Speculum By JWR Kerr
Oct 28, 1971 Vancouver, British Columbia
anticipation, applied his wide strides to the department store floor as he angled toward the camera department. The greatcoat.
Two truncated plaid sleeves, snipped from one of
Barry's old shirts, were pinned inside the arms of the coat and telescoped from the cuffs to cover his wrists.
Below the coat
hung the amputated legs of a pair of old blue denim jeans, tied with shoelaces above his knees.
A casual observer might suppose
Barry was wearing a shirt and jeans underneath the coat.
fact, he wore only his girlfriend's flesh-colored panties and a coat hanger bent into a circle, which now dug uncomfortably into
his hips as he walked.
The hook of the coat hanger had been
straightened to an acute angle and skewered through a long tube of orange sponge.
Stuffed behind this obscene profile was a
woman's fur cap. "I need batteries for this," said Barry.
He handed a small
plastic camera to the attractive girl behind the counter.
attendant accepted it and scratched open the battery flap. "Four double A's," she remarked, turning toward a display. Barry put a five-dollar bill on the counter and installed the new batteries while the girl made change. Norman Kohr stood near the store entrance wearing jackboots and a Nazi SS officer's uniform.
He had followed Barry
into the store and was now loitering beside a headless lingerie mannequin.
Norman grinned as he saw Barry's hand slowly move
down the buttons of the greatcoat. friend the change.
He watched the girl give his
Then Barry, putting his hands inside his
pockets, took one step backward and flung open the greatcoat. From where Norman stood, his friend looked like a giant condor airing its wings. When the coat flung wide its curtains, the pretty camera clerk was frozen by surprise.
She was unable to make a sound
but her eyes clearly published what her voice was unwilling to express, raw astonishment.
Norman gave a sharp laugh as Barryâ€™s
camera flared and bathed the girl in a nova of white light. That hadn't been part of the plan, he thought.
A double flash.
Nice touch. Now Barry was running toward the entrance. "Don't you just love those Kodak moments?" he grinned as he hooked Norman under the elbow and pulled him toward the exit doors.
"Let's get outta here before they shake a store dick at
Norman's car and sped across the parking lot.
They were late
for a Halloween party at the university. "I thought you were supposed to stay in the car," Barry said.
"It's freeeezing in here."
"Maybe this will keep you warm," said Norman, removing a bra from his left jack-boot and tossing it at Barry. "Where'd the hell you get this?"
Barry dangled the bra
from his fingers. "Let's just say one of their mannequins has gone native." "You stole it?" "With heater.
"I needed the practice."
absolutely no use for.
What the hell's wrong with you?"
Norman's face clouded.
"Don't give me any self-righteous
bullshit," he said abruptly.
"Nobody loves a saint."
they're going to crucify you." "Who the hell are they, for chrissake?" "Them.
The others. The ones who aren't you."
"I'm not you," Barry pointed out. "Well you're not one of them," Norman assured him. "---not yet, anyway. knee.
But sometimes I wonder."
It's all a game.
He slapped Barry on the It's all bullshit."
Barry sat back and for the hundredth time, wondered why he was Norman's friend.
And for the hundredth time, he couldn't
come up with a good reason.
Particularly when Norman seemed
especially strange in his solipsistic view of the world, like now.
The two young men had been friends for years.
a similar quick, irreverent sense of humor, although Norman's wit
eighteen-year-old male, it was just that he was less likely to abandon didn't
Barry's more manicured paths to a punch line, but much preferred the well-worn animal trails of the sexual jungle. Apart from this shared weakness for scandalous amusements, both had a mutual affinity for reading and art.
personal library, outside of his Hustler and Playboy magazines, seemed
Mussolini, Napoleon, Peter the Great, Rasputin, Czar Nicholas II, Stalin --all men who had left their imprints through sheer force of will. flamboyant.
Barry's taste was more literary, but equally
He admired men of letters whose lives were short
Men like Byron, Shelley, Rimbaud, Jack London or
F. Scott Fitzgerald. It didn't escape Barry's notice that his friend reacted to the world with a typical extrovert's abandon while Barry himself was much more introspective and could only parallel Norman's spotlight-and-megaphone behavior after a certain amount of inner conflict
Norman, it seemed to Barry, had no self-dignity whatsoever.
danced however and wherever he damn well pleased and didn't care how it looked or whom it hurt. Barry often questioned his interest in people who skulked on the edge of the moral norm.
He wondered about the motives
for his silent acceptance of their behavior.
He attributed it
to an inner mechanism that seemed to police his need to be judgmental.
Barry tried to resist the impulse but wasn't sure
it didn't have something to do with a morbid curiosity.
secret desire to shake the conditioning of his middle class upbringing.
1976 Los Angeles, California
Norman Kohr slid off his bed and padded over to the air conditioner.
Working a long screwdriver along the side of the
front panel, he jiggled it until a spark snapped on a condenser contact.
