"It's the strangest thing," said the doctor. "We have no explanation for it. The two of them, they've both been unconscious for the two days since the accident, but their brain waves are highly active."
"That's unusual?" murmured Karen.
"That is unusual," affirmed the doctor slowly. "But it's not the strange part. The thing is, not only are their brain waves highly active, but the patterns of activity are exactly the same."
"Exactly the same?" repeated Karen dumbly.
"That's right. Down to the tiniest little detail. As though they were both coming from the same brain -- but they're not; they're coming from two completely separate organisms. We've never seen anything like it."
"What are the chances they'll come out of it."
"It's an unprecedented situation. At this point, we're as ignorant as you are."
They stood and stared at the two inert bodies for a while. John and Nell Quinta -- lying there, shitting and pissing into mechanical devices, getting fed through tubes, lying for hours without moving even to scratch an itch.
"It's as though they're both dreaming the same dream," observed the doctor.
"Is that a medical diagnosis?" Karen grinned. She paused and studied John and Nell for another moment, then she turned toward the door. "I'll be back in a while, Doc.... Nell and John, I'll see you later. Hope you're having fun."
As Karen walked toward the door, she felt herself getting dizzy. The walls started bulging toward her, as though they'd had too much to eat. Suddenly, through the surging wall of mist, she bumped into Joseph Przenciewicsz.
Joseph looked terrible, as though he'd just endured a carcrash himself.
"What happened?" asked Karen.
"Jim Allison," said Joseph gruffly. "Killed four people in two hours. Killed William, and killed Andrew Sluzhyak, and his wife and kid."
"A fucking two year old baby," said Joseph, forcing back tears.
"Did they catch him?"
"In a manner of speaking," Joseph said slowly. "He went into his apartment and blew himself up. With the radio with no component parts. It wasn't much use as a radio, but I guess it was good for something."
Karen raised up the corners of her mouth, in what was supposed to be a smile but ended up a horrible grimace.
The doctor was slapping her face.
Karen stared up at him. She looked around for Joseph, who wasn't there.
"You passed out on your way through the door," said the doctor. "Maybe we'd better keep you under observation for a while."
"Forget it," said Karen, rising to her feet. "What I really need is to get away from all this. Far away."
"If you're sure you're all right," the doctor said warily. "Really, I...."
"Look, if I get sick and die I promise not to sue you," Karen snapped. "Stop worrying, will you?" She walked out the door, shaking her head from side to side in angry confusion.
Karen left Sunrise Hospital and drove her car to her apartment, where she removed her and Nell's few possessions and stuffed them in the trunk. She took her passport, a few changes of clothes, and some junk from the bathroom, and packed them in a knapsack. Then she drove to the bank, where she withdrew all her money -- about two thousand dollars.
She drove on to William's place. William wasn't home. Sheslipped her car keys under the door, and left a brief note: "I'm going away for a while. Please take care of our stuff while Nell and I are gone (ha ha). Love, Karen."
Then she walked the two miles to McCarran Airport. She shopped around among the ticket counters for about twenty minutes, searching for the cheapest flight to Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, Antarctica, Papua New Guinea -- anywhere distant, and the further the better. She wanted to put some water between herself and the situation. Finally she booked a ticket to Frankfurt via Detroit.
When she got on the plane she put the boarding pass in her pocket. She felt something strange there: a Zip-Loc bag full of some kind of paper. She took it out and looked at it carefully: it was full of tiny paper squares, some of them with thick black dots in the middle. It was fifty to a hundred hits of White.
She had never seen that much before. How it had gotten in her pocket, she had no idea.
She put it back in her pocket, buckled her seatbelt, and browsed through the in-flight magazine. Meanwhile tremendous, frightening overtures flowed through her head. It was a phenomenon which she had always despised: her entire life came with a built-in melodramatic soundtrack. During romantic moments, her head filled with swooning violins. Intervals of tension were magnified by pulsating samba rhythms. Excitement was always embroidered with feedback-laden guitar solos. This was why she hated listening to music, or preferred to listen to completely un-melodic avante-garde classical. There was altogether too much music in her life as it was.
The music that was pouring through Karen now was utterly unfamiliar. It was continuous, in the sense that each passage followed from the last, but there were no persistent themes; every time she tried to analyze it, it would do something totally different. And yet, despite the incredible variety of harmonic and melodic structure, it was overwhelmingly loud and visceral; she felt it in her muscles as much as her mind. It made her skintingle. She looked at the tiny blonde hairs on her arms and, no matter how many times she checked her perception, she was sure they were vibrating to the fluctuating beat.
She felt her forehead; she was definitely feverish. She closed her eyes and forced herself to go to sleep. As she drifted off she heard Nell's voice belting out an emotional aria, in a language that she could not understand.
When she woke up she saw nothing but puffy luminous whiteness. Slowly she realized that her nose was pressed up against the window; she was looking out at the clouds. The plane was thirty thousand feet above the Atlantic Ocean.
She looked down at her legs and saw three sheets of paper, held together with a paper clip. They had apparently been ripped out of a spiral notebook, in the not too distant past; they were shedding little fragments of paper all over her lap. They were covered with handwriting, in smudgy black ink.
She looked around, trying to ascertain the source of the papers. But the two seats next to her were empty, and the seats across the aisle were occupied by an overweight German lady and her talkative, pimply teenage son. The two of them seemed most unlikely suspects. But other than those two, all she could see were the tops of people's heads.
She picked up the pages and attempted to read them. The first page began: "Abstract sex. At the core of the universe...."
She couldn't get any further. She couldn't say why, but every line made her feel a little queasier. She closed her eyes and waited for the nausea to abate.
And then she heard a voice. It was an unfamiliar voice, unmistakeably male and with a faint New Jersey accent. It spoke to her slowly, as though enjoying the shapes of the words. If not for the bizarreness of the content, it would have sounded like a university lecturer.
"At the core of the universe is sex," said the voice. "Not the physical act, nor its psychological consequences -- but theabstract form."
"Negative," replied Karen. The source of her own words was as mysterious to her as the source of the other voice. "Negatory."
"The abstract form of sex is this: two entities -- each aware of the difference between its internal and external space -- each possessing an inside and out -- and possessing certain aspects which generally remain inside -- each aware that the other exists within its outside -- interact in a way which permits some of those aspects which generally remain inside of each to flow out into the other -- in a way which permits this and also has the property that the more this occurs to each entity the more pleasure, the more power, that entity feels -- so that each entity is driven to interact more and more and more intensely -- to get more of the inside out."
"Negatory," Karen repeated. "Negatory. Negatory."
"Negatory is not a word," the voice informed her. "It is a psychotic aberration induced in your mind by seven years of repressed sexuality. It is a symbol of your subliminal death."
"Negatory," retorted Karen.
The voice continued. "Eventually so much of the inside is poured out that a perfect unity of the inside with the outside is experienced."
"Negatory," repeated Karen. She opened her eyes. Sitting on her lap was a small, furry creature, about the size of a cocker spaniel but infinitely uglier. It had long purple eyestalks, and its mouth was a gaping hole resembling a gored vagina.
The creature was speaking. The most unsettling thing of all was the total humanity of its voice. "The essence of sex is the pain of drawing rigid boundaries -- and the joy of bursting through them -- the joy of merging inside and out -- the pain of living a divided world."
The creature paused for a second; Karen clamped her eyelids shut. They sprung open, and no matter how hard she struggled shecouldn't close them.
"The whole process of life is essentially this..." the creature continued, a little more enthusiastically than before. It was as if while Karen had opened her eyes the voice had been gathering its breath.
"I don't care," interrupted Karen. "I don't want to listen to this garbage." She paused. "I want to talk to God."
"What makes you think he wants to talk to you?" the voice shot back instantly, acidly.
"I don't know what makes me think anything," admitted Karen. "Does that invalidate me?"
"Yes," replied the voice. "You are invalid. Your existence is on the verge of being revoked. If you do not listen very carefully to what I tell you, and heed my words, you are in danger more profound than your small mind can comprehend."
The voice yawned.
"Listen," said Karen. "I have figured something out." Her neck was suddenly stiff; she felt as though someone else were speaking through her mouth. "You are a projection of the drug White, which I took back in Las Vegas. You are not objectively real. You are the one whose existence will be revoked, as soon as the effects of the drug wear off."
"You are making progress," said the creature. Its horrid mouth contorted in an approximation of a grin.
