Page 1

Speculum By JWR Kerr

Oct 28, 1971 Vancouver, British Columbia

Eighteen-year-old

Barry

Rogers,

charged

with

nerve

and

anticipation, applied his wide strides to the department store floor as he angled toward the camera department. The greatcoat.

young

man

wore

his

father's

dusty

blue

military

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.

In

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.

The

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 Barry’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

us."

2


The

two

boys

laughed

hysterically

as

they

Norman's car and sped across the parking lot.

jumped

into

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.

one

hand,"

grinned

Norman,

switching

on

the

car

"I needed the practice."

"Christ.� “Shop-lifting's

said

Barry,

looking

bad

enough

but

absolutely no use for.

out

the

stealing

passenger

something

window.

you've

got

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."

He looked

at

you

flexible,

Barry

critically.

"If

can't

learn

to

be

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."

"Lighten up!

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.

3


The two young men had been friends for years.

They shared

a similar quick, irreverent sense of humor, although Norman's wit

tended

to

preoccupations

be

more

weren't

so

burlesque. different

Not

that

Barry's

any

other

healthy

from

eighteen-year-old male, it was just that he was less likely to abandon didn't

a

humorous

lead

to

sex.

avenue

simply

Norman

was

because quite

its

hormonal

capable

of

trail

following

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.

Norman's

personal library, outside of his Hustler and Playboy magazines, seemed

to

focus

on

men

of

historical

notoriety.

Hitler,

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

and meteoric.

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

and

propriety,

rationalizing.

but

only

at

He

the

could

price

of

dance

on

his

own

the

edge

of

self-esteem.

Norman, it seemed to Barry, had no self-dignity whatsoever.

He

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.

4

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.

He was

fascinated

had

by

the

psychology

of

megalomania.

And

he

a

secret desire to shake the conditioning of his middle class upbringing.

***

August

22nd,

2:20AM,

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

plastic

blade

began

to

howl

and

the

stack

of

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.

5

His eyes


wandered

to

a

magazine

cover

showing

stockings and crotchless panties.

a

woman

wearing

black

She was kneeling in front of

a naked man. "It's all bullshit," he whispered. the

balloon

payment

on

his

business

He was thinking about

loan.

The

Sonic

Boom,

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.

There

just wasn't enough in the business account to make the payment. True, Norman had petitioned the bank for an extension, but he had

some

experience

as

a

spectator

to

that

approach.

Dick

Hanson had tried to save his shoe store at the same bank.

And

Dick could have met his payment.

The

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.

Dick

And the least

friendly of all was the bank he had dealt with for eight years. Norman mattress.

stood,

stretched

then

fell

backward

the

He felt a strange sickness in his stomach and tried

to find a word that could hold a mirror to it. words.

onto

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

6


thing,

how

religious

it

might

possibly

be

And

then,

experience.

the

seed

of

without

every

great

cultivating

any

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.

“Ten

That's all God wants”.

The businessman explained that ten percent of a person's success, of his attention, was all God wanted. one

hundred

mankind.

percent

of

his

fruits,

his

He said God gave

only

son

Jesus,

to

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

ultimately

derived

from

God's

grace

anyway,

and

only

explained

the

incidentally from anyone's private labors. “It’s

only

with

God's

cooperation,”

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

do

nothing

on

our

own.

He

told

Norman

everyone

was

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

7


studded with the Olympian peaks of the focused few. on

the

necks

of

the

masses

and

lifted

their

They stood

banners

into

visibility from posterity's horizon. Suddenly

it

occurred

to

Norman

that

history's

greatest

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

deluded

could

religion,

how

this

be

possible?

Even

Hitler

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.

The

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

this

thought,

Norman

felt

something

suddenly relax, like a fist opening on empty air.

inside

him

He had an odd

sense of morbid expectation, a solemn waiting for the crescendo cymbals at the end of a symphony. of

a

cathartic

explosion,

the

And then it came, but instead moment

delivered

humility

to

Norman Kohl, humility in the sense that he no longer tried to control and direct his own will. then

a

sudden

inrushing

of

He became quiet and open.

emotion

and

exaltation

And

convinced

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

8


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.

This

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

5:45AM

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.

9


As

the

first

lance

of

sunlight

carved

a

mosaic

of

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.

