I believe that writing is a fantastic form of self realization. I find it to be rather effective for figuring out my surface level intentions and motivations. It makes the job of discovery for the hidden mind much easier than it would be if someone else were paid to do the job for me.
Besides, I enjoy going through the exercise. Perhaps the ultimate indulgence. The pinnacle of mental masturbation.
But I guess you only really get there after practice. Much more practice than I have managed to get in during my travels here.
I suppose I could best describe what I am saying here by stating the following belief, which I have learned to be true for me:
Innate intelligence will increase your probability for survival. But wisdom can only come from experience. Experience is not always what you bargained it to be. Sometimes it is rough. Sometimes the price paid is hardly worth the knowledge gained. But more often than not, it is a refusal to apply intelligence to an experience which denies a person their wisdom, when it is offered.
Since by all accounts, I am of average intelligence, I choose to have as many experiences as possible, in order to gain wisdom by simple statistical probability. Wisdom by accident, if you will. I like this theory, regardless of its flaws, because it helps me to understand some of the more bizarre or completely insane things which happen to me, and inside my brain.
And with that in mind, I must tell the following story.
Evening time. Archie is leaving a late movie, and decides to make a phone call to see who might be around to catch a drink.
He is dreadfully restless. His life seams so awfully meaningless, as almost everyone feels at one point or another. But this has been a protracted bout with his ever-increasing belief that all he believes, does, and dreams of amount to little more than a repeat of things that have already been seen and done years before his time. His life is a practically worthless photocopy of a photocopy of intentions as old as human existence. An amalgamation of disjointed purposes, built in lands and times he cannot honestly comprehend. His will feels like nothing more than a product of his own history, mixed in with a dash of his specific environment, his own time and place. His English forefathers’ desire to leave religious/political oppression and pursue economic fortune in a foreign land. His German forefathers’ intentions to spread their genetic material throughout all of Europe and the Americas, like genetic conquistadors. His great-great-great grandfather’s desire to own and develop ranch land in the western territories. His father’s strong intent to keep his family in the southern states, where things make sense to him and his kin.
These desires and intentions are what have driven him to where he was when he was born. And these desires and intentions are what he has come to believe have secretly driven the majority of his own decisions, his movements toward understandable goals and comforts in life. But they provide him no framework for goals, and they offer him no measurable comfort.
He feels lost as he wanders from the movie theater, dialing numbers of friends, all of which push him toward goals and offer him measurable comfort. But he knows that they cannot provide him with the motivation he needs to complete these searches for himself. He cannot depend on anyone else to be responsible for what honestly matters to him. He figures that they are busy enough trying to make the same discoveries for themselves, as all like-minded individuals do.
He wanders into the Whiskey Bar. A narrow, dimly lit bar with high ceilings. The actual bar sits on the right, all along the wall, with mirrors and mirrored shelves containing various obscenely large bottles of liquor. A twelve liter bottle of Vox vodka. A ten liter bottle of Grey Goose. An eight liter bottle of Jameson Whiskey. All very ridiculous looking, all are signs of the decadence surrounding anonymous public suicide. The liquid noose, tightening with every beautiful drop. The cigarette smoke dancing, lightly skipping upward to add plaque to the large, wondrous and vibrant paintings along the left wall, across from the bar. That same smoke, tainting the brilliant red dye of the plush velvet curtains which guard the inside from the outside. Or possibly the opposite, but no one ever questions their purpose, or the destruction of their youthful beauty through such reckless, suicidal consumption.
No one ever questions.
No one but Archie. As he wanders through the doorway and makes his way to a stool at the empty bar. There are two groups of drunken happy-hour goers, sitting across from the bar, against the wall, laughing with naïve glee as they kill the paintings and curtains. Themselves.
“Mandarin & Tonic please.”
“Gotcha. Haven’t seen you in here for a while. How you been?”
Archie recognizes the bartender, but has no idea how he would have been recognized. Every time he has been here, it was in the midst of a self-destructive journey to seek pointless revenge on his internal organs. A blur of insanity amongst hundreds of other self-destructos. Other social suicide attempts. Amid hundreds of other murderers of beautiful paintings and lush curtains. He always assumed his attempts to be somewhat private, anonymous experiences.
“I’ve been around I guess. Trying to take it easy right now. Sorting through some things, you know?”
“Gotcha. Yeah, I’m trying to get back into school myself. This whole bartending thing just isn’t for me anymore. I mean, I’m pushing twenty five, and I’m still doing this shit.”
Archie is pushing thirty. When he was twenty five, life was bright and still new. There were more possibilities ahead of him than he could comprehend. He was not looking back yet. He had burned any sense of regret at the altar of progress. This twenty five year-old’s introspection came off as cynical. And a cynical twenty five year-old will be a deeply depressed thirty year-old, Archie thinks to himself.
“Well, you gotta do for you, I guess.”
“Yeh. I’m thinking of studying Business. You know, to understand how that all works.”
“Business? How long have you been slaving here?”
“That’s all you’ll get out of business school. Four years.”