Suddenly the creature transmuted. It was no longer a hideous beast but a handsome young man -- naked, wide-eyed and muscular, sitting on her lap with an erection. "I feel a great power over my lover during sex," the young man said. "I feel that she can't help but follow my every command -- I feel that I bring forth her motions as expertly -- delicately and subtly --
as when my fingers bring tunes from the piano.
"At the same time I feel she has strict, boundless power over me. At the same time I feel that I cannot resist any of her commands. At the same time I feel that she toys with me --
teases me -- excites me and repels me -- draws me toward climax and then lets me down -- strategically.
"It's a conspiracy! It's a plot! A cunning plan! It's a set up! A fucking hoax! Hoax! Hoax! Hoax! Hoax!"
Karen struggled to close her eyes. A force she couldn't quite conceptualize resisted her. The man changed back into the horrid creature.
"Listen!" yelled the creature, its voice growing rapidly throatier and more alien. "Are you sure you're listening? Listen, you fucking moron! I'm telling you this for your own good! You'll appreciate it someday, when you're a little older. Pay attention, or I'll really make you pay!!!"
It stopped talking for a second. The only sound was the dim whoosh and buzz of the air conditioner vent by her ear. Then the creature continued, considerably quieter than before. She succeeded in closing her eyes.
"The whole process of life is essentially this: mind is shaping reality through body and reality is through body shaping mind. Thus in and outside shape eachother. Shape! Each! Other! Mind and reality may interact in a cold and distant manner -- exchanging only what's required and keeping secrets from eachother at every turn -- or they may enter a relation of increasing joy and communion -- releasing more of their secret patterns to each other with each tender shaping motion -- and thus both moving according to the pattern of sex toward that timeless flash of perfect union -- toward that boundless one inversion when in and out tumble through each other -- when the boundary is broken --
"This approach toward cosmic orgasm may be experienced by individual minds as a collapse of reality, as an increasing fluidity of phenomena that were previously solid.
"Would you like something to drink?"
Suddenly the voice had become female.
"What?" Karen mumbled unclearly.
"Would you like something to drink?" the voice repeated.
She opened her eyes. There was a stewardess leaning toward her. She looked into her lap, and the papers were gone.
"No thanks," she said to the stewardess. The stewardess moved on to the next aisle, eyeing Karen suspiciously.
Karen searched furtively for the papers -- under her seat and the seats around hers, in the pockets in front of her seat and the adjacent ones, in the cracks between the seats, in her pockets, in her bag ... they was nowhere. Either they had disappeared, or someone had taken them.
The words of the voice were very clear in Karen's mind. Abstract sex. The boundless one inversion. She didn't know what to make of it. It sounded like the ramblings of a lunatic, but then, so did just about everything really. After the events of the past few days, Karen wasn't particularly confident of her ability to reason or perceive in an objective manner.
She fell back asleep. The plane landed; she got off and walked like a robot to the subway, which she hopped onto without paying. She got off at the train station and got on the first train she saw, which was heading for Prague via Nurnburg. The next week or so passed in a blur. Only occasionally did she hallucinate or hear voices; her experience was not entirely dominated by anomalous experiences. But at no time could she think in the manner she was accustomed to. The eerie, barely-rational music she had heard when she boarded the plane was now with her constantly, making her moods turbulent and alien. She passed from city to city, restaurant to restaurant, train to train, sinking further and further into a sort of hypersensitive stupor -- keenly aware of what was going on around her, acutely interested in what she was seeing and experiencing, absorbing every detail and yet unable to step back and get a general perspective on what was going on. Everything was pure detail; whenever she thought she had isolated a self behind the mass of sensation, action and information, she somehow lost her train of thought and was looking at something else. Emotions were not lacking: she was inspired and awed by beautiful landscapes andbuildings, outraged by bureaucratic inefficiencies. But the emotions were all orbiting each other, without a center to hold on to.
It was a long slow train ride to Prague, past soft green rolling hills. Once she crossed the border into Czechoslovakia, she saw few other passenger trains -- only freight trains carrying coal, machinery and Soviet tanks. When she got off in Prague, she wandered aimlessly through the train station for a while. Then she saw a sign for "Rooms" with a line of people under it. She got in the line and tried to figure out what was going on.
When she got up near the front of the line she saw a sign that said, in several different languages, "First Private Travel Agency in Czechoslovakia. Open till eight." It was seven forty two.
The guy behind the counter spoke broken English. She changed some money into crowns, and asked if he could help her find a room for the night. He looked at her as though she were an idiot.
Suppressing an urge to spit on him, she asked for the cheapest room available. He said, "fifteen dollar." She forked it over, and he handed her a key, a map, and a little slip of paper with an address on it. The young Frenchwoman who was next in line pushed her aside.
As she walked out of the train station, she looked at the map. Her room was nowhere near the center of the city -- it was out across the river, in a neighborhood called Kosire' up in the hills. Following the somewhat vague indications on the map, she took the metro for three stops, then hopped on a tram across the river, then waited on the corner for a bus. Fifteen, twenty, thirty minutes -- no bus showed up. Nothing suggestive of a bus stop -- no people waiting, no sign, nothing. She decided to strike out on foot, although it was already rather dark.
On the map it looked like two or three blocks. The first two blocks were incredibly steep -- maybe twenty-five degreesuphill. Her legs began to ache -- hiking uses different muscles than dancing. Then the street came to an end. The map showed it continuing.
She stood there for maybe thirty or forty seconds, unable to gain perspective. A ghetto neighborhood in a foreign country, where no one speaks English, stranded with a key and an obviously inaccurate map.
Then something caught her eye. Under a sprawling tree in front of her, there were some stairs. She followed them up, up, up the hill, maybe four or five blocks. Eventually there was a street sign. She was on the street. The stairs -- crumbly stone, with ample plant life -- were the street. Her mouth formed into a little grin. Here, a voice inside her whispered, the ordinary rules do not apply.
Then, all of a sudden, she was lost. The stairs had ended; they had turned into a veritable maze of forking walkways. She kept following one path, running into the entrance to a building, then backtracking and following another, only to find another doorway. She wasn't sure if the doorways were all to the same building -- if they weren't, then all the buildings looked the same, which was quite possible. It was getting very dark.
She knew what direction she wanted to go in, but there was nothing there, only a tree-covered hill proteced by a barbed-wire fence. Finally she came across a little old lady. The lady didn't speak a word of English, but by means of gestures Karen communicated to her what the problem was. The lady directed her toward what looked to Karen like a decaying tree. Karen smiled and thanked the lady, glad for the human contact.
She walked toward the tree; and sure enough, under it were some stairs -- winding and narrow, but leading up the hill. The stairs let out on the street she was looking for -- it was three or four long uphill blocks more, and she was at the address on the slip of paper.
She rang the indicated doorbell. A middle-aged woman in her nightgown opened the door, looking very confused and displeased. She led Karen into the house, all the while muttering angrily in Czech. She pointed to the couch, where Karen obediently sat, then ran out the door.
Five minutes later, she returned with a neighbor, a girl about Karen's age. The girl, in barely comprehensible English, explained that the woman had told the travel agency not to send her any more boarders. Karen could stay the night, but then she would have to leave.
Karen smiled and nodded. What did she care? She went to bed where the woman showed her, and had seven hours of solid dreamless sleep. Then she got up and showered, and left the apartment, walked out into the luminous day. The neighborhood looked much lusher by daylight -- much less dingy, much less ominous. There were plants in every direction -- trees, flowers, bushes,.... The buildings were old but not really decrepit; they would remain standing into the foreseeable future.
Instead of replicating her roundabout path up the hill, she decided to take a direct route down. She walked straight in the direction of the street where the tram had dropped her off -- down a hill maybe thirty five degrees steep, through woods and bramble. Occasionally there was a trail, but mostly she was running down full speed ahead, grabbing onto trees to slow herself.
She took the tram back across the river, but instead of getting on the metro she got off at the Nove Mesto -- the tourist area, the old town. She walked past the hundreds of shops and street vendors, stopping now and then to listen to the incredibly talented musicians -- a lot of classical music, some folksy stuff and rock, and an uncanny amount of ragtime. Three different versions of "Sweet Georgia Brown"! She got some chocolate crepes and sausage sandwiches from the street vendors, and ate them while walking along. The city looked more medieval than anything she'd ever seen -- the streets were narrow cobblestone, and every building was an antique, complete with gargoyles, peculiar carvings, and other ornate frills. She felt like she was walkingthrough a fairy tale.
