Szekeli caught up with me again under the Arch. But I was patient with him. This time it all came out. I didn’t laugh and I didn’t cry. I tried to practice restraint; to be fair; to do him no harm. Meanwhile, it grew dark and cold under that filthy Washington Square drizzle. All around us, the Academy’s effluent of students, disgorged by the hundreds from classrooms, lecture halls, libraries and labs, flowed in patchy, disconsolate streams towards subway and bus stop, or into fast-food shops around the Village. Even in sunlight, their faces showed no purpose, little joy, and less meaning. Faces that had neither youth nor age in them. Our little coterie of Vets often observed them as we wandered among the chess tables or sat on the rim of the fountain, idly thinking aloud; that is, smoking and silent.
Szekkitch, I say, holding up the mirror of speculation to him once again, hoping he’d glimpse a ray or two of light in its depths, we’re still young. What idea can we form regarding the one and only dimension of time that seems open and possible to us?
“What would that mean?”
I mean, the future?
“Ask Congress. Ask the President. Take it to the Supreme Court.”
Szekkhov! I cry, they hate us youth! They have disgraced the past. They are defiling the present! Today we’re outflanked! They’ve blockaded the pass to the future! Maybe we still have some time; maybe not. Anyway, what is time? What are we doing, standing here like ignorant peasants on a burial mound, while buried beneath our muddy boots lie the lost secrets of some great civilization?
“Science fiction tells us,” he blurts, clutching to his chest his ragged sheaf of notes and bundle of manuscript.
I refrain from telling him that I lost my interest in scifi long ago. Its games are played with split cues in the smoky din of some godforsaken poolroom where everyone’s too stoned to notice the crazy betting and they go on stroking the same old eight ball off the hard, threadbare cushions all night, hoping to sink a blind shot in tomorrow’s pocket. But sweet, stubborn Szekeli brings me his yarns, and waits for my reaction as though I’m an oracle. Towards Thanksgiving he stammered something about a new science of the psyche; but then he’d hesitate, muttering that we’re nothing but a bank of tapes. His discovery works like this: To each is given a personal past, recorded live! From each comes a personal output, direct from the cells themselves!
“It’s our ne-ne-never-us cistern,” he seems to say.
As though nerve fibers infiltrate cells! Even if the proteins remember, they remember for themselves. They know us not. Nothing personal — we don’t know them either, except for our ups and downs. We’re epiphenomena, buddy. Furthermore, beneath consciousness, beneath the subconscious, beneath the unconscious, the only emperor is sheer, potential anarchy, known to the organism — if and when known at all — as the living death. Which is you, which is me. Our spinal cord has but two terminals: one’s the bunch of neuroplasms in our brain; the other is that bundle in our anus. The brain at least wears a skull to protect it.
I have attracted his attention for a moment. I go on.
Yes, Szekkovitch, we truly feel the world in those two places only. So, are we going to live head first, or preposterously? That is the question.
He tries to smile. “Man, you don’t actually believe only those two pl-pl-places can feel…?”
Oh, some secondary termini: the tip of your tongue, your finger tips, your glans….
He looks puzzled. “I don’t see….”
Tip of penis, Szekkel. Only precious thing I had when I came to this school from Tarsus, so to say.
“Oh?” He takes out his reporter’s spiral notepad to get the spelling: G-L-A-N-S. “I heard you say ‘glands.’ Like thy-thy-thyroid. Hey! You soldiered up from Messina? Where’s that Tarsus?”
Rural childhood on the Island. Summers Mama cooked for the Gardners on the island off Montauk; winters she flipped flapjacks in Sag Harbor. He works at his writing, takes notes as though all the world’s only a vocabulary exercise for him. I try once more to distract him.
Have you ever noticed how much low-grade porn there is in science fiction, Szekknik? Why do they like to dress those curvaceous android ladies in saran wrap: boobs for the boobs? Is it because your average android has tits, but no cunt?
“Oh, she has one,” he blushes. “She should anyway,”
Isn’t it because your futurological technist is filled with fear and loathing for the Great Mother of us all?
“That stuff’s just stuck in for reader interest. Padding for the pulps — they pay only ten cents a word. But I don’t do that. I mean, I never try that kind of ….”
