Preparation and capacity are necessary to heed the voice, to take the plunge into the unknown, to surrender ourselves to the Whatever. I had a collection of Rumi’s poetry, a Yugo, and a six pack of Stroh’s, and I was born ready to surrender…”
by bill carney
The unusual events described herein occurred in 19__ in the town of Onan, also known as Autotown. The first thing you notice about Onan, aside from its near total devastation, is its ordinariness: a rundown automobile town in an extreme corner of a cold and unforgiving part of our great nation. Onan was built with its back to the sea, and its greatest landmark, excluding its monorail, is the large jagged-tooth, flame-spewing, black Monster Truck, which points North towards the city’s populace. Formerly a part of Monster Truck competitions in stadiums all over the country, it had finally come home to roost in Autotown.
The town is not particularly ugly, despite its derelict factories, vacant lots, abandoned houses, and streets denuded by the ravages of Dutch Elm disease generations ago. Like Hugo’s hunchback pining for Esmeralda, it possesses an ugly beauty of the sort European girls go for.
The riverfront is dominated by the Great Hall of the People, a vast mylar-coated birthday cake-like boondoggle normally located East of the Danube. It was meant to herald the city’s Renaissance along with its casinos and convention center, the Pavilion of Limpid Solitude. The annual potlatch-like ritual called Devil’s Night had left few buildings standing, and many residents had gone to the sunny climes of Texas or Florida. In the elephantine showpieces of the riverfront and prairie-like interior, there was an uneasy undercurrent of a hidden, primitive world of magic controlled by bus-riding shamans.
I couldn’t leave. I had a city job, and was both unemployable anywhere else in the world and unfireable here. I devoted my spare time to studies of mysticism and sprees at the casinos. Before settling in Onan, I had traveled high up in the northern provinces of Gilgit and Chitral, Flint and Muskegon, parts of River Rouge and Inkster, studying the many aspects of the esoteric. Destiny comes shimmering across the room, her skirt raised high, and the circumstances of life become a trial of a human being’s capacity to share consciously in the evolution of humanity. Preparation and capacity are necessary to heed the voice, to take the plunge into the unknown, to surrender ourselves to the Whatever. I had a collection of Rumi’s poetry, a Yugo, and a six pack of Stroh’s, and I was born ready to surrender.
There was a theory then in vogue that they weren’t building the cars to last. When the new cars rusted out after a snowy winter, or gave their last belch along the city’s labyrinth of freeways after 30,000 warrantied miles, that was design, not incompetence. It was called “planned obsolescence.” I supposed it was possible, in the way that anything was possible here in Autotown, even though I knew it was just as likely that our auto grandees could only build shitty cars. The whole “I’m not really trying” thing seemed like a cover-up. But there was no shortage of conspiracy-minded kooks positing that the auto companies could build good cars, just as they claimed the government, the same folks who could not run a railroad or deliver mail, were capable of fantastically complex schemes all over the world. It was nice to think that my neighbors who worked for the car companies, odd-looking Poindexters and lumpy zecks to my eyes, were brilliant conspirators, James Bonds of consumer fraud, rather than incompetent boobies being run out of business by foreign competition.
Maybe they were all pretending. Incompetence was part of the plot. That was possible too. I agreed with the central idea, at least: that there are worlds within the phenomenal one that we normally see. I saw them with my own eyes one morning, as I sat with my housemate and spiritual fellow-traveler, Maria.
I saw her adjust her radionic instruments, a group of block boxes with dials. Although illegal in many countries, Maria explained that radionics was a sophisticated method of harnessing the power of Extra Sensory Perception to measure imbalances in living organisms. Radionics attempted to treat the causes of events emanating from the formative plane. Maria was attuned to alterations in the pattern, or omphalos, of a person’s etheric substance. These alterations resulted from the crystallization of a shock or opinion fixed in that person’s conceptual pattern, or sometimes something else. There was that big fraud case in Canada a few years ago, but I sensed it was all pretty deep. Someday Maria would show me how to work the dials.
