“Six Questions About the Sun” by Brian Conn

Six Questions About the Sun

by Brian Conn
to the sound of Pelikanol by Einstürzende Neubauten…

As Published in Sybil’s Garage No. 3


Q: Are fish afraid of the sun?

A: Yes. Fish, like all creatures, are afraid of the sun. Some fish never see the sun, but they, along with other creatures that never see the sun (nocturnal insects, creatures that live underground) nevertheless know darkness and light, heat and cold. As a creature contemplates its relationship with heat and light, it becomes aware that, although heat and light sustain it, heat and light also sustain its enemies and surround it with movement, noise, and danger. If fish fear the sun less than other creatures, it is because, deep in the sea, the creatures of the sun may appear to be creatures of darkness. Fish, finding themselves among so many blind creatures, cold creatures, and creatures that draw their sustenance from hot rifts in the earth, may err and suppose it is the darkness that sustains their enemies, but in fact their enemies are sustained by the sun.
There is a story that Tariq the Cosmonaut conceived what was to be his final voyage while walking on a mountain trail at dusk. On the trail he was surrounded by the sun’s creatures: tall trees, nodding ferns, animals rustling in the grasses. He became aware abruptly of the shadows that lay all around him. A root reached from the hillside like a claw. Tariq became afraid. He knew that every creature was created by the sun, and he wondered: Why does the sun create so many creatures and then abandon us to them in the dark? He realized that, although the sun sustains us, it is not our friend, for it is the sun that surrounds us with movement, noise, and danger. He resolved then that his next voyage would take him to the sun.

Q: Should you look directly into the sun?

A: Yes. Everybody should look directly into the sun at least once. It is not necessary to look directly into the sun regularly, because it is possible to remember the experience after looking there only once; but if you ever forget what it is like to look directly into the sun, you should look there again.

We are all creatures of the sun. Although it is not correct to say that we are part of the sun, the heat and light that sustains us and nourishes our food comes from the sun, and all the heat and light that is in us was once in the sun. Therefore, if we want to know ourselves, we must look directly into the sun.

When Tariq the Cosmonaut set out for the sun, he discovered that the experience of looking directly into the sun changes as one’s distance from the sun changes. Once he had gone half the distance to the sun, he described in his daily radio broadcast how he beheld there a variety of colors in constant motion. When he had gone three-fourths of the distance, these colors faded and the sun appeared to him as a fiery mandala in orange and black. When he had gone seven-eights of the distance, the patterns of the mandala faded, and sun no longer seemed to be a flat disc, as we see it, but rather concave, as an immense retina, across which floated countless dark motes which seemed as he approached to whisper to him with a hissing noise. Yet this perception also faded as he drew nearer to the sun.

We must remember, when looking directly into the sun, that the way we see it is not the only way, for our distance from it is fixed. Although it is important for us to develop the best image of the sun we can, we must not become attached to this image, thinking it is the only one. It is for this reason that we should not look too often directly into the sun, fixing its image repeatedly in our minds, but rather, having looked there once, endeavor to remember what we saw.

Q: Can the sun kill?

A: Yes. The sun most often kills with poison. When Tariq the Cosmonaut landed on the sun, he found every kind of poison known to him and hundreds more, stored in rubber balloons hanging in a row from the ceiling of a long, narrow warehouse. Most of the time the thick walls of the warehouse shaded the poisons from the heat of the sun, but in each of the two long walls was a row of hatches, one pair of hatches to each balloon, and these opened and closed at unpredictable intervals. When the hatches before and behind a balloon opened, the intense heat of the sun caused a small amount of the poison in the balloon to turn to vapor and escape through a brass valve near its top, and the solar wind sent the vapor hurtling in the direction of the earth.

Although it is best to protect ourselves by keeping away from the sun’s rays and purifying our food before we eat it, scientists now believe that, whatever precautions we take, we will inevitably be exposed to small amounts of the sun’s poisons. It is to recover from these poisons that we sleep at night. Those who remain indoors and eat only food that has been carefully purified need only one to two hours of sleep; for most of us, however, this level of protection is impossible, and we must be sure to sleep every night until our bodies are fresh. As long as we do this, we can remain healthy, but if we remain awake too long, exposing ourselves and our food to the sun, the sun may kill us.

