Saturday, April 24, 2004

Sketchy Bill 14: Existentialism for Wise Guys

What do you do with a crying mafia dude? A guy who 10 hours before had ordered two kids legs broken, then nearly forgot to call when it turned out they were innocent? A guy who two hours before that hadn't even bothered to look at the girl he'd been fucking, when she cursed him as she slammed the door? The guy who, for our purposes, had it all? And the guy who, now, was baring his soul to a fellow whose only claim to fame was that he had the balls to say he hated Ginsberg?

Good question. What did I do? I took a great big pull of whiskey, first of all. Then I took another one, just to make sure I was good and fortified. And to buy myself a second, hoping against hope that I wouldn't have to do it.

Bill didn't let up on the waterworks. So I gave him a big hug.

It was weird, as you can imagine, but not as weird as I thought it would be. Perhaps the whiskey helped, but the hug seemed to calm him down somewhat. We both celebrated what had to be his own rock bottom, dark night of the soul with a little more whiskey, then I began to talk to him about How I Looked At Life.

See, I've spent a lot of my adult life alone. In most cases, there's a good reason for this: I just don't like people. I'd go so far as to say that I'd rather spend time alone than spend it with people that annoy me. Daniel-san pointed this out to me years ago: some people are so afraid of being alone with their thoughts that they'll do anything to drown them out. Once I identified that as a weakness, I did my best to stamp it out. I did, but I probably went a little too far. To this day I'm nervous around strangers, and I tend to escape being around them if at all possible. This results in me being alone with my own thoughts, which are good company--but I've realized over the years that they're not exactly sane, so I'm even less able to deal with real people when they come around. It's not precisely true that I'm a hermit, but on some days it feels like it.

But I'm used to it, for chrissakes. When you spend a lot of time doing LSD and staying awake all night, you tend to do a lot of reflecting on what life means. And if you're unfortunate enough to have a mind that likes to run in circles, by the time you hit 29 you've probably spent more time thinking about the nature of human interaction and the universe than most old men or women ever do.

Everyone's had what Dan calls an existential awakening, that dark night of the soul when you realize ain't nobody out there you can depend on in every situation. There ain't nobody out there who understands everything you say or feel. That's a deep blackness, brothers and sisters, and you can only get out of it once you realize the only person who can get you out of it is you.

If this all sounds like a bad acid trip, folks, you're right. That's why tripping alone is a bad idea--because it forces you to do things like look at your own face for five hours, and think about what you're really doing out there in the world.

But in many ways, having hit existential bedrock and somehow avoided complete lunacy, I'm a better person--and if you can catch me on a good night, I'm even pretty capable of discussing the shit in person. Many's the person I've sent off on a long walk after putting things in context--it's cruel and dangerous to send a depressed person off by themselves, but if you can do it after reassuring them that it's not the end of the world, I think it's OK.

Back to Bill: I told him that it's OK to feel like you've made mistakes. Mistakes are made, and once made, cannot be undone. Stupid mistakes are doing the same ones over. To get over some of those mistakes, you have to admit to yourself that you were dumb, or naive, or cruel, or any one of the less than complimentary adjectives that everyone tries their best to avoid thinking about themselves. Realize it, then promise never to be that way again.

I told him that doing bad shit doesn't always make you an evil man. It means maybe you're a weak man (or woman), and once some shit's done, the best thing you can do is promise not to do it again. And the best way to do that, I've found, is to really get down and wallow in what it must feel like to be the receiver of all your own bullshit.

I finished it off (after a quick tilt of the bottle) by telling him that nobody's perfect, and all you can try and do is be good as often as you can.

I'm starting to feel self conscious about all this..but we're done, anyway. Bill looked at me and said, "you're right. You fucking Okie, you're right. I knew bringing you out here was a good idea. You know how I knew?"

I indicated in the negative.

"Because I was listening to what you said to my son, back in September. You told him I was a good man. You're the only fuckin' guy in the world that would tell him that and mean it, and I know that because you didn't know I was listening, and you still said it. Anything of mine you want, you can have. Anything."

Suddenly I was the one about to cry.


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