As soon as it left his mouth, Archie realized how cynical HE sounded. His complete disregard for the bartender’s intent. The bartender’s desires were ignored altogether. And there it was, the harsh nay-say judgment that had been plaguing him for the past three years. The same no-can-do bullshit that always makes it so easy to apologize for not trying. The necessary excuse for just going with the flow, even when he knew that flow was sewer-bound.
The bartender is thoroughly unimpressed, and walks away while saying “well, I can’t just stay here forever, working this shit job.”
Shit job? Is he referring to the job of serving up drinks to guys like Archie, as a career of “shit”? Because, if so, what did that make Archie? A shit drinker?
There is a basketball game on the television. Two college teams which make about as much difference to Archie as a mammogram would. But, being male, he is compelled to watch, with squinted eyes, judging each pass and shot. Every play is critiqued. The camera angles are argued in his head. The team colors are debated as to whether or not they properly represent the mascot. What the hell is a Tarheel anyhow? Orangeman? What the fuck?
The Mandarin is drained and refilled. The internal debates roll like thunder through his fevered brain. Pushing back his mind’s honest desire to deal with more pressing issues. The issue of why he is even there in the first place.
What are you doing here?
Waiting for my friends. Why do you care?
Because we don’t really like this place. These people are not who we want to be.
Is that all you have to say? If so, I will continue pouring liquor…
That is what we mean. This place, these things, they aren’t us.
Right. I will keep pouring liquor on you all until you shut the fuck up.
Sounds like a familiar reaction to reason.
I’m watching the game. I’ll get back to later. Where are my smokes?
Archie lit up his chemical fortified paper tube of tobacco product. Crisp pops flicker off the end as he inhales, filling his lungs with the future killer of brilliant paintings and exquisite draperies. Sip after sip numbs the countering voices of his self. The glass is refilled. The game continues to be pointlessly critiqued.
A short Hispanic man in his early thirties enters the bar. His five-foot-four frame is draped in a black trench coat, showing only his shaved head up top, and cement-crusted black work boots below. Even though the bar has remained empty, the man pushes two bar stools aside and crowds himself right up against Archie’s left shoulder. Archie slowly looks to his right, noting the long line of empty stools, and then turns to face the man. He is staring right into Archie’s eyes, sweating profusely, and making quiet grunts through a slightly grinning set of closed lips.
Though immediately uncomfortable, Archie does not budge a single inch. After all, he was there first. This little man needs to find himself a bar stool and sit down like any other civilized human being. Drunk or not. Dude needs to get a grip.
But dude never gets a grip. He continues to stare at Archie with ever louder grunts and an ever deepening grin. Archie pretends to concentrate on the game. But keeping a peripheral eye on the intruder. Still, he refuses to move an inch. As long as he keeps to himself, all will be considered kosher.
But he does not keep to himself. The man reaches his arm around Archie’s shoulder, palming the right side of his neck. Archie looks at the gripping hand, tapping his jugular, and then pulls himself away while turning back in confrontation.
“Hey, guy, are you fucking okay? Are you too drunk to be here?”
The man looks slightly surprised for a second, and then regroups back into the grin. He turns toward the bar and waves the bartender over. Archie feels relieved that it did not have to get ugly, and that perhaps this strange fellow intends to buy him a beer as an apology for being so rude.
But he does not intend to do any such thing. The man, speaking not a single word of any known language, points and grunts with disapproval until the bartender displays a bottle of Budweiser. After approved, the bottle is capped and placed on a coaster in front of the dark fellow. Dark in every way.
But the man apparently has no concept of trade. He simply grabs the beer and tries to take a sip. The bartender grabs it just as it touches lip. Looking over at Archie, the bartender begins to make demands. “Hey, buddy! That’s three bucks. You can’t just drink it, you know.” Still looking at Archie, the bartender raises his eyebrows and his free hand as if about to make a karate chop. Archie shrugs and mouths the words ‘I do not know him,’ but the bartender responds with a look of complete confusion. “Whatever man. It’s three bucks.”
But the little man apparently does not have three bucks. One dollar is removed, after minutes of scrounging through random scraps, receipts, and check stubs. The single, crumpled and beaten dollar is tossed onto the bar with the same hand that immediately grabs the bottle and raises it the same way it did before. The bartender interrupts the sip once more, displeased with the insufficient funds offered in exchange. The beer is taken and placed behind the bar. As the bartender, still staring at Archie, threatens to abandon negotiations, the dark fellow shows some real spirit and waves him back. With a sigh, the bartender returns with a look of hope, hope that the little fellow will immediately produce at least two more of those desperate looking bills.