You wont pander?
“I will not.”
But, Szekeli, fiction should have a real twat somewhere in its imaginary garden of harem delights.
“Girls will be wearing transparent clothes as soon as they can produce a fabric that breathes. You’ll see.”
I should live so long.
“Anyway, that is not what science fiction’s about.”
Or, they feature low-grade Rosicrucianism, mixed with telepathical talent. Everything goes, as long as it’s pre-scientific. Fairytales with fantastic zoology or love stories out of Gothic romances. Feudal hierarchies of ignorance and terror dressed up in platinum and floating on anti-gravity. What you write are good-humored conundrums. Nice.
“Is that what you think? Well, I’m still learning.”
Do you know enough science to put it to work in a story? Do your pulp masters? Since when is science mythopoetic? Take science now —
“ — What I wanted to ask: Do you think, hypothetically, say, it’s possible to get yourself straight if you flush your circuits, wash out the misunderstandings? For instance, what my Mama said when she was three months pregnant. About me, I mean….” He fades, as though a battery in him’s fading.
Arise, ye prisoners of starvation! There’s pie in the sky when you die!
“Funny, so funny!” His abstracted face mottles, pink against that whey-pale skin; it lengthens, angry, severe; the full lips bleach, colorless as his hair. That’s the Fleming mother. And where’s the Hungarian Dada, of whom he never speaks, except to spell his name right? Seems Dada flew away on the shifty winds of ideological reversal. Mama told him about it in a moment of pique, or spite. Szekeli Senior was keeper of the Party’s secret fund in Panama. Couldn’t resist a typical Hungarian trick: absconding. With the Party correspondence, membership files, and all the gold — who knows which way the freighter he hopped in the Canal was heading? East or West, the KGB would long ago have found him…. Szekeli Mama at that time was carrying her own contraband, wanted to deliver in New Orleans. Didn’t make it. So that the little fellow got his papers only after a trip to Tangiers twenty years later, when all he’d known since he was three days old was American America. Tagged cadavers on Anzio beach and under Monte Cassio for months. Now he uses the bombed-out landscapes of pocked and burnt-bricked Munich and Berlin to open his terrible tales — a charred asteroid hurtles nowhere through the astral storms among distant stars with a stranded Terra-born couple plunked down on it. She fair, he dark. They are out of molecular biosynfuels. They are out of luck, and out of love. An old story: the man is damned, the woman with him: he to scratch their living from that hard-scrabble homestead, she to bear him murderous brats in unmitigated travail on the cold meteoric land. Poor, fantastic Flemish-Magyar. But he perseveres in writing that stuff and proselytizing me, because he knows that I appreciate his metaphor: Paradise Lost — if he but knew his epics.
Today he refuses to be diverted: “Be-be-because that three-months-old blind worm floating in her uterine broth is fully-formed, provided with a network of growing nerves, right? Did you know that it clues in via the extended antenna array of its own placenta, which scans all the vibrations reflected from the invisible, outside world? It hears. Not asleep, not awake. Just dreaming. And in that suspended animation the fetus hears her shrieking, ‘Tibor! It’s your filthy, political brat — I don’t want it. You hear me, Tibor! I’m getting rid of it.’ Now of course that quivering, boneless ball of jelly doesn’t understand those words. It’s all Flem-Hunky to him. But it does listen to that stabbing, squeaking, squawking voice — it’s so menacing. And then he feels, oh how it feels! fists pounding on the taut drum of her abdomen. Fearsome concussions. And that whoop-whoop-whooping, as she wails like an air-raid siren, ‘No no no no! I wont have him, I wont! He’s not going to be yours, Tibor, you dog!’ And he hears a male voice growling like thunder, ‘Go ahead, you slut, you! with your fishy Flemish cunt that you never wash out. Here’s another kick right in your stinking Hollander herring-tub!’ But no use — pounding, jumping, poking, kicking — no use at all: the little pig’s knuckle clings to its rattling, webby net for dear life. That Dutch blood of hers is th-th-thick! That peasant womb is strong. It wont break and spill out his young life. And the crazy woman has more tortures up her skirt for it, too, all crude. Mind you, that crucial tête-a-tête is recorded in the ne-ne-nervous system, buried at the lowest level of wiring….”
