Thanks to Frank, I found my way down there mere days after my arrival to town. What a space! It was like a T.A.Z. torn in time, a liberated territory poking through the city’s capitalist-realist façade.
To make it viable economically, artists living above had opened a coffee shop below. I remember the latter as a funky, spacious, cavernous place — a fun place to plot. And their annual Halloween parties were instant things of legend. Members of local bands would partner up with one another each year and play in one-off cover bands, performing in costume as famous indie bands of the past (Pretenders, Modern Lovers, Cramps, and the like). And the remarkable thing was, heads came out in droves: hundreds of us in costume, dancing, drinking, smoking our way toward dawn.
How I wish it was still there! Which is to say: How I wish we were there, you and I. If my Time Machine works, we’ll go there — ‘tis a promise. But not today. Today’s is the story not of the Werehouse, but of the home on Shady Boulevard.
‘Tis Halloween or “Samhain” — a magical night, made doubly so this year by the light of its blue moon. Frankie tours the old neighborhood, meets and greets cats and dogs, and eats dinner on a friend’s front lawn — dressed as a baby sloth.
I shift rooms, staring at books, feeling indecisive. Trick or treaters come to the door. I take this as a sign. Time to stand outdoors drinking whiskey cider from a solo cup, chatting with neighbors. Afterwards I return home and cue up It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Trippy, scary stuff. Poor Linus, persecuted by others for his scribblings regarding “religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” The others disguise themselves with masks and sheets, whereas Linus prefers sincerity.
Cars drive by as I sit at a picnic table in a neighborhood park. A house across the street from the park contains among its Halloween decorations a sign stating, “Eat More Veggies.” The letters appear painted in red beside a red hand, and beside the sign stand ghosts and tombstones. Appropriate seasonal attire, I think to myself, my mind drifting off to contemplate the coming holiday. There’s work to be done; the basement of our house remains an issue. I’m reminded of the old “base-superstructure” construct, hearing in it now, after all those years reading about it in grad school, a set of moral abstractions, a marriage of contraries equal in power to Freud’s reality and pleasure principles or Blake’s heaven and hell. As societies of both matter and mind, we can arrange ourselves in a variety of ways; we needn’t always be arboreal and hierarchical. Yet we do need to deal with capitalism and climate change, and their local, existential correlates.
Embroidered pulse signals. 24/7 thermals and flannels. A friend who I run into from time to time at Goodwill, and whose wife is one of Sarah’s colleagues, gave me two blocks of imported Scottish cheese out in the parking lot the other day. (And no, that’s not street slang for a new kind of drug. I’m talking about cheese here, people!) There are sometimes whole days when events like the above make up the full extent of my non-work-related interactions with others. Sarah’s bummed about having received so few trick-or-treaters yesterday. I sat in the side yard absorbing brown, orange, and yellow leaves atop the patchy remains of a lawn. Birds, bells, crickets, neighbors. The bark of a neighbor’s dog. Squirrels courted one another in the branches above my head, the female shaking her tail and leading the male on a chase. My brother’s girlfriend texted Sarah and I from Brooklyn; a truck had fatally attacked bikers in New York, she said, but she and my brother were safe. Subway riders sat uneasily beside one another in costume. I imagine it was hard, trying to play-act a nightmare while in the midst of one. I enjoyed sitting on the front stoop, though, listening to the zombie shuffle of children’s footsteps as night fell. And we did end up meeting a few more of our neighbors. “This is what — essentially a diary?” I ask myself. To which I reply, “Quit bullying me. Back off.” Am I allowing others to watch me as I lower myself into a de-conditioned vortex? I have incurred a debt which I can never repay. But why dwell on the absolute horizon, the structure that bounds in on all sides one’s field of action? Why not focus instead on papers one will never get around to writing? “America” has always been a settler-colonialist fort, white settlers descending like a plague, a wedge driven between the land and its native people. How might we avenge this — the crime of our very existence? One has to countenance this in the “new frontier” mythos that pervades the hippie counterculture’s embrace of psychedelics in the 1960s and 1970s. Then again, Leslie Fiedler responded to the psychedelic revolution in a rather different political register, regarding it instead as “the red man’s revenge” and as a “reunion of white and ‘other.'” His argument is one with which I’ll need to engage as I develop my theory.
“The mind attracts to one whatever the mind dwells upon,” reads a page I flip to in a college-ruled notebook pulled from the bins at Goodwill. The moon, waxing gibbous, pulled Sarah and I toward a Halloween party the other night. Appropriately heady, for sure, and with major magic. An altar-top arrayed with small bones. Conversations washed over me, though, to little effect. Appalachian Southern witches. Symbols of an arcane sort. It was the party of my coming out as a wizard. At one point, Sarah turned to me and read me my horoscope from her Witches’ Almanac. Apparently I’m on the verge of making a big decision which will “raise a lot of dust.” The horoscope also promised “nice aesthetics” this month. But as much as I enjoyed the care and attention to detail that went into the night’s revelries, Daphne’s death weighed solidly on my mind. It was hard to muster enough will to speak with others. Speaking of speaking: My students love to speak highly of their parents’ “hard work” launching pizza chains and amassing fortunes on Wall Street. Whenever I hear this shit, I think to myself: One could say the same about vampires. They, too, work hard sucking blood from their victims. But that doesn’t make them admirable. A hardworking vampire is still a vampire — and as such, deserves to get a stake shoved through its heart. And that’s how I feel about rich people. But I’m also no Van Helsing, so to ease my temper, I binge-watch the new season of Stranger Things. Eleven wanders alone in an Upside Down labyrinth. Thresholds between dimensions look like body tissue: uterine walls, placentas. The show relishes and savors the textures, tropes, and technologies of the 1980s. But it’s also fully absorbing in its sympathies and its use of outdated media to elicit a sense of the strange or the uncanny. New Age “psychic” or “telepathic” spaces — astral planes, other dimensions — these were very much a part of that era’s narrative universe. It’s a relief to watch a show that can once again broaden my sense of the potentials of genre. The latter, because sticky with the residue of an era’s affective investments, can reawaken phantom media antennae, exposing subjects to ghost sensations and histories half-submerged.