The machine made a sound like a man gargling in the
shower then settled into a steady hum.
The air blowing through
the vents cooled almost imperceptibly. "Piece of shit," he muttered. He went over to an electric fan balanced on a stack of magazines beside his bed and switched it to the highest setting. The
abruptly slid to the floor, taking the fan with it.
magazines The fan
crashed against the metal leg of the bed and stopped spinning. Norman sat on the edge of the bed and stared at it.
stockings and crotchless panties.
She was kneeling in front of
a naked man. "It's all bullshit," he whispered. the
He was thinking about
Norman's stereo shop, had not only lost money on the books that quarter, but had actually lost money.
Between payroll, lease,
insurance, licenses, accountants and renovation costs, there was barely enough money left to pay the rent on his apartment, if what he lived in could be called an apartment. The fate of The Sonic Boom seemed fairly certain.
just wasn't enough in the business account to make the payment. True, Norman had petitioned the bank for an extension, but he had
Hanson had tried to save his shoe store at the same bank.
Dick could have met his payment.
That was a sure thing.
poor bastard just needed two more weeks.
But he was so heavily
leveraged he wasn't even able to scare up a friendly loan. sure found out who his friends were in a hurry.
And the least
friendly of all was the bank he had dealt with for eight years. Norman mattress.
He felt a strange sickness in his stomach and tried
to find a word that could hold a mirror to it. words.
He found two
Disgust and fear.
He turned off the lamp and stared at the red light of the hotel sign across the street through the white sheet he had draped across his window.
The sign blinked off and on, turning
the sheet into a huge glowing corpuscle every few seconds. Norman was not a religious man.
But the sick feeling in
his stomach, the fear, was beginning to open him up like a cracked egg.
He began to see how fear could be a liberating
particular thought, without any thought at all, it seemede, a word materialized in Norman's mind.
He wasn't even sure he knew
what it meant. Corban. Norman remembered something he was once told by a Christian businessman. “The secret of God’s grace is tithing,” said the man. percent.
That's all God wants”.
The businessman explained that ten percent of a person's success, of his attention, was all God wanted. one
He said God gave
And he only asked for ten percent of man's harvest in
return, as a symbolic gesture.
This was the way people could
demonstrate their gratitude for the remaining ninety percent, which
incidentally from anyone's private labors. “It’s
businessman, “that one finds success.
And it’s only through the
mediation of God's revealed Word, Jesus Christ, that anyone can open an avenue of communication with God. The Christian explained that God wanted his children to succeed but success required us to humble ourselves and admit we can
powerless without the help of God. Powerless. stomach.
That was the word for the feeling in Norman's
It was a feeling he despised.
Weakness, inability, impotence.
They were the things that
branded the losers of the world and made them contemptible to Norman.
History was a record of human willpower, a topograph
studded with the Olympian peaks of the focused few. on
visibility from posterity's horizon. Suddenly
name, perhaps its most fertile offspring, was none other than Jesus Christ.
The armies and followers of Christ, perpetually
active and growing for the past two thousand years, overwhelmed the planet.
Three quarters of the planet's wealth lay in the
hands of Christians.
If Christ was a powerless symbol of a
recognized the strength of Christian symbols and put tremendous efforts into locating some of their more well known artifacts, like the Holy Grail and the Spear of Longinus. At the root of Christ's humility and meekness must have been incredible strength and force of will, thought Norman.
concentric ripples, even after two thousand years, were still spreading.
Christ must have been an archetypical force, the
fountainhead of mankind's own feeble reflection of willfulness. With
suddenly relax, like a fist opening on empty air.
He had an odd
sense of morbid expectation, a solemn waiting for the crescendo cymbals at the end of a symphony. of
And then it came, but instead moment
Norman Kohl, humility in the sense that he no longer tried to control and direct his own will. then
He became quiet and open.
Norman he had found and accepted Christ. The following week, Norman sold his personal stereo system and gave the money to The Trinity Pentecostal Church on Haver Street.
Almost immediately two things happened that persuaded
him the right choice had been made, or rather, that Christ had
made it for him.
The first was when a chain of seven nightclubs
decided to use The Sonic Boom as their supplier of high-end stereo and sound equipment.
This in itself provided enough
profit for Norman to cover the balloon payment and finish the renovations.
The following day the bank agreed to defer his
payment for another month. Before the end of that month, Norman sold The Sonic Boom, while it was still showing a good profit.
He was going to take
the money and invest it in a real estate development.
decision came to him late one night during a particularly severe episode of insomnia.
While staring at the pulsing corpuscle of
his window, Norman heard Christ tell him to buy an apartment building and convert it to an extended-care facility. ***
March 22, 1975
San Rafael, Mexico
Barry Rogers dug his heel into the sand and kicked out with his leg.
The hammock swung in a long, lazy arc.
He looked out
over the Sea of Cortez and saw the broad glowing brushstrokes that signaled the dawn.
