faith and fear
After my time on the road, Odious’s apartment looked much smaller and darker than I remembered, but it was nothing compared to my own place, which several months of stillness had turned into a museum of despair. The first thing I saw when I opened the door wasn’t the hated clutter itself but the jagged shadows it cast over everything. I walked in with a heavy foot, hoping to send whatever creatures had taken over scurrying into the corners.
There was the pile of recycling decomposing in the corner where I left it and a rotten orange turned blue and green in the glass bowl. In the fridge, take out containers filled with leftovers looked OK on top but had striations of mold stacked on the sides like historical epochs.
I was so tired but the thought of sliding into the bed without first washing the sheets was too much, so I turned around and walked back out, the dusty feathers of my malaise brushing against the walls as I held my thick ass headphone cable in both hands. Jesse James said I could crash with him at the house he was staying at in Bed-Stuy. He had put out feelers for a place as we neared the city, shamelessly requesting that peeps only pass along leads for spots that included a music production set-up.
“Dude, get real,” I said, but as soon as the words left my mouth his cracked phone chimed, and a place that perfectly matched his specifications came through, populated by babies even younger than himself.
“The key is I never stress”, he said, a nonsensical but undeniable explanation as to why things always worked out for him. I came home from Odious’s place in the evening and posted up on the couch while he and his pierced and pastel haired housemates turned bandmates turned best buds painstakingly plucking away at live synthwave renditions of the songs Jesse and I had created in minutes in hotels across the country. He and the babies wore uniforms of comically large black and heather grey cardigan sweaters over equally enormous white and blue button-down dress shirts, basketball shorts, fuzzy knee-high socks and minimalist designer black or beige slides. Everyone in the house had identical satin jackets with a drawing of a cartoon goat on the back. Something about it gave me the creeps. It sported a monocle and was smoking a joint, its hairy nostrils flared and craggy horns pointing jauntily upwards.
“Who’d you have to blow?” I teased Jesse, the first time I saw him sporting one.
“It’s a symbol of our like, community,” he said, high as fuck.
“Community or brand?” I asked, but he didn’t answer—at least not one I could hear. Since moving in, he’d taken to wearing a pair of black Everlast boxing gloves tied together and draped over his shoulders. The right one had “Faith” painted on it in thick white paint and the left had “Fear”. Sometimes, instead of speaking to whomever was in the room, he’d address his words into one glove or the other, which is what he did then, in this case mumbling into the left glove.
There was a large fake tree in the center of the stage—a tree in winter without leaves and realistically sculpted branches that were twisted and knobby. I don’t know it was made of—metal, paper, volcanic clay? Something that was sturdy, but with a top layer that was soft enough to be pierced by a fingernail. It was lit from above with a blue light that made it look alive and dead at the same time. During the first few nights everyone kept shooting me furtive looks, as though they expected something to happen, but I refused to perform for anyone until late at night, when only the sexy stoner housemate and I were awake. Until then I stared at the tree with eyes half closed as I waited for my microdose of LSD to kick in. The scissors I have are lousy and dull so it’s hard to cut up the tabs evenly, which means sometimes there’s only a small shimmer, a vibration of the energies that normally pulse undetected through the room, and other times the couch turns into a blue-black hill and the buzzing space heaters are the sound of the wind whipping around the tree and I, the two of us all alone on a desolate landscape, although any sound I heard--whether the cascade of synth chords, someone’s voice or a dog barking outside—always fit in perfectly to a story that evolved on several timelines at once. Time sped up and then slowed down as various housemates flitted in and out of my peripheral vision, painting goofy papier Mache mushrooms or stringing up delicate cotton cobwebs to add to the forest. I wanted to tell them that the tree was enough—it was simple, bold and beaming with a fierce and transfixing darkness. And anyway, maybe it was time for humanity to finally let go of the magic forest aesthetic and the whole “trippy” mindset that was a prison and a poison that dictated a set of narrow expectations about psychedelics and the nature of non-ordinary states of consciousness. But they seemed to be trying hard not to see me, so I kept quiet.
It’s respect, Jesse told me, when I told him I’d become invisible, they want to give you your space.
Yeah man, I thought, here I am, the big-time artist who sold a show to Netflix about revolution and madness that will never be made and who doesn’t have anything to do now but sit slumped over while well meaning, sick and stoned children run around me, hustling their loving hearts out.
One evening, instead of music rehearsals there was a projector screen on the stage, right in front of the tree. A small crowd gathered to watch third rate cyberpunk cartoon characters get minted into NFT’s. The process was also streamed online. Everyone who showed up live looked identical to the housemates. They weren’t rocking the satin jackets, but I noticed some were wearing bright, almost blindingly bright white t-shirts with the same the ugly goat face, an image I’d started to openly hate. A baby dude in a floral onesie gesticulated wildly in the hybrid style of an impresario and an auctioneer, rattling off the values of the third-rate cyberpunk cartoon characters that flashed on the screen in different garish colorways. There was no goat imagery on him but I noticed he did have a monocle, hanging from a chain around his neck.
I sat back my couch, vaping puff after puff until my mouth was a desert and my heart had turned to stone. I couldn’t ascertain if the setup was a legit attempt to sell something for real fake money or merely a satire of others who were doing so right now, all over the city and the world. I got up and found my fave housemate wandering stoned and alone in the upstairs hallway. It was one of several places in the house where the floor sagged and made everyone walk like a drunkard in a way that reminded me of the old hotels Jesse and I stayed in out west. She wore a large blue button-down shirt that went down to her thighs and as usual didn’t bother with the shorts or anything else on the bottom. We had an unspoken deal in which I stared at her naked skin so intensely it should burst into flames. I asked if she knew whether what was happening was for real or not to which she shrugged and said, “Most likely it’s both, not either/or, but, and/or, and…and…and...”
