Mazes

Uncle Petrovic came home from the foundry today waving a scrap of paper that the District Administrator had handed him with a grave look on half his face. A childhood accident involving strong glue had left the Administrator’s face with nerve damage in the left side; he couldn’t move the muscles there at all, and every expression seemed to betray an underlying apathy. His mother blamed herself for the accident, and each day she spent over the kitchen sink, making beet soup and rethreading used twine, was a day of atonement for an accident she could never have hoped to prevent. Her husband, the old cobblesmith, used to joke that by her ceaseless domestic labour she was mortifying her flesh in the style of Dominican monks. He himself lived a life of relative comfort having retired early with painful insteps, the inevitable lot of the cobblesmith, and was pursuing an interest in chess. He played regular games against the postman who was generally recognised to be the finest chess player in the village- apart from the village chess-smith, who cared little for the game since the death of his only son. The son, though a fine man and an outstanding tooth-grinder, had been a poor chess player, and had died in battle during the most recent war, struck down by a relatively minor soldier. His secret sweetheart was consequently engaged in a frantic search for a husband before her bump became too obvious and her unborn child was branded by the other villagers. Her front-runner was a pragmatic bank manager who understood the situation and who was still weighing the problematic ignominy of raising another man’s child against the acquisition of the beautiful young pregnant woman. Having known affection only once before, and briefly, in the arms of the dowager of the house upon the hill, he craved a woman as surely as the dowager herself craved the young gardener’s apprentice who worked her lesser shrubs with such fumbling care. The apprentice had not reached such an age to have had many thoughts on the subject, and the head gardener, with a cultivator’s instinct for husbandry, was keeping the boy as far away from the old spinster as seemed necessary. It was among his principal concerns, the foremost being the health of his ailing wife, a woman who, for forty-five years had formed the better half of his nature, and who was now visibly diminishing. Every evening he returned to her bedside, the dirt of the day crusted deep down in the lines of his hands, and fed her thin broths and milk. She was lucid a great deal of the time, and when she was not, he would hold her hand and quietly repeat her name until she returned. She shivered in any heat and told him, her voice cracked, that he led her back to the light. It took a little longer each time.

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Waiting for the man

I used to buy my pot from an enterprising teenager called Ian. I suppose any self-employed teenager is enterprising really, but Ian was different to the other teenaged dope-slingers I patronised, in that he cleverly tried to franchise me. After a few months of meeting him in a parking lot between the nice side of town and his side of town he came to understand that, unless I was a particularly high-functioning drug addict, I must be supplying a small group of friends and acquaintances. I’m sure this is the norm everywhere; every group of pot smoking friends includes at least one person who knows what number to call, what password to use, which parking lot to wait in. For my group of friends that person was me, and so once or twice a week I’d receive a few of calls, I’d make a few of calls, and I’d head across town to meet some guy, usually Ian, and buy everyone’s pot. I would often arrive home after one of these jaunts to find my extended friendship group in my living room, waiting for me to distribute wrapped presents like an unseasonal Santa Claus.

‘Ho ho ho. For you Jasper, an effective sedative for your chronic back pain. For Nathan, a temporary escape from a life you didn’t choose. For Sarah, the only means by which you can sleep! Ho ho ho, merry Wednesday!’

Over three years of concentrated activity I estimate that I walked back and forth from that parking lot two hundred times- about one hundred and fifty miles- carrying a kilo and a half of Cannabis. When another dealer I used, a guy from school called Tom, ditched his moped for a used Fiat Punto, my flatmate and I did the maths and realised that between us we’d paid for the upgrade.

None of this made me any money of course. Aside from the occasional courtesy joint it scored me, my wanderings were strictly pro bono and it was this fact that Ian picked up on when he attempted to make me an outlet for his brand.

‘All you’d have to do is what you’re doing already,’ he’d tell me, seemingly reasonable, ‘only, you’d be making money out of it.’

When I asked him how this was possible I felt like the wide eyed patsy you see in infomercials on late night TV.

“Gee sir,” some hopeless schlub says to a pastel suited presenter with shockingly white teeth, “I’ve heard of people earning good money, working from home while they sleep, but I don’t know how it works”.

“Well,” says the presenter, adjusting his mask which slipped momentarily to reveal the poisonous lizard beneath, “all you need is a cellphone and a pragmatic attitude to your colon”.

I wasn’t earning great money in my legitimate job back then, so the idea of becoming a freelance drug dealer on the side held some appeal. I was working at a local supermarket, where I held the illustrious title of ‘Chief Dressing Agent’. This mostly involved putting toys and sweets at child-eye height so they’d bug their parents to buy them, or hiding the toilet paper at the back of the store so you have to walk past every other product before you can buy it. We put smaller tiles on the floor in the meat section so the clacking of the wheels of your trolley seems faster and you slow down. That fresh bread smell near the bakery? Are they baking bread all day or did some clever person bottle the smell so we could pump it out? I was sent on biannual training days where, after the name tags and the ice-breaker questions, we had to declare how often we completely changed the layout of our store.

‘Disorient them,’ we were told, ‘spin them round until the only thing they can remember is the word “buy”.’

 The deceptions were manifold.

All of which is to say, there was no moral component to my descision making process at the time. I figured that if it was permissable for me to double the price of selected items and then half them the following week in order to honestly advertise them as ‘half price’, then selling pot to those that wanted it was, at worst, morally grey.