A brown pelican in silhouette jack-
knifed its wings into the water.
After a short struggle, the
great bird beat slowly upward into the air, jerking back its head and neck.
The running lights of two shrimp boats quietly
moved from the marina entrance and softly rumbled toward distant harvests.
reflections on the water, Barry dropped his legs out of the hammock and sat up.
He glanced over his shoulder at the top of
the mountain that rose a thousand feet from the shoulder of the road.
On the ragged edge of the summit a perfectly formed
crucifix flared in the new sunlight. Barry's eyes.
Its fierce intensity hurt
Who the hell would carry that much steel up the
side of a mountain, he wondered. be a mule for a symbol?
And why would he voluntarily
Barry made a mental note to climb the
mountain after breakfast and discover the answer. Gary and Daggot, two threadbare college students who had picked up Barry hitchhiking outside of Phoenix, made mournful sounds from underneath their camperized breadtruck.
crawled under the truck in the middle of the night because it was too warm to sleep inside it. "They should change the name of that stuff to ta-kill-ya," complained Daggot, trying to glimpse the end of his tongue while pressing a hand against his forehead. "Now I know where California dumps its nuclear waste," Gary moaned.
"--- in tequila vats".
"Well, you guys insisted on drinking the cheap stuff." The two students turned in the direction of Barry's voice. "Hey, where'd you get the hammock?" said Daggot, squinting against the sunrise. "Beach vendor," explained Barry.
up and shook his legs to loosen the joints.
"Brings back a lot
of fetal memories," he added. "Speaking of fetal, what's for breakfast?" inquired Gary, whose sense of humor was a delightful enigma to Barry.
"Get some coffee on the Coleman," suggested Barry.
like an inside-out catfish." I'll whip up a batch of pancakes." "We got no syrup," said Gary. "We've got jam." The climb up the mountain was deceptively difficult.
had appeared to be a solid ridge from the ground was in reality a scree of loose rocks and stones. ridge wasnâ€™t an alternative.
Venturing away from the
The slope was covered with sandy
dirt that made Barry's running shoes feel like ice skates. It
approached the cross from a sharp angle and noticed it was made from
planted in a shallow lump of concrete under a wreathe of stones. The east side of the cross surprised him.
It was fish-scaled
with flattened tin cans nailed to the wood.
The thing looked
shoddy and cheap, the perfect antithesis of the brightly burning sword of light Barry had witnessed from the ground. He sat on the mountaintop beside the cross, facing the Sea of Cortez.
The gulf was beautiful, the color of a newborn
baby's eyes, and joined the sky at a line so straight its memory had convinced mankind of the world's flatness for ten thousand years.
The town of San Rafael spread out on his right. An apron
of blonde sand stretched around the bay and disappeared beyond a remote
chainmail and moved with the long musculature of the waves. There was something about the color of the sea and the dance of light across its surface, a kind of deep pattern that
rose up in layers of meaning, worming into the logos of Barry’s thoughts.
It was as if a memory stirred, but with no past
experience to give it a face. matter
The feeling itself didn’t seem to
Some small part of his mind noted this with detached
And then the interest was gone and there was nothing.
stillness, an imperturbable silence. Moments later, or perhaps an eternity, Barry’s mind began to stir.
But before he could become aware of himself again, he
experienced a profound sense of emptiness, a feeling of perfect nothingness.
He later wanted to call it completion, but that
word suggested a starting point. point,
And there had been no starting
perception that had later somehow bled into a kind of experience. Altitude changes perspective, he thought. for
indivisible, the opposite of a chain of experiences that could be inventoried along a timeline.
Rather, he had become immersed
in the act of experiencing itself. experiencing,
No, that wasn’t it.
Experiencing was the Now, the Living Moment.
An experience was
merely an echo of it, different in the way footprints were not the moving feet that made them.
What Barry had become was raw
existence without the continuity of consciousness, without an act of inclusion at the expense of the thing that excludes, the ego.
He imagined it was much like releasing a drop of blue
paint into a bucket of white paint. particle of blue. white paint. with the blue.
The ego was the discrete
The enlarged perspective was the pool of
A steeping process begins that infuses the white The blue seems to vanish, swallowed by the sheer
volume of white. has
But the drop of blue hasn't really died.
perspective, is white's perspective.
The delimiting borders of
the self move out to fill the bucket. Is that what just happened?, wondered Barry.
from the top of the mountain had somehow overwhelmed his visual appetite
existential sense of separateness, shrank to a vanishing point and suddenly there was no one experiencing the vista.
no observer, just the present moment of observation itself.
mind was no longer alive to its natural disposition of judging or measuring or comparing. its
For a brief, perfect moment it lost
destructive to the art of experiencing, the mind's analytical backbone began to stir, wanted to question the experience, or rather, the lack of experience.
But until the mind woke to its
own love of motion, there had been no impression, no footprint of memory.