As he talks, he punches himself in the belly, gazing blankly over my left shoulder, his bitter Gauloise butt drooping from lips flecked with chalky, dry-mouthed spittle, shreds of flaring specks settling on his jacket, flaming out on the cloth or burning black-edged holes into the stained, khaki fabric.
I break into his reverie. Listen, Szekkit, be serious. You’re not telling me you are that scrunched-up, black-and-blue little fellow in there?
“Just su-su-supposing? How would I get that cleared? Is there any psychiatrist who can handle that case? Damn right, there isn’t! It’s an embryonic catastrophe. How would your card-carrying VA shrink get at the traces laid down on those autonomic tapes? It takes complete identification with the primordial trauma of this 90-day old creature curled in that chamber at the end of that vaginal corridor, a sort of hairless rat in an oxygen flask….”
More like a chrysalid in a cocoon.
“Oh, yah, that’s good!” He scribbles again with that stub.
Waiting for wings.
“You get the idea. A worm, but alive. So, the way to wipe out that misinformation is to flush the tank and realign circuits. Otherwise, it’s hopeless — humanity’s finished!”
Purge all personnel files, we’re heading for Sector Apocalypse! Bling-bling! Blang-blang! Double red alert! (Miss Roberts, leggo! There’s no time for that now — see me when we’ve passed over!)
It’s not exactly misinformation you’re describing. More like terror in the Szekkor Sector.
“Szekeli, please. My name. But I give you only the hypothetical situation. A rat’s in a trap — how should that little beast comprehend?”
Chicken does not remember egg.
Anamnesis. The only cure. Everyone seems to agree.
“Right, sure. Whatever. Well? For that you need scientific psychology. Since all data is automatically stored, you can return to it, recall it, relive it. That corrects it.”
Tampering with evidence, it’s called. Get you one to ten years on the couch. Lucky to have your sentence suspended, Szekk.
I think it’s risky business.
“Try and follow me, my friend.”
It’s an old minefield. Maps all forgotten. You can be blown away, just like that.
“That’s why you need a logical system. You don’t understand.”
Oh but I do. Socrates says you must do this self-examination in order to reincarnate better. Dante says there’s no chance of getting back again anyway, so you better think about it now. Your Mama’s and your Dada’s own preacher, Calvin, says you may correct all you like, but the odds are against you: you’re destined for doom and gloom eternal. While you make it sound as simple as opening a package of Jello — hot water, just stir and pour. Any flavor you like.
“Yah, foolproof is what it is. After millions of years of evolution, the human nervous system cannot fail.”
So why are you sick?
“Me? Sick? Because it misinterprets. Someone else made mi-mi-mistakes. I’m not sick — but the system’s full of crossed wires. It was filthy programming.”
Szekkmann, you are off the wall. How can you know that?
“Might be theory to you. But believe you me, it happens to be the case. You don’t get it because you’re just some aberree.”
“Hey, easy does it. We are all of us aberrees! Since the hour of our conception we have been given nothing but misinformation. I know. I have studied the book on this technique. Just the name tells you how perfectly simple it is: Scientology. Science and Logic.”
So I hear. A system you can read right off the back of the Wheaties box. Well, what do you want from me?
“There is this one little hitch. I need a helper to guide me along my tapes as I replay them back down to the Alpha Tape. That’s my first, actually. It plays last because the first is the last one you reach. See? And thus the last must first be reached. Get it?”
You may have something there.
Then, when we reach Alpha you’ll lead me up kindly to the light again.”
Well, I don’t know if I could manage that.
“Come to the Institute tonight and meet a real scientologist. I’ll take you to my group leader. You’ll be instructed. I cant go down alone. I need a guide.”
Hold on moment, Szekkio. It must be thought on.
“You clear me — and I’ll clear you. It’s Szekeli, if you please. This isnt hypnotism, if that’s what scares you. You’re fully conscious. You merely learn how to scan your tapes. You’ll be getting full recall in real time. Visio, sonic, tactilic and olofactoric. Kinesthetic — which is weight and motion. Somatic — that’s pain. Thermic and organic — your insides. In Dianetics, what’s organic is also emotive. The fact is, you don’t cry because you’re sad. You’re sad because you’re crying. Emotion is physical, not mental. None of that spooky Freudian stuff.”
