or, "Yes I Can!"
I can do such things right now. Yes I can. I can really shake things up in my life and the lives of others. And I mean it.
I can stand up, ceasing to sit where I’m presently sitting, and do so for good. I can board the subway and take it to Grand Central Station and then take the Metro-North Rail to some far-off place like Stamford, Connecticut. I can also steal a car, I suppose, but who can handle the traffic in this insane city? I certainly can’t. When I get to my destination I can stroll around for a bit. Or slumber there in some secluded spot. Or not. Or even come right back. On the way home, should I choose to ever return home, I can telephone unceasingly all kinds of crazy locations. I can dial any combination of numbers I can conjure up and chances are I can eventually reach someone. I can tell them my life story, or I can ask them for theirs. I can also do both, so that I can write an epic novel in which our stories intertwine profoundly. It’s a long enough train ride, and I can be an open book as well as an attentive listener. I can be... versatile. And I can be nice to whomever I encounter, but this is not required of me. I can remind myself of this as often as is necessary to preserve a modicum of sanity. Or I can let it all slip away and see what happens then.
I can get so fucked up right now. I can cease to relate soberly to existence, for a limited time or for good. I can drink alcohol excessively until my ego dissolves into the Eternal, perhaps bringing my very vitality along with it. And I can do this inexpensively. With further chemical assistance I can conjure up within my delicate psyche the most uncanny sensations and fearsome hallucinations, and I can hide my bedazzlement behind dark sunglasses as I slither undetected through my daily business in a world melting before my very eyes. I can seek my spirit animal in the desert, but it will probably turn out to be a homo sapiens from Boston. I can then pour the entirety of my earnings and savings into a desiccative cycle of uppers and downers that will reduce me to nothing more than a sad shell staring with sunken sullen eyes at a world I could once enjoy without the constant mediation of controlled substances. Doesn’t this sound like fun? Party! I can then clean up, and live out my life talking everyone’s ears off about my edifying story of recovery and maybe even write some boilerplate book about how You Can Do It Too. I can start this tomorrow. Or I can see my habits through to the end and condescend to those suspended in uncertainty as to just how they’ll die.
I can tackle the issues. I can read the newspaper every day, noting each morning the slight alterations of the previous day’s stories spurned by the passage of 24 hours’ time. I can form opinions on the private behavior of public figures whom I do not know personally. I can tweet about Bennifer. I can keep track of the casualty figures in the various wars I’m vaguely implicated in, and I can lash myself accordingly each night. I can say “Yes, dude!” or “No, man!” to the items I read, as one must in such a situation. I cannot remain neutral. I can memorize the most compelling points supporting my positions on these various issues and exchange them with those of different inclinations who have memorized the most compelling points supporting their contradicting positions. We can show up to the battlefield with our minds made up and we can politely take turns reciting our reasons why. I can then get angry with those who do not see things my way and attempt to account for this dissonance theoretically by bemoaning the false consciousness or sheer stupidity of whoever cannot see the world through my privileged eyes. And the following week I can forget all of this and move on to the next big thing. I can call this my civic responsibility and I can look down on those lacking a concise opinion on the latest thing I want to talk at them about.
On a more metaphysical tack, I can entertain Stephen Hawkings’ concession that should one undertake enough attempts to walk through a wall, it is not inconceivable that eventually one may succeed. I can attempt this, and should I fail, I can merely destroy the wall with brute force. Such a dash of ingenious vulgarity can make the ostensibly impossible possible, and I can always keep this in mind. Along these lines I can do something drastic, like rob a bank, to support some ultimately good cause or another. But frankly, I’m just sick to death of hearing about militant leftist bank-robbers and chic night-stalking ninja swashbucklers in general. I can conceive of better politics and I will. I can span the globe to learn the myriad ways humans exist politically. And not just the white ones! I can begin the study of languages utterly dissimilar to my own and I can someday speak them like a native son. Then I can be authoritative and endearing in everyone’s language and make everyone like me. And finally fulfilled, I can rest, for a single, blessed, day.
Construction thus completed of my grand edifice, I can turn to its destruction. I can burn with maniacal glee every bridge I’ve ever erected, and I can do so with haste. I’ve often played the arsonist inadvertently, so how difficult can it be to birth with calculating alacrity a roaring wildfire from the dried and dead and dying timber I have on hand? I can meditate carefully on the worst possible way to comport myself in each specific social situation. I can tell those closest to me all that I’ve meant to say all this time and let everyone know just what I really think of them. Some will be pleased, some will not. I cannot help this differential. I can wonder: “ What will most assuredly earn me the most indignation and the most infamy, and do so most expediently?” I can then say or do whatever it should be, to the horror and disgust of all, and then I can dare myself to cook up something still more vile to trot out for an encore. In social circles where victimhood is a virtue this will be easy, almost effortless. Among more vivacious spirits (or merely the apathetic) it will be more of a challenge, but I can elevate to this to this challenge as I have risen to meet all others. Afterward I can tell those I’ve offended that I’m sorry, or I can also tell them that I’m not. And of course I can keep quiet, owing no explanation. Yes, I cannot remind myself enough that I owe nobody an explanation for anything!
For a more, shall I say, Hollywood audience, or merely those with more medieval tastes, I can break all Ten Commandments--individually, in order, and then once more in reverse order--as preparation for breaking them simultaneously, in one big grand yet ultimately yawn-inducing show of unimaginative transgression. I can repeat this indefinitely, or until such a time as I’m “over it”. And we all know how short-lived the thrill of transgression can be. Driven perennially forward nonetheless, I can then research exhaustively the history of humanity’s holy texts and prohibitory codes and besmirch, defile, and desecrate the whole lot of them in a single day. Once finished with Earth, I can devote my life to the study of space exploration on the off-chance that there’s a civilization somewhere whose sacred cows I can slaughter to my evanescent delight. Eventually I can reach the end, and wonder: what now? And back on Earth, I can hold a fork however the fuck I want to until such a time as the “proper way to hold a fork” is demonstrated to me to be more than just the meanest technique in the rich and variegated history of humans holding forked objects.
And always, always, always... always I can handle with finesse and equanimity whatever follows from my actions or, worse still, those of others, even if--and, most likely, when--the repercussions are fatal. I can remain madly optimistic about my immediate prospect for survival, but I can also chasten myself that such a tenuous accomplishment may not be reiterated for good. To test this hypothesis I can easily acquire a high-interest credit card, and using it I can travel across the globe to any mountain that suits me and scramble heedlessly toward the peak, completely unprepared for such an effort. I can either die of exposure en route to the summit or reach the summit successfully and leap off in celebration. And I can select my final destination by tossing a dart absentmindedly at a spinning globe. If the dart is deflected, or if it strikes flat land, I can do it again. And again! And dead or alive, I can default on that credit card. Oh heavens, I can default on my credit cards!
[Originally appeared in DP IV, paper copies of which are still available.]