Q: How does the sun keep burning?

A: The sun must have its supply of fuel continually replenished.

After landing on the sun, Tariq the Cosmonaut noticed that, although the temperature there far surpassed even the hottest temperatures on earth, he seemed to sweat only very little. Sealing his ship at night, however, he began to sweat profusely. He opened the ship’s door, but stretched a fine adhesive net across the opening, sealing its edges. This experiment produced immediate results: there appeared in the net a great number of white birds, each as small as a thumbnail and having a peculiar beak, pouched like a pelican’s and terminating in a bony funnel.

Scientists now believe that millions of these birds fly between the sun and the earth every day, although there are never so many here as Tariq found on the sun. They are so small and their speed so great that they cannot be detected except by sealing a room with an adhesive net, yet they surround us whenever we are outdoors, and their adroitness is such that they are able, without alerting us to their presence, to collect our sweat, tears, saliva, and blood, which they carry in their beaks to the sun, to be its fuel. This is the reason why we seem to sweat more profusely in a closed room: the birds of the sun are able to penetrate only in small numbers, and thus carry the sweat away more slowly, causing it to linger on our skin.

Although it is difficult to estimate what quantity of this fuel the sun consumes, it must be a very great quantity, and Tariq discovered no reserve of fuel on the sun. Many people believe that, were we to take all the creatures of the sun into our homes, and seal our doors and windows, and lie still for one day, or even for one hour, the sun would consume all its available fuel and expire.

Q: What does the sun want?

A: Nobody knows for certain what the sun wants. Its actions seem contradictory: it sustains us yet also sustains our enemies; comforts us yet abandons us; nourishes our food yet poisons us.

Some thinkers have proposed that what the sun wants is a state of darkness, coolness, and peace. Its urge, they say, is to expend itself in a frenzy of meaningless creation and destruction. What it wants is not precisely death, for nothing prevents it from directing its poisons at the birds that bring it fuel, and so destroying itself. No, it yearns rather for the bottom of the sea, where the salty water of life surrounds it, yet where only the most solitary creatures go, where movement and noise are minimal, and where the possibilities for achieving peace amidst life seem greatest. But without the sun the stuff of life would not last even at the bottom of the sea; therefore, the sun must first find a way to shift the burden of sustaining life to a new sun, and only afterwards retire into the sea.

Tariq the Cosmonaut discovered, in a locked brass chest near the center of the sun, a set of blueprints. Although he was a skilled reader of every kind of map and chart, these were of surpassing complexity. He studied them for seven days, during which his radio broadcasts ceased entirely. At last he came to believe that they were the blueprints for the sun, written in an alien hand. He concluded that our sun was not the first, but rather had been created by the creatures of a previous sun in order to allow their sun to realize its desire and shift away its burden of sustaining life. He thought it likely that this previous sun, along with any number of yet earlier suns, now lay dark and peaceful at the bottom of the sea, and he intended on his next voyage to explore not the bright stars of the sky but the dead stars under the sea.

Q: Are there doors on the sun?

A: There are now two doors on the sun. The first of these is made of solid brass and measures seven fathoms tall, three fathoms wide, and one fathom thick. It stands at the center of the sun, and its brass handle scorches and melts anything that it touches. In the last radio broadcast of Tariq the Cosmonaut, he explained a scheme for converting a part of his ship into a tremendous vacuum pump and opening this door by suction. Many people believe that Tariq’s luck ran out with this scheme, and he perished; but many others believe that he passed alive through the door of the sun and may yet return from a strange place.

The second door on the sun is the door of Tariq’s ship. Scientists still receive signals from the ship’s radio beacon, suggesting that it remains on the sun; however, nobody has yet recovered it. Some people are glad that, although nobody else has reached the sun, there is at least one door there the size of doors on earth. They urge their governments to send more ships, more people, more doors, walls, and roofs, and they look forward to a time when the sun will be filled with familiar architecture. But others recall that, although the sun sustains us, it also sustains our enemies and poisons us, and is a source of fear to all creatures. They predict that no voyage to the sun will resolve our fear, and they prefer to remain on the earth, keeping movement and noise at a distance and learning to make their way in the dark.