Maybe it’s all just secretions that leak through the gut?
“Could be. Mangled proteins. Why not?”
So, how do I qualify for training?
“That’s the beauty of it. No prerequisites required. Anyone from age thirteen qualifies. The short course is enough. Absolutely. Because the method is the message: it’s automatic analysis geared into your nervous system. Easier than setting up a movie projector. And what a movie! Visio, sonic, tactilic, olofactoric, kinesthetic, somatic, thermic! No psychiatric mumbo-jumbo. The VA put me through enough of that crap on that Kingsbridge ward, I’m telling you. But I took myself out before they got to torch me.”
Sounds foolproof. Just for crying out loud?
“You’ll never solve the problems of the world any other way.”
Not even if we’re creative?
“Creative? Yah, sure, creativity? A 19th century luxury, like riding in a horse and buggy around Central Park today. Man, to take power we have got to have power! Scientology is spreading. Scientology’s logical. You’ll see. Hubbard knew what’s what. The man had vision!”
Is El Ron also to be numbered amongst the prophets?
“His teachings will sweep the globe!”
Listen, Szekku —
“ — No. You li-li-listen! I’m not through with you! Be honest with yourself for once, and let me finish, will you! Um, please, it’s Szekeli.”
I heard him out. He grew inspired as he spoke, gazing past me up Fifth Avenue through the Arch.
“Now, what we want to do is get at our basic human powers, see? Just imagine what they’ll be when the billions of circuits in our brain are cleared and our juice runs full voltage! No wasting 95 per cent of its energy on multiplying alternate transmission lines wherever there’s damage caused by fouled wires from experiential traumas. Just think: if Con Ed could wire New York like our brain! Okay, can you just imagine the mindpower? There’s no Eniac made to match it in sheer infinitude of cross-referenced hookups! It’ll be a hundred years before they can build one! Hey, when you get yourself cleared, man, your IQ will go up on an infinity curve. Like this — ” and he takes out his felt pen and draws a diagram on the back of my left hand…
“ — no telling where you’ll go, because there’ll be no stopping you!”
Szikki, the only thing standing between you, me, and happiness is my IQ .
“Oh, yah, an IQ like everyone else has IQ! Stuffed with random, unsystematic information they’ve dumped into you for 30 years, feeding you irrational garbage that sits there garbled on your tapes, as though a bunch of chimps stuck those million books in the stacks on the shelves of that university’s library there. How can you be expected to locate what you’re looking for, when it could be something you overheard when you were six months old, maybe sleeping? It’s all trapped down under that static of radio jokesters playing next door thirty years ago — Ben Bernie and Bob Hope and ‘Jello-Again’ Jack Benny and Fred Allen and Fibber McGee…. How can you know what’s shorting you out every time you think back over the three hundred thousand hours you’ve already logged in your brief life?”
‘Twas but a little nap, an after-dinner dream.
“And you sure will! After I’ve cl-cl-cleared you.”
Let me sleep on it.
“How long must we wait until you see the light?”
Till after the New Year.
It wouldn’t do for him. That dry spittle had collected in the chapped corners of his mouth. He squeezed my left elbow convulsively, begging me to sign up for a crash course in clearing technique over Christmas at the Dianetics Institute down in Maryland! Maryland! Otherwise, he’d go on ahead by himself.
Into the abysm of the abysmal past. Call that forward?
“I want progress! Before it’s too late. But we can only go forward through the past. I’ll get myself certified. I’ll come back and clear you all!”
Clear who all?
“You and your intellectual buddies here. You guys will never get anywhere. With you guys it’s one big sentimental snafu.”
Semimental, you mean.
“Yah yah, that’s good! Hey, if you were cleared, you would take the logical next step.”
“Switch. Write prose.”
Ah, what do I know besides those tattered communiqués from muddy foxholes, some discharge papers, and old tax returns? Well, there may be those other records: birth, and copulation, and death. Prose, you say? Should I write history?