They had

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.

"Three bucks."

up and shook his legs to loosen the joints.

He stood

"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.

10


"How

the

his

Texas

gut

feels

"Get some coffee on the Coleman," suggested Barry.

"And

inflection

hell

can

you

double-jointing

eat?"

his

drawled

Daggot,

monosyllables.

"My

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.

What

had appeared to be a solid ridge from the ground was in reality a scree of loose rocks and stones. ridge wasn’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

took

nearly

an

hour

to

reach

the

summit.

Barry

approached the cross from a sharp angle and noticed it was made from

two

studs

nailed

and

wired

together.

The

upright

was

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

point.

The

sunlight

lay

on

the

bay

like

brilliant

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

11


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

because

a

growing

The feeling itself didn’t seem to

vacuity

began

to

eclipse

Barry’s

thoughts.

Some small part of his mind noted this with detached

interest.

And then the interest was gone and there was nothing.

No

thinking,

no

awareness,

no

mind

at

all.

Just

a

vast

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,

no

center

of

And there had been no starting

consciousness

whatsoever.

Only

bare

perception that had later somehow bled into a kind of experience. Altitude changes perspective, he thought. for

a

moment

and

realized

what

had

Barry reflected

happened

was

something

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,

which

was

quite

No, that wasn’t it.

different

from

Experiencing was the Now, the Living Moment.

an

He was

experience.

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

12


volume of white. has

melted

But the drop of blue hasn't really died.

into

the

whiteness

and

perspective, is white's perspective.

now

shares

It

white's

The delimiting borders of

the self move out to fill the bucket. Is that what just happened?, wondered Barry.

The view

from the top of the mountain had somehow overwhelmed his visual appetite

and

plunged

his

mind

into

silence.

His

ego,

his

existential sense of separateness, shrank to a vanishing point and suddenly there was no one experiencing the vista.

There was

no observer, just the present moment of observation itself.

His

mind was no longer alive to its natural disposition of judging or measuring or comparing. its

borders

and

was

For a brief, perfect moment it lost

absolutely

silent.

And

then,

totally

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

We’ve one image of ourself that we show our friends,

another

we

have

of

our

self.

impressions of us and themselves.

Friends

nurse

their

own

And all the images are dead,

bricked and mortared together from memories, expectations and concepts

that

have

nothing

to

do

with

experiencing.

We're

influenced by the ridiculous effigies our memories fabricate. And it’s from these empty mannequins that our mind wants to find meaning and security.

We’re never who we think we are, and

13


we're certainly not what our friends believe us to be.

Our

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

individuality.

But it was really just a mask of isolation, in

the name of a god created by fear.

Barry mused that it was this

sense

that

of

separation

problems.

and

autonomy

caused

all

humanity’s

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

can't

be

labeled

because

it's

If

What truly

nondual.

Symbols

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,

the

action

symbols,

discrete

emotion,

a

moving action.

If you examine the yeast as separate is

units

hunger.

If you try to isolate the alcohol,

again of

But

fragmented.

activity

symbols

are

Man's

representing never

drunk a

verbs,

with

goal, never

an the

They’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.

He kicked

down on one of the stones to seat it better. A dead symbol for a dead religion, he mused. no substance. it

Sub-stance.

generated.

fermented

from

indoctrination.

History. the

All flash and

Nothing to stand on but the memories The

colossal

ultimate weight

mental of

projection,

tradition

and

None of it has anything to do with the living

14


moment.

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.

better word.

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

can

anyone

search

for

truth

when

the

thing

doing

So the

searching obscures truth? Anything looked for has to be recognized when it's found, thought Barry.

And that implies a memory of it.

But memories

are dead things, footprints our ego makes when it meets the act of experiencing.

So if anything is recognized as truth, it

can’t possibly be truth. from its conditioning. mind

creates

the

It's just something the mind projects Searching isn't an answer. In fact, the

search,

projects

the

goal

and

assembles

a

blueprint of all pending experiences from past memories.

Barry

chuckled to himself.

It IS

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

answering.

Questions

were

things

the

self

manufactured

to

establish a center, a place that happily assumes the authority for

finding

an

answer.