<End>

© Copyright 2006 Brian Conn & Senses Five Press

“The Missionary Imposition” by William Shunn

The Missionary Imposition

by William Shunn
to the sound of Emergency & I by The Dismemberment Plan…

As published in Sybil’s Garage No. 2


To me, the missionary position means sitting on the passenger side of a 1986 Chevy Nova with my right arm jammed back between the seat and the door. There are four of us, tooling around the country lanes of northern Idaho after dark, and I am surreptitiously holding hands with the woman in the seat behind me. It’s not a comfortable position, but that’s how you do it when you’re a Mormon missionary.

###

For a people who once represented everything lurid and perverse in the American popular imagination, we Mormons certainly don’t derive much pleasure from sex. In fact, the last Mormon-in-good-standing to have a rollicking time in the sack may well have been our founder, Joseph Smith, who invented the whole notion of polygamy back in the 1830’s to legitimize his predilection for philandering. The practice is more properly known as “plural marriage,” and Joseph had married at least thirty-three woman in secret by the time he died at the hands of an angry mob in 1844. Among the wives he left behind were two sets of sisters and several women who were already married to other men.

Although plural marriage was banned by the mainstream Mormon church in 1890 (and again in 1904, for the sake of those who didn’t take the first ban seriously), the multiplicity of wives still figures prominently in our theology. The practice is not outlawed but rather suspended in deference to the laws of the land, and will resume on the other side of the veil, where the ratio of worthy women to worthy men is projected to be as lopsided as the ratio of men to women in Alaska.

But while offered the enticing prospect of eternal sex with multiple (and possibly multitudinous) wives in the afterlife, contemporary Mormon men find it very difficult to enjoy it at all in this life. In our catalog of sins, only two rank more serious than sexual transgression: murder, and denying God after having seen Him personally. (Really.) Adultery, fornication, any sort of homosexual act—one incident of these is enough to buy you an eternal coat of flame, unless you undergo a grueling, humiliating process of confession, contrition, and penitence. The situation is hardly better after marriage. Edicts from church leaders on the acceptability of such practices as birth control and oral sex are ambiguous and portentous, full of euphemism. The path to Mormon bliss is straight and very narrow, and beset on either side with peril.

Our young men have it particularly bad. At the age of 19, in their sexual primes, we impose on them a two-year term of missionary service in which they’re sent into the world two by two to preach Joseph Smith’s Restored Gospel—the parts that don’t involve plural marriage, anyway. Not only are they forbidden books, newspapers, television, movies, and music, but contact with the opposite sex is strictly controlled. No dancing, no dating, and no flirting is tolerated, and sex of any sort is right out.

My tour of duty began in September 1986. As the oldest of eight children in a devout Mormon household, there was never any question that I would serve a mission. Part of my role as firstborn was to be an example to my younger siblings, much as Jesus Christ serves as an example to all the world. I didn’t particularly want to become a missionary. For one thing, I was two years into college already. For another, girls were just starting to show an interest in me, at long last. (My interest in them had gone back much further than my first chaste kiss at the age of sixteen, though it hadn’t progressed much further than that.) Interrupting either pursuit for two years seemed intolerable, but for a good Mormon boy there was just no getting around it—not without revealing myself to my community as a faithless infidel, unworthy of marrying their daughters. Reluctantly I purchased my suits and ties and packed my bags.

After three weeks at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, the church sent me to its Alberta mission, headquartered in Calgary, where I was to spend the next two years scouring the countryside for converts. My first assignment was Brooks, a lonely oil town on the prairie. My trainer, Elder Fowler, showed me the ropes. We would spend our days canvassing door-to-door, preaching repentance and the Book of Mormon. Our mornings were for study, our nights for prayer. Every Monday we would shop and do laundry, and maybe play some basketball or bowl if there were time enough left over before our evening appointments. And always we would obey mission rules.

