mark of our soulless New American Century is the lack of respect for saintly
madmen. By that I mean holy seers of the Blakean-Coleridge stripe who could
be found on America’s streets as recently as the hippy era. The kind of
crazy adepts and enlightened iconoclasts honored by Allen Ginsberg and the
beats, holy foolishness in the tradition of Saint Simeon with the dead dog
tied to his waist and throwing nuts at the congregation, or Tibetan lama
myonpas and India’s avadhutas. Perhaps such holy madmen are
still out there among the homeless and the crack whores. Maybe there are
legions of Zen alcoholics and the like, and maybe we have lost the ability
to see them in this season of imperial hubris, consumer fatigue and
existential numbness. But I don’t think so. I know crazy wisdom and saintly
madness in men’s eyes when I see it, and I am not seeing it very often in
America these days. It has been outlawed by the Republicans and soundly
condemned as Devil’s work by the Christian Right.
course if the dear reader is one who believes science defines all reality
and that men possess no spiritual aspect, then it might be best to turn off
the computer right now and go out for a beer or click on another story,
because I am of the opposite disposition. So much so in fact that I am
convinced things like grace really exist and that mankind is so murderously
full of shit because it cannot apply itself to higher laws, laws which must
be called spiritual for lack of a better term.
Having cleared the air between you and me (assuming you’re still reading),
let me tell you about a rare saintly madman I laid eyes and heart upon
recently. He is presently eating very expensive pies and watching television
with his dogs in his own personal hell out in Etowah, Tennessee, the former
"Rubberized Hair Capital of the World."
At home in hell
For the past two days Bob D---- has lain stupefied in his chlordane
insecticide soaked house in Etowah, alternating between near coma and
electrifying terror of opening his mail or answering the phone. Chlordane
poisoning has destroyed his nervous system, rendered him freakish and weird,
and in his own words "with an agonized countenance, a bony ‘horn’ growing
out of the middle of my forehead, strange disoriented behavior, and fat. I
didn't get old. I got killed." And on it goes... "I took my dogs to the vet
last week where ‘substance abuse’ on my part was suspected," he tells me.
"Once I got locked out of my car, and the police took me in for drug
testing. I'm used to the horror of it all. I noticed in
one of your columns that you were struggling to remain objective after
watching a video beheading. That's my life. Early on, I got this ‘view of
things.’ I keep asking myself, ‘Why would I, of all people, know these
things?’ I have alienated all my friends and relatives. My closest
acquaintances know NOTHING about me. And the question lingers always: ‘Why
would I, of all people, know these things? Am I just crazy?’"
Bob D---- is a sprawling old Victorian ruin on an entire city block,
complete with fountains and lighted gardens, with more white fence than the
state of Kentucky and covered parking for 10 cars, paved parking for another
20. This is the materialist nightmare of his late father who was raised in a
boxcar and obsessed with the American Dream. He advised his wife, in the
event of his death, to move immediately "or be ruined financially." The old
man died twenty years ago and his admonishment has become prophecy. The
place is a money trap beyond anything yet known, and as Bob carries pills to
his 90-plus-year-old mother between his own attacks of chlordane poisoning,
she loudly refuses to move, despite the roof and the floors and the ongoing
disasters. Now everything's gone but her small pension and health insurance.
The roof is shot, furniture, rare books and carpets ruined by rain long ago.
So Bob D---- spends his days amidst buckets and pans full of water watching
videos and eating expensive Edwards pies:
As you probably know
Joe, a Christian company cooks those Edwards pies, and they are -- to my
taste -- decadent. Next to a really good orgasm (the once-in-five-years
kind), the Turtle Pie, or Key Lime or Lemon ... well, it's not something
that should be discussed in decent company. One of Edwards’ likeable things,
in addition to the pies, is what they call "personality pans". There's a
Bible verse embossed in the aluminum under the pie. Surprise! "God is love"
"All good things come to him who waits" "Do unto others..." Nothing heavy,
just fun wholesome Bible verses. Anyway, one day I was eating my pie,
eagerly anticipating the happy moment when the Bible verse would be
revealed. As I pushed aside the last lump of gooey lime and lard, there it
was, one of those "jaw on the floor moments" (still scraping)...
