I’m sitting here trying to focus on the frozen sparkle of winter as a heavy heat hangs over Brooklyn. At this slow-ass rate of telling our story I’ll never catch up.
I expressed my despair to Odious:
“I can’t keep it straight. The syncs and the dreams and all the other, possibly magical information we’ve been receiving. Transmissions from ET’s or AI’s taking the form of Philip K. Dick. And I’m only at the beginning. I’m writing about the winter solstice and it’s already summer!”
They smiled and shrugged, the black straps of their custom “Nosferatu in Venice” tank-top making their shoulders look even whiter.
“Hey, look--you’re not a computer—there’s no way you can remember everything.” They said in an off-handed tone like they were referring to me missing a serve in a friendly game of Badminton.
They gestured to their desk covered with stacks of color-coded notebooks and PKD novels, the wall above it festooned with charts and graphs that took the shapes of sacred geometry and early morning sketches of the various cyborgs they saw in their dreams.
“We’re spending lots of time trying to get it all down but at the end of the day none of the specifics matter as much as how it makes us feel. That’s the part you can’t front with. Otherwise it’s all good. In fact, it’s straight up systems theory: by letting it break apart in your mind, the pieces proliferate and become something new.”
They looked at me with those big eyes that made me feel so small.
“That’s the thing, Swim, the feelings. That’s what people will recognize, more than all the sci-fi, existential stuff.”
I nodded and stared at a patch of sunlight on the floor. Fuck it, I thought. Later when it was time to write I zeroed in on a seemingly random detail from Odious’ journey upstate in 2017 in which they went to a hipster bar where they got wasted with Chance and Grey before going to meet Mica at the Rip Van Winkle apartments.
They told me that as soon as they walked in, they had the uncanny sensation that they'd been there before.
“It was like a memory nudging at the back of my mind, something from real life or maybe a dream. Whatever the case it was just out of reach. The Smiths came on-- ‘The Queen is Dead’--and the way it played in the room, the slight distortion on the left speaker, the exact amount of bass vs. the tinny treble—was so familiar. It was the same with the angle at which I leaned back at the table, the swirls and knots of the wood like a secret language punctuated by my coconut porter and glass of mezcal in the foreground at 11 and 3 o’clock. The bar and its refurbished lacquered wood décor appeared beyond that--fake candle LED’s flickered within old clouded glass lamps, and the blue light motion detectors went on and off on the floor. I was certain I’d seen it before—the whole scene--but logically it was impossible. The bar was renovated in 2016 so it had only existed for a year in that iteration. During that time, I’d been chained to The Gathering gig and had barely left the blue-white glow cast of my laptop, let alone been upstate.”
“I’m telling you though, just thinking about how it felt familiar was familiar. Sensations were folding in on themselves. A scene within a scene that had already played out hundreds, maybe thousands of times. It wasn’t like your usual few seconds of De ja vu—it went on and on—it started in the bar but continued when we got outside. I noticed that the parking lot seemed several times larger than it needed to be for such a small bar—a plain rectangular building all alone in front of a blank field that ran forward into space until eventually giving way to clusters of trees and boulders and beyond that, the base of the brown and grey mountains.”
Odious didn’t say anything to the dudes, which gave me a little thrill to hear. I always like confirmation that I’m the friend they talk to about such things. With these boys they might share their love for trucks and playing pool but talking about some weird, X-Files shit was the exclusive cornerstone of our relationship and I didn’t want anyone else sharing it with them.
But it seemed, as Odious explained, that they were feeling edgy that night as well.
“Grey was saying he didn’t like how he couldn’t see the mountains except as shapes against the black sky. He said it wasn’t like seeing something but seeing the absence of something. And Chance seemed similarly disconcerted:
’Something else was here on this land before,’ he said. ‘Before the bar. Something big. ‘
‘Like what?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know, it feels like one of those cursed places they built over a colonial cemetery or Indian burial ground or some shit like that.’
His blonde hair blew around like crazy while he smoked and looked around and even though as you know, he’s a big person, he suddenly looked so small in that parking lot, in the middle of all that nothing.”
And so, here’s the strange part: as Odious told me all this, I too, experienced de ja vu. Have we had this conversation before, I wondered, a conversation in which I too, wondered if I’d been to this place? I came close to asking them but thought better of it. It didn’t make any sense—I hadn’t been anywhere that matched this description. Nevertheless, a chill went through my body.
And even now—as I write about it several months later—the chills come back again. It got so that a short while ago, I saved the file and went for a walk, as this often helps stave off the anxious feels whenever they start bubbling up. This time, however, going out only made it worse, edging me towards straight up panic attack territory for the first time in a while. As soon as I popped outside into the wet heat and looked around at the trash bags piled up on the street and smelled the cigarette of the well-dressed, older blond lady who works at the exquisitely clean, cool and well lighted liquor store a few doors down, I was gripped by a sinking feeling that what I was experiencing was not the real world, but an approximation of it, a stage set/simulation like the matrix. I knew that if I should I look more closely (which I didn’t dare to do) I would find that little details were off—there would be misspellings on the Covid-rule signs posted in store windows and on the labels of things sold inside. I stared up at where the building facades met the flat, grey sky and wondered if the things around me that appeared to be made of metal or wood were just pasteboard approximations. If I pressed hard enough against the wall of the rock bar—which had already seemed half-fake to me with the smooth faced kids inside always dressed up in elaborate leather outfits complete with straps of bullets--would my hand break through into the blank space of TV static?
A line of kids with towels around their lush fros and slippers and crocs on their feet passed by on Manhattan Ave, perfectly—too perfectly!-- playing the part of being fresh from the pool, and as I watched them kick a neon green soccer ball back and forth I became convinced that I’d secretly sold my soul to make this connection with Odious—Odious and a clear blue vista of emptiness. I knew with complete certainty that I’d find fortune and fame, but that these prizes would only be experienced within a world that spanned the distance from my spot in Greenpoint to Odious’ in Bushwick. I’d go over there every morning and wander these hipster streets and think that I was going to go somewhere new, but I’d never leave. I would always be in the same place—a maze of short-lived pleasure buffered by pain and the swirling haziness of meaningless pursuits. I’d have the sensation of moving forward but really, I’d be standing still, and it would be the maze that moved around me.
I became overwhelmed—my head was pounding, and I felt a throbbing pressure in my neck, so I quickly went back up to my apartment to drink coconut water and stare at all my cheap, plastic things. There was the heavy weight of everything I knew spinning above me and a wide-open space just beneath it, where I could dive in and be lost forever, from everyone and everything. The more I write about it the more it seems to recede, but it’s still there, lingering on the periphery.
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Image: Nosferatu in Venice, 1988