The rules—an entire handbook of them. Never call friends or family on the phone. White dress shirts only, and always wear your tie and your name tag in public. Companions must sleep in the same bedroom, but never in the same bed. Never touch your anus. Never teach a woman alone in her home without a chaperone present. And the most important rule, passed down like a battered Playboy from seasoned missionaries to greenies, but never found in any book: “If you don’t look once, you’re not a man, but if you look twice you’re not a missionary.”

The rules were all about worthiness. If you kept the rules, God would lead you to the people who were ready to hear the Gospel. If you didn’t, your work would suffer, and you would bear responsibility for those souls you failed to root out and convert. And the world was nothing but a carnal and devilish sinkhole, seeking to drag you under and sap your worthiness.

Being a missionary was a curious exercise in self-confidence. This was the year of “Missionary Man” by the Eurythmics, which we all knew Annie Lennox had written just for us. We were addressed as “Elder,” told all eyes were watching our every action, and that our goodness would be a beacon to the well- and evil-meaning alike. This was a time when a “g.c.,” or “girl challenge,” might signify a transfer to a new part of the mission—or being sent home in disgrace if it weren’t nipped in the bud.

The hazards to our souls were made vivid at one mission conference in Calgary. We had gathered from all corners of Alberta, two hundred of us, to attend two days of meetings and training sessions. Our keynote speaker was a visiting General Authority from Salt Lake City, one of the gray-haired men who administer the affairs of the church. Silver-haired and barrel-chested in this instance, actually—and terrifying, like a less reticent Patton in the army of God.

Rabidly he blasted us with a foretaste of the terrors awaiting those of us who failed to discharge our duties to the utmost jot. His rants about the moral quicksand ready to devour the elder who took a single wayward step chilled our blood. “You watch yourselves out there,” he barked from the podium of the chapel where we met. “You gird up your loins with the armor of God, especially you young elders, because this world is just crawling with women who would love nothing better than to drag you down.”

He might have spared us any elaboration on that topic if it weren’t for my friend Sister Roper. One of the relatively few female missionaries in Calgary, she and her companion Sister Steed were sitting in the pew directly behind me. Into the space at the end of that assertion, Roper coughed a harsh and disbelieving laugh, loud as a gunshot. I turned my head just in time to see her clap both hands over her open mouth, eyes wide with shock.

A stunned and frigid silence reigned for two short seconds, which is all the time it took for our General Authority’s face to suck every quantum of warmth from that chapel. He went from white to molton red before most of us could remind ourselves to breathe. Mouth quivering with rage, he thrust his head as far out over the pulpit as it would go and thundered, “Do you think this is funny, Sister? Do you think it’s a joke when two missionaries tract into a house with only a mother and her teenage daughter at home, and within five minutes the daughter is performing oral sex on one elder in the bedroom while the mother does the same to the other in the living room? Maybe you’d like to be the one who has to listen to stories like this every week, and then explain to the poor, hard-working parents why you had to excommunicate their stupid sons and send them home! Would you like that?”

I’m not sure what all the other elders were thinking as we filed out of the chapel that afternoon, but I’d wager it was similar to my thought: “Gosh, how come stuff like that never happens to me?”

###

Mission life was hard, very hard, and it could be tempting to imagine a way out. I heard apocryphal tales, like the story of the elder in the South Pacific who was so miserable that he slept with a hooker and confessed to his mission president, just so he could be sent home. This is the Mormon equivalent of a wolf gnawing off its foot to escape a steel trap—with the added bonus that you go to hell afterward.

My own ambitions, or perhaps only my methods, were more modest. I had left a girlfriend behind in Utah, and at night I lay still on my back, imagining her (or maybe one of the sister missionaries) on top of me. At nineteen, it didn’t take much vigor to consummate the fantasy, which was important because I didn’t want to wake my companion in the next bed, who presumably was there to prevent just this activity. In the morning I would awake early and hurry to the bathroom to peel off my sacred undergarments, which crackled where glued to my abdomen.

