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At the end of 2020 Odious and I were in a holding pattern. Unusual, and possibly extraordinary things had happened, but there was no way to know what, if anything, any of it meant...

by Swim

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At the end of 2020 Odious and I were in a holding pattern. Unusual, and possibly extraordinary things had happened, but there was no way to know what, if anything, any of it meant. Odious had had their “really real” solstice dream in which the author Philip K. Dick handed them an ancient scroll, a symbol, they thought (much to my chagrin) meant he wanted them to work on a piece of writing with him. We investigated the handful of collaborations he completed in his lifetime, including the book Deus Irae (“God of Wrath”) with Roger Zelazny, about a post-apocalyptic world and a disabled artist who is tasked with painting the portrait of the man/entity behind the nuclear war that destroyed the planet. The book immediately resonated with Odious--the title was a play on Dies Irae, or “Day of Wrath”, a 13th century Latin chant that appears as a recurring motif in musical history and in the scores of countless popular movies. The book was built around an earlier short story of Dick’s, “The Great C”, which happened to closely resemble an actual, working ChatBot that Odious had created as a part of their interactive magnum opus, a mixed-media art piece that was meant to contain the entire universe. Furthermore, upon looking back, we discovered that Dies Irae seemed to have been a part of a message they’d been receiving on the winter solstice for several years. But why? And who was sending it to them? Was it really PKD or someone or something assuming his form? Would there be more info sent to us to help us find out? (And by we, I meant Odious and I, but really Odious, as this was when I was still unsure…suspicious even of what was going down and wondering if it was just another weird art project by my friend to which I was an unwitting participant).

Odious cleaned out their apartment and their mind. They got rid of everything that they deemed to be an excess: books, electronics, furniture… my beloved bean bag chairs…and nearly their bed, since they had taken to sleeping on the floor. But I stopped them, saying they should wait and see if this monk shit was really going to last.

No more sugar, they said, at least none that didn’t come from fruit, and no more IPA’s, though they already only had them infrequently, and in a ratio of 1 to every 3 and sometimes 4 to what I had.

But what will we do to celebrate New Year’s? I thought, and then wondered what was more strange, that Odious would most likely treat NYE like any other night—in which they went to bed early and woke up the next day to pray and meditate and commune with their houseplants and then maybe read and reread a single poem for hours while sipping one of their many blends of adaptogenic tea--or that I had this need to toast the start of a new calendar year by getting sloshed and dancing around on Odious’ yoga mat with their next level sound system turned way up (but not nearly as loud as it could go), allowing me to pretend I was in a club, only an improbably empty one with tons of room, where no one was about to elbow me or spill a drink on my shoes, and I could be barefoot in my fave ripped gym t and yoga pants, my unwashed hair sticking straight up in the way I secretly liked, as I pretended I was on stage, I was the dancer, or maybe even the singer, the person everyone was looking at, that everyone loved.

Odious is going deep with this shit, I told myself, alternately deciding it was a pandemic thing, a 30-something thing, or maybe a sweet, sexy person thing. The time had come for them to fold in on themselves, something I remember doing myself at their age with copious amounts of weed and untested party drugs and a sudden surge of bad philosophical writing that I leveraged all my old contacts to get published with the idea that the world needed to read it, that the world needed me, that me being in this or that anthology was somehow crucial to the working of anything anywhere.

But really, Odious wasn’t going deep or getting lost within themselves. They were waiting. Phone on airplane mode, no coffee, no movie on mute on the big screen while they read a book in its blue white light. I stood outside the living room listening and thinking it was so quiet, they must be asleep. The (ironical?) chintzy beaded curtain was pulled to the side, which I took as an indication that it was OK to come in. When I did, I saw them there, awake and just…sitting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone doing that. They weren’t asleep, nor were they day dreaming—there was no faraway look or spacey sense that one feels when someone close by is somewhere else in their mind. They were sitting, fully present and doing NOTHING. I took a step closer and felt as though I’d stepped into a void. It was a radio blackout from all my usual thoughts: the darkness of a dark night--the looming shapes of the quartz covered mountains against a black and amber ambient winter sky.

It was calm and peaceful and a little scary.

As it turned out, on New Year’s Eve, Odious invited me to stay over late and watch The Poseidon Adventure. I’d seen it several times before but said yes. I had nowhere to go in Covid Land and figured it would be fun to watch someone experience the hardcore jam that was Gene Hackman’s minister for the first time. But when I settled in with my bowl of vegan cheddar popcorn and hot toddy, I found out they’d already seen it before.

