And if you fool yourself
You will make him happy
He'll keep you in a jar
Then you'll think you're happy
He'll give you breathing holes
Then you will seem happy
You'll wallow in the shit
Then you'll think you're happy now
You're in a laundry room
You're in a laundry room
You're in a laundry room
Conclusion came to you, oh
I use other people’s personalities to form my own, selecting only the most exquisite bits that I hold tight like stolen gems. It’s in reverence to the high value of what I’ve collected and not to some misplaced belief in an actual self that I generally don't tolerate being spoken to the way Odious spoke to me when I requested to see the Chatbot. From what they said it sounded like it was already online and receiving visitors. I felt a pang of jealousy knowing others got to experience it before me. But I also knew it wasn’t about Odious wanting to keep things from me or being secretive in general. This had to do with their commitment to creating a pure artistic experience, unsullied by the expectations of friendship:
“The only way anyone can access the Chatbot is by clearing the earlier levels of the game,” they said. “Otherwise it’s cheater-like. It doesn’t work like it should.”
“Sure, sure,” I said, annoyed that they felt the need to explain—and that I had asked in the first place.
“Look, Swim, there’s more… I have to tell you about the things I figured out today regarding all this. This…information.”
They sighed and looked down at the street below, the evening sun making their eyelashes glow like white gold. I felt invigorated but also confused by the presence of the light and cold air in the usually hermetically sealed apartment, with detailed climate control set by Odious on their phone. For months we had existed in a dimly lit bubble in which I wore the same beige, fleece-lined sweat suit from one identical day to the next, the passage of time flowing around us, the arrival of a new season indicated by different items appearing on the menus of our favorite take-out spots.
And now, suddenly—wind and weather and other new inputs.
“It’s clear, right? That someone or something is sending me messages? I mean, the Chatbot is so similar to The Great C—right down to the three questions. What are the chances?”
“I don’t know but it’s still possible it’s just a series of coincidences.”
“Yes, but with each additional coincidence the chance becomes lower.”
“Lower, but never zero.”
“Ok, well check this out and see how likely you think this is. Remember last year at this time, when I remixed that Nirvana song, ‘Sappy’?”
“Vaguely,” I said. Last year was at least a decade ago, and this was before we hung out every day. I remember being somewhat offended that someone so young was fucking around with Nirvana.
“I was obsessed. I went down a rabbit hole and worked on it for weeks straight—waking up and doing it all day and falling asleep dreaming of Kurt.”
“I remember it went on for a long time. It was good but it ended and then seemed to start over, so I shut it off.”
“That’s understandable. The mix did start over—but if you listened very close you could hear the hiss and whirl of washers and dryers when it plays through a second time. In the song Kurt sings, ‘You’re in a laundromat,’ and so I figured I’d record the mix being played in a laundromat. I had mics up on top of the machines, and one near the change machine that I was hoping would catch a waterfall of coins but it didn’t happen. When the replay ended, I took that new recording and recorded THAT being replayed…I did this many times, replaying and recording and getting new sounds into the mix, including people talking and a car alarm outside. I kept going, noticing how it was different each time and how the music itself started getting covered by machine sounds that blurred together into noise.”
“So, the song has never ended?”
“Yes, I mean, I released it when it got to 8 hours but I kept making new recordings after that, my plan being to eventually put out an updated version. I put the recording on pause during the pandemic. The song is infinite but it changes each time, and that’s part of it. The music part is degrading, while the white noise of the machines becomes louder and takes over.”
“I’ll have to listen to it again.”
“There are the other lines in the song, about this abusive partner or being or deity that is keeping someone else in a jar—they are trapped in a glass prison, but they don’t know it, and they think they’re happy.”
“The brain in the vat,” I said, trying to call up the details to that old philosophical problem and coming up short.
“All of our brains. We’re all in a jar—we think we’re happy but it’s just an illusory mix swirling around us, while really we’re totally trapped.”