Finally she came to a bridge and crossed over it -- the same river she'd crossed earlier that morning, coming from Kosire'. She climbed up the hill, swept up in a herd of babbling French and German tourists. She followed them, not knowing where she was going, into the Royal Palace. Most of it was sort of humdrum -- she'd never been a history buff -- but then around behind one of the museum buildings she saw something remarkable. A deep shade of purple, richer than she'd ever seen before. It was a stained glass window. The closer she got, the more incredible it seemed. She stood there staring it from the outside for five or ten minutes -- not even noticing the picture which the window depicted, just absorbed in the color. For a moment here and there she would try to understand the meaning that the color had for her -- why it was so attractive -- but then the sensation would sweep into her again....
Eventually she walked into the building: Saint Vitus's Cathedral. The windows were even more striking from the inside. They were all Bible scenes, and she didn't care for the Bible, but that hardly seemed to matter. They seemed so alive -- more so than the chattering, pacing tourists who swarmed around them, eager to get the best possible angle, flipping through their guidebooks for clues to the symbolism, trying to pinpoint what events were pictured in which windows. She sat down in one of the pews and stared at the window to her left, the one with the deep purple tint. The main figure was some religious man, but there was a woman in the background who seemed somehow far more attractive. Karen gazed deep into her eyes, forgetting who and where she was. And then she realized in a flash: the face is Nell's!
The lips on the face began to move. "I am your mother's only daughter. I speak in syllables of water." It was Nell's voice, slow and certain.
Then the other voice took over, the one from the plane. It sounded more than ever like a university lecturer, but it alsosounded tired, as though it had not slept since speaking to her last. It repeated exactly the same phrases as before, from "Abstract sex. At the core of the universe..." on to "...increasing fluidity of phenomena that were previously solid" -- but faster, two or three times faster, so fast that she could hardly understand it.
When it finished she opened her eyes. A short, dark man was sitting next to her. "You are American, no?" he said.
"Let me tell you a story."
He began, in a deep voice rich with intonations. As he spoke, she saw his words in the air in front of her, as if they were being projected onto an invisible screen.
"Long, long ago," the little man said. "Before the beginning of the universe. Before the start of time. There was nothing. And then, out of the nothingness, appeared a hermaphroditic God which was the nothingness. The purpose of this God, this primal being, was to give birth to the universe. So it impregnated itself. It became pregnant. But there was an error: instead of just one universe, it gave birth to two. One male and one female. Twins. It named one Nell, and the other John.
"The divine principle was thus bisected: each universe was only half perfect. The hermaphroditic God knew that, in order to create a perfect universe, it would have to kill one of its children. But it could not bear to do so. It permitted both to live. Thus came about the flawed world we see today."
The man paused and took a deep breath. "Thus the matter stood until twenty-two years ago, when there appeared an additional force. One in possession of the courage that the hermaphroditic God lacked. The courage to kill."
The little man sat silent for a moment. Karen stared into his impenetrable eyes. "Is that the end of the story?" she asked, surprised.
"The end has yet to be written," said the man. Then he got up and walked away.
A guard was grabbing onto her arm, mumbling something into a foreign language. She realized she had passed out again. She got up, brushed the guard aside and left the cathedral. In the back of her mind was the thought that these hallucinations might have something to do with the White. But the thought never fully surfaced; she just moved on.
She left the Palace and crossed back over the bridge. Sick of museums after seeing the one in the Royal Palace, she browsed through art galleries. There was an aggressive post-modernist display called GULAG, which described the Soviet death camps with a combination of video, audio, photography and text. An amazing exhibit, considering that only two or three years before the Soviets had ruled Czechoslovakia. Karen knew she should be interested, but it didn't rouse her at all.
Next, there was a weird exhibit in a theater, called "Franz Kafka in the Head." Kafka, of course, had lived in Prague.
Three rooms full of artsy arrangements of dummies, clothes, shoes, clocks and books.
She walked through maybe half a dozen tiny galleries full of abstract paintings. It was three or four hours before she saw something that really struck her.
The gallery was blaring Pink Floyd, or rather Roger Waters's concert album of The Wall performed at the Berlin Wall. It was full of naive, sprawling colorful paintings and crazy passionate pseudo-portraits; but what really caught her eye were the photographs. The subjects were mainly sexual, but there was always a weird slant. A woman tied up with black ropes, with a cereal box over her head. Bodies painted different colors, with legs and arms twisted into alien positions. She bought a photograph of a nude young man with a grey fish in place of a penis. The man's face was obscured by a thin black scarf -- that was perhaps her favorite aspect of the photo. Without a face he was not an individual; he was man in general, his sexualityreplaced with an ancient Christian religious symbol.
She meandered from gallery to gallery until nine or so, when everything seemed to be closed. Then she looked for someplace to eat, which took about an hour -- every restaurant she walked into was full. Reservations required. The only place she could find to eat was a beer hall: an expansive, unadorned room filled with dozens of long tables, occupied by men of all ages drinking huge mugs of beer. There were five or ten women in the place, versus maybe two hundred men. She ordered a steak and a beer for about eighty cents total.
The beer was impressive, better than anything she'd ever tasted back home. And the steak wasn't bad either -- except for the fact that they hadn't served her any vegetable or potato. She called the waitress back and tried to indicate that she wanted to order a vegetable, but she couldn't make herself understood. Then she looked around at the natives -- many of them were eating, but only meat. The only other things she saw were these funny-looking dumplings that looked like soggy slices of bread. She managed to order a few plates of these "Czech dumplings", and she wolfed them down greedily.
She guzzled the beer, hoping vaguely that drunkenness would clear up her mind. In two or three hours she drank a dozen mugs of beer, which cost around twelve cents each. To her surprise, throughout the evening only two guys tried to pick her up, and she blew them off easily. Apparently men didn't come to beer halls to pick up women.
When she finished, she could barely stagger out the door. Somehow she found her way back to the train station. There were a few dozen young tourists sleeping on the floor, and a handful of native bums besides. Karen immediately joined them.
At quarter till four in the morning some guards came by and bopped everyone lightly with their billy clubs, saying something in Czech that no doubt amounted to "Get off the floor!" She got up and walked around the station, in a daze. She wasn't hung over -- she'd only been sleeping for two hours; she was stilldrunk. She saw that there was a train leaving for Budapest in ten minutes. She bought a ticket and got on board.
The train was jam packed with college students -- mostly French, German and Scandinavian. Karen wound up standing in the aisle. She bought a few bottles of cheap Czech beer from some Swedish tourists, who kept calling it "bad Checkish medicine" and laughing uproariously. When she wasn't sucking one of the beer bottles, she had her head hanging out the window, watching the night roll by. A few times she fell asleep on her feet, and awoke while halfway to the ground. Every time she had the same brief, vivid dream. It was the Saint Vitus Cathedral; the panel with Nell's face. Nell's mouth kept spitting blood at her, and she kept dodging out of the way. Again and again and again.
A hundred times she was convinced she saw the furry creature flying past, the creature who'd spoken to her on the plane. The booze doesn't help, she realized wearily. Some customs men came by a little later -- then other customs men, and others, and yet others. Four separate times she trotted out her passport.
Eventually the train rolled into Budapest, a little after noon. She heard some British women talking about a youth hostel, and inconspicuously followed them there. It was in southern Buda, across the Danube from downtown Pest where most of the action was. About five bucks a night to share a room with three other people. She stayed three nights.
Her time in Budapest was like a long, cold shower. No voices, no hallucinations. She explored the museums on Castle Hill, rode the quaint funicular cable car and spent hour after hour exploring the castle walls and fortifications. She took her meals mostly at Paprika, a Hungarian fast food place in downtown Pest. It was pretty rudimentary, but it was a thousand percent improvement over Czech food. Whereas Prague had been medieval, Budapest was as modern as New York. Everyone drove ninety miles an hour and ignored the red lights; there were restaurants and clothing stores everywhere. At every corner there were three or four sleazy-looking guys asking to changedollars into forints -- when she turned them down they cursed in Hungarian, or else said "Foook you!", proud of their English.