When I finally confessed my weakness to my mission president, much to my disappointment he failed to excommunicate me and send me home. He merely offered words of encouragement, clapped me on the shoulder, and slipped me a photocopied sheet full of suggestions for overcoming masturbation. This same brief guide is now widely available on the Internet, with such sterling advice as to avoid drinking large amounts of water before bedtime, and to sleep with a Book of Mormon clasped firmly in hand or one wrist tied to the bedpost.

###

Of all the g.c.’s that might arise to confound a young elder, by far the most serious is one with a sister missionary. Not only are two unusually horny parties involved, but any fruition of the relationship could cost the mission two of its precious laborers instead of just one.

A few weeks before he was scheduled to go home, Elder Fowler confessed to me the reason he had requested a transfer out of Calgary for his last months in the mission. He had become involved there with a missionary named Sister Nylund, and their nightly snogging sessions in Prince’s Island Park were starting to get out of hand. “My companion was making out with her companion, too,” he told me. “It was like a double date. I had to get away. But it’s okay, Elder. She and I are getting married after we’re both home.”

Elder Fowler must have trained me well. It was a year later that my own sister missionary challenge raised its head. Her name was Sister Blaise, and she came from the ranching country of south central Utah. I was serving at the time in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, having run afoul of Canada Immigration and been transferred stateside for what we’ll call visa problems. Sister Blaise and her companion were stationed in Sandpoint, thirty miles south of us on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille.

These were small, small towns, and there were only so many times you could knock on the same damn doors to deliver the same damn message. My companion and I visited the sisters frequently in Sandpoint, going so far as to enter their off-limits apartment for four-handed rounds of Uno and Rook. (Regular playing cards were one of many forbidden recreational items.) It was under the table there that Sister Blaise, across from me, first slipped off her sensible shoes and ran her stockinged toes up my ankle. She didn’t even look at me over her cards, but the contact was like a live electric cable brushing my leg.

We never spoke about it, but soon we were taking every opportunity for stealthy touches. Her sun-kissed fingers upon my elbow were manna in the desert. Her chestnut hair tossed against my face could be lethal. We held hands in the car, in that awkward position, as desperately as if letting go meant falling forever into a bottomless abyss. We convinced ourselves our companions remained ignorant. We knew this path might lead to fornication and ruin, but we refused to believe it. We couldn’t care.

Then came word that I was to be transferred two hundred miles away, to a town called Orofino. Sister Blaise clung to me in the dark beside the tiny farmhouse where Fowler and I lived rent-free, in the brief moment when our companions were still inside. “What am I going to do without you, Elder Shunn?” she murmured in my ear.

I bought it. Her cards and letters over the next few weeks—i’s dotted with hearts—finally prompted a late-night road trip to Sandpoint. My new companion didn’t mind tagging along; he was carrying on at the time with a fourteen-year-old local girl.

Four hours after we set out, while Elder Horne lurked out near the car, Sister Blaise met me at the door to her apartment. She wore a quilted bathrobe sashed at the waist, and a high-collared nightgown beneath. She took me to the couch, where we necked furiously with the lights off. Her floral perfume—heavy and matronly, unlike the woman herself—threatened to smother me.

After fifteen minutes or so, a tread in the hallway startled us apart. “When I wake up, Elder Shunn,” said the sleepily menacing voice in the shadows, “I hope I find out you were just a bad dream.” Then Sister Potter turned and lumbered back to the bedroom.

I didn’t hesitate. Over Blaise’s quiet protests, I collected Elder Horne and the two of us hit the road again. We arrived in Orofino together with the sun. I never spoke to Sister Blaise voluntarily again.

###

I spent many sleepless nights afraid someone might turn us in—or that Blaise or I might break down and confess to our mission president. Neither ever happened, and eventually the feelings of guilt subsided on their own.

After we were both honorably discharged, Sister Blaise ended up marrying another returned elder from our mission. I left the Mormon church on the pretext of having fallen in love with a gentile. The relationship didn’t last, but the apostasy turned out to be far more deeply rooted, and it has.