Radionics was hard to explain, Maria said, because it was a science of the future, and right now was not the future just yet. “The problem is that right now will be part of the past before it is part of the future,” I told her. She gave me that withering look of contempt she reserved for such comments.
“Clermont, I dislike this word -problem,'” she said. “In the English language you make life so difficult. It is just a concept of the mind that is limiting, and I am sure you did not come to the Ashram only to recreate illusion. What you call a problem is merely an unattended situation within yourself.”
Indeed, that is where most of my problems ended up when I was talking with Maria.
“You must recognize that woman is the source of LOVE in the world and that she is crying out to you to be RECOGNIZED, to be loved as she is. If you knew you were LOVED would you not begin to know the source of life itself? Love is the cause and love is the effect. The key for you is WOMAN in her many aspects. Just remember to always be grateful. You spend too much time driving around in that Yugo looking for trailer trash at the casinos. You must devote more time to your studies with me.”
I hated to leave, but I had to go to work. With my city job, there was a tacit agreement: they didn’t pay me much and I didn’t do anything, but I did have to show up. As I packed my lunch sack, the radionic dials seemed to be smoking. I asked her what was going on, but she told me that it only meant there was a very high orgone count in the city. “There is so much love in the air today, amigo,” she said. Sometimes I wished that she had a boyfriend, because these speeches always made me feel awkward.
She explained that the instruments were delicate and entirely dependent on the operator, much like an ouija board. The machine measured otherwise-invisible emanations from the etheric gravy, in the same way that smoke is merely a visible emanation from a burning fire vibrating at a high speed.
I was suddenly aware of flames outside the window — not from the dials. I ran out the front door of our bungalow just in time to catch a glimpse of two fat Mexicans running down the block, laughing and dripping Tecate. Below our porch, I found a tiny hibachi on which three eggs and a little white die-cast Ford Taurus were all burning rapidly in a bed of grass and clove cigarettes. Kerosene had obviously been poured over the Matchbox toy and the eggs, then set on fire.
I knew this to be an extremely serious matter. Although the locals appeared primitive, their shamans carried knowledge that had been handed down by word of mouth for thousands of years, going back to the Mayans and their first contacts with the aliens and the concept of the zero. “Maria, the locals are not happy with your black arts,” I told her. “Is it possible you could go easy on the radionics and just get a ham radio or something?” Maria’s face was ashen and she replied, “No senor, it is you who have upset the omphalos.” I looked at the radionic dials and they were spinning madly.
As I left the house, I noticed that the many derelict cars that usually lined our block were gone. Since this was not an election year, there was no way that the city had towed them. The elephants’ graveyard of automotive steel, our little hillbilly sculpture park in Mextown — the damaged Ford Egos, the Isuzu Kamikazes, Plymouth Bhopals, Cadillac Malevolentes, AMC Baboons — gone, gone, gone. My Yugo was missing too.
Maria begged me to see the healer. “You would be a fool to ignore the signs,” she said.
“Aren’t you a healer?” I asked her. But she insisted on taking me to the city’s top man who was in Del Ray, the old Hungarian section of town. The local magicians believed that the true shape of living things can be found in the egg, which also had a similar shape to the Ford Taurus. Their use of eggs and, in a pinch, the Ford Taurus, for healing magic was well known.
Maria and I rode the bus to Del Ray. There was a Hungarian bar, some oil tanks, a junkyard, and a few houses that weren’t boarded up or charred among the tall grass and roaming pheasants. Also, there were the abandoned and broken-down cars that you saw in every neighborhood. We had been instructed to keep with us a white, die-cast metal Taurus, an egg, or, if we couldn’t find either, a jar of peanut butter, for 24 hours before the visit. I checked my jar of peanut butter as we approached the healer’s storefront, Quality Discount Furniture. I was familiar with the radio programs of Tiger Dan and Marvelous Marv, and the thought of them made me miss my Yugo, where I had heard so many of their broadcasts on the AM radio. Their little deejay booth shared the showroom floor with its miles of cheap furniture destined for some local’s naugahyde Versailles.
