Bank Gothic


Before any new history of imagined time can be written, there must be revelations or epiphanies which are unique yet so enveloping that the dreamer must in some sense become the dream. Like the apostle John, whose visions in a cave on the Greek isle of Patmos foresaw a possible end to the world, at once cryptic and symbolic, I too found my own cave at such a fulcrum between worlds. This nook or dungeon of unexpected terrors is familiar yet universally feared. Associated with loss and pain, with prayers and imprecations hurled at whatever gods might be attending, it is a place from which most life now emerges, and to which all mortals inevitably return, in the end, to an understanding of their illusions.
—I do not profess any merit for my election, or even that such favor was granted. Certainly I feel no such worthiness or distinction. And it is quite natural that those reading these words may wish to dismiss what follows as the ramblings of a traumatized accident victim, given their own predilection to maintain the canon of beliefs in which they are vested. There is comfort in faith, however misplaced. What I will admit is that I do believe, if there is any basis for ultimate hope, that the human mind may never grasp it on this side of the veil.

The first of my series of visions occurred in semiconscious awareness of my physical limitations. While nurses monitored my status and doctors consulted charts regarding my head injuries, their faces seemed to ebb in peripheral focus around me, their words mere snippets of sound, estranged and disconnected from meaning, like glass-trapped vapors uncorked in the tide. Unable to decipher phrases or facial expressions, I closed my eyes, and quite abruptly drifted down into the vision of another reality which seemed oddly more realized or intricately perceived than the one I could no longer clearly remember. Could this be a possible future, somehow constructed as though by Japanese design? What appeared to be coffin-like chambers were seen in the windows of banks: chambers promising pure oxygen and a drug which causes the subject to become autistic, so that his subconscious inner life may exclude the pressures and tensions outside it. Somehow I knew that, should I desire it, my emotional needs would subside within into some relaxing void of non-awareness. So, too, I felt this need, and also suspected no other such refuge existed outside of these banks of coffins in which one might deposit themselves. My vision was that in our desperation to escape what was coming we would, like those who now seek succor in cyberspace, move deeper into our solitude than we already have. . . and trust these new bankers with our most valuable possession of all.

Einstein, right in many ways, wrong in others, seemed to believe in God, albeit not the God which creationists cherish, whose Earth is young, and whose God plays an inexplicable game of apparent age. Einstein the man, and Time magazine’s Man of the Century, was a fallible soul, a grain on the beach of spacetime, quickly and easily erased from this world, (itself a speck in a whirlwind which is a dot in the vast, expanding bubble of a fabric no one has yet explained). Still, if anyone had the right to indulge ego, it was Einstein. But he did not, for the most part. And he does now no more at all. What, then, to make of any ego, except that it is a phantom conscious state within a quickly recycled body?
—To say I saw Einstein in a grocery store, on the cereal aisle, and that such a revelation transpired in a sharply summoned epiphany is only partially true. There was nothing sharp about the vision, moving in and out of consciousness as I was, medical staff like ghosts stalking the hall to my left. Einstein indeed seemed real, it is true. Perhaps, in this alternate reality, he was and is as alive as anyone can be. What I mean is that I did not feel it bizarre to see him. Even when he spoke to me, saying, “hello” in perfect English, his slicked back white hair held tight in a pony tail as he turned his grizzled face toward me, I was not startled. His eyes twinkled a bit at my lack of surprise, and then he winked and turned away. In his cart were several boxes of oatmeal, some eggs, some milk. A solitary apple, large and green, lay beside these. And so I thought of Sir Isaac Newton. Was he in the fruit section? I went to see.
—He was. Both men were declared wrong, however, by a younger man sucking on a lime. This younger man told me that a fact linked to limes will be invaluable in curing cancer, and that a unified field theory will arise from a thought experiment involving sunspots. The young man was a high school dropout. Schools themselves, he claimed, were obsolete.

The proof that evolution operates in “leaps,” explaining why we haven’t found many transitional species, will be augmented by the discovery that such a leap is already in progress, involving the lowering of the human attention span and the loss of our former level of comprehension related to written language. Eclipsing even this, scientists will then discover a way to input the memories of one man into the brain of another, thereby making it possible to induce instant friendship with a stranger. Nefarious corporations will exploit this technology in targeting people against their will to be socially attuned to buy products and ideas, unaware of their influence. Business partners and sexual conquests may both be achieved by the invasive manipulation of memory. Love, for sale through a realignment of neurons, will precede an evolutionary adaptation against it, resulting in an interim dark age of image-driven, non-verbal thought processes, and the reduced ability for the working class to think critically. Gradually, they will lose the ability to read altogether, and their slavery will be complete.

