“The terrible thing about having New York go stale on you is that there’s nowhere else.”
-John Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer
An excerpt from John Kolchak’s forthcoming novel, The Eternal Return
Before any of the following happened I strongly believed that autobiographies are for the most part worthless unless one has lived through exceptional times or was oneself an exceptional individual. I can’t claim either. That percentage among us is infinitesimal. Most of our lives, I had come to feel, are utterly pedestrian no matter how alternately “touching” or “tragic” or “funny” they may seem to us, or how unique we think we are or were. For each individual who survived war, famine, the Holocaust, gulags, grotesque personal misfortune, there are millions who experienced the same fate but lacked the skills, the ambition and most importantly, the vanity to actually put pen to paper. And so vanity and a little bit of skill combined to show us the experiences of only a tiny percentage. Mankind, I firmly believed, was not even the proverbial anthill, but something more akin to a parasitic, self-reproducing fungus, laying down replacements for ridiculously short lives in an almost sadomasochistic manner and one would need to set the bar rather high to warrant writing about oneself. After the following happened, I changed my mind a bit and decided that whatever I wrote would be worthwhile somehow. Although the nature of existence still continued to pose a logical problem, my mental illness eventually came under control and I broke the promise I made to myself to never compose an autobiography.
I will die soon, or maybe not terribly soon, no one knows when —but by writing down what transpired that certain summer, that season in hell and bliss —recommended to me as a form of therapy by my doctors, I have now finally found a modicum of bittersweet peace. I am now back in California, my adopted land on the edge of the earth where I have come back to the safety of warm weather and more importantly the safety of sitting, precisely where and how this story began, when I was The Sitter, several years ago.
Back then, after living in California for over a decade, I had come to the conclusion that my lot in life is mostly to sit. It is, after all, something I am quite good at, and in this late stage and all, it would prove way too difficult to move my arse towards bigger and better things. This understanding was not provoked by a failed visit to a prostitute, an unsuccessful attempt at assassinating a politician, or humiliation by colleagues or former classmates, it was a gradual process of giving up. Sitting has many noble qualities about it. For one, it hurts no one, except yourself if you develop hemorrhoids. Two, one is obviously in the perfect position to reflect. Reflection is something you simply cannot perform when you’re running, and I don’t mean running solitary, but trying to outrun the pack. Consider the Buddha, or Saint Simon the Stylite who sat on a Greek column in the desert eating leaves from the adjacent tree, shitting green off the side of his Corinthian tower, did they not both manage not only to achieve enlightenment but also managed to fight off demons? All this simply through the process of sitting.
So there, I’ll say it once more: inactivity, be it by fate, circumstance, or volition is in itself noble or so it seemed to me before I started on this journey. Certainly the world has its pecking order but the Hindu castes were not created for the purpose of putting people down. Rather, as an extension of the natural order of things, it helped create a Dewey system of cataloguing each according to their particular skill – or vice. Each has its place within the mill, within the anthill, even us sitters, of course. It would be foolish to compare a panther to a snail, to see who is more noble, and even more foolish to compare a carrot to a panther, or a turnip to a hippogriff. And thus, I, in my personal carotene splendor also feel that I have reached enlightenment at times, or at least have come close. But there is still much more sitting to be done, though sometimes even the vegetables scream when they see how pointless it all is. The words of Maxim Gorky: “Man is destined for happiness the way birds are destined for flight”, I have paraphrased to my own means and experiences as such: “man was destined for happiness, the way a hippopotamus is destined for flight”, and that is why I sometimes dream that I have indeed become a panther, only to wake up in my garden variety garden yet again. After some feeling around in the dirt to make sure I’m here among the worms and the moles I know, I reach for my bottle of liquid pesticide – it helps keep both intruding bugs and unpleasant thoughts away – and begin to contemplate further.
It wasn’t always like this, of course. Back in my salad days, (oh pardon the puns, there will be more to come), as a seedling, I knew nothing, but as I formed into shape, I’d watch the springs and summers with delight and too wished I could grow higher, bud into a sunflower, look straight at the sky or maybe sprout legs and pull myself out into the world. Alas, the limbs I grew were as useless as those of a mandrake and like the mandrake I would scream when fate would trip me up, or pull me around by the hair. When did I become stone arse? For I did possess so much ambition once, misguided, natch, but looking towards the stars dammit, not the dirt in the navel. I will now try to retrace my steps.
The catalyst behind it all was Betty. Poor Betty with an arse made of even heavier stone than me, for she was immobile. But let me start a bit earlier, back in the smoggy, beer colored glow of Los Angeles, before I embarked on my “sentimental journey” only to return and return, eternally…