Experiencing

impersonal and utterly choiceless. were

illusions

projected

by

an

discontinuity,

the

ego

ego

keeps

15

nondenominational,

ALL questions and problems

continuity, its own sense of security. of

is

that

seeks

only

its

own

Driven by the great fear driving

its

engines

of


questions, quests and goals and slakes the thirst of selfhood by setting

up

part

of

the

mind

to

disguise themselves as answers. always

passively

active,

not

viceroy

the

patterns

that

But Barry realized truth is

something

that

can

be

actively

pursued. When he arrived back at camp, Gary and Daggot were packing the bread truck. "We're

going

further

down

the

coast,"

explained

Gary.

"You're welcome to come along." Barry stared at the sea.

“Thanks 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 you’re going to do that, you'll definitely be needing some help." into the back of truck.

He climbed

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

at

the

crucifix

on

the

mountaintop,

the

same

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.

Clarity.

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.

16


Two o'clock, he noted.

Barry dropped to his knees and, using

his hands as shovels, began to dig. enough,

he

dropped

the

bottle

into

When the hole was deep it

and

in

the

name

of

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,

pulling

the

strap

of

his

duffel

bag

higher

on

his

shoulder. Norman,

who

towered

a

half

foot

above

Barry,

burlesque double-take at the top of his friend's head. the

hell

happened

to

you?"

he

statues in the park?"

17

shouted.

"You

been

did

a

"What sanding


"I

dye it gray," quipped Barry, falling into step with

Norman.

"Helps keep the teenage girls away."

"Here, check this out." fingers

through

his

black

Norman bent his head and raked his hair.

"Not

a

single

gray

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.

Barry

looked over his shoulder, supposing he was blocking someone's way. "This is our ride," Norman informed him. Barry

searched

mischief in them.

his

friend's

eyes

but

"Get in." saw

no

sign

of

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.

"Real chauffeurs

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.

18


"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.

During

the

drive

to

Vancouver's

west

end,

Barry

was

introduced to their impromptu chauffeur, whose name was Gary Douglas.

Gary

was

a

law

student

at

the

university

and

subsidized his education by cooking dinners at The Westchester Manor, Norman's fifty-four room extended care facility. "I

hate

this

red-neck,

sonovabitchin'

over his shoulder, nodding at Norman.

bigot,"

said

Gary

"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

then

flung

the

word,

He leaned back as he filled his

swollen

with

thunder

and

venom,

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."

19


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 man’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

be

the

least

bit

surprised,"

mused

Norman

hopefully. The Stanley Strait.

Westchester Park

and

the

Manor

sat

wide,

on

a

spindrift

promontory avenue

of

overlooking the

Georgia

As the limousine negotiated the steep driveway, Barry

noted the threadbare condition of the four-story building.

The

window

the

frames

and

fascia

boards

needed

painting.

And

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.

20


"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

my door.

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.

"--you dark

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.

"Go ahead.

Say it."

"Forget it," replied Norman. "Just get up there and make sure you’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.

He

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

kitchen pantry.

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.

There

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.

21


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

parking

stalls

trouble. east wall.

into

another

unit.

Shouldn't

be

too

much

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.

22

"Plenty of

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.

"It’s

about time the sonovabitch did something around here." Three project.

days

passed

without

anything

happening

with

the

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.

"Every goddamn

person I've ever hired has turned out to be a crook. understand it. Arabia.

I don't

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."

He laughed

at his own pun. Barry

didn't

reply.

He

thought

about

the

paradoxical

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

rooftop

read.

deck

and

He

noted

without

much

interest

the

mildew and rot infesting the rafters behind the fascia boards of the restaurant.

23


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

Westchester

Manor

was

evidently

only

The apartment at used

when

business

became hectic. "There's eight acres here," he told Barry.

"I'm wrestling

with the zoning commission to subdivide the property and create a

ten

parcel

neighborhood

with

a

cul-de-sac

Strictly high-end homes, you understand.

access

road.

On half million dollar

lots." "Sounds ambitious." "Damn right. electrical. standards.

I'm going to put in roads, water, sewage,

Everything.

Cobbled

streets,

sidewalks,

lamp

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?

Wanna

It's only a few years out of

And I guarantee you’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.

24


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,

you

want

money.

You

don't

need

it,"

said

Barry.