"He who will not work, let him not eat!"
STARVE THE MOTHERFUCKER! Implicit in this is
everything I despise, the assumption that the poor are worthless scum and
"won't work", blah. It's about money, taxes... It's about corporations. And
it's embossed onto the bottom of a $10 pie (as opposed to a $2 pie, if you
get my point) The spirit of the moment, after eating a pie with enough
calories to restore all the starving children in Calcutta, was another
right-wing "FUCK YOU" in the name of the Lord. IT'S THOSE FUCKING POOR
PEOPLE, GOD DAMMIT.
As to the videos, Bob has made an intense study of
Oliver Stone’s 1990 ABC TV miniseries,
Wild Palms, which
he deems prophetic. Set in 2006, Wild
Palms begins with a nightmare, a rhinoceros in
an empty swimming pool, symbolizing
"the beast in place of the baptism," Bob
"The hero runs inside to the screams of his children where, if you look
closely, a shadow forms a distinct cross on their bedroom door from which
hideous screams emerge. It is about media manipulation, especially through
television. Corporations are running wild and their goon squads are beating
the uncooperative; torture is discussed and executed by children. There has
been a ‘synthetic terrorist attack’ which gave the police ‘broad new
powers.’ I think it is damned weird that Wild Palms was so correct right
down to the specific year. All cultures have their own prophets that are
every bit as important as those in the Bible, but the prophet of course is
never recognized in his own time."
The first time I experienced a human window into
"something other" was in 1972 with hipster holy man Stephen Gaskin. At one
point it was very clear that he was experiencing samadhi, the nature
of which could be glimpsed. Another time was the birth of my children, that
moment when the infant opens its eyes briefly and gives you that unearthly
glance of recognition, and the whole room is filled with a funky penetrating
electricity that literally smells like the flesh being made holy … as the
kid’s eyes give off a flash that says, "Yes we know each other and always
will across space and eternity."
But there is also the terrible anxious look of the
sadhu of the burning ghats, the madman, and others connected to
that same eternity from which the baby’s consciousness flashed. I have seen
far more of this than the blissful kind, which should probably tell me
something about the nature of things. Sometimes it is the ecstasy in a Hare
Krishna’s eyes, other times it is the look of the universal agony of
existence, the sort to which we respond when we behold a legless beggar in
Varanasi, India or a homeless schizophrenic in Washington D.C. or Scranton.
Agony/divinity. About the worst news I ever got from the pursuit of these
things was that enlightenment and truth is all suffering and no bliss, which
was always the point. There is no free prize at the bottom of the Cracker
Jack box. Just increased consciousness of the world’s suffering. Anyway,
when Bob sent me an email, part of which is excerpted below, I suspected I
was about to meet another mad adept, or maybe just a madman, either of which
prospect always delights me.
Rubber hair transfiguration
As to Etowah being the Rubberized Hair Capital:
When I was young, my home town Etowah was the
rubberized hair capital of the world. There was a BIG sign at the city limit
informing travelers of that dubious horror/honor. The stuff was bright
green. It was hog hair coated with stiff, green rubber. People actually did
that for a living -- they did that with their lives. Then came the Eighties
and the hair plant closed down. All those deaths and maimings on the loading
platform of the rubberized hair plant rendered pointless. A few of the
dismembered and widowed collected big settlements from the railroad or the
plant but, usually, they spent it all frivolously and now live in penury --
but with some stories to tell. The richest people in town, the rubberized
hair barons, went bankrupt and their family estate is now a Rodeway Inn and
McDonalds. Spooky transfigurations took place. The carcasses of abandoned
textile mills have been turned into what might loosely be called "outlets,”
cavernous holes simply DUMPED full of discarded, outdated, broken
merchandise. When I say, "DUMPED", I mean, "DUMPED". It is piled up on the
floor, sometimes to the ceiling. Much caution is required when walking
through lest one be crushed under shifting/falling merchandise. I’m not
kidding. Now if you venture far enough back into one of these monstrosities
-- and down, down, into the belly -- you will find amidst the crumbling, raw
subterranean concrete and filthy molded block and exposed, termite eaten
wood... suddenly a gleaming modern glass facade and, behind it, luxurious
big-city-like air-conditioned offices where well-dressed people seem to be
doing something useful while sitting on polished chrome and leather
furniture with fake Motherwells and Pollocks on the wall. It’s just fucking
weird . . .
