Saturday, September 24, 2022

Bench Sleeping in Houston


Bench Sleeping in Houston, 2022, Watercolor on Paper, 40" x 60"

            I’m in love with everything the ocean ever told me to believe in.

From Mr. Kelp by Manuka Piglet


Past lives and real lies, we’ll all find ourselves in someone else’s place sometime. A person sleeping on a bench in a park across the street from some hospitals? Sure, why not? It only gets worse. The bike’s tire is popped, and the plastic crate is empty. There’s so many damn streetlights on, sleep is impossible. And why are they all day light temperature? What happened to the nice warm glow that used to be everywhere? That universal color of nighttime.

The person on the bench seems to notice I’m staring at him, and he sits up. The blanket slides down and reveals his face with dark sunken, burned in holes for eye sockets. He gasps at me. So, I see you’re back, taking a different approach this time. Good for you. The person on the bench gets up, and with the plastic crate under one arm, he walks the bike with the other. He goes off into the distance, into the darker area of the park, away from me and the hospitals.

I turn and walk away in the other direction. Letting my mind wander as usual, not really paying too close attention to my surroundings while still looking for something to take pictures of. Not sure what I’m looking for or what to think about. Not sure what to say with the art stuff. What themes or values or whatever do I want to discuss? Maybe… an error message pops up, no, don’t say those things explicitly. No one cares. The pop-up message’s eyes roll at me.

My thoughts drift to earlier that day, or maybe some other time during that trip, even after wandering around this night to find pictures. There was a particularly talkative uber driver. At first, there was just usual small talk, asking about where I’m from, how’s the weather, what I’m doing in Houston.

Then the driver asks, hey you look like the type, you want to have some real fun while you’re here in Houston?

Ugh… no thanks not really. Not this trip.

C’mon man, you’ll love this, and I promise, it won’t take up too much of your time.

What is it?

I can’t tell you, not yet. Just meet me by that fountain over there around 2 am and I’ll take you there.

I don’t think so. Look, I’m here for some serious family stuff, I can’t just-

No, no, you don’t understand. We know all about that. It’s ok. You can take some time away from that for a bit tonight.

This conversation doesn’t seem to be going anywhere so I just agree to go with. We’re getting close to the hotel anyways so I can just get out and leave. Ugh, ya sure whatever, I’ll see you then.

You better, we know where you are staying, where you’re from. We can make things difficult. Trust us, tonight will be fun.

I don’t know where this memory came from. But I check my watch and realize I’m already late. Maybe something weird might happen, maybe I’ll go check it out. The fountain is not that far away. I look it up on my phone and the map says about 3 miles … I didn’t think I wandered that far. Well, whatever, I can make it there by around 5, see if they’re still there. This is probably some weird kind of trap. They’re going to try to sell me some kind of rental property here, aren’t they?

And who is ‘we’? This guy is part of some cult, probably. I vaguely remember some strange, esoteric looking amulet hanging from his rearview mirror. In the car, was the scent of freshly burned sage. That didn’t seem weird to me at the time, but maybe it was to cover other smells. There was a lot of ash in the cupholders. The car’s ceiling was covered with some sort of chart. There were stars and strange symbols, but I don’t think they were astrological.

Maybe none of it means anything. Anyways, walking to the fountain like this, I’m going to have a lot of time to think about stuff. A voice screams, no! No one wants to hear that crap! Skip! Two triangles appear in front of me, pointing towards the right.

By the fountain is a robed figure, wearing the hood so that the face is completely covered in shadow. The figure’s legs are very straight and are at slight angles. The figure is facing out from the fountain. Probably waiting for me. I approach this person. As I get a few feet away, I hear a voice from behind me. There you are, you made it, just in time. Let’s go! And a dark, smelly bag is placed over my head. I feel several people grab from all directions. They pick me up and carry me to a car. My hands and legs are bound. I can’t see where we’re going. This time, I hear the familiar voice of the uber driver. Hey there, we’re all glad you made it. Just relax and we’ll be there shortly. I think to myself, if we were going somewhere else anyways, why couldn’t they have picked me up from my hotel?