There was only silence and that sweet, beatific,
uncritical awareness. Barry wondered if this kind of thing could happen in the company of another person. We tailor ourselves according to our mental projections, he thought. and
Weâ€™ve one image of ourself that we show our friends,
impressions of us and themselves.
And all the images are dead,
bricked and mortared together from memories, expectations and concepts
influenced by the ridiculous effigies our memories fabricate. And itâ€™s from these empty mannequins that our mind wants to find meaning and security.
Weâ€™re never who we think we are, and
we're certainly not what our friends believe us to be.
actions constantly defrock our intentions. Barry turned to look at the wood and tin symbol beside him. He wondered if the crucifix had become man's death-grip on his own selfhood.
It appeared to represent an attempt to redeem
But it was really just a mask of isolation, in
the name of a god created by fear.
Barry mused that it was this
There was no unity, no wholeness.
I and my Father are ONE, he remembered from the bible. There was no Christ, only GOD.
No division between them.
there was, then God and Christ are human concepts. exists
themselves were like the alcohol excreted by fermenting yeast. The present moment is the fermenting process, the wholistic act. Nothing is separate from it. the act is fragmented. entities,
If you examine the yeast as separate is
If you try to isolate the alcohol,
Theyâ€™re always dead things reflecting their dead
opposites. Barry reached for the base of the cross and lifted himself to his feet.
The wooden upright shifted unsteadily.
down on one of the stones to seat it better. A dead symbol for a dead religion, he mused. no substance. it
All flash and
Nothing to stand on but the memories The
None of it has anything to do with the living
Experiencing is the NOW.
It stands outside of space
and time. Barry began the descent down the mountain, pondering the paradox of searching for truth. an observer. same.
The search implies a searcher,
Yet he now suspected the two were one and the
There was only experiencing.
Perhaps awareness was a
Pure awareness subsumes everything and there is no
personal identity when it is there.
In fact, it is always there
and it's the ego, our sense of selfhood, that obscures it. how
searching obscures truth? Anything looked for has to be recognized when it's found, thought Barry.
And that implies a memory of it.
are dead things, footprints our ego makes when it meets the act of experiencing.
So if anything is recognized as truth, it
canâ€™t possibly be truth. from its conditioning. mind
It's just something the mind projects Searching isn't an answer. In fact, the
blueprint of all pending experiences from past memories.
chuckled to himself.
Norm was right after all, he mused.
all bullshit. As Barry dug the sides of his running shoes into the loose rocks, he wondered if there was an answer to the question of life.
And then he realized there were no questions that needed
establish a center, a place that happily assumes the authority for
impersonal and utterly choiceless. were
ALL questions and problems
continuity, its own sense of security. of
Driven by the great fear driving
questions, quests and goals and slakes the thirst of selfhood by setting
disguise themselves as answers. always
But Barry realized truth is
pursued. When he arrived back at camp, Gary and Daggot were packing the bread truck. "We're
"You're welcome to come along." Barry stared at the sea.
â€œThanks for the offer but I think
I'll stay here for a while." "And do what?" asked Daggot. Barry shrugged.
"I don't know.
world have its way with me.
I thought I'd let the
And not be there when it happens."
Gary looked at him doubtfully and said, "If youâ€™re going to do that, you'll definitely be needing some help." into the back of truck.
After a brief and noisy search, a flash
of sunlight on glass traced a path toward Barry's outstretched hand.
Then the sliding door closed with a sharp report and the
engine came to life.
Daggot eased the machine back onto the
road as Gary tumbled into the passenger seat.
Both men waved
out the windows as the bread truck moved down the dirt road. Barry glanced at the half-empty jug of tequila in his hand, a crosshatch of sunlight branding its curved shoulder. up
He looked sunlight
performing the same charade collectively along the surfaces of a hundred tin cans.
In that quiet moment Barry became aware of a
single word that fixed itself in his mind.
He set the bottle on the sand, stood with his back to the sea and aligned his left arm with the crucifix on the mountain. Then he raised his right arm toward the mouth of the marina.
Two o'clock, he noted.
Barry dropped to his knees and, using
his hands as shovels, began to dig. enough,
When the hole was deep it
clarity, covered it with sand.
July 2nd, 2000 International Airport, Vancouver, British Columbia
Norman Kohr shouldered a path through the heavy crowd at the arrival gate.
People spilled away from the big man like
fluid from a knocked glass. "Goddamn," he boomed when he saw Barry.
"You look like an
out-of-work crop picker." "And you look like the guy who did the firing," replied Barry,
burlesque double-take at the top of his friend's head. the
statues in the park?"
dye it gray," quipped Barry, falling into step with
"Helps keep the teenage girls away."
"Here, check this out." fingers
Norman bent his head and raked his hair.
They're too scared to come out." "I don't blame them.
I'm afraid of lice too."
"Too funny," said Norman.
"I see you're still using the
Milton Berle archives for your jokes." The two men stepped through the automatic doors into the sunlight.