When a popular travel blogger is discovered to be a paralyzed spinster who never went anywhere, her story will inspire development of a social network of linked computers in which participants all over the world share experiences in interfaced iPod chambers, only to live out real time relationships on a non-verbal, experiential level. Sports fans in Cleveland will be able to experience soccer matches in Rio, their consciousness and individuality subsumed into a crowd identity in which they feel some sense of belonging, however transitory and illusionary. The reason for the popularity of such chambers will eventually be felt outside, in the real world, as monster hurricanes and rising waters inundate much of Florida and other coastal states. Yet in the midst of worldwide famine and economic collapse, a pill will be patented which can extend human life by thirty years. (The breakthrough will come when scientists extract a bristlecone pine tree gene and deliver it to the human brain utilizing a modified AIDS virus. Alas, only the very wealthy will be able to afford the resulting pill formulations, although an adulterated powder version will sell at street level at roughly twenty-five times the cost of cocaine, and include the rush of that archaic drug.)

Suicide clubs will come into vogue, but these will be eclipsed by sporting events in which teams play to the death on gridirons that become more electrified the closer one gets to the goal. This, in certain third world countries vying for media attention, will imbue a new meaning to the phrase “end zone.”

It will be discovered that the Mayans were exterminated by a comet similar to one which fell in Siberia in the early 20th Century, and that the ancient Egyptians began building their pyramids when lifespans dropped from over a hundred years to a mere 45 years due to the evolutionary effects of increased solar and cosmic radiation. A newly discovered and translated Egyptian text will then reveal a prediction that the world will end in 2086. But this prediction will prove to be off by almost fifty years.

In 2017 the world may indeed end for many celebrities and politicians in America, but not for reasons previously postulated. Toward the end of that year a drug cartel’s don will be captured by a rancher whose property straddles the Mexican border, and this don will be offered to the United States in exchange–not for money–but for carte blanche in freedom of movement within America for one year. The rancher, a recipient of access immunity by a direct act of Congress and executive order, will be legally unrestricted in his movements. The cartel will indeed be crushed, but this will go largely unnoticed, especially by the wealthy cocaine users whose residences may now be entered at any time for any reason at the whim of one man. Entrance cannot be denied to this man, who may, at his leisure, request police or military backup to achieve it. No residence in Hollywood or on Miami’s Star Island, no condo in Manhattan or Washington will be off limits. Should he desire it, he may enter the White House at midnight and search the Lincoln bedroom. By Presidential fiat, backed by a majority vote from beleaguered and otherwise ineffectual lawmakers, this one man, among hundreds of millions, will (at long last) be exempt from having to obey the words “Keep Out.” And for him, the most famous and feared man in history, this, (and for every despairing American citizen), will make all the difference.
J Lowe)