Of course, that voice isn’t coming back to skip this part. Probably enjoying having me bound in the back of the car like this. No idea where I’m going. What these people are trying to sell. Don’t worry about anything, this is just protocol. We don’t want you revealing where our base of operations is.

Ok, sure whatever. But I need to wake up in the morning to go do stuff and this just seems like it’s going to take a lot more time than I have. I think it’s already morning, isn’t it? Whatever. Too late now. Just gotta see where this all goes.

I smell sage, I think someone lit some. I didn’t hear the click of a lighter or the scratch of matches, though. Strange… Then I hear the distinct sound of a tape cassette being loaded. Gregorian chants fill the car. They must be purposely playing them at a volume such that my thoughts are drowned out. The bass is turned up and somehow the windows are shaking. We drive along some back road like this for some time, long enough to listen to the whole tape. Perhaps we were just driving to listen to the chants.

Then the car comes to a stop, and I’m led out. I’m not given any warning for the curb, and I trip over it. They just keep walking forward, dragging me along. I seem to be walking across someone’s front yard. Someone appears to have gotten to the front door before us and is having a conversation with the occupant. Someone is not pleased. There is a scuffle and a loud thud. Then some dragging noises, and all is calm again. We enter the residence.

I am sat down at a table and the bag is removed from my head. In front of me sit several men in robes, again with the hoods on low as to cover their faces in shadow. The room is dark and there’s a bright light focused on me such that I have difficulty making out the rest of the room. There does appear to be two more robed men standing on either side of a doorway. I’m still bound and cannot see behind me. I hear some shuffling of feet.

Then someone is breathing down my neck. Relax, do as your told, answer our questions, and all will be alright, he whispers ominously. The man sitting across from me adjusts the chair and leans forward. Now, now, we don’t need to be so formal here. Just take it easy. Here, have a smoke. He extends his hand from beneath the sleeve of the robe. As the sleeve falls away, a hand-rolled blunt is revealed. I can smell from across the table, that there’s some strong stuff inside and they used a backwoods to roll it. Maybe even two considering the size.

No thanks, I don’t smoke anymore.

Take it, we’ll be offended if you don’t. And besides, what reason can you have for rejecting such an offer? Just take a puff or two. It will help set the mood.

No, I really don’t use anymore. I’m good. I don’t need that stuff; I don’t want that stuff.

Now, I must insist. You should really take some. We just had a long drive, and this will help set the mind. What are you worried about? It’s perfectly medicinal.

Well, no not really. There was a meta-analysis not too long ago that looked at all the studies that claim medicinal benefits and found they all have insufficient sample sizes and controls. Strictly speaking, there are no medicinal benefits you can claim while remaining intellectually honest.

That can’t be true, the robed man is taken aback. That is probably some sort of government funded propaganda.

You can look at the studies that claim the benefits yourself, most of them are crap. This isn’t government propaganda. Don’t you follow science?

Yes, of course, but surely, they must be wrong about-

What do you mean? Sounds like you only follow the science when it confirms your preconceived conclusions.

The robed men look at each other and appear disgruntled. One of the standing figures steps up and whispers something to the seated one. Um, right yes, fine. This isn’t really why we’re here. Forget it. If you really don’t want it fine. He puts the blunt aside.

What are we doing here, I ask.

The seated man to the right produces a manilla folder and places it on the table. The center one opens it and slides it over to me. I see a lot of documents, including what appears to be the floorplan of a building with various entry points circled and an x marked in one of the inner rooms. On the other side is a page with various scraps of paper attached with paper clips and tape. There’s a timeline of various political events worldwide and lines drawn to other papers. One shows a map of central Europe with lines that correspond with oil pipelines. Another is a picture of Klaus Schwab. There are various notes written all over. I look closer to try to make out the handwriting. One note appears to say something about the Club of Rome.

Whoa, whoa, wait, not that one. The robed man takes the folder back and produces a different manilla folder. Again, he opens and slides it over for me to look at. In this folder, there’s a lot of esoteric, spiritual looking material. There’s a Cahill-Keyes world map with ley lines marked. Specific ley line intersections are circled: a few in Europe, one in North America, several in Latin America, a couple in Africa, and five throughout Asia.

