Some people call it New York; others call it The Great Satan. I called it The Empire of the Straight Line. Anyways, I knowingly went into the maw of a beast that I had previously contemplated and watched wearily from a distance. It is hard to resist anthropomorphizing the city into a slovenly, unhealthy, greedy blob that perpetually rumbles with indigestion as it greedily ingests and consumes ever increasing amounts of people, energy, and raw materials before belching, vomiting, and sweating out their waste forms in all directions. So I am not even going to bother trying. I am certain it would trade its grandmother into sex slavery for mid-level tickets to a Bruce Springsteen show at Madison Square Garden. It is an obsessive compulsive patient that strives to control everything around it and a self-admiring insomniac. It is left brain biased; possibly afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome that manifests itself in an uncompassionate and grinding obsession with logic, rules, and order that create a create an awkward social environment.
This spring I left on an Amtrak bound for Salt Lake City via Chicago. As the train exited the station I got an erection that lasted for hours and made walking around the train a challenge. I did not socialize during this entire period, but it wasn’t really an optioon as there was yet no observation car.
I found an audience after leaving Chicago with whom I could share some of the sentiments and ideas that I had refined in New York – a recent college graduate from Wesleyan named Anna on her way West for the first time. She asked what I did when I was in New York. I told her that I founded and ran a non-profit called the Anti-Alliteration Alliance. That we worked to rid the earth of the societal scourge that is rude redundancy and vain verbosity through selling voodoo dolls of Wall Street executives. That being said, I told her that I didn’t want to talk about work though as writing was my passion and I wanted to share some ideas that I had been honing over the past few months. I gently began by explaining that our conception of history and society revolves around the idea of progress measured through material production and technological complexity – more speed, more mobility, more choice. That this gives the illusion that humanity has been on one continuous march towards a better future – effectively justifying the extermination of other cultures, environmental degradation, poverty, and the liquidation of millions of minds. That the quantifying logic of our material society demands exchange for everything, that everything be accounted for, and owned. And I informed her that it is simply impossible to question this conception of history from a materialist perspective that is so deeply socialized into us, as by its very nature it cannot assimilate all of the other essential human functions unless they somehow can be fit into a scheme of material production and consumption. I wondered aloud how you place a value on love or community or peace? I asked of her: Is not a civilization that finds peace, establishes equality, harmony with its environment, takes care of its young and old, meets the spiritual and material needs of everyone, and offers a deep sense of community a superior and highly productive society?
I posed the question of what the hypothetical destination is for this run away train? Is the apotheosis of our society to unshackle ourselves from the limits imposed by the natural world and to live free in the ceaseless hum and glow of a technological cradle strung together with wires and tubes that meet all of our physical needs? It would be the triumph of efficiency, production, and control. We would be machines within this system and corporations would still be people.
I confided to her that this logic needs to be supplanted, that we need to return to our roots in the natural, primal, and animalistic. That we needed a way to demonstrate the true nature of existence. I told her – with a glance in either direction at the baby boomers taking pictures incessantly with their IPads – that we could break with many of the implicit assumptions through ritualized sacrifice. There would be no exchange. There would be no material progress in the act. We would ritualize the reality that death and change are the fundamental characteristics of life. I told her that my idea was to start an institution where we would all sacrifice something that we loved – we would pile it together and set it ablaze. I could see her nervously wringing her hands in her lap. I self-consciously added that people and animals were not within the scope of this idea. Although maybe we could simply eat the baby boomers? I grinned and raised my eyebrows. It would solve a lot of problems as the tribute paid to the top of our pyramid seems rather unsustainable. I added that there would definitely be drums and dancing.
I casually mentioned that New York is the embodiment of this hyperrational, homogeneous, sterilized ideology. The rationality is manifest in the straight lines, in the ceaseless hum, in the endless efficiency, in perpetual striving towards nothing. I informed her that I was not a robot and consequently during my time in New York I regularly had to repress urges to run amok, howling through the logical confines lewdly waving my genitals like a blueballed baboon. I delved deeply into myself and told her that this stemmed from my curiosity and my bewilderment at the nature of existence. That I can see that there is something unknowable and immeasurable coursing through the molecules of everything on this earth.
I told her that the turmoil that we see around the world currently is a manifestation of the irreconcilable nature of our economic, religious, and political institutions and man’s evolving image of himself as an interconnected, monocrop set to overrun the earth. We now see our ability, from many different vantages, to shape our environment. We see the reality of the spaceship earth; interconnectedness and oneness is indisputable. A glimpse of the finite is seen in the confines of our spaceship. The only way to grapple with the problems that humanity faces is by turning inward, not towards technology, further division, and complexity, rather through finding a way as individuals to realize the inherent beauty, joy, and tranquility in simplicity. The perpetually striving and greedy individual mind needs to become a thing of the past. The future needs contentedness that stems from more creation, collaboration, sharing, learning, sex, music, dancing, movement of the physical body, family, and meaningful work.