Father Figure


Beside the tall red fence.
—    A breeze blowing warmly.
—    Late afternoon.
—    With my homemade periscope I could see Mrs. Robbins through the French windows, coming into her kitchen with a big bag of groceries, back from the store. Mr. Robbins was in his usual place, watching TV on the patio, and didn’t offer to help.
—    Mr. Robbins was huge now. HUGE. Way he looked, he must have weighed a ton or more. And he just sat there in the lounge chair out back while his wife did all the shopping, went to work, and did the dishes. Used to be he was the State cycling champ, but gradually the kids took over, and he was one of those who had to be first or nothing. Or so it’s said. Now he never rode his bike anywhere. He had a stand beside him where he’d put his crackers, beer and things, and he’d just sit there eating and watching, eating and watching in the warm mornings, the hot afternoons, the cool evenings while his gut hung out of his belt like great folds of dough. Since the redwood fence was erected, it didn’t bother him to move out of the house onto the patio with the wide screen HD TV Mrs. Robbins made the mistake of buying. Mom said something about him being lazy, and being out of a job. Dad said a few things Mom would have washed my mouth out with soap for saying. He was tired of hearing about those old trophies at their lodge meeting.
—    “So what’s going on?” repeated Peter Fibbs, my sometimes friend and classmate.
—   “Shhhhh. . .she’s inside,” I said, waiting for the argument I’d heard every night for weeks and weeks. “She’s taking the groceries out of the bag.”
—    “What’s this, uh. . . Cyclist doin’?”
—    “Watching TV again.”
—    “Watching TV,” Peter Fibbs mimicked in a dead monotone, then let the silence soak it in. “And I’ve got to go home. We start school tomorrow, ya know. High school.”
—    I turned and whispered hotly.”Will ya wait a minute?  She’s coming out on the patio now. She’s got a can in her hand. This is it. This is where she lets him have it!”
—    The TV droned, babbling like a happy baby off under a cloud-crowded sky.
—    Peter Fibbs stood beside my kid brother Ernie, shaking his head impatiently as we listened.
—    “Here,” Mrs. Robbins words drifted to us through the late August air, “is your beer, darling. Want a roast pork sandwich?”
—    “Yeah,” answered the fat man. “Thanks.”
—    “After that,” said Mrs. Robbins pleasantly, “I’ll fix you some short ribs with potatoes and gravy. Won’t that be nice?”
—   “You’re. . .feeling all right, are you, Alice?”
—    “Sure, sure. Never better. Let’s stop our arguing.”
—    My heart sank, weighted down by her words. Why had she smiled at him?  It didn’t make sense.
—    Ernie started whining then, and reached for my periscope. “Shhhhhh,” I hissed, and slapped his hand.
—    The Cyclist lolled his head in our direction. His face was–I don’t know how to put it–pasty-looking. Like spaghetti that’s been overcooked. I held my periscope rock-steady thinking he’d spot it. But he didn’t.
—     “So what’s the tub a’ lard doin now?” Peter whispered after a minute, very bored.
—     “Just drinking beer. Wait. Here she comes again!”
—    While Ernie kept tugging at my sleeve, I stared at what pretty Mrs. Robbins was now carrying to her husband, the Cyclist: A six pack on a bowl of ice.
—    I let Peter have a peek. “Well, that’s just. . . stupid,” Peter said, mildly intrigued.
—    “Isn’t it, though,” I said, then added, “unless. . .” I paused a moment, trying to think up something so Peter would stay. I remembered what Dad said about the Cyclist going to the hospital after he tried to ride his bike at the park one Saturday. A couple of maintenance men found him sprawled out on the ball field, clutching his chest. So trying to sound important, I said, “Listen, I heard this psychologist on 20/20 say some men marry just to be mothered. You know, to have someone clean up after them, baby them, an’ pamper them like they were used to growing up? He said exercise is what you watch other people doing on the tube, along with fast food commercials. Well, just suppose that Mrs. Robbins somehow decided she doesn’t want to watch her life go down the crapper too. What does she do? Well, maybe just what she’s always done. Only somewhere along the way, she’s crossed that thin line.”
—    “What thin line?”
—    “Like the man said, the one between love and hate. Suppose she’s decided subconsciously to pamper him to death. Like some cholesterol sludge in his veins breaks off, jams something up, an’ he just. . .”
—    “Dies?”
—    We stared at my periscope for the longest time as I turned it round and round nervously in the half light under faint stars. It was getting dark in a hurry.
—    A cricket chirped.
—    The weeping willow wept.
—    Over the fence, a very fat man sat in a circle of television light, a swallowing machine, a human disposal. Behind him, against the garage, was what was once a beautiful Italian-framed racing bike, its Campagnolo pantographed components now crusted, its spokes rusted from neglect and rain.
—    But Peter Fibbs was not impressed.
—    “You’re crazy,” he said. “You need school.”
—    “But Mrs. Robbins isn’t screaming anymore,” I said, defensively. “And here she is, pumping him big as a blimp, bringing him God knows what for dessert. What would you think?”