On her fourth day in Budapest, while eating in Paprika, she overheard some British tourists talking about the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast -- how cheap it was, and how absolutely gorgeous, and so on. She went to the travel agent to buy a ticket -- and was told that to go to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, took twenty six hours and cost a hundred and twenty dollars. This was well outside her budget -- the train from Prague had cost only six dollars. But then, before she had decided what she was going to do, she happened to pass an airline office. She walked in on a whim, and asked how much it would cost to fly to Sofia. It was an hour flight, for seventy dollars. She bought a ticket for eight that night, marveling at the senselessness of Eastern European economics.
As soon as the plane approached Sofia she regretted her decision. Even from above, it was the ugliest place she'd ever seen. All the buildings were exactly alike: grey and rectangular, twenty-something stories tall. The plane was almost empty; when it landed the other passengers immediately dispersed. She was the only one in the airport. She noticed an official government BALKANTOURIST service window, and she approached it and asked about getting a room. The lady in the window handed her a key and asked for ten dollars. No small talk.
Karen went outside and hailed a cab. The cabbie asked for fifteen bucks. She laughed at him and asked another cabbie. Fourteen dollars. She sensed there was something wrong: if a room cost ten dollars, why should a cab ride cost fifteen?
She walked back inside to the BALKANTOURIST desk, and asked if there was a bus into downtown Sofia. The lady said the bus stopped running an hour ago. She asked how far it was to walk. The lady said ten miles.
"But is fifteen dollars a reasonable price?"
"You shouldn't have to pay more than ten."
Against her instincts, Karen paid ten bucks for the cab. Then, on the way out of the airport, she saw the airport bus coming in. The official BALKANTOURIST representative had lied to her, probably for a percentage of the cab fare. The cabbie stopped six times along the way to ask passers-by and store clerks for directions. Welcome to Bulgaria, she thought distractedly. During the rest of her stay in Bulgaria, she never had to pay more than fifty cents for a cab.
Sofia was as unattractive up close as it had been from the air. The streets downtown were paved with yellow bricks -- but they were dirty, decaying yellow bricks, not like in the Wizard of Oz. Several members of Parliament were hunger-striking outside the main government building. The only good point was the National Museum -- full of more solid gold implements and ornaments than she'd ever imagined possible, most dating back to the Thracians and some going as far back as 7000 B.C. And the Natural History Museum was sort of amusing -- no dinosaurs or large animals, but hundreds and hundreds of exotic butterflies and birds.
The next evening she got on a train for Bourgas, toward the south of the Black Sea coast. The train left at ten and arrived at seven in the morning. She slept till five and spent the rest of the time looking out the window. There were acres and acres of sunflowers, huge bright yellow ones staring out at her like surreal eyes. And then there was one broken-down factory after another, with huge pipes running through the air. Apparently they didn't put pipes underground in Bulgaria. There was even a decrepit nuclear power plant -- no protective covering like in America, just a naked cauldron of fissioning uranium....
After five minutes Karen realized that there was nothing of interest to her in Bourgas. She walked to the boat dock and inquired about getting a boat to some other beach town. An old man directed her to the "heedrogleedare" -- she didn't understand the word, but she followed his instructions. When she got there she was shocked -- a shiny white hovercraft in such a backwards, dirty country. Hydroglider, heedrogleedare. It cost fifty centsand whizzed above the water like magic. She got off at the first stop, a tiny medieval town named Nesebar.
Immediately when she stepped off the hovercraft, she realized something had changed. She had a sense that she had found what she was searching for. Her mind felt clear for the first time in days, maybe weeks. The White was absolutely vanished.
The town was special without being spectacular. The streets were cobblestone and the buildings were mostly stone; and there were ten or twelve medieval churches in various states of decay. Nesebar was almost an island; but it was connected to the mainland by a little strip of dirt and rock just wide enough for a two-lane road. The tourists were maybe sixty percent Bulgarian, thirty percent German, and the rest miscellaneous. The beach was not ideal; it was rather rocky for swimming. The next town over, Slunchev Bryag or "Sunny Beach", had expansive sandy beaches just like Miami or Cancun. But it was hardly even a town -- just a bunch of ugly modern hotels, booked completely solid by German tourists. Nesebar was different. Karen rented a room overlooking the waterfront for five bucks a night. She paid for two weeks in advance, but decided she might well stay much longer.
Her first three days in Nesebar she spent on the beach -- not swimming, but wading and playing with the shells and the rocks. A flock of three sheep adopted her as temporary shepherd, and followed her from rocky pier to rocky pier. She took her meals from street vendors, and realized gleefully that, even living on the waterfront, she could easily survive on eight bucks a day.
On her fourth day in Nesebar, Karen rented a little motorboat. She wanted to explore the beach more thoroughly. She had very little experience in the water. However, the Black Sea was so warm and calm that she wasn't in the least bit frightened.
As soon as she got a hundred yards from the shore, she realized that either her judgement or her luck had been lousy. The sky was all of a sudden cloudy, and the waves started sloshing into the boat. She directed the boat toward shore, and was proceeding there slowly but steadily -- and then the engine gave out. She cursed it, kicked it, even tried to massage it into submission, but in the end it was the most she could do to stay on board the rocking boat. Soon Nesebar was nowhere to be seen -- it was sea on all sides.
After a few hours, the storm subsided. From the position of the sun, she knew what direction she wanted to go in, so she ripped a seat out from the interior of the boat and started using it as a paddle. But after a couple hours of paddling, the shore was still nowhere to be seen, and she was exhausted. She flopped down on the bottom of the boat and fell asleep.
When she woke up, it was morning. The boat was resting on a beach. But it wasn't Nesebar -- it hardly even looked like Bulgaria. It was a jungle. It was hot and very muggy, and there were brightly colored birds and huge buzzing insects all around. There were fruit trees, from which she picked a morning meal.
She decided to walk along the shore. No longer certain what direction to go in, she picked one at random.
For three days she went on like this, encountering no signs of human life. Then, one morning, she saw a puff of smoke coming from the interior of the forest. It was so highly localized that she was sure it was human in origin.
She walked toward it quickly. Twice she lost sight of the smoke in the dense forest growth, and had to climb up a tree to make sure of the direction.
When she finally reached the fire, she nearly fainted. It was Nell, sitting next to the fire. Nell and a man who looked very similar to Jim Allison.
"Nell!" she exclaimed.
There was no reply.
"Nell!" Karen yelled again.
No answer, just an odd shake of the head.
"Nell! Nell! It's me, Karen! What the hell are you doinghere?!!"
Finally, a verbal response. "I.... I...."
"What's the matter? God, am I ever glad to see you. I thought you were...."
Suddenly Karen was struck dumb as well. Nell is comatose in Las Vegas. There is only one rational conclusion: this is an illusion.
The two women stared at each other for forty or fifty seconds. Then the man who looked like Jim spoke. "What's going on here, Ellen?" he asked.
"What is going on here," responded Ellen, "is that a figment of the world which the Computer created for me has emerged here, in what I had taken to be reality. I am at a loss to understand it. That's what's going on here."
The man looked puzzled; he wrinkled his brow. "But isn't my face also a figment of the world which the Computer created for you?"
Ellen blushed. "Of course it is.... God, do I feel stupid. It's just ... she feels like a real person. I don't know how to put it. There's something about her body language ... you know, an android wouldn't get lonely in the same way, no matter how long it was stranded out in the jungle."
"I understand," the man who looked like Jim said reassuringly. "But...."
"What the hell are you talking about?!" Karen interrupted. "An android? Jesus Christ, what the hell is going on??! You're accusing me of being a robot?"
Ellen and the man who looked like Jim stared at her silently.
"You, a figment of my imagination, of my drug-induced hallucination, are accusing me of not being a real person?!"
"Cut yourself," commanded Ellen. "If you bleed...."
"I'm not going to fall for shit like that," said Karen hotly. "They'll find my body all slashed up, because I hallucinated people telling me to cut myself. Fuck off anddisappear, why don't you?"
Ellen rushed toward her angrily. She took Karen by the throat and dug her nails deep into Karen's neck. Red blood poured out.
"Now I'm just as confused as you are," said the man who looked like Jim.
The three of them sat down around the fire. Karen and Ellen exchanged stories. The android with Jim's face explained that Ellen had decided to call him Percival.
"So you are not an hallucination," said Karen finally. "You are more persistent than any other hallucination I've had ... I mean any hallucination I've had ... and you don't display the bizarre behavior that the other hallucinations did. You have more in common with my experience of reality than with my experience of hallucination, therefore by Occam's Razor I must conclude that you are real and not hallucinatory."