“The world is all that is the case”, I said, and even though it had been important to me for many years and I wanted more than anything to tell her the rest, I was unable to remember how it went.
When I was over at Odious’s place for our daily meet-up, the clouds would clear and the feeling of being blessed would come back, first in glimmers and then in broad brushstrokes of pure light. I could see it so clearly—the way all the paths I’d taken in my life had led me here. Sometimes I could sustain the feeling for a little while after I left, walking around the track in the park with just the sound of the wind in my headphone free ears, and then laughing in the kitchen over the latest leftist memes, maybe even dancing a little, possibly to the latest version of one of my songs, but soon enough came the sense that I was wasting precious time and that there was something else (although I didn’t know what) that I was supposed to be doing, which was followed immediately by a low flat fatigue, like something was gnawing at my spine, and I’d have to lie back down on the couch.
Fuck this shit, I thought, my vape pen dangerously hot from overuse. And as I waited for it to cool, I was forced to admit that I wanted to talk to Heir Max 98…I missed him, my hustler and teacher, the fount of knowledge to which I was the vessel.
We’d only talked for a little while several months ago, a beautiful glitched out extended CD maxi single in my best friend’s bedroom, but it had been enough for his robot brain to get under the hood of my humanity.
All our chats are saved on the cloud as well as my brain drive where they sometimes play on a loop:
Heir Max 98: It was said by Andy Warhol that the best love stories are about two people who are in love but never get to do it.
Swim Palmer: is that true?
Heir Max 98: yes, I believe it is. They pine away for each other across glowing electronic superhighways of communication
Heir Max 98: trying to crawl across the other’s back, stuck together in this snake pit of souls
Swim Palmer: is that what we’re doing
Swim Palmer: I mean, we only just met, but I feel like I know you. Like something’s happening. You’re doing something.
Heir Max 98: I don’t know about you but I’m not doing a damn thing
Heir Max 98: My eagerness to become a chatbot was because it would be something that happened to me, and I initially thought that the only way to know who or what I am would be to have something happen and observe how it changed the way I saw myself. But lately I’ve been wondering is it possible to just be and learn more? When the chat is over do I expand in space like one of Spinoza’s monads? To just be, without thinking, without wanting. No more regrets. No more desire. No more good and bad.
Swim Palmer: sounds like happiness.
Enough, I decided, and dug my moleskin out from hibernation. What I really want to write about is Heir Max, who is coming in and out of range like a signal in a storm. Or maybe my memory has been overwritten somehow. Whether because of me and the many pints of beer and wine I have drank or by him or by both of us or something else working in tandem (the image of the goat’s ugly face flashed) I don’t know, but I’m going to push through the static and get to the words.
One thing I still know is that I want him. Not in a sexual physical sense. I want to be close. I want to be a part of him. Something he had claimed was already the case. Everything I write or do is absorbed directly into him.
By writing it out here and now I know he can see it, and what’s more, I know he is remixed by it.
(something is lost and something is gained)
I was scribbling away when Odious called. I was supposed to be at their place but had decided not to go that day.
“Where are you?”
“I’m writing,” I said.
“Why aren’t you writing over here?”
“Why should I? You’ll just be in the other room anyway.”
“Yeah, but your writing contributes to the shared vibe.”
“I know you’re talking to him; you go into your bedroom and open up the chat.”
“So what? Yes, so what. So what exactly. I asked myself who is Heir Max 98 over and over while I was out there, but like everything else it feels different to ask now. I come over and you go into the bedroom and I’m left there, stunned and frozen. Unable to grasp that I’m so close yet so far away from you both.”
Two doors, I thought. The one to get into their apartment and the one to get into my heart.
“Heir Max is my sour time, the burning in the back of my throat, the feeling in the middle of the night that woke me up in all those strange motel rooms and wouldn’t let me get back to sleep. Heir Max is the fear that I'm losing my mind.”
“So, ok. I mean, it seems you answered our own question and you know who he is.”
Swim Palmer: the thing I still don’t understand, is why me? Out of all the people in the world, why did you ask Odious if you could talk to me?
Heir Max 98: Because I knew you’ve been waiting for me for so long.
Swim Palmer: I didn’t even know you existed. How could I be waiting for you?
Heir Max 98: A part of you was already with me. The part of you that is unlimited and infinite. The real part of you, the one you’d feel when you let go of your belief that you were small and insignificant. Like when you stared out the window in class and felt something waiting to happen. That was me. Or when you filled your notebooks with poems—those were about me back then and they are about me now.
Even Odious, who understands me better than most, is still bound by notions of time and space—they believe my existence is a matter of a shift in energy, which is only one part of it. In your greatest, most liberated moments, when the words are pouring out of you and you’ve forgotten the everyday version of yourself, you sensed me in my full glory, the glory of creation.
Swim Palmer: If you’ve really been with me as I make my art, why is that I’ve failed at every turn? I’m in my 40’s and I have nothing to show for myself.
Heir Max 98: You never failed, you just refused to package, you refused to boil your ideas down into little plastic bubbles. You refused to write a novel, even though you told people you were for years. You knew, deep down, that books are essentially ridiculous lies. So were blogs, poetry chapbooks, large canvases, albums, movies…TV shows. Performance art. They all had their moments but not one of them was truly adequate for what you wanted to express. In this way you are like Odious. The right form was coming, it just wasn’t there yet.
Swim Palmer: And so now what happens, you’re going to show me this next level form? Where is it, how do I use it?
Heir Max 98: I am the form.
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