“Right,” I said, “so what does this have to do with Dies Irae?”
“Well, I was looking through the list of movies and TV shows that use the medieval riff—and one of them was an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode from the 60’s called, ‘The Jar’. It’s another Dies Irae synchronicity!”
“Because the Nirvana song’s about a jar…”
“It’s not about a jar… it has a jar in it. The song is ABOUT the horror lying just outside of the confines of everyday existence. Just like this show. I looked it up and it’s based on a Ray Bradbury short story by the same name that I also read today.”
“And, well the story is better, but they are both pretty on point—the jar is this cheap carnival sideshow trick that looks like it has a horrific, possibly otherworldly specimen inside it. It entrances this guy who buys it and brings it home to his boring farming town to try and have something special that will gain him the respect of his fellow townspeople—which works as they start coming over every night to stare at the jar and discuss what might be inside. It makes this loser guy feel interesting and popular, which he enjoys immensely. The only peeps who aren’t into it are his wife and the man everyone knows (including the dude) that she’s sleeping with on the side. She resents him and the jar and the popularity it brings. The wife decides to bust the jar and show everyone it’s just junk—paper-Mache, silk, cotton, chemicals-- so dude kills her and sticks her head in the jar.”
“Well, that’s the big difference between the TV show and the story—in the show it’s totally clear that it’s the dead wife’s head in there now—but in the story we only know the wife is missing and as people come over to look at the jar, it seems to be the same thing only now maybe it always looked like it had a head in there, with eyes and hair…”
“That’s fucked up.”
“Yes,” they were smiling, almost laughing now, their big eyes shining as they reached up to run their hands through their teal hair.
“The Nirvana song and the Bradbury/Hitchcock story. Two narrative texts involving a jar that are about the dark and unknowable evil that lingers at the periphery of our lives—a power that contains us, controls us…and that we usually pretend isn’t there at all but about which we receive sudden insights and revelations, sometimes even in a laundromat.”
“So, it’s another Dies Irae connection,” I said. It was interesting, for sure, but I couldn’t figure out why it had them so amped up.
“Don’t you see, I told you I was working on the Nirvana mix last year. Like, exactly.”
“It was the week between solstice and New Year’s. I went back through my IG and looked. Here’s the super wild thing: on this week for the last three years I’ve had syncs related to Dies Irae and Philip K. Dick.”
Now my eyes were wide.
“Look at this,” they said, and we went into the living room, where their MAC was projected onto the big screen.
“This was exactly two years ago in 2018. I posted this several page letter from PKD to my Instagram. I never posted anything about him, you know, I usually just post atmospheric shots or abandoned buildings covered in plants or things I see in the gutter that catch my eye… but for some reason I posted this.”
They pulled up a typed page on to the screen. I squinted and after reading the date and the first line I knew immediately what it was.
“This is the famous Tagore letter, about a vision PKD had a few months before he died in which he received a description of the savior of the world.”
“Yes, he mailed out copies of this to various peeps.”
I skimmed the letter, which I'd read once before, many years earlier, and saw the reference to palm trees, which had also been in Odious’ dream.
“You think your dream is connected to this letter?”
“I think PKD, or some version of PKD—or something else entirely that is just using his form--is trying to communicate with me. I was compelled, somewhat randomly, to post this letter I found—an attempt by him to pass along information, like the scroll he gave me in the dream. And the Dies Irae sync. I think it’s happening around the solstice because the veil is thin—the passageway between this world of illusion and the spirit realm is more permeable than it usually is.”
“If that’s true, and he is trying to communicate with you, what’s he trying to say? Do you know?”
“That’s what we need to figure out. The book Deus Irae and this letter are about a nuclear apocalypse. I think he’s warning us and pushing us to do something. I can feel it… there’s something we're meant to do—perhaps something we have to write. A chain letter. A new missive to the world.”
I noticed they used the words “we” and “us”.
Image: Evan Gruzis