"Well, I'm relieved to hear that," laughed Ellen. "But where does that leave us?"
"Confused as hell," said Karen.
"Only if you persist in asking philosophical questions," pointed out Percival.
"No," said Karen. "There are rational explanations. For example, the two of you could possibly be two crazy people who look like Nell and Jim."
"Then how would we know so much about Nell and Jim?" asked Ellen.
"Or you could be Nell and Jim, either putting me on or gone insane," Karen continued.
"You're missing something," said Percival. "Ellen explained to you that I am an android." He unscrewed his pinky finger, for emphasis, revealing gleaming electronic connections. "In your time there were no androids."
"Not that I knew of," persisted Karen.
"Believe what you want," said Ellen. "It doesn't solve the mystery."
"No it doesn't," Karen admitted. "You can never know for certain that anything's real. But, by the same token, you don't know that the history you accept is a real one. This father of yours, this disease of yours -- it could easily be an invention of the Computer."
"But it feels...."
"Irrelevant," Karen snapped. "You have no way of knowing how thoroughly your mind was tampered with. You want to believe it was tampered with just thus far and no further, but...."
Ellen turned red and began to breathe heavily.
"Ah, forget about it," advised Percival. "What does it matter?" He reached his hand into the fire -- obviously feeling no pain -- and pulled out some well-cooked fish. "Here, have some dinner."
Karen grabbed for it eagerly. "I'm so fucking sick of eating fruit!"
Track 0, Reel 3
I pulled her eyelids over my body
like newly cleaned sheets.
My skin luxuriated in the sugary milk
of her pulsating cornea.
Tiny red blood vessels surrounded my body,
engraving delirious energy landscapes
across the side of my brain,
wrapping around me like pythons,
Then there was nothing but black.
I fell for hours or maybe days through the terrible darkness, feeling nothing but abstract biting wind, waving my limbs in absurd seizures, unable to think at all
When the blinding light appeared I had nothing to say to it.
I just waited in absolute reptile terror. Each fractional part of a second seemed to be drawn out eternally. I watched myself tumble out through a chute and down through the beautiful, luminous air onto a soft white bed.
There she lay, her eyes wide open, propped up against a heap of lavender pillows. She said, "I've been waiting for you."
The bed seemed tremendously wide, as though she were miles and miles away from me. Her naked body smelled rich and salty, like a tropical ocean.
She made a motion with her finger for me to come. I didn't respond, just remained curled up like a fetus. So she made a Mona Lisa smile and spread open her legs, as wide as they would go. The lips of her vagina seemed to strain out toward me likearms reaching for an embrace.
With infinite effort, I got up on my hands and knees and crawled toward her.
But when I was almost there, I stopped, and raised my head to look up.
Her slender thighs filled my peripheral vision. My body started trembling electrically. I wanted to grab her, drink her, make her part of my flesh.
But something was wrong, so horribly wrong that I was barely able to acknowledge it. Between her legs, where a few seconds ago I had seen her damp vagina, there was now a gigantic staring eye. Its milky cornea, its squirming capillaries, its central bottomless abyss were as real as the delicate quivering thighs that jutted out on either side of it.
I couldn't accept the information my senses were giving me. My arms and legs gave out beneath me; I was about to pass out.
But then I saw the expression on her face change from delight to concern.
She quickly reached between her legs, put her hand through the pupil of the eye, and pulled out a tiny bullet-shaped mechanism.
The eye disappeared.
"It's a hologram, see?" she said, displaying the small metallic bullet. "Pretty neat, huh?"
My body relaxed. "Y ... you gave me one fucking hell of a scare."
"That's the idea," she giggled. I watched her breasts shake with her laughter, excited in spite of myself.
Remembering all of a sudden, I said, "I had the strangest dream. I was inside your eye, there were these blood vessels, I was falling down...."
She laughed again. "I'm sorry. I peeled open your eye and held the hologram in front of it while you were sleeping."
I tried to reconcile myself to this datum.
She blushed. "I was only trying to wake you."
"Next time try cold water," I suggested sharply.
"Don't get all cross," she said in a hurt tone. She moved her lithe body up against mine, caressing my chest with the tips of her nipples. "Give me a little kiss."
Track 5, Reel 0
Ronald Beidenbeck, Ph.D.
When I met David Rikowsky in 2011, he was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. He was one of the two best students in my Automatic Control class that year; but neither I nor anyone else at the University sensed anything exceptional about him.
Today, six years after his untimely death, David Rikowsky is hailed as the greatest scientific mind since Einstein. His theory of infonetronics is taught in every major university. It is fully expected that, within the next twenty years, infonetronic theory will lead to the construction of a fully self-organizing worldwide computer network, capable of supporting autonomous intelligent data agents.
Due to my brief professional relationship with David, I frequently find myself on the receiving end of questions regarding the human story underlying the discovery of infonetronics. But whenever I am asked such a question, I must respond with embarrassment, for the relationship between a professor and his students is not generally a personal one. The truth is that most of what I now know about David, I learned by reading the nine Rikowsky biographies which have appeared in the past five years.
Nine biographies in five years -- this is a lot. Too many, really. But none of these books, not even Adele Carver's National-Book-Award-winning Immaculate Conception, has been truly satisfactory. Most of them are strong on David's childhood and the general implications of infotronic theory; and Carver's book is particularly poignant in its rendering of David's final months. But all of them leave out what would seem to be the most important thing: what was the process by which infotronic theorywas discovered? What was, really, the connection between the theory and the man?
More than anyone else, there is one person who has the ability to shed light on this matter: David's widow, Deborah Ortega. But since David's death, Ms. Ortega has lived in seclusion on a tiny island off the coast of Belize. Her refusal to grant interviews has become legendary.
Therefore, I was shocked and delighted when, on January 12 2023, I received a thick manila envelope in the mail -- postmarked San Pedro, Belize. The envelope contained a spiral notebook, filled with Deborah Ortega's handwritten recollections of her early days with David. The book which you hold in your hands is a direct transcription of that notebook.
Admittedly, Ms. Ortega's account is far from complete -- but we must not forget that it is not intended as a biography. It is intended, rather, as a record of the subjective impressions of one young woman regarding the personal and intellectual development of her lover, and then husband, David Rikowsky. Read as such, it provides a novel and enlightening perspective on the life of one of the great figures of our age. It is a remarkable document; and as strange as some of the events reported are, one cannot doubt Ms. Ortega's honesty. We all owe Ms. Ortega a hearty thanks.
This is not the place for a detailed analysis of Ms. Ortega's document and its contributions to history. However, two matters are worthy of mention. The first is the contribution of Zebadiah Arens to the early versions of infonetronic theory. And the second is the role of hallucinogenic drugs in the development of Rikowsky's thought.
As Ms. Ortega suggests in her opening paragraphs, many historians and reporters are overly enchanted with what I call the "romantic model" of scientific discovery -- the image of the solitary intellectual explorer, boldly staking out new ground with no assistance from his contemporaries. It is true that infonetronics fits the romantic model better than any other majordiscovery of the past half-century. Most recent scientific developments have been team efforts, carried out within the academic establishment. Infonetronics, discovered as it was by a graduate student in his spare time, is a refreshing change of pace. But what Ms. Ortega's account shows us is that, even in this apparently clear-cut case, the romantic model is an oversimplification.
In the development of the technical details of infonetronic theory, David Rikowsky did work alone: he spent two years worth of evenings slaving over tedious programs and calculations, with no encouragement from the outside world, just as the romantic model would suggest. This time period is well covered in the many biographies, and I will have nothing to say about it here. But it is the time period immediately before this with which Ms. Ortega's account is concerned. During this earlier interval, in which the basic conceptual ideas of infonetronics were developed, David's research was not so solitary.
For one thing, it would appear that the as-yet-unpublished "philosophical system" of David's good friend Zebadiah Arens played a major role in the development of the conceptual ideas of infonetronic theory. And furthermore, it would seem that the catalyst for the combination of Arens' thought with David's more technical work was provided by a drug-induced hallucinogenic experience shared by David, Zebadiah Arens, Deborah Ortega, and a fourth party by the name of Julie, about whom very little is known.
So, what can we conclude? Ms. Ortega teaches us that what I have called the "romantic model" of scientific discovery is an oversimplification. However, if her account is to be trusted -- as I think it is -- then the truth is even more romantic than the "romantic model" suggests! One is led to conclude that infonetronics was invented, not by David Rikowsky alone, but by a sort of "group mind" composed of four individuals bound together by a psychotropic compound.