Her face throughout the conversation seemed marred by an amalgamation of intrigue and terror. I assured her that I was unlikely to do anything in the immediate future.
I left for Colorado and slept outside for the first time in months; for six years I had slept outside for over a hundred days a year. I stared up at the night sky and saw innumerable stars. I realized that if my eyes were more sensitive the entire night sky would be white with light.
I left one morning from Hotchkiss to hitch towards New Mexico to visit my dad. I caught a ride with a lady named Brenda who had me ride the first hour in the back of her pickup bed, but then moved her arthritic husky to the back and invited me up. I reached for the seatbelt and she furrowed her brow before scornfully saying, “Oh you are one of those?” She was wearing her seatbelt though. She alternated pulls between Crown, Bud, and her pipe as she wove along the sinuous mountain roads and occasionally swerved off onto the gravel shoulder. The anonymity of hitching makes it a beautiful platform for storytelling. Brenda had two sons and lived for most of her life in Trinidad, Colorado. She ran businesses – a cleaning service, a thrift store, a small restaurant – and never made it clear if she had an old man. I glanced from her face to the road and felt a small pang of adrenaline each time she swerved outside the lines. Everything felt apart abruptly when her son was shot to death, her other son joined the Navy, and she went on the lam. I am generally a brick wall to sexual innuendo and subtlety, but there were enough overt references to her abysmal sex life to set off alarms. She shouted at an elderly lady hunched behind the wheel of a Volkswagen as she ran her off the road for driving too slow.
I got dropped off in Gunnison and began walking through town in flip flops. I chuckled with the realization that hitchhiking in flip flops had the benefit of being quite disarming as very few serial killers and rapists likely wear flip flops. So I was feeling pretty good about my prospects. I quickly caught a ride in a pickup with a guy named Brian who showed me the carcass of a deer that a snowplow had hit and launched high into the limbs of a tree. I ended up outside of Salida.
An old grey station wagon slowly passed and then stopped ahead. I jogged up and a gravelly voice billowing smoke said, “Take your time, no need to rush.” I tossed my pack in back and jumped into the passenger seat next to a grey haired woman in a peasant dress with a cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth.
She guided the car up the pass and into the barren and expansive San Luis Valley. She was from Vermont, but had lived out West for a few decades and currently lived in a strange community called Crestone that lay against the mountains near the Great Dunes National Park. It was an intentional community that had never fully developed – a still born hippy dream. Maybe it lacked intent. She at one pointed lived there for a year without any water or power. She had slowly converted a yurt into a permanent structure. She lit each cigarette with the fading ember of the last and carefully answered all of my questions.
“Here and there a few people come into the community and cause trouble. We drive them out ourselves – there are no police there, they never come out our way. Sometimes we have to organize posses, you know, without the horses and rifles, but still a posse, to run ‘em out.”
“What do you do for water and food?”
“Well there definitely isn’t an abundance of either. We get by. There are some wells. We aren’t too sustainable though; we can’t really grow much this high.”
I got dropped on a desolate stretch near the Crestone turn off. My next ride was with a young guy named Dirk who was red-eyed and giggling from the moment that he pulled up. He cracked up at anything that I said. I never could really ascertain why he was out in this area, but he rambled on about exploring some formerly productive mining claims.
I ended up on the roadside in Alamosa. I quickly caught a ride from a guy named Carlos who was streaked with tattoos. I liked him the moment he opened his mouth though and we kept each other laughing. He talked freely and frankly about his time in prison for grand theft auto. He took hits off of his dugout pipe and waxed poetically about turning his life around, the history of the area, his family, and love. He went out of his way to show me the oldest church in Colorado.
I couldn’t find a ride in Conejos as darkness descended. I stood on the roadside next to an abandoned building as the desert wind buffeted and chilled me. My dad ended up picking me up. I lay on his floor and listened to his erratic breathing punctuated with gasps and coughing; he sounded like a dog chasing something in a dream. I wondered what was breathing? He got up at 4:45am in pitch darkness to head to work each day. He then came home late and drank wine with abandon. I wondered later on what it is that he is chasing in his waking dream?
I missed the tranquility, space, uncertainty, heterogeneity, and inherent joy of nature. I missed life’s adventure. I learned that a long distance relationship with the Milky Way doesn’t really work; you have to make eye contact at least occasionally. I had time to slow down for the first time in months. Suddenly I saw that the tempest raging in my mind was just cancerous thinking in which our society was mired metastasizing, a useless and ceaseless spinning of gears. I thought that I would never assimilate into New York, but it colonized my mind instead. If you don’t know who the maniac is on the Amtrak within the first few hours – it is you.