Inside the store we met the healer, Stosh. “May I be allowed to take on the sins of this person,” he intoned in his little office, cluttered with pictures of the Virgin Mary, various bearded saints and a calendar of scantily-clad Vietnamese girls. ‘don’t you want to see my jar of peanut butter first?”
“Yes,” Stosh replied and when I held it up moaned, “May the poison come into the peanut butter.” He opened up the jar and, while chanting, smeared peanut butter all over his body. I felt like a fool for not bringing the smooth variety.
Out of the jar came a quantity of ash and a little plastic whistle. “The ash represents the pain that you have been through in your life,” Stosh explained.
“The whistle I’d like to keep for myself, if I could.”
“Very bad, muy malo!” Stosh said. “You must come back each week with the peanut butter until all of the ash is gone. Also, next time please bring cash or a certified check.”
Afterwards, as I watched Tiger Dan do his broadcast, I saw a girl I knew from some of the rainbow gatherings in town. She had an egg with her and looked nervous, but she always looked nervous. She amused herself by searching for the end of the giant ball of wool that she always carried. Taking Maria’s advice, I tried to “RECOGNIZE” the crazy woman as she was (without telling her, of course, that I thought she was really crazy). I indicated my peanut butter jar and pointed to her egg and said, “I know how you feel.”
She looked at me with her faraway expression and said, “No, that’s how you feel. Otherwise you wouldn’t be feeling it.”
Over the next couple of weeks, I went back to the healer with Maria. Each time, I saw fewer and fewer cars on the streets, and more and more people holding eggs, peanut butter or Tauruses at Quality Discount. The healing business was booming. The neighborhood kids were selling autographed pictures of Stosh in front of the store. But the city’s cars were disappearing. What initially appeared a private curse had grown into a crisis, and was now an epidemic. Whether parked on streets or parked in garages or lots, the cars disappeared without a trace. Derelict cars as well as brand-new cars all vanished. Cars went missing from showrooms and factory lots. They disappeared from the harbor awaiting shipment, and from trucks getting ready to drive across country. Finally, the mayor uttered the one word that had been on everyone’s lips but which no one dared to say. There was a plague. The gates of the city, the three interstates cutting through downtown, the bus station, and the airport were all closed. The people of Onan were on their own, left to their own amusement.
Alone with each other, the townspeople occupied themselves in the bowling alleys, bars, and casinos, awash in alienation. So much of our town’s quality time had been spent alone in cars, plodding along the freeways and listening to the drive time disc jockeys. Cut off from that nurturing experience, people were forced to deal with their neighbors. There were only a few working cars and their owners tried to hide them. There was almost no fuel. Some of us crowded on the few city buses that worked. A whole new world of bikes, rollerblades, and skateboards sprang up. Some people walked. Adults even began zipping around on little metal scooters that personal injury lawyers gave out for free. The riders of these contraptions looked truly ridiculous.
Before the city was closed off, some people had moved back to the city to maintain their jobs, since they couldn’t drive from the suburbs. More were walking around the various neighborhoods, and the old city didn’t look so scary. Stosh was doing big business, and Maria had started her own healing emporium in the Pavilion of Limpid Solitude. Everyone was convinced they had lost their cars because of bad juju, asking to have the hex removed and their cars returned.
The new, virtually automobile-free city was pleasantly different. We took the town monorail between the casinos. I rode my bike to my city job, singing songs to myself and giving shoutouts and dedications to my neighbors, just like Marvelous Marv.
I kept asking Maria if she could use her radionic devices and knowledge of the esoteric to figure out who was hexing all the locals and taking their cars, but she told me not to think about such things. “Don’t think. You men are always thinking too much. Use thought consciously, instead.”
I found it was hard not to think. For the first time I developed an appreciation for all those people I saw every day that had completely mastered this art form. Maria told me to accept things as they are, even if they appeared half-crazy at times.
On my days off I drove down to Del Ray to help the girl with the ball of wool look for its loose end. She started speaking to me, saying that her name was Brenda Lee. She wrote songs but she wasn’t that Brenda Lee. She still looked a little freaked out. Her eyes were seeing too much, as though they were self-contained radionic devices. But she wasn’t as weird as she seemed.