No doubt, the final word on all this has not yet beenspoken. But one thing is certain: all future biographers of David Rikowsky will have to come to grips with the uncomfortable truths which Ms. Ortega reveals to us here.
Track 2, Reel 3
God only knows what would have happened if I'd have stayed at UNLV with Molly. Perhaps we would have lived happily ever after, and I wouldn't be sitting here at the computer tapping out these incoherent notes. But UNLV wasn't good enough for me -- I had to go to an Ivy League school. After my first semester at UNLV, I applied to Columbia. My grades weren't the best, but I had outstanding SAT scores and recommendation letters, and anyway, somehow I got in. It was incredibly painful for me to leave Molly, but I just couldn't deal with the concept of getting my degree from UNLV -- I was too much of a stuck up fool. Also, in the back of my mind, I think I viewed it as a bit of a test. I knew I wouldn't cheat on her, but I was curious to see if she would cheat on me.
I got a tiny little room in a basement apartment in the East Village. My roommate John was a second-year art student at NYU; he had lived in the apartment for a year. He seemed like a fairly interesting guy -- but I was in a bad way. My first few nights in New York, I couldn't sleep at all. I hardly saw the inside of my apartment -- I spent all day and night pacing the famous Village streets. I couldn't get her out of my head.
I was incredibly surprised with myself -- I would have never thought myself capable of getting so lovesick. Intricate visions of the torrid love we'd made that final day flashed through my memory like feverish hallucinations. The touch of her ass cheeks on my face; the taste of her underarms, her sweat.... The perfect sound of her laugh followed me to the far corners of the city. And above all that look of magic, pure recognition. I called her every day, running up phone bills that I had no possible way to pay. Finally she scrounged up some money from somewhere and bought a plane ticket to New York -- she came tovisit me for the weekend.
And now, my dear Hypothetical Reader, things are going to start to get a little more interesting. I don't believe I've mentioned that, while in high school, I began experimenting with drugs. This phrase is much abused -- most people who claim to be "experimenting" with drugs are in reality low-level addicts. But I was really just experimenting, nothing more. I tried a little of everything -- pot, speed, coke, heroin, angel dust,.... Anyone who has attended a public high school here in the U.S. of A. knows how easy all this stuff is to come by! But the only drugs that really turned me on were the psychedelics -- mushrooms, mescaline and particularly acid.
Anyway, when Molly came to visit me in New York, I asked her if she wanted to drop acid together. I wasn't sure how she would react. After all, before Molly had started hanging around with me, she had never even been drunk, let alone tried illegal drugs. In Vegas I had introduced her to alcohol and pot, but nothing harder.
But Molly surprised me -- when she answered, there was no doubt in her voice at all. She just said, "Sure, let's go get some!" and that was the end of it.
To get the acid, we had to walk from my apartment to Washington Square Park. I made the same walk every day, and the garish scenery always entranced me, but now that I was walking along with Molly, everything somehow seemed a thousand times more exciting. Everything was alive, everything was circled with a delicate invisible fire....
Round the corner to Houston Street, past Katz's Deli. The big red letters: "Katz's, that's all." Four bucks for half a pound of beef salami on Jewish rye. The sun made my skin feel alive! I wanted to stop and get some sandwiches but I only hadfifteen bucks and I wasn't sure how much the acid was was going to cost. Past Katz's down Houston, past the rows of sleazy thrift shops, tiny markets, abandoned buildings, heaps of trash. Chinese grocery, Spanish grocery, Italian, Indian, Korean.... If a Martian had set up shop there, no one would have batted an eye.
It was one hell of a street!
Then, just beyond the groceries, there was this run-down old house I called the Hobo Hilton. There were plenty of abandoned buildings filled with squatters and random transients, but this was the only one with a doorman. This middle-aged black guy named Jonas, sitting outside the door on a rusty metal folding chair, smoking a cigarette from behind his shades and watching the scenery pass. The windows were all boarded up and the door hadn't shut for years... but if you tried to walk through the door, you were in trouble (I found out the hard way). I don't know what poor fool owned the place, officially, but he would have had quite a time getting the residents out.
On, on, on, past the Hobo Hilton ... past a real hotel which the city paid $40,000 a head to house the homeless, every year (no shit -- that's New York politics for you). Turn right on Broadway; get swept across the street by the torrent of faces gushing out of the subway. Watch the phalanx of window-washers converge on the cars waiting at the red light, dashing from windshield to windshield in their blind greedy fury. They wash your windshield for you whether you want them to or not. Whether or not it's clean. And then they bang on your side window till you give them change.
Turn left off Broadway to West 4th; glance into Unique. Grotesquely overpriced shirts, pants, skirts and dresses in every color known to man... zebra-striped, polka-dotted, plastered with distorted faces or abstract arty streaks and splotches... new jeans for sixty bucks, or the very same jeans with strategically located holes for another twenty more. All made in Korea, Mexico, the Phillipines, where the labor costs twenty cents an hour and you'd probably get lynched if you wore Unique clothesout on the street.... Make a left at Unique, then down West 4th street through the heart of NYU...
My arm still draped around her hips, we made a right into the park. Some guy in long hair and a torn-up leather jacket was strumming lousy versions of Beatles tunes on an old acoustic guitar... some young comedian was packing up his microphone and blending into the crowd. It was always difficult to believe that this was the same place Dylan and Hendrix sat around smoking joints and jamming back in the 60's. Smoking joints and dropping acid.
We tried to buy it from the rastas by the fountain in the center, but they only had weed, so we had to take our business to the northeast corner of the park. This was where the really burnt-out, fucked-up dealers sat on their benches from early morning till the cops kicked them out at midnight. From the looks of the benches, they were probably the same ones Dylan and Hendrix sat on. The dealer said five bucks a hit. It wasn't hard to bargain him down to four.
As we left the park I saw some cops and got paranoid. It was the first time I'd ever bought drugs on the street. As a matter of fact, it was also the last. My impulse was to swallow the evidence, but by the time I found it in my pocket they were only a couple yards away... I just walked briskly on and on, and when I turned to look a minute later the cops were buying some pot in the park, or so it appeared. We walked home laughing with nervous delight.
When we got back to the apartment, I put on Wanda Landowska playing Bach on the harpsichord. Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue. We talked; I can't remember what about. It didn't matter. We ate some burnt hot dogs for dinner ... potato chips out of the bag, and generic-brand apple juice. Shortly after my roommate John came home, I took out the acid. We placed the tiny purpledots under our tongues and waited for something to happen. John said hi, and then turned on the tube and the radio. This habit of his usually annoyed me like hell -- I have a congenital hatred of television, and I get tired of rock radio awfully fast. When I hear both at once it usually makes me want to murder. But this time, I didn't give a shit. In fact, I hardly even noticed John was sitting there.
Shortly after we took the acid there was some kind of noise outside the window -- gunshots, and cars starting up. We all ran over to the window and see what was going on. At first it looked like some kind of drug transaction gone awry. But then it became clear what was happening. The cops were beating up the local drug dealer. They grabbed him by his balls from the back, between his legs, and slammed him up against the wall. And then they really started to hurt him.
But all this was like nothing to Molly and me. After looking out the window for twenty or thirty seconds, we retreated to my room. The city hummed, buzzed and clanged its naked fury all around us; and John went back to staring at the tube; but all we were thinking was -- is it a taste, or is it a feeling?
