comes to that.

Paul lives on a high floor from which he plans to take his last stand, and to jump to his death if push comes to shove. He has mounted a camera in order to broadcast his leap, live over the Internet, and also to record it elsewhere for posterity. He has composed another one of his brilliant essays to memorialize the tragic loss of the greatest author the world will ever or never know. The essay encourages talented artists to risk everything, even their lives, to live an artistic life. As has been noted, Paul detests marketing, perhaps because he unconsciously fears failure, yet now he is so convinced of the value of his work that he believes the filming of his death-defying leap, together with his last brilliant essay and his accumulated inventory, will be the very promotional scheme that will make him the greatest author the world has ever known to date.