Deepak Chopra, get a job!
East and West, for the most part religion is
synonymous with fraud, with the Pope, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and our
president’s phony religious values being the icing on the Christian cultural
cake of our times. Bob D---- sees the same things in the low-fat spiritual
icons of the left and the New Agers:
How has Deepak Chopra managed to express such
Republican conservative values with no criticism whatsoever from the left?
Chopra is the ultimate example of the wolf in sheep's clothing, a denizen of
Oprah, and a spiritual guru for the superficial, self-serving rich in a
miserable, dying world. Listen to him carefully. It's the Benny Hinn/Robert
Tilton/Creflo Dollar "gospel of prosperity". (If you're poor, you're
ungodly, and you got what you deserve. God prospers his people.) Chopra
states overtly that material success is directly related to spiritual
attainment. Oh, really? It would be news to Christ and Buddha.
I will concede the poor are spiritually
bankrupt, but no more so than the rich. No more so than the many monasteries
and religious communities I have visited. IT'S ALL OF US (on the other hand,
the left seems to think the poor are all saints by virtue of their poverty.
And I DO think the poor have a more valid excuse for their crimes.) Then
Chopra drives in the stake, decrying "throwing money at social problems" and
the says, "where you see poverty it is the expression of a deeper
impoverishment -- the soul, the spirit screaming for nourishment".
Conspicuous by its absence from Chopra's words is any mention of integrity,
ethics, morals, self-sacrifice, commitment, and renunciation. The message,
essentially, is, "FUCK YOU! GET A JOB!" Another rhetorical point scored for
General Motors and Phillips Petroleum. God comes home to the Wall Street
Journal. But this IS America, where everybody is a businessman and Chopra
makes his pitch with that sweet, smiling, gentle face reminiscent of Ted
Bundy. Chopra’s place is in Beverly Hills telling rich people what they want
to hear -- for money. And will Chopra read this, sneak in while I'm asleep
and beat me to death with $150 ayurvedic bars of soap in one of his Versace
Trim your beard
"If the scissors are not used daily on the beard, it
will not be long before the beard, by its luxuriant growth, is pretending to
be the head."
mystic Nur ad-Din Abd ar-Rahman Jam
Joe, it is all about the
center. Getting away from the destructive, divisive periphery (the beard
growing out of control, ritual, dogma, concepts, arguments) and right to the
universal core germinal point (the face behind the beard, out of which the
beard grows) "from within which all religion arises and back to which,
ideally, it should lead us.” When I occasionally pass through center while
on my way from one periphery to another, IT IS HEAVEN. But today it is warm
and raining. The chlordane is reeking. I am having much trouble now,
especially opening the mail. Still, those who have been to the center, who
have at least perceived, if only for a moment, the face behind the beard,
have a responsibility to be critical of those who remain at the periphery
with their beards growing out of control.
Meanwhile, the sheer
carnage of our terrible national enterprise is staggering! Yet no one
mentions the back rooms of research facilities filled with mutilated
tortured beings kept alive for study or force-fed Drano to see how long it
takes fifty-percent of them to die. I am always astonished at how very few
people know what goes on in medical and corporate research labs, not to
mention the meat industry. "For every action..." It's the nature of reality.