Taste or feeling? Is it a taste or a feeling? It's a taste. No, it's a feeling. No, it's not a feeling, it's a taste. No, it's not a taste, it's a feeling. And on and on and on and on and on and on. I forget who was taking which side. We and I were just sitting there in the bowels of New York, staring into each other's eyes, each knowing what the other one was thinking, though we hadn't said a word. Taste or feeling? That's when we knew the LSD was kicking in. The tingling in the mouth had turned into a sort of vibrant numbness. A feeling of simultaneous death and superabundant life. John went to bed -- it was just after ten, which was about four hours early for him -- and we put on some appropriate music. All music sounds remarkable on acid, at least for me; but there are some songs that seem to be tailor-made for tripping. Jimi Hendrix, of course... Pink Floyd... Yes... Led Zeppelin.... The Beatlesdon't quite make it -- they're not symphonic enough; they're insufficiently dreamy. Jazz just doesn't have that cosmic tone, except for maybe Jean-Luc Ponty. Classical music can be fantastic, especially Mozart or Bach, but the best pieces generally require you to pay more attention than you can on LSD. Rock keeps you hypnotized with the beat, and then, without you even noticing, the melody slips into the back of your mind, twisting and spiraling like DNA and the methane clouds of Jupiter ... I know not everyone has this experience, but when I take acid, I see the sounds. More vividly than the furniture in front of me. See the sounds, and hear the smells, and taste the colors. But especially, see the sounds. Ever since my first trip I wanted to be a musician. Ever since then, I see music all the time. Almost as readily as I hear it. They always tell you that LSD insights don't last. Don't believe it. I can improvise on the guitar fairly well now, and my method depends entirely on the twisting, spiraling strands of color and proportion that writhe through my mind whenever I hear patterns of notes. True, it took plenty of practice, I mean the vision is never more than a start, but....
Lying on the floor looking up at her lying on the couch... trying desperately to restrain ourselves from laughing. I was saying to her that if we could just clear our minds of all the irrelevant clutter... just shove it back down into the pit of the subconscious... then our minds would work with ultimate efficiency; we'd be free of neurosis and our natural genius would shine. That's true, she said, but how? I don't remember what I said. But it was very clear and simple. Looking into her eyes, seeing nothing else but soft dilated pupils: an exaggeration and parody of that charmed recognitive look that we'd given each other in the dance hall, on the night we'd first met. Rippling pools of wild reflections. Laughing shadows. We discussed it for a long time, maybe ten or twenty minutes, which seemed like ten or twenty hours. That's one of the most disorienting things about an acid trip: you look at the clock, then you loseyourself twenty-five times in fifty totally different things -- and then you look back at the clock and it still says the same thing. You get the feeling time has stopped entirely. And for you it has. Subjectively, time is a contradiction. Now is all of a sudden not now. But on LSD there's no problem with contradiction. Now and not now can live side by side. Past, present and future all meld into one fluid moment. The stream of consciousness turns in circles and tight dizzying knots. The universe, from day zero to the end of eternity, is dissected into an infinitude of miniscule pieces, and they're rearranged into a boggling maze of pattern, transcending sense. Charles Ives wrote several symphonies which give the impression of a number of marching bands playing different songs, all marching through eachother. Imagine a couple thousand bands playing all different sorts of music -- your favorite songs, the songs you hate, songs that are only vaguely familiar; random songs, the tribal chants of the aborigines, the devil's orchestra in hell; the music the robots will make in 2900 AD after they murder all the humans and take over the world.... You see and smell and touch the music, and there is no world beyond.
Trying to talk to her in the middle of this was more than a minor strain. but I was determined. For some reason I thought it was essential to converse with her on acid. In fact, we said so much to eachother implicitly, telepathically if you will, that in comparison the few hundred words we forced out seemed absurd. Inconsequential. But what I wanted, I suppose, was a connection between the trip and the outside world. If we said it, or so I figured, then it was really there.
Of course I realize how crazy all this sounds. But you've got to remember, of all drugs in popular use, LSD has the most variable effect. Trips don't just come in two different flavors, good and bad. The acid opens up the doors, but what passes through them depends on you. Many people report seeing God or having some sort of religious vision. Many people report seeing music or feeling colors kinesthetically or some such crossing ofthe senses. Nearly everyone sees "stroboscopic" traces: when someone waves their hand, you see a trail of hands following it through the air. And nearly everyone sees regular tile-like patterns on the ceiling, floor and walls. Very much like moving Escher prints, at least for me. A whole ceiling of monkeys, intricately fit together like a jigsaw puzzle that no jigsaw could ever cut, moving up and down and grunting, grunting vigorously. Each monkey slowly turning into my friend Malik. His tall slim perfect negroid figure. His coke-bottle glasses. His wide maniacal toothy smile. Supposedly these regular patterns are the result of the LSD overriding the brain's usual instructions not to see the veins of the eye. Just as our minds can imagine a ticking clock is playing a tune, they can see the veins inside the eye and conjure up a bunch of monkeys. Whether or not this is true it is an excellent metaphor for the acid experience. What we normally ignore, acid forces us to see, albeit distortedly. Normally there's no point in seeing the veins inside one's eye. They're always there, so there's no point in always noticing them. The visual cortex just "filters" them out. It receives signals indicating their presence and systematically ignores them. But acid forces you to see what's really there. In front of you, within you. You can sit staring at a chair for what seems like hours, exploring every scratch and crack, every variation in the polish... overwhelmed by the majestic power of its chair-itude. All these things we normally perceive and ignore. A single spoken word may seem to hang in the air forever, each contour of its waveform crying out to be explored. a tiny fear appears in the corner of one's mind... and it can explode until it consumes the entire universe. The origin of the fear, its relation to a dozen other things in your mind -- things you were tacitly aware of, but never focused on... things you never cared about or preferred not to recognize.
It is true that it would be difficult to go about the functions of ordinary life if you were overwhelmed with the wordness of every word you heard spoken. In order to keepourselves alive, and in order to create things, we impose a structure on the largely chaotic stream of perceptions which confronts us; on the eternal flowing formlessness of Now. We simply assume this structure is there, and we perceive things in its context. For instance, there is a space in front of your head which your eyes cannot see. But you probably don't know it. Your brain fills in the gap. This is obviously useful: who wants to go around seeing a world with a gap in the middle of it? But it is more than a little interesting to be reminded exactly what we have assumed about the world for the sake of convenience. A trip is more than just a vacation from reality.
The reality, at any rate, was that Molly and I were soon to separate again. At very least for a month or two, and possibly, or so we both feared, forever. I suppose that, despite the incredibly strong bond between us, we still didn't trust one another completely. Somehow the trip was supposed to tie us together across space and time. It made sense, in a twisted sort of way -- after all, when you're tripping you're beyond space and time, right?
And it worked. Unbelievably, it really did. Lying on the bed side by side in the dim light.... We tried to have sex, but we both had the same queasy feeling, ineffably weird, when I slipped inside. I felt the walls of her vagina as I never had before, and never did afterwards. Somehow the sensation of pure skin-ness overtook us. The pleasure was there, but deconstructed into infinitesimal modules of skin-on-skin. We couldn't see the point. We just lay there and hugged and listened to the music. Kansas, Leftoverture. Skin-on-skin watching crazy patterns shifting restless on the wall, pulsating brilliantly in colors that no normal eye can see. As one of the songs faded out, we looked at eachother and knew we were seeing the exact same thing. It was a castle, a field of spires of various designs angles and sizes, surrounded by a sort of golden strandy mist. We realized this, and we didn't say a word. Later we talked about it and remembered it the same way. In general I don't believe intelepathy. Am I really supposed to believe that whenever they put a telepath in the lab he just happens to freeze up? It's a bunch of crap. But on the other hand, nearly everyone who's taken acid in a group has experienced some sort of apparent telepathy. During my last year of high school I had a group of friends who liked to take lots of acid and sit in a circle saying nothing for a long time. They'd tell me afterwards about the incredible thoughts they were thinking, collectively. A couple of them ended up in mental hospitals, probably due to taking acid every day, but that's another story. Maybe this sort of "telepathy" is just a matter of paying incredibly subtle and intelligent attention to miniscule physical gestures -- another case of LSD forcing you to notice things you ordinarily overlook. But Christ, it seems so real!
Our love was consummated on that night more than any other. That night, suffused with chemical delirium, we held our own secret wedding ceremony. None of the meaningless formalities, and no advance planning at all. At the same time, we both spontaneously said "I marry you" and kissed and that was the end of it. I marry you and I see inside your mind.
For two weeks after she left I was in a daze. I couldn't sleep at night -- again. Perhaps it was partially a chemical aftereffect of the LSD (you can't sleep on acid). I took to wandering the streets in the middle of the night, staying out even later than John, which was a difficult feat. He kept my spirits up. When we got bored we'd have furniture wars, leaving the apartment in utter disarray. We never cleaned the place up, either ... when we left about a month later there were pieces of broken folding chairs all over, as well as an incredible amount of paper and garbage. Also, the night before we left I dumped adozen or so packages of spaghetti all over the floor; I don't remember why.