Everything else is legendary. Mythology. Opinion.
“History!” He glares at me with those weak, Flemish eyes looking the size of Dali’s oyster-limp watches through thick, gray-tinted lenses. The silver frame of his Ben Franklin specs is wound with friction tape over the earpieces. “Nah, not history. What could history mean to the future? Zilch. Re-re-redeem yourself. Write what I write: the one possible literature: SF.”
Someone’s betrayed us! The First Galactic Fleet of the League of Spartacists is bearing down on our top-secret timewarp! Set battlecruiser MARS for intercept with barbarian flagship VLAD on emergence from Black Hole in Leda at Tau Upsilon Mu in Cygnus. Entering space tunnel. Subspace insterstitial magnadrive now going hyperspace! Secure all hatches — Later! I said, Cut that out, Miss Roberts! — 3…2…1…ZZZZZZZZZOOOOOM! Like that, you mean?
“Yah, well, mock if you must. Still, SF’s the one and only literature to write for our time. The rest is navel-picking, deep-fried Freudian bullshit, and faggot fantasies for cornering the middlebrow book clubs or giving college professors something to write their pretentious, self-promotion articles about. There’s no Shakespeare around. No Melville.”
Not even a Masefield, Szikker.
“Who?” Szekeli knows nearly nothing beyond Hubbard, Heinlein, Anderson, Asimov, Van Vogt, and Bradbury. He declaims the Word according to Hefaistos: “This is the Age of Technology. Now and to come. More so every year. New heaven, new earth coming our way. Forever!”
“If you hope to write for your time, write SF. SF’s for the good of society as a whole. We’ll teach them how to imagine future man!”
Szekka, are you serious? With SF our roadmap?
“What I tell you. Listen, if you’re only half as good as Bradbury, you can make a fortune. I intend to. Read him — you’ll see how it’s done. It’s elementary. Incidentally, the name is Szekeli.”
Only follow that yellow brick road. Will I find fame at the end?
“You will find truth. But, if you live your fifty years more without being cleared, you’ll only give us more of what we’ve had — Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner. Passé. Heroes of Life and Time.”
Once in Vogue. Now they’re out. Too bad.
“Across the river and over the hill. Nothing but SF can be written in all honesty.”
On what basis?
“The source of all true knowledge: Science.”
And knowledge makes us wise? When we know what we know and know that we know it for sure, then we’ll be good? Right?
Because we know what’s true?
So, knowledge means that whatever I hold in mind agrees with reality?
And my mental conceptions provide me with images that correspond to the world?
And such images will not be illusions or hallucinations or delusions originating from unknown sources or mysterious causes?
And so, I shall definitely live in harmony with nature, because nature is the result of cause and effect. And l find out nature with logical reasoning and through scientific experiments and their technological applications?
“That’s what I mean: materialism plus the dialectic of dianetics.”
And the very fire that burns the universe burns my brain?
“You really ought to write down what you say.”
And because what I pursue is logical and reasonable, it is ineluctably right, not wrong. So I must not fear anything. Nothing out there, and nothing inside?
“That is Dianetics, yah! But goddammit, first get yourself cleared! Then we can talk your kind of talk.”
He was mottling again with rage. I tried to mollify him.
Szekkixx, you’re probably correct. If science is philosophy. If philosophy is literature. If literature is SF ….
“So, you’ll try? Come down to Maryland with me. Please! There’s a bus direct to Baltimore.” He flips another crumpled Gauloise out of the pack, lights it and dribbles more smoldering ash. “After we’re back, we’ll start a cell here. A nucleus of clears. Me first, say; then you and those guys you kick back with. I’d be proud to take the credit for such a concentration of mental-verbal clears in one place. Think of it, it would be like an array of Eniacs, with their consoles flickering before our eyes: sheer power to the nth degree … power for good, power for …. Je-je-jesus, when I think of it, our cell could be hidden in broad daylight right here in Washington Square! A force spreading logic out and around the globe. Organizing and directing the renewal of mankind! Hubbard knows!” He rubs his hands together, producing shreds of skin between his pale palms, his white skin rolled out in little, black pills.
Were it that simple, we’d have a revolution on our hands, a real, true revolution. At last! So far, every one’s failed since Robespierre went to the guillotine.