We walked all over the city talking, she with her ball of wool, I with my jar of peanut butter. It was late when we stopped by Maria’s healing shop. Maria saw me with the crazy girl and began to frantically fiddle with her radionic dials while keeping up an overly friendly exterior. It dawned on me that she had always had a crush on me and was jealous of the wool girl. I had come to recognize her as she was, and it was somewhat disturbing. It looked like she was about to curse us with a miniature hibachi, and I could not stand any more visits to Stosh’s place. So we ran out of there.
We hopped on the monorail and rode through the cavernous exterior of the Great Hall, where many citizens had gathered in a group prayer session, led by Father Pantalon, to try and remove the plague. We took the stops past Bricktown and Greektown and Skid Row and the Printing District. Then I spotted the Monster Truck below us.
We went down to the truck’s parking spot in the middle of the traffic island and looked up at its interior. We managed to scale its side and get into the cab, which was surprisingly spartan, only an old a.m. radio, like my Yugo. We sat there watching the lights of the city, the river behind us, sipping some Christian Brothers brandy I always carried with me. Then I heard the Monster Truck’s gigantic engine begin to rumble and flames shoot out from its jagged-toothed grill. The radio began to crackle, and I could hear the voice of Maria. She was telling the Monster Truck what to do. Was it possible that her radionic devices were nothing more than the Cadillac Nordstar navigational system, coupled with remote control for doing her evil will? It was too crazy, but anything was possible.
We shot down the mostly-deserted streets like a rocket ship. As we neared Poletown, I could see an overcrowded bus, lumbering down the street ahead. Flames burst forward from the beast, igniting the bus and sending its passengers scurrying. Then the Monster Truck’s jagged teeth began tearing into the bus, slicing it like a paper shredder and pounding it like a pulverizer. In only a few moments the bus was gone and I heard Maria’s fiendish cackle, interrupting Tiger Dan’s radio monologue about the mothership of peace and love landing. The crazy girl and I were trapped for hours in the Monster Truck as it made its way through the city, hunting down and destroying all automobiles. The Monster Truck was the alpha-male in the whole SUV size competition that had been going on for years, and it wasn’t even controlled by a male. How was it that during the time of the “plague,” no one had noticed the Monster Truck as it made its way around the city, devouring everything in its path?
Hours later, when the Monster Truck was parked back in its spot, we leapt out the sides and rushed back to Maria’s emporium. She had a wild-eyed look, with a bunch of hibachis burning and the radionic dials spinning madly. She threatened that any attempt to interfere with her work would bring further ruin to the city; she was doing the work of the automobile companies, who had lost their gift for planned obsolescence ever since they started building the indestructible Taurus. Other companies followed suit. Aware of her extraordinary knowledge of radionics, they used her to destroy all of the town’s automobiles so that people would have to buy new ones. Maria and her friend Stosh were paid off by “curing” citizens of the town “plague.” The crazy girl flung her ball of wool at Maria. It turned out that there was a big rock in the middle and it injured Maria.
I thought it was criminal for Maria to destroy all of the town’s cars and even risk injuring people when the Monster Truck set their vehicles on fire and ate them. People could get hurt that way. All of that for commerce? On the other hand, the city seemed a lot better without all of those cars. One strong-man vehicle to keep all of the others in place. It was a cheerier, happier town with a higher quality of life. But I had to do it. I grabbed the radionic dials and threw them against the wall, then stomped on them and smashed them to bits. I even busted up a few hibachis. I was through with Maria and all her hocus pocus. It was time to grow up already.
This story originally appeared in Lurch Magazine
(art: troy dockins)
Bill Carney is a founding member and contributing editor to the late, lamented Lurch Magazine. He is also the leader of not one but two renowned New York City bands: Les Sans Culottes and Bill Carney’s Jug Addicts. In addition to his many literary and musical endeavors, he maintains membership in several secret societies and is a master when it comes to cooking with curry. More from Bill Carney can be found in the Vault of Smoke.