Now sometimes, very rarely, I catch a whiff of Sister Blaise’s perfume on the streets of Manhattan, and my veins constrict with a coppery thrill. And when I see two young missionaries traipsing along, I want to invite them over for a hot meal and sanctuary from the lone and dreary world. But they wouldn’t understand my sympathy, so I just think to myself, “You poor, horny, homesick bastards. Why do you do it? What do you know that I still don’t?”

<END>

© Copyright 2005 William Shunn & Senses Five Press

“New York City vs. The World” by Lauren McLaughlin

New York City Vs. The World

by Lauren McLaughlin
to the sound of Radiohead’s Amnesiac…

As published in Sybil’s Garage No. 2.
This story is also available as a podcast.


I’m afraid the answer has to be no.

Did you even consider my request?

No. Not really.

Mind if I ask why not?

The answer is no.

Yeah I got that. Some elaboration would be nice.

None is required.

It friggin’ is to me.

Yes I know. That is the root of the problem.

What problem?

The fact that you require me to explain myself.

Look, don’t get uppity with me, World. I made an honest request backed up by a rock solid argument. Now I ain’t some nobody you can flick away like a goddamn fly. I’m New York City for chrissakes.

And you feel this merits greater consideration?

You’re goddamn right I do.

You’re wrong.

Look. He doesn’t like me. I don’t like him. Let’s stop pretending.

You need each other.

I don’t need anyone.

You’re wrong.

And if recent events are any indication, Uncle Sam doesn’t need anyone either.

Wrong again.

Other than geography, what do we have in common?

More than you realize.

You know I’m not without options here, World. You don’t authorize this separation, I’ve got steps I can take.

They won’t work.

Yeah? Let’s say I shut down, take a snooze. Cut my monkey base loose.

You’d never do that, New York.

Wouldn’t I? Imagine it. An over-crowded city full of aggressive people with no sense of community. Wouldn’t be long before productivity declined, the infrastructure collapsed, markets went haywire. Ouch. What happens to Uncle Sam then?

What happens is this, New York: Uncle Sam expends enormous resources bringing you back to life while renewing his love for you.

Temporary. The love is always temporary.

Yes, and if Uncle Sam deems you unstable in the long run, he quietly begins moving operations elsewhere.

Are you threatening me with brain drain?

I’m merely forecasting a future it’s in your interests to avoid.

‘Cause the best brains are right here, baby. And they ain’t going nowhere.

You honestly believe that, don’t you.

Try and dispute it.

I think Silicon Valley might dispute it.

One trick pony.

You see. This is why you have trouble getting along, New York. You’re so arrogant, so self-absorbed. That’s why others resent you.

Who are you kidding? That’s why they love me. Why do you think their monkeys spend so much time watching me on TV?

Morbid curiosity.

Fine. They resent me. Uncle Sam resents me. Isn’t that what I’ve been trying to say? We don’t like each other. Let’s do like the song says and call the whole thing off.

You know as well as I do that consenting to this separation would set a dangerous precedent. How long before Staten Island requests a separation from you?

I’ll throw her a farewell party.

Cute. And don’t think I’m ignorant of Manhattan’s ambition for autonomy. Where does it end? East Side versus West Side, Uptown versus Downtown, block versus block? You see where I’m going with this.

Well don’t let’s blow this out of proportion. All I’m saying is geography ain’t everything. Ask Internet. Ask Capitalism. Geography is meaningless. And geography is the only thing tying me to Uncle Sam. I’m telling you, we’re a bad fit.

I don’t see why.

Of course not. But you didn’t take a black eye from Jihad because of Uncle Sam.

I take a black eye from Jihad every day, New York.

Sure, sure, but you’ve got to cop to that, World. Jihad is part of you. He ain’t part of me.

Actually–

Don’t even say it. Jihad is not part of me.

Fine. I’ll let you cling to that delusion for now.

