[W r i t e r' s N o t e b o o k]
Chance meetings always brought interesting characters into my domain. I would learn the bare facts of things about them. Ah, this one was born in San Francisco, joined the army, worked at a small engineering firm, and now was unemployed for several years. Never married. Liked music.
And this one had been a lawyer, DUI's did him in, he was always in court defending himself from having to go to AA, was a Red Sox fan and believed he had the ability to concentrate on the windup of a pitcher and throw the ball off-balance.
And he, an underground man, a poet who acted crazy all the time and drank beer until he was silly, ugly with tough leathery skin, always surrounded by good looking coeds.
And he, a thin black man who read Marx and cried easily, a teacher who liked his ganga always inhaling more than anyone and laughing like a mad man.
The newest one believed that the places one decides to live are chosen by the fidelity of ghosts who lie in wait in the wood and stone, attracting similar types of people.
These characters always seemed to appear during transitions when my mind was laid open and presented a vast array of choice in a world of shrunken alleyways. I accepted the character, no matter what. Whatever the person had to give, whatever positive sign they had developed became mine in a manner of speaking. Then they would disappear into the haze with hardly a good-bye.
He walked across the park in a curious, self-conscious way. He did not walk with freedom. He was animated by something else, an urgency, a distress of some sort his shoulders hunching up suddenly without warning and then dropping down as he figeted with his hands.
After he disappeared into the haze I tried remembering everything I had read about the occult, Herman Hesse, and Carl Jung.
The occult! I thought. What a strange underground that had, for a moment, broken ground from novels, secret societies, lonely aristocrats and their reveries, to live among the most normal of people who believed it was absolute truth. I remember what one character in Ulysses had said: "It all started with the Blavatsky woman."
I left the park and caught the #51 bus for College Avenue, toward Lewins Metaphysical Bookstore that I had passed more than once. I wanted to find out more about the occult after my chance meeting with the odd neighbor.
Little chimes above the door surprised me. A black cat leapt from an old chair covered in purple and brushed against my leg.
The woman behind the desk warned me not to pet the cat or it'd bite my finger.
The store had an over-clean smell to it; some odor lingered that was not pure. It seemed so ancient to me that I was thrown off-guard when a car drove by the splendid window, filled with books only the cognoscenti knew about. It was a room of stark silence, as though a jovial laugh would disturb the sleep of some hidden ghost. A pall of an incense stick hung over the tables and chairs where, in fact, no one sat. It mixed with a pall of sadness as though, after all, it was only about finding something in the middle of nothing. It was the revenge of a bruised ego, many bruised egos floating through time with no place to stop. Ah, they are here now, like trees that have been taken from a great forest and stuck in the center of the city in celebration of a holiday no one understands.
So I wandered between the aisles of books. There were many astrological charts, books of doom, psychology, mythology, Tao Te Ching, Finnegan's Wake, even Arthur Powell's The Etheric Double stood dumbly on the shelf.
I was shown a fragment of a famous man's journal or, so it was alleged. One never knew these days and the old woman had something of the sinister about her. She had held a book by Wilhelm Reich to my face, shaking it with great emotion, "This one almost broke through, yes, he almost got to the other side!"
It was obviously written by someone very young and exposed for the first time to inner realities. Perhaps he had surrendered to them and was now in a stupor, surrounded by the mad and maniacal of the deeps. Perhaps he had given up his fame and worked for the poor in the 3rd world. I was curious about it but decided to buy, "The Death of Christ," by Reich and read it on the bus, between the somber commuters hanging on to the side railings or snapping newspapers open in disgust or dreaming. It's amazing that the dreaming mind, in the daylight, can pick up so much rich material!
Of course I was under the influence of California for a long time. California represented "make it new!" It represented, "do that which expresses what you are and what you feel and believe," rather than follow the dead road of some ambiguous authority. California represented beauty in nature. Nature the Magnificent. California was an attempt to re-find and renew the foundations of a big, old, ugly thing. That was the belief in California at any rate. What else are solar power, computers, and environmental awareness but these very things?
It was, without question, nature. Ah nature! Nature pushing back, nature possessing the minds of the young and working through them to push back against the stupidities of the culture; nature as a sustainer, nature as a god or goddess. And what is a god or goddess to a people who have lost any inkling of what they are? Nature is no substitute. Nature is a teacher and we embrace our teachers. At least, the ones who have shown us the truth. Nature is the patience of a billion years. It is that part of the mind that strives toward life that exists elsewhere.
Not that the occult was of nature or the natural mind so to say. I wasn't sure. I just wanted to get a feeling for it so I could communicate with my neighbor. That was one supreme advantage of riding along the margins, out on the periphery; you could indulge in those things that the culture, itself, could not. So rather than view my neighbor as a stranger I viewed him as a man respected enough to get to know on his terms. There was hardly any fellowship in a culture of cut-throats unless the fellowship protected one group of cut-throats against another group of cut-throats. When they were in their own group any number of cut-throats could be sentimental and a smiling ass. I was like the Greek philosopher who wandered the streets looking for an honest man. So every stranger, every neighbor was potentially that honest man. As I believed this I would seek out to find his world and engage it in some manner to show solidarity and, yes, fellowship.
If life was an experiment that would be an excellent thing, I thought to myself.