April 15th, 2020

The Non-existent Machine

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How does the crisis come? What is the moment? Who owns the disaster? And where does it lead?


There is no one moment when the things we saw become things that are seeing us back. There is no time coming when my own hands will turn to birds and begin fluttering about the pages of my face. There will never be a day when I wake with a single yelp and hop skipping from my bed to go do the two-step down to what paradise lurks on the first floor. I am not draped in the lights of epiphany. I know no answers, but the questions continue to evolve into ever more exotic questions every year.


I am the kind of half-assed loser who categorizes different vistas of bathroom tile as to their degree of ominous and/or disease quotient. I am the one who hyperventilates over video conferencing as the clicks begin to invade our connection. I wake on my firm sheetless mattress wrapped in a single fuzzy blanket to protect from the incessant attacks of mosquitoes whirring about the vicinity of my earholes in an otherwise empty room in rural Vietnam, where I now live, as in I rent a four-storey house with other foreigners and work in the rural city of Phu Ly, and generally speaking am haunted by the more unpleasant sexual encounters of my younger days while also ensconced in what hungry ghosts latch onto the already dwindling days gone by, hopes to come, and passion spent—and the body begun its long dysfunction unto death.


Enter the disease.


Perhaps you hadn’t noticed the decay come upon you as you loitered by the graveyard’s entrance in your most comfortable shoes, but now it is like as if your skin is become perforated with the many imperfections hungering for the disease’s entrance, and you are standing at your windows with your stacks of binge-worthy content and your various frozen pizzas and a kaleidoscope of worries and insecurities to keep you occupied in your solitude, but you have only just begun to muse on the texture of the soil and what delightful sensations may accompany the rooting of the grass through what pottings the sockets provide. However, even when it comes to death, you are half-assed.


For I’m speaking of myself as usual. I who am not there with you anymore on account of I kind of sort of found myself stranded in Vietnam by accident on purpose. As I mentioned before. And even as the home country falls apart as we always knew it would—with the usual incompetence and sneering of the baby class that’s come to monopolize the national stage, I am immersed in the nine vaults of heaven, and the eight hexagrams, and grammars I never thought I would have to speak out loud. As our nation finishes up its final season with a climactic apocalypse of as of yet unknown proportions—as it comes apart in the most predictable of atrocities being exploited in the most obvious of ways—the number of those who will die from a kind of internal drowning as a result—while the landscape teeters towards an avalanche of itself—and the various bodies of government are on the brink of a full on tumbling into the quaint anarchies of our prehistory—all any of us can do is watch.


I am sat out in a room with literally nothing in it. I am staring at the marble tiles are all that’s in here and through the windows at the light blue stucco of the house across the way, with its gold-painted plaster sun just below the apex of the roof, and its roof gardens draped in striped skirts and bunny blankets hung out to dry beside said plants. But I am also watching you all from the far side of the world as well with a kind of gleeful terror as the calls come pouring in.


Come home, they say. If you don’t come home, you will get trapped there, they say. What about your family, they say.


And I chuckle the usual chuckles of those who were never much good at anything, and have made a career out of these various inadequacies. It is a career that is incomprehensible to those who live outside the regions of my skull. My job has become to sing myself to sleep, and occasionally the songs find some nook inside the many barren crevices of my lobes where they can live for a while. Others look and say, How pathetic. He does nothing right. But I am laughing.


Here in Vietnam, the gold is painted directly on the leaves, and the cockroaches perform ballet as they expire from the sweet perfumes of our poisons. We massage our sphincters with gentle sprays of water and pour the cheapest lagers down our striated throats. We call out across the latticework of the internet and into this echoing confusion of voices going on about toilet paper outages and burnt bunny slippers. We exist in your negative spaces. We are like the cardboard cut-outs that occupy the afterthoughts of your dreams. We are your audience.


Because America was born to live out its death throes in the limelight. It’s entire backstory is of the Hollywood starlet variety, and its latter days are turning out just as unpleasant as any aging Sunset Boulevard diva with her airplane bottles of vodka and her curtains drawn on the carpeted living room while she screams through her teeth at the screen, You can’t take these freedoms from me, you libtard! Go ahead and try and take my weapons, you cuck! You… When truth is, no one’s right, and the pandemic’s just got us to all sit in the corner and think about what we done.


Even as we are barreling into the crannies of the abyss, all we do is mutter our complaints about some other, clench our teeth and our taint and examine the crescendo of our palpitations as we stare at the wall like as if these things are unrelated. We point out what variety of unpleasantnesses lurk in the faces in our near vicinity, and say, Look at those! Look at them! This is also us. For we are everyone. From hypothetical people to the very real-seeming offspring of us. There is no one who is not a part of us.


But we can only understand ourselves by what we are not, and so we look out our windows and out of our passing sedans and we murmur our lullabies about how I am A and not B, I am this and not that, I am this righteous visionary and not that deluded charlatan, who is offended by the mere suggestion that I try wearing the spectacles of another. I am only right because the others are wrong. When I see myself, what I see is that I am not them, and even when I think of them seeing me, I can only see how their way of seeing is wrong. But what if we stopped altogether? What if we refrained from seeing the world? What visions would fill the emptinesses we had formerly cluttered up with our many visions of this unsettling outside world? In Vietnam, all I ever do is reminisce about how it all went wrong.


While all the while, they call up and say, Get on the plane now. If you do not get on the plane, there will not be another one. The night sky is sliding out of its frame and filling up our streets and our homes. There will be nowhere for you to go if you do not go there now. Leave your empty room with its marble and its view of courtyards on roofs. Leave the leafy streets of Vietnam behind, for when this darkness breaches the protections you hide behind, it will swallow you, and your mother will be able to do nothing as she paces between the stacks of boxes in her suburban ranch house with its many useless canned goods and occasional epiphany.


But I have made it a career of not listening.


There were moments when I thought I was married, and worked to change myself into the sort of high-minded individual would sacrifice whatever bright visions he once called his own so that he could earn a stable living for himself and what potential sons and daughters are sat waiting between his wife’s thighs. But those days are over now, and all I see is this empty room, and there is nothing else I want than this empty room.


Of course, that’s not true. But have you ever wanted some impossible thing? Like to grow arms that could reach into alternate timelines and sink themselves inside the ganglia to be found there? And the wanting itself was like the dream realized?


That shopping mall does not exist.


It is not to achieve that we are, but to dream beyond the dream. Which may mean forgetting what you look like completely. It may mean growing eyes in places you never thought possible. It may mean, your fingers become a cancer crawling down your throat. Whatever the outcome—even as the daydreaming itself becomes like a place where I live—even as others live their lives by the breakroom window looking out on the Bering Strait as they slurp up Coke and smoke the soggiest of smokes—there is also the very real possibility that our daydreams can become like God, and sometimes we are vanished in the mystery of them. For the imagination is a very real and a very dangerous place, but it is where the answers lie. Our daydreams are the foothills of a more lofty mountain.


While meanwhile, you are standing at your bay windows looking out at what wonders have befallen your lawn, even when at the same time, you are vanishing into places you have yet to visualize. As heart cooks brain, and all those eruptions of the spleen take on a personality of their own, and something has got you clutched round the root of your innards and you are singing the most high pitched of squealing notes as you saunter back and forth upon the stained living room carpet, and this is just the first hour of the first day. But you are still here.


I have vanished inside my reveries, but not you, and that is the key thing. You are there, and you are singing, and what songs you learned—of the rocks that sing and the melody of the stream and the perfect pitch of wind across the water—these will stay. And something else stays too. As long as you have dread, you know you are still alive.


Who can define happiness?