August 22, 2013
A night mare—she had insomnia, the poor horse—whinnied, “Quantum physics theory suggests that life is an illusion. It is our senses and emotions that tell us we see and feel when in fact we are spinning electrons, a sort of cosmic merry-go-round. There is no pound of love, no ounce of hate, yet we know them by using our senses, know when we “feel” and “see” them. No two people or horses ever report an event the same, in spite of the fact that both of them were witnesses.” Horses make horse sense.
Across the river in West Alton, Missouri is a coal-fired power plant with an enormous white-painted chimney, over a hundred feet high. One can see a moon-shaped plume of smoke rising from it daily. According to a local scientist, the plume consists of nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide and a bunch of other oxides, the fallout of which is particularly hard on the lungs of people with emphysema and asthma. According to a local biker dude, the cloud, “reminds me of weed smoke, man!”
If the day is cloudy and grey, the giant white plume rises and merges into the gloom and assumes its color—coal power plant as chameleon. If it is a sunny day with white puffy clouds, the puffy clouds of the power plant, alien as they are, fit right into the sky scene. The wind rolls the dice and sends the plume in various directions. “Lucy in the Sky With Amerin’s—do-do-do-doo.”
How can a power plant be an illusion? Where is a Night Mare when you need her? Were Dada’s first words, “Da-da?”
Which bring me to the most enigmatic man I see on my walks. He is tall and thin, possibly seventy. He walks with an easy gait, arms swinging freely. What sets him apart from all other walkers is that he will not talk, respond to a greeting, look at you or interact in any way. If you read my piece on women walkers, you would categorize him as a thirty-something woman. But he is not fearful. His face is locked into a perpetual sneer. He reminds me of that banker in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” His face is frozen.
I made him a project. He might have been one of those widowers I keep meeting; maybe his kid died or his business collapsed. I decided to Pete Seeger his ass (Pete’s banjo front reads “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender”) and keep on greeting him, keep on being respectful. For two months, I have said, “Good morning,” “Hello, sir,” “Beautiful day,” and on and on. Nothing.
This morning I passed and greeted him and reached Piasa Creek, the turnaround point, well before him. An unleashed border collie came running at me, snapping at my shoes. I have been bitten three times by border collies, with their alpha standing and herding instinct. “No,” I shouted at the dog, and it turned and ran up into a river rat trailer park.
So here came the curmudgeon, on my return trip. He changed lanes and charged straight at me, very uncharacteristic of him. I held my ground. He stopped in front of me and glared. I said, “There’s a unleased border collie behind me, sir. It snapped at me. Be very careful.” He sneered even more deeply than ever before and walked around me. Perhaps he would stare the dog to death; perhaps he is part border collie; certainly he is a Night Mare; definitely he smells like carbon dioxide.
I went on my way, thinking of quantum physics, angry old men, and giant belching smokestacks and illusions. I recalled my friend R., a doctor. He once let me witness an autopsy. A dead woman lay before us (they don’t cover the bodies the way they do on CSI) on a metal table. Randy made an incision around the perimeter of the corpse’s face. There was no blood. He slowly peeled her face off, revealing muscles and blood vessels and bone and naked eyeballs. He pulled the face back to the hairline. “Do you see?”
Humanness is an illusion. Take away the skin and you’ve got something only Michelangelo would love. It goes without saying, horseness is an illusion, dogness is an illusion, smoke—don’t get me started.
People around here pile their trash in fire barrels and burn plastics, wood, old electrical wiring, etc. Hey, you burn it, it’s gone. Right? “Where have all the burned things gone, long time passing? Gone to smoke-atoms-lungs-blood streams-wooded streams-streams of consciousness, every one. When will we never learn? When will we never learn?”
The old man is nitrogen dioxide is burning plastic is a border collie is a miserable wretch is naked on a slab. It is up to each of you to decide what I am. It is your perception; I am your illusion. You religious folks and friends, I envy you. You’ve got that ultimate ticket to the sky, and you Know. I hope your souls aren’t made of smoke. As the Night Mare always whinnies, “Read the ‘No Smoking’ sign on the Pearly Gates. There ain’t no smoking in heaven.”
As for me, I’m in Lost and Found. I share the space with a girl named Alice who clings to a lookingglass. She holds it up to me and I see George Clooney. We fool around, but nothing serious. There are no smokestacks, border collies, burning barrels or hateful old men in Lost and Found.
At least, I can’t see any.