Norman reached for Barry's arm as a black limousine
glided to the curb.
A young, well-dressed black man stepped out
of the vehicle and walked around to open the back door.
looked over his shoulder, supposing he was blocking someone's way. "This is our ride," Norman informed him. Barry
mischief in them.
"Get in." saw
He tossed his duffel bag onto the carpeted
floor and stepped inside.
Norman followed him and the black man
courteously closed the door behind them.
Barry watched the
driver walk around the vehicle and settle in behind the steering wheel.
Norman slid open a glass partition.
"Home, Jeeves," he said with authority. "Of course, sir," came the reply. Norman was savoring the bewildered look on his friend's face, but then the look slowly faded into a calm resolve. "I'm not buying any of it," Barry said. aren't named Jeeves.
And they wear hats."
Norman's lips pursed and he lunged at the driver, cuffing the back of the man's head with his open hand. "I told you to wear the hat!" he boomed.
"Hey," cried the driver.
"Watch the hair!
This coif cost
me a hundred and twenty bucks and I don't do it no hat for nobody." Norman settled back and looked at Barry.
"Well, I had you
going for a little while," he grinned. "Seems like a lot of expense for a thirty second hoodwink," replied Barry, looking at the interior of the limo. "Not if you own the damn thing," replied Norman.
introduced to their impromptu chauffeur, whose name was Gary Douglas.
subsidized his education by cooking dinners at The Westchester Manor, Norman's fifty-four room extended care facility. "I
over his shoulder, nodding at Norman.
"But the money's good."
"Damn right it is!" barked Norman.
"And if I want to call
him a nigger in front of anyone, I just slip him twenty bucks and he let's me."
Norman took his wallet out of his inside coat
pocket and selected a twenty-dollar bill from a fan of currency. "Watch," he said to Barry. lungs
He leaned back as he filled his
through the open glass. "Nigger!" Gary's right hand calmly migrated from the steering wheel to find the opening behind him, then silently hung in the air, palm upward.
Norman released a sharp, unpleasant laugh and
jammed the money into it. "Here, you give it a try," he said to Barry, taking another bill from his wallet.
"It's very therapeutic."
Barry stared out the rear window.
"No thanks," he said
quietly. "Go ahead," insisted Norman.
"Gary doesn't mind, do you
Gary?" "No sah, missah Koah sah.
I dozen mine."
"He's an educated nigger."
Norman's tone was documentary.
"And education takes the fight right out of them." Gary's hand appeared through the window again. "Godammit," said Norman, slapping the twenty-dollar bill into the manâ€™s palm. chance.
He glanced at Barry.
"You missed your
Twice a day keeps the vice affordable.
them both today.
And I wasted
I wasn't even pissed at him."
"Keep your chin up," said Gary over his shoulder. "Maybe I'll fuck up tomorrow." "Wouldn't
hopefully. The Stanley Strait.
As the limousine negotiated the steep driveway, Barry
noted the threadbare condition of the four-story building.
wrought iron railings around the balconies showed streams of oxidation running down their uprights. Gary parked the car under a long overhang whose peeling paint and raised nail heads advertised its age and fatigue. "Get his bag," said Norman as the three men stepped out of the limousine.
Barry watched Norman stab a keypad near the
front door, which gave an audible click and swung open at the end of his long arm.
"You can use that apartment," he told Barry, pointing to a door a few feet from the office entrance.
Norman worked a key
off a ring and handed it to Barry. "Dinner's at 5:30," he said. now.
"I gotta take a nap right
Come through the office in a couple of hours and knock on
We'll go up together."
"All right," replied Barry.
Gary reached over and placed
the duffel bag near the apartment door. "And you..." said Norman in a loud voice.
heathen from the Niger." Gary shrugged and held his hand out. cheap sonovabitch.
"Oh come on, you
That couldn't have been very satisfying."
He rolled his fingers.
"Forget it," replied Norman. "Just get up there and make sure youâ€™ve got everything ready for dinner." "Iza goin', massah," grinned Gary, hanging his head and dragging his feet down the hall. mow.
"Ya dun hafsta beats me no
Iza goin'." Barry unlocked the apartment door and stepped inside.
tossed his duffel bag onto the carpeted floor and sat with his back against the wall. was dark. drawn.
The room, presumably the living room,
The venetian blinds, dusty and dented in places, were
There was a yellow, low wattage glow coming from the
Barry rose stiffly and went to turn it off.
Then he looked for the bathroom. The pipes rattled to life as he washed his face.
were no towels and he made a mental note to ask Norman for one as he dabbed his forehead with toilet paper.
Reflected in the
mirror over his shoulder were the remains of a shower curtain, hanging in tatters from wire hooks.
Barry found the bedroom and transferred his duffel bag to the closet.