On the other side is a star chart of some kind. I don’t really know astrology at all, but something tells me this isn’t a typical chart. There are fourteen divisions and pictures of strange creatures in each one that I don’t recognize. There are scraps of paper attached to the chart as well, with notes written in the same handwriting as in the other folder. I make out on one of the notes the name Nibiru. There’s also a rough sketch of what I believe is the Magician tarot card. Another note mentions the second mud flood.

I look up at the group of robed men staring at me. I say, the other folder was more interesting.

They look at each other. They don’t seem pleased with that comment. The robed man in the center looks back towards me. Never mind the other folder, that is a worldly project. This one is more important. In this folder, is the metaphysical truth of this reality, of this world. Please look at all the documents carefully. I’m sure you will agree. We’ve been watching you since your arrival in Houston. We believe you’ll find this truth to be compelling.

Uh, yeah sure, no thanks, I’m good.

I’m sorry but I must insist. Please look.

Nah, I’m not interested in any truth being sold by any group that promises to have all the answers that I should be compelled to agree with. I don’t need your dogma or ideology.

They start to grumble and speak amongst themselves. I can’t make out what they are saying but their voices sound angry and malicious.

Ok, maybe compel was the wrong word to use. Please, give us a chance to persuade you. And I promise, this is no dogma or ideology that you’d have to accept in whole without thinking for yourself and coming to your own conclusions.

Somehow, I doubt that.

Just look at the documents.

Not that I have a choice, fine. I’ll look at your intellectual porn. I look back down at the folder and start to go through its contents. There’s a strange mix of topics that don’t seem to have much connection with each other, at least for now. There’s a lot of internet print outs. One talks about Ancient Vedic technology being used for space flight, using something resembling quicksilver for fuel, and how the Nazis searched for physical remains of these space craft. Another shows a collection of old black and white photographs of architecture being unearthed beneath the ground level of preexisting buildings. There’s a page discussing the similarities between Eastern Orthodox and Asian Religions. One printout shows a forum discussion on what is heard when politicians’ speeches are played backwards, particularly Obama’s and Clinton’s.

I also recognize screenshots from a long since removed youtube video. There’s depictions of the Aztec God, Huehuecoytl. And then there’s various aerial shots of different locations like Washington D.C. with a stick-figure outline that vaguely resemble the god. Some of the pictures are of various world leaders with similar stick-figure outlines overlaying whatever contours happen to fit together.

There’s even articles from Some are Terrence McKenna lectures. There’s several pages from an article on the Akashic Record. Another is an article on McLuhan’s Laws of the Media. Also included is John C. Lilly’s article God as Consciousness-Without-An-Object. Then there’s a screen shot of the burning bush game from TempleOS with a dialogue box. There’s a lot more content in this folder. I’m getting tired.

I don’t know. I have some ideas what this is all supposed to be about. But that’s all speculation and could be whatever. But I don’t know… I look back up to the robed men sitting across from me. Look, guys, I don’t have time for this stuff anymore. I had some good times reading stuff like this in the past. But I have other things I want to work on now.

They all seem visibly disappointed. The robed man in the center, however, seems more agitated. Are you saying then that you’d rather focus more on conventional worldly things?

Um… no not really. I guess kinda sorta. I don’t know. Well, wait, why do you separate the two into some sort of dualistic model? No, don’t answer that, I don’t care to persuade you either way. I don’t have time to spend on this. You’re clearly already decided anyways.

Hey, that’s not fair! Now the central figure seems really offended. That separation… we don’t …the point is that material shouldn’t be the priority.

Yeah, maybe so, I don’t think I buy into your conception of spiritual priorities either. Your metaphysics is all over the place. You seem to be obsessed with alternative states to the exclusion of the mundane. You guys seem dependent on the esoteric and alternative states in order to claim some higher spiritual plane. I don’t care, I’m not interested in proving I’m spiritually better than other people.

Whoa, hey, that’s not what we’re trying to do! We just researched these topics in depth and found something that most people don’t seem to explore for whatever reason.

That may be, but so what. Your philosophy is only useful for existing on a plane that you can’t even be sure really exists. I’m certainly not against spiritual lifestyles, but I also don’t have the luxury of renouncing the world. I still exist in a material reality. And your spirituality doesn’t seem to do anything to help me through this existence.