"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.

the

idea

money

represents

makes

all

those

things

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

we

hire

someone,

that's

what

we

pay

them

for

--their

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.

25

I


want to walk in Alexander's footsteps.

I want to stand in the

place where Christ was crucified." Barry

brought

his

hand

to

the

back

of

his

neck.

"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

in

the

billions

of

flames

of

attention

out

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.

"You're standing

there with a straight face telling me Jesus Christ and a handful of Benjamin Franklins are the same thing?" "I'm

saying

as

symbols,

they

perform

exactly

the

same

function." "Which is what?" "To capture attention." "Maybe pointed out.

so,

but

Christ

is

more

than

a

symbol,"

Norman

"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?"

26

His soul


"Because

it

changed

my

life,"

replied

Norman.

instant I went from an atheist to a believer. thing isn't arbitrary.

"In

an

That kind of

People don't change at the drop of a

hat." "And

how

do

you

know

Christ

was

responsible

for

your

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

ever since.

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.

Christians liked

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'.

Barry

recalled something from the Bible about Christ's temptation.

It

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

wanted,

and

as

a

tacit

acknowledgement

Balance, all devils wanted the opposite.

27

to

the

Law

of

That might explain


why, for a small, troubled minority, suffering was a welcomed companion

while

contentment

purgatory for them.

or

happiness

was

a

psychological

But then, the Christ of the Bible was never

recorded to have laughed or been seen in a jovial mood.

He was

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

you

were

a

child,

why

did

you

believe

in

your

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

as

father.

my

father's

father

did.

And

his

father’s

father's

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.

"What

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?

"Chaos."

Have you done it?"

"Have you?" "Listen, Norm. hard at his friend. represent.

Don't let words control you."

Barry looked

"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.

Because as

soon as you compare it, you're talking through someone else. You're talking through a politician or a philosopher or a bible.

28


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

what

objective,

is

is

experience?

it?

It's

Otherwise

"Crib deaths."

certainly

there'd

be

no

not such

something thing

as

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

products

"The meaning of the things we see and experience of

our

programming

and

education.

It's

our

memories of past experiences that color the events happening to us now.

And so what happens now is never new, never real.

It's

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.

29


"Of course." "I don't mean technologically. "Christianity insisted

is

Norman.

a

product

"The

I mean psychologically." of

revealed

psychological

Christ

changes

learning," a

person.

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

no

love,

no

cooperation,

except

for

a

dollar.

The

oceans and rivers are polluted by corporations and exhaust from fossil

fuels

is

creating

a

greenhouse

eventually put our coastlines under water.

effect

that

will

The nuclear family

has disappeared and street gangs are the new extended families that

gather

around

substitute for love.

the

icon

respect,

which

is

their

And respect goes out to the guy with the

bloodiest personal history. psychologically?

of

Things

Where's any sign that man can learn

are

the

same

now

as

they

were

ten

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

30


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

don't

know

what

Norman's tone was final. Chan meets Carl Jung.

the

hell

you're

talking

about."

"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.

"Wait in

"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.

"Sonovabitchin' bastards.

You can't trust any of ‘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.

Bastards!"

31


"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.

The

Goddamn niggers."

"Don't jump to any conclusions," said Barry evenly.

"You

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."

"Let's go."

Barry turned a deaf ear to Norman's rants during the drive to

his

Gibson's

Point

home.

They

parked

in

front

of

the

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

the windows.

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

32


the room. open

top

A wide screen TV sat on the largest bureau, whose drawer

cradled

pornographic videos. He Norman

began looked

literally

by

VCR

crowded

to

one

side

by

Barry felt uneasy about touching anything.

searching

through

shook

a

the

the room

under night

by

the table

its

bed

and

bureaus

drawer.

heels.

The

Barry

while

two

men

dragged

the

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.

He

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.

33

But it's


plain to me we no longer share a level where communication is possible. You say you've changed.

Maybe that’s the reason.

don't see the change, but you say you feel it. have changed. me.

I

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.

We

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,

hefted

the

He pushed his head through the hole in the duffel

bag

strap

onto

his

shoulder

and

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.

34

And idly


END

35

Speculum  

Two young men grow apart, divided by contrasting philosophies and dissimilar private epiphanies.