He removed his poncho and rolled it to make a
pillow, pressed it down against the carpet and lay on his back. The ceiling showed signs of water damage near the exterior wall, and there was a hole the size of a shoe below the window trim. If the whole building's like this, he thought, I could be here for a hundred years. *** "So you've managed to pick up a few useful skills in your travels," said Norman, turning a mop-head of spaghetti against a soupspoon. "I can usually hit the nail I'm aiming at," replied Barry. They were in the kitchen of the Manor's restaurant, which had been the penthouse suite of Westchester Apartments before Norman had bought the building and changed its name, along with its floor plan and purpose. "I told you in my email there's lots of work here," said Norman.
"The first thing I want to do is turn one of the
trouble. east wall.
There's plumbing and drainage available through the You've only got two exterior walls to frame up, a
sub-floor to put in, and a drop ceiling.
The rest will be
interior work. Shouldn't take you more than a month or two for the whole project." Barry tickled his chef's salad with the end of his fork. "I was under the impression you just had some maintenance work to do." "Sure," said Norman around a mouthful of pasta. that.
But I want the apartment done first.
Can you do it?"
"Probably," replied Barry. site first.
"But I'll have to see the job
And I'll be needing some help when the time comes."
"I'll have Larry give you a hand," said Norman.
about time the sonovabitch did something around here." Three project.
Barry was ready to work and had drawn up a materials
list but things just never seemed to fall into place for Norman. Most of the tools he thought he owned were either broken or missing.
This discovery caused Norman to fly into a rage and he
cursed his employees, their pets and the entire lineage of their ancestors. "What the hell is it?" he said to Barry.
person I've ever hired has turned out to be a crook. understand it. Arabia.
It's like what Anthony Quinn said in Lawrence of
'I am a river to my people.'"
Norman lifted his arms
artfully in the air, imitating Quinn's character in the movie. "Trouble is," he said, letting his hands drop resignedly against his legs.
"I find it all so damned --irrigating."
at his own pun. Barry
nature of the phrase 'honor among thieves'. Norman decided to restock his maintenance room with new tools.
But when he and Barry made the long drive to a supply
warehouse on the outskirts of Vancouver, Norman discovered he had forgotten to bring the company checkbook. The following day was consumed with meetings between Norman and his lawyer.
During this time Barry quietly sat on the
mildew and rot infesting the rafters behind the fascia boards of the restaurant.
Another day was lost when Norman had Gary drive them to a waterfront house near Gibson's Landing.
This turned out to be
Norman's home, where he lived with a woman who, he confessed to Barry, was becoming something of a problem. the
The apartment at used
became hectic. "There's eight acres here," he told Barry.
with the zoning commission to subdivide the property and create a
Strictly high-end homes, you understand.
On half million dollar
lots." "Sounds ambitious." "Damn right. electrical. standards.
I'm going to put in roads, water, sewage,
And a huge, big-ass fountain in the center of it
all." "That should keep you busy for a while," said Barry. "You mean us," offered Norman. build some million dollar homes? your life.
Three at most.
"What do you say?
It's only a few years out of
And I guarantee youâ€™ll clear a
quarter mil the first year." What happens to the only honest man in a room full of thieves? Barry thought.
What happens to a pint of white paint
when you mix a gallon of red paint with it? "Give me some time to think about it." "It's not like you're doing anything else," Norman pointed out.
"Swinging a hammer down in Beanerland isn't exactly a high
point on someone's resume." "You're assuming everyone wants to be sitting on a high point," said Barry.
Norman gave his old friend a curious look. buy everything," he said.
"Money may not
"But it sure as hell beats being
broke." "If your needs are few and easily supplied, you only feel broke when your wants aren't met." "Since when did you become the philosopher?" said Norman, sharpening the edge of his voice.
"Besides, like everyone else,
I happen to need money." "No,
"Money in itself is totally useless, except maybe as insulation or paper shims. it.
You can't eat it or drink it.
You can't drive it like a car.
You can't wear
You can't even pretend it's
something useful to share." "Money makes all those things possible." "No, possible.
And that idea is not a fact. It's a social contract.
We use the idea of money as a symbol for energy or attention. When
attention, their energy." "What energy?" chided Norman. money.
"I don't give a shit about
It's just a means to an end."
"I listen to you talk," said Barry.
"And all I hear is the
means, not the end." "The end is getting out of the game before I'm fifty," replied Norman. "I know it's all bullshit.
I want to get out of
it with enough energy, as you put it, to do the things that are important to me." "Which are--?" "Travel, for one. "I want to visit Europe.
To learn and see things," said Norman. I want to go to Napoleon's grave.
want to walk in Alexander's footsteps.
I want to stand in the
place where Christ was crucified." Barry
"Interesting you should use alternative symbols for the same thing money represents," he noted. "You cite individuals who've hijacked a huge amount of mankind's attention." "You're insane," said Norman.