And stop with the tone, for Christ sake. I’m struggling here, World. I gotta make room for every genius, crackpot, refugee, crook, and capitalist from the far-flung corners of your monkey base. Every misfit you spit out, I absorb. That’s a friggin’ jungle of inconsistencies I gotta manage. I don’t have room for Jihad. And I don’t have room for Uncle Sam neither. The crazy bastard keeps sticking his tongue out at everybody. When they want a little payback guess who they hit? Yours truly. Is that fair?

We’re all in this together, New York.

This? What “this?”

Don’t play dumb.

I ain’t playing.

Then you disappoint me.

Look, if you’re telling me I’ve got to stick it out with Uncle Sam for some great and noble purpose, make with the details.

You know perfectly well that my purpose is greater integration.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So you keep saying. But what’s the point. So you integrate us. Big whoop. You bring Jihad and Zionism together. You integreate red states with blue states. You merge France with freakin’ anybody. What’s the up side? Besides you bland us all out into the same boring beige.

Do you have something against beige?

Yeah. It’s not as slimming as black.

New York, of all of the cultural entities on this lovely planet of ours, you should know that integration does not mean assimilation.

Yeah, sure. It doesn’t mean that to me. That’s exactly what it means to Uncle Sam. A Wal-Mart in every town and a McDonald’s on every corner. And he wants to spread this over the whole planet. Like Euro Disney wasn’t travesty enough. You’re being suckered, World. Uncle Sam has you wrapped around his fat little finger.

I assure you that is not the case.

I ain’t assured.

I want you to see something, New York.

Don’t go changing the subject on me.

Over there. That Yoga studio on Broadway.

You’re changing the subject.

I am not changing the subject. I am merely digressing momentarily so as to elucidate my underlying point.

I am ‘merely digressing momentarily’–What have you swallowed a dictionary or something?

Do you see that man? Third yoga mat from the left?

You mean the one with the peek-a-boo shorts?

Yes, that one. What do you think he’s doing?

Sleeping?

Come on.

Alright, alright. He’s trying to meditate. So?

How much do you know about this man?

What’s to know? He’s an investment banker. Bored with his job. Girlfriend just dumped him.

That’s all you see?

I see that he needs to invest in some new shorts.

What else?

Is there a point to this?

What else do you see?

I see that he’s feeling guilty about the fifteen pounds he’s put on since he got the ax.

That’s it?

He’s thinking about a career in environmental advocacy.

Look closer.

When he gets some shorts that cover his privates I’ll look closer.

Interesting.

If that’s interesting, World, you need to get out more.

You really don’t see what’s going on there, do you?

I see what I see.

But you don’t see what matters.

So enlighten me, you’re so smart.

That man is in pain, New York. His life is disintegrating.

Hold on a minute. Let me unpack my violin.

He’s in so much pain, New York, he’s trying to break through.

Break through what?

The limitations of his consciousness. He’s searching for the next level. He’s searching for us.

Bullroar. That guy doesn’t know we exist. None of them do.

Sure they do. They call us culture or the collective unconscious. They know we compel them in mysterious ways. They just don’t realize we’re conscious. But I think they’re starting to suspect something.

A guy takes a nap at the gym and you think he’s suddenly smart enough to comprehend us?

Not yet, New York. One human mind is capable of very little.

Tell me something I don’t know.

But link them together and they give rise to something much greater.

Yeah. They give rise to us.

Indeed. But that is not their purpose.

It is from my point of view.

You see. This is what I’m talking about, New York. You’re so self-absorbed, you think humans exist for no other purpose than to serve you.

Hey, I serve them too. They keep coming, don’t they? Why do you think rents are so high?

You’re not serving this man very well. His life is falling apart.

Boo effin’ hoo. He’s in pain. He needs my help. Everybody needs my help. I ask for a little help, for a little well deserved break from this three hundred pound gorilla on my back, and what do I get? I get the goddamn middle finger, that’s what I get.

Let me ask you something, New York.

Ooh, what’s this? Another change of subject?

Do you ever wonder what’s beyond us?

Whoa! There it is, ladies and gents, a shiny new subject.

Well, do you?

You’re about to get philosophical, aren’t you?

You’ve never thought about it? You’ve never wondered what exists beyond our own consciousness?

