The Zen Master hadn't arrived.
I sat and sucked my beer.
I was drunk for many years and then I died.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
I reach for another beer,
for beer speaks a paragraph of triumph
in the language of defeat.
I never had much faith in twelve-step programs until I initiated my own. The only piece of furniture in my SRO apartment is one of those old wooden high-school desk and chair combos with a flip-up top and an ink well in the far right corner. I put the refrigerator kitty-corner from this desk in the apartment. If I stumble forward in the exaggerated sidewinder movement of the intoxicated, there are exactly twelve steps every time I get up for a cold one. Amazingly, the toilet bowl in the hall bathroom is also twelve steps from the desk. Ever since I pledged to make this twelve-step program a part of my daily life, my drinking and urinating has taken on an almost magical synchronicity. I've gotten rid of all the old bad habits and patterns. I feel like a new man.
Not long after I initiated this program, I felt it was safe to go out into public again. The occasion was a book party for the great palindromist, Dr. Awkward. His newest work, "So Many Dynamos," had just been released. My hope was to convince him to contribute to RAPT's never-seen-zine-within-a-zine, RAPTRAP. I knew that the Doctor, like other modern-day alchemists, was secretly engaged in The Great Work while operating under his public guise of palindromist.
The book party was one of those wine and cheese affairs more popular at art openings in the 80s than now. In those days I would ransack Leo Castelli's dumpster and fish out discarded invitations. Every night, sometimes twice a night, I had an art opening to attend. More important than all the new art I saw, was my ability to supplement my mostly liquid diet with the solid nutritional value of cheese. I've probably had more cheese -- more kinds of cheeses -- than anyone in the world. For a while, these art openings seemed to be competing for who could serve the most exotic imported and specialty cheeses. I once had buffalo cheese, supposedly made from bison's milk. Don't ask me how it tasted; my palate long ago ceased to discern. A beer's a beer. The same with cheese.
Somewhere along the line, to my dismay, cheese disappeared from these openings. I believe it hadsomething to do with The Guerilla Girls. The Guerilla Girls is an anonymous group of feminist artists. I don't know much about them, except that they all wear gorilla heads and their art is not in the making but in the protesting of art. Something about too many male artists and not enough female artists in galleries and museums. Rumor had it that The Guerilla Girls were secretly serving some truly exotic cheese at their art openings. Posters showing a lactating Gorilla Girl were wheat pasted all over SoHo. I forget what the poster said, but from there on out cheese slowly disappeared from art openings everywhere.
So I was glad for the cheese at the book party. After a number of quick wines, I immediately spread some brie -- I think it was brie -- on a piece of rye and swallowed it. I was home again. Just like Mamma used to make. I was knifing what appeared to be gouda, when the Doctor tapped me on the shoulder.
Dr. Awkward was just what his nickname implied. There was already a red spot on his shirt where he had drooled some red wine. The Doctor was the only person I knew who could take the twelve steps to my refrigerator or bathroom with the same weaving authority I do. I held my wine glass out of the way as I shook his hands and congratulated him on his new book.
"What book?" he said, looking surprised and paranoid. (Conversations with the Doctor are also clumsy.) I figured I had better cut to the chase, so I asked him about contributing to RAPTRAP.
They say elephants never forget. I know about elephants. They figure greatly into my life-long devoted research into alcohol. Elephants have been known to stray up to ten miles off their beaten path during specific times of the year, knowing they will find fermenting fruit at this or that orchard. Now, I'd hate to go shot for shot with an elephant; it would probably take a hell of a lot of fermented fruit to put him under the table. But I know this: Once he was under there, even if he never forgot, he would certainly come to know the" blackout."
Most twelve-step programs consider the "blackout" one of the signs of advanced alcoholism. My program does as well, although I have replaced the word alcoholism with alchemy. The "blackout" for the alchemist is the first phase of his Great Work, not an advanced phase as it for the alcoholic. The conjunction of fire and water, "firewater," becomes help-mate, a sort of living metaphor or wetnurse in the alchemist's search for the Great Elixir of life. The Blackout is a time when all elements mundane are refined out of memory, leaving only pure consciousness. The huge elephant of experience forgets all but the relevant..
That night at the book party, by the time Dr. Awkward related to me the details of the group of secret palindromists known as The Five A's, or R@STAR, I was already on the other side of the Blackout. Staring into my nth glass of wine, I noticed its surface has developed a strange glint. I saw my own hugely magnified image staring back at me, but it was a genie, not me, that spoke: "Drink this, this is my blood, which will be shed for you." Beyond Blackout, there is Communion. Here you eat His body and drink His blood. By the end of the book party, my rancid breath of limburger and wine kept all but the good Doctor away from communion with me. A drunk and drooling cheesemonger, I had finally become the upright Rabid Rodent of my destiny and had frightened away all the human chatterers. At last, the book party's man of honor spoke to me alone.
"RAT is a very powerful entity in the work of palindromists. A kind of ground zero. The Five A's use RAT like alchemists used Quicksilver. R@STAR has created a computer virus with a stealth element that makes it undetectable to all anti-viral programs now on the market. It is highly likely that everyone who has ever downloaded from the Internet now has this virus in their system, both in their floppies and master boot records. I don't know the precise event or day that will trigger the virus, but it will be in the Year of the Rat on the Chinese calendar. All texts in the World Wide Web will become these palindromists' 'gold' on that day. All electronic texts in memory in the world will be wiped out, leaving only the words, RAT TAR -- physical proof that spiritual gold is attainable. Of course, the unenlightened will quickly rebuild the information superhighway, but all others will now be addressing their e-mail to the domain R@STAR."
Detox for the alchemist is as painful as it is for the alcoholic, although we call our D.T.s, T.D.s. Delirium tremens are the alchemist's touchdowns of golden thought and consciousness. A kind of theater of cruelty is performed both inside and outside our bodies in the slow tremored walk back to normal. Delirium or vision, its all in the eye of the beholder. I'm sure that I received the following palindromes from The Five A's, but for the life of me, I can't remember how the communications happened. R@STAR is only a symbol now for a domain that is unreachable by me. But who knows. Maybe if I stick to my twelve-step program, one day I'll fall off the wagon and back into that rat hole I so love and dread. All I know is that Dr. Awkward sure throws the best book party in town.
back to R@STAR