"Are you trying to equate
money with Christ?" "Inasmuch as they are both symbols that demand a lot of our attention." "So does a good fart, but I wouldn't pay you for one," retorted Norman. "Somewhere
there," said Barry, waving his hand in the air, "I can pretty much guarantee there's a person and a circumstance that would pay you for one." "Let's recapitulate a bit," said Norman.
there with a straight face telling me Jesus Christ and a handful of Benjamin Franklins are the same thing?" "I'm
function." "Which is what?" "To capture attention." "Maybe pointed out.
"Christ is alive and active."
"How do you know?" "Because I've experienced him.
I've communicated with him."
"Actual physical contact?" "No, more of a spiritual contact.
Soul to soul.
touched my soul." "I see," said Barry. "How do you know?"
instant I went from an atheist to a believer. thing isn't arbitrary.
That kind of
People don't change at the drop of a
change?" Norman told Barry about his Los Angeles experience, about his dark night of the soul in the small, dirty apartment. "It was Christ I called to," he said. heart it was Christ who answered. place.
"And I know in my
He pulled me out of a bad
And things have been better than I could have dreamed
I tithe ten per cent of my net income every year.
And every year it returns to me two or three fold." As Norman talked, Barry wondered why Christian spirituality always seemed so Machiavellian in practice.
There was something
mercenary in the view that God was available to petition, always ready to deliver up someone's most needy whim.
to consider certain events in their lives, a broken leg, the loss of a job or an illness, as things outside of God's design for them.
These were the things that required a supplication to
God or Christ, ultimately to invoke a divine intervention that would remove the discomfort.
And when things happened according
to a secret desire, they were always seen as gifts and blessings from God.
In this dualistic world-view, a 'negative' experience
never derived from God or a 'positive' one from 'Satan'.
recalled something from the Bible about Christ's temptation.
was Satan who promised to grant Christ's every worldly desire. Why couldn't a Christian see what that suggested?
Maybe it was
a shared quality of the human psyche that all gods wanted what man
Balance, all devils wanted the opposite.
That might explain
why, for a small, troubled minority, suffering was a welcomed companion
purgatory for them.
But then, the Christ of the Bible was never
recorded to have laughed or been seen in a jovial mood.
mostly cast as the 'suffering servant' and some people, being gifted mimics, would not want to wander far from that model. "Why do you believe in Christ?" asked Barry. Norman gave him an opaque look, as if the question was rhetorical and the answer obvious. "When
father?" he countered. "Because he posed as something he was not," said Barry. "He projected the air of someone who knew what they were doing. Just
All the way back to the myth of the apple, which showed
the first father for what he really was --gullible, malleable, weak and confused.
The perfect role model."
Norman appraised his friend with a searching look.
happened that made you so cynical?" he said. "I'm not a cynic," countered Barry.
"I just don't pretend
a movie on a screen is something real.
You put aside all of
your symbols, and what have you got left?" "Nothing," said Norman. "How do you know?
Have you done it?"
"Have you?" "Listen, Norm. hard at his friend. represent.
Don't let words control you."
"We're talking about what words can only
Let's just take one thought and follow it through to
the end, without comparing it with anything else.
soon as you compare it, you're talking through someone else. You're talking through a politician or a philosopher or a bible.
It's just imitation, repetition.
The words don't represent your
understanding. Just someone else's." "I know what I felt," said Norman. "Then let's take that.
Can our feelings reveal truth?"
"No, but Christ can," asserted Norman. "You're just saying something that's been programmed into us since the cradle." "I'm just speaking the truth." "The truth as you see it, live it or have heard about it?" asked Barry. "The truth as I've experienced it." "Aren't our feelings based on experiences?" asked Barry. "Would we have feelings at all if we never experienced anything in our lives?" "We'd be vegetables," commented Norman. "So
conflicting eyewitness reports." "What's your point?" "I'm trying to suggest that the flavor of our experiences is dictated by the conditioning that gives us our world-views," said Barry. are
"The meaning of the things we see and experience of
memories of past experiences that color the events happening to us now.
And so what happens now is never new, never real.
always something in the process of being altered by our worldview, our personal agenda." Norman was shaking his head. process of learning," he said.
"Experience is part of the
"And learning is the movement
toward God." "Is there such a thing as learning?" asked Barry.
"Of course." "I don't mean technologically. "Christianity insisted
I mean psychologically." of
Psychologically changes them for the better." Barry wondered why Norman, and in fact any other Christian, believed this.
He could see that his friend was the same person
he knew back in university.
The rancor, the aggression, the
impatience, the bigotry, the peculiar style of solipsism that put the whole world under his heels --it was all still there. If anything, more so than ever.
And yet Norman Kohr actually
believed he was a better person because of Christ. "You'd have a hard time convincing me there was such a thing as psychological evolution," said Barry. condition of this planet.
"Look at the
There's still wars, still greed, more
violence than ever, economic aggression, spiritual aggression. There's
oceans and rivers are polluted by corporations and exhaust from fossil
eventually put our coastlines under water.
The nuclear family
has disappeared and street gangs are the new extended families that
substitute for love.