—    “I’d say they made up,” Peter Fibbs said. “And so would anyone else.”
—    “But that’s exactly my point!”
—    “Give it up, Donny,” he said. “You been watching too many episodes of The Family Guy.” He laughed.
—    “Oh sure,” I said, dully. “That’s it, sure.”
—    Just then, the screen door opened on our house. Mom leaned out. “Time for supper!” she called.
—    “See you tomorrow, Stewie,” said Peter Fibbs, his back to me already.
—    I watched Peter mount his Schwinn and glide out and down the street without pedaling, with all the time in the world. Peter Fibbs. Sometimes I wonder why I bothered. Where was his sense of adventure, anyway? How did I rate such a dullard for a friend in the first place? Whenever we’d talked about the future, was it ever him who thought of NASA first? No, Peter wanted to be like his dad. An accountant. What kind of future was that?
—    After Peter was gone I tugged Ernie’s hand and, reluctantly, we went in to eat.
—    In the dining room Dad sat, drinking coffee. Meanwhile Mom was serving dinner: veal cutlets and mash potatoes.
—    “Dad?” I said.
—    “Yes, son?”
—    “Dad, I don’t suppose you’d believe me if I told you I have a theory about Mrs. Robbins trying to murder the Cy. . . I mean, Mister Robbins. With a heart attack.”
—    Dad let out something like a war hoop, and slapped his own widening paunch. “It wouldn’t surprise me, son,” he laughed.
—    “Careful now, dear,” said Mom, holding the table steady, and then, seeing me toy with my fork, “Now what made you say something like that, Donald?”
—    I told her. She stared at me with a face like a jury member filing in for a verdict.
—    “Maybe you should check it out, Paul,” said Mom, still expressionless.
—    Dad shook his head, no dice. “The playoff’s on in a minute. I can’t miss that.”
—    “But this is actually important,” I pleaded one last time.
—    Dad looked at me funny-like. So’s this, the look said. And then that same sense of sadness came over me, just like it had with Peter Fibbs. But this time it was multiplied by the feeling of farewells. Farewell to summer, hello to long gray autumn days of drizzle and homework. Farewell to Junior High, hello to acne and SAT scores. Farewell to imagination, and hello to. . . what? CPA school? Job interviews? Retirement programs?
—    “No dessert tonight, Donald?” asked Mom as I pushed back my plate.
After dinner, Mom went into the kitchen, and started on the dishes. Lips sealed. Of course I never really expected her to take my side, because she was neutral. Like Switzerland. Maybe it was safer that way since she had to live with Dad while I was away at school, growing up way before my time.
—    I watched Dad go into the living room and cut on the TV, having already forgotten about me. He just settled back into his leather armchair, and gave out this little self-satisfied sigh, almost like he’d mastered the secret of how to make us kids invisible. “Bring me a beer, will ya?” he called to Mom.
—    Mom opened the refrigerator.
—    Mom passed us with Dad’s beer.
—    “Time for bed,” she said finally, turning Ernie toward the hall with her hand. “School tomorrow, bright and early.”
—    I saw on the TV there was an advertisement about a show featuring cyclists racing across America. They all looked exhausted, but thin and healthy. Watching this, Dad was expressionless, just sitting there, staring like one of those department store mannequins, and I was reminded of that fat kid on The Family Guy who once had a transmitter planted in back of his head by little Stewie, who remotely controlled him. But when Mom came in, he suddenly seemed to see her pulling at Ernie, who was whining.
—    “Do I have to–”
—    “MOVE!” said Mom.
—    Mom was acting oddly too, somehow. And there was something in the way she looked at me over dinner. I figured she’d wanted to go out that night, only Dad got his way again because he could talk louder. Mom would never try and shout back at him, of course. Usually she just went into her room and closed the door for a while.
—    Usually, but not that night.
—    We went to our room. Ernie started to slam the door, but I stopped him, and left it open a crack. For some reason I wanted to hear what Mom said, and if she was all right out there with Dad, the robot. But when Ernie started hitting me, I had to defend myself.
—    “Well, I  thought it was a good theory,” I said, trying hard now to imagine the sirens going, the fat man sitting there limp and pasty-faced next to his rusted racing bike, the TV blaring, and that one woman smiling. “I thought so, anyway.”
—    As I unbuttoned my shirt and threw it down, Ernie went over to where Mom had laid out our school clothes across the bureau. “You need school,” he mimicked Peter Fibbs exact words. Then we slid into bed and cut the light.
—    It was in the pitch darkness a moment later that Ernie said, like it had just hit him, “Summer’s over.”
—    “Imagine that,” I said sadly, and pulled the covers snug.
—    We listened to the muffled TV noises coming from the living room, and once or twice more heard Dad call, “Another beer in there!” and Mom answer, “Coming right up, dear.  . . .You want another roast pork sandwich?”
© 2003 by JL

Jonathan Lowe