But it can! But it does! Our philosophy is grounded in the real world. Altered states and the esoteric help us access different capabilities latent in ourselves in order to better reach our goals, both worldly and spiritually. Our spiritualism informs our material goals and help guide us to create visions for our lives that are more fruitful, both for our own self-development and for serving the larger community.

And how? How are the lessons learned from these esoteric sources any different than what is taught by various other spiritual traditions or philosophies, by self-discipline and a strong work ethic? How does your brand of spiritualism lead you to help the community at large in a way that’s so different and unique as to accomplish a better world?

Because we recognize certain truths, certain obstacles that other’s do not and-

You just have your own metaphors, idioms, and allegories. I don’t see how they’re any different except of course for the fact that only a select few will understand what you’re talking about. And then you haven’t demonstrated what the advantage is to learning a whole new paradigm that doesn’t seem to accomplish anything different except for style or aesthetic. Which then just seems material. Why not learn the predominant traditions except to look different and somehow special?

That’s not- there’s more to this than that… We …our ideas would lead to a better society with more respect for individual ways of thinking. We respect the freedom of consciousness, to choose the state of mind you prefer to exist in. We want and promote a society that takes care of people and the environment and…

So you’re literally just another new agey cultish fa├žade for utopian politics. Now you completely lost my interest. Next, you’ll be talking about direct democracy and universal health care or whatever. Can I go now? This is getting repetitive and boring. I still have my phone; I can just get an uber or whatever and find my way back. Oh, and by the way, if freedom of consciousness is such a high value for you guys, why are you pushing your vision on me so hard?

The robed men stand up and back away from the table. They vigorously talk to each other, arguing about what to do with me now at this point. They’re trying to keep their voices down, but the discussion is pretty heated, and I can hear some of it. Some of them want to keep trying to persuade me. Some of them realize this is just a waste of time and want to give up. The guy who was sitting across from me, just hangs his head, shoulders become slightly slumped, and he holds up his hand to hush the others. He walks over to me and cuts the bounds around my hands and legs.

Ok, forget we asked. Get out of here.

I stand up, smile, and wave. Then, I turn around and walk out the room. I go through a living room towards the front door. Out of the corner of my eye I see a body laying on the floor, motionless. Once outside, I get an uber that’s not too far away. The driver pulls up in a small Japanese car. I get in and he drives away. The inside of this car is much more normal, and I relax into it. The sun is coming up in the distance.

Hey, you just get out a party or something? -leaving this early in the morning and everything.

Yeah, a great party! I laugh as I say this.

Nice, nice, lots of girls? Dancing? Loud music? Drugs?

Nah, nothing like that.

What kind of party is it without naked women?

I laugh. Nah, just the boys hanging out in stolen vestments and discussing the nature of reality and consciousness and all.

What? That doesn’t sound like a party.

No, it was great, lots of fun. I love getting into heavy conversations like that. Wish I had more time to really go in with them.

So, what then? You talk about religion and call that a party?

Yeah, yeah.

So, they convert you or something?

Nah, I got my own thing, but it’s all cool.

What’s your thing if you don’t mind?

I shake my head. Oh, I don’t know. I mean, I’m not entirely comfortable saying this as I’m not all that confident in my practice and knowledge, but Zen Buddhism.

Really? Why Zen?

Well, I like learning about different ways of thinking and challenging my own beliefs. I gave Zen a try because I kinda sorta grew up that way and it’s part of my family background being part Japanese. My mom didn’t really teach us Zen and really my only exposure to it growing up was the occasional visit to the temple for funerals, memorial services, or Obon festivals. Later on, though, I got curious and started to do my own research into what it is. I like the idea of connecting to my family history and background through it. But more importantly, I also resonate with the philosophy.

What about the philosophy do you like?

I smile… Ugh yeah, since I’ve mostly done the research on my own and without the guidance of an actual teacher, I’m not all that confident my view of Zen is totally accurate. I’m not sure I really know what I’m talking about and wouldn’t want to lead anyone else astray.

Really? That’s interesting. I’m sure those guys would’ve liked to hear that before you left.

Hmm? I look up front into the rearview, into the reflection of the driver’s eyes. He looks back. I shake my head and smile and turn to look out the window. Yeah, probably should’ve.

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