And respect goes out to the guy with the
bloodiest personal history. psychologically?
Where's any sign that man can learn
thousand years ago." "I know what I know, Bear," said Norman.
"And no amount of
sophistry is going to change it." "Yes, I can see that."
Barry glanced away from his friend.
"You know, I really suspect it was you who found Christ and not the other way around.
A person with a closed mind lives in a
box and can't be seen by anything.
Man or god. And the only
things he sees are the things he himself projects on the walls." "You
Norman's tone was final. Chan meets Carl Jung.
"You stand there sounding like Charlie Look at you.
clothes, no bank account.
No house, no woman, no
Spouting garbage is just your way of
being bitter about life." "You're welcome to believe whatever it takes to protect yourself," replied Barry. "And you're welcome to burn every bridge around you by believing in nothing," countered Norman. of a nihilist."
"You always were a bit
He motioned to Barry with his hand.
the car," he said.
"I gotta talk to Lisa for a few minutes."
Barry watched Norman walk down the sloping driveway and open the big arched front door.
Then he went to wait in the car. ***
Barry was installing baseboard in the washroom beside the office when Norman burst though the door. "Fuckin' niggers!" he hollered.
You can't trust any of â€˜em." "What's the problem?"
Barry asked quietly.
"Shit!" cried Norman. "Bastards!" "What happened?" "I let that sonovabitch Gary use the house for a party last night."
Norman's body was twitching with an energy that filled
his eyes with hatred.
"He had all his faggot nigger friends
over and when I woke up this morning my wallet and ring were gone.
"Just calm down," said Barry.
"Where were your ring and
wallet when you went to bed?" "On the night table," replied Norman.
"I always put them
on the night table." "Did you look for them?" "Of course I did. bastards stole them.
Looked all over the goddamn room.
"Don't jump to any conclusions," said Barry evenly.
could have mislaid them." "I always put them on the goddamn night table," Norman cried.
"Are you deaf?"
"Do you clearly remember putting them on the night table?" "It's a habit.
I just do it."
"Why don't we go over there and have another look?" said Barry.
"Sometimes an extra pair of eyes helps."
"Sonovabitchin' niggers," muttered Norman, pulling his car keys from his pocket.
"They're all thieves."
Barry turned a deaf ear to Norman's rants during the drive to
entrance and went inside. The house had come into Norman's possession when his father had died three years before.
Barry noticed the interior was
just as shabby and neglected as The Westchester Manor. Norman's room was a clutter of electronic appliances and clothing.
Sun-stained sheets hung from curtain rods to cover
A box spring and mattress on a metal frame were
pushed up against the wall, half covered by a large sleeping bag. There were two dark mahogany bureaus and a night table in
the room. open
A wide screen TV sat on the largest bureau, whose drawer
pornographic videos. He Norman
Barry felt uneasy about touching anything.
sleeping bag off the bed and moved his hands over the bottom sheet.
He lifted the mattress and felt underneath, which he
considered one of his most unsung acts of bravery. picked up the sleeping bag and gave it a shake.
And then he
The wallet and
ring fell to the floor. Barry quietly picked them up and handed them to Norman. "Jesus Christ, you found them!" Barry said nothing. "Sonovabitch," said Norman.
"You found them!
Way to go."
On the drive back to the city, Norman was effervescent. He talked about his real estate ideas and how he would make Barry rich.
He told Barry about his plans for Winchester Manor.
talked about his girlfriend's rehabilitation and how things were going to change for the better.
He never once mentioned the
sonovabitchin niggers. It was 4 AM.
Barry finished packing the duffel bag and
leaned it against the wall near the door. floor beside it.
The poncho was on the
It was going to be cold outside.
Barry opened his notebook, sat with his back against the wall and used his knee for a table.
The words came slowly.
Dear Norman, We were friends once.
Friends are people who can
communicate with each other on some common level.
plain to me we no longer share a level where communication is possible. You say you've changed.
Maybe thatâ€™s the reason.
don't see the change, but you say you feel it. have changed. me.
I know I
But you keep looking for past behavior in
There is none. I am against the Dorian Portrait method of living.
should know who we are and show who we are.
The two things
should not be separate. Making more money than I need doesn't interest me. It's a form of insecurity, a form of fear.
I don't think
being a puppet of fear is an appropriate response to Life. If it works for you, fine.
But please leave me out of the
required behavior. I don't expect to see you again.
Mostly because we
share nothing that would be a reason for coming together again.
Take care of yourself.
And spend a little time
questioning your own actions and reactions. Barry Barry tore out the page, folded it and laid it on the counter in the hall. poncho,
He pushed his head through the hole in the duffel
quietly abandoned Westchester Manor. The morning air was cool and a light fog lay on the ground at the bottom of the hill. the bus depot.
It was going to be a long walk to
As the sidewalk made metronomes of his running
shoes, Barry listened to the birdsong in the trees. wondered where the next southbound bus was going.