It's physics. There will be a reckoning for the culture that creates a
holocaust of that magnitude. The fact that there is something terribly wrong
with anyone who does such a thing, and that this same "lack" will therefore
affect EVERYTHING he/she does, eventually creating magnificently awful
problems. Elevating carnage to cultural protocol is very dangerous. And
official rationalization of it is disastrous. Why isn't someone talking
about these things? We have no examples. We have no ideals. We have only
corruption and self-justifying silliness in service of capitalism as it runs
further and more terribly amok.
A lamp unto the left
And to the forces on the left trying to
combat all this I say: The realization IS compassion." "Consciousness" and
"heart" arise together. They are one thing. The compassionate try to help
even their most despicable brothers. That's why it is written: "Without
love, I am nothing." Yet the left throws it all away. Though the left is so
often correct in principle, it becomes merely the other side of that one
counterfeit coin we have been offered. True spirituality is the answer.
Therefore, I say to the left, "don't throw religion away; find out what it's
about". And intelligent smug people on the left will answer, "There is no
God!" Yet that statement is unperceptive, pointless and offensive.
Be compassionate, but be careful. I saw a
fighter pilot on the 700 Club who described what sounded like an homoerotic
orgasm experienced while shooting down some enemy planes killing the pilots.
He interpreted the rush of killing them as "finding God". God had visited
him there in the cockpit. But he and Danuta talked glowingly about it. We
have to be careful around these people. Very careful.
Anyhooooo . . . It is raining tonight and
right now I am finishing off my liver with orange soda and vodka. The wind
is blowing so hard there'll be no roof left tomorrow. And to that I offer a
hearty, "GOOD FUCKING RIDDANCE!" Last night I was getting together my
mother's "next-day’s" medicine -- her prescriptions and other pills. But I
forgot what I was doing, drew a glass of water and took them myself. HA!
THERE'S NO HOPE! I have a case of beer and a pizza, so LOOK OUT, MOMMA!
And so this is all very surprising to me --
in fact, shocking -- what you are doing. Respecting me like this. I'm a
little scared you'll find out who and what I really am. Nobody has ever
taken me seriously. All my words are a humble attempt to point at the moon.
Like the Buddha said, "my teaching is a finger pointing to the moon, but all
of you are looking at my finger.” Of course, the finger pointing to the moon
is analogous to "trimming one's beard"… the teaching, the teacher, the
ritual, the dogma, the practice, language, even the concept of "god” … all
of that is also the beard which "grows out” of the face and obscures it.
Trim it daily.
Now I ask you this: What do you call the opposite of
someone who is out of his mind? A poet? A divine monster? We do not much
acknowledge horror in this country, except the petty stage-managed kind for
which we have developed such an appetite, such as Terri Schiavo’s morbid
gurgling, etc. Yet none of it comes close to the type of horror and grandeur
that's lacking in our life, the kind from which we flee, such as our own
graves or the sight of the things we do to sentient others so long as they
are poor, voiceless, out of sight, or perhaps have four legs. And even then,
the only way we can keep up the ghastly charade is by deeming the saints
amid us as madmen, and anointing the truly depraved among us kings, avoiding
at all costs our divine monsters.
is a writer and magazine editor living in Winchester, Virginia. He may be
Copyright © 2005 by Joe
Other Articles by Joe
Sunday in a
* A Republic
of Pickle Vendors
* Poor, White
and Pissed: A Guide to the White Trash Planet for Urban Liberals
* Drink, Pray,
Fight, Fuck: The Borderer Legacy Haunts America
* The Sleep of
Reason Amid Wild Dogs and Gin
With the Rhinos
* Hung Over
in the End Times
Night in George Bush’s America
* Driving on
the Bones of God
Reflections on the Fourth of July
* Sons of a
Down the Jackals: Liberal Roadkill Along the High Road to Baghdad
* The Covert
Ashcroft, Keep Your Mouth Off My Wife!
Sleepwalking to Fallujah
Interviews With Joe Bageant