Tell you what, World. I’m gonna rest my eyes for a minute while you philosophize. Keep your eye on my city, will ya’.

You know in some ways we’re way behind our human base. They know we exist even if they don’t fully understand us. We, on the other hand, can’t even sense the level above us.

Zzzzzzzzzz.

You’re bluffing, New York.

Yeah, but what if I weren’t?

Point taken. We’ll return to the subject of your proposed separation from Uncle Sam in a minute. I was only hoping that if you understood my greater purpose, it would put your own concerns into perspective.

What greater purpose?

Have you not been paying attention? My purpose is to find the next level of consciousness.

What makes you think there’s a next level?

Matter gives rise to life. Life evolves consciousness. Conscious beings evolve culture. Cultures evolve consciousness. Why would it stop there?

‘Cause we’re enough?

That’s right, New York. We’re the crowning achievement of the universe. Even humans don’t believe that any more. What if there’s more? What if we were meant to integrate with cultures from other worlds? What if the consciousness of the universe is a creature waiting to be born from the integration of all conscious entities within it?

Did you say other worlds?

I most certainly did.

And how do you intend to find these other worlds?

That’s what we need our human base for.

Hold on. Hold on. Are you talking about space travel?

I am.

That’s the great and noble purpose all this integration bullshit is serving? Some pie in the sky dream of communing with little green men?

Not with little green men, New York. With their cultures.

But these monkeys haven’t even gotten their asses to the next planet yet.

Perhaps if they combined their efforts more seamlessly–

Oh I get it. Right. Let me tell you something about space travel, World. When the monkeys do finally slingshot themselves out of the solar system, here’s what I see. I see a tin can full of starving, horny beasts on a one-way rendezvous with a supernova because they forgot to convert imperial to metric. I hope you got a back up plan.

I am paying close attention to the search for radio signals.

Anyway, if you’re gonna rest your hopes on the Keystone cops down here, you should forget about integration. You’re better off letting us splinter.

Why?

The monkeys got their asses to the moon by competing, not cooperating. What you need is a space race.

You make a good point, New York.

Don’t act so surprised.

But there is one flaw to your argument.

No way. It’s airtight.

Competition is an effective motivator. But space travel and missile technology are far too intricately linked now. Without cooperation, the technology to take our human base to other worlds will most likely destroy them before they get there. And us along with them.

Scare monger.

Deep down, New York, you know it’s true.

I know what I know.

Deep down, you understand why integration is the only way.

Maybe I do, maybe I don’t.

You are integration, New York. You are the great coming together of people and all that they bring with them.

Flatterer.

I know it’s not easy, but integration is your destiny.

So all this is my fault.

It’s your burden perhaps. But don’t pretend you’d have it any other way.

There’s that tone again.

I’m only stating the obvious, New York.

Alright. Alright. I guess it serves me right for letting that hundred foot broad stand in my river and invite everyone over.

Precisely. And don’t forget, New York. She’s standing in Uncle Sam’s river too.

Ooh. Good one.

Do you understand now why I must refuse your request?

Yeah, yeah. Don’t rub it in. Anyway, you know I had to ask.

Of course. You wouldn’t be New York if you didn’t. Now tell me, what are you going to do for that man on the yoga mat?

He’ll be fine.

He needs you, New York. More than ever.

Christ, I don’t know. A friend of his ex-girlfriend works for the Sierra Club. I guess I could arrange for them to run into each other at a party.

Very good.

Yeah, I’m a friggin’ saint.

Hardly. But saints aren’t what I need.

No. What you need are martyrs.

All for a great and noble cause, New York.

So you keep saying.

Sh. Listen. Do you hear that?

No.

Neither do I. But they’re out there, New York. Somewhere. Waiting for us to find them.

Yeah. Sure they are.

And just like that man on the yoga mat, I’ll never give up until I hear them.

Well, do me a favor then.

What’s that?

When you hear them, tell them to shut up already. It’s noisy enough down here.

The End

© Copyright 2005 Lauren McLaughlin & Senses Five Press