I don’t know what Ian does these days. If this was a dramatic story, he’d have worked to the top of a cocaine empire by now, and if there was going to be a moral he’d be dead or in jail. Probably it’s neither. Probably he quit when the clientele in that small town got too much younger than him. At least one dealer I knew went to University, leaving the business in the hands of his younger brother. Another put her profits towards a little coffee place where you can get a free latte if you intimate darkly what you know about her past.

I didn’t start selling pot on Ian’s behalf, because I didn’t like the hours or the idea of having a quota. It was a hobby that I didn’t particularly want to monetise, and I’m glad I kept it that way. I was strictly pro bono.

Shut me up

 

So I have this thought, and maybe I’m walking down the street thinking this thought, (and maybe it’s your street, why not go to the window and check, I‘m wearing grey flares and spinning a yo-yo) and it seems like a pretty worthwhile thought, like it would stand under scrutiny, and as I’m considering its potential a guy strolls up beside me wearing what I think you would call a kaftan and holding a placard (and maybe this guy was you, because, if you saw me from your window, which was pretty unlikely, we probably live in the same area) and this guy starts agreeing with me saying,

“your idea is acute because if there’s one thing this financial crisis has shown us it’s that boom and bust is both endemic and fundamental to the system, and we’re the last to realise it, we the people, because our attention span is only just long enough to vaguely remember the last financial crisis and while we forget the details we understand that whatever happened can’t have been that bad because things were alright for a while and we all got new sofas so things will pick up again and someone must be handling it” and I think I followed what he was saying and I appreciated his support but I also kind of felt like he had missed my point so we kept walking and he stopped outside a wealthy looking building and wanted to wave his placard so I wished him luck and strolled on, and a young woman came with me because she liked my yo-yo and, golly it was such a nice day in the world and there was sunshine in her smile so I let her spin my yo-yo while she told me

“he doesn’t get you because you’re too earth-bound for characters like him, characters who want to focus on the human microcosm of ‘culture’ and pretend that our petty human fictions compare to the natural world that made us, the natural world that got leprosy as a gift from its children, we the people, the ones who pump things into the sea and into the sky and tear up the ground like we’re throwing the toys out of the pram even though we all know what we’re doing, but we don’t care so long as that microcosm still needs us, and we think we need it, we’ll do whatever we have to in order to keep it going even if we have to kill ourselves, even if we have to kill everything because we like to believe that it will all be okay if we promise, promise mind you, to recycle our cans as often as possible and carpool when practical and wish extra extra hard on Yahweh or the North Star or whatever” and at this point I became aware that it was now dusk on her face even though the day was still bright and when I left her she was lying down on a towel in a bikini trying to catch some rays while it was still safe so I kept moving because I wasn’t convinced that she was any closer to understanding my thought, my possibly great thought, than the first guy had been, but I could tell it was a day for being analysed when a child walked up to me, well, two children, well, twins, so one child walked up to me twice and started explaining that

“the first person was overly focused on a human expatriation from nature, while the second person was too much involved in the naïve constructionist delusion that we willingly manufactured our escape from nature, as it stands, rather than being led blindly and inevitably by what nature provided in the first place, the result of which is this, everything, but now ‘everything’ is changing and some are keen to rush in and plug the gaps but there is hope, there has to be hope in a world where Saddam got dropped and Kaddafi got popped and we never really looked for Bin Laden but we found him anyway and Kim Jong Ill’s heart burst under the pressure of his starving populace’s love for him so maybe Mugabe’s days are numbered and the Arab spring will keep on getting sprung and Egypt will end its military rule without NATO bombers and after all that, China might even decide that human rights in the 21st century could be a blast and maybe we’ll get too complex for war” and I didn’t want to comment because they were only kids and they didn’t need to know and I would have given them my yo-yo but the sunshine smiling lady still had it and she would be all cinders by now so I just nodded and smiled at the twins and they seemed satisfied and they went to the park and I wanted to walk on but now every few feet I was getting stopped by people who had a handle on my big thought, telling me that

“it’s more to do with the invasive digital age where Facebook didn’t need to buy my soul because I uploaded it with my profile pic’s and now there are illegal copies online” or that

“the previous terror of Global Nuclear War has been replaced by the fear that if we never get to fire a nuke it will have been a tremendous waste of money” or sometimes that

“advertising is the new arms race and its ground zeros’ are the minds of the young, soon monopoly laws will be repealed because that will be the easiest way to maintain control in the Orient and all shoes will be Nikes” and all of this is interesting, all of this could potentially warrant a thesis of its own but none of it is mine, none of it is what I was trying to say because my point was more to do with flux and the difficulty of trying to analyse your species from the outside because from the inside it seems like we’re speeding up, even in my brief wandering across the skin of the earth it feels like everything is accelerating and what I really want to know is,

Are we like learner drivers who should be going as slowly as possible, because with too much speed we’ll swerve off the road and crash, maybe not make it out in time, before the car goes up in a Hollywood ball of flames, Or are we like cyclists who need a certain amount of speed to maintain stability, momentum to keep us balanced, in which case, how will we find the upper limit, is there an upper limit, or will the graph that charts our ascent just get steeper and steeper until it’s a line that points at the sky and is there a peak and what’s at the peak and will we ever find out and why do we want to?