It goes without saying that I totally neglected my schoolwork. If I'd have been studying art like John, I might have had a chance, but keeping up with my schedule of five math and physics courses was out of the question. I virtually never went to class; occasionally I looked at one of the textbooks but I just couldn't rouse an interest. I did read about three books a day, on every subject from quantum physics to Buddhism to nuclear waste disposal to the poetics of Giambattista Vico -- but that didn't help me out at school. It was just my twisted nerdy way of passing the time....
I walked down the never-desolate night streets, plagued with insanely detailed memories. Every wrinkle in everyone's clothing was in place. The color of the carpet. The dirt on the walls. I was fixated on the past; I didn't want to lose that glow I'd had with Molly. This sent me spiraling further back. Back, back, as far as I could possibly go. Back, probing every single experience I could recall; obscure, significant.... Seeking the key to that eternally elusive something. That something I'd seen during that sacred trip with Molly. That something I'd said to her. The key to freeing the mind.
Around a month before the end of the semester, John and I had to leave our apartment due to lack of funds. We had both been fired from our jobs at the exact same time -- the kind of horrifying coincidence that always seems to happen in New York. We looked for two weeks for a cheap apartment in Manhattan, but in the end we had to make that dreaded move across the river. We found a tiny place in Brooklyn for only three hundred bucks a month. No more than three hundred square feet. The neighborhood was an abysmal slum, and the apartment was so tiny there was no room for all our furniture. We had to pile the desk on top of the bureau and keep half our stuff in boxes. Obviously this was no way to live -- I should have hopped the first available plane back to Vegas. But it was that goddamned foolish pride of mine. I didn't want to chicken out. I had come to New York of my own volition, and I didn't want to run back home with my tail between my legs.
After we'd been in Brooklyn about a month, Molly showed up for a "visit". She looked and sounded awful -- her semester was over, and she'd failed three of her five classes. Also, she hadn't yet written the final paper for her philosophy class. She said she was going to write it and mail it back to her professor, but I could see right away that she wasn't. There was no way she was going back to Arizona. She was in New York. Soon enough it was settled: John was moving out and she was moving in.
But, of course, John never left. To no one's surprise, he couldn't seem to find affordable housing. There just fucking wasn't any affordable housing anywhere within forty miles of New York city! So the three of us were stuck there in that tiny room -- the two beds touching eachother, half our stuff still in boxes, the pyramided furniture occupying the bulk of the apartment. It was scarier than any nightmare I've ever had. The amount of dirt was amazing. And then I got this beautiful Maine Coon cat which pissed all over everything. Our clothes, the floor, the beds.... And this stray cat with lumps all over its body, which tried to masturbate itself on your fingers and toes. Before long we stopped paying rent. The landlord came by banging on the door every morning at eight and John and Molly hid under the covers while I went to the door and ad libbed some ridiculous sob story. My father's sending me a check. I got mugged. All my money's tied up in these T-bills, you see; it's a matter of liquidity. I'm not broke, I'm just cash-poor. I just got a job. I'm a construction worker, I'm out of work till summer. Here's fifty bucks, I'll have the rest tomorrow. He knew it was bullshit but he was basically a friendly fellow. I'd boughtmyself a cheap Casio keyboard for my high school graduation; sometimes I'd come back to the apartment and find it left on. The landlord had let himself in just to play it! It was absolute chaos.
After failing half my classes for the fall semester, I officially took a semester's leave from Columbia. Meanwhile, Molly enrolled at City College of New York. For food money she started working as a strip dancer at a porn palace near Times Square. Being a light-skinned black, she was particularly attractive to black men. Between her acts there was live sex on stage. We considered having sex on stage for money, but it only paid something like ten bucks an hour per person. Hardly worth the grueling effort, and the damage to your sex life. I looked back on that acid trip daily. The same way I imagine a newborn babe looks back to the womb, filled with one thought only: fuck reality.
If, as they say, "all good things must end" -- so must all bad things, right? And our stay in Brooklyn was no exception. Sometime during the summer we got evicted. We'd stayed there seven or eight months without paying more than three months worth of rent; but still, we didn't feel like we'd gotten away with anything. I mean, it's outrageous that you have to pay even a single dollar for the privilege of living like that!
Luckily, my father was in one of his generous moods, and he helped us to get a nice apartment in Queens. Just to demonstrate my gratitude, I enrolled in a summer session class at City College. I even got an A! I think that's probably the only A on my college transcript. When the fall semester started, I made a serious effort to take school seriously -- I went to my classes, and did most of my homework. Molly got a job dancing weekend nights in a classy strip bar near Central Park, and continued on at City College. She was making pretty good money -- a hundredand thirty or so a night -- so we could afford to pay the bills. But of course, there was a problem. Actually, more than one. Molly was getting accustomed to working at the strip bar. She always came home from work drunk; and more and more often she was working a night or two during the week, not only on weekends. She was paying all the bills, and after a month or two she decided that she wanted to move out, to be an "independent woman."
At the time, I had been laid up in bed for about two weeks with a hundred and three degree fever. The day she told me she was leaving, my fever shot up to a hundred and seven point two -- by far the highest temperature I've ever had. For the first time since Molly and I had taken acid back on Ludlow Street, I started hallucinating: hearing voices speaking languages I didn't know, seeing tiny colorful creatures dart through the air. One hallucination in particular plagued me: a beautiful woman's body without a face, surmounted by devil's horns and an angel's halo. I saw this over and over again, hovering in front of me; but whenever I reached out to touch it, it was gone.
I begged Molly desperately not to leave. She replied that she just didn't find me attractive anymore. I cursed her out and she started hitting me. I threw things at her, screeching incoherently. I remember it well because it was the only one of our many fistfights that she ever won.
After the fever went down a little and I could walk again, I went to the doctor and was measured at a hundred and four point nine. He was alarmed. But to me it felt comparatively cool, it felt perfectly normal.
And then the real trouble began. Our hot water had been sporadic when we moved in, and shortly thereafter it had stopped. We called the landlord every week to complain, and since we couldn't wash the dishes in cold water, the kitchen sink turned into a huge green moldy pile. It was disgusting, but we were able to live with it. But then, around the middle of October, the cold water stopped coming too. I started showering in thegym at school. We called the landlord over and over again, asking him to fix it. He always said he would, but when I said "Can you fix it today?" he always refused. When he came by to collect the rent, Molly and John (who happened to be visiting) hid in the kitchen, and I told him that we wouldn't pay until the water was fixed.
He said, "When you pay the rent I fix the water."
I said, "I'm not paying the rent until you fix the water. You always say you're going to fix it, but you never do."
He said, "If you don't pay the rent, I ain't fixing nothing."
"Okay," I said, my patience just about gone, "then I guess you'll have to evict us."
His hairy chest convulsed with laughter, shaking the five or six gold chains that hung across it. He pulled a gun out from his pants and pointed it toward me. " Evict you???!!! I'll fucking kill you! Get out right now! Get the fuck out of my fucking building, asshole!"
That was the last straw. After about half an hour of discussion, we decided to head back to Vegas and temporarily stay with my friend Harry, who lived in a huge warehouse with fifteen or twenty other punk rock types. We packed our bags that night, scraped together what little money we had, and headed for the Newark airport. At that time there was an airline called People Express which offered low fares on a pay-on-the-plane basis. We just waited around for the next plane to Phoenix.
I should have been depressed -- I was taking off in mid-semester, screwing up my career plans, my academic hopes and dreams. I was giving up on the Ivy League. I was running back home with my tail between my legs, even though I knew I was smarter than all those fuckfaces at Columbia. But the crazy thing was, I was feeling perfectly happy, almost maniacally ecstatic. I think it was Molly's presence that did it. All the pain we'd been through didn't mean anything -- we were together; and she was genuine, she was real. I'm not making this up: as weboarded the plane, the engine seemed to hum a definite tune:
Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream
No matter how hard I tried to hear it as just a featureless mechanical hum, I still heard the tune -- there was no getting rid of it. I took the middle seat, and gave Molly the aisle.
And then it happened -- the one thing that I hadn't anticipated, not even in the slightest. My inner world came unceremoniously crashing down. After almost everyone was boarded, Molly got up from her seat for a moment. I asked her what she was doing, but she didn't answer. I assumed that she hadn't heard my question, and she was rushing off to the bathroom. But once the plane started moving down the runway, I realized the truth: Molly had run off the plane. The situation was all too painfully clear. I was on my way back to "Fabulous Las Vegas," and she was gone, gone, gone.
Converted by Andrew Scriven