But the dark man has no intention of immediately producing such successful results. In what appears to be a blatant attempt to wear down the bartender’s resolve to deny him a freebie, he places his left hand on the bartender’s right arm, the arm holding the Budweiser, while he continues to sift through the wallet, leafing through the exact same set of useless shreds of non-currency. Archie looks up at the bartender to meet the eyes of pity. The bartender is staring at Archie the way a priest stares at a man going through his last rites before a wrongful execution. Archie shrugs, and rewords his denial of involvement. The bartender rolls his eyes. After another thirty seconds, a five dollar bill is magically pulled from within the filing cabinet of the dark man’s wallet. He drops it on the counter and grabs his precious bottle. In one swig, half the bottle disappears into his depths, ending with a gusting breath of relief. And a burp. Archie assumes the man was trying to worm his way into getting him to buy the beer, and now that he got what he wanted, even though he had to buy it himself, perhaps he is satiated and will lean himself on something else.
But the dark man has every intention of returning to Archie’s left shoulder. This time, resting his entire body, his entire weight, on Archie. After each pull on the bottle, the dark man returns to staring, intensely at Archie’s face, moving closer and closer each time. Then the arm makes its way back to the forbidden shoulder, caressing Archie’s deltoids. The grunts are intermingled with half-giggles now. Archie throws the arm off again, scooching his stool away, telling the man in his most polite voice, to keep to himself. “Look man, you’re all fucked up, and that’s none of my business, but just keep over there. Okay? Please? Thank you.”
But the dark man shows no comprehension of the request. He just keeps staring as he takes the last bubbled drops from his bottle of Bud. Archie feels a new sense of discomfort when he realizes that the man is not only pathetically lonely, has irrational aggression issues, and is hopelessly inebriated, but he now has a potentially painful weapon. Even though any other sensible man would have abandoned the situation long before now, Archie continues to hold his ground, for reasons he has yet to grasp. Why the hell did he stay there? Why did he not just knock the drunk man to the ground and kick him in the head after the first inappropriate gesture? Why is he not asking the bartender to kick the fucker out, especially now that he’s done getting even more drunk?
But Archie is unable to answer these simple questions. All he can gather is that the situation is far too amazing for him to pull himself out of just yet. It was happening, true, but not necessarily to him. An experience outside of him as a person. Of him as a being, of him as a personality, of him as the keeper of free will. It is a truly unique experience, which most other people avoid just as they would avoid electric shock, enemas, or car accidents. But to Archie, it is far too pure and real to be abandoned or interrupted by him. He feels almost powerless to stop it from happening. He has never felt so repelled and compelled simultaneously. It is the most alive he has felt in years.
The dark man continues his assault of Archie’s space, regardless of anyone’s realizations. More nudging, grunting and grinning. Then the arm comes back around. This time, Archie leaves it be, in an attempt to push the awkwardness of the situation even further. He is pulled and jerked by the arm, closer and closer to the laughing face of the dark man. Looking up at the face of the dark stranger, Archie sees no real features, just the grinning teeth and beads of sweat falling down. The laugh becomes all that can be heard. The basketball game is gone. The Strokes are no longer playing on the stereo. The cigarette smoke dissipates from the room. It is just the two of them, involved in the most awkward connection he has ever experienced as a conscious man. The feeling is immediately violent and immediately familiar. Almost as if comfort had shown up and shanked him with a sharpened shard of lost ambition. The pulling gets stronger and stronger and stronger while his desire to break free gets weaker and weaker and weaker…
Archie’s stool is starting to tip, and the man’s grip is starting to become almost too restrictive for self-defense. Just as Archie and the stool are about to fall completely over, Archie catches the ‘uh-uh’ gaze of the bartender, and pulls himself out. Stretching his arms to the dark man, who falls back with a delayed look of rejection. He tells him with all the strength he can muster, “look man, you need to stay the fuck over there. This is my space, that is yours. For fuck’s sake.”
The dark stranger seems to finally take the words seriously and joins Archie's trail of sight as it returns to blankly staring at the pointless college basketball game, happening in some unknown arena, in some unknown town. They are simply touching shoulders now. No staring, no grunting, no grinning.
Oliver, Archie’s good friend arrives and walks up to Archie’s right side. Taking a seat, he offers a greeting and then asks with a whisper.
“Hey man, do you know that guy? He’s really fucking strange.”
“No. But yeh, he’s pretty fucking weird. And really drunk. I’ll explain it later.”
Oliver orders a drink, and the two of them discuss the various aspects of their respective days. And just as Archie is about to approach the subject of his feelings of general discontent and hopelessness, the dark man returns to embracing Archie.
At first, Archie is tempted, again, to let the situation go wherever it needs to go, because he is not altogether sure that this is not him embracing himself, or the devil himself, and he feels as if he is waiting for good reason to break out. And that is when Oliver says but one single word, “Dude.” Archie looks to his right and sees the dismay running across Oliver’s face, immediately pulls the arm off and stands up from his stool.
“Uh, hey man, I am gonna… go next door to wait for everyone else.”
“Are you sure you don’t know that dude?”
“I don’t fucking know him, and he’s been creeping me out for the last ten minutes and shit.” To the bartender, “hey, I’ll be at the end of the bar to sign out my tab.”
As he walks to exit The Whiskey bar, he sees all the faces of the happy-hour drunkards, quietly following him out. As if they had just seen a ghost. Or as if a ghost had just seen itself.