“Who’s that?” Again with that stub of pencil at the ready.
Never mind me.
“Just listen, go-go-goddammit, I’m serious!” His eyes almost seem to rattle behind those lenses. “The key we’ve waited for all these millennia since the lost world of Mu! How stupid I am, coming back and going round, in and out, all these millennia, just like the rest of you aberrees, and never grasping the key that was shining right before my eyes! That very key in the light, in the window! The fundamental technique at last! Now hear this! Clear your circuits, and you clear out your organs. Gone forever your miseries, your ulcers, your tics and myopia, your constipation and your colitis, your hay fever, diarrhea, eczema, your shooting migraines. No more pain. Because the dianetical dialectic reviews the basic sensory input-output data imprinted along the nerves. You like to hear about people getting electroshock right in their temple, being injected with insulin? Convulsions? Believe you me, I know! Just because your memory tape’s messed-up, you see, well, all manner of visions. At the wrong time! Or your body acts manic when some ordinary stimulus makes you remember yourself as your own fetus thrashing about during her abortion attempt with a knitting needle and a tablespoon? Cant you see how rational a procedure it will be to unravel and disentangle your circuits? You would want that, wouldn’t you? Here’s this ultrafine portable mini-comptometer in us getting burned out by barbarous medics who know nothing about systematics and systemic nerve-engineering. Witch doctors with their so-called medical diplomas and Frankenstein paraphernalia. Like when you were pinned down in the Ardennes in that wrecked monastery and tried to rewire and crank up your fucking field radio, and the Death’s Head SS poured back all over you with their 75s point-blank and you weren’t even supplied with the manual! Fire you have to fight with fire! How I hate those white coats on a payroll!”
Now, Szekku, hatred is not good thing.
“But — ” and it’s running away with him — “dianetics is engineering psychology for our new age of engineering.”
Yeah, and Comrade Djugashvili is the Great Engineer of the Human Soul ….
Never mind. We’re not in Moscow … yet.
“Get it straight, once and for all! Furthermore, you want the real truth? We don’t need your obsolete, old-fashioned “thinker” type to confuse us any longer. What we have now is the basic text on human engineering. Apply the Three R’s: Return! Recall! Relive! And we’ll apply it, whether or not you like it !”
But Szakkery, I do believe you, since I must. For why? I believe— because it’s absurd.
“Furthermore, it’s Sz-sz-szekeli! Cant you even try and get my name right?”
Let’s wait for a New Year, Szekkums. Sufficient unto the day the salvation thereof.
It had begun to sleet, an icy rain driving slantwise against us out of the northwest. The bus pulled up. I stood at the head of the line, waiting for its door to open. Szekeli had dropped his sheaf of MSS on the sidewalk and stood slapping his pockets for a match, a fresh Gauloise pressed between his caked and trembling Flemish-pink lips. I mounted, waved farewell and went to the rear to sit down over the engine for its warmth. He stared down at himself and saw the cigarette burns in his faded and worn olive-green GI sweater. Then he looked up at the low gray clouds as though he could see through them into an infinite black space whose invisible attractors drew him towards its pulsating, fire-filled voids. He seemed to me to stand alone and apart in Washington Square, accusing the sky of dropping those sparks on him, incited by an indifferent god. And all the while outraged Szekeli cursed, it was only Szekeli scorching Szekeli bit by bit with his own fever.
He knows nothing of tragedy. He’s ignorant of comedy with its relieving, cathartic laughter. He wants but the one thing: to recreate himself. To realize that wish, he must return to the instant before his mother’s fatty Flamande’s ovum was drilled by his Magyar father’s auger of a spermatozoan. A likely candidate for self-knowledge? I think not. I stuck his Dianetics brochure into my coat-pocket along with a Watch Tower pamphlet announcing the Second Coming that two solemn Witnesses of Jehovah had solemnly thrust at me some minutes before he’d come shambling along.
What is to be done? By whom, for whom? Such people loathe the past. They fear the future. They hate the present. What do they want? Eternity. They want it all, and they want it now!
Yet Szekeli, I surmise, will prove successful. He is one of science fiction’s very own.