“So why do you want to watch it again?”

“Because it’s the end of 2020, and the only way out is through,” they said, with their crooked half-smile indicating this was an attempt at humor.

The movie was more horrendous than I remembered. It cut down the established characters one by one, in that unapologetically bleak 70’s way. I went home feeling like I’d been through something, though at least I hadn’t overdone it too much on the booze front… no racing heart or thoughts like bees buzzing around a busted hive, but I stayed up until dawn regardless, staring up at the ceiling and imagining that the sporadic explosions in the sky were real bombs, and it was finally the beginning of the end.

The next day the news broke: MF DOOM was dead. And had been, ever since Halloween.

“It’s a fake,” I told Odious, “He’s fucking with us, for sure, I mean, this is some staged shit, wtf.”

They didn’t reply, either ignoring me or because they didn’t hear, and the low, forever guilty part of me was happy to see them drinking a large glass of dark red wine as they sat in the corner in the Eames chair they’d been given for a modeling gig, pre-pandemic.

The opening of “Accordion” was blasting:

“Living on borrowed time, the clock ticks faster…”

“It’s time to pick up the pace,” they said, whether to me or in response to the lyric, I couldn’t tell.

“What are we supposed to do? And why are you saying ‘we’”?

“It can’t be that PKD reached out just to tell us that the world is ending. I mean, duhhh, we all know that already.”

(but do we, I thought, as I poured myself a gigantic glass of wine. I mean, like, do we really, really know it?)

“It’s like his Tagore letter, he didn’t send a copy to everyone in his address book plus the editor of a sci-fi mag just to tell them he thought the world was ending. No, he sent it because he had a vision that gave him specific clues, and he wanted to share it with anyone he knew who might be open. That’s the thing about the Big Homie, it’s not about him, it never was. Hence the Exegesis, hence all those books that he knew only a handful of peeps might get in his own lifetime. He was writing it for whomever would figure it out, and for whenever they might exist. He was creating an open source project in the truest sense, one not hemmed in by silly notions of time and life and death.”

I thought about how—but didn’t say out loud--the main sample of DOOM’s “Accordion” was from a track by a musician named Daedalus, which was also the name of the Ancient Greek dude who created the labyrinth in Crete. PKD wrote about it in VALIS--the dying musician character Mini explains how humans became such great maze builders that they built a maze that constantly changed so that even though there was a way out there essentially became no way to find it.

And then, as if that weren’t enough--to make the game even harder, we, as the maze builders, decided to forget who we were or what we had done—we relinquished our third eye and our true origins. And it was this hubris that caused us to be trapped forever, silly stupid players in a reality we didn’t even know was a game.

Dancing our lives away to a sample—a repeated riff on an accordion—telling the story of how we’d been trapped forever.

(but VALIS is just a book, I told myself, just the ramblings of a smart but borderline schizophrenic mind)

I slammed the table with my fist, I lit a smoke without opening the window, I overtook the Bluetooth and put on Depeche Mode, super loud (though still not as loud as the system could go).

“Look,” I said, drunk after one drink, “The Tagore letter is about the end of the world, and if Big Homie’s sending you the message of ‘Dies Irae’, over and over, which is also about the end times, why does it have to be more than that? He’s telling us we’re fucked; we sizzled the planet away for cheap gain and the paltry comfort of these big screens so we can fall asleep to a movie glow in every room.”

“I don’t think he would have bothered if he thought there was no way out,” Odious said, “I don’t think he would have written any of his books while he was alive, I think he would have just given up, and let everyone think he was crazy. He would have driven off the road, wifey in tow. But he kept trying, he sent that letter out to all these peeps and we don’t even know if anyone wrote back, aside from a psychic chick who told him he was sick, which of course, turned out to be 100% true. But PKD knew he’d received a clue and he had to share it, which is why I think he’s sending me this info now.”

“From beyond the grave?”

“Yes, I mean, no…”

“I’m taking a ride with my best friend, I’m hoping they will never let me down again.”

Odious leaned back in the chair and stared up at the ceiling, which I appreciated, since I was done for the day with looking at faces.

“It was from the part of him that was beyond--the part that’s like the part in all of us, perfect and immortal. It’s that part that’s sending the message, that always was, even when he was the one receiving it.